As usual, my yearly list of the top 10 movies is a word-packed disaster-piece, so I'll spare you an introduction. In alphabetical order, these are the 10 movies I enjoyed (or appreciated, or revered) the most in 2010.
(Editor's note: Before we begin, keep in mind that I have not yet seen The Kids Are All Right, Rabbit Hole or Blue Valentine, three movies that could easily have made it onto this list. I'll try and see them as soon as possible, pinky swear.)
Black Swan - My associate Rob Turbovsky unleashed a nice anti-Aronofsky rant on me after we'd both seen Black Swan, complaining about how "in your face" his symbolism can be. I don't entirely disagree (I mean, for a good portion of the movie he depicts Natalie Portman as actually turning into a fucking swan), but I think one scene redeems the Wrestler director. Near the end, when Portman is stumbling through the backstage area, she comes upon an actor in the evil swan suit that has been haunted her dreams. Rather than being terrifying, though, he casually says hello and continues on his way.
At a time when the movie's world is crashing down, it's a perfect moment of levity that also serves to emphasize, far more than supposed physical transformations, just how messed up Portman's character really is. Does Black Swan deserve Best Picture? Probably not, but Portman should take home Best Actress, and Aronofsky has again proved himself as adept in examining the psyche of solitary, obsessive individuals. He's the perfect director for the new Wolverine movie.
The Fighter - This movie is on this list for really only one reason: Christian Bale. Mark Wahlberg plays a perfectly acceptable straight man as the titular boxer, Melissa Leo is good as his overbearing mother, and Amy Adams "uglies up" by gaining 5-7 pounds and dressing like a lower-class bartender, which actually ends up making her maybe three times as hot.
But Bale carries the movie. His performance is gripping and remarkable; I don't know if Bale truly captured the essence of Dicky Eklund, but I do know that he wasn't Christian Bale up on the screen. He wasn't Bruce Wayne or Batman or Patrick Bateman, either. It was a unique performance, something impossible to look away from. It's a clichéd Simpsons reference, but every time Bale wasn't on screen, I found myself asking, "Where's Bale?" If he doesn't win Best Supporting Actor, there's something wrong with the Oscars. There are, actually, many things wrong with the Oscars, but Bale should still come out on top.
Greenberg - As you may or may not know, I'm a huge sucker for Wes Anderson and Wes Anderson-y movies. By proxy, this makes me a Noah Baumbach fan, which is fine with me because he's a pretty great writer/director in his own right. The Squid and The Whale is one of my all-time favorites, and I think Greenberg was another rousing success.
Above all else, I'm a fan of good, funny dialogue, and that's an Anderson/Baumbach specialty. The interactions between Ben Stiller and Rhys Ifans are hysterical, and it's great to see Stiller take on a more challenging role in between Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents sequels. See, everyone, he doesn't have to suck, he just chooses to. Makes it so much better.
The King's Speech - Most of the reviews I read beforehand indicated that The King's Speech was a straightforward, uplifting historical drama that soars thanks to the performances of its leads. And I can't disagree; Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are an unbearably charming team, especially in the scene where they yell "shit" and "fuck" and all sorts of other curse words that sound even funnier coming out of English mouths.
I'm not sure why Tom Hooper's getting so much Best Director praise; The Damned United was one of my favorite little films of 2009 and I thought he did a fine job of putting this one together, but it's the cast that does most the work. Like a Harry Potter movie, the well-known British actors come in waves: Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce (who is actually, like Rush, Australian) and the underappreciated Timothy Spall as a plump and wise Winston Churchill. And it's always nice to see Helena Bonham Carter playing a real person and not a ghoul or a zombie or whatever shit Tim Burton casts her as in his latest disaster of a movie. Ever since Big Fish, Tim Burton has sucked. The King's Speech, though, does not.
Inception - Upon first viewing, I didn't exactly love Inception; hell, I even went as far as to write a blog post entitled "Inception is not as good as you think." I called it a "convoluted jumble of ideas, a plethora of vague insights and questions about reality that director Christopher Nolan's already explored far better in his earlier work." And I stand by all that 100%.
But I also called it an "interesting, ultimately forgettable summer blockbuster," which I find far too harsh in retrospect. After letting my feelings on the movie simmer for a while, I realized that I respected Nolan for turning that complicated screenplay into a relatively functional film far more than I wished to denigrate him for not making it into the "best movie of all time ever." Just because a lot of people loved it a bit too much doesn't mean it's completely lacking in value. It's an entertaining film, respectfully spawned from an original idea in an era of sequels and remakes, and definitely one of the 10 best I saw this year.
Never Let Me Go - A real dark horse; a movie I loved that few other critics have really gotten behind. Many reviews labeled Never Let Me Go as "science fiction" because the plot involves cloning, which really shoehorns it into an inappropriate genre. It reminds me of when I was a kid and everyone said Contact was science fiction because there were aliens at the end. There weren't really any aliens! It was just David Morse.
Anyway, Never Let Me Go is far more than science fiction. It's a drama about love and separation, about growing up sheltered and struggling to break free, physically and emotionally. Andrew Garfield continues his star-making 2010 with another dynamite performance, and Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley remain two of the best young actresses working today.
But mostly, this made the list because I follow Mark Romanek on Twitter and I want to see him tweet the phrase "Steve Cimino calls Never Let Me Go one of his 10 favorite movies of 2010." Come on, Mark, get kingmyno.com some much-needed recognition.
The Social Network - As a fan of The Squid and The Whale, I'm obviously a fan of Jesse Eisenberg. Even though he mostly plays "neurotic Jewish kid" in every movie, he does it well, damnit. And his opus is The Social Network, also known to many people as "the Facebook movie."
But although Eisenberg gets a few scenes to shine, he's mostly playing the unwilling passenger on an unexpected trip to fame and Internet glory. I don't think he even gives the movie's best performance; that award would go to either the aforementioned " future Spider-Man" Andrew Garfield or Armie Hammer, who memorably plays dual Winklevi. They're both deserving of Oscar nominations, and the movie's more about how their characters interact with Mark Zuckerberg than about Zuckerberg's billion-dollar creation. It's about the rise and fall of relationships during the spawning of Facebook, but it's made hundreds of millions of dollars and garnered countless awards through the way it expertly intertwines everything together.
Toy Story 3 - As another associate of mine likes to note, Toy Story 3 is a "fuckin' cartoon." And yes, in the minds of many uninterested people, cartoons are forever associated with children's entertainment. But anyone who's seen a Pixar movie over the last decade (and shame on you if you haven't) knows how false that idea really is. Pixar makes movies for everyone, works of art with wit and heart and intelligence. Toy Story 3 is no exception.
If you cried at Up or Wall-E, prepare to bawl several times at this one. Maybe it comes from being invested in the adventures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear for so long, but certain aspects of this three-quel are unbelievably moving. Toy Story 2 seemed like way more of a ho-hum moneymaker, albeit an enjoyable one, but Toy Story 3 will make you laugh and cry interchangeably. I'm not sure if it's deserving, but I'd love to see this win Best Picture just to put a stamp on the fact that, no, computer animation and human emotion are not oil and water.
True Grit - One of the more straightforward Coen Brothers movies, at least in terms of plot, True Grit still keeps up the trend of fantastic performances and stand-out dialogue that defines pretty much every movie in Joel and Ethan's filmography.
The reliable trio of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin bring exactly what you'd expect to the table, and exquisite newcomer Hailee Steinfeld somehow keeps up with all of them. I'm not sure if the goal of the Coen Brothers was to pepper a traditional, old-fashioned Western with their distinctive quirks and quotable lines, but it definitely carries more overall appeal than the beloved-but-very-literary No Country for Old Men.
One aspect I really enjoyed was the demeanor of bad guys Brolin and Barry Pepper when the action shifts to them near end. Rather than exude the traditional devilish auras of Western villains, they're portrayed as reasonable, intelligent people. Sure, Brolin has a short fuse, and they're obviously engaged in cut-and-dry criminal activities, but Barry Pepper's character treats Steinfeld's character with a respect you don't see coming. Just another layer added to another classic from these cinematic masters.
Winter's Bone - And finally, the movie ranked #1 by The A.V. Club, Winter's Bone. Kind of a "Brick set in the Ozark Mountains," Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely sensational as a young girl investigating her father's disappearance. The cool new indie thing to do seems to be crafting a noir-esque film outside of the traditional noir atmosphere, and despite the outrageous differences between the Ozarks and then-burgeoning Los Angeles, Lawrence's bottomless commitment to finding her missing parent echoes the "never give up, never think things through" spirit of Jake Gittes in Chinatown.
It's sad that Lawrence will be beaten out by the equally-as-deserving-and-way-more-well-known Natalie Portman for the Oscar, because anyone who saw this coming from a star of "The Bill Engvall Show" is kidding themselves. But she'll snatch up a much-deserved nomination, as (hopefully) will her equally deserving co-star John Hawkes. Hawkes is one of those guys everyone's seen in something, from American Gangster to "Eastbound and Down" and "Deadwood," and he's both comfortingly paternal and extremely intense as Lawrence's uncle, Teardrop. The aforementioned Bale, Rush and Garfield were stellar in supporting roles this year, but shame on the Academy if they can't find a place for Hawkes, too.
And the rest: Of course, a few movies just didn't make the cut. They were Exit Through the Gift Shop, Waiting for "Superman", Please Give, I Love You Phillip Morris and A Prophet. I enjoyed all of them, but they just weren't good enough to be fully recognized. Better luck next time, Banksy, Oliver Platt and a very gay Jim Carrey.
Oh, and anyone who put The Town on a top-10 list is out of their minds. It looked like a slightly above-average heist movie in the preview, and it ended up being...a slightly above-average heist movie. It's the Boston version of Heat, only less good. That's not something to really celebrate.