The annual list of favorite movies is a fun exercise, but it’s also a tough one. I believe in debating movies on their merits, but what qualifies a movie to be a personal favorite often transcends the dry discussion of whether it is objectively great or not. It depends on your own expectations for the movie, your movie preferences in general, who you saw it with, if you got the chance to see it again, and a million other things. That’s why I call this my list of favorites, and not a best of 2010 list.
Also, a list of this kind will inevitably make it glaringly clear that there are a lot of worthy movies I haven’t seen. Either because they haven’t come to Norway yet, or I haven’t had the time, or that I simply didn’t want to see them, for whatever reason. And remember that this list follows the Norwegian release schedule, in that only movies that were shown on film festivals, in theaters, released on DVD or on TV in Norway between January 1, 2010 and December 26, 2010 are eligible. This is mostly to keep a certain consistency with previous year-end lists, and give the late entries of 2009 (the Oscar-bait, mostly) a chance to compete, even though they didn’t open in Norway until this year. On the 2010 list this benefits A Single Man, while Milk and Into the Wild were notable hold-overs on the 2009 and 2008 lists, respectively. This year. the list of year-end staples that haven’t come to Norway yet include Black Swan, True Grit, Blue Valentine, Another Year, Never Let Me Go, The King’s Speech and many others. On the list of movies that are eligible but that I just haven’t seen, I’d mention Somewhere, two Danish movies, (Armadillo and In A Better World) and a host of documentaries (Restrepo, The Tillman Story, Client 9, Catfish, etc.)
The list of movies that nearly made the top ten includes the Swedish film The Girl, French Oscar nominee and Cannes favorite A Prophet, docu-drama Howl, Richard Loncraine’s spirited period-piece My One and Only and Charles Ferguson’s excellent Inside Job, a temperamental and well-argued documentary on the financial crisis.
Finally, my three picks for worst films of the year are Dear John, Valentine’s Day and The Last Song.
- The Social Network (Directed by David Fincher)
Writing about The Social Network sometimes feels like an impossible task. Not so much because it has already been analyzed to death, but rather because I know that once I’m done writing this, I’m going to beat myself up over failing to capture exactly how much I love this film. And by that, I mean love. The first time I saw it, I fell in love with Aaron Sorkin’s signature whip-smart dialogue and Jesse Eisenberg’s icy yet accessible Mark Zuckerberg. The second time, I begun to appreciate the emotional resonance of the Zuckerberg-Saverin partnership, owing much to how Andrew Garfield convinced me that this is first and foremost a story of friendship and betrayal. The third time, I dove into the technical aspects and the nuts and bolts of the storytelling. From the top-notch sound mixing, making sure that the nightclub scene that seals the alliance between Zuckerberg and Sean Parker has exactly the right pounding, bass-driven intensity, to camera work and cinematography that brings a dark shade to the Harvard campus, this is not only a gorgeous-looking film, but one in which every directorial choice supports the broader vision. Finally, the fourth time, I wasn’t so much watching the film anymore as I was reliving it. At particular moments in The Social Network, my memory of how I had reacted to them previously were so strong that I just then understood how much this film had come to mean to me. Also, the trailer may be even better than the film itself. Not kidding.
2. A Single Man (Dir: Tom Ford)
Where many saw flaws, I saw friction and life, things that made Tom Ford’s directorial debut truly great. And “Colin Firth, one of the most versatile male actor in current British cinema, paints a truly gripping portrait of the grief-stricken George,” whose life loses all meaning following the death of his boyfriend. (Review)
3. Toy Story 3 (Dir: Lee Unkrich)
Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional complexity of Toy Story 3, except maybe Toy Story 2. In that film, a scene showing the melancholic sense of rejection cowgirl Jessie felt when she was abandoned by an owner who had grown out of her toy-playing phase, set up much of what was to come. A sequel eleven years in the making, Toy Story 3 gets so much right about what makes kids tick and parents weep. By making Andy’s departure for college a meditation on time, loyalty and life in general not only for the toys under threat of being thrown away, but for Andy and his mother as well, Pixar has made a film every bit as mature as last year’s Up. Toy Story 3, appropriately nostalgic in tone from the first scene inside 7-year old Andy’s imagination, to the final, dignified curtain call, is a gender-bending, anti-totalitarian, existential treat. I’ll miss these guys.
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Dir: David Yates)
The first trailer for this two-part film promised ‘the motion picture event of a generation’. That could of course be debated on the merits, but if nothing else, it shows that the franchise has grown in confidence of the nearly ten years since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opened. I rewatched the entire series before I went to see The Deathly Hallows a second time, and I have to say the consistency of vision and quality has been remarkable. Sure, the first two movies at times felt like Roald Dahl movies lacking the darkness and sardonic wit that made Dahl’s books such a thrill, but from Azkaban on, the franchise grew into a deeply personal and engaging story of friendship and the struggle between good and evil, on a societal as well as a personal level.
The reception for The Deathly Hallows has been good, but not universally admiring, and more than a few critics seem to think that it suffers from being only the first half in a two-part story. I disagree. Exactly that choice, whether it was made for artistic or commercial reasons, has freed up time to focus more closely on the characters than in any other Harry Potter movie. Yates trusts us to know and love these characters by now, and thus much of the unnecessarily disposition of the previous films is stripped away. The result is a film that, while it contains a handful of heart-thumping action sequences, leaves more room for conflicting feelings, maturity and downright horror. And my favorite scene, in which Hermione via magic eliminates herself from the minds of her parents, isn’t even in the book. Witness the scene in which Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson dance awkwardly to a Nick Cave song. You’ll have to blink away a tear.
5. Inception (Dir: Christopher Nolan)
It says a lot about Inception that although I didn’t love it as passionately as I did many other films on this list, and although I never really connected with it on a gut level (as opposed to an intellectual level), I nevertheless saw it three times in a movie theater, and I’ll likely see it at least twice a year for the next several years. You simply cannot find a more powerful combination of artistic vision and just plain fun in Hollywood cinema these days. Christopher Nolan has shown for years, most notably in his Batman reboot, that this is his tour de force. Starring a bunch of the best actors of its generation (Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Paige, Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Inception went through with Nolan’s mind-bending dream-implantation premise with visual artistry and good humor (like the nod to Titanic in the first collapsing dream sequence). Wait for the totem/alternate reality discussion to become the cocktail chatter staple of the years to come.
6. Shutter Island (Dir: Martin Scorsese)
Inception stole much of the Leonardo DiCaprio-infused thunder of 2010, but which of the two I consider my favorite changes almost on a daily basis. Scorsese had a very uneven decade, but Shutter Island rivals The Departed as his masterpiece of the new millenium. Expertly deploying every tool he has at his disposal (among them the inimitable Max von Sydow and an excellent Sir Ben Kingsley), Scorsese’s film is a treat not only for the eye but for the brain as well. And this is where DiCaprio’s involvement gets really interesting. The mind-manipulation in Shutter Island is more traditional but no less effective than in Inception, and when the twist invited me to rethink the narrative completely, I happily went along for the ride.
Critics were somewhat split on Shutter Island, but to my mind, I was great to see a Scorsese film that transcended the well-made and wonkish but somewhat distant feel of The Aviator and Gangs of New York. As with The Departed, his other great film of the millenium, he scales back his epic impulse a little, and gives himself over to a deliciously stringent b-movie excess that brings out the horror element of what is essentially a detective story.
7. Tetro (Dir: Francis Ford Coppola)
Sometimes you see a film that’s so good you just have to bend the rules a little. This film, chronicling the complicated relationship between Tetro (Vincent Gallo), a playwright who seems perpetually unable to put the final touches on his supposed masterpiece, and his brother Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich), technically wouldn’t qualify for this list, since it hasn’t been released neither in theaters nor on DVD in Norway yet. When it’s included anyway, it’s because I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in a long time. Taking place in a theater enviroment allows it to unashamedly embrace grand gestures and heart-on-its-sleeve emotions, but the human drama is also brilliantly captured by Gallo, who fills his character with tragic-comedic intensity. Ehrenreich instantly positions himself as a Young Leonardo prospect, and the beautiful cinematography gives an echo of classical Hollywood cinema.
8. The Kids Are All Right (Dir: Lisa Cholodenko)
Reduced to its essence, The Kids Are All Right is a film about mothers who struggle with problems that any mother struggles with: How to get your son to tell you even the things he doesn’t want you to know, or how to come to terms with your daughter leaving home to start a life on her own. Sure, it’s also a story of the daughter wanting to get to know her donor dad (Mark Ruffalo), and the trials this puts Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules’ (Julianne Moore) marriage through. Helped by the impeccable chemistry and acting chops of its leads, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Itty Bitty Titty Committee) handles the the weighty stuff (like what it means when a lesbian suddenly sleeps with a man, or how to save a twenty-year relationship) with the same steady hand as the light comedic bits. The result is one of the most entertaining films of the year, and a scene about leaving for college that rivals the one in Toy Story 3.
9. Dogtooth (Dir: Giorgios Lanthimos)
When you make a film like Dogtooth, comparisons with Austrian evil genius Michael Haneke become almost inevitable. And yes, Giorgios Lanthimos’ second feature, which made a splash at Cannes last year, shares its underlying sense of discomfort with a Haneke film like Funny Games (1997), but it also shows that Lanthimos is able to stake out some ground for himself. The most disturbing aspect of this part family drama, part social satire, was how readily I accepted the logic of its wicked universe. A controlling and impulsively violent father has convinced his three adult children that they will be in grave danger if they leave the family mansion, but as outside influences seeped in leading to the social experiment’s painful conclusion, I was kept at the edge of my seat, much due to crisp cinematography and an unsettling score. The dancing scene at the end of Dogtooth was magnetic in a ‘don’t look-can’t-look-away’ kind of way.
10. The Ghost Writer (Dir: Roman Polanski)
A classic of a film of the kind that old cranks regularly complain doesn’t get made anymore, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer takes a firm grip on the viewer’s imagination from the first, discomfiting scene. Ewan McGregor suits the role of a naive biographer very well, but the two standouts in the excellent cast may be Pierce Brosnan, whose role as a egomaniacal Tony Blair-style prime minister looks like it was written for him, and the always reliable Olivia Williams as his wife. Polanski has decades of experience with how to construct slow-building suspense, and here he even co-wrote a witty script to go with it. So witty, in fact, that The Ghost Writer‘s only possible flaw may be that its wit at times threatened to undercut the thriller aspect. In all, however, this is Polanski at his best, in the mode of the second half of his career, in movies like Bitter Moon (1992) and Frantic (1990).
I had a sneaky feeling “The Social Network” would be your #1. ;) I must admit, coming into it, I felt kind of annoyed that many people cited this as #1 movie of the year. I thought it was the classic case of people jumping on the bandwagon and I wouldn’t have any of it. But after I saw the first scene, I had a feeling I was in for a ride. The rest was excellent.
Nice to see “Tetro” on your list. I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, but I think it deserves to be seen by many. I really liked Ehrenreich’s performance… and looks. =p
The only one I haven’t seen is “Dogtooth.” I heard great things about it and I’m looking forward to watching it soon on DVD. I believe it comes out mid-January here in the states.
What I am surprised to see on here is “Harry Potter 7,” especially being #4! I think they put a charm on you. tsk tsk.
Each year, I look forward to your list of favorite movies most. Lookin’ forward to 2011’s lists.
Happy New Year!! :)
thanks for your words of encouragement. I’m looking forward to quabble with you over your picks for 2010 :)
I was definitely enthusiastic about ‘The Social Network’ from the moment I heard about it, but it wasn’t until I saw the overwhelmingly positive reviews that I became convinced that it would transcend its relatively limited subject-matter. Like lots of other people, I initially couldn’t quite envision that a drama about a tech company coming of age would be so rich on character depth and emotional resonance. Fundamentally, I guess I just held out hope that the combined forces of Fincher and Sorkin could make it work. And they most definitely succeeded. Seeing as it isn’t out on DVD yet, I can honestly say that I miss it every day. That’s how important it has become to me.
I suspected that putting Potter at #4 would raise some eyebrows, but in the end, I just had to. After I rewatched the series last month, it became clearer to me how great David Yates’ chapters of the saga have been. Sure, Cuaron was the first to introduce complexity and darkness to the series, but in his three installments so far, Yates has taken what worked in that movie, and taken advantage of the darker turn in the books to add both gothic horror elements, visual artistry and moments of comedic lightness. We can of course which of his movies are the best (For instance, I know I liked ‘The Order of Phoenix” better than you did), but they are very much part of a larger vision. In ‘The Deathly Hallows’, I think I appreciated most what many of its harsher critics most despised; its perceived slowness and focus on character development. It makes it harder to follow for those who haven’t seen the earlier films or read the books, but for loyalists it’s like candy marinated in salty tears.
I actually thought of you when I saw ‘Tetro’: When Alden Ehrenreich’s name appeared in the opening credits, I searched my brain for where I had heard that name before, and then I realized you had actually recommended him one of my Sexiest Males Alive posts. And he’s great in ‘Tetro’, in every respect. In addition to his physical resemblance to a young DiCaprio, he actually has some of the urgency and rawness in his acting that Leo had when he was younger, and that I also often see in Emile Hirsch’s performances. That said, ‘Tetro’s greatest take-away for me was Vince Gallo’s performance. He immediately blew up the ‘realism’ paradigm, and gave a spirited larger-than-life feel to the titular character. One of the most unashamedly cinematic movies I saw this year, I’m sure I’ll even more things to appreciate, both in terms of technical and story aspects, upon repeated viewings.
In closing, I’d say that it was a very good year for movies, and a surprisingly strong one for American cinema in particular. That may explain why my list is so similar to the ones you see from American critics. The film festival I attended this year had fewer outside-the-box favorites than earlier years (like ‘True Adolescents and ‘The Time That Remains’ last year), but the quality of box-office hits like ‘Inception’, ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘TS3’ more than made up for that.
With regards to HP7, the critics may have a point. After all, each movie has to stand on its own regardless of being a part of a series. That said, if I were to give HP7 a low rating because it doesn’t stand on its own, that would be a bit unfair considering I’ve read the books. If the studios decided to release HP7 in 1 movie instead of 2 (thus eliminating the feeling of “incompleteness” or the cliffhanger), they should at least make it 4 hours. That would’ve been awesome; plus, it saves us $$$.
I wish I can agree with you about this year being a very good year for American cinema. It was relatively easy for me to pick my Top 10/10 Favorites because not many stood out. (Putting it in order of preference was a whole other story. I pains me to do it.) I definitely looked at ALL the movies released since January 2010. By the time I reached the June list, I only had 6 stand-outs (3 of which didn’t make it into my top 10). I was nervous because what if I didn’t have a total of 10! Okay, a slight hyperbole, but still…
Further, as you probably know off Twitter (=p), I’ve been catching up on Oscar movies these past 2 weeks. There were some interesting movies like BLACK SWAN, RABBIT HOLE, and I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS but I didn’t think they were the best of the best. Some were good only in parts like THE FIGHTER but driven by great performances. They felt all too… hmm, I don’t want to use the term but I will anyway… Oscar-bait.
Anyway, outside of Oscar movies, I told you that I’d check out some of the movies you mentioned from the past festivals you attended. I’ve only checked out 1 so far (I promise I’ll watch all the ones I can get my hands on!) which was “You, the Living.” I borderlined loved it. It was definitely a strange movie and I wouldn’t recommend it to just about any dude off the street but I was so drawn to it. Definitely looking forward to seeing the others.
thanks for your willingness to engage with my choices. I’m looking forward to doing the same over at your blog once you publish your list.
Per your HP7 comments, let me say first that I do think the movie stands well on its own. Sure, viewers who come into the universe for the first time with this movie might get a little confused at first, but the movie has such strong nerve, technical brilliance – from the cinematography to Alexandre Desplat’s exquisite score – and so many great individual moments, that I don’t think it would matter all that much. And, as importantly: I don’t think the primary obligation of HP7A should be hold the hands of new viewers as they navigate their way through its complicated universe. What might described as the franchise’s inward turn, was to me a masterstroke, because it allowed for more nuanced character portraits and a greater emotional payoff.
The prime obligation of HP7A to be more or less consistent with HP7B. We don’t know yet whether it’ll be successful in that ambition, but I think it will. It doesn’t mean the two parts can’t be different in tone (they will be), but I hope the second doesn’t squander the emotional resonance of HP7A.
As for the year in American cinema, you may be right on the whole. For one thing, you’ve seen the big awards contenders, and you also watch a lot more movies over the course of a year than I do (how do you get to watch everything?!). Perhaps I should have put my point a little more narrowly. First and foremost I wanted to highlight how the best American movies I’d seen this year could have held up on any list for any other year. The Social Network and Toy Story 3 were in a class of their own, but in my mind, ambitious blockbusters like Inception and a cinematic revitalization like Shutter Island, makes me want to defend my original assertion. I’m tempted to go back to my 2009 list. There, the highest-ranked American movie that wasn’t left over from 2008 was ‘Zombieland’. As much as I liked it, it would have been surpassed by both TSN, TS3, Inception and Shutter Island if it had been competing in 2010.
Of the Oscar contenders I think I look forward to Black Swan the most, if only to see if it’s really as disturbing as it’s made out to be. I feel like the somewhat split critical reaction to Black Swan only makes it more interesting. I tend to like movies that aren’t afraid of pushing some parts of its audience away.
I have seen very few of the Oscar contenders that were released in the US in late 2009, except for the long-shot ‘Never Let Me Go’, which I thought was great. Generally I want to watch movies legally, and I like the big screen experience too much not to see these films in a theaters, but the downside is that I often have to wait for them for months. For instance, Black Swan isn’t set to open in Norway until sometime in February.
(I saw “I Love You, Phillip Morris”, but I can’t say I was particularly taken by it. I was truly surprised to see it some on year-end lists, and even more surprised to see how it was actually treated as a kind of ‘controversial’ movie. Sure there are sex scenes in it, but a) how controversial can non-explicit gay sex scenes be in today’s cinema, and b) these scenes were mostly played for laughs anyway. The movie was okay, but as is often the case with Jim Carrey – even in his best films, like “Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind” and “The Truman Show” he threatens to overshadow the intrigue itself.
On your final point, I’m very happy that you like “You, The Living”. The director, Roy Andersson reminds me a little of Terrence Malick, in the sense that he has made very few movies over the course of a long career. My personal favorite among his films is “A Swedish Love Story”, which has less of the classic understated humor of “Songs From The Second Floor” or “You, The Living”, but is a very Scandinavian, kind of sad, but eventually hopeful film. I hope you’ll find more films you like among my other recommendations.
I have to see “social network” at some point but I was Very reluctant because the trailers I saw just annoyed me with the dialog but seeing that you and so many others whose opinions see well grounded makes me want to finally see it. We picked up “inception” on blu ray and watched the behind the scenes. It’ll blow your mind how much of the movie wasn’t cg!
I cannot endorse ‘The Social Network’ strongly enough, and ten weeks after I saw it for the first time, I still find myself in daily conversations about it; I listen to the score regularly, and If I hear Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ somewhere, I get all emotional, even though the version used in the TSN trailer. You decide whether this makes me sound like a freak or simply passionate ;)
What surprises me every time I see ‘The Social Network’ is its emotional resonance. I’d have never though this from the concept itself, but it’s a really moving film. I think you can get that from the trailer, in the way that it builds up into a crescendo (at 1:46). I adore Jesse Eisenberg in every possible way, and his Mark Zuckerberg is nuanced and touching, but over repeated viewings it has become clear to me that Andrew Garfield – and more specifically, his voice – stands at the emotional core of TSN. His central lines in the trailer (‘They’re saying we stole thefacebook. So did we?’ at 1:25; ‘What do you mean get left behind?’ at 1:30; and simply shouting ‘Maaark! at 1:46’) all send chills down my spine.
But like I said: 1) I’m kinda obsessive about this film, and 2) by the fourth and final time I saw, I started watching it more as a sum of all the accumulated experiences I’d had with it thus far, and less as an unfolding film in itself. :)
Although I saw quite a lot of movies last year, 2010 in the end was about a core of movies that I saw several times. In addition to TSN, that list included A Single Man (four times), Inception (four times), Toy Story 3 (three times), The Kids Are All Right (twice) and HP7A (twice). I actually saw Inception just two days ago, and now I like it even better than I did the first three times.
I go into most movies with the idea that it will be what it will be- I guess with my dad’s ability to teach me to figure a movie out in the first fifteen minutes has me disappointed in them at times.
I saw ‘Social Network’ and had heard it portrayed him as a total jerk, so knowing the human nature can take us either way in most things, I knew there was truth, and others views going on…and it did seem that quite possibly it enabled Mark Z. to hear these views and examine himself for the better, or he was never really as bad as the movie portrayed him, but most likely who cares, we all have a little devil on our shoulder…okay I over analyze stuff LOL
I saw Inception and was disappointed- I also read history on movies, writers, how they come about blah blah blah and figure its original direction was altered too much- movies like The Thirteenth Floor have already discovered dream realities, and I know this is not exactly the same, but I guess boredom gets me…okay I was not excited about this movie LOL
The part about my dad teaching me…I guessed Shutter Island from the commercials, and my friend was mad that I knew that much after she called to tell me to see it…she thought I had…I am no fun to go to movies with…I also guessed the Bruce Willis ‘I see dead people’ movie too…
I have not seen the Harry Potter Movie, nor read the remainder books, but I will say that popcorn and some twizzlers will be in hand for this one…when I get to go…
I rarely see these movies in house with hubby traveling, and I find excuses to stay home and write. I know I know, they are better on the big screen, but I just watched the original version of ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ with my son, and have to say (Okay a sign I am getting old) I miss the less computer help and more thrill aspect of movies at times, and my son had never seen it…he was really into it!
Thanks for this thrill ride blog post…sorry for talking too much :)
As always, thanks for your comments, E.
Maybe I’m repeating myself here, but I didn’t necessarily think Mark Zuckerberg was portrayed as just evil in The Social Network. Both the script and Eisenberg’s performance carried with it enough nuance to obscure my understanding of him a bit. Ambitious? Definitely. Ruthless? Maybe. But there is something about the way he distances himself from Justin Timberlake’s character in the ‘showdown’ scene, and that wrenching Rosebud moment at the end, that made me feel surprisingly sympathetic toward him. But again, these feelings are for the ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ of The Social Network. I’m still not sure whether I think it really matters how much he resembles the real-life Mark Zuckerberg.
As for Inception, you are right about the concept of dreams in sci-fi films not being novel – Tarkovsky did ‘Solaris’ 39 years ago. But the idea of making what’s essentially a heist movie about mind-manipulation, still felt fresh and original. I’m in awe of Christopher Nolan’s guts, anyway. Who cooks up this story, and then has the vision to actually put it down in a storyboard, and even execute it satisfyingly!? Having seen it four times, I still don’t think Inception’s emotional core is all that interesting, but taken as a refreshingly challenging and virtuosic blockbuster, it’s an instant classic.
Seeing people getting sucked in by the experience of a particular is so powerful, that the quality of the movie in question is rendered kinda irrelevant.
Okay you say it so much more eloquently :O) point taken!
Now that I think about it, what they were after in Inception…was a surprisingly noble thing- made the character a better man. Something I did not see until now, DiCaprio’s character too was given a second chance to redeem himself…hmmm
BTW, its one reason why I shy away from discussions, unless on food or hair (my skill set), because I do not know how to explain what it is I feel and think…a good use of poetry! Ha!
I think I understood what you meant, E! And, no matter the shortcomings of Inception, it sure is a whole more ambitious and intellectually stimulating than your average summer blockbuster fare.
Thanks for the HOWL recommendation. It just might crack my top 10.
That’s great news, Franz.
I came into Howl with a slight fascination with beat poetry and Ginsberg’s life and times, but the movie blew me away with its musicality and sense of rhythm. James Franco was absolutely magnetic, and the court drana segment – normally the dreariest in a procedural drama of this sort – worked surprisingly well, as it invited me to contemplated question like what constitutes art and obscenity, who and what defines something as a work of art, and the limits of freedom of speech, then and now.
I was particularly pleased to see that the directors, who had previously just done documentaries managed such a seemless transition into the world of the docu-drama.