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Nick’s Top 25 and Worst 10 of 2010

by on December 28, 2010

Although I spent the better part of the year revisiting the best and wallowing in the worst of 2000-2009, I still managed to watch 111 movies from 2010.

First, here are my picks, in ascending order, for the 10 worst. The less said of them at this time, the better, and I’ll readily admit I’ve probably not yet seen the true dregs.

10. Conviction

9. Clash of the Titans

8. Legion

7. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

6. Repo Men

5. The Wolfman

4. Skyline

3. Brooklyn’s Finest

2. Cop Out

1. Get Him to the Greek

Now, in ascending order, here are my choices for the 25 best.

25. Enter the Void

This makes the cut on directorial ambition alone. Don’t give much thought to the puerile plot of a drug addict sailing over the Tokyo where he’s recently died. Just find the largest screen possible, crank it up and let director Gaspar Noe attach electrodes to your cortex with amazing technique.

24. Please Give

“The Kids Are All Right” was an indie Nancy Meyers movie. Nicole Holofcener offers the real deal — a sharp, true comedy about altruism, aging and life’s other clutters. Amanda Peet’s brassy, caustic turn reinforced Holofcener’s theme: We’re awful to each other sometimes, but we’re all we have.

23. Buried

Ryan Reynolds awakens buried alive and attempts escape, but there’s little room for sarcasm in this sarcophagus. Reynolds’ atypical panic, logic, disbelief and rage drove this unrelentingly claustrophobic thriller about a civilian chasing his own high-risk, high-reward war profit.

22. Solitary Man

This perfectly prickly lease-on-life story takes a hard left from sentimentality — not so much about learning to live life but (possibly) facing death. An arthritic bird dog tracking the scent of women, Michael Douglas is a jewel of denial — predatory, delusional, wolfish, unforgettable.

21. Let Me In

Matt Reeves’ cover of “Let the Right One In” changes the tempo to tap into an undercurrent of darkness beyond the allure of a melody. More taciturn, tragic and terrifying than the original, it discusses how evil feeds upon innocence as desolately as “No Country For Old Men.”

20. Red Riding 1974 / 1980

Comparing this British crime trilogy to “The Godfather” or “The Wire” is somewhat valid … if you bail after “1980.” Forget the syrupy, ludicrous conclusion. Savor the intro (a visually intoxicating exploration of vengeance) and interlude (“L.A. Confidential” without the reversal of misfortune).

19. Kick-Ass

Casting a tween as a one-girl wrecking machine of maiming and murder proved divisive to many. But Matthew Vaughn’s punk-attitude action film had one of the year’s best shots: Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl letting a true glint of fear, and subsequent heroism, flash into her eyes.

18. Rabbit Hole

John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) directing a dead-kid drama seems like opening a craft shop next to a cabaret. But with tough humor and a trio of outstanding turns from Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest, it thoughtfully explored grief.

17. Winter’s Bone

Debra Granik’s stunning, sobering film transplanted mob-movie mentality into Missouri’s meth wastelands — never condescending to its people, only anthropologically observing their actions. John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence give two of the year’s most mesmerizing performances.

16. Splice

A cautionary tale coated with midnight-movie mucosa, “Splice” achieved severe psychological discomfort most audiences didn’t stand for (given its relative lack of traditional terror). Morally sticky, diabolically satirical, ambitiously allegorical, dangerously kinky and skillfully disconcerting.

15. Best Worst Movie

Wikipedia’s most amusing understatement: “ ‘Troll 2’ is widely considered to be of poor quality.” The opposite holds true for this philosophical, poignant and riotously funny look at the low-budget film’s resurgence and a timeless question: What is the standard of “bad,” exactly?

14. Blue Valentine

Derek Cianfrance’s marital horror show employs dermatological closeups and heartbreaking work from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams to document a marriage’s destruction. A critical choice: We see the flutter in their hearts form through flashback before it stops and falls dead.

13. 127 Hours

Danny Boyle’s endorphin-rush visuals get blood pumping before it runs cold in this terrific true-life “jailbreak” movie boasting James Franco’s greatest performance (morbid, heartfelt, disappointed and determined all at once) and a moving liturgy for connection and community.

12. The Good, the Bad, the Weird

A breathless action rush from start to finish, this Korean interpolation of Sergio Leone’s Western seamlessly blended practical, plentiful stunts with eye-popping CG visuals. This is the sort of giddy, hellzapoppin rush of excitement that makes you feel like a 12-year-old all over again.

11. Toy Story 3

Talk about a horse race for 2010’s best animated film. Pixar’s flagship franchise came to a tremendously moving finish. The template for “The Great Escape” never seemed so existential, and never have you wanted to sock a sullied, purple-pink bear so hard in his filthy, filthy mouth.

10. How To Train Your Dragon

Just as the characters in the year’s best animated film slowly tiptoed outside of the boundaries of how they expect each other to act, so did the story itself.

There’s so much subtext beyond believe-in-yourself bootstraps: how little we know of history reinforced only via tradition and textbook; seeing compassion and conscience as empathy, not cowardice; a nearly imperceptible message about living with disability, and that’s just a sample.

Plus, spine-tingling animation achieved awesome aerial action and artistry better than “Avatar.” There’s more detail in Toothless’s eye than in most films altogether, and the creature is a chummier version of the “Cloverfield” creature as he’s a panther, bunny, duck, cat, dog, bat, whale, newt, bird and dragon all at once.

It’s visual majesty on a level with “Fantasia,” and much like a hippo ballerina, this pas de deux of a boy and his dragon reached an unexpected grace.

9. The Tillman Story

Even at 25, Pat Tillman was an elder statesman — inquisitive, influential, calming. After his death in Afghanistan, his complexities were put under a button press and packed into political talking points.

In a way, Amir Bar-Lev’s documentary scattered his ashes — letting Tillman, known for defensive prowess in the NFL prior to military service, be all that he was. It was an honor denied by the U.S. government for which he fought, and “The Tillman Story” becomes an infuriating story of how officials used intimidation and invalidation to manage the perception of his death. (They tried to sweep something under the rug on a family that’s all hardwood, all the time.)

Unfiltered and uncut, “The Tillman Story” erected a more moving monument to Tillman’s valor than anything made of metal.

8. Exit Through the Gift Shop

If Charlie Kaufman made a documentary, it would be this meta-commentary on artistic integrity and inspiration that might also well be nothing more than a fascinating, suspicious, funny goof.

Credited as a Banksy film, “Exit” begins as a look at the hooded, masked vanguard leader of the guerrilla street-art movement. He’s chronicled by Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant obsessed with the movement. But as Banksy takes the reins and encourages Thierry to explore artistic interests, “Exit” busts out the pledge, turn and prestige and becomes a playful, beguiling puzzle.

Banksy’s art is a finger to the chest, poked to provoke response, awareness and a change of perception. In “Exit’s” case, it’s the documentary form. Whether it’s true detracts not from its salient, spectacular, occasionally snotty point: Commerce and hype often trump creativity, as exhibits dump you into stores with take-home versions of singular creativity you just witnessed.

7. Greenberg

Who’d have thought it possible to feel this good after a Noah Baumbach movie?

A romantic comedy between a hedonist and a nihilist, “Greenberg” is hardly saccharine, but thankfully it’s not the abrasive chemical treatment Baumbach usually applies. Perhaps the best, most humane parts of working with Wes Anderson have finally rubbed off on him.

Call it Ben Stiller in “The 40-Year-Old Urchin,” as an ornery, egotistical misanthrope who writes passive-aggressive consumer complaint letters. His gradual warm-up to a 25-year-old woman (Greta Gerwig) and estranged friend (Rhys Ifans) is freeing, funny and powerfully told.

It’s a huge moment to finally embrace that on which you’d never planned, especially if it’s good for you. It all leads to one of the truest endings to a romance since “Before Sunset” — a character revelation proving these people, however broken, are the perfect fit for each other.

6. Animal Kingdom

There are feature-length directorial debuts of pleasant, cordial introduction. Then there are blindsiding handshakes of remarkably assertive, assured death-grip intensity. David Michôd’s mercilessly riveting, judiciously violent “Animal Kingdom” was one of those.

Never once did this Australian cops-and-robbers tale — buoyed by Oscar-worthy supporting turns from Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver — feel like it would barrel toward anything less than a grim resolution, but its stunning ambiguity remained worth ruminating over.

One thing was clear: When it comes to the territory of men who would be criminal kings, Martin Scorsese has New York, Michael Mann has Los Angeles, Ben Affleck has Boston and, even after one movie, it feels like Michôd already owns Melbourne.

5. Never Let Me Go

Unlike Kazuo Ishiguro’s heralded novel about humans cloned to be harvested for spare parts, Alex Garland’s script didn’t shamefully hide away its sci-fi slant. It let its clinical connotations and emotional components about the value of life, identity, creativity and self-knowledge sink in more deeply than Ishiguro’s dreary scene-setting details.

Mark Romanek’s sturdy direction, Adam Kimmel’s cinematography and Rachel Portman’s score added to its icy formalism, and terrific turns from Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley complemented its script’s soul — three actors who could look 25 but exude the body language of senior citizens without aid of makeup and were able to sum up years of guilt in a glance.

It’s a transfixing, mournful and tragic love story, a cautionary tale against the scope of fearmongering propaganda and an aching parable of resignation we all tend to feel as we age.

4. The Fighter

There’s not a feint to be found in a film full of scenes coloring outside lines defined by uplifting sports tales. It’s unexpectedly, ferociously funny in spots, and its portrayal of a flammable family that creates four-alarm fights with the slightest spark of ignition rings true at every turn.

Everyone touts Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese as a new actor-director muse model. Screw that. I want more of Mark Wahlberg and David O. Russell. In Russell’s hands, Wahlberg always elevates, and Russell rebounds from a scattershot run with uncommon energy.

Still, the movie and a likely Oscar belongs to Christian Bale as Wahlberg’s half-brother — intelligent about boxing but hobbled by insatiable addictions to crack and chaos. Although self-destructive, Bale has never seemed so at ease as Dick, and his story is infused, darkly, into the movie’s battered, bloody soul about synthesizing the good and bad into a sense of self.

3. Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky understands that, at some level, ballet is dignified erotica. He also knows how, as in “The Wrestler,” the profession pushes extremities to extremes — unholy adjustments and atypically wicked body contortions that make even trapezius muscles a macabre sight.

As much Argento as it is Polanski, “Black Swan” is a scorching psychological nightmare soaked in sweat, tears and blood. This headlong, heedless rush into the psychotic, paranoid pursuit of perfection is bolstered by purposefully dizzying camerawork that matches its racing mind and the oppressive swell of Clint Mansell’s Tchaikovsky-augmented score.

But it’s owned by Natalie Portman, who’s dainty, damaged, delicate and destructive in a way we’ve never seen her. It’s a complete transformation of her tactics in more ways than one — reptilian, truly terrifying, unruly and unhinged, just like this piece of grand Grand Guignol.

2. Inception

For all of the complexities, exposition and showmanship of street magic, sometimes its simple illusions and emotions dazzle the most. The same could be said of “Inception” — a dangerous tumble down a rabbit hole of perception, identity and memory and the bravest, boldest, most bracing blockbuster since “The Matrix.”

Writer/director Christopher Nolan was too busy throwing haymakers of sheer spectacle and pop psychology (which no other 2010 film bothered to throw) to hold audiences’ hands through this mind game — the inter-dream audacity of which made “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” read like a Little Einstein title by comparison.

Intelligent, witty, exhilarating, and it contained the year’s best onscreen kiss.

1. The Social Network

Regardless of dramatic embellishment, “The Social Network” told a fascinating, electrifying, merciless and nasty tale of how one man’s idiosyncrasies and insecurities came to speak, in a way, for almost everyone who uses the Internet.

Aaron Sorkin’s rat-a-tat screenplay is caffeinated, but clear-headed — paced at information’s MBPS pace and cognizant of tipping points on friendships and business in Facebook’s birth. Recalling the chilly reserve of Wendy Carlos, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score rumbles ominously, predatory noises accompanying every throat lunge in a dog-eat-dog business deal.

And after just five minutes, Mark Zuckerberg brings out Jesse Eisenberg’s best performance — a man playing a boy who prefers the full view of a room when backed into a corner and overcompensates for nerdiness with passive-aggressiveness.

The brilliant final scene (as deftly directed by David Fincher as the rest of the film) finds him sitting there as we all have at one point — impatiently refreshing, awaiting digital confirmation of our flesh-and-blood worth.

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