By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Top 10 2010: Part Two – The 10
10. Get Low – A first-time feature filmmaker, dealing with all the limitations of a very small budget, an intense desire to make it look great, years of wrestling with the screenplay, right down the days before production, and three of the great icons in cinema, Duvall, Spacek, and Murray.
And what did he get? An intimate, unexpected, unpredictable comedy with a deep, deep soul. He got Murray working within the lines, where he is always his best. And he got the best lead performance by Duvall in over a decade… a career tree-topper.
Duvall’s speech near the end of the film is one of the truly great moments of this decade of cinema. And you can’t feel it by pulling out a 20 second clip. The whole movie leads, without signaling it, to this moment and when it comes, it is everything it hopes to be. Magnificent.
9. Easy A – Easily my biggest surprise of 2010. Emma Stone went, in one film, from one of those cute girls supporting a bunch of horny boys in comedies to a major movie star. She owns the film in a way that I haven’t seen in a comedy since Winona Ryder made herself an instant icon in Heathers.
And where did Will Gluck come from? He claimed that his last teen comedy was very similar to this one… he was wrong. This one was much, much more sophisticated. And his use of the supporting cast was like having fresh waves of pleasure hitting you in the face, refreshing you so when Stone returned to the screen, you were ready to appreciate her zig-zag. Special kudos to Clarkson & Tucci, the great vaudeville team of the decade.
8. Toy Story 3 – Just plain excellent. For me, it is the best of the series, which is rather rare for a third film. It is the adult episode… deeper themes… greater danger… challenging the audience on all kinds of levels.
I have to say, I don’t know how little kids will suss it all out. The real pain of a toy lost and replaced evolving into a dictatorship that allows him control of his small world, juxtaposed against a group of toys who worry about being forgotten, though they are not. And top that with a boy learning about being an adult and embracing the joy of giving something precious to someone else. A lot going on.
Like I said… excellent.
7. Winter’s Bone – Debra Granik is a documentarian in a feature filmmaker’s body. She makes photorealistic portraits of people she comes to know so well that we don’t know, as an audience, that the camera is something other than one of the family.
This story embraces issues of life and death, and how terrible things can just be a matter-of-fact. At the same time a very mature Ree is coming of age, really, she is challenged by what could be the end of her life as she is ready to live it. The stakes are no less than that. And she has almost no control over the forces that conspire to keep her in her place… forces that care little or nothing about her… and in some ways, resent her for wanting something they never even aspired to.
There is amazing performance after amazing performance here. John Hawkes continues to bring us new colors in virtually every role he plays. Dale Dickey needs to meet John Waters, stat. Ronnie Hall is brilliantly cast in his only film role, looking like a teddy bear and scary as shit. (He could be in the live-action version of Toy Story 3.)
The lead, Jennifer Lawrence, is the great acting story of 2010. She’s pretty amazing in The Burning Plain as well, though much like Bardem, in real life, she’s pretty goofy (in the best way). She is alive! And she has the ability to bring it all in for a character. Remarkable.
6. Shutter Island – Scorsese, in his late 60s, is still pushing himself. This is a pretty straight forward genre film. It could have been made by Dark Castle. But it wasn’t. (Oh, how Joel Silver would love to do a Scorsese thriller!) It was made by a master.
There is stuff in this film that no one else is doing… at least not putting it together in the way that Scorsese and Schoonmaker and Richardson and Ferretti and Powell, etc, etc, etc put it together. The mixture of the delicate and the way way over the top… delicious… like a dessert you can’t stop eating.
Two of my favorite films of this year are hardcore genre… and art. Both have been accused of having flaws that for me and many others, are the virtues of the films. Scorsese’s Cape Fear and Coppola’s Dracula come to mind.
But then you have a sequence like the one with Michelle Williams, which is as powerful as any 5 minutes of any film this year. And it’s more than genius-level movie-movie fun.
I’ll have seconds please.
5. Inside Job – The great doc of 2010, mostly because it tackles a subject too big for a film and yet is so strong, fair, and thorough in its approach that you come out at the end feeling like you have clarity about this subject for the first time. In a wave of personality docs, Charles Ferguson doesn’t make the film about himself. It is bigger than any one man… bigger than any of us.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to kill someone in a suit. But like it’s kissing cousin, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, you’ll feel like you are ready for the next level of insight into the subject – the conspiracy of greed that crashed our economy – armed to think about it in a real way… without it ever feeling like a lecture.
(Note: You really should see Alex Gibney’s Client 9 in combination with this film. Inside Job can stand without it, but it’s like the perfect pairing, as Spitzer is a big part of both films.)
4. The Social Network – I’ve written it before, but this is as close as you can get to being a perfect film, given the boundaries it chooses to work within. Sorkin’s script is, perhaps, the ultimate expression of his voice. Fincher both let the script breathe and made the visuals of the film into art. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Jesse Eisenberg’s ability to sing Sorkin’s lyrics one of the special events of the years. But equally special are the co-stars and tiny roles played by Rooney Mara and Douglas Urbanski.
If it were about more, it would be higher on my list. But what it is, I respect deeply.
3. True Grit – Ah, The Coens. Westernwesternwesternwestern… then suddenly it’s about the price you pay for your choices, the unrecoverable loss of innocence, the cost of being part of a story so big, so early in your life, that nothing else can ever touch you the same way again.
Bridges and Damon are fantastic in this film, playing two sides of the same coin… masculinity and morality, one hardened and unflinchingly what he is and the other still skulking around, not completely convinced. Both are mostly comic performances. Rooster Cogburn, who has the drinking habits of The Dude, has no pity for those who don’t live by his rules. LeBouff still thinks it’s about “doing the right thing.” And Mattie is stuck between her two new fathers, her two first lovers (metaphorically), her guides. The price of her experience is abstinence.
And the performance by Hailee Steinfeld is encumbered, as all performances in which the character is pretending to be what they are not, to delivered a layered performance. She’s smart and precocious. But she is also slapping on the bravado, thicker when she finds people who buy it. This is, I think, why people experience the performance differently at the start of the film than they do at the end. She grows up before our eyes.
It is certainly true that the Coens have earned some extra consideration of their work each time a new film is presented. And I would say that their out and out comedies tend to be the most on the surface. The dramas have a lot percolating underneath.
I expect that people will be unwrapping the gift of True Grit for many years to come. And laughing at Dakin Matthews.
2. Black Swan – The apex of the Darren Aronofsky oeuvre. Most of the negative responses I have heard hate the film for what it is, not anything that’s wrong with it. And for those who love it, there is very little wrong with it.
It’s a horror film. It’s an art film. It’s absolutely insane… yet it couldn’t be any clearer about what it’s saying. It’s a coming of age story using ballet as the metaphor, but universal in its ideas of what it’s like to mature, as a person and as an artist.
It’s all there; anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s just like reading Kubler-Ross in a house of mirrors. With it’s parade of petite brunettes and endless mirrors, what else could it be?
Brilliant work by Matthew Libatique, Thérèse DePrez, Amy Westcott, Judy Chin, and Andrew Weisblum. It is all pretty much flawless… even if it took a lot of CG to make it flawless.
The performances are as good as the casting. It’s hard to imagine any other actor currently on the scene who could play the role nearly as well as Natalie Portman. And in an odd way, the delay in getting the film together and funded worked in its favor. In her late 20s instead of her early/mid 20s, her age makes her ongoing stasis all the more dramatic. When she finally breaks, she will break hard.
The other Ninas, Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, and Winona Ryder are all perfection. Ryder’s turn, the briefest, is probably the least appreciated. She brings it, much as Debra Winger showing up in Rachel Getting Married for a small role brought authority in an instant. And Vincent Cassel as The Maestro is smarmy good too, as willing to not seduce to get what he wants as he is to seduce.
There are not many movies about which you can reasonably debate what really happened in one scene or another… even though my opinion is right and yours is wrong. (ha)
It was perfect.
1. Never Let Me Go – The true forever film of 2010.
Ishiguro. Romanek. Garland. Mulligan. Rampling. Garfield. Knightley.
It’s hard to explain the film to people and navigate the idea that it’s science fiction only in the most literal sense of the phrase. It’s not about science. It’s certainly not an action movie. It’s not even set in the future… or the past, really. It’s set in the spirit of man.
It’s a movie about humanity. It’s a movie about the soul. It’s a movie about acceptance. It’s a movie about not even knowing what you are accepting… you… us… me… not just the characters in the film.
Romanek creates a world of isolation in which these children and then young adults live and know little about any other kind of life. It’s a mostly beautiful world, however ugly the human truth that is so rarely spoken of. Romanek’s vision floats through periods, never quite settling on any one, maintaining the universality… reflections of socialism, fascism, capitalism, religion, and all the other excuses we make to forget the humanity of others.
There are a lot of excellent American movies this year. More than usual, I would say. But for me, the ambition of this film and its fulfillment of all of those ambitions is an achievement that I believe will resonate for many years to come.
You can find all the questions that linger in the nooks and crannies of Never Let Me Go. It will take a little work, but what of value doesn’t demand a little work? The answers? They aren’t in the movie. They are in you.