I watched a scary number of movies this year so (unlike with my music list) I feel like I have a pretty deep pool to draw from here. The challenge with lists like these is striking the balance between entertainment and artistic merit. For instance, I felt like “Scott Pilgrim vs the World” was a flawed film and I could point at several things wrong with it. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ve had more fun in a theater this year. By contrast a film like “The Kids are All Right” is less entertaining to me but ultimately seems more deserving of respect. Good thing I don’t do this for a living, so I don’t actually have to come up with a real answer to that.
On to the list!
- Black Swan. I would not have wagered that my favorite film of 2010 would be about ballerinas. That’s the beauty of cinema – its endless capacity to surprise you. Black Swan is over-the-top, ridiculous, suspenseful, bold, entrancing, full of clichés, and yet completely unlike any other movie I’ve ever seen. I had to sit in the theater for several minutes after it ended in order to shake off the spell it put me under. Hats off to director Darren Aronofsky for the way he uses the visual grammar of horror movies to tell a story about the price that must be paid to produce truly great art.
- Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s tough to describe this hilarious documentary by street artist Banksy without spoiling it. It’s nominally about graffiti art, but takes some unexpected turns and makes viewers question what they are actually seeing. This would make a terrific double feature with another wonderful documentary about art, 2007′s My Kid Could Paint That. Both movies question the commercialism of art and ask – how much of a work’s value derives from the art itself, and how much from the marketing around it?
- Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Maybe it’s only fun for GenY video gamers and indie rock nerds, but I fall in that category and there was no film more fun to see in a crowded theater than Scott Pilgrim. Unfortunately it bombed at the box office, but I have a feeling it will live on as a cult film as long as there are people who get the 8 bit references. Frenetic energy, great jokes, and a surprisingly tolerable Michael Cera. It’s the kind of film you want to see again as soon as it’s over.
- Winter’s Bone. On the opposite side of the fun spectrum, here’s a miserablist Ozarks drama about a young girl trying to find her meth-cooking father in order to save her young siblings from being homeless. Jennifer Lawrence delivers the performance of the year (better than Natalie Portman in Black Swan). This is the kind of film I wish conservatives would watch so they can see how hard it is to be poor in America.
- Inception. I think everyone on the planet has seen this, so let’s move on, shall we?
- The Social Network. It’s strange how minor factual errors in this film bothered me a lot, even though it’s a fictional account, while I’m not bothered that a documentary like Exit Through The Gift Shop might be a giant hoax. I guess I just feel that this movie may end up being the definitive record of one of the most interesting stories of our time, and Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher just didn’t give Mark Zuckerberg a fair shake. That said, how about that wonderful dialogue? I could listen to Jesse Eisenberg deliver the “you’re getting the minimal amount of my attention” speech a hundred times.
- The Kids Are All Right. I’m a supporter of gay marriage but if I really thought that two lesbians might name their son “Laser”, I might jump to the other side.
- The King’s Speech. Middlebrow and predictable, yet it brought a tear to my eye. Definitely recommended but the best scenes are in the trailer. Also, does it mean I’m juvenile if my favorite part of the movie was when Colin Firth yells “tits”?
- True Grit. I’ll admit a slight disappointment here as my love for the Coen brothers knows no bounds. Instead of making a transcendent Western they merely made a great Western. Oh well!
I’m leaving the tenth spot open because I have some films left to see and none of the Honorable Mentions really feels like a top ten film to me.
Honorable Mentions: A Prophet, The Secret in Their Eyes, Unstoppable, The Town, Never Let Me Go, Shutter Island, Mother, The Ghost Writer, RED, Fair Game, How to Train Your Dragon, Harry Potter 7.0, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Kick-Ass, Green Zone, 127 Hours
Still in the Netflix Queue: Blue Valentine, Toy Story 3, Dogtooth, Enter the Void, Carlos, Catfish, I Love You Philip Morris, The Fighter, Four Lions, Waiting for Superman
Disappointing: Machete, Robin Hood, Iron Man 2, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Hot Tub Time Machine
Worst Movies I Saw: Legion, Daybreakers, The Bounty Hunter, Clash of the Titans, Jonah Hex