January 3, 2011
Top movies of 2010
The year started out slowly, but over the last month or so we've gotten a lot of great stuff. I watched 15 or 20 fewer movies this year than I do in a typical year, which I think is because of the relatively uninspiring Hollywood studio output--with few exceptions, every movie I loved was a little indie film.
So here's my list of top movies, with a few others that were notable in other ways:
If you're going to make a movie about people's inner emotional lives and relationships with each other, you can't do much better than how Mike Leigh does it. He's always been really good at this, but over the last 10 years or so, he's gotten so incredibly perceptive about human nature and life in general that it feels like he's making movies about people you actually know.
I wrote a page of notes after watching Another Year which I'll spare you, but what makes this movie so great is its speculation on happiness: why are some people so effortlessly happy, while others try like crazy to find happiness and are still miserable? Because it's Mike Leigh, he has some things to say about class, but in this movie he seems to think that having a nice car, house, spouse, and lots of nice fresh produce certainly doesn't hurt. Mostly, we just need love and attention to be happy, but if we don't get it, nothing will ever be enough.
Lesley Manville is getting all the attention for her amazing and very big performance, but she sometimes turned up the needy desperation a little high. I liked Ruth Sheen's subtlety and quiet confidence even better--her character's happiness doesn't have much to do with luck.
The best movie I've ever seen about guys in prison. Tough, violent, and quietly relentless. We watch the young Malik El Djebena as he grasps the complicated power dynamics around him, and slowly transforms himself into a criminal mastermind.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Banksy makes a documentary about street art, adding his own art form to the long list of revered institutions he has defaced. I love how self-deprecating he is in his talking-outline-of-a-head segments. Even if the whole story was an elaborate fabrication, it's still hilarious and inspiring.
The Kids Are All Right
In lots of ways this little sex comedy was the most mainstream family drama of the year. This might be Annette Bening's year to win the Oscar, except that there's also Natalie Portman.
There are some things wrong with this movie, but I really love a potboiler ballet horror melodrama. The freakiest, funnest movie I saw all year. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am with Natalie Portman's performance. She's best in the scenes when it's just her, sometimes a little too much of a wide-eyed ingenue in scenes with other people, but she absolutely owned this role and I can't imagine the movie without her. Darren Aronofsky could really get an Oscar for this.
Southern gothic detective story set in burned-out Ozark meth labs. Jennifer Lawrence is unstoppably great as a no-nonsense teenager out to save her family. The posse of badass Ozark ladies led by Dale Dickey scared the hell out of me.
An uncomplicated, funny movie that understands exactly what's good and entertaining about Westerns. I love 13 year-old Hailee Steinfeld and her total refusal to be adorable.
The Social Network
The subject matter is incidental: what's good about this movie is its examination of loyalty, ambition, betrayal, jealousy, and isolation. It's my favorite one yet by David Fincher.
I Am Love
As the film editor for Time Out New York wrote: Can Tilda Swinton star in every movie from now on? It's a gorgeous gasp of a melodrama, but Tilda's mounting energy kept it from being an overly-romantic swoon.
My biggest surprise of the year. I was totally prepared to hate the self-indulgent, privileged recent college grads at the center of this movie, and ended up loving the self-indulgent, privileged recent college grads at the center of this movie. It's a riot, and Lena Dunham has become my new hero.
A few other movies I liked: The King's Speech and Kick-Ass, which both transcended their tired old genres. Greenberg and Please Give, the best movies yet by directors Noah Baumbach and Nicole Holofcener. And the other best comedies of the year, Youth in Revolt, Four Lions, and Scott Pilgrim.
What did you like this year, and what did I miss?
Here's the list from 2009.
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