Top Twenty Movies of 2010

So, 2010 was a really good year for movies; as of writing this, I’ve seen 46 that came out this year. Because of that, I had trouble narrowing it down to ten, so I did twenty. As in the past, this is not a list of the “best” films of the year, it’s a list of my favorite.

20. The American
The absolute worst-marketed film of the year, which unfortunately led to the ones who would dislike it, seeing it and the ones who would like it, avoiding it. Anton Corbijn (for better or worse) chose to focus on the mundane portions of being a hit man. Some would say that elevated the tension of the (few and far between) action scenes. Others would just say it’s boring. I fell somewhere in the middle.

19. How to Train Your Dragon
If the American was the worst-marketed movie of the year, then here’s the worst-titled; this, no doubt, discouraged a lot of people from seeing it. But add an extremely fun movie that doesn’t try to do too much and then throw in an ending that has actual consequence and you’ve got yourself the best animated movie of the year…if it had come out in 2011 against Cars 2 (i.e. Pixar’s attempt to balance out the genius of Toy Story 3, Up and Wall-E with selling a ton of toys).

18. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Absolutely the most underrated movie of the year. By me and everyone else. I really want to put this higher on my list, but I can’t find a place for it. It’s such an incredible nod to geek culture that it doesn’t matter whether or not you like geek culture to enjoy it. Please go watch this. Edgar Wright needs more work.

17. Never Let Me Go
And here’s the most depressing movie of the year. Unfortunately, some people won’t be able to make it past that emotion to see the great things (both in the film and for film itself) that are being done. It’s a high-concept drama that eschews all of the ‘high’ and the ‘concept’ and focuses on the meaning of being human. Not in a grand way, but in a way that the lives of three “people” explain it. Maybe I should have ranked this higher.

16. Easy A
Go ahead and move on to number 15. Nothing to see here…I absolutely did not rank a teen romantic comedy in my top 20 movies of the year. But if I did, I probably would have said that it may (MAY!) be the funniest movie of the year and that Emma Stone can act (and can carry a film). My only real complaint is the obviously post-script, tacked-on love interest. I guess the studio needed teen girls and not mid-20 year-olds watching their movie.

15. The Town
Ben Affleck can direct. Gone Baby Gone proved this. And while GBG is the superior movie, any movie with Jon Hamm kicking ass deserves to be in the top 15 of end-of-year movie lists.

14. Blue Valentine
I’ve seen this described as a movie detailing the dissolution of a relationship, but really the relationship has already dissolved by the time the movie starts; we just see the consequences of it. What makes it even more painful is that half the movie details how the two got together. Since the film isn’t chronological (you’ll have a scene of “future” Cindy and Dean and then a scene of “past” Cindy and Dean), you get the ups and downs of the relationship at different points in the movie, rather than just the beginning or the end. It makes for interesting contrast. Perhaps my favorite thing about the film is its cloudiness; you’re not really sure why any of it is happening, but it is, and that’s what matters. Sometimes that’s how things really are.

13. Somewhere
Sofia Coppola is one those writers/directors that you can always kind of pick out that it’s her writing/directing. Most of the time in a good way. Somewhere felt like the spiritual successor to Lost in Translation. It also may have won my award for most depressing movie of the year if it wasn’t for Never Let Me Go.

12. The Fighter
I wasn’t as high on this as most people seem to be. Bale and Leo are incredible, but the rest of the film seemed fairly stock. Good stock, but still stock.

11. Winter’s Bone
Another movie I’m not as high on as some people. Obviously I think it’s very, very good (or it wouldn’t be listed this high), but the whole point of this film is to go on the emotional journey with Jennifer Lawrence and I felt like I got left back at the cabin. I’m reserving the right to change this opinion if I get the chance to rewatch it. Lawrence’s performance is one of the best of the year, though.

10. The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski’s most mainstream film I’ve ever seen. It does everything you want a political thriller to do and it does it better than any I’ve seen in a long time.

9. Let Me In
The original adaptation of the novel (the Swedish film, Let the Right One In) is one of my all-time favorite movies, so the American version made me nervous. Fortunately, Matt Reeves stuck close to the source material and put a uniquely American stamp on it. In a good way. No, really.

8. Monsters
I love movies where you go in thinking one thing and then leave thinking another. On first glance, the title seems straightforward, but it’s not so clear when you’re leaving the theater. The acting isn’t great (it’s not horrible, either), but the script and screenplay are incredible. I’m really looking forward to much more from Gareth Edwards in the future. (Especially when he’s given a budget and doesn’t have to do the writing, producing, directing and special effects himself)

7. 127 Hours
127 Hours is like drinking a can of Red Bull: while you’re watching it, you’re thinking this may be the best movie of the year; but, when it’s over, you’re just kind of thirsty.

6. The King’s Speech
Blah blah blah…period drama…blah blah blah…character actors. It’s actually pretty funny and surprisingly entertaining. Don’t write this off as the “boring movie that is required to rack up end-of-the-year awards.” Go see it. You’ll enjoy it.

5. Black Swan
After last year’s Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky makes his triumphant return to simultaneously depressing you and messing with your mind (as opposed to the excellent Wrestler, which just depressed you). There’s very little originality here in the plot and it’s a (surprisingly) straightforward story, but that’s not what you’re coming to see this movie for. It’s Aronofsky’s visual interpretation of Nina slowly and absolutely losing her mind. Most modern directors would rely on an actress as good as Natalie Portman to emote her way through losing her mind. Not Aronfosky. He wants to make sure that there’s no question as to what Nina’s going through. In a less-capable director’s hands, it becomes overly melodramatic and much too literal. With Aronofksy, he’s found a way to balance the actors, the subject matter and the imagery to make an incredible rendition of Swan Lake both in the film and of the film.

4. True Grit
My family always goes to see a movie on Christmas. We’ve done it for the past four or five years. The true testament to True Grit is that everyone in my family who went to see it, loved it; it’s this year’s Blind Side, except it’s actually good. Joel and Ethan Coen are among my favorite writer/directors (yeah, yeah, everyone says that), but not since O Brother, Where Art Thou? have they produced a movie that’s crowd pleasing and legitimately good. There were so many factors against them with this movie and they rise above it with pitch-perfect writing, casting and directing. The fact that you have three outstanding performances with Hailee Standfeld, Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon is just icing on the cake. The Coens have consistently proven they can write dark, deep material, but True Grit is proof they’re just as adept at the lighter fare.

3. Toy Story 3
You’ll hear a lot of people say this, I’m sure, but who would have ever thought that the most human movie of the year would be animated? Much like I’ll do with the Social Network, I want to focus on one scene: the one (Spoilers Ahead!) where the toys are sure they’re about to be incinerated. I didn’t think there was any chance this would happen at first (it’s a “children’s” movie, after all), but one by one, they all begin to accept their fate. It wasn’t until Woody, the audience’s proxy and the one that never gives up, accepted it that I really felt like it might happen. And I was genuinely scared. Sure, that seems ridiculous now, but at the time everyone who’s watching that movie felt the same way. Don’t deny it. The funny thing is that, in my opinion, two of the best four scenes in a movie this year came in Toy Story 3. The scene where Andy plays with the toys one more time has an equally big emotional impact. We’ll get to the other two in a second.

2. The Social Network
Here’s the best film of the year. No question. If it doesn’t win the Best Picture Academy Award, it will be a travesty. As much as I simultaneously love and hate to admit it, Facebook is defining my generation. I love and hate it for the exact same reasons: the constant flow of information. Facebook produces ungodly amounts of white noise that sucks up ungodly amounts of time, but it’s keeping us connected and connecting us with (for better or worse) more and more people. Can that be a bad thing? This movie represents our generation in ways that I never would have thought possible: we’re more open-minded, we expect things to get better and better, we think we’re the most intelligent generation. We all have some of those qualities that Mark Zuckerberg has that makes him a hero and an anti-hero at the same time.

Which brings me to the absolute best scene in any film of the year: the final one. (Spoilers Ahead!) It’s nothing but Mark Zuckerberg sitting there and refreshing his ex-girlfriend’s profile every few seconds. What makes this scene so great is that we can very literally and metaphorically apply this to our generation. I’m pretty sure every single one of us has done exactly what Zuckerberg was doing at some point or another. We’ve sat down to Facebook, gone to someone’s profile and done our damnedest to get it to change in a way we want. But also, how accurate of a picture is that of our generation? We know what we want, we feel like it’s within our power to get it, so we do our best to will the vision of how things should be into existence; even if it’s no more than sitting and hoping things change.

Off the top of my head, the only other scene that’s more iconic than this is the final scene in the Graduate: Benjamin has just “saved” Elaine from her wedding, they hop on the bus and his face shows he’s never been happier in his life…until it fully comes over him what he’s done and what that means… and his face falls accordingly. Benjamin’s demeanor ends up somewhere in the middle: not quite exuberantly happy, but content with what’s occurred and what it means for him. I don’t think Zuckerberg reached that same state (he did some truly awful things), but he’s accepted that he’s made his bed and now he has to sleep in it.

1. Inception
When I was a kid, every movie I saw was the best I’d ever seen. Especially the big blockbusters. It gave my kidself something that I could process: things blowing up! The world being saved! The heroes coming out on top! It made me feel big and important because big and important things were happening.

Now that I’m a pseudo-adult and a movie nerd, I usually find that satisfaction in great comedies or dramas, rarely ever the big budget blockbusters. That’s why Inception was so great to me. It’s that intersection of the big blockbuster and the thinking-person’s film. It’s got enough to keep you entertained, but it’s also layered enough to keep the movie snobs happy. Take, for example, the second best scene of the year: the hallway fight in the hotel. This one scene encapsulates everything great about this movie: the action, the way that each of level of dreaming has a direct effect on the previous and next level, the amount of sheer understanding that’s required to get not only what’s going on in this scene, but also why it’s going on. It’s movie-making at it’s very best.

Inception isn’t as deep as the Social Network and it doesn’t have the emotional impact of Toy Story 3, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been as entertained and wonderfully misdirected in a movie. When dream upon dream kept piling up, there was a point where I leaned over to the person next to me and said, “I can’t keep straight what’s real and what’s not.” And that’s what Christopher Nolan wanted. He didn’t want you to be confused about what was going on, but he wanted you to lose your grip on reality in much the same way that Cobb was losing his. Think about that for a second. Nolan was able to write a script where you could keep up with the plot, but lose reality inside of the movie. Isn’t that why we go to the theater?

Apologies to: Shutter Island, The Kids Are All Right, Animal Kingdom, Kick-Ass, The Other Guys 

Still need to see: Another Year, Get Low, Secretariat, Hereafter, Paranormal Activity 2, Tangled