Year-end lists aren’t necessarily hot commodities these days, especially in the realm of us film bloggers. They’re often bland, repetitive as such and generally uninteresting. Why am I compiling one you ask? The answer’s simple: I love lists, and I love film even more.
While 2010 wasn’t what you’d call a landmark year for filmmaking, there were more than a handful of above average efforts I had the pleasure of viewing, a good deal of which arrived in theaters just in the nick of time. This in mind, I’m proud to say that I’m pleased with my choices for the ten best of the past year, and in spite of not being the most awe-inspiring or original, it’s safe to say I’ve finally kicked the habit of letting the opinions of others directly affect my own; something I feel has been reflected in the list I’m about to share with you. Enjoy, and as always, feel free to comment on whatever you’d like.
Danny Boyle and I have never really gotten along. Sure, I enjoy the hell of 28 Days Later and (most of) Sunshine, but the director’s noticeable creative flourishes have often struck me as somewhat ostentatious. With 127 Hours however, Boyle managed to strike a perfect balance between his signature style and the affecting, emotionally charged framework of the true story the film is based on, allowing James Franco to shine in a breathtaking turn as the one and only Aron Ralston. It’s this performance that transforms the film from good to great, but Boyle’s uncanny ability to keep a film set entirely within a barren crevasse as engrossing as it is further elevates 127 Hours above its contenders.
You can’t throw a rock inside your local Blockbuster without hitting the latest pseudo-intellectual crime drama littered with predictable twists and turns. Having heard nothing but praise for David Michôd’s Australia-set Animal Kingdom, I decided to take a gamble and walked away much more than just pleasantly surprised. Sure, the textbook elements of the genre’s precursors are there, twists and all, but the hard-hitting narrative and genuinely interesting characters bring a whole lot more to the table while Michôd deftly sidesteps any and all clichés. Emotionally riveting and beautifully shot, Animal Kingdom is easily the best feature-length debut from any director to come along in quite some time.
Just the thought of remaking a contemporary horror classic roughly 2 years after its theatrical release is blasphemous enough, but actually acting upon that thought and doing the unthinkable is an entirely different animal. Surprisingly enough, director Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame has managed to do something countless others haven’t: produce a remake that actually surpasses the original. As bold as this statement sounds, Reeves’ thoughtfulness in combining the key elements that made the original so great with his singular, tasteful creative touches have allowed me to stand by these words even months down the line. Throw in a pair of captivating performances from two of Hollywood’s most promising young upstarts and you’ve almost perfected something that was already dangerously close to perfection.
While some may feel differently about Lisa Cholodenko’s seriocomic foray into the world of familial relations and the importance of togetherness, I found it to be quite the masterpiece. With a budget of around $4 million, it’s safe to say that anything less than a stellar narrative would fail to deliver where the film most certainly should have, and stellar is precisely how it can be described. Deftly avoiding both convention and melodrama to craft an exceptionally well-rounded and accessible piece of cinema, Cholodenko’s indie hit rests safely among the year’s best and showcases several probable Oscar-worthy performances.
Some call it a “thinking man’s blockbuster.” Others say it’s overrated. Seeing as how Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending venture into the inner workings of our very own subconscious has scored a spot on this list, Inception in my eyes is far from overrated; it’s just that good. As an exceedingly intelligent piece of science fiction, Nolan’s sprawling epic puts forth ideas so appealingly complex that any flaws the film does have are immediately overshadowed by the multi-layered narrative that’s bewildered even the most seasoned of viewers. Accompanied by unique, jaw-dropping visuals and an unforgettable musical score, Inception received the attention and overt praise it most certainly deserved.
The phrase “It was like nothing I’d ever seen!” is probably one of the most hyperbolic and generally misused statements heard today. Sure, I’ve been found guilty of throwing it around here and there, especially after watching something as unique as Edgar Wright’s nearly flawless adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s acclaimed graphic novels. It’s no secret that Wright himself has provided us with a pair of the most hilarious, well-written action comedies to come along in the past decade, and Scott Pilgrim can safely be considered the third. Fantastic sense of humor aside, the film incorporates a wildly entertaining visual flair to coincide with the very essence of the source material, the inclusion of which takes Scott Pilgrim to noticeably new heights within the realm of cinema, even if some may already be suffering from Michael Cera overload.
In the world of street art, to say the name Banksy rings a bell is like saying the Grand Canyon is just a ditch. Originally meant to be a documentary about the famed faceless legend himself, Banksy instead took it upon himself to switch roles with the individual who had initially set out to work with him: the bizarre and eccentric Thierry Guetta. Whether the production as a whole is a hoax or not, it’s hard to deny how fascinating this mostly up-close examination of the most renowned artists of our time truly is, despite the bizarre shift in focus that inadvertently sheds light on topics frequently touched upon within the art world. Humorous, intriguing and just plain wonderful, Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the few documentaries I’ve ever taken such a fervent liking toward.
Easily discernible as the quintessential companion piece to director Darren Aronofsky’s previous effort, Black Swan once again unflinchingly and brilliantly illustrates the tragic downfall of an individual forever consumed by his or her demanding profession. Aided by a magnificent central performance from Natalie Portman, Aronofsky’s genre-bending psychological thriller is both appropriately melodramatic and wildly entertaining, even as Nina’s deteriorating mental health and overwhelming fragility begin to haunt us as much as they do her. Tense throughout and an absolute wonder to behold, Black Swan is more than just an acceptable companion piece: it’s a stroke of genius.
Creating a film that effectively defines an entire generation of people in just under two hours is quite the achievement. David Fincher’s The Social Network is just such an achievement, bringing with it an unsurpassed cinematic prowess that largely excels due to its enthralling, lightning fast pace and ingenious script. Granted, the story surrounding the social networking behemoth’s inception is fascinating within itself, but Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of the young billionaire that’s responsible is equally to thank for how great the project turned out. Oscar contenders abound round out an already stellar cast and Fincher’s confidence behind the camera ensures that The Social Network is easily one of the year’s best.
After driving nearly three hours to this past year’s Philadelphia Film Festival to see this and this alone, I assure you that the experience was as rewarding as can be. While contemporary meditations on love found and lost aren’t necessarily a dime a dozen, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine carries with it a sense of authenticity so powerful it’s almost surreal. Alternately depicting the highest highs and lowest lows of a couple’s relationship as one Dean struggles desperately to rekindle what he and wife Cindy once had, the film itself remains a hugely affecting, almost devastating account of what it’s like to find and lose that love you swore you’d never find again. Additionally, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams commit to their roles so convincingly that most of what makes Blue Valentine so perfect by way of believability can be traced back to their dynamite performances. It isn’t the easiest film to watch, but it sure is beautiful, which is precisely why Derek Cianfrance’s indie drama rises above the rest.