Shannon’s Top Ten Movies of 2010
I was surprised at how much trouble I had narrowing down my top ten movies this year. My top 20 were all very close, but here are the movies that I ultimately enjoyed the most. I readily admit that I did not see near as many foreign films as I would have liked, but by the time I cover most of the mainstream fare, there is simply no time left.
Honorable Mentions: Fair Game, Tiny Furniture, Greenberg, Cyrus, The Tillman Story, The American, Mother and Child, Scott Pilgrim.
10. Waiting for Superman
This Documentary was equal parts frustrating, inspirational, and heartbreaking. Director Davis Guggenheim (No End in Sight) sheds light on the dismal state of our public school system. He follows the plight of several children who live in various geographic regions who are placing all of their hope for an decent education into lottery systems for charter or private schools. Guggenheim relies on their compelling stories for a narrative, while interspersing lots of graphics and cartoons illuminating some pretty harrowing statistics.
Clocking in at ninety minutes, the film is far too short to offer any real answers to the problem, though it does present a few charter schools that are getting it right. The film has been [rightfully] criticized for not providing solutions. However, the strength of the film lies in its ability to start a dialogue about the problem. This is one of the most important documentaries of the year, and deserves recognition. You can read our review here.
9. Winter’s Bone
Director Debra Granik perfectly captures the glum and chill of the poverty in the rural Ozarks in this fine film. I actually grew up in the area, so the film struck a particular chord with me. It was puzzling to me when so many east and west coast film critics brushed off the film as fantastical. They complained that no one really lives like that. I assure you, they do.
The film was shot on location in Southern Missouri with a lean budget of only $2M. Newcomer Jennifer Lawrence provides an Oscar-caliber performance as a 17 year old who navigates the world of rural meth-making while searching for her father and caring for her siblings and mother. She is unforgettable as the tragic heroine.
We see a lot of movies about urban poverty, but very few about rural poverty, and Granik absolutely nails it. You can read our review here.
8. The Company Men
Featuring an amazing cast (Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Maria Bello, Rosemarie DeWitt) this film is about as timely as they get. It examines the economic collapse of 2008 by following the stories of several executives who work at a manufacturing company and abruptly lose their livelihoods. You might find it difficult to feel sympathy for people who were bringing in extravagant salaries when they were fired, but the characters are well written, and you realize that the economy had disastrous consequences for everyone.
Particularly touching is the plight of Chris Cooper’s character Phil, who worked his way up from the factory floor over the course of his life, and is now perceived as too old to be a viable candidate for any other job. He’s just screwed. His speech to pal Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) killed me. When he states that the hardest thing for him to accept is that the world kept going on when his life basically ended, it is devastating.
There is also a nice (though slightly contrived) storyline about Ben Affleck’s hot-shot salesman Bobby learning humility and the value of an honest day’s work when he resorts to construction work to get by. This movie is the only film that I went back and saw in theaters a second time. It really hit home for me, though some might find it too painful and depressing to watch.
7. Rabbit Hole/Blue Valentine (tie)
Yep, I am totally cheating here. However, the films were so similar in tone, theme, and acting that I couldn’t choose one. Both films deal with death and loss. Both are minimilist, stripped down examinations of interpersonal relationships.
In the case of Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a couple dealing with the loss of their young son. The film takes place eight months after his death, so we are spared the actual death. This allows director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) to explore the long lasting implications of grief. I think a lot of us (myself included) believe that grief is something that must be overcome. What I liked about Rabbit Hole is that it posits the idea that it is okay to carry your grief forever. You learn to live with it, instead of without it. For some reason, I find that comforting.
Kidman and Eckhart are both superb in the film, and their acting performances are some of the most realistic ones you will see on film this year. You can read our review of Rabbit Hole here.
Blue Valentine portrays death of another variety-the death of a relationship. Michelle Williams (Cindy) and Ryan Gosling (Dean) are a couple whose marriage hangs by a thread. Cindy seems to have mentally checked out of the relationship long ago. Dean still wants to make a go of it. He convinces Cindy to go spend the night at a hotel, and hopes to rekindle their romance. Instead, ugly truths are unearthed, particularly as the two drink more.
Through flashbacks, we see the first moments of their relationship, when they were young, impulsive, and very much in love. As their love story unfolds, we witness the small life events that caused their love to flicker and fade. It is so real and raw, that it is difficult to watch. Williams and Gosling are both excellent. It’s a downer of a movie, but it is beautifully shot.
6. The Fighter
As I mentioned in my review, this is just flat-out a crowd pleaser. It is exciting, moving, inspirational, and it is based on a true story. Mark Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, a small-time boxer who has lived in his brother Dicky’s shadow his entire life.
Now Dicky (Christian Bale) is a junkie and is dead weight around Micky’s neck. Complicating matters is Micky’s overbearing mother Alice (Melissa Leo) who has mismanaged his career into the toilet. It isn’t until Micky meets Charlene (Amy Adams) that he has the courage to cut the ties that bind, and ultimately triumphs. Great acting all around, though Bale and Leo seem to getting the most attention for their performances. You can read our review here.
5. The Kids Are All Right
This quirky drama won me over in no time. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a lesbian couple raising two children who were the product of an anonymous sperm donor. When the kids are old enough, they seek out and find their donor, who is played by Mark Ruffalo. His character Paul is a perpetually laid-back restaurateur who drives a motorcycle and lives a bohemian lifestyle. The kids are instantly captivated, and develop a relationship with the guy, much to the chagrin of their uptight mom Nic (Bening).
I admire writer/director Lisa Cholodenko for her sensitive handling of the subject matter. A lesser director could have turned this into a slapstick farce, but ultimately the film is funny, touching, and wholly original. It is also universally relatable. Bening is a standout in the film for her performance.
4. 127 Hours
Director Danny Boyle took an unfilmable story and made something magical. This is the true story of hiker Aron Ralston, who became pinned under a boulder while hiking solo. After several days he had to amputate his own arm in order to get out alive. Despite the grisly subject matter, the film is one of the most life-affirming films you will ever see. Boyle keeps the gore to a minimum, and instead concentrates on what Ralston was going through psychologically. Hallucinations and daydreams provide opportunity for Boyle to showcase his signature camera techniques, and keep the story rolling right along.
This was a breakthrough performance for James Franco, who should be nominated for an Academy Award. The film will very likely change your outllook on life. Powerful stuff. You can read our review here.
3. The Social Network
This movie is sweeping all of the critic awards for best picture, and deservedly so. A fantastic adapted screenplay by Aaron Sorkin provides punchy dialogue that is effortlessly executed by star Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook, in the film. This is the somewhat sordid tale of how facebook came to be. It’s a lot more compelling than you might think. There are heroes, villains, and victims, and the story plays out as an excellent, tightly scripted drama.
Eisenberg is terrific. David Fincher directs, and Trent Reznor wrote and performed the score. What else could you possibly want? Even Justin Timberlake is great in the film.
2. True Grit
I’m not a fan of westerns, and I am a self-acclaimed fair weather fan when it comes to the Coen brothers, but this film was one of my favorites of the year. At the heart of the Coen brother’s adaptation of True Grit is one of the most exciting heroines to grace the screen in decades.
It’s uncanny that a pre-teen can be such an inspirational character, but Hailee Steinfeld (all of 14 years old) is so amazing in her debut performance as Mattie Rose, it’s truly a revelatory experience to watch her performance. Without a doubt her performance is one of the best of the year, and it will come as no surprise if she is nominated for an Academy Award. For me, she made the movie. She stars as a headstrong teenager who hires a bounty hunter to find her father’s murderer so that he may brought to proper justice.
The adaptation features some amazing dialogue that sings like poetry when delivered by Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, and Matt Damon. The cinematography is stunning and the film is beautiful to watch. It’s a good old revenge tale, and after watching the original, I think everyone should tip their hats to the Coen brothers for doing it justice, and then some. It’s a rich and rewarding movie. You can read our review here.
1. Black Swan
Though it’s not a perfect film, I have to say that Black Swan ended up being my favorite. It is a dark, provocative, psychological thriller set in the world of competitive ballet.
Natalie Portman (a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination) stars as Nina, an uptight ballerina who mentally unravels due to her quest for perfection. After winning the coveted principal role in Swan Lake, she slowly starts losing her (already tenuous) grasp on reality. Eventually, her reality starts to blur with the Swan Lake storyline until the two are indistinguishable. A competing dancer (played by Mila Kunis) seems to speed the process along.
The film shows the physical and emotional ravages that ballet takes on the dancers as they strive for perfection. Portman trained for months as a dancer, and it shows. Barbara Hershey is terrifying as the controlling stage-mother. Mila Kunis is quite good as well.
However, it is the music that is the real star here. It actually becomes a central character as the familiar Swan Lake score swells and crescendos during pivotal scenes. It’s amazing.
There is some ambiguity that is typical of most of Aronofsky’s films in the final act, but it works well in this film that dabbles in the horror genre. You’ll never be able to watch Swan Lake the same way again. You can read our review here.