Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best of 2010

2011 is here and I've seen as much as I could in the previous year. Finished 2010 seeing 153 titles that released in U.S. theaters with the very least of a New York and Los Angeles limited release. From that pool of films comes my Top 10 of 2010. Included along with my Top 10 are a couple films that deserve recognition. A combination of honorable mentions and films that have yet to find distribution but are nonetheless powerful films in 2010. So settle in, put on your reading glasses and get ready to see how the year's best stacks up in my eyes after the jump...

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
Technically this Werner Herzog film released in 2009. December 11th, 2009 to be exact. It only played one theater in New York city and never expanded. It did however find U.S. distribution on DVD in 2010. Michael Shannon is one of the most passioned actors working today. The man comes across massively empowered and dangerously peculiar. Shannon's abilities are perfectly matched with director Werner Herzog's brand of direction in this terrorizing drama that was inspired by true events. Shannon plays a grad student who has been selected to play the lead in a play and while re-enacting the play at home, he murders his mother. In a time when I have started to grow real tired of the flashback style of storytelling, Herzog comes along and spices things up again. Much of that I can also place on Shannon's shoulders who is fabulous in the portrayal of a mad man. Lastly a ton of credit to Herzog who did two crime films back-to-back that were both equally jarring.

South Korean director Jang Cheol-so delivers the most staggering movie of the year to not have distribution. Bedevilled is a film that had me stupefied and disturbed the entire time. It is also a movie that I don't think I even blinked through. It is genre-bending and limit testing thrill ride. The precision within the film comes with its slow and steady progression. The film builds with numerous unthinkable acts blended into the mundane. However the ordinary then breaks into a counterattack that is both visually and emotionally arresting. Lead actress Yeong-hie Seo must be mentioned for her stirring performance as Bok nam. The viewer regardless of sex is easily sucked into her dilemma and willing to forgive all the vicious acts that are sure to follow. Make a note people, you want to see this movie.

10. The Social Network
There is a lot to love in David Fincher's latest film. It is in my eyes the most well made movie of the year. All of the nuts and bolts are there and in place. It is all shiny and neat. It is to say that everything is in order with the film. While it feels flawlessly made and performed something did not connect for me. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly love the film, especially Aaron Sorkin's script, but something that I haven't been able to put my finger on just stayed to sterile for me. All that said, the film is certainly a thing of beauty. Something I can't stop thinking about. Jesse Eisenberg once again shows off his uncanny talents. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created one of the year's most moving scores. Aaron Sorkin hits another home run with his script and David Fincher does a fabulous job of putting it altogether with stunning precision. (Full review)

9. The King's Speech
Sometimes the most unexpected films make the biggest impact. There certainly has been a swelling amount of praise coming from people who've seen The King's Speech but this was one of those films I had little to no interest in. Those that know me well, this might seem odd. I'm a huge historian. Love period films and think the world of both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, but for some reason I wasn't biting. Well here we are at number nine and it is clear that The King's Speech had a dramatic affect on me. The drama is enduring, charming, whimsical and most of all inspiring. Now as a World and U.S. History teacher I've heard King George VI's speech numerous times, but having such a wonderful back story to it made it all the more poignant. As for Colin Firth, you might as well just hand the man his Academy Award. His performance as King George VI is unmatched in 2010. Geoffrey Rush too deserves at the very least a nomination for his portrayal of the speech therapist. Rush is a magical actor and here in The King's Speech he waives his wand more than once. Another thing I am happy to report is I actually enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter again. Very nice to see her away from her easy chair i.e. Tim Burton. Overall The King's Speech took me by surprise and easily resonates as one of 2010 best films.

8. White Material
As previously stipulated I am a History teacher and I love watching film from around the globe that ties into true events as they have unfolded. The best is when I get a historical movie that not only gives engaging insight to specific subject matter but also is a well made film. White Material is a devastating and brutal account of the civil war in Africa through the eyes of a French family working a coffee plantation directed by acclaimed director Claire Denis. The film opens with the family being warned to leave as the French military pulls out of the country. The mother resists the pleas to flee so that she can save the final harvest of coffee beans. Isabelle Huppert plays the resistant matriarch of the family and does so in bold fashion. Huppert is enthralling throughout delivering one of the most desperate and heart-stopping performances of the year. White Material is gut-wrenching. The violence that the viewers are subject to is deeply disturbing and left me shell-shocked. It is a drama that left me thankful for the life I have and affected by the world that so many are faced to suffer through.

7. Toy Story 3
Before Toy Story 3 came out I was completely sick of it. I dreaded its release. As most of my readers may know I'm a father of four children and a good portion of the movies I watch are to please them. Now rewind back to the late 90's when Toy Story  released and I fell in love. Just like Andy and his love for Buzz and Woody, I loved the movie. The sequel came out and I loved it just as much. I started building a family and I introduced each of my children to all the Pixar movies. Toy Story and its sequel of course stood out. I've seen those two movies so many times now that I had become deadly tired of them. The direct result was complete and total lack of interest in a third film. In my head, a third film was a terrible idea. Good thing I'm not running Pixar because Toy Story 3 is fantastic! It is actually my favorite of all three movies. It is brilliantly structured with a story that is engaging enough for adults to stay entertained and easy enough for kids not to lose interest. It is endlessly funny but never allowed itself to use cheap gags for laughs. The reflective nature to the film was the most emotional experiences I had in a movie in 2010 and I loved that it gave the younger audience positive examples. Truthfully it was everything I could have hoped from a third film in a franchise. (Full review)

6. Inception
There is no easy way to sum up Inception. Christopher Nolan reminds me again why he is a true visionary. The man knows film and knows how to tell a story. Not only that but he knows how to make a no nonsense action. An action that that takes risks, but takes them seriously enough that they are believable. Not since The Matrix have I been so enamored by the world created in Inception. The adventure is one of the best kinds of movies because it leaves us with questions. It gives the viewers ideas though never fully finishing them, thus forcing us to talk about them, form our own opinions and make stances. It is absolutely brilliant. Inception actually achieves its own goal by creating ideas within all of its viewers. As far as the nuts and bolts of the film,  it goes without saying Inception is in elite status and to say otherwise is simple malarkey. (Full review)

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
This movie is the cornucopia of geek and pop culture. It is a smorgasbord of delight that I never saw coming. Edgar Wright is a director I love. He has style that suites me but I never expected Wright to step up and bring this level of ingenuity to the table. Wright has with Scott Pilgrim merged romantic story, comic books, video games and pop culture all into one. The style is a sensory overload yet never heavy handed. Much of the movie relies on the music and Edgar Wright did a fantastic job of going out and getting Beck to write the music for Sex Bob-Omb. Nigel Godrich also deserves a heaping pile of credit for creating one of the year's best scores. A score that played right into my youth with all of its 8-bit references. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a game changer. It is the best experience I had in a movie all year. (Full review)

4. The Killer Inside Me
Michael Winterbottom's noir is a haunting look at unmasking a psychopath. Set in the 1950's it is a masterful dissection of sociopath who uses sadism as his outlet. With a downward spiral of his own doing as the backdrop of the story Casey Affleck delivers another jaw-dropping performance as Lou Ford. A lawman who masks himself as a gentleman but when in reality he is the furthest thing from that. Affleck is hypnotizing in the portrayal. Cool one minute and a searing the next. Outside of Affleck's unmarred performance, Winterbottom handled some very disturbing and sexual material rather elegantly and deserves far more credit than has been given to date. This film was swept under the rug and vastly ignored by critics. While the subject matter may be hard to cope with, the accuracy in which it was carried out deserves notoriety. The Killer Inside Me is a simple noir thriller that leaves a whopping punch and houses one of the best performances of the year. (Full review)

3. True Grit
The Coen brothers are my favorite directors. With each new film they make I am blown away by their continued ability to make great movie after great movie. Once again the brothers Coen deliver another film that I will see time and time again. Always showcasing something different with each film while also tending to lean heavily on their ability with the English language. In True Grit we get a richly emotional journey of a young girl seeking revenge for her father's death. What we didn't expect was a touching bond that develops between a young girl and a old lawman. Hailee Steinfeld steps into the role of Mattie and delivers what has to be one of the best breakout performances I've seen in a long time. Steinfeld hold her own next to both Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon but she outshines them in a number of scenes. True Grit is as authentic as they come. It is a new classic, one of the better made remakes and a film that bars mentioning in 2010. (Full review)

2. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky is a genius. The man has made the year's best  horror movie and disguised it so well that some don't even want to call it a horror movie. They are lying to themselves when they say it is not a horror movie, but that is okay, we are all entitled to our unique opinions. The film itself is a haunting look into trying to embody perfection. A downright maddening achievement for anyone to bear. Aronofsky takes drive for perfection and places into the ballerina world. A career that demands perfection and leaves the performers in a constant state of competition. Stepping inside that notion further, Aronofsky jumps into the competition within our own minds. He plays with disturbing imagery and dementia just enough to toy with the main character and the viewer and the result is a traumatically engrossing experience. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career. She deserves an Academy Award for the role without question. (Full review)

1. Never Let Me Go
There is only one word for the emotion journey I went through seeing Never Let Me Go, that word is mugged. The film robbed me. It is the most enduring movie of 2010. It is simple yet drastically complex. It peers into our own humanity while also questioning our own scientific advancements. It is a movie that can be enjoyed on a variety of levels. It is a science fiction while at the same time it is a simple drama. It peers into some of the core values we cherish dearly as human beings while at the same time opens up debate on subject matter that can be very polarizing. Outside of the basis of the movie the rest of the film is immaculate. The minimalist locations that end up feeling like massive worlds. The muted colors and tones that tend to represent the sheltered lives our subjects endure. The stunning cinematography that captured the innocents of the story and magnitude of its situations. A spellbinding score that captured every emotion and rang them back to the viewer in glorious fashion. Riveting performances that all deserve recognition. No other movie in 2010 has stayed with me like Never Let Me Go. No other movie has left me so emotionally and physically mugged in 2010 and for that reason alone director Mark Romanek's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel deserves the highest acclaim in 2010. (Full review)

If you'd like to see how I weighed previous years, I've included my Top 10's for the last ten years below: