Top Ten lists are tricky because when is the list ever done? There are a bunch of movies I still want to see, including “All Good Things,” “Blue Valentine,” “Buried,” “Carlos,” “Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer,” “Enter the Void,” “Howl,” “Last Train Home,” “Lebanon,” “Mother,” “Somewhere” and “Tiny Furniture.” I will get to those in the next few months. Who knows if they will crack my list, but for right now, this is what matters.
#10 – Winter’s Bone
This movie is cold, but not just because of the Ozark Mountain setting. There is not one warm ally on Ree Dolly’s quest, only the cruel. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in this neo-noir as a young girl trying to find her deadbeat father. Without him, her family will lose their house, so she has no choice but to confront the people of her town. Her journey through this masterfully crafted world s mesmerizing and unflinching. Lawrence, writer/director Debra Granik and the brilliant character actor John Hawkes deserve all the praise they’ve been receiving.
#9 – The King’s Speech
Period pieces are often hailed by the Academy because of their attention to the production detail and their grand sense of scale. “The King’s Speech” succeeds because it’s about the smaller things. What really works in the film is the friendship between King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. This build-up is so well handled by the script and the actors that the entire film because incredibly captivating. Everything is incredibly important on a personal and nationwide scale, but the movie never uses melodrama to make this point. Such a fine movie.
#8 – The Secret in Their Eyes
How can last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar winner be on a Best of 2010 list? Everybody else is counting is as a 2010 movie, so why not? It’s my list, dangit! Films are too often blatant when setting up plot points or jokes for later use. It’s only clever when all of the pieces come together without any obvious setup. If the movie can naturally create the environment with characters that aren’t just vehicles for plot, then something special can happen. That’s what this movie pulls off with beautiful style. It’s full of romance and mystery, with an altogether wonderful story.
#7 – Mother and Child
When movies are compared to novels, that’s a compliment. Sometimes movies are too hung up on their three-act narrative structure or only focus on one character’s arc. Rodrigo García delicately created a story around three distraught women and their uncomfortable positions in their lives and families. Annette Bening is a 50-year-old woman still haunted by the child she gave away when she was 14. Naomi Watts is that child, who proudly grew up independen but has become emotionally cold. Kerry Washington is a young wife trying to work her way through the adoption process. The movie is heartbreaking at times and it earns all of its moments. Like a fine novel, the movie knows its themes and naturally lets its characters revolve around them. It’s a shame this movie went so largely unseen.
#6 – True Grit
There is so much expectation when established filmmakers release a new movie that it seems like every movie must be their next masterpiece. Is “True Grit” the best Coen Brothers movie? It doesn’t matter. This is still an amazing movie. Top-notch dialogue, a fantastic story and great lead performances by Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges. The film shows how entertaining movies can be while never talking down to their audiences. There is a vibrant quality to their storytelling that is missing from too many movies out right now. This is one of the few remakes that is better than the original.
#5 – Inception
In my top 10, there are only two films based on original ideas. Signing off on something without a built-in audience scares producers. The only way a movie of this scale could be made was having Christopher Nolan as its architect. What a movie he built. There have been complaints that there is too much exposition, but that is not a problem when characters are answering questions asked by the audience. Too often, movies insist on telling you backstory or upon random flashbacks. Every answer in “Inception” comes from a worthy question, and is fun. It’s not a complicated movie, just a new one. And that’s great.
#4 – Exit Through the Gift Shop
Although it’s not exactly reflected on my list, this was a fantastic year for documentaries. The shining jewel was this odd examination of street art. Much like “My Kid Could Paint That,” this film investigates whether this can be considered art or just graffiti. Then it takes really unexpected turns that could either be completely ridiculous or the exact thing to prove the movie’s point. This all could be part of profiled street artist Banksy’s master plan, but either way this is a stellar look at art and those who value it.
#3 – Toy Story 3
Few trilogies actually have three good entries. “Toy Story 3,” with its amazing structure and attention to characters, not only pulled off a worthy conclusion, but possibly the best installment. Pixar goes beyond what is expected from children’s films, and this is no exception. It ends the story of Woody and the gang by having them look into how they are going to spend the rest of their eternity — their lives without Andy. Essentially, this is their afterlife. It deals with this topic with outstanding maturity while still having a very funny prison-escape plot. This is not just a great kids’ film, but an outstanding piece of art.
#2 – The Social Network
Everyone has it on their list and everyone should. Nobody thought this could be a movie, but not enough people knew the story. To make a scathing movie about Mark Zuckerberg (my unofficial doppelganger) during the height of his power is a risky move. It is reminiscent of “Citizen Kane” in that regard, but there are more apt comparisons. The rise to power has been told many times, but Aaron Sorkin reinvigorates it with his best screenplay since his “West Wing” years. The non-linear format and unconventional third act alone would rank this as one of the great scripts of the year. Yet his dialogue, that much-missed rapid-fire dialogue … there’s so much of it that this could easily have looked like a theater piece, but David Fincher can do wonders if he has the right script. This is a movie that will be remembered for many years to come.
#1 – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Prepare yourself for hyperbole overload. This movie is beyond magnificent, one of the most important comedies in years. Too many comedies are dictated by the actors. The script could be solid (or often not solid enough), but it’s the actors who have to make or break the comedy. Acclaimed comedy directors are the ones who let the actors do what they do best. Edgar Wright has shown the potential for comedy beyond that.
No longer are dramatic and genre directors the only ones allowed to show their visual style. Wright’s direction of “Pilgrim” never detracted from the comedy but exemplified it to new heights. The editing, the innovative transitions, the BAMs, the tricks. Everything worked and was amazing. Wright is the most exciting director since Martin Scorsese, and this is his “Mean Streets.”
Beyond that, this movie brings forward the intelligence everyone has been asking for in romantic comedies. Exes are not just here for punchlines but to show the emotional repercussions the characters face. The movie isn’t about the relationship, but the potential to have one in a modern setting.
This has the best set of supporting characters seen in any 2010 film, everyone is hysterical, and the action is better filmed than anything else this year. Even Michael Cera gives his best performance since “Arrested Development.”
This is the type of movie that will inspire the next generation. With today’s cookie-cutter output from Hollywood, there aren’t enough risks and original voices. People became invested in film from movies like “Jaws,” “Ghostbusters” and “Pulp Fiction.” This is the movie for which kids will wear out the disc and want to go out and make a movie (or a rock band). This is truly something special.