Well, I can’t bring myself to call it a "Top 10"… or a "Best of"… Just seems rather presumptuous on my part, to weed ten films out from the thousands that were released this year and call them the "top" or the "best." According to whom? Me? And why does it have to be 10? Because David Letterman made the "Top 10 List" a part of the cultural vernacular? Maybe I’ll do eleven. Or nine…just to be contrary.
I sound cranky already, don’t I? I don’t mean to. I love talking about movies. It’s the main reason I started this blog, so that I’d have someplace to do it without boring my friends to tears. It’s just that the idea of doing a list like this is intimidating, for many reasons, not the least of which is that everyone with a movie-related blog (and his brother,) has already done one, so it almost seems like not only an exercise in futility, but just a great big conceit.
Okay, okay, enough of the whining. I think I’ll consider this "my list of my favorite movies that I saw in 2010." So, without further ado…
In order of US release:
How to Train Your Dragon
The Ghost Writer
The King’s Speech
(Ha! That’s 12 and I didn’t even plan it.)
Of course I saw more than twelve movies this year, and I liked most of them for one reason or another. I’m no Armand White, but I generally try to find something likeable in anything I’ve bothered to devote two hours of my time to. I had no desire to see Eat Pray Love, but I saw it with my mother and Javier Bardem was, as usual, sex-on-a-stick, so I can’t hate it.
Morning Glory is another one I wouldn’t have chosen, but that I saw with my mother (we got to spend more time together this year than usual) and, while it was fluff, it was smart and entertaining fluff and perfectly suited to its star, Rachel McAdams.
I enjoyed The Bounty Hunter and I won’t apologize for it. There are scenes in that movie that are well worth the price of admission AND dvd and I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks. Even Jonah Hex had Michael Fassbender using his own Killarney accent going for it. Granted, not nearly enough of him to save the thing, but mercifully the movie was short anyway.
Robin Hood narrowly missed being included, but I had to stop somewhere. (See that’s why these things are so difficult. I have an irrational fear of offending "someone" by not including "them".) There’s too much there for me to like: the cast, the director, the genre, the production values, the costumes, the score… *sigh* The same could be said of Centurion. It was just plain visceral fun. (And again…Fassbender.)
Then there are films that I’m aware of and have seen, that are well-made and for one reason or another will be remembered during awards season and hence, be given some sort of significance in the annals of film history. (I feel like I’d be remiss in not mentioning them, but they can’t be considered "favorites" for reasons that will hopefully become clear.) Winter’s Bone, for example. Without the fierce and star-making performance of Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, this might as well have been a Barbara Kopple documentary*. It was bleak and gritty and real, and completely joyless. I feel no need to see it again.
The Kids Are Alright almost made the list as well. It’s a critical darling and may very well earn Annette Bening her first Oscar. (Julianne Moore also deserves a nomination. Any other year I’d say, so does Mark Ruffalo, but there are only five slots in the acting categories.) The film is well-written, well-acted and well-directed, but it’s also so perfectly "in the moment," so completely of the time in which it was produced, that I can see it being considered dated in a few years. It may belong in a time capsule, but it doesn’t belong on my dvd shelf for future viewings.
Toy Story 3 has, upon further reflection, lost some of its luster for me. I know that I enjoyed it immensely when I saw it, but not only do I not feel the need to see it again, I can’t remember what it "felt" like the first time. I seem to recall that the emotional heart of the story was a footnote to what became nothing more than an animated action adventure film. (I may be alone in my thinking on this one, wouldn’t be the first time.)
I would have liked to have included Carlos on this list, but because it was first shown in this country on The Sundance Channel it didn’t seem right. Edgar Ramirez’s performance in the title role is nothing short of mesmerizing and I will end up watching this one again and again. All five and a half hours of it.
There are also films that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see, that probably would have made this list. I’m more enchanted with the idea of Blue Valentine every time I see the trailer. Hopefully, I will be able to see it prior to the Oscar nominations coming out because from what I’ve read (and the little I’ve seen) both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams will be among them.
I feel like a fraud because I failed to see Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I even had a free pass to a sneak preview, but I didn’t go. The rest of the blogosphere may think it’s brilliant, (and it may be… Director Edgar Wright is full of potential. I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz,) I just couldn’t do it. Michael Cera was easy to take in small doses on the small screen in "Arrested Development," but I can’t take him for 2 hours, 7 ft high and in Dolby surround sound. I also still have not seenThe Social Network. Again, a conscious decision, (I had a pass for this one, too) and one I would not regret were it not for the fact that it’s made so many lists of so many critics whose opinions I respect. It’s out on dvd in a couple of weeks. I’ll rectify the situation then. If I have to amend my list, I will. (One mustn’t be rigid in one’s thinking, but I’m betting this is another that will belong in a time capsule.)
Now, as I pointed out, the films that do appear on my list are in order of their US release and not in order of preference. I chose my list primarily by looking at my ticket stubs for the year and thinking about which of these that: A. I would want to watch more than once (if I haven’t already), B. which are worth owning on dvd for that purpose? (For the record I already own 8 of the 12 on the above list, 4 aren’t out yet.), and C. which ones have "stuck with me" the most? Which ones can I not stop thinking about? I don’t mean constantly, but even better — which ones have enough resonance that perhaps little snippets of dialogue or an image will come to me at random moments or have situations or characters that I recognize in daily life? etc. etc.
Most of these films aren’t perfect, in fact quite a few are deeply flawed. They might have made my list because they are excellent examples of my favorite genre, like The Square, or because of a performance by a favorite actor, like Kick-Ass.
Shutter Island is a film that, if it had been released in November 2009 as was originally scheduled, probably would have been on the awards/critics favorite lists for that year. I loved the book by Dennis Lehane and, while I’m aware that movie and film are two separate entities, I was eagerly awaiting the adaptation from the moment it was announced. Martin Scorsese again directing Leonardo DiCaprio? I’m there. I wasn’t disappointed either. In addition to DiCaprio, the whole thing was peppered with great performances from Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, et al. Scorsese handled the twists and turns of the dark plot so deftly that, even though I KNEW the secret, I was so caught up that it came as a surprise to me as well as the rest of the audience. It’s also one of those films that reveals a little bit more each time one sees it and so definitely bears repeat viewings. I read somewhere a review that called this Scorsese’s homage to Hitchcock. Not a bad description, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with one master paying tribute to another.
My love for How to Train Your Dragon has been well-documented and I’m not sure I can add anything here that I haven’t already said. It’s a simple story beautifully told. Visually stunning, aurally stimulating, heart-warming and just plain fun. It’s the kind of movie about which one could have said, "they don’t make ’em like that anymore". Except they did.
The Ghost Writer is a well-written, well-acted little thriller that took me completely by surprise. It is essentially about a writer hired to "ghost" a politician’s memoirs, even as the politician seems to be torn as to whether he actually wants them told, and who uncovers layers and layers of secrets. It’s another film that begs for repeat viewings both to catch all the little clues you missed the last time and just because the performances are so good, particularly Pierce Brosnan and Ewan MacGregor.
Made in Australia for next to nothing, directed by Nash Edgerton and written by his brother Joel, who also plays Billy (Gawain in King Arthur, Hugo in Smokin’ Aces, etc.), The Square is a tough and brilliant bare bones neo-noir that reminded me a lot of The Coens’ Blood Simple. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of the people reading this have never heard of this movie. It’s a time honored tale of lovers who devise a plan in order to be together — a plan that sounds so simple until everything goes horribly wrong. Watching it unfold, you know nothing is going to go right for these people, but you can’t look away as each domino knocks down the next. I’d already seen it when I got the dvd for Christmas, and I’ve already watched it twice since then. This is one of those movies that some Hollywood mucky-muck with more money than sense is probably already plotting to remake with a bigger budget and a big name cast. See this one first.
Kick-Ass holds a special place for many reasons, not least of which is that it was just plain fun. Also, it featured a brilliant, comedically menacing (or menacingly comedic) performance by Mark Strong. His Frank D’Amico is kind of like Archy’s** angry American cousin (with better fashion sense.) My further thoughts on this film can be found here: weetiger3.livejournal.com/13926.html,
I’m not sure anything I could say here could influence someone’s choice to see Inception, if they haven’t already done so. Brilliant is too pale of a word to describe it. It’s everything we go to the cinema to see a movie for. Big, stunning visuals. An original and, yes, complicated plot full of interesting, well-formed characters that we care about. Well-written dialogue spoken by talented actors and an ending that had people talking not only as they left the theater, but for weeks and months after.
Animal Kingdom is another Australian film that you may not have heard of (also with Joel Edgerton). I do intend to talk more fully about it when it’s released on dvd next month. It’s a family drama about some low-rent, but extremely dangerous villains. (I know I’ve hooked some of you already.) I mentioned it in passing when comparing Melissa Leo’s character in The Fighter with Jacki Weaver’s in this film. "Smurf" Cody, a combination of Lucretia Borgia and Ma Barker, has to be experienced to be believed. I can’t wait to see this again.
I only saw The American very recently. Two nights ago as a matter of fact. I felt compelled to put it on the list because I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even as I was watching it. I went out and picked up a copy the next day. I can very clearly envision myself popping this in to watch a Renault wind around the stark Abruzzi countryside and listen to Herbert Gronemeyer’s haunting score. (Not to mention watch "Mr. Butterfly" run around sans shirt.) Anton Corbijn, best known for directing music videos (U2, Metallica, Depeche Mode) and Control (a biopic of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis) has made a small 70’s era European art-house film starring one of the world’s biggest movie stars, George Clooney. Clooney is so good as a burned-out hit man that you forget that he is George Clooney. There are no smug smiles or even smugger line deliveries. In fact there are few lines at all, but he’s fascinating to watch. You can’t look away because from the opening sequence you don’t know what he’ll do.
It probably comes as no surprise that The Town has made my list of favorites. Parts of it were filmed at "the cathedral of Boston," Fenway Park, which is about two blocks from my apartment. Running late for work one morning, I took a cab and we drove right through where they were unloading the trucks to set up for the day’s shooting. It’s a small thing, but it makes me feel connected somehow. Charlestown, the neighborhood where most of the movie takes place, is where my stbex lived when we met. I love seeing Boston on screen. It may be a big metropolitan city to the rest of the world, but to those of us who live here it feels like a small town. And regardless of what anyone thinks of his accent in this film, Ben Affleck’s second foray into directing proved that Gone Baby Gone, another of my favorites (and another based on a Dennis Lehane novel), was no fluke.
I’ve always thought Affleck was a better actor than he was given credit for or that his list of credits could attest to. (For proof, I offer Hollywoodland. He’s fantastic as George Reeves. It’s too bad more people didn’t see it.) In any case, if he’s a good actor, he’s an even better director. I’ve read in several places recently the topic of who will succeed Clint Eastwood. Why there has to be a successor I don’t fully appreciate, but of all of the candidates mentioned I can foresee the mantle falling to Ben Affleck. He’s already taken the idea of actors securing control of their projects to a higher level than mere producing can obtain. He’s been writing good parts for himself since Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote and famously won an Oscar for with Matt Damon, and he co-wrote The Town as well. He wrote Doug McCray with the intention of playing him, but was not always planning to direct. Apparently, Adrian Lyne was Warner Brothers 1st choice. Frankly, I can’t imagine why and am very happy Affleck stepped up. He directed Amy Ryan to an Oscar nomination his first time out of the gate and I predict he’s done it for Jeremy Renner this time. Renner is perfect as James "Gem" Coughlin. Watch his face right before he says "whose car we takin’?" as he works out what Doug has just asked of him. Everything you need to know about his character, his history with Doug, everything, is right there. (There’s a reason that’s the clip that he takes with him to the chat shows.)
The rest of the cast: Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper (in his one scene), are all brilliant. The only one I didn’t buy was Blake Lively. She tried. The problem was that I could see her trying. I never believed her. Oh well, maybe it’s just me.
It is mere coincidence that the last three films on the list also happen to be my three absolute favorites of the year, although not necessarily in the same order. JMHO, everything you’ve heard about these next movies is true. They are each completely deserving of every superlative that has been used to describe them and of the accolades that are being heaped upon them.
My feelings about The Fighter can be found here: weetiger3.livejournal.com/21316.html I’ve seen it twice and not only did it hold up well on a second viewing, I came away with an even greater appreciation for Christian Bale’s performance. The only thing that really bugged me was the same thing that bugged me the first time around: The movie starts in 1993. No mention is made of how much time has passed, but it appears to have only been a year at most. We’re never told how long Dicky is in prison. If it is only a year, then there is a glaring anachronism in the climactic fight scene, and frankly, I couldn’t believe the filmmakers hadn’t noticed it. (I’m referring to the logo for a website that appears in the middle of the ring during the Ward v. Neary fight in London.) Well, after some research and if the actual timeline is correct, it turns out it wasn’t an anachronism at all. The Ward/Neary fight took place in 2000, seven years after the start of the film. In no way is this ever made clear. It’s a small thing, but it smacked me between the eyes and took me out of the moment both times I saw it. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t detract from the overall power of the film. I’ll continue to get chills whenever I hear Whitesnake’s "Here I Go Again" and I know I’ll want to watch the movie again when I do.
I enjoyed the Coen Brothers’ True Grit immensely, but it almost didn’t make my list. I’ve written about it recently and my thoughts, in case anyone who is interested missed them, can be found here: weetiger3.livejournal.com/22509.html It was a tough call because I wasn’t sure, if based on my criteria above, that I could call it a "favorite" yet. I was afraid that it was actually the pounding baseline of Johnny Cash’s "God’s Gonna Cut You Down" that plays under the trailer that had continued to move me. I added the film to the list and took it off several times before I decided to sleep on it. I finally realized that not only will I add this to my collection because it’s another fine example of a Coen Brothers spin on a classic genre (no, I do not follow them blindly — I did not like Burn After Reading and I do not own A Serious Man), but that I will want to watch it over and over again because I want to spend more time with those characters, especially Jeff Bridges’ Rooster and Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie. I know there are still a lot of naysayers out there and I’ve said all I’m going to about why this movie deserves to exist along side the earlier version, but anyone who denies themselves the pleasure of watching this unknown, untested thirteen year old girl go up against an Oscar winning veteran like Bridges is missing out. Ms. Steinfeld may or may not go on to other great parts, but there’ll only ever be one first.
This brings me to the final film on the list, The King’s Speech. I’m such a complete anglophile that I’d been anxiously awaiting this one from the moment I first heard about it. I raced to the theater to see it as soon as it opened here and really, since my expectations were so high, the only real question was whether or not I’d be disappointed. I was not. I loved every minute of it.
Ostensibly, the film is a period drama about a member of the British Royal Family with a speech impediment, but there’s so much more to it than that. I don’t want to do a detailed synopsis, and I’m rarely interested in doing a conventional review. None of the reviews I’ve read do it justice anyway. The direction and the performances, all of which are spectacular, turn what could have been a dull and dry footnote to British history into a completely engrossing emotional experience.
Colin Firth is astounding. It’s as simple as that. Through the course of the film, one literally watches him transform himself from the shy Duke of York into King George VI, the man who symbolically held his country’s hand and led them through the dark days of World War II. What’s truly amazing is that Firth does it mainly through the way he carries himself and the way he composes his face and his jaw, all of which we see closeup. The camera stays tight on his face and sometimes just his mouth, nearly every time he opens it. I believe he’s a lock for an Oscar. He deserved it for A Single Man and he’s just that consistently good, no matter what piece of dreck*** he appears in, but I don’t think they’ll be able to overlook him this time. I could continue to gush, but what would be the point? This performance is indeed award worthy. For that matter, so is Geoffrey Rush’s. Their dynamic is wonderful. They’re so good together. Just like Wahlberg and Bale, I find it hard to differentiate between these two lead and supporting performances. I suppose it comes down to screen time and Firth is onscreen just slightly more than Rush.
There wasn’t a false note in any of the other performances either. Timothy Spall looks nothing like Churchill, but he evokes the man completely. Guy Pearce not only looked like Edward VIII, he sounded like him. It wasn’t just a matter of him adapting his Australian accent to a posh British one, but anyone who has ever heard snippets of the actual "The Woman I Love" speech would find Pearce uncanny. (Bit of trivia: Anthony Andrews who plays Prime Minister Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain’s predecessor, played Edward VIII in a tv miniseries called "The Woman He Loved" and when he appeared on screen my first thought was, I wonder if he gave Guy Pearce any pointers. Oh well, I had to digress at least once…"so they’d know it was me". )
Helena Bonham Carter has never been better. She seems to have taken to heart what Eleanor Roosevelt once said about the Queen Mother, Elizabeth: that she’s "perfect as a Queen, gracious, informed, saying the right thing & kind, but a little self-consciously regal."+
The relationship between George VI and his "commoner" wife is depicted as being very loving and affectionate and in sharp contrast to what "Bertie" grew up with. His mother, Queen Mary, was shown to be cold and emotionally distant and his father, George V, a tyrant to his children. I was struck by how loving and even demonstrative the current Queen Elizabeth’s early life was supposed to have been, considering how detached she’s supposed to have been with her own children. I think it had to do with the idea that she and her "family" were not being groomed for the throne at the time. A shift in tone is hinted at in one scene after George VI became king. Let’s face it, the British monarchy have always been fairly dysfunctional, but it did feel like a telling glimpse into their lives.
I enjoyed everything about this movie. The costumes, the hair and makeup, the set design and decoration are all stunning. Alexandre Desplat’s score is inspirational and moving and makes wonderful use of some well-known classical pieces. The climatic "speech", the famous one that first rallied the British people at the start of the war, was of course incredibly well done and very emotional (which is as it should be since it is the culminating point of the film), but it is because of the journey we’ve taken more than the words that are spoken that makes it so.
I saw this one a second time as well. Until I had, I was vacillating between this and The Fighter as to which one would be my absolute favorite of 2010. Both films certainly hold up under a repeat viewing (something I haven’t done at the theater for any film without Gerard Butler in it in a very long time), packing the same emotional wallop as they did the first time and both will find a place on my dvd shelves. The difference is that I would be hard pressed to find a single flaw in The King’s Speech.
It’s perfect. Just My Humble Opinion.
*for example Harlan County, USA. A doc focusing on a coal miner’s strike in Kentucky, but depicting the same kind of impoverished rural existence as that of Winter’s Bone.
**Mark Strong’s character in RocknRolla
***Take that, Rupert Everett
+ William Shawcross (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, Macmillan