Sunday, February 6, 2011

TOP 10+ movies of 2010

1. MESRINE: Biopic detailing the rise and fall of notorious French gangster Jacques Mesrine. An unabashed exploration of vicious, vainglorious criminality that merits a place among perennial gangster greats. Vincent Cassel boldly brings into being one of the most badass characters in cinema history.
2. BLUE VALENTINE: A heartbreaking examination of the ebb and flow of relationships, Blue Valentine hits close to home anybody who has fallen in and out of love. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver the type of performances that exceed the duties of acting and become something much more. He’s an ambitious romantic happy to have a cool, pretty wife. She’s physically and mentally exhausted by his inability to grow and change with her. Neither is right or wrong, good or bad. They’ve simply lost touch with that thing that initially pulled them together. During a technologically booming age, Blue Valentine is a subtle reminder that story is what truly drives a movie.
3. THE AMERICAN: George Clooney is The American, a professional assassin stationed incognito in Italy for a final job. A deliberately paced thriller that is equal parts sexy and cool, The American abounds with existential symbolism and appealing imagery. I thoroughly enjoy observing people engaged in occupational activities. Rarely is a film bold enough to linger on characters involved in mundane exercises for extended periods of time. It is in the still moments, where Clooney pieces together custom rifles, where the movie truly flourishes.

4. ANIMAL KINGDOM: When 17-year-old J loses his mother to a drug overdose, he’s sent to live with his grandmother and felonious uncles. A moody first effort from novice director David Michod, Animal Kingdom effectively forces viewers to wear the shoes of its central character and substitutionally bear the tremulous fear he endures.

5. THE SOCIAL NETWORK: Adventurous account of the founders of the social-networking site, Facebook. Whether the actions of Mark Zuckerberg’s screen alter ego are accurate or not is up for debate, but what is certain is the power of The Social Network to capture the impersonal world of web socializing and the unfriendly spirit of its greatest contributor.

6. WINTER’S BONE: Ree is not your average American teenager. She manages the household, relying on the donations of neighbors and her skills with a hunting rifle to feed her younger siblings and her mentally deficient mother. When her father pledges the deed to their house as bail security then absconds into the Ozark Mountains, she must head off into the rough terrain to save her home. While the established intelligensia will gush over the emotional triumphs of better known actresses, it is the melancholy performance of Jennifer Lawrence that is more worthy of praise.

7. SOMEWHERE: A hotshot actor reexamines his indulgent lifestyle following a surprise visit from his 11-year-old daughter. Tales of this type (empathetic examinations of wealthy discontent) typically annoy me immensely. Director Sofia Coppola, however, brings something unique to an otherwise tired scenario: she’s had the unusual advantage of having experienced privileged apathy first from the point of view of a malleable child (daughter of New Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola), then from the perspective of a successful adult. Her understanding of loneliness shines through the hypnotizing performances of Setphen Dorff and Elle Fanning.

8. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: The children of a lesbian couple look to connect with their biological father. A warm, bittersweet exploration of the difficulties of love. Regardless of orientation, the family in focus represent middle-class America to a perfect degree. Critics are ogling over 3-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening, but in the opinion of this fan, it’s the emotional performance of Julianne Moore that is more commendable.

9. CARLOS: The epic story of Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan-born terrorist who achieved notoriety for a 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. This film was released in two versions: one a five hour mini-series which played on the Sundance channel; the other a 120+ minute feature which saw a short run at select theaters. I saw both. It is a sprawling achievement that maintains a break-neck pace while examining a career that stemmed from 1975 until 1994 when Carlos was betrayed by former comrades and thrown into a French prison. Carlos was a man driven by vanity. This biopic is a showcase of talent for all involved. It is ambitious, and riveting and never boring. The longer version provides a truer sense of the terrorist lifestyle.

10. CATFISH: Nightmarish documentary about the dangers of online socializing and the illusion of companionship offered via networking sites.


NIGHT CATCHES US: When ex-activist Marcus Washington left the race-torn Philadelphia town of his birth, it raised a lot of questions. Now, years later, he’s returned to answer them. Low key direction and strong performances allow for powerful moments of drama in this refreshing debut from Tanya Hamilton. Her ability to dodge the period aspects of this story on such a miniscule budget is nothing short of brilliant. Despite a rushed ending, this provocative snapshot into the post-Black Power movement era left me mulling over the decisions of its characters for days.

I AM LOVE: Features chillingly beautiful cinematography and a masterful performance by Tilda Swinton as Emma, a Russian woman who marries into a wealthy Milanese family but is never truly accepted.

THE TOWN: A gripping thriller and Ben Affleck’s second go-round as director proves he just may be the real deal behind the camera.

HEREAFTER: Master storyteller Clint Eastwood’s unusual and sensitive examination of sorrow and loneliness offers a potential glimpse into the afterlife.

KICK-ASS: Wildly entertaining actioner that boasts such explicit displays of blood and gore that they come off as cartoony.

And don't forget to check out FISH TANK, my #1 film last year available on criterion disc later this month.


127 HOURS: Am I the only one that finds Danny Boyle’s style to be goofy? James Franco’s performance was okay, but was it really that much better than Ryan Reynolds’s depiction of the trapped Paul Conroy in Buried? Overrated.

BLACK SWAN: Aronofsky’s Oscar candidate is at times chilling, at others it tries a bit too hard. A tad overrated.

CENTURION: Kick-ass epic of violence and mayhem that treats gore like aesthetic beauty.

CONVICTION: True story of a man wrongly accused of murder features okay performances that are never as dramatic or affecting as they should be.

EASY A: Surprisingly good of its type, Easy A is at times charming and at others funny.

THE FIGHTER: At points clumsily directed, the film pales in comparison to great sports movies. Mark Wahlberg is outclassed by co-stars Christian Bale and Amy Adams. Way overrated.

GET LOW: Never as funny as it should be. Robert Duvall plays an archetypical movie hermit whose story is rather anticlimactic.

GHOST WRITER: Roman Polanski returns to form in this thriller about a ghost writer who discovers unsettling lies about the former British Prime Minister when he’s hired to write his autobiography.

GREENBERG: Greenberg the character is somewhat interesting; Greenberg the film is predictable and a bit boring.

INCEPTION: The concept of entering someone’s dream to implant an idea in their head is a brilliant one. Unfortunately, Christopher Nolan builds on the premise with little restraint until it becomes a convoluted, loophole-laden mess.

THE KING’S SPEECH: Cute feel-good film that is well acted and beautifully shot but ultimately, rather thin.

RABBIT HOLE: The film consists of one emotional note throughout, but Nicole Kidman is near flawless as a mother who lost her son.

TRUE GRIT: Good Coen brother’s film; not a great Coen brother’s film. Their classic trademarks are a bit blatant. And why do the characters spend the picture’s running time tracking one ruthless cowboy only to have a showdown with a subordinate one?


  1. Pretty nice list, Rock! MESRINE will definitely be something I catch on DVD (I missed the theatrical release). ANIMAL KINGDOM was a great film with excellent characters but I felt like it didn't know when to end. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT felt like a Made For TV movie that had great acting and starred a dysfunctional-functional gay couple (which was supposed to be an achievement but should be common cinema).

    SOMEWHERE, BLUE VALENTINE, and THE AMERICAN all share that style of filmmaking that Jarmusch pioneered (and really the French before him) in which things really take their time getting to where they are going. I appreciate this style, too. I just wonder how audiences as a whole feel about it.

    I have not see NIGHT CATCHES US or CARLOS and will put them both on my list. Would you say the longer mini-series is the way to go with Carlos?

    Finally, is GHOST WRITER this year! Shit, feels like years ago that I saw that one! I also loved THE KING'S SPEECH, as you know. I feel its story is universal and told with pitch perfect direction.

  2. A lot of the reason behind us liking what we like has to do with time and timing - where we were when we saw a particular film. If a movie touches on something we've experienced personally (our high school sports team won the national championship, we weren't cast in the school play, our girlfriend cheated on us) it resonates that much more. I chose the movies I did because I think they're great films, but also because I identified with something in each one of them.

    The scene in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT that sees Julianne Moore's character interrupting her children's TV program to speak to them about relationships (they won't listen to her otherwise) was worth the price of admission for me.

    Both versions of CARLOS are great - both are filmic - neither feels like a TV mini series. Both are a bit choppy in the way they're put together - the short version a little more so. The longer version gets a bit more into the head of the Carlos. Also, we see him head a few more raids in the longer version. If you've got 5 hours, watch the longer, if not, the shorter is equally as good - you won't be getting jipped.

    GHOST WRITER was 2010 - released way back in March.

    THE KING'S SPEECH was a really good movie - well shot, acted and directed. I felt its story wasn't all that different than that of say THE FIGHTER: an unlikely character has to overcome unbelievable odds to fulfill a dream - and they do.

  3. I liked your list. We share some of the same picks, but I've got a couple unconventional favorites of my own. They are here: in case you're interested.