(Update 1/31/10: Having just seen Blue Valentine it was necessary to include it on my Top 10 of 2010 list. As a 2010 film, it deserves to be showcased here and not forgotten until next year’s list. It enters the list at #7, bumping Babies into Honorable Mention territory.)
There have been a number of very good, or even great, films in 2010, even if the overall picture has been rather bleak. Fortunately, I am not a proper film critic, and do not have to sit through the mediocre dreck studios produce every year. 2010 has seen a new film from each of the decade’s three greatest American directors; Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan (he’s been making American films long enough to be included, even if he’s British), and David Fincher. Their three films take my top three positions.
I have, unfortunately, not been able to catch every good or great film in 2010. As a result, the following is a list of my ten favorite films from 2010, limited, naturally, to those I have seen. I missed many of the foreign releases that are quite possibly amazing, so my list is rather limited in scope. Nevertheless, please enjoy, and debate, my top 10 films of 2010.
Top 10 of 2010
Honorable Mention: Babies
Babies is one of the most unique films of the year, a documentary with no story, no script, and no dialogue. But it is the story of life, the story of motherhood and babyhood, and the story of different cultures. Without any narrator, it forces the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions about the role cultural norms play in raising children. It has stuck with me all year.
10. 127 Hours
Danny Boyle’s new film is one of the most life-affirming films of the year (right up there with Babies), but also contains one of the more graphic scenes of the year. But it is the intense pain experienced by the young man who must cut his arm off that provides such an appreciation for life.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet is known for crafting quirky, fun films with a unique aesthetic. Micmacs is another such film, one whose story doesn’t matter as much as its sense of whimsy, light satire, and incredible visuals. Each new Jeunet film is worth the wait.
8. Rabbit Hole
Rabbit Hole is a rare film, one dealing with issues that invite melodrama. It is to screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire’s credit, and to the credit of director John Cameron Mitchell and producer/star Nicole Kidman, that the film succeeds so remarkably. It is subtle, quiet, and desperately honest, with an ending that displays a remarkably deft touch of realistic hope.
Few films in the past decade have been as devastating as Blue Valentine. Its stark, simple portrayal of a couple falling out of love is haunting and depressing, and provides profound insight into how relationships can fall apart. It also portrays the giddy joy of falling in love, and perfectly illustrates how, and, to some extent, why, so many couples find it impossible to stay in love. This one will stick with me for quite some time.
6. True Grit
The latest film from the Coen brothers is one of their most enjoyable, and one of their funniest. It is gritty, to be sure, but also immensely enjoyable. With standout performances and old-timey dialogue, and a cantankerous central character, it is another of their films that will be enjoyed more with each viewing.
Rarely is a period piece so magnificently staged while also being mindful of its characters. And in The King’s Speech, the characters even manage to trump the setting. Colin Firth deserves a Best Actor award, or several, and Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter are likewise magnificent. But it is the humanity of King George and Lionel Logue, his speech therapist, that make the film truly great.
Restrepo is one of the year’s most difficult films. It doesn’t tell a story, just the lives of a squadron of American soldiers in a nasty province of Afghanistan. The cameras don’t judge, and there’s no narrator to provide insight or direction. Instead, the soldiers play themselves, through the good times and the bad times. And there are a lot of bad times; firefights, death, wretched living conditions. Most difficult of all is behavior that I, an American, am not proud to see displayed by our troops, but this is how it is. And that conundrum is what makes the film so thought provoking.
3. Black Swan
Aronofsky’s tale of tortured identity and a quest for perfection isn’t his greatest achievement, but it is still remarkable. Intense and unrelenting, it is essentially a mash-up of Mulholland Drive and All About Eve. But it inhabits this territory in a fresh, unique way. Natalie Portman shows true talent, and Aronofsky continues to prove how adept he is at provoking audiences with shocking scenes set firmly in a disturbing world.
These top two spots are a virtual toss-up. Inception was the film of the year in mid-summer, but then The Social Network exploded at the beginning of fall. Both are remarkable, The Social Network more for its immediacy and depth of character. Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as a sympathetic (at least to me, if not to anyone else to whom I have spoken) jerk, alone and outcast and excessively wealthy. He is Charles Foster Kane, reborn as the king of a new media empire. He longs for love, community, and connection, but when his efforts fail he creates Facebook as a middle finger to all the popular people of the world.
Inception excites me greatly, for the film that it is and for the way it was created. A major studio took an expensive gamble on an original idea, and it paid off. Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. proved that audiences weren’t afraid of cerebral, mind-bending entertainment, and Inception manages to blend an intricate plot, cutting-edge visual effects (most of them created in-camera), and a touching human story in a big budget, major studio production. It makes perfect sense on its first viewing, if the viewer pays attention, but its depths become more clear with a second viewing. While a virtual tie with The Social Network, I am happy to name Inception the best film of 2010.