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The Projectionist’s Top Films of 2010

Projectionist’s Note: Much like the Worst List, I forgot about a couple of movies that deserved mention here.  And rather than omit any, this list is now 14 films instead of 12.  The additions are True Grit and The Ghost Writer.

This year’s best films, at the very least, are hard to rank against each other.  With The Social Network taking every top honor from the various critics and societies, it shows how relatively weak the year has been, because in most years, The Social Network is probably a top 10 or honorable mention film, not getting close to number one.  And with a statement like that, suddenly it sounds like I don’t like The Social Network.  I definitely called it one of the best of the year back in October, and that doesn’t change.  Where do I rank it?  Read on.

When compiling this list, I realized that very few movies made an impact on me, like I needed to watch it again.  It’s a tough year for best lists, that’s for sure.  Maybe in the future, movies like Animal Kingdom or the Red Riding trilogy will seem better to me.  But those movies, on the whole, just seemed like performance movies with decent stories.

14. The Fighter

This is a good, solid boxing movie.  The main criticism I’ve heard of this is, “Well, it’s a boxing movie, and we’ve seen lots of boxing movies.”  Yeah, that’s true.  Boxing movies for the most part aren’t going to be original.  Still, The Fighter is a good one, and performances from Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, and the movie-stealing Christian Bale are all worth watching.  The way this movie distinguishes itself from other boxing movies is how the people closest to Mickey Ward, all wanting him to succeed, adversely affect his chances through their own pride or self-destructive qualities.  This is a case where we’re sure our boxer is great and can beat almost anyone, it’s just a matter of rising above his home life and lack of connections to get there.

13. The Town

We might as well stay in New England for the next feature.  Ben Affleck’s second go-around as director focuses on professional bank robbers and the events leading to “one last job,” one that many don’t want to be the last job.  Affleck gets good performances across the board, including himself, and films some memorable scenes, especially the heist that takes place around Fenway Park.  I also liked the scene where Affleck, trying to keep his secret from Rebecca Hall, has to hide a tattoo Jeremy Renner has on his neck that Hall would be able to recognize.

12. Winter’s Bone (not reviewed)

Winter’s Bone is being heralded for the performance of its female protagonist, Jennifer Lawrence, and she’s certainly fantastic and deserving of all the accolades.  However, another actor makes his presence felt in such a meaningful way that it seems criminal to to mention him: John Hawkes, who is probably best known for being Danny McBride’s brother on Eastbound and Down, or Lennon on Lost.  Hawkes is scary in this film, taking on a hybrid antagonist/protagonist type of role.  Winter’s Bone deftly navigates a sprawling family of criminal cousins and its politics, putting a young girl in harm’s way with every question she asks about her missing father.

11. The Ghost Writer

Embattled director Roman Polanski can still make a good film from time to time, and his old-fashioned mystery involving the death of a Prime Minister’s ghost writer who learned too much about the secret goings-on in a political family was one of the best “mood” films of the year.  It has a dreamlike quality, especially if you watch it late at night.  We don’t see good mystery films anymore, so it was refreshing to see a good, solid one come out…in February no less.

10. How to Train Your Dragon (not reviewed)

I didn’t expect much from this Dreamworks-animated product back in March, but this movie really came through, and if we’re to give Toy Story 3 its due, How to Train Your Dragon definitely deserves mention right behind it.  First off, the look of this film is one of the more beautiful you’ll see, with consulting work done by master cinematographer Roger Deakins (who has shot almost every Coen Brothers film since 1991), who also consulted on WALL-E.  But this movie is funny and has solid emotional impact, something that nearly no other Dreamworks animated movie has.  It’s their best work to date.

9. The King’s Speech

I hated this movie from the moment I heard about it.  Actually, wary is a more apt word.  How many times do we hear about some British film concerning royalty with all the critics raving before we even get a chance to see it?  And how many of those movies actually deliver?  But this movie delivers a solid story with awesome performances, just as advertised.  So really, I was being tremendously unfair to the movie on its own terms before it even came out, figuring it was just going to be more of the same.  And gladly, I was wrong.

8. Toy Story 3

Pixar knows how to deliver the goods, and they once again made a movie filled with laughs and emotional impact at the beginning of a period in which they are being forced to make sequels to their existing franchises (coming up next…Cars 2).  Toy Story 3 actually places itself several years after the original, with Andy going to college and having to come to a decision about what to do with his childish things.  The adventure is typical Toy Story, which is a slight bit on the disappointing side considering the ambitious nature of Pixar’s previous films, but makes up for it in every other category.  I especially love how they depict kids.  The little girl, the future recipient of the Woody/Buzz Lightyear empire, is perfect.

7. A Prophet (not reviewed)

This French film from 2009, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film last year, but released here in 2010, is probably one the more gritty and brutal movies I’ve seen in awhile.  It focuses on a young man serving a short stretch in prison, but through actions of his own accord and prison politics, is allowed to go on the outside and perform work for a prison lifer crimelord.  After awhile, he gets ideas about running his own business on the outside, which creates conflict for him on the inside.  The murder he commits in prison is definitely one of the flinchiest moments in film this year.

6. Mother (not reviewed)

This 2009 film from South Korea, released here this year, is one of the most emotionally-impacting movies you’ll ever see.  Hye-ja Kim plays the title role, believing her idiot son is innocent of killing a young girl, a crime for which he sits in prison.  The movie follows her as she tries to retrace her son’s steps and tries to prove his innocence.  Kim pulls off one of the more unheralded performances of the past couple of years, mainly because not many people saw this.  This is a good mystery, a good story, and well worth picking up if you haven’t seen it.

5. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

At this point, we start seeing movies that had some inventiveness in addition to good performances and story.  The rest of this list includes movies that had something exciting in regards to technique.  We start with Scott Pilgrim, Edgar Wright’s third feature after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Fans of those movies know that Wright doesn’t just make a straight-up flatly-lit comedy with one-liners and bits.  He also experiments with editing and camerawork, which make his movies giddy in a very high film-geek way.  Scott Pilgrim continues his style of storytelling, and it contains so many good moments, I considered it for number one.

4. The Social Network

David Fincher’s look at the genesis of Facebook, along with Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue, make for an entertaining look in the not-so-distant past.  At the heart is a performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as he back-stabs everyone who helps him into prominence, not for money, but for the satisfaction of creating something everyone in the world wants to be a part of.  And oh yeah, because his girlfriend dumped him.  Based on the screenplay alone, this was one of the most entertaining films of 2010, and everyone else involved knocked it out of the park as well.

3. True Grit

The Coens strike again with this simple movie, containing great performances from Hallie Steinberg and Jeff Bridges, with able support from Matt Damon.  What I really enjoyed from this film besides that is the technical excellence the Coens always display with action scenes.  Fantastic use of sound, camerawork, and spatial relationships make the Coens action scenes rise above almost every action movie that you’ll ever see.  I especially love the scene with Barry Pepper and Jeff Bridges at the end.  A scene like this has been done in a million movies, but here it’s done differently, and expertly.

2. Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky really knows perfectionism, or the cousin of perfectionism, which is obsession at the risk of life and limb.  He explores these themes in every movie he’s ever done.  Here, he brings out the best performance of Natalie Portman’s career, showing the brutal physical, emotional, and psychological pain involved with something I’ve termed “method ballet” for this movie.  At the beginning of this film, she’s a perfect dancer, something that is good for playing one half of her character, but not the other.  At the urging of her director, a psychological transformation begins to take place as she delves into the darker side of her psyche, experiencing sexual curiosity, jealousy, and rage at the expense of her well-being.  The “method” involves actors trying to experience things their characters have experienced, and you always hear stories of actors like De Niro and Penn bringing their characters home with them and being unable to shake them.  It’s such a drastic technique, that the line between acting and actually experiencing becomes blurred, to the point some people don’t even think “the method” is acting anymore.  Black Swan studies this on the very extreme end of method acting, and manages to be curious and interesting until the very finish.

1. Inception

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is the most talked-about film of the year.  The most discussed and dissected.  The inventiveness in story is unmatched.  And being able to keep track, in a logical mathematical way, the exponential time experienced between dreams, and dreams-within-dreams, is mind-boggling.  I like how we have a main character who is really good at his job, really knows his stuff, and yet has a tremendous flaw (his dead wife) that threatens every job in which he takes part.  His abilities aren’t in question.  His psychology is.  The concept of planting ideas in someone’s head and making it seem like their own, and then providing a ton of difficulties that make the job nearly impossible, and dangerous, are expertly kept in check by Nolan.  When all is said and done, Inception is the most original and well-thought-out film of the year.  It has more high marks in every category than any other movie I saw this year.


Comment from Jonathan
Time: January 20, 2011, 10:58 am

I don’t disagree that this was not the strongest year for film, and I have not seen quite enough to make a definitive top ten, but I would disagree that this in some ways diminshes the value of films like “The Social Network.” Maybe if I saw everything else there would be something I liked better, but the film is one of the ten best I’ve probably seen over the past 5 years or so, and there have been some pretty strong years in that mix. The script is just brillinat (I’m a biased lover of all these Sorkin I will admit), and the performances (especially Andrew Garfield) are great. Fincher does a great job on the directing end. It’s as close to pitch perfect in a film as you can get (imo). If “The Social Network” takes the top prize at the Oscars, this would be the first year in I don’t know how long (Schindler’s List maybe) that I agree with the choice. Based on what everyone thinks will be nominated, this would also be the first year I didn’t despise one of the films, so that says something.

Loved “Black Swan,” “The Town,” and “Toy Story 3.” Those would all be on my list. “Inception” and “True Grit” would be on their now, but after I see 20 or 30 more films from this year I could see them taking a back seat. “True Grit” just really takes a big steamy dump on itself in that last ten minutes. And I really liked “Inception;” I just didn’t love it. In fact, it might be my least favorite film of Nolan’s, but that just speaks for how great his filmography is as a whole. I really have no good reasoning other than it just didn’t work for me as well as it seems to have worked for most people.

I forgot about “A Prophet.” Great film; that would be on there. I did not like “Mother” though. That will be my “Let the Right One In” for 2010 I guess. I actually kind of hated it; found it extremely boring, but I seem to be in the minority. Maybe I’ll give it another shot a few years down the road.

Looking forward to finally seeing “Scott Pilgrim,” “King’s Speech,” “The Fighter,” and “The Ghost Writer.” I did recently watch “How to Train Your Dragon,” and liked it fine.

One movie that would probably make my top ten that no one seems to talk about (not suprisingly) is “The Last Exorcism.” I’ve seen it a couple more times since it’s been on DVD, and I have to say it only gets better. The ending is the selling point on that film, and most people just didn’t care for it. I ask for a better way to end it; someone seriously, give me an answer. It’s a very clever horror yarn, and one of the best of the genre in quite awhile. And I don’t know if it would make it’s way into the top ten, but I thought “Get Him to the Greek” was the funniest movie of 2010, but that says more for the lack of good comedies than anything most likely.

Comment from The Projectionist
Time: January 20, 2011, 6:45 pm

I will definitely be talking about The Last Exorcism in my “Other Observations” post, where I recognize movies in the middle of the pack that did nifty things this year.

I also might be underrating The Social Network a bit…even if I did rank it 4th. I just didn’t come out of that movie thinking, “Man, this is incredible.”. Time will tell.

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