Top Ten Films of 2010
By Media Matters reviwers Gordon Houser, Vic Thiessen, Tom Price, Leonard Nolt, Matthew Kauffman Smith, Michelle Sinclair (In the order they sent their lists to Third Way Café!)
This annual collection of top films for the year as experienced or judged by our Third Way Media Matters reviewers makes a good summary of many of the worthwhile and noteworthy films of the year for your own list of “must sees.” Enjoy and compare your own opinions and comment on Third Way Café’s Facebook page, or onhttp://www.thirdway.com/talk/?SS=21 . You can also vote for your own favorite in the annual Media Matters poll at www.thirdway.com/mm
- Inside Job. Exposes what led to the economic crisis of 2008. Although not the best-made film of the year, it may be the most important, because it uncovers in detail the unjust, immoral if not criminal ways the financial industry took billions of dollars from people for its own interests. This global financial meltdown, which cost over $20 trillion and led to millions of people losing their homes and jobs, is still affecting us.
- The Social Network. Perhaps the year’s best-made film, also deals with a topic with wide implications for our social life: the beginnings of Facebook. It tells the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his conflict over ownership of intellectual property with the wealthy twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, fellow students at Harvard. Now Zuckerberg is among the wealthiest people around, ruling over the class-less Facebook empire. The writing and acting are superb.
- Winter’s Bone. Takes us into a world that is foreign to most of us, as a 17-year-old girl in a poor rural area of the Ozark Mountains tries to keep her family together while searching for her lost, drug-dealing father. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is outstanding.
- The Secret in Their Eyes. An Argentinean film that won last year’s Oscar for best foreign-language film. A retired legal attorney writes a novel to find closure for a past unsolved homicide case and for his unreciprocated love with his superior—both of which haunt him decades later. This powerful film raises the question of how one confronts a seemingly empty life.
- Toy Story 3. Yet another excellent animated film from Pixar. Woody, Buzz and the rest of their toy-box friends are dumped in a day-care center after their owner, Andy, gets ready to leave for college. While children will love the film, it’s equally geared to adults with its moving storyline and its many references to other films and pop culture.
- Fair Game. The true story of Valerie Plame, whose status as a CIA agent was revealed by White House officials allegedly out to discredit her husband after he wrote a 2003 New York Times op-ed piece saying the Bush administration had manipulated intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq. Well-acted and tautly paced, this film shows how U.S. government officials misled the public in order to go to war.
- The Fighter. Based on the true story of Micky Ward, who won the world light welterweight boxing title in 2001. It is both a boxing movie—with the typical underdog-makes-good story—and a dramatic depiction of family dynamics in a poverty culture. Though well-shot (in Lowell, Mass., where the story is set), it’s the acting that carries the film.
- Waiting for “Superman.” Follows a handful of promising kids through an educational system that inhibits rather than encourages academic growth. He surveys “drop-out factories” and “academic sinkholes” but also points to directions for meaningful change. While many will debate the film’s evenhandedness, viewers come away with a sense of how important education is for the functioning of a healthy society. And good teachers are the main key toward that end.
- The Ghost Writer. Depicts a ghostwriter hired to complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister and uncovers secrets that put his own life in jeopardy. This is the rare political thriller that deals intelligently with today’s headlines. It is also artfully shot.
- Exit Through the Gift Shop. The story of how an eccentric French shopkeeper and amateur filmmaker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, a reclusive graffiti artist with a global reputation whose work can be seen on walls from post-hurricane New Orleans to the separation barrier on the Palestinian West Bank, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film introduces us to the world of graffiti art and provokes reflection on the meaning of art.
Vic Thiessen (Note, in order, from last to best.)
- Green Zone. Matt Damon is terrific as a soldier uncovering the possibility that the U.S. did not invade Iraq to find WMDs but to get Saddam. The premise and storyline seem incredibly naive to me (does anyone not know about the WMDs or that oil and military control were the primary motives? – see below), but this film’s heart is in the right place and it does a good job of humanizing the Iraqi people. Director Paul Greengrass gives us too much action, as usual, but otherwise it’s very entertaining.
- I Am Love. An unusual Italian romance with hidden depths (including much religious symbolism), this film stars Tilda Swinton (who is perfect in the role) as a bored housewife whose life spins out of control.
- Fair Game. Some films are great just because they tell a true story that must be told on film. This is one of those films. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are a great team, playing the married couple who expose the truth behind the WMD invasion mentioned above. I read an article in The Guardian prior to the 2003 invasion that already exposed the same story, but I guess Blair didn’t get the memo (see further below).
- Inside Job. The best documentary film of the year not only exposes the men and the criminal greed behind the 2008 financial crisis – it also reveals that these men are still the leading government financial advisors.
- The King’s Speech. Colin Firth gives us another magnificent performance, this time as the new king who has difficulties speaking without stammering. Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter are perfect in supporting roles. I was disappointed that the climax had to involve a war speech but this is a wonderful old-fashioned drama.
- The American. George Clooney is superb in his role as a gun expert who is beginning to struggle with his chosen profession and what it makes him do. Gorgeous cinematography, a great score and one of those rare modern suspense films which has almost no action (that’s a good thing).
- Inception. Despite my concerns about the needless action scenes, the violence and the logical flaws, this overwhelming film by Christopher Nolan is what makes going to the movies so much fun. The fact that it’s a sci-fi film dealing with a favourite subject of mine (dreams) doesn’t hurt. Neither does the great acting (especially by Leonardo DiCaprio), the excellent cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s score.
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. My favourite foreign language film of 2010 is a dark Swedish thriller, the first of a trilogy based on the best-selling books by Stieg Larsson. This first film does a brilliant job of mixing character development and a powerful human drama with its suspense (highlighted, again, by a minimal amount of action). The sequels were not even in the same league. Great acting by Michael Nykvist and Noomi Rapace.
- The Ghost Writer. Roman Polanski’s political thriller (one of my favourite genres) features brilliant grey cinematography and a tight screenplay, which help overcome some of the acting flaws (though this is one of Ewan McGregor’s best performances). Most importantly, this film dares to speculate on the vital question of how Tony Blair could have joined Bush in the ill-advised invasion of Iraq (see above).
- Winter’s Bone. This outstanding film, directed by Debra Granik, sucked me so completely into its dark world that I was experiencing the same constant fear experienced by its many incredible characters, characters who felt so real I was given a sense of their entire lives in the briefest of glimpses. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing as a seventeen-year-old girl searching this dark world (Ozark Mountains) for her missing father while trying to look after her younger siblings.
- The King’s Speech. An inspiring, funny and compelling historical drama of King George VI’s relationship with speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helps him to overcome stuttering and find his voice in helping to lead England through World War II.
- The Fighter. Parallel storylines follow the true story of the rise of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and the fall into crack addiction of his half-brother, former boxer Dicky Eklund. The film overcomes formula. But can the brothers overcome the (wonderfully depicted) family dynamics in working-class Lowell, Mass., which have kept each from succeeding?
- The Town. Ben Affleck co-wrote and directed this thriller about bank robbers, which offers a dramatic exploration of a town enmeshed in generational sin and the struggle of one man who, having experienced love and forgiveness, seeks to break his bonds to begin a new life.
- Flipped. Don’t expect award nominations, but this Rob Reiner coming-of-age story is the year’s best family film as it follows the romantic journey of a girl and boy from 2nd grade to junior high from their respective, changing perspectives.
- Winter’s Bone. A teen-age woman searches for the truth of what happened to her fugitive father, whose absence threatens her family’s survival, in this “hillbilly noir” independent film, which provides a stunning depiction of rural poverty and the impact of crystal meth.
- The Social Network. A funny, well-written dramatization of how the man who creates the world’s largest Internet network for friendships winds up isolated after alienating himself from whatever friends he had.
- True Grit. The Coen Brothers’ re-visioning of this John Wayne classic Western is thoroughly enjoyable as a persistent young girl (a stellar performance by Hailee Steinfeld) searches for her father’s murderer with the help of a federal marshal and a Texas Ranger.
- Toy Story 3. A fitting conclusion from Pixar/Disney to one of the best-loved animated series as Woody, Buzz and the gang search for their purpose as Andy becomes an adult.
- Mother and Child. An all-star cast delivers stunning performances as emotions clash in the lives of three women surrounding the hopes and frustrations of adoption.
- Inception. Watching any film has been compared to entering a dreamlike state, and this science fiction film, written and directed by Christopher Nolan, captures the intricacy and depth of dreams in a thriller about a corporate espionage thief who tries to plant an idea in the subconscious dream of a corporate heir.
- Inception. An imaginative, mysterious, and mesmerizing film, marred only by excessive pointless gunfire.
- The Dry Land. A grim and honest look at the troubled life of a veteran of the Iraq war who is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Another fine performance from Melissa Leo as the vet’s mother.
- The Kids Are All Right. Intelligent writing and crisp dialogue characterize this believable story of two teenage children of lesbian parents who manage to contact and develop a relationship with their sperm donor father.
- True Grit. This remake of a 1969 film with Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and the Coen brothers directing is a big improvement over the original. Deserves a nomination for cinematography.
- The King’s Speech. An outstanding acting performance by Colin Firth as the timid, tongue-tied King George VI highlights this strong candidate for Best Picture. Funny and endearing.
- Black Swan. A “Halloweenish” film of a troubled ballerina wrestling with her own demons. Includes a captivating acting performance by Natalie Portman.
- Winter’s Bone. A struggling family in the Ozarks has to be rescued by their teenage daughter, played by the precocious teenager, Jennifer Lawrence, who almost singlehandedly carries the film on her own shoulders, appearing in nearly every scene.
- The Fighter. This true story of two brothers who are boxers and their struggle to be champions is as much about family dynamics and relationships as it is about boxing. Excellent acting and film-making.
- The Ghost Writer. A ghost writer is hired to complete the prime minister’s memoirs only to find out that his predecessor may have been murdered and now his own life is in danger. It’s as good as any film on this list but may be overlooked in the awards because it was released early in the year. A visual treat.
- The Social Network. A well-made film that at times seems to be almost too fast-paced. It’s about the history of Facebook and also about powerful and wealthy people wanting more and more.
Matthew Kauffman Smith
Don’t believe me if I say that I’m protesting the Academy’s decision to water-down their best picture category with 10 nominees, and that is why I’m only giving my top 5 picks of the year. In reality, I only made it to an actual theater twice in 2010 thanks in part to my work and stay-at-home dad schedule. I saw most of my movies in my home, so I’ll whittle down my list to the top 5 movies that are now available on DVD.
- Exit Through the Gift Shop. A would-be filmmaker documents the work of street artists and then, in a twist, becomes a street artist while one of his subjects ends up completing this compelling documentary. An entertaining look at the question of what is art and who is really an artist.
- Winter’s Bone. I’m not usually a fan of slow, low-dialogue films, but the story of a 17-year-old girl (played by Jennifer Lawrence in my favorite performance this year) in search of her missing father was as chilling as the movie’s title.
- Toy Story 3. Every year I claim that I’m going to stop feeling an emotional attachment to Pixar’s animated characters. Maybe next year.
- The Lottery. Parents in Harlem hope for a long-shot chance of getting their children into a charter school while teacher unions fight to keep their public schools the same. A great – albeit depressing – look at the U.S. education system.
- The Kids Are All Right. When the teenage children of lesbian mothers go looking for their father or “donor,” the family’s tight bond is tested.
I give this list with the caveat that there are a number of films released in 2010 that I have not yet seen but wish I had. Among them: True Grit, Scott Pilgrim Against the World, Despicable Me, The Karate Kid, etc.
- Toy Story 3. This film emerged from the logjam at the top of my list because I can still remember this film’s outrageous humor and the way it evoked bittersweet childhood memories. A true classic. I don’t have kids yet, but I look forward to sharing TS3 with them one day (when they’re old enough to withstand the scarier parts).
- Secretariat. I wanted to put this first. I’m a sucker for horse movies, and this one was as perfect as Secretariat himself. With tremendous camera work and compelling characters, Secretariat is a treat for anyone who loves to tap into the innocent thrill of watching one of God’s creatures do what he was born to do.
- Inception. How much fun can you have while being confused as all get out? Quite a bit, as it turns out, with Christopher Nolan’s memory-bending masterpiece. Fortunately, everyone disagrees on how to interpret it, which makes for some great after-movie discussions.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1. The films for Harry Potter 5 and 6 felt too rushed, so Warner Brothers’ decision to split book 7 into two films works fabulously. The emotional maturation of the actors and their characters is a satisfying counterpoint to the film’s dark, and sometimes ponderous pacing. Looking forward to the big finish in July!
- The Social Network. This is a fast-paced, snappy, oh-so 21st century tale that takes its cues from the pillars of Greek tragedy. Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg is both hero and villain, a young man who transforms the way people connect with each other while failing at his own personal relationships.
Special Shout Out: Hubble 3D
This IMAX film came out in March, and if it’s still showing on an IMAX theater near you, I highly recommend the experience. I’m not generally a fan of 3D, but this movie does what the medium is meant to do: immerse viewers in an otherwise unreachable world. (The hour long run-time is also a good preventer of headaches).