Saturday, December 25, 2010

Top Twenty of 2010

Every year it's the same; as January washes over me in a grey mid-winter gloom, I look ahead at the year on film and wonder, what will be the one? What magical film will give me that spark of awe. A crinkle of a smile. A knowing nod. A film where I'll see myself or even a glimmer of something otherworldly. The kind of experience that makes up for sitting through the latest Nicolas Cage trash-sterpiece.

Now here we are, another year has gone by and below are 20 plus films. Each great, many in different ways. The film industry continues to simultaneously shrink and bloat. Producers worry, studios shift, and somewhere someone is making the next Great Thing. A writer or director has convinced a Hollywood mogul to throw millions behind her demented fever dream. Here's 20 of those fever dreams committed to celluloid for our mutual pleasure.


Directed and starring Ben Affleck The Town was an action film that was far better than expected. In some ways a return to the no-nonsense action films of the 70s. I figure if The Departed hadn't happened, The Town would have been an Oscar contender. Nevertheless it's a great gritty heist flick, with muscular performances, a strong cast and fine work all around by Benny boy.

19. Tangled
Simply an enchanting movie that allowed Disney to do what it does best. A fairy tale that doesn't try to smother us in pop culture references. It lives in its own world and is populated with smart self-aware characters (including a Princess you won't mind your daughter emulating). Mandy Moore and Zach Levi both delivered great performances. Donna Murphy was divine as the witch, Mother Gothel, and fits in nicely with Disney's long line of classic villains. "Mother Knows Best" should have been a contender for song of the year at the Oscars. Why it hasn't made the list is beyond me.

18. Tales From The Golden Age
From the writer and director of Four Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days comes this absurd tale of life in Communist Romania. A series of short films spun from urban myths of the life during the 1980s. The stories are populated by grifters and romantics, bureaucrats and average Joes. Life in a country governed by committee where having a healthy sense of humour is essential.

17. The Wild Hunt
Done for pennies, The Wild Hunt, similar to Fubar II, is an example of ballsy filmmakers putting to rest the stereotype of boring Canadian films. Set in the world of medieval reenactments or LARP, The Wild Hunt starts a little slow but once it gets going it gallops at a furious pace. Gritty, funny and an original take on a tired genre.

16. True Grit
Take a Western. Peel off the excess emotion, the bigger-than-life characters. Leave in the dirt, the scruffiness. Add in a generous measure of language. Eloquence and Oratory the way only the Coen's can. Stir with a grizzly Jeff Bridges, a cocky Matt Damon and a shooting star of a performance by Hailee Steinfeld. "Go Little Blackie Go!"

15. Easy A
If only all Hollywood comedies were as smart and subversive as this high-school fable about rumours and promiscuity. Yes Emma Stone is a great wit, spilling off lines like a modern Elizabeth Bennet. Credit is also due to the parents, great supporting work by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci.

14. Megamind / Despicable Me
A tie here for the two great animated films that mock super heroes and villains. Both as smart as the super-villains they focus on. Excellent work by Steve Carell as Gru and Will Ferrell as Megamind. Bonus points for the lovable sidekicks, the minions (both David Cross and the funny yellow-pill shaped dudes.)

13. Stone
Stone is here for two main reasons. One, as a reminder Robert DeNiro can be a cinematic force when he isn't playing poor parodies of himself. Two, for how director John Curran used the prison drama to say something bigger about post-911 America's hollowed out post-industrial wastelands. Empty factories, farm fields and prisons are the primary colours of this film.

12. Get Him To The Greek
I guess after his performances in Get Him to the Greek and I'm Still Here we all have to take P.Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean Combs a little more seriously. In fact, this movie made me reassess my opinions of Russell Brand, Jonah Hill and Puff. Seriously funny, wacky, dozens-of-jokes a minute kinda stuff.

11. 127 Hours
The "guy-who-had-to-cut-his-arm-off" movie found director Danny Boyle returning to the adrenalized energy of Trainspotting. Remember the terror of the toilet scene? Boyle still has that ability to put us THERE, in the moment. Digging deep into his filmmaker's toolbox. Macro and micro shots. Time lapse, split screen and more. Whatever it takes to put us in the canyon with Aron the giddy hippie making peace with himself as he faces his final days. Franco is unforgettable and almost too charming in a movie about life, not death.

10. Blue Valentine / Cyrus
A tie for two films about performance. About small moments. About giving actors space. Blue Valentine is a bittersweet love letter to a failing marriage, cutting the sour with the sweet as we watch the couple falling in and out of love. Sweet without pretension. Cyrus, a small comedy of manners and strangeness. John C. Riley gets lucky for once, Marisa Tomei sparkles and Jonah Hill gets to stretch (a little.)

9. Mid-August Lunch
If Mid-August Lunch was a story it would be a novella. As size goes, it's just right. A man, his mother and some unintentional house guests. A leisurely ride on a scooter through Rome. And many many glasses of wine. Nothing more or less than it has to be. Salut! to Gianni the director and actor in this charming follow up to Gomorrah.

8. The King's Speech
After all the hype, I was a slightly disappointed with The King's Speech. Only because I'd expected something akin to the second-coming of Christ on screen. Still, once I'd adjusted my expectations it was easy to savour this beautifully told buddy movie. The awkward friendship of King George and Lionel Logue. Colin Firth is getting a lot of attention for this role but it was the idiosyncratic performance of Geoffrey Rush that won me over. Plus, once again Tom Hooper brings a keen eye to Britain's most upper-class family. Hooper is half Australian and it's his skeptical gaze that elevates The King's Speech above a typical period piece.

7. The Kids Are All Right
The Kids captures a lot of beautiful moments of how kids and parents, gay or straight relate to one another in 2010. This is very modern smart stuff filled with earthy characters. Mark Ruffalo as the organic restaurateur/sex god. Julianne Moore as the confused free-spirit and conceptual gardener. It's a movie about love, about family and the danger of making assumptions. Great subtle stuff by Mia Wasikowska. Ruffalo is at his most magnetic. The script is super sharp and yes, a damn fine turn by Annette Bening.

6. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Is it a hoax? A brilliant meta-prank? A wry comment on the modern art scene, the hyperspeed hype factory ready to leap on the Next Big Thing? A guerrilla style doc on the graffiti scene? Yes. Yes. Yes. Whether you believe it or not, Exit Through the Gift Shop was a brilliant remix of the traditional doc. Hijacking the form to continue Banksy's practice of manipulating the media for the message. If you're looking for more, check out these behind the scene notes from Producer Jaimie D'Cruz that only deepen the mystery.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
A personal pleasure but a complete one. Maybe you don't like Michael Cera. Maybe you could give a damn about comic books and 8-bit video games. But if you do, and you're like me then you were in heaven from frame one for this witty pixel-powered romance/21st century battle royale. Triple Score Awesomeness.

Denis Villeneuve crafts an origami-like story that folds back on itself as a brother and daughter delve into the secret life of their mother. The final scene is a silent, earth shattering thud. Heart breaking and never failing in courage, Villeneuve is one of Canada's treasures.

3. I Am Love
Like Il Divo, it was the marriage of music, motion and emotion that won me over completely. A movie of manners, high society and Italian Style but different, due to the rawness of the actress so good she's almost alien, Tilda Swinton.

Far too appropriate in the year when we lost Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractals, Inception arrived. In the middle of the summer, in between happy-meal ready movies like Marmaduke and Prince of Persia, Christopher Nolan gave us a movie that wasn't quite sci-fi but far too strange to call a typical action flick. A heist film to end all heist films. Movies are often the realm of dreams and so Nolan crafted a caper set in the dreamscape. Dreams within dreams. The closer you look, the deeper you fall. Inception isn't perfect. The vocabulary of the action set pieces, (the downtown car chase, the Swiss Alps fortress) is dissapointingly conventional compared to those early moments of architectural chaos. But Inception was a film that made the audience work and rewarded us for our efforts. In the middle of a season of loud sounds and empty moments, Inception was a statement. Yes we like action and car chases and things that go boom but we want it to mean something. We want a uniting idea. We want to be teased and provoked. We want beauty, fine acting, quick quips and an amazing experience. We want it all. (And Joseph Gordon Levitt's wardrobe. Could we have that too? )

1. The Social Network

Honourable mentions:
A-Team, Barney's Version, Fubar II, Defendor,
Black Swan, Get Low, Morning Glory (except for the last 20 minutes),
Splice (except for the swamp battle), The American, Winter's Bone,
Shrek Forever After


S said...

Great list, Eli. I've always appreciated your reviews, and I'll keep this list in my wallet, the next time I'm wandering the video store looking for something to see.
- Steve

Anonymous said...

Very cool concept and reviews
The work is very versatile, with so many concentrations intermingling
Samurai Swords