Monday, December 6, 2010

The Ten Best Films Of 2010

by Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Monday, December 6, 2010

IN 2010 audiences may have escaped to the movies to temporarily insulate themselves from the cold grip of a deepening recession, but they often witnessed reality staring back at them on the big screen.  Perhaps compromised by economic restraint, many films in Hollywood had a harder, rawer edge to them, and independent films were as usual more daring and powerful.  There were excellent films like "Blue Valentine" and "Exit Through The Gift Shop", one of the year's most clever concoctions.  "The Tillman Story" and "Inside Job" were downbeat but very important, as was "Fair Game".  "The Illusionist" was dour, animated beauty.  "127 Hours", "The American" and "Please Give" were energetic and alive, but all for different reasons. 

Only three of the films on this list were released after October.  Most of the ten -- actually, nine and a half films -- on this list reflect a serious tone, but in each there are moments to make you smile, and even laugh loudly.

10 "I'M HERE"         "DAY & NIGHT"

Sienna Guillory, Andrew Garfield in Spike Jonze's "I'm Here".  A scene from Teddy Newton's "Day & Night". 
Smirnoff, Pixar

Okay, so this is a cheat; neither of these is a feature film.  They are short films and together they represent love and idealism beautifully.  There's not a human in either, to the best of my memory, but the themes in both are universally human.

In "I'm Here", Spike Jonze's excellent 28-minute short, a love story between robots in Los Angeles, and the unconditional, undying devotion that ensues, touches the heart, amidst the harsh and cool of Tinseltown.  Sweet, gentle and tender, "I'm Here" may seem absurd to some, but it communicates more in its 20-plus minutes than the 2008 feature film "Seven Pounds" ever could, and is far less ridiculous.  The film stars Andrew Garfield and Sienna Guillory.  Debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival and released on the Internet later in the year.

Teddy Newton's "Day & Night" is the best animation story I saw this year, and it played as a companion lead-in to "Toy Story 3", a widely-acclaimed animated film.  Virtually wordless, it features two Casper-like figures who live in opposite worlds: one in the night, the other in the day.  Each is curious about the other, and fearful and resentful.  This priceless six-minute musical comedy adventure is colorful, bristling with fun, warmth and visual splendor.  The ideas conveyed are simple and eloquent, and the results are nothing short of beautiful.  It's a treasure of a film.  U.S. release date: June 18, 2010.


Natalie Portman as Nina in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan".  Fox Searchlight

Darren Aronofsky penetrated the mind of an ultra-competitive and childlike ballerina in 2010 with his visually arresting and demented "Black Swan", something of a cruel joke in the face of those ballet sophisticates who love "Swan Lake" in its purest form.  Mr. Aronofsky pollutes that ballet classic with pleasure however, horrifying us with this claustrophobic tale of mania, identity and possession.  Many want to possess ballerina Nina, who wants to be both swan queen and black swan.  Ms. Portman's amazing work comprises the physical, emotional and psychological realms so completely that it singularly -- except for some disturbing images -- powers "Black Swan" to greatness.  It's a jarring psychodrama of jealousy, sex, lust and innocence lost.  Also starring: Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder.  U.S. release date: December 3, 2010.


Elle Fanning as Cleo and Stephen Dorff as Johnny in Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere".  Focus Features

Sofia Coppola's best film to date is "Somewhere", a funny satire about pampered movie stars in Hollywood.  Her direction of the film is its most impressive asset, with long, unbroken takes in a keenly observed character piece.  Bristling with wit, irony and Kubrickian flair, "Somewhere" is set in Los Angeles, and features a famous actor-stuntman (Stephen Dorff) who balances his banal routines with the visit of his daughter (Elle Fanning).  Music score by Phoenix, with perfect placement of The Strokes' song "I'll Try Anything Once".  U.S. release date: December 22, 2010 (select cities).


Lesley Manville as Mary in Mike Leigh's "Another Year".  Sony Pictures Classics

"Another Year" is an incisive drama by the improvisational and incomparable Mike Leigh, and his film is about pretension, reality and the chasm between rich and poor in modern-day England.  Chronicled in four seasons of a calendar year, there's humor, sadness, tension and pain.  Cleverly rendered, visually rich, perfect in tone and pace, "Another Year" is a superb adult drama in which affluent characters gently patronize and indict, while more modest souls sit quietly in isolation or tell the agonizing truth.  An ensemble drama full of great performances, most especially from Lesley Manville, unforgettable as Mary.  You can feel her heart ache and break, and yours does too.  U.S. release date: December 29, 2010


Kate Jarvis as Mia in Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank".  IFC Films

Andrea Arnold captures the British working class in such a nakedly honest way it feels too personal.  In her sophomore feature "Fish Tank" she chronicles 15-year-old Mia (the impressive debut of Kate Jarvis, above), who lives in Essex in council flats with dreams of being an aspiring hip-hop star and dancer.  She stays with her wayward mother during a summer and meets one of her boyfriends (Michael Fassbender).  The most impressive things about Ms. Arnold's coming of age drama are the performances of Mr. Fassbender and Miss Jarvis, and Ms. Arnold's outstanding direction.  You feel the sweat, heat and passion of Miss Jarvis's character in this raw, abrasive and confrontational film.  Ms. Arnold's characters may not be sympathetic but they are real human beings, never caricatured for the audience's comfort.  U.S. release date: January 15, 2010.


David Roberts stars as Ray in "The Square", directed by Nash Edgerton.  Apparition
A taut, tense noir echoing films like "A Simple Plan", "The Square" is a tightly-executed, well-written drama about a criminal plan interrupted by a love story (or is it the other way round?)  The film, adeptly directed by actor-stuntman Nash Edgerton and co-written by his brother Joel (who also has a part in the film), captures the suffocation of a character who seems to be death-proof if not dilemma-proof.  Released in Australia (its country of origin) during the summer of 2008, "The Square" not only symbolizes the ethical and psychological box the film's characters are trapped in, but it's also the nickname of Ray, the lead character pictured above.  David Roberts stars in the title role and he rivets us with a quietly commanding performance.  U.S. release date: April 9, 2010 (limited release).


Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher's "The Social Network".  Sony Pictures

Jesse Eisenberg explodes the enlivening cyber drama "The Social Network", David Fincher's crackling tale about the true story involving the two lawsuits Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was embroiled in.  Mr. Eisenberg has the look, manner and cadence of Mr. Zuckerberg down to a tee in a superb dramatic performance, and the film pulses on the energy of razor-sharp inventions and brilliance of the minds that uncover them.  Morality tale, ethical dilemma and funny, caustic human drama all rolled into one, "The Social Network" is as visually alive a film as you'll see all year.  The film's pace, especially some of the opening scene dialogue, is Hawksian breakneck and breathless.  Mr. Fincher's direction is both subtle and distinct, as is the cinematography by Jeff Cronenweth and screenwriting by Aaron Sorkin, based on Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires.  Also starring Andrew Garfield, terrific as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Justin Timberlake, great as Napster's Sean Parker.  With Rooney Mara and Armie Hammer.  U.S. release date: October 1, 2010.


Joan Rivers in the documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work", directed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg.  IFC Films

Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg directed a documentary that doesn't feel like a documentary, at least not a typical one.  If an entertainer talked about her life on film it would of course document events, but this living, breathing memoir on celluloid about Joan Rivers' first person account of life in the entertainment industry feels like one of her classic stand-up comedy routines.  "Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work" is an unabashed showcase of Ms. Rivers at her best and worst, at her most tragic and triumphant.  More than that, it is a painfully hilarious journey through the meat-grinder of show business.  Ms. Rivers is sympathetic, fearful, confident and unabashedly in your face.  She'd probably bristle if you said she was in the twilight of her career.  Not even close.  Joan Rivers is just getting warmed up.  U.S. release date: June 11, 2010 (limited release).


Ewan McGregor in Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer".  Summit

Embattled or not, Roman Polanski threw a great political thriller onto the big screen in 2010, one that he expertly co-wrote (with Ghost author Robert Harris) and directed.  A ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) succeeds where the previous ghost writer failed: completing a memoir about fictional British prime minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), but the rest of the time he's drawn into a mystery about some of the very people who hired him.  Cheeky, satirical and intelligent, "The Ghost Writer" shows off  Mr. Polanski's vintage style and atmosphere, from start to finish.  The film percolates with Alexandre Desplat's riveting score and strong ensemble performances by Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall and Tom Wilkinson.  U.S. release date: March 19, 2010.


Evolution, devolution: Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, Ben Mendelsohn in David Michôd's "Animal Kingdom".  Sony Pictures Classics

The law of the jungle applies in the tough-minded and gritty Australian crime drama "Animal Kingdom", from first-time feature film director David Michôd, who astutely observes human behavior as it disintegrates into a battle of survival of the fittest within a crime family of blood relatives.  A nephew, Josh "J" Cody stays with his aunt Janine, a matriarch with incestuous ties to her sons, and becomes ensnared in the family's criminal hunting season as it tries to extricate itself from several murders.  This arresting and poetic film is defined by suspense, powerful drama and phenomenal acting from Jacki Weaver as the matriarch and Ben Mendelsohn as one of the brothers in the Cody crime family.  Mr. Michôd's writing is so good, and his characters behave on impulse and in a credible manner.  Also starring Joel Edgerton and Anthony Hayes (both in "The Square"), Guy Pearce, and introducing James Frecheville as "J".  He is memorable in only his second feature film.  U.S. release date: August 15, 2010.

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