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.