Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Top 10 Films of 2010

*Note: The following is part of the continuing "10 FOR 10" series in celebration of ten years of Jeremy The Critic, in which my choices for the top 10 films of each year from 2006-2015 are revealed. Just a reminder that movies must have a U.S. release date of that particular year in order to qualify.

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For 2010, it comes down to ONE. And then there's everything else. In the biggest blowout to come out of these rankings thus far, David Fincher's The Social Network lays waste to the competition. In fact, there is no competition. It's not even close, and that's taking into account that this was actually a pretty good year. But the quality gap between the best and the rest is large enough that compiling this seemed like a formality, merely establishing what we already knew. Fincher and Aaron Sorkin crafted a film so gripping and timely that it would likely win any upcoming or previously covered year in this series. It's simply the best of the decade. Full stop. Since it's already been analyzed to death on this site over the years, I won't linger on the details other than to reiterate how it plays just as strongly for me now as it did when I first saw it in the theater six years ago.

While my top pick is bookended by two of the most successfully written, directed and performed in recent memory, everything in between manages to lives up to it, anchored primarily by Jesse Eisenberg's iconic performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, presented (imagined?) here as a terminally antisocial, narcissist who, depending on whom you ask, either founded or stole an eventual technology empire to impress a girl. With Inception, Black Swan, Blue Valentine, True Grit, and 127 Hours following behind, this year's list could almost read as a who's who of greatest contemporary American directors putting out some of their best work. This only makes The Social Network's definitive triumph seem like that much more of a feat.

This time, two films make the list that went unreviewed here upon their original release and when writing about both for the first time here, it became immediately apparent the right choices were made. In the case of Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop, it becomes the second documentary in the four years covered thus far to make the Top 10. Not too bad, but an appalling reminder that I've still somehow yet to review a single film in that genre on this site. 

The Coen Brothers' True Grit remake just slid under the radar without until finally catching up with it a year or two after its release. It's tough to even imagine this list without it and while it could have easily ranked higher, I finally settled on what still feels like an uncomfortably low number 5. It's fair given the competition, but the ranking on paper doesn't accurately reflect my love for the film as much as the accompanying write-up. Between this and the underrated and unfairly maligned TRON: Legacy (coming in at number 8) it's tough to argue that Jeff Bridges didn't fully capitalize on his '09 Oscar win.

Two strangely similar character driven films rounding out the list aren't too shabby either, as Sophia Coppola's hypnotic Somewhere and Noah Baumbach's difficult Greenberg may seem small in story, both are told in a style that allows them to linger in the mind long after they've concluded. With the latter, my initial 3-star review assessing it as a wildly mixed, sometimes unpleasurable experience proved over time to be overly dismissive. It's a keeper. Some other admirable titles that just missed the cut include The American, The Town, Enter The Void, The Fighter, Let Me In, Animal Kingdom, Never Let Me Go, Shutter Island, The Runaways, Buried, Remember Me and Toy Story 3.  With 2010 in the books, we're marching toward 2011, the first of more recent years that won't have as much time and distance behind them.

10. Greenberg

"It doesn't take but the first few minutes of the picture for (Greta) Gerwig to get us on Florence's side, whether she's just walking the dog or stuck in traffic. And the more time we spend with her the more we like her and if she says we'll be tolerating Greenberg's behavior today, well then, we'll be tolerating Greenberg's behavior today, no matter how irritating it gets. To everyone else he's an angry weirdo, but to her he's "damaged." This is one of THOSE movies, in which a loserish character approaching middle age with regret over a big mistake (or a variety of them) from the past is rescued by a younger, impossibly perfect woman. But in playing her Gerwig instead projects imperfectness, as well as an uncertainty and lack of confidence that would make the scenario plausible. She puts up with his tirades and verbal abuse, yet also somehow makes us understand why." - 9/6/10

9. Somewhere

"The film's style allows its characters, the visuals and the two central performances plenty of room to breathe, very often mimicking the aimless, trance-like state of its protagonist. Despite being told nothing and having to figure out this guy for ourselves, it's a strangely pressure-less experience to sit through, offering relief from the burden of being inundated by too many details. If Coppola's an expert at anything, it's letting the visuals, music and acting speak for itself. Unafraid of letting scenes linger past the point they typically should (or we're used to) to convey a mood, a practice session at an ice rink goes on twice as long as you'd expect and is all the more memorable for it." - 5/30/11

8. TRON: Legacy

"Now that the follow-up to TRON is here and everything we imagined it could be and more, it's kind of mind-boggling (not to mention hilariously ironic) that naysayers are still looking for things to complain about. Most of the unfair complaints leveled against TRON: Legacy have been at its screenplay which makes me wonder what they thought of the original's script, mostly an incoherent mess from middle to end. This story is an improvement in every way, much sharper focused with a clear-end point destination for its characters whose fates we're completely invested in. First time director Joseph Kosinski takes the forward looking ideas from 1982 to the level we always wanted while still managing to remain remarkably faithful to the original. Worth every year of the wait, he's made a sequel superior in every way to its predecessor and a film that comes as close as possible to matching the actual experience of watching it."1-3-11

7. Exit Through The Gift Shop

"Starting as an exploration of the method and madness behind mysterious street art artist Banksy, documentarian Thierry Guetta begins to disappear down the rabbit hole of his own obsession, dragging us along with him before the subversive twist reveals itself. That this wasn't a film about street art, nor necessarily Banksy or even Guetta. It was really about us the entire time, and how our interests and obsessions can boil over to the point that when someone tells you you're capable of doing anything, you actually start to believe it. What is art? And should someone have to earn the right to make it? Since most aren't blessed with the anonymity the film's hooded subject grants himself, the film's opening song becomes cruelly ironic. The streets are indeed ours. And that's a scary thought. Sure, 'anyone' can make art but the bigger question is whether they should, and if they do, will it be any good?"

6. 127 Hours

"Since the book covered Ralston's entire life rather than only those 127 hours, that portion still had to somehow be conveyed on screen, even if I can't help but wonder what we would have gotten if his original wish to have this optioned as a docudrama came to pass, sparing us the bells and whistles Boyle provides. Would the story be more or less moving? Would it be any different from a National Geographic or Discovery Channel reenactment?  The only thing we know for sure either way is the pure power of Franco's performance, creating Aaron from the inside-out, his words and actions shedding light on how the character finally arrives at the mental place necessary to make the brave decision that saves him, as well as the series of mistakes that led him there." - 12/10/10

5. True Grit

"That this can be considered more an adaptation of the original Charles Portis novel than the legendary 1969 John Wayne film that won him his Academy Award is a key distinction that ends up serving the Coens' well, and helps Jeff Bridges escape the shadow of the Duke. But it's not as if he ever needed to since it's the decision to tell the story through the eyes of 14-year-old Mattie rather than aging U.S, Marshal Rooster Cogburn that solidifies this Western as one of the few modern Hollywood remakes that far surpasses the original. Or more specifically it's the whip-smart, slyly humorous performance of young newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, whose nominated work in this deserves a spot alongside Tatum O' Neal in Paper Moon and Henry Thomas in E.T. in the pantheon of all-time greatest child actor performances. She's that good. The Academy can categorize it as they wish, but even amidst immense talents like Bridges and Damon, she's the one leading the way, as the rest of the cast gamely tags along for the ride."

4. Blue Valentine

"Flashing between past and present to track how a relationship implodes, this could have easily been titled (500) Days of Hell, with even the smallest, fleeting moments of happiness (and there are some) tempered by the knowledge of where we know things will end up. Yet strangely, I found it doesn't leave a completely depressing mark, maybe because there's relief in encountering a film that's truthful, or at least tells a side of the truth we're rarely exposed to in big studio pictures. But it's really about the astonishing performances of the two leads, one of whom was previously the best current working actor not to have a great movie to his name and the other a rapidly rising actress extending her winning streak." - 6/15/11

3. Black Swan

"The whole film could basically be viewed as a running commentary on not only Portman but the plight of Hollywood actresses in general, cruelly discarded once they've surpassed their point of perceived usefulness and marketability. Strangely, the performance further confirms what I've suspected of her skills all along, only this time the one-dimensionality works in her favor like never before. Still, it couldn't have been easy for her to put herself out there like this, emotionally inhabiting a character so uncomfortably close to how she's publicly perceived. We frequently praise actors and actresses for taking unexpected risks by leaving their comfort zone, but it's sometimes even more special when a performer is pushed to the limit within it, owning a role they seem destined to play."12/23/10

2. Inception

"The best scenes in Inception come early when we're teased with all the excitement and potential possibilities the central concept has to offer and learn the very specific rules of the world the characters inhabit, which reflect our own preconceived notions and questions about dreaming. How do you come out of it? How do you KNOW you're out of it? Or in your own and not someone else's? How much time passes? What if you free fall? What if you die? The answers aren't what you'd expect and that second question is the foundation on which the film is built. And that isn't even to speak of the idea of planting a concept in someone's subconscious and all the potential ramifications of that, which are explored, shown and discussed in intricate detail, without slowing the narrative of the plot."12/20/10

1. The Social Network

"They talk and talk, firing Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin's dialogue at and over each other at machine gun speed in a crowded, dimly lit bar with the conversation becoming more contentious as he turns sarcastically condescending. At first, (Erica) seems almost interested and amused, until it becomes obvious this is someone without a clue how to interact with people, and as shocked as he is at being dumped, we are at how she's dating him in the first place. That question of whether Zuckerberg really is an asshole never completely goes away. And if he is, does that preclude him from being a genius? Or a visionary? Or maybe he's just lucky. We don't get what resembles an answer until the final scene but it's the aftershock of that opening one that reverberates through the rest of the picture."  - 10/5/10

My Top Ten Films of 2010
1. The Social Network (dir. David Fincher)
2. Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan)
3. Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
4. Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance)
5. True Grit (dir. Joel and Ethan Coen)
6. 127 Hours (dir. Danny Boyle) 
7. Exit Through The Gift Shop (dir. Banksy) 
8. TRON: Legacy (dir. Joseph Kosinski)
9. Somewhere (dir. Sofia Coppola)
10. Greenberg (dir. Noah Baumbach)

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