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The Top Ten Films of 2010

January 27, 2011

This is what it all comes down to….the Top Ten Films of last year! Our picks are just that.  We endured a good deal of junk at the theater last year. Sometimes we had to convince ourselves that it was as a service to others. In the end, all those duds made it easier for us to see what worthy films rose to the surface. These are the films that resonate with us the most, long after we first saw them.
 
Just as he did last July for our Top Five Films of 2010 (so far), we are glad to have film critic, Josh Larsen, join us to share his Top Ten. I personally found it interesting and exciting how our selections differ and would encourage anyone to check out the films on all three lists. There are some who still feel 2010 was a ho-hum year for film but I feel our lists will put that sad line of thought to rest The list below includes both links to reviews as well as where you can find the films….
 
 
10.
 
 
Josh – Animal Kingdom
 
Did Darwin direct this? Actually, it was David Michod, who takes a standard crime drama (this time set in contemporary Australia) and invests it with a survival-of-the-fittest sense of paranoia. After his mother’s overdose, a soft-spoken teen (James Frecheville) goes to live with his toothy grandmother and four feral uncles. You watch in crippling fear, wondering who is going to try and eat him first. (on DVD/Bluray)
 
 
Paul – 127 Hours
 
At first, the news of Danny Boyle directing a film about a guy stuck under a rock for two hours was not too enticing, to say the least.  However, whoever doubted Boyle was proved wrong when the finished product was a fast-paced, engaged, and heartsy story about one man’s life-changing event that played beautifully on the screen.  Though I’ve enjoyed James Franco in other films, I viewed his performance in this film as a total breakout moment for him.  Very well done!  (theatrical rerelease on January 29th in the States and has a DVD/Bluray release date of March 1st)
 
 
David – A Prophet
 
I finally caught up with this one with my friend Otto last fall. We were killing time before going out, yet after almost three hours of watching this intense film….we were ready to call it a night. More than a gangster/prison drama with subtitles, it is an exhausting, exasperating yet rewarding cinematic experience that feels so real that it could be based on a true story. (on DVD/Bluray & netflix Watch Instantly)
 
 
 
9.
 
 
Josh- Shutter Island
 
The harshness of Martin Scorsese’s mental-asylum freak show has faded, allowing it to linger as a bravura evocation of post-traumatic stress. (The veterans suffering here are survivors of World War II, but the topic couldn’t be more timely in 2010.) What begins as a crazily creepy popcorn thriller about a marshal (Leonardo DiCaprio) investigating the disappearance of an inmate at a hospital for the criminally insane eventually turns into something far more disturbing – and important. (on DVD/Bluray)
 
 
Paul – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
 
Filmmaker Edgar Wright delivered one of the most lighthearted and fun moviegoing experiences for me in 2010.  I found myself with a big grin on my face for nearly the entire film.  This is one movie that I have no problem recommending to anyone who asks. (on DVD/Bluray)
 
 
David – Easy A
 
The only comedy from 2010 worthy of your time is original, fun (remember fun?), clever, and never once pretentious or formulaic. Imagine that. Emma Stone delivers a star turn as a teen who gets in over her head after her lie spreads like wildfire throughout her high school. Both the director and writer provide smart characterization, never making fun of the precarious and difficult teen years, but always having fun (Did I mention fun?). I would’ve never thought to have such a delightful time watching this, but I did and that’s a great feeling. (on DVD/Bluray)
 
 
 
 

 
 
8.
 
 
Josh- Toy Story 3
 
Authentically moving enough to make me shed a tear for that poor He-Man action figure I left behind years ago. From the start, Pixar’s series has been attuned to the magical bond between kids and their playthings. This bittersweet, thoroughly satisfying finale chronicles how that bond inevitably must break. (on DVD/Bluray)

Paul – Inception
 
Wow.  Christopher Nolan comes back from his strings of Batman adaptations with a completely out-of-the-box mind-bending thriller in Inception.  Though the first half of the film is loaded with exposition (characters explaining the world Nolan has set up), the second half really takes off and makes it all totally worth it!  This one creeped a little far down my list because that first half gets pretty rough and doesn’t really hold up beyond two viewings.  (on DVD/Bluray)
 
David – Mother
 
The film I’ve been telling everyone about all year! All I will say is that it’s a harrowing tale of a mother who will go to any length to care for her son (who desperately needs caring for). There are rare and unique films that leave you championing it to whoever will listen, this is indeed one of them. (on DVD/Bluray & netflix Watch Instantly)
 
 
 
7.
 
 
Josh – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
 
Director Edgar Wright took Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels about an easily infatuated twentysomething bassist (Michael Cera) and put them were they belonged: on a dazzlingly dynamic movie screen. The visual virtuosity – as when a frowning emoticon replaces a character’s face – isn’t just empty showmanship. It’s an ingeniously inflated dramatization of the way today’s youth employ images as their primary form of communication.
 
 
Paul – The Social Network
 
This is one of those few films that comes along each year that excels in each element of filmmaking.  The script features really tight dialogue and tells a great story from three vantage points, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gels perfectly with the imagery, the acting is spot on, and director David Fincher’s obvious vice grip over the entire film all create a fantastic final product. (on DVD/Bluray and in theaters)
 
 
David – Carlos
 
I sat through the entire five and a half hour length of this epic film and thought this was quite an undertaking, both for my butt and for all the talent involved in making it. From the many locations to the many languages, this somewhat fictional account of self-important terrorist, Carlos the Jackal was thoroughly intoxicating. Its scale and tone is as impressive as the stand-out performance by Egdar Ramirez.  (You’ll have to search long and hard for the full-length version of the film, although it was recently on the Sundance channel. There is also a two and a half hour version On Demand in some areas, edited by director Oliver Assayas. )
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
6.
 
 
 
More traditionally mythical than Winter’s Bone, this saga packs nearly as powerful of a wallop. It’s certainly more visceral, as Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn deliriously documents the brutal violence endured – and delivered – by a one-eyed warrior in 1,000 A.D. It’s a rough consideration of the savagery that lies just beneath our skin, no matter how much civilization we’ve managed to conjure. (now on DVD/Bluray & netflix Watch Instantly)
 
 
 
I was really caught off guard by The King’s Speech.  I expected to be bored and to survive this screening, and was shocked at how engaging and truly suspenseful this film is with no physical action at all.  Colin Firth’s performance as King George VI is so honest and vulnerable that the viewer is so sympathetic with him anytime he is forced to power through his speech impediment in public.  The film features great performances all around, and a massive technical achievement as well. (now in theaters)
 
 
David – Rabbit Hole
 
This touching film on grief remains my favorite from the Chicago International Film Festival last fall. It’s great when all you know about a film is the synopsis and you find yourself completely mesmerized by the acting, the creative and careful delivery, and the surprises it provides. Many feel they cannot handle the subject matter and that is understandable, but I highly recommend it to them nonetheless. (now in theaters)
 
  
 
5.
 
 
 
Were there any 2010 movie characters more deeply flawed, deeply affecting and deeply real than those at the center of this emotionally cathartic family drama? That mainstream audiences could relate as easily as they did despite the film’s “alternative” setting – Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a married couple whose family is threatened with the arrival of their kids’ biological father – is a testament both to the cast and the empathetic eye of writer-director Lisa Cholodenko.
 
 
Paul – A Prophet
 
What a torturous and terrifying and yet enjoyable and inspiring film, all at the same time.  I won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t seen A Prophet yet, but Malik’s “initiation scene” is a raw and intense scene that will stick with me for a long time.  Along the lines of some of the great epic gangster stories, this film has a huge scope but moves the story along to give viewers a real sense of time and accomplishment when it’s all over. 
 
 
David – Toy Story 3
 
The highest-grossing animated feature from last year now has five Oscar noms, but besides all its accolades, it can be added to the many Pixar movies that I can watch repeatedly. The great voice work is back (with guest turns by Michael Keaton and Ned Beatty making me wish there was a Voice Acting category at the Oscars) as are all the laughs (Mr. Tortilla Head!) and impressive creativity, but this moved me like the best Pixar movies do. Some say it was too dark, but there’s nothing wrong with those two endings reminding me of the reality that these toys, my friends, live in.
 
 
 

 
 
 
4.
 
 
 
Remember hand-drawn animation? Soon, it may be a distant memory. Until then we have this wondrously fertile effort from director Sylvain Chomet, who delights in all the squiggles, doodles and faces, faces, faces that the clean lines of computer animation keep at bay. And as it follows a 1950s magician struggling to find stage space in the burgeoning era of rock and roll, the movie also works as a noble lament for its own art form. (now in theaters)
 
 
Paul – True Grit
 
For the last several years, the Coen brothers have snuck out small small-budget small-scope films that find small niche audiences.  True Grit is not one of those films.  From the very first frame, you know that this is going to be a gigantic movie.  With a star cast, grand performances, memorable score, and beautiful imagery, this is one of the more complete films of 2010. (now in theaters)
 
 
David – Inception
 
The most original film I saw last year was the surprise hit of the summer only because it wasn’t a sequel, prequel, TV adaptation, reboot or remake. A solid ensemble cast bends to the will of director and….I’ll say it, modern auteur, Christopher Nolan. Its strengths in style, substance and visuals more than make up for the few flaws it has.   
 
 
 
3.
 
 
Josh – True Grit
 
A true Western, delivered by Joel and Ethan Coen without a trace of their trademark irony. As the movie follows a mission of vengeance – a 14-year-old girl’s pursuit of her father’s killer – it’s sure to note the many bodies that this righteous angel leaves in her wake (technically it’s Jeff Bridges, as the ruthless marshal she hires, doing the killing). True Grit is another deeply moral tale from two decidedly Old Testament filmmakers.
 
 
Paul – Mother
 
This little-known Korean film by director Joon-ho Bong is one of the most visually and mentally arresting films in recently memory.  Hye-ja Kim’s performance in the titular role is among the best of the year and should be recognized as such, though she didn’t get an Oscar nomination.  The final shot of the film is easily one of my favorite shots of the year in any film
 
 
David – True Grit
 
The Coen Bros. did not make a remake nor did they make a film that is “not a Coen Bros. film”, they just made a perfect Western. There was never any doubt they had it in them. With the magnificent Roger Deakins handling the cinematography chores again, the Coens provide complex characters in a vivid environment. There’s an uncanny dynamic between the main characters that offers a layered look at steadfast stubbornness, determination, and loyalty. This remains one of the few films from 2010 that I would revisit again and again.
 
 
 
2.
 
 
Josh – Inception
 
Five movies for the price of one. The catch? They’re all playing at the same time. That’s the breathtaking accomplishment of writer-director Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending (and -twisting and -turning) thriller about a team of dream thieves. Inception would be astonishing simply for the fact that it works. That Nolan and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard manage to make the movie emotionally resonant, as well, elevates it far beyond a technical achievement
 
 
Paul – Shutter Island
 
Being a huge Martin Scorsese fan, I was really excited to see what the iconic director would do with this departure from his career.  Aside from the multi-dimensional plot that makes for fun debate and dissection after a viewing, the film has such profound contextual meaning for Scorsese’s career as a whole.  I still haven’t had a second viewing of Shutter Island, but it is definitely going to happen soon! 
 
 
David – Winter’s Bone
 
I must confess, when I first saw this movie I was in a groggy Tylenol PM-induced haze (not the type of film to sit through in such a state)….yet, I still thought it was great and I knew that everyone must know about it. Upon second viewing, it remains just as immersive and hypnotic as it was the first time. Well, moreso, since I was more alert the second time around.
 
 
 
1.
 
 
 
A heroic Greek myth in an indie film’s clothing. Director Debra Granik and star Jennifer Lawrence turn an unassuming tale of American rural poverty, in which a teen girl goes on a perilous journey to uncover the whereabouts of her drug-cooking father, into an intimate feminist drama that also evokes Homer’s “Odyssey.” Not to be missed, or underestimated.
 
 
Paul – Black Swan
 
Melodrama.  A word that has been used in a negative context to describe Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan at times, but I believe that this work should be used in the positive as a describer.  Based on the “Swan Lake” ballet, this film truly captures the melodrama of a ballet, while featuring great performances from the cast, and a performance from Natalie Portman that will probably win her the Oscar for Best Actress.  This film looks amazing and, in true Aronofsky fashion, leaves plenty of room for discussion after the ending.
 
 
 
I could care less if this is 100% fiction, it remains a fascinating story, superbly told by an excellent director. Its more concerned about telling an intriguing and exhilarating timeless tale, than it is about the birth of Facebook. I would’ve never thought this subject matter could be so enthralling and interesting, but Aaron Sorkin’s script pops off the screen and David Fincher’s direction has a buzzing rhythm with moody undertones. It was the first and only time last year where I sat in the theater and thought, “This should win Best Picture!” and even felt that way on the way out. I currently hold to that conviction.  
 
 
 
 
 
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