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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Best of 2010

Well, it's nearly April and I bet you're wondering "What movies did Ponch think were the best last year?"  Well, you don't have to wait ANY longer... :-/

Life is crazy.  I've already fallen behind in my weekly MLiF blogging, but I figured if I wait much longer this list will be COMPLETELY pointless (perhaps it already is...)

Since the posting of my Worst of 2010 list, I saw five more 2010 films (four new ones along with one repeat) to end up with 199 different 2010 films vying for my "coveted" Top Ten... In the end, I had 20 different films rated at 4.5*, so in an effort to be as climactic as possible, I'll list the other 4.5* films that almost made my Top Ten (and possibly could have, had I written this any other day).

In alphabetical order, the films that earned 4.5* but aren't listed below are: All Good Things, City Island, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, Nowhere Boy, Red Cliff, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Waiting for "Superman"

Astute readers may notice that there are only nine films here but I said I had 20 4.5* films... Well, it wouldn't be a Top Ten without a cheat which leads me to:

#11 - The Secret in Their Eyes
This actually won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film last year since it was technically released in 2009.  However, that was its original country's release and it didn't get its US (limited) release until April of 2010.  So for people in the US, it's a 2010 film, however the IMDb and Academy voters consider this a 2009 release.  If I didn't have 20 films to choose from, I probably would have pushed harder to put this in my Top Ten, and honestly it would have probably made the Top Five.  But with so many films to choose from, I'm putting it here in the #11 spot.  It's a beautiful Argentinian murder mystery where a elderly lawyer writes a novel about an unsolved crime from his thirties.  The time shifts and plot twists are amazing, as is a beautiful 5+ minute-long shot at a soccer stadium.  Available on Netflix Streaming, I highly recommend you check out this film.

#10 - Mao's Last Dancer
I really had wanted to try to catch Black Swan one more time before making this list, but I never found the time.  On first view, I only rated that film 4* but I feel it probably could have taken this position on my list.  Instead, I'm filling the 10 spot with this other amazing ballet film from last year.  Based on a real story, Mao's Last Dancer tells the story of a young Chinese village boy who gets the opportunity to study dance in Beijing.  After growing up, he gets the chance to travel to the US to join the Houston Ballet troupe where he falls in love with an American girl.  His original Chinese handlers want him to show allegiance to Mao and the Party, however he likes the freedom found in America.  It has an odd political Act III after the Chinese Embassy pretty much kidnaps him, but it is an amazing story with some beautiful dancing.  My gut still tells me Black Swan probably deserves this spot, but that might just be my memory of certain scenes from that film bolstering its rating. :-)

#9 - 127 Hours 
Another true story, this film basically earned its 4.5* from James Franco's wonderful performance.  As loner Aron Ralston, he hikes along an isolated Utah canyon where a slip leaves his arm pinned between a boulder and the rockface.  With limited food and water, Ralston is left alone with his camera which he uses to document his struggles to get free.  Parts of the film are very frenetic (thanks to director Danny Boyle), but the story and Franco's performance are truly mesmerizing.  Lizzy Caplan is totally wasted as Aron's sister (I believe all her speaking scenes were cut to make the film more Aron-centric, which makes sense but I love her and wanted to see more of her).

#8 - Restrepo
Not based-on, but an actual true story, and the first of three documentaries to make my Top Ten, Restrepo follows a platoon of soldiers stationed in the most dangerous valley in Afghanistan.  Named for one of the outposts being defended in this valley, which was itself named for a Private First Class who had lost his life before filming began.  Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger join the soldiers as they build and defend OP Restrepo, try to negotiate with & earn the trust of local civilians and eventually execute Operation Rock Avalanche in an attempt to take control of this valley from the Taliban.  The film is intercut with present day interviews with the soldiers as they remember their deployment and leaves you asking why our soldiers were even defending this valley.  A war movie unlike any you've ever seen before.

#7 - The Art of the Steal
Documentary #2, this film tells the story of the Barnes art collection (valued around $25 billion) and the struggle to own it after its owner's death.  During his life, Albert Barnes collected thousands of pieces of modern and post-impression art, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos and many more.  He took his collection and founded The Barnes Foundation, an educational institution in the Philadelphia suburb of Merion. Philadelphia officials wanted this collection brought into the city, however Barnes wanted to keep his collection for educational purposes, allowing the public to view it only two days a week.  Here, we see the legal struggles the city went through trying to break Barnes' will, which detailed his wishes of what should be done with the collection after his death.  As an art lover, part of me wishes the collection could tour the country and be seen by all, but as a person, it breaks my heart to know that with enough money and power, your will can become null and void after you die.

#6 - Machete
This film is a total premise achiever; Robert and Álvaro Rodríguez took their joke trailer from 2007's Grindhouse, and created an actual film around it.  I was amazed at how they took every ridiculous scene from the trailer and somehow made a cohesive story out of it all (well, maybe the machine gun-motorcycle jump seemed a little tacked on).  The only complaint I had about this film was Lindsay Lohan.  What happened to the girl I saw in Mean Girls?!  If anyone else would have filled her role, I think this might have been in the Top 5.  Here's hoping Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again are just as good and tongue-in-cheek as this one was!

#5 - Exit Through the Gift Shop
2010 was a fantastic year for documentaries—four made my Top Twenty!  This doc was directed by Banksy, an anonymous British graffiti artist who may have tricked the world with a mockumentary (but does that really matter?).  The film introduces us to a French immigrant, Thierry Guetta, who lives in LA and carries a camera around wherever he goes.  The boring minutia that is his life soon becomes something more when he learns his cousin in Paris is known as "Invader," a well-known street artist.  Using his own personal camera, Guetta lies and tells his cousin he's a filmmaker and is introduced to dozens of other world-famous artists who all believe he's making a documentary.  Eventually he meets Banksy, is invited into his inner circle and eventually gives up on his film because he wants to become an artist himself, taking the name "Mr. Brainwash."  Banksy then (supposedly?) takes over, pieces the footage already shot with footage of his own and creates a fantastic piece of art that studies what art exactly is. Whether Guetta honestly became a street artist or the whole film was a set-up, it still is an interesting look at street art and asks some great questions.

#4 - The King's Speech
I'd like to say that Best Actor Colin Firth made this film, but honestly the film is much more than just his amazing performance.  He does do a fabulous job making the simple act of stuttering seem real and sad and frustrating and funny, however the story and supporting cast are all great as well.  The Oscar-winning script was written by David Seidler, who himself suffered from a stutter in his childhood.  This fact allowed him to bring a lot of truth to the scenes between speech therapist Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) and King George VI (Firth).  I think the main thing I loved about this film is that it's a biopic that never really felt like a biopic.  Besides the obligatory fight-and-then-make-up section, the story is just a great story of one man's struggle.  The fact that's it's all (mostly) true is besides the point—we're given amazing characters portrayed perfectly all around.

#3 - The Social Network
This was one of those movies I had to rewatch in the past few weeks.  When I first saw it in theaters, I was a little disappointed in Sorkin's writing—I had hoped for and expected something better, so my disappointment ranked this at 4*.  However, as I was collecting my thoughts, something was nagging at the back of my brain.  There were so many great scenes and I felt like I needed to give it another chance (I felt much the same way with Black Swan but sadly never got a chance to rewatch it).  On second viewing, I greatly enjoyed almost everything this film offered.  Eisenberg is fantastic at portraying an asshole you actually want to root for; the supporting cast (Mara, Garfield, Timberlake, Hammer & Hammer, Jones, Minghella, et al) all give great performances; the writing is sharp and fast and witty (not sure why I was so disappointed on first viewing) and the story-telling is just superb.  Fincher's direction, Sorkin's Oscar-winning screenplay and Baxter & Wall's Oscar-winning editing were amazing to watch—the story jumped between flashbacks and two different depositions and somehow two lawsuits about the making of Facebook was a gripping drama!

#2 - How to Train Your Dragon
Most people would probably expect Toy Story 3 to be up here near the #1 spot, and while I did enjoy (and even cry at) the latest from Pixar, Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon is my favorite animated film of 2010. I saw both films two times, but this film really grew on me and I wished I had seen it a third time.  The voice acting is all fantastic (most notably Baruchel, Ferguson and Miller & Wiig) and unlike Toy Story the 3D effects were wonderful and actually added something to the film (which can rarely be said for any 3D movie).  The writing was great as well—I loved the opening and closing narrations and was surprised at how the film tried to tackle the idea of "Is my enemy really my enemy?"  You have a great story here about prejudice, violence and fear that ends in a pretty atypical manner.

#1 - Inception
I'm not sure how any other film could be #1—Inception provoked so many conversations; almost no one who saw this didn't run to Twitter or Facebook to find out what other people thought the ending meant.  I think the true test of a great film is the conversations it starts and Inception started plenty.  Nolan's story about dreams within dreams within dreams seems like it could be quite campy and ridiculous, but instead he created a series of rules and wrote an amazing story that broke nearly all of them.  The Oscar-winning imagery and effects are superb and the fact that Nolan's team did most of the effects in camera is amazing in this day of CGI.  I could tell you what I think the ending meant and you could disagree with me, but in the end I think that's what makes this film so great—there's no one answer.  I believe Nolan left it purposefully ambiguous so each viewer can draw their own conclusions.  What does it matter what happens after the screen cuts to black?  The important thing is the journey you took up to that cut, and this is a journey I could take many more times...

So there you (finally) have it.  My favorite films of 2010.  Sorry it took so long (I originally started writing this 10+ weeks ago!).

Which of these films have you seen?  Do you disagree with any of my choices or is there another film you can't believe I left off?  Leave your comments below...

1 comment:

  1. I'm ridiculously psyched about your ranking for HTTYD. I was so enamored with it this summer that at one point I think I may have said the unthinkable-- "I think this might edge Ghostbusters out of the top spot for me." Moment of temporary insanity, but I do love that movie. It's like what I said earlier tonight about being tragically obsessive about things (and by things I mean Ghostbusters).

    Anyway, I went into HTTYD expecting to be disappointed; all my life I'd waited for an animated film to play with Scandinavian culture, but the TV spots for this one were horrible. But from the very first lines, I was captivated and could tell this was going to be something special (and the music! I usually don't give any conscious thought to a film's score, but this is by far the best score EVER. The "Forbidden Friendship" scene is what cemented this for me the first time I saw it). I do wish they'd scrap the sequel and just let this movie stand on its own, though.

    Inception was extraordinary, but I ended up keeping mum afterward. During those final moments, my mind flipped through the various scenarios and I tried to decide which version I wanted to believe but once the lights came on, I decided it didn't matter. After all, if Cobb himself didn't care whether or not that top kept spinning, then it's a moot point. He was where he needed to be. It's great if he got there in reality, but if the reality of his situation in the waking world was as hopeless as we were led to believe, if the only way he could ever see his children without compromising their safety was in his mind . . . well, then what's wrong with the dream? Either way, he got what he needed the only way he could. By the end, it no longer mattered to him since he turned his back on his totem. That was more interesting to me than the totem and the truth itself.

    For the rest of us, any version worked, any possibility fit and made for a satisfying conclusion. And that's a testament to how great the story and the writing were.