The Year's Best Films
1. Blue Valentine This master class in acting from the next generation of top talent (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) takes the pulse of modern love. With American divorce rates still hovering near 50%, few stories could be more wistfully relevant than this intimate look at the birth and death of love. First-time director Derek Cianfrance nails the delicate past-vs.-present structure, while Gosling and Williams do miraculous work playing two people at two discrete times in their lives.
2. The Social Network A sly satire about the way people relate today, The Social Network definitively acknowledges the genius of Facebook co-creator Mark Zuckerberg, exposes the ruthlessness of modern American capitalism, and anatomizes the disconnect that is the logical (yet ironic) result of both. As Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg leads a strong, sensitive young ensemble; David Fincher directs with cool efficiency; and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin delivers the flood of incisive talk.
3. Toy Story 3 Pixar’s populist genius reaches a crescendo with the improbably great second sequel to 1995’s Toy Story. Along with the deft comedy and brilliantly choreographed action, kids can still guilelessly delve into the secret world of toys, young to middle-aged adults can feel the hurts-so-good pangs of nostalgia, and the elderly can relate to the terror of social abandonment: it’s a film for all seasons.
4. Inception The words “heady” and “blockbuster” rarely go together, but writer-director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) doesn’t care, and we’re better off for it. This action-adventure set mostly (or entirely?) inside minds may not be a perfect “film” or a perfect “movie,” but by combining the two, Nolan gave us something uniquely satisfying at the multiplex.
5. Rabbit Hole David Lindsay-Abaire adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning play for the screen under the auspices of director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch). Together they found the truth in a shopworn theme (grieving parents) and the thoughtful expression to make unspeakable pain understandable. Fine acting from Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Dianne Wiest and newcomer Miles Teller seals the deal.
6. The King's Speech The good old-fashioned appeal of Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech is dramatic craft. With a cracking screenplay by David Seidler that was seventy years in the making, this docudrama of King George VI (Colin Firth) literally finding his voice with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) entertains and inspires, in no small part due to the brilliant actors’ top-notch tit-for-tatting in a series of dialogue duets.
7. Dogtooth No film this year was stranger than Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurdist allegory, which won top honors in the Un Certain Regard section at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. At once droll and horrifying, this tale of overgrown children made unwitting captives by their parents functions as a condemnation of doomed parental overprotectiveness and perhaps, symbolically, the folly of a “nanny state.” Hm. Maybe Sarah Palin would like it (zing!).
8. Marwencol In a slew of 2010 political documentaries, Jeff Malmberg’s character study Marwencol stood out from the pack. Remarkable outsider artist Mark Hogancamp simultaneously lives in two worlds: ours and the one-sixth-scale WWII-era Belgian town built and photographed in Hogancamp’s upstate New York backyard. Malmberg puts on display the endearingly damaged and heroically resilient Hogancamp and his stunning self-therapeutic art.
9. The Ghost Writer One of the most purely pleasurable films of 2010, Roman Polanski’s wicked little thriller—derived from Robert Harris’ novel The Ghost—brims with paranoia and witty style. The smirky absurdity of Ewan McGregor’s travails as ghost writer to Pierce Brosnan’s ex-P.M. consistently delivered deadpan delights.
10. Lebanon Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz’s deeply personal account of the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War puts us inside a tank with four traumatized soldiers for ninety minutes. This unshakeably powerful evocation of war as hell is not easy to endure in its “you are there” virtual reality: you may go as mad as the warriors. But if this is pure cinema at its most unnerving, it’s also at its best.
Special citation: The Red Riding Trilogy, three films that created a compelling whole
Runners-up: Alamar, Another Year, True Grit, Carlos, Restrepo, Fish Tank, Animal Kingdom, The Kids Are All Right, Let Me In, White Material, Prodigal Sons, Four Lions, Winter's Bone, A Prophet, Ajami.
The Year's Worst Films (There But For the Grace of God Go You): When in Rome, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Furry Vengeance, The Spy Next Door, Remember Me, The Nutcracker in 3D, The Back-Up Plan, Sex and the City 2, Grown Ups, The A-Team.
Overrated/Overhyped: Exit Through the Gift Shop, I Am Love, Cyrus, The Square.
Underrated/Undersold/Overlooked: Stone, Leaves of Grass, Kisses, South of the Border, Mother and Child, The Eclipse, The Book of Eli.
The Yellow-Bellied Coward Award goes to the studios that released Killers, Devil, Skyline, Jackass 3-D, The Last Exorcism, The Warrior's Way, Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too?, Vampires Suck, Saw 3D, Paranormal Activity 2, Case 39, Chain Letter, Resident Evil: Afterlife, and Macgruber, among others (A few of these charmers played for critics on the night before opening at 7:30pm or even in some cases as late as 9 or 10pm. These are the times when you see "TOO LATE FOR REVIEW" in your morning paper, though some particularly hardy internet critics will burn the midnight oil to review them.)
Coolest Titles: Kick-Ass, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Undead
Worst Titles: Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, The Virginity Hit, Sea Rex 3D: Journey to a Prehistoric World
Inaptest Titles: Faster, Life as We Know It, The Greatest, Remember Me, From Paris with Love, The Last Exorcism, The Karate Kid
Movies that Never Got Anywhere Near Me (damn!): Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, GhettoPhysics: Will the Real Pimps and Hos Please Stand Up?
Demented Double Features/Marathon Madness: 2010 films that belong together...