Below are my favorite ten films of the year. They may not be the best films. They are certainly not perfect films. They are films that struck a chord with me. They resonated with me today, and I hope they will resonate with me years from now. Most probably will not, but those are the breaks. For that reason I also include my runners-up: the films that on any other day would have made the ten but on this day did not. Some of these may age better than their higher-ranked counterparts. So here is a snapshot of 2010, ranked in alphabetical order:
THE FIGHTER David O. Russell’s hardscrabble film is more than a boxing movie. It is a movie about a family of fighters. It is a film about how love and respect survive violent disagreement and self-destructive choices, about how carrying on to fight another day is its own form of victory. Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams have been deservedly recognized for their fearless performances. But Mark Wahlberg is rock solid and anchors this unsentimental and inspirational film.
THE GHOST WRITER The world that Roman Polanski’s characters inhabit is bleak and edged with danger. This marvelous throwback to the political thrillers of the ‘60s and ‘70s is suffused with paranoia. Ewan McGregor plays ghostwriter to Pierce Brosnan’s former British Prime Minister. The Ghost (as he’s known) begins to suspect his predecessor may have been killed in a far-ranging conspiracy. The film finds Polanski at the top of his powers and contains the best final scene and best final shot of the year.
MOTHER (MADEO) South Korean filmmaker Joon-ho Bong weaves an off-kilter tale of unhealthy maternal love. When a mentally handicapped young man is accused of a brutal murder, his overprotective mother turns part Nancy Drew, part Charles Bronson in her relentless quest to prove her son’s innocence. Hye-Ja Kim as Mother is astonishing, and Bin Won as the son is nearly as good. The twists are surprising but believable, and Mother’s final moments are devastating.
PLEASE GIVE Writer/director Nicole Holofcener explores how many in society benefit from the misfortune and insecurities of others, and the pervasive guilt that that benefit engenders. This sounds like heavy stuff, but Holofcener’s perceptions are both acute and generous. Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet take these prickly yet recognizable characters and create moments of wild hilarity and quiet heartbreak. This is Holofcener’s best yet.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD Watching Edgar Wright’s visually giddy film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel, you feel as though you have entered the pages of a comic book via a video game. The film chronicles Scott Pilgrim’s (an endearing Michael Cera) epic battles against Ramona Flower’s (an enigmatic Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil exes. For the record there are two too many exes. But the film is such a delirious delight, it’s easy to forgive its often exhilarating excesses.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, as portrayed by the terrific Jesse Eisenberg, understands how to connect people in a quantifiable way. Quality connections are another matter, however. At film’s end we know little more about Zuckerberg than we did before, and that’s as it should be. Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin remind us that nothing can replace the human element for fostering meaningful connection. No matter what Facebook would have us think.
SPLICE The Frankenstein mythos is given a modern overhaul in this creepy, unsettling thriller from director Vincent Natali. Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody play our mad scientists, and we follow them over the ethical line as a genetic experiment goes horribly awry. Natali’s film pushes the envelope of good taste and is reminiscent of the body horror films of David Cronenberg, but more personal and perverse. Although not for everyone, fans of the genre can breathe a sigh of relief.
TOY STORY 3 I was deeply skeptical about this late-arriving sequel, but the magicians at Pixar quelled my concerns with a rich, rewarding and enormously entertaining film. Deep-running concerns about aging and obsolescence are ever present; however, the filmmakers never forget the primary audience and keep the action nimble. And unlike so many other animated films, the voice work here (by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and an all-star cast) never feels like stunt work. It is a labor of love, and it shows in every frame.
TRUE GRIT Joel and Ethan Coen re-imagine the John Wayne chestnut. But instead of comfort food, it is a grimly humorous journey into the flinty heart of darkness. Instead of warm burnished colors, the landscape is bleak and uninviting. Instead of a moppet heroine, Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie as brittle and all business. Instead of a loveable drunk, Jeff Bridges refuses easy sympathy for Cogburn. And the Coens’ use of period language is glorious. This is one to be savored.
WINTER’S BONE Debra Granik’s gripping, atmospheric mystery drops you into the middle of poverty-stricken rural Missouri and leaves you to fend for yourself. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Ree, a 17-year-old girl who must find her ex-con father or lose the family home. Equally terrific is the underrated John Hawkes as her dangerously loyal uncle. The film’s stakes are high and the tension never lets up until the harrowing conclusion. This one will stick with you long after the credits roll.
So that’s it. My ten favorites of 2010. And because it’s hard to limit the list to ten, below are some movies that bounced on and off the list:
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
THE KING’S SPEECH127 HOURS