With the end of the year getting so close we can reach out and touch it, it’s time for the Weekend Warrior to reflect back on all the movies he’s seen this year to come up with one of those wonderful movie lists that everyone seems to love so much. Once again, he did his best to cull down the roughly 300 movies he watched in the past year, some of them two or three times, and though we’d never be so bold as to use the subjective term “best of the year,” the following is a list of some of his favorites.
For your added entertainment, we’ve included links to all the related interviews, reviews and when applicable, the film’s write-up in the “Chosen One” section of the Weekend Warrior. Hopefully you’ll read more about and check out some of the films you may have smissed in the list.
25. How to Train Your Dragon and Megamind (DreamWorks Animation) – 2010 was the year that DreamWorks Animation finally figured out what makes Pixar Animation’s movies so special and they found a way to release two of possibly their best movies to date. It began with the underrated “Dragon” back in March, which was immediately thought to be a bomb because it didn’t open with the $50 million plus of the usual DWA films. Its touching story of a Viking boy (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon won audiences over as did the quality of filmmaking and its amazing aerial action scenes, giving Pixar some competition for favorite animated film of the year. Furthermore, Megamind ended up being much better than it looked, although coming hot off the heels of the mega-hit Despicable Me (which isn’t nearly as funny) and looking so much like The Incredibles may have caused audiences to give it a pass. Ferrell really knocked one out of the park with the character, but it was Tina Fey who really shined in this animated film produced by Ben Stiller.
24. Enter the Void (IFC Films) – The first of many films on this year’s list by innovative French filmmakers is this magnum opus by Gaspar Noé of Irreversible notoriety who took his cameras to Tokyo for what starts out as a simple story of a drugdealer shot in a sting operation then evolves into a film that explores every aspect of life and death and life after death. It’s impossible to look away as his cameras travel through the streets of Tokyo, across the rooftops, into the sky and backwards and forwards through time showing us that he’s achieved another level as a filmmaker.
23. Biutiful (Roadside Attractions) – Similarly esoteric and metaphysical as Noé’s latest, the return of Babel director Alejandro Iñárritu also marked his return to the Spanish language with a film starring Javier Bardem as a Barcelona street hustler known as Uxbal who learns he’s dying and has to make things right before he goes. Biutiful had almost as many trippy scenes as Enter the Void as we followed Uxbal on his day-to-day life and Bardem’s best performance to date, as well as a groundbreaking debut by Argentina’s Maricel Álvarez as his bipolar ex-wife. This is a film so full of layers it’s hard to summarize it in a few short words, but it’s certainly something not forgotten very easily.
22. Fish Tank (IFC Films) – Andrea (Red Road) Arnold’s second feature film introduced the world to newcomer Katie Jarvis as a rebellious 15-year-old living in the industrial estates (essentially “the projects”) of an English town who wants to leave her dreary life behind and become a dancer. At first, she’s angry about her mother’s new sleep-in boyfriend, played by Michael Fassbender, but after a night of drunken bonding, they end up having sex and that’s when the film goes into shocking and surprising places. It’s just another masterful piece of British slice-of-life filmmaking from Arnold.
21. The Killer Inside Me (IFC Films) – Michael Winterbottom tackled his first real American film by adapting Jim Thompson’s cult pulp novel and having Casey Affleck play smalltown deputy Lou Ford, who also happens to be a psychotic killer who courts and then kills a local prostitute, played by Jessica Alba, instead of driving her out of town as instructed. Things escalate from there as Lou tries to cover his tracks, and his penchant for brutal violence and deviant sex, Winterbottom somehow managed to make a stunningly stylish film. It makes you realize that even in a small town where everything seems so simple, there are people whose minds work in unexplainable ways.
20. Un Prophete (Sony Pictures Classics), Mesrine (Music Box Films) and Carlos (IFC Films) – Yes, we’re continuing our annual list-cheating with our first of two three-in-one entries, this one being three crime epics by some of France’s most innovative filmmakers. Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet was a rags to riches story of a young Arab man trying to survive the prison system, Jean-François Richet’s look at one of France’s most notorious bank robbers, Jacques Mesrine, and Olivier Assayas’ magnum opus, a comprehensive biopic about one of the world’s most notorious terrorists Ilich Sánchez, also known as “Carlos the Jackal.”
The latter probably has the least to do with the former two, but they all featured groundbreaking performances by their leading actors with Vincent Cassel embodying all aspects of Jacques Mesrine over the course of two decades, becoming a “Robin Hood”-like hero to the people, and Edgar Ramirez’s Carlos, who followed in the footsteps of Che Guevara but ended up becoming a menace due to his terrorist activities. Audiard’s prison tale was nominated for a Foreign Language Oscar last year, but it’s closest a film has come to HBO’s “Oz” at depicting what life is really like inside a prison with newcomer Tahar Ramim’s performance as a young man who finds a way to rise above the system. All three films require a good amount of time invested–Carlos is worth every minute of its five and a half hours–but they all pay off with terrific acting, filmmaking and storytelling.
19. White Material (IFC Films) – And the French filmmakers traveling abroad continues and considering how little I cared for Claire Denis’ previous movie, 35 Shots of Rum, it was a joy to see her African drama at the New York Film Festival last year, especially due to the performance by France’s finest Isabelle Hupert as a woman trying to protect her plantation at the outset of war in the are. Beautifully capturing the African landscape and telling this story of one woman trying to keep her family together through all the strife, the film really sticks with you for a long time.
18. The Square (Apparition), Animal Kingdom (Sony Pictures Classics) and Red Hill (Arclight Films) – Who knows what’s been going on in Australia lately, but to have three terrific genre films, all feature directing debuts, released in the same year is quite astounding. The only thing that kept 2010 from being the year of Blue Tongue Films is that their other Sundance debut Hesher wasn’t released, which would have given them a Trifecta.
If we hadn’t lumped these three movies together, I’d probably push The Square up a bit higher on the list, because it is indeed one of the lost classics of 2010, showing what happens when a contractor having an affair tries to steal money from bank robbers and then getting involved with all sorts of shady individuals to cover up his tracks. Written by Joel Edgerton, who also appears in Animal Kingdom, and directed by brother Nash Edgerton, it’s a classic Hitchcock thriller premise with great action scenes.
David Michod’s Animal Kingdom was an amazing crime drama revolving around a teenager who moves in with his uncles and his grandmother, who happen to be a wanted crime ring. Everyone has been raving about the amazing performance by Jacki Weaver as the family’s matriarch, but there’s an equally amazing performance by Ben Mendelsohn as his twisted uncle, a bad guy as scary as Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh and Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa.
Patrick Hughes’ Red Hill isn’t associated with the other two other than the fact that Claire van der Boom also appears in The Square, but it’s a crime thriller that takes its cues from the Western genre with Ryan Kwanten from “True Blood” as the new sheriff in a small town who has to contend with the escape of a vicious ex-convict who has returned to town for revenge.
All three films are absolutely fantastic, not only because they’re directorial debuts, but also because they take great lengths at redefining the crime genre.
17. The Fighter – David O. Russell and Mark Wahlberg reteamed for the third time to tell the story of “Irish” Micky Ward, a Massachusetts boxer past his prime who is given another chance, and his brother Dicky, played by Christian Bale, who undergoes his own life change. A lot of great things have been said about the movie and you can read my review below, but it’s easily Russell’s best film since Three Kings and on par with some of the best boxing films.
16. The Karate Kid (Sony) – This is where the fun begins as I’m sure some of my colleagues still question my love for Harald Zwart’s remake of the popular ’80s film, but ever since seeing this at ShoWest, I’ve greatly admired how the film succeeded on so many more levels than the normal summer popcorn flick or family film. As a huge martial arts fan, it was great seeing Jackie Chan in more of a mentor role to Jaden Smith, who came right out from under his father’s shadow with his role. I loved how beautifully modern-day China was captured, but so many aspects of the original story were enhanced, including what it feels like to experience first love. So yeah, maybe it’s not getting all the Oscar nominations I thought it deserved back in March, but I still think the movie will stand the test of time, possibly even more than the original.
15. Heartbreaker (IFC Films) – This surprisingly mainstream French romantic comedy was one of the great crowdpleasers at this year’s 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. French actor Romain Duris has previously done serious dramas and crime thrillers but casting him in the role of a conman who is hired to convince women to break up with their bad boyfriends and husbands was brilliant. Posing as the bodyguard to a wealthy heiress, played by Vanessa Paradis, led to some of the best romantic chemistry you’d see on-screen in the past year, paired with hilarious Ocean’s 11-like hijinks in this debut from Luc Besson’s 2nd Unit guy Pascal Chaumeil. I wouldn’t even be remotely surprised if an English remake (currently in development at Universal) weren’t an enormous hit.
14. The Disappearance of Alice Creed (Anchor Bay) – I first saw J. Blakeson’s debut at its Toronto International Film Festival premiere and was completely blown away by what could be done with just three actors in two rooms. It’s not just any actors but the delectable Gemma Arterton giving her best performance in a very busy year as a rich socialite kidnapped by two ex-convicts who have planned every detail of the crime, except for the fact that Alice Creed ends up being far more wily than either of them imagined. One of my favorite actors, Eddie Marsan, plays her senior captor and Martin Compston as his junior accomplice. Very few directorial debuts have impressed me as much as this and even after seeing the film FOUR TIMES, I’m still impressed with how brilliantly this film was conceived.
13. The King’s Speech (The Weinstein Company) – So much has been said about this new film from Tom Hooper, the director of “John Adams” and other historic dramas, particularly about the performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, that I probably don’t have very much to add. The story of England’s ruler who had to overcome a speech impediment was incredibly solid and a very entertaining film that you’ll be hearing a lot more about leading up to Oscar night.
12. City Island (Anchor Bay) – The well-deserved winner of the Audience Award at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, which is where I first got to see it, Raymond De Felitta’s dysfunctional family comedy was impressive for the amount of talent doing some of their best work including Andy Garcia doing some rare comedic work and really delivering. He plays a prison guard who lives in the remote Bronx community who decides to take up acting classes while at the same time dealing with the fact he has a grown-up illegitimate son, played by Steven Strait, who has starred in not one, not two but THREE movies to make it into my Terrible 25, but who is quite amazing in the role. His family is played by Julianna Margulies as his wife, Garcia’s real daughter Dominik Garcia-Lorido and hilarious newcomer Ezra Miller. A wonderful little gem that’s well worth checking out on DVD if you can find it.
11. The Illusionist (Sony Pictures Classics) – In a year full of great animated films, the latest from The Triplets of Belleville creator Sylvain Chomet is another fine example of what can be done in the medium. It’s a simple story of a magician and a young girl who follows him to Edinburgh, Scotland believing his magic to be real. It’s a beautiful, heart-warming film that shows that hand-drawn animation isn’t dead and it’s a moving film on par with the best work of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki.
10. Mother and Child (Sony Pictures Classics) – Rodrigo Garcia’s portrait of the American adoption process and how it affects three very different women was another amazing ensemble drama featuring brilliant performances by Annette Beningas good or better than she is in another film in the Top 10– Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington and the men in their lives. This is another impressive piece of work from the underrated filmmaker.
9. Exit Through the Gift Shop – Another film that came out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival with a ton of buzz was the debut film from enigmatic street artist Banksy. On the surface, it looked to be a documentary about the new wave of underground street art being made by eccentric French pseudo-filmmaker Thierry Guetta until Banksy turns the tables on him and makes a hilarious entertaining film on the incompetent whack-job. There’s a lot of questions about how much of this documentary is real, but it’s never clear who gets the last laugh in what turns out to be an amazing film.
8. The Kids Are All Right (Focus Features) – Oddly coming out the same year as Mother and Child and City Island is Lisa (Laurel Canyon) Cholodenko’s dysfunctional family comedy that also first made waves at the Sundance Film Festival, was quickly picked up by Focus, and nearly a year later, it’s already being taken seriously as an Oscar contender. Not that it’s too surprising that it’s become this year’s Little Miss Sunshine (if there needs to be one) with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore playing a lesbian couple with two kids from a sperm donor, played by Mark Ruffalo, who reenters their lives and pretty much throws everything into disarray. The movie is so incredibly funny and touching on so many levels due to the stellar performance Cholodenko gets out of the cast.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal) – This is the third time Edgar Wright has gotten a movie into my Top 10 list, and with his adaptation of Brian Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels, he found a way to mix together pretty much all the genres he hadn’t covered in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz into a martial arts romantic comedy musical unlike anything we’d before. With the perfect casting of Michael Cera as Pilgrim–his best role since Superbad–and equally perfect pairing with Canada’s coolest actress, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the film delivered on every level. Our favorite part of the movie was the introduction of Ellen Wong, an adorable Toronto native who so perfectly captured every ever-changing mood of Scott’s teen ex-girlfriend Knives Chau, whether it was exuberant or psychotic, that she made the film even more enjoyable. Between the awesome action, the terrific tunes and hilarious writing, this was just one of the most fun experience we’ve had at the movies this year.
6. The Eclipse (Magnolia) – Not to be confused with the third film in “The Twilight Saga,” this debut film by playwright Conor McPherson could only be categorized as a supernatural romance, but it’s just a lovely film driven by a solid performance by Ciaran Hinds as a widower with two kids haunted by ghosts and nightmarish visions at the same time he starts working as a driver for a beautiful writer who knows a thing or two about ghosts. Their relationship is hindered by Aidan Quinn as a far more famous writer trying to make a play for her himself. This is a small and quiet movie that is thoroughly effective on every level, warm and wonderful, beautifully touching with some of the scariest moments you’re likely to experience in a movie, maybe because you’re so relaxed by the tone that they’re completely unexpected. This is easily the most underrated film of 2010 and the best film set in Ireland since “Once.”
5. Toy Story 3 (DisneyPixar) – Pixar returns to my Top 10 with a film that really surprised me by how much I loved it, since I was never really a huge fan of the “Toy Story” movies. Director Lee Unkrich found a way to infuse all the things that have made so many recent Pixar films so wonderful with warmth, laughter, heartbreaking moments and delivering everything you expect from a great summer movie, while also giving the perfect send-off to everyone’s favorite characters and introducing some new friends as well. The movie is just another incredible achievement for what can be done with animation as well as one of the best threequels in recent memory.
4. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight) – I’ve already written a lot about Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman as a ballerina who succumbs to the pressures of her job and kind of loses it, but it’s another gorgeous but mindblowing film that reunites Aronofsky with his cinematographer Matthew Libatique (absent from “The Wrestler”) and composer Clint Mansell and shows him to be a visionary filmmaker who can mix genres with the best of them. Yeah, and having an erotic make-out scene between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis certainly didn’t hurt its high placement in this year’s Top 25 list.
So after all of the French, Australian and animated films, when it came down to it, the top 3 movies were made by three master filmmakers and were movies I felt came the closest to perfection, all three of them receiving a rare 9.5 out of 10. One can probably expect all three of them to end up in the Best Picture race at the Oscars as well.
3. 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) – As an unapologetic Danny Boyle fan, I was quite thrilled when I heard he was doing something different by adapting Aron Ralston’s story of survival, but knowing the premise going in couldn’t prepare me for the visceral experience of watching James Franco trapped in a canyon. Boyle didn’t just beautifully capture the Blue John Canyon area as much as use clever filmmaking techniques to get into Ralston’s brain as he starts to realize what he’s going to have to do in order order to survive. That was combined with flashbacks and even a few hallucinations and dream sequences. As a great fan of Boyle’s previous collaboration with Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire, their new movie completely defied all my expectations, just a marvel of music and cinematography and editing, putting it among Boyle’s best work to date.
2. Inception (Warner Bros.) – There are movies that people love and respect and put on their Top 10 lists and then there are movies like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a film so cutting edge and ahead of its time that it can be pondered and analyzed for years without fully grasping the depth of Nolan’s concepts. On the surface, it’s a movie about dreams and individuals who have found a way to infiltrate them and steal corporate ideas, and what happens when they’re hired to do the opposite. It features one of DiCaprio’s best performances with a marvelous story of unending love between his character and that of Marion Cotillard – seriously, is there a better actress working today? Then you have this great supporting cast of Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dileep Rao, Ken Watanabe and Cillian Murphy, all bringing to mix in bringing Nolan’s cerebral heist flick to life.
1. The Social Network (Sony) – Didn’t see that coming, did ya? Oh, you did? Yeah, I guess the fact that every other critic on the face of the planet picked this as their #1 movie, and the fact that for once, I agree with all of them, would make this the obvious choice. It’s really quite a spectacular film and the fact that a film that’s mostly dialogue could be just as riveting and groundbreaking as Nolan’s Inception really says a lot about the achievement by David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin and their cast. It’s not a case of them not making movies like this anymore as much as they have never really made a movie like this before and probably never will again.
Where The Social Network could have been a clunky TV biopic about the founding of Facebook, it’s instead a brilliant look at all the factors that led up to a number of lawsuits surrounding the billion dollar idea with Jesse Eisenberg playing Facebook founder (depending who you ask) Mark Zuckerberg as if he were a master supervillain; his interrogation scenes being just as effective and memorable as Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. It’s also one of the most perfect and definitive representations of our current times, relatable on so many levels despite its stodgy Harvard setting.
Equally-Worthy Honorable Mentions:
There were so many good movies this year and it would be a shame not to give a brief mention to the ones below, so…
Ajami (Zeitgeist Films) This Israeli Oscar nominee plays out a bit like City of God with its look at the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis through a series of events.
Robin Hood (Universal) – I dug what Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe did to reinvent this legendary and iconic hero and show what he may have been like when set in a far more realistic historical setting.
Get Him to the Greek (Universal) – Nicholas Stoller’s hilarious music biz road comedy reteamed Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s unlikely comedy duo of Jonah Hill and Russell Brand for some serious laughs. (It’s also one of the most jam-packed Blu-rays of the year!)
Let Me In (Overture) – One of the best remakes of the year courtesy of Matt Reeves and a talented young cast, who bring the Swedish vampire tale to New Mexico in a way that feels completely original despite essentially telling the same story.
Splice (Warner Bros.) – Vincenzo Natali’s genetic thriller had a lot of innovative and creepy ideas we’ve never seen before.
Conviction (Fox Searchlight) – Tony Goldwyn’s stirring story of Betty Anne Waters, played by Hilary Swank, and what she goes through in order to get her brother (another terrific performance by Sam Rockwell) out of prison for a crime she didn’t think he committed.
Cyrus (Fox Searchlight) The Duplass Brothers’ foray into studio filmmaking with known actors upped their game, and there were fewer love triangles as funny as John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei this past year.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Music Box Films) The first chapter in the thriller introduced Americans to Noomi Rapace, probably one of the finest international actresses since Marion Cotillard, as cyberhacker Lisbeth Salander, the star of the best-selling “Millennium Trilogy” novels, the first chapter having her teamed with an older magazine publisher to solve the mystery of a missing girl.
And finally, three that I will probably be writing more about in the next month:
The Company Men (The Weinstein Co.) Television exec John Wells’ star-studded dramatic debut about corporate layoffs made a great follow-up to Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air with terrific performances by Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones.
Barney’s Version (Sony Pictures Classics) – Richard J. Lewis’ take on Mordecai Richler’s novel stars Paul Giamatti in his best role since Sideways as agent Barney Panofsky, whose cynical outlook on life is changed when he meets a beautiful woman, played by Rosamund Pike.
Blue Valentine (Weinstein Co.) Derek Cianfrance’s equally breathtaking and heartbreaking look at a marriage gone wrong features two of the best performances of the year from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.
15 Awesome Docs
As some may realize, I’ve had a long-time problem trying to figure out where to place docs in my Top 10, since it’s hard to compare them to conventional narrative films. To be honest, some of these would easily have been in the Top 25 if I tried a bit harder to figure this but regardless, here are 15 of the year’s best docs.
1. Waiting for “Superman” (Paramount) Davis Guggenheim explored the problems with the current teaching system in public schools with a similar zest and fervor as he tackled global warming with Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, creating a film that was as eye-opening as it was entertaining.
2. Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talking About Him?) (Lorber Films) – John Scheinfeld’s brilliant profile of the singer-songwriter who has been cited as an influence for the likes of John Lennon, Randy Newman and others was one of the best music-related docs of the year.
3. Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics) – Charles Ferguson’s in-depth look at the economic crash of 2008 really got to the bottom of all the corruption involved in the financial sector.
4. The Tillman Story (Weinstein Co.) – Amir Bar-Lev’s doc about NFL football player turned Afghanistan war casualty Pat Tillman took a compressive look at the military and government cover-up that took place after his death.
5. Racing Dreams (Hannover House) Marshall Curry’s entertaining look at three young go-kart races with NASCAR dreams was one of the most pleasant surprises from last year’s 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the runner-up to City Island for the Audience Award.
6. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC Films) – As someone who never was a fan of the saucy comedienne, I was suitably impressed by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s fly-on-the-wall portrait of the legendary showbiz figure who is just as funny off-stage as on.
7. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (Magnolia) – The better of two of Alex Gibney’s brilliant 2010 offerings (the other being Casino Jack and the United States of Money), this took an in-depth look at the political career of the former New York Governor who came crashing to the ground when he was caught seeing high-priced hookers.
8. Last Play At Shea – Another fave from the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival that unfortunately got away from us when given an ultra-exclusive release earlier this year, master documentarian Paul Crowder was able to contrast the history of Shea Stadium with that of pop icon Billy Joel, who closed the Mets’ original home down with two sold out concerts.
9. Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel – If you think you know everything about the Playboy mogul from his reality show then you really must see Brigitte Berman’s comprehensive doc that gets to the core of some of Hefner’s groundbreaking achievements in the ’50s through the ’70s.
10. Restrepo (National Geographic) – Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger embedded themselves with troops in the most dangerous area of Afghanistan in this fascinating companion to The Tillman Story.
11. When You’re Strange: A Film About the Doors – If anyone were to make a movie about the Doors, it may as well have been New York’s Tom DiCilllo who combines amazing archival footage with a poetic script, read by Johnny Depp no less.
12. Soundtrack for the Revolution (Louverture Films) – Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, directors of Nanking, tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement through the freedom songs of the times as they’re reworked by modern acts like The Roots, John Legend and others in the film.
13. Waking Sleeping Beauty (Disney) – Don Hahn’s look back at the heyday of Disney Animation during the late ’80s and early ’90s before Pixar and DreamWorks Animation came along and stole some of its glory was a great insider account of what led to the great Disney-DreamWorks rivalry.
14. Jean-Michelle Basquiat: Radiant Child – Video director Tamra Davis created a brilliant portrait of her close friend, the late street artist who achieved cult fame during the ’80s before dying of an overdose.
15. Freakonomics (Magnolia) I was never familiar with the books by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner that turned economics on their ear, but I became a huge fan after watching this anthology doc featuring segments from some of the best documentary filmmakers like Alex Gibney, Morgan Spurlock, Eugene Jarecki, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing.
Looking over the entire list, we deem this year’s big winner to be IFC Films who didn’t get that many movies into our Top 10, but had enough strong and daring releases that they really had a banner year.
That’s it for now although look for the inverse of this column, the Weekend Warrior’s TERRIBLE 25, sometime in the next week or so.