Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Best of the Year: 2010

Better late than never, right? While the rest of the blogosphere and the circle of critics dole out their Best of the Year lists in December and January, I barely scratch the surface in viewing everything I want to see that year. In fact, many of the titles I loved in 2010 was seen in 2011.

That's OK. It's not the first time I've been called slow.

It was a strong year. 2010 had a lot more very good films than great ones, and that's a fair trade off. Great films are hard to come by but the great amount of honorable mentions listed below tells me that we're not lacking in quality films and talented artists.

And on that note, allow me to present...

My Picks of the Year
(in alphabetical order)
Blue Valentine
Derek Cianfrance directed this achingly beautiful drama about a young couple approaching the end of a brief marriage. We've seen endless films about the dissolution of wedded bliss (ranging from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf to Kramer Vs Kramer to War of the Roses), but this one feels fresh. Blue Valentine is bittersweet because not only do we witness the cruel, difficult end of their relationship but also the hopeful, wistful beginning. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are nothing short of electrifying.

Ryan Reynolds delivers a tour-de-force in Buried, a high-concept thriller about a man trapped in a coffin and ... well, that's all you really need to know. This is the kind of film that benefits from the element of surprise. Director Rodrigo Cortes makes an impressively assured debut. It's not an easy feat to turn a one-character film into an edge-of-your-seater. Nicely done.

This one came out of nowhere. Catfish is a documentary that plays like a thriller. We follow a man named Ariel Schulman who chronicles his long-distance friendship with a very young fan. He becomes close to the girl's older sister and friendly with their mother. When he decides it's time to meet them all in person, things don't exactly go as planned. Catfish as frightening as any horror film I've ever seen but the final act is the film's biggest surprise. I was not expecting to be so moved and touched. Whether you believe all of this to be real or fake, Catfish is a beautiful story about expectations and loneliness.

Get Low
A quiet little charmer, Get Low is a drama about a man owning up to his guilt. A terrible thing happened 50 years ago and Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) has lived with it most of his life. His health was beginning to fail, so it was time to come clean. He arranges a funeral (with Bill Murray and Lucas Black) for himself to close this unnerving chapter of his life. Get Low has a big heart and enough supply of whimsy to last the whole year.

I Love You Phillip Morris
Not since Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has Jim Carrey taken command of the screen as he does in I Love You Philip Morris. When Carrey stars in a film with big ideas and a larger than life role (i.e. The Truman Show), magical things happen. He plays a con man who leaves his wife for another man (Ewan MacGregor) and, together, they embark on a journey so twisted and crazy that it has to be true. The writers of Bad Santa have become masters of biting comedy and irreverent wit. By far and large, I Love You Philip Morris is the funniest movie of the year.

Mother and Child
I should never underestimate the power of Rodrigo Garcia. This guy continues to impress me with his pedigree and at this point in his young career, I'd put him in the same league as John Sayles. After having his hand in Six Feet Under and In Treatment, he wrote and directed Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her. His latest, Mother and Child is exactly what you'd expect from him, a probing, insightful look at the unique relationships between adults and their offspring. Garcia elicited terrific performances from Annette Bening, Samuel L Jackson and Naomi Watts.

127 Hours
Danny Boyle's emotionally charged drama 127 Hours feels like it shouldn't have worked. I mean, the plot is paper thin: a man gets trapped on a mountaintop and reflects on his life while waiting for the inevitable. The suspense is ruined by the common knowledge that Aron Ralston survived this ordeal. But that being said, it's a testament to Boyle's gifts as a filmmaker that this film works at all. 127 Hours is as alive and life-affirming as anything I've seen all year.

The Social Network
Combining the talents of writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher was something that should have been done long ago. This pairing is akin to throwing a lit match into gasoline, the end result being The Social Network, a scorching, compulsively watchable high-stakes thriller about claiming ownership to a billion dollar enterprise. Everything about this movie flows beautifully - the score, the performances, the taut direction. It's the only time when the terms "Facebook" and "emotionally satisfying" will ever work in the same sentence.

The Town
I don't know about you but I'm really enjoying Ben Affleck's career resurgence, this time as director. Gone Baby Gone impressed me, but The Town showed me that Affleck has what it takes to be a big time director in this business. He stars as Doug McRay, a bank robber whose attempts to start anew is foiled by pressure from a mob boss (the late, great Pete Postlethwaite) and a live wire partner (Jeremy Renner). It's a crackling genre piece imbued with a quiet intensity.

Toy Story 3
My love affair with Pixar continues with this disarmingly sweet film about looking back at your childhood and growing up. After touching me deeply with the opening montage from Up, Pixar made me reach for the hankies yet again (and again) as the gang survives another great adventure and Andy says goodbye. No one touches the soul quite like Pixar.

You Don't Know Jack
The best docudrama of the year and, no surprise, it came from HBO. After last year's remarkable John Adams miniseries and Recount, and this year's Temple Grandin, HBO is the go-to place for emotional, fact-based dramas with extraordinary pedigree. You Don't Know Jack delves into the beliefs of Jack Kevorkian, a controversial doctor who spent many years of his career defending the right to assist sickly patients in suicide. Al Pacino delivers his best performance in 30 years. It's uncanny how he gets inside Kevorkian's skin and under ours. The film is also a remarkable achievement for long-time director Barry Levinson.

Honorable Mention
The American; Another Year; Barney's Version; Black Swan; City Island; Conviction; Cyrus; Dogtooth; Fish Tank; Get Him To The Greek; The Ghost Writer; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One; Hereafter; Inception; The Kids Are All Right; The King's Speech; Paranormal Activity 2; Please Give; Rabbit Hole; Salt; Temple Grandin; True Grit; Unstoppable; Waiting for Superman


Anonymous said...

First off let me congratulate you on separating yourself from the competition. How many critics leave their "best of" list for the previous year in September?

I find your list to ve excellent. I really appreciate the love for "Mother and Child." The film didn't get a lot of recognition, but made my own top 10 list too.

I'll be following your blog. Start thinking about your 2011 chiices now! lol

Amir said...

Though only three of your choices made it to my personal top dozen, I really like your write-up.

And I actually think it's a good idea to leave these type of lists to later. I do my own in February, mostly because some of the big shot contenders for such lists make their way to Toronto later than LA/NY. But I find that around this, I disagree with a couple of my choices and the ranking. You let yourself so much more time to think and I think this list is actually a lot more thoughtful than much of the outpouring in January.

Dave said...

@fastfilm - Thanks for the follow, and my 2011 list is a long time coming! I have a preliminary one now and, sadly, it features only 2 titles (which may not even make the final cut!). Drop by next September! :-)

@Amir - I appreciate the kind words, and I do agree that time allows you to be more accurate with these lists. Back in February, I was sure Inception would make the final cut. But after some time away from the film's hype and viewing experience, I haven't really thought about it much. It's a terrific movie, no doubt, but the films that landed on my picks list are the ones that stuck with me over time. That, among other variables, is what makes these titles pop out for me.

Eric said...

You have some really great movies here. Buried was a personal favorite of mine last year, and if I were to go back and re-do my top ten list, I would probably include Blue Valentine and Catfish as well. Good stuff, and you're right -- it's better late than never.

Dave said...

Thank you, Eric. Looks like I saved myself the trouble of doubling back this year by making my list 9 months after the rest of the world. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've been looking through your blog a bit now, and I really enjoy your writing. You have fine taste, as I can tell from reading through your Best Of lists. Many picks I agree with, and quite a few films I haven't heard of that have now been added to my queue.

As with your other lists, there are plenty of films I enjoy here (of all the ilms on the list and honorable mentions, the only one I've seen and didn't like is the always divisive Dogtooth). Blue Valentine in particular is fantastic and fully deserves all the praise it gets.

I'll definitely be following your blog from now on. Keep up the good work!

Dave said...

Thanks Emil! I appreciate the kind words, and glad we're (mostly) on the same page.

Dogtooth sure is a divisive title, isn't it? :-)

Anonymous said...

Indeed. I really didn't care for it and found it both needlessly provocative and hollow. But at the same time, I enjoy hearing what people liked about it. It's certainly unique if nothing else, and unique films lead to interesting viewpoints.


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