Going back through the clutter of movies I saw in 2010, it was pretty clear to me which were the best. There were those I loved, liked and hated, and some that I loved for my own selfish sentimentality. The latter of that list were this years Machete and The Expendables, which took me back to the explosive, muscled heroics of the 80’s action movies I grew up obsessing over. I loved these two movies, but found an even better crop for my top ten. Another movie I loved, but it would be a conflict of interest to list (I was First AD on the film) was Richard Griffin’s Atomic Brain Invasion, a 50′s Sci-Fi action throwback in the family friendly light of Joe Dante or The Goonies. For me, the themes that stood out in 2010, grabbing me the most were fanciful tales about giving ourselves up to technology. With hundreds of millions of us on Facebook, information is changing by the second, tech is evolving to Orwellian levels, and fame is diluted by the thousands vying for that big break the online world deceivingly waves in our face. Going through my list, I coincidentally noticed that most of my ten picks for the best films of 2010 are in some way or another guided by the rapid evolution of technology. Check them out…
My favorite quote of all time is one by Steven Spielberg; “I dream for a living.” In Christopher Nolan’s Inception, his characters do just that, literally. Nolan himself does it too, with one of the most ambitious and awe-inspiring mind-trips ever in the movies. In one of, if not the most complex scripts ever written, Inception treats dreams like onions, layered levels of shrinking consciousness that collide fantasy with action. The cast of dream weavers led by DiCaprio, and Gordon-Levitt are a fantastic ensemble of the most edgy actors working today (look for Tom Hardy to have an amazing career ahead of him). The ability to delve into our most secret and seemingly secure hiding places, our dreams, may be a prophecy for a future of shrinking privacy, and vast human networking.
2) The Social Network
Speaking of human networking, how about one with 500 million users? When I first heard the idea of the “Facebook movie” I was a bit baffled. Then David Fincher’s name was thrown in to direct, and my interest was piqued. Then came the trailer with that haunting choral rendition of Radiohead’s Creep, and I was sold. Finally seeing the movie, I was blown away by the narrative ark Fincher and writer Sorkin invented to turn a seemingly mundane story into one of the most exciting and interesting of 2010. Antisocial, anarchistic, selfishly aspergers-esque computer nerds changing how we think and interact as people in the best paced movie of the year. A Silicone Valley love story where money and tech-hungry genius mate to unite the world.
3) Exit Through the Gift Shop
Next to Sci-Fi, Documentary is my favorite genre, and every year there is at least one doc that rocks me more than any other. Last year it was The Cove, and this year, its Banksy’s amazing street art opus. The electric editing and beyond bad ass art set this film apart from any other art doc ever made. Whether it’s Banksy painting an elephant, or Shepard Fairey spreading Andre the Giant across the world, I was inspired and in awe of these bold and beyond creative street artists. The best aspect of the film is the story of Thierry Guetta, a wannabe artist who blows up the LA art scene with his mimicked design of horrific pop art. I (and many others) can’t help but wonder if Guetta is Banksy himself, in a stunt to satirize the worlds new and digitally molested over consumption of art, and subsequent loss of aesthetic identity. Fun and beautiful little movie.
4) I’m Here
Now, this is a short film, and some may think that a short film shouldn’t be included in such a list. To that I say, its my list and a film is a film no matter the length. Spike Jonze is one of my most favorite directors. This little film about an LA where people and robots are assimilated into one pretty normal society is based on Shel Silversteins beloved children’s book, The Giving Tree. Ultimately, I’m Here is the beautifully made story of Sheldon (named after Silverstein) and the endless sacrifices he is willing to make for love. A great Sci-Fi story. A great love story. Certainly one of the always out-of -the-box thinking Spike Jonze’s most imaginative films to date. You can watch it free online through the Absolut Vodka website of all places. I implore you to check it out immediately.
5) The Ghost Writer
This is Roman Polanski’s best film in over twenty years, a political mystery filled with carefully constructed subtext. I couldn’t help but to feel like I was taken back to a time when filmmakers cared about every shot and detail in their film, a notion lost for the most part in today’s crop of auteurs. Polanski is a master, and in The Ghost Writer it shows. The story is without a doubt a loose jab at Tony Blair, an intelligently written, superbly acted piece of political intrigue. Polanski weaves this mystery so tight and perfect that the last shot will stick with you, perhaps even make you laugh at loud at the rich irony of it all. Definitely one of the best adapted screenplays of 2010.
6) Never Let Me Go
Dystopian (and post-apocalyptic) cinema are my absolute obsession. I can’t stay away from a good story of futuristic controls, and Never Let Me Go is a unique version of such a story. Imagining that science was ahead of its time, the film follows a group of children who live sheltered lives as organ donor clones, slowly realizing and coming to terms with the sad truths of their realties. This film is subtle and kind, taking time to avoid clichés of the genre, and instead focusing on the human side of its story. I heard an interview with the films director Mark Romanek on NPR, where he described his methods of directing the young actors to rehearse the older actors parts and vice-versa, and couldn’t help but be inspired by the level of care that went into the film. Really makes you ponder the line between scientific technology and humanity?
Giving away any of the plot of this movie does its future viewers an injustice, so I’ll make this a brief commentary. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s documentary starts out as one thing and quickly turns into an unplanned warning on the dangers of trusting the online world we live in. Watching this film captivated and unnerved me to my core. Using technology as a filmmaking tool (i.e. using Google Places to set locations) the filmmakers really immerse us in a world we so blindly trust on the internet. I, like many others have my doubts about this being a real documentary, and not knowing (regardless of the filmmakers assurance) really takes the film to another level. It’s a film about not being able to deviate truth from fiction, and its ironic that the same debate is being argued about the reality of the film itself. Ambiguity at its most brilliant and ironic.
8 ) Black Swan
Like David Fincher and Christopher Nolan at the top of this list, Darren Aronofsky is one of the most virtuoso filmmakers working today. As with his great 2008 film The Wrestler, Aronofsky weaves a tale exploring the desperate limitations one is willing to take their body and soul for the craft they so love. Natalie Portman is absolutely brilliant and stunning as the mousey ballerina Nina Sayers, whose inner conflict is so gut wrenchingly portrayed in every frame of this film. A beautiful tale of physical and emotional horror masked behind the crescendo of Swan Lake, Black Swan is a scary and relentless trek through sexuality, obsession, and limitation. Best horror film of the year, even if you’re unwilling to agree with its classification in the genre.
9) Micmacs tied w/ Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
I love films that present quirky and bizarre worlds of fantastical fun. Jean Pierre Jeunet, known for his dreamy fantasies Delicatessen, Amelie, and The City of Lost Children does it again with Micmacs, a strange little tale of a group of homeless cave dwellers and their circus-like war against two dueling arms dealers. Mixed with contortionists, beautifully surreal visuals, and a motley crew of lovingly unique weirdoes, Micmacs was a perfectly constructed blast to behold. Another fantastic world was the 8-Bit dominated video game landscape of Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. As a gamer, I instantly fell in love with this fun and energetic little film, and especially a little Asian fan girl named Knives Chau played lovingly by Ellen Wong. If I didn’t loathe the one-note Michael Cera, this flick probably would have fared even higher on my list.
10) The Book Of Eli
Like I said with Never Let Me Go, I’m obsessed with dystopian and post-apocalyptic cinema. The Hughes Brothers Book of Eli was a badass nuclear wasteland film with a heart. Part action film, part religious parable, I found the blending of the two seamless and enormously fun. With a cast including Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Tom Waits, and Malcolm McDowell, how could this film fail? I loved every minute of it. Oh, and that twist ending, well, who didn’t go back in watch the film again right afterwards? Just plain post-apoc awesomeness.
Runners Up; Action throwback in The Expendables, the best Iraq war movie yet in Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone, amazing con-artistry in I Love You Phillip Morris, risqué satire in Four Lions, Clooney at his best in The American, and the greatest Boston heist of all time in The Town.