Sunday, December 26, 2010

Best and Worst Films and Best Performances of 2010

I did up my top ten list in the style of Roger Ebert’s, with the top ten ranked and the rest in alphabetical order. Like Entertainment Weekly’s, I have also included a five worst films list, bound to be disagreed with but fun for me anyways, as well as a list of the year’s best performances. A list of best technical achievements will come later on.

I wrote about the films to varying degrees of length, as sometimes I didn’t feel as if I could pump out 3 paragraphs of new insight about each movie. Hopefully you can understand. ;)

I tried to wait to see as much as I possibly could, but I was unable to see "Another Year," "Blue Valentine," "Biutiful," "The Illusionist," "Rabbit Hole" (which I could wait just a bit for, but I've decided against it), and "Somewhere," movies I thought may have had an impact on the list.

In all of its splendor, here it is:

10. Please Give (Nicole Holofcener)

The best “fun night out” comedy of the year, with great characters, amusing writing, and appealing actors (Catherine Keener makes nearly any movie watchable).

9. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)

A truism: the ending, not the beginning, is what counts. I’m glad that Roman Polanski is well aware of this, as he turns “The Ghost Writer” around from a plodding and hardly faultless set-up (where I was sure I had all the answers). The second half of the film is incredible: a completely charged, horrifying mystery (Tom Wilkinson and all!) with an astonishing twist (read: sometimes bad writing CAN serve a purpose) and a much-discussed and superb final shot. Seeing it again proved that the film altogether may be better than I originally thought.

8. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)

Abbas Kiarostami comes back to his interest in doubles (most prominently displayed in “Close-Up” twenty years ago) with a disarming, mind-blowing, formally remarkable film. Juliette Binoche and William Shimell (so unfairly maligned) give two sterling performances as either friends or lovers, one French and one English (meeting in the middle ground of Italy), one revealed to be a romantic and the other keeping his critical blinders on the whole time. The last scene is perhaps the most transcendent to be projected this year.

(This film opens in the US in 2011. I just didn’t feel like waiting until next year to include it in my top ten list.)

7. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)

Noah Baumbach is a dauntless filmmaker who makes every film a bit more draining than the last. As a result of this, as well as the fact Ben Stiller fans not ready to be tested by their boy, “Greenberg” was thrown to the wayside, much in the same way its predecessor “Punch-Drunk Love” was, maybe even more so. Taking cues from Bellow, among others, Baumbach fashions an intricate character for Stiller to play, and Stiller runs with it. He’s superlative, as is Rhys Ifans. Altogether, it’s a film witty, harrowing, and, in the end, divine.

6. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)

Extremely well-acted (Jennifer Lawrence, phenomenal in perhaps the year’s best performance; John Hawkes up there) and masterfully shot, this is “Frozen River” with more punch.

5. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold)

A very fond memory of my film-going year was being packed into the small, specially-curated screening room at a theater I used to go to a lot (where they showed more obscure films) to be completely engaged by “Fish Tank.” Robbed of a Palme d’Or at Cannes ’09 (though a Jury Prize is good consolation), this is a significant cinematic and thespian achievement.

Katie Jarvis I underestimated originally, as I now realize that she’s so good that she calls no attention to her part. Many say that her character’s dancing is poor, but she convinced me it wasn’t. Michael Fassbender is also quite fine, given a chance to exhibit an exceptional screen personality. Robbie Ryan shoots the film tremendously, and Andrea Arnold as a result becomes one of my favorite active directors. It isn’t entirely perfect, but it was pretty much all I thought about in the days afterward. And I’ve developed a pretty big soft spot for it. This proves all the more that indelibility is much more important than impeccability.

(Apparently there has been some question of what year this was released during. I’m including it this year.)

4. White Material (Claire Denis)

A difficult film that has split people into believers and shruggers. In my opinion, to dismiss it would be very foolish. It’s wistful, understated, resonant, and has Claire Denis’ (as well as cinematographer Yves Cape’s) adept artistry. Isabelle Huppert supplies some of the most touching moments of the year. And Isaach de Bankole, with a faraway look in his eye and a bullet in his side, playing the Boxer, gives us just the right amount of exposition.

3. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)

The best narrative feature film of 2010. Finally a Pixar work on target both in terms of humor and emotion (the bookending scenes are grand examples of the former and latter, respectively). Most importantly to me, though, is that it hints at a world with no limits, where anything is possible. That, to me, is Pixar’s most valuable contribution. Maybe the Academy will finally get off their Pixar high and deliver their top prize to “The Social Network,” but if there is any time to be so taken with this company’s output, it’s now. Will they ever do better?

2. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg)

This is the anti-“Exit,” in that it’s about as typical a documentary as possible, but it’s just as good in its own way. After watching, the audience feels familiar enough with Rivers to be her friend. Like Toback’s “Tyson” (which it tops), it gives a dismissed subject a chance, and does so to great effect.

1. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy)

A critic was quick to denounce “Exit Through the Gift Shop” for having “a limited worldview.” To say something like this is to treat “Exit” like a normal documentary, which is most definitely not. It is as incendiary a piece of street art as Banksy has ever created, and so by definition it must have a “limited worldview.” That’s what this sort of thing is: one man with a stencil, railing at the establishment, whether it be of politics, art, or something else.

This is the syringe to pump life back into the documentary, which is being used less and less as an art form and as more of a way to transmit imperatives to the audience. In its exploration of a very vital niche of underground culture, it’s a throwback to movies that inspired you into action because of a necessity driven by interest, not by environmental safety.

We get as tantalizingly close to Banksy as possible without finding out who he is, even seeing him construct art pieces. But who is to know what or how much he’s giving us? The audience is at his mercy, a delightful position to be put in.

I would await the arrival of another Banksy film with anticipation, but I doubt he could ever top the heights he reaches here. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a debut to be treasured and a contorting classic to stand among the hallmarks of documentary cinema.


The Art of the Steal (Don Argott)

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)

How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders)

Inception (Christopher Nolan)

Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau)

Live Tape (Tetsuaki Matsue)

Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg)

The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko)

The Social Network (David Fincher)

The Town (Ben Affleck)

Also notable: Animal Kingdom (David Michod), Restrepo (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington)

Worst Films:

5. Wild Grass (Les Herbes Folles) (Alain Resnais)

One of those movies that goes down a detrimental path that ends up making you laugh very hard. Beloved by many, but loathed by me for its sappy romantic ideology reeking of “The Seven Year Itch.” Saved from being utterly awful by the camera of Eric Gauthier.

4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev)

This film caught the zeitgeist at exactly the right time and catapulted to box office glory. However, to me it’s both dull and appalling, with only its main character to save it.

3. Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn)

Nicolas Winding Refn makes another unpleasant film that lacks the level of meaning it needs to make it come through. Surpasses “Bronson,” though, which is some sort of advancement.

2. Looking For Eric (Ken Loach)

Exceptionally boring, with a very small amount of humor and a very high amount of profanity. Loach seems to be entering an Eastwood period.

1. Babies (Thomas Balmes)

An exercise in why editing is so important. Potentially an interesting film, but utterly destroyed by lacking in coherence. Not fun to watch in the slightest, even at 79 minutes. Observing audience members at this film made for an interesting social experiment.

Best Performances (not really in any order):

Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone

Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, and Barbara Hershey, Black Swan

Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech

Juliette Binoche and William Shimmell, Certified Copy

Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender, Fish Tank

Ben Stiller and Rhys Ifans, Greenberg

Jeong-hee Yoon, Poetry

Sam Rockwell, Iron Man 2

Ciaran Hinds, Life During Wartime

Entire Cast (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska), The Kids Are All Right

Tom Hardy, Inception

Isabelle Huppert, White Material

What are your favorite films and performances of 2010? What were your least favorite?


Anonymous said...

If you're going by 2010 US theatrical releases here, which I assume you are judging from your list (some of these would be ineligible if you were going by premiere date), then Certified Copy, admittedly a great film, is not eligible until 2011 rolls around (it's getting a release from IFC in March). Just thought I'd let you know.

Anonymous said...

Addendum: in addition to your mention of Certified, your mention of Tetsuaki Matsue's Live Tape is similarly ineligible: it's also awaiting a TBA US release.

Nick Duval said...

Hey, I just did this in whatever way I wanted. Fun sometimes not to be constricted by rules and regulations. I saw both films in 2010, and I just felt like I'd forget about both if I waited a year. To me, it would suck to let these movies fall to the wayside just because I wanted to play by the rules (which I've done since 2007). CERTIFIED and TAPE were two bright spots of this cinematic year in my life. Maybe they aren't technically "2010 releases", but I'm a blogger, and eligibility shouldn't drive me up the walls, as I once let it. If you want, though, feel free to substitute any of the runners-up into the list in your mind.

TAPE I doubt will ever get a US release, BTW.

Stephanie said...

Your blog -- you make the "rules."

I thoroughly enjoyed your list though, sadly, I've only seen a handful of the films you mentioned. However, if I had a "top 10 list," I'd include Toy Story 3, as you did.

Karen said...

I'm new to your blog but this post has me hooked. Great choices! And very interesting commentary.