"What's your favorite movie?" is probably my least favorite movie-related question. What I love about film is its potential for variety. Does it sound reasonable to judge "Clockwork Orange" against "Mary Poppins?" I think not, which is why I like to name these two fine films as my favorites if I'm pushed to provide an answer. Just imagining Alex and his droogs in the same room as the sublime Ms. Poppins is enough to make my point.
So when it comes time to offer up my Top 10 Films of 2010 list, I'm immediately resistant. Especially after seeing so many other lists that pretty much echo each other. Alas, I give in to peer pressure and give you the ten films that made the strongest impression on me this year. Plus some movies that defied my expectations (both good and bad) and another batch that just plain pissed me off. Here you go -- and Happy New Year!
* Links go to my original Union-Tribune reviews. No link means I didn’t review it.
Top 10 Films of 2010 (in no particular order, other than alphabetically)
Yes, I have a soft spot for all things Franco, but his performance as trapped hiker Aron Ralston is truly remarkable. Put that together with Danny Boyle’s energetic and imaginative direction and you get a film that elevates a People Magazine cover story to an exciting bit of filmmaking.
Despite its tendency towards high-gloss camp, director Darren Aronofsky’s visual stylings and Natalie Portman’s notable performance puts this graceful fever dream of a film in my Top 10.
Director Derek Cianfrance takes a sideways look at love by weaving a couple’s painful disintegration together with their first falling in love. It’s a sad but beautiful contrast that owes much to Michelle Williams’ terrific performance opposite a fine Ryan Gosling, who’s ill-fitting accent is the only thing keeping me from heaping praise on him as well.
The sheer scope of this 5 ½-hour epic about infamous terrorist Carlos “The Jackal” qualifies it for my Top 10 list. But director Olivier Assayas’ ability to juggle so many subplots, languages, characters, and facts, along with Edgar Ramirez’s remarkable performance as the multi-lingual title character, make “Carlos” a must-see movie marathon.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
We saw a lot of films this year that addressed the line between truth and fiction (“I’m Still Here,” “Catfish,” even “The Social Network”), but this “documentary” by renowned street artist Banksy did it best with an entertaining and thought-provoking film that still has us guessing.
I Am Love
A luscious painting of a film starring Tilda Swinton as the Russian-born, porcelain-skinned subject trapped and isolated in a lavish Italian life. A breathtaking experience, and the British Swinton once again amazes – this time by delivering her lines effortlessly in Russian-accented Italian.
Never Let Me Go
Mark Romanek’s haunting yet restrained film, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a quietly creepy tale of a dystopian future. With Rachel Portman’s unique score setting the tone, actors Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley expertly guide us through this somber story.
Though it may take some liberties with the truth, director David Fincher’s film about the controversial founding of Facebook captures the geek-driven, wild west landscape that led to the world dumping their personal lives online –at the command of the socially inept Mark Zuckerberg. Definitely worth two viewings: one to soak up Aaron Sorkin’s snappy script, and the next to appreciate Fincher’s tight storytelling.
It took 15 years for Pixar to reach the final chapter for Woody, Buzz and the gang, and this funny, nostalgic and even scary sendoff is just about perfect. I still come to tears just thinking about it.
Writer/director Debra Granik takes us into the remote Ozark Mountains where chronic poverty and rampant drug use have led to both lawlessness and hopelessness. As the brave teenager who ventures inside this dangerous world to save her family’s home, young Jennifer Lawrence delivers a career-making performance.
An important lesson about historical interpretation, this documentary shows how the Nazis staged filmed scenes of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto in a bold (and mostly successful) attempt to hide their atrocities. A history lesson for everyone.
Terrific performances by all involved, and a wonderfully fresh take on ‘family’ in the modern era.
No surprise that 40-something director Sam Taylor-Wood ended up married to her 19 year-old star Aaron Johnson, who’s charming portrayal of a young John Lennon will steal your heart as well. Terrific performances also by Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas.
An eye-opening and heartbreaking documentary that follows the family of former NFL star Pat Tillman on their unflinching quest to find out the truth behind his wartime death.
There are only so many hours in a year and, sadly, I missed seeing these two films before time ran out. From what I've read and heard, I suspect they would've made my list.
Another Year – Director Mike Leigh’s latest ensemble film
Inside Job – Charles Ferguson’s documentary about the shenanigans behind the Wall Street collapse.
Biggest Surprises (Good and Bad)
Horror kitsch and gratuitous gore interest me very little, so I assumed this zombie-style film would be total schlock. So imagine my surprise when I found myself covering my eyes, leaning forward in suspense, and having a hell of a good time – and I went to the screening by myself. That’s saying something.
Jonah Hill in Cyrus
I expected to like this predominantly improvised film, despite the fact that it starred one of my least favorite actors, Jonah Hill. Well, the presence of his talented costars John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei must’ve had him on his best behavior – and he comes out the better for it. He is off my shit list….for now.
I admit it. I was carried away by the idea of Inception and the excitement around it. Upon first viewing, the film was a mind-tripping visual spectacle and worth the watch. But what surprised me was how quickly it faded from memory – kind of like a dream that feels vividly real upon waking, but is gone by breakfast.
Comic book movies are not my thing (hence my disinterest in Comicon). But Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl won me over. A blast of a movie -- controversy over its ultra violence and little-girl bad language be damned.
The Millenium Triology on Film (and in Swedish)
Not having read the Stieg Larsson books, the first film from the series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, blew me away (particularly Noomi Rapace’s performance as Lisbeth, which damn well better earn her an Oscar nomination). But the two films that followed, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, were an exercise in disappointment.
I’m not someone who favors Angelina Jolie (I’m putting it very politely here) and action movies fall very far down on my list of preferred genres. Despite these substantial strikes against it, I was thrilled by Jolie’s stunts and happy to a happen upon an example of a Hollywood action-thriller done right.
When I first saw the preview, I laughed in the most derisive way possible. Instead of proving me right, this runaway train tale got my adrenaline pumping and had me thoroughly entertained.
Money Better Spent on Rebuilding Haiti
Last and least, here’s a quick list of movies that felt like a waste of my time and, more importantly, a lot of money that could have been put to much better use elsewhere in the world. If you must know more, read my linked reviews and spare yourself actually having to see the films for yourself.