Early America was a remarkable place, unique as the one nation where people from all around the world could come together and be called equal. The color of one’s skin, one’s native language, and one’s economic status didn’t matter. Once you arrived in America, it made no difference, because in America everyone was treated the same. Isn’t that remarkable? It is. Much like the rest of my top ten of 2010, which you now absolutely must read. Dig in, and feel free to check out part one if you missed it.
5.) The Social Network— A great film, a film very much of the moment (but not completely beholden to that unavoidable aspect of its character), and one of the most technically accomplished movies of the year. While the story behind the creation of Facebook isn’t the very best film of 2010 for me, it’s without a doubt the film of 2010, the movie that years from now will represent 2010 when we look back and get introspective about release years past. It’s entirely because it’s such a topical movie that so perfectly captures a moment in time for a generation, but there’s so much going on in The Social Network beyond simply turning a mirror on an entire body of individuals. If nothing else, it’s Jesse Eisenberg’s finest hour. Simply fantastic filmmaking supported by top notch acting.
4.) Winter’s Bone/Animal Kingdom— Okay, fine, I’m cheating here, but it’s my top ten so nuts to you. And besides, I’m not really liable here– the inclusion of both of these films is indicative of one of 2010’s most noticeable cinematic trends, namely the rise and proliferation of high-profile and frequently great crime dramas. Winters’s Bone and Animal Kingdom both stand head and shoulders above other similar films like A Prophet, The Town, the Red Riding trilogy, the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films, and more; it’s interesting that two films from two distinct regions and two different filmmakers can be so similar and yet so drastically unalike at the same time, following young people thrust into the underbelly of a criminal underground they only know in a cursory fashion while simultaneously exploring differing themes and ideas through distinctive aesthetics– the former being neo-noir, and the latter a Michael Mann-esque crime story. Regardless, both are totally excellent and well worth going out of your way to see.
3.) Exit Through the Gift Shop— I won’t say the thought has ever crossed my mind that we might need a contemporary variant on Orson Welles’ brilliant F For Fake, but Banksy apparently knew better. Or he might have. That’s sort of dependent on whether or not Exit Through the Gift Shop is a hoax; like many I’m inclined to think it so, and on that basis Banksy’s a genius. If I’m wrong, he’s something of a victim, and Thierry Guetta is something of an intellectual thief, but there’s not much that can be done about it. But the joy of Exit Through the Gift Shop doesn’t lie in late night debate over the verisimilitude of the narrative woven here; it’s a multi-faceted movie, one that could just be about exposing viewers to the world and culture of street art, or one about the fakery (and gullibility) of the art world and its participants. Of course that central question– is Banksy’s film real, or is Guetta in on the whole thing?– will (not unjustly) provide the greatest interest for many (and is itself peppered by other, smaller questions– did Banksy actually shoot this thing? Is that actually Banksy who gets interviewed?). I imagine they’ll go unanswered by the time I write my next “best of the decade” list.
2.) Inception— We’ll be arguing for years over whether this or Memento is Christopher Nolan’s best film, but it’s hard to go wrong either way. Inception could have just been a big, brash, boorish, and explosive time at the theater, high concept filmmaking with no intelligence in its plot to hold up the bravura action sequences; it could have been The Matrix in our dreams. Nolan’s far too talented a director to go that route, though, too thoughtful and too thorough and too inquisitive, and Inception ends up being pleasing high end summer fare for the masses and complex, intellectual art for cineastes. That Inception so deftly balances on the line between commercial entertainment and high art– ruminating on the very nature of filmmaking– is no small feat, and the ways in which Nolan brings his dream worlds to life with breathtaking style and substance guarantee that the film will live on in discussions among film scholars and enthusiasts for decades to come.
1.) Black Swan— Darren Aronofsky might be one of the most vibrant and essential filmmakers working today, and movies like Black Swan are precisely why. Several years ago (or however many), I didn’t really know what to think upon reading the news that Aronofsky would be directing a ballet drama, but I put my faith in him to turn out something at least interesting– I owed him that much from The Fountain. To say that Black Swan exceeded any expectation I might have had on the film, then, is a significant understatement. Black Swan could well be the best film he’s made to date, and it’s certainly the best– or among the best, if you prefer– of 2010’s release crop, a dark, tragic, cringe-inducing portrayal of one person’s push to achieve perfection at any cost, be it physical or mental. Everything you have undoubtedly heard about Natalie Portman’s career-best performance is true; just as true is any talk about the excellence of the supporting cast, from Vincent Cassell’s turn as a brilliantly scummy and lascivious director to Barbara Hershey’s performance as Portman’s over-bearing and emotionally abusive and stunting mother. As much a horror film as a ballet film, Black Swan is gorgeous in its brute hideousness, impeccably crafted, and the height of what this year has to offer in terms of cinematic excellence.
Ah Black Swan, what a great experience that movie was. I actually had to sit in the theater when it was done so I could absorb what I had just seen. I even throw the soundtrack on when I need to get work done around the house. Easily my favorite of last year and among my top of all time.
I’m glad you’ve stuck to your guns and put Inception so high up the list. I think, for some, it was easy to dismiss because it was so highly anticipated. But for me it worked and it worked very well. Had Nolan made nothing before it, he’d be talked about as the next big thing. It isn’t my favourite of his films but the sheer consistency of his work in terms of quality is second to none. Inception is a brilliant film and definitely one of my favourites from 2010.
Will– oh, necessarily. In fact I hope to see it again with my wife to really digest the whole picture, because there are certainly details that I missed and moments that I want to go over again. Top of all time is high praise indeed but I can completely understand; I’m pretty obsessed with the movie at the moment. It’ll end up in my “best of the decade” list for sure years from now.
Dan– I think Inception is easy to dismiss because Nolan, to many (including the Academy), is still “comic book guy”, but the film is far beyond anything he’s ever done aside from Memento, which is nigh untouchable. Working against Inception is its release date; arguably, for a lot of people, it’s too far back in memory to really stack up against the later releases of the year, though I think this is probably untrue because Inception is such a singular film both within and without the context of 2010. Definitely one of the best things released all year.
Great list Andrew! I love it because it is very similar to mine. Love the inclusions of Winter’s Bone and Exit Through the Gift Shop (I really hope it wins the doco Oscar). Animal Kingdom, one of the greatest Australian films ever, sits just outside my top 10. Black Swan, which I didn’t see until 2011, is one of the best recent experiences I have had at the cinema.
I really like this list. You don’t see Animal Kingdom put in too many top fives.
Andrew, I would love to see Exit win, too. Who would accept that award? Not Banksy, I’m sure, maybe Guetta….most likely someone disguised as Banksy or someone with a behind-the-scenes involvement or interest in the film. Like Spike Jonez, if you prescribe to the idea that he’s the one who actually directed the movie.
As for Animal Kingdom, it really took me by surprise, which is often how movies end up on lists like this. Movies that exceed my expectations and rise above my perceptions of what they can be usually end up receiving heavy favor from me. Animal Kingdom is no exception. As for Black Swan, well, it’s just an amazing film.
Fitz, that’s absolutely true. I think partially that’s due to how underseen the film is; it didn’t get a huge release or a lot of press, though it has been pretty highly praised critically.
Haven’t seen Animal Kingdom yet but nice list. Obviously, I wasn’t as high on Inception on Black Swan but I see where you are coming from 😉
Great list! I had a lot of fun reading it.
“Inception” and “Black Swan” were certainly THE two movies that needed to be seen on the big screen.
As to the directors of both, I still feel like “Memento” is my favorite of Nolan’s over “Inception” and that Aranofsky’s “The Wrestler” was stronger, subtler, deeper and a more mature work than “Black Swan”.
“The Wrestler” stayed with me for days after I saw it. Shame Mickey Rourke couldn’t bring home the Oscar. Just a great film and a great performance.
Castor, you’ve GOTTA see Animal Kingdom. Just a really, really strong movie all around and definitely worth seeing if only to put Michod on your radar. Too bad you didn’t like Inception or Black Swan— I’m actually more surprised at the former not being a favorite than the latter.
Rick, thanks. I actually do like Memento more than Inception but only just; Black Swan on the other hand is just about neck and neck with The Wrestler, and it’s hard to choose between them. They’re very much blood relatives (in every sense of the term!), with a lot of similar themes and explorations; I feel like picking one would also mean picking the other in a kind of insubstantial way. But it’s hard to go wrong with either of them.
Rourke probably would have won had Penn not played a happy person for the… what 2nd time of his career. Milk was an exuberant guy and the transformation the dour Penn made into Milk was outstanding.
Yeah, I had the same take on Penn’s win that year, too. The thing is that both actors really put their hearts into their respective roles, so it’s kind of hard to get too worked up over Rourke’s loss– plus he’s all but guaranteed to win the next time he stars in an Oscar-worthy movie.
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