As far as I'm concerned, these were the ten best movies of 2010:
10. The King's Speech A-
On the surface the requisite British period drama. At its core a keenly observed and superbly performed examination of a great man's speech impediment and how it relates to his station and his time. That a speech impediment can be used for totally absorbing cinema is a testament to the greatness of this film itself, thanks in large part to Colin Firth himself in the lead.
What I said then: This is really Colin Firth's movie, as he is placed at the center of a fascinating story and given an acute challenge, which he rises to readily, just as did the character he plays.
9. Let Me In A-
A rather pleasant surprise: An excellent horror film! That's a rare thing indeed, particularly when the story is far more concerned with character development than on scaring you -- although there is plenty in it to scare. But it intertwines the two, so that the character development is actually part of what makes it frightening. This is no slasher flick; instead, you care about both the victims and the perpetrators -- and you can't help but feel ambivalent about it. That's precisely what makes it work so well.
What I said then: That rare horror movie that is more about relationships than it is about giving thrills to gleefully startled audiences.
8. Lebanon A-
Critics can rave all they want about 127 Hours -- which, okay, was very good -- but Lebanon gets the slightest edge as the year's best Movie Made In A Tight Space. In this case, the entire film takes place inside a tank full of soldiers roaming the decimated countryside in the Lebanon war. There was yet a third rather good claustrophobic movie released this year (Buried), but of the three, this one has both the most gravitas and the longest-lasting impact.
What I said then: Everything that could easily be taken over the top is handled with admirable restraint.
7. Cairo Time A-
Just a quiet, lovely love story unlike any other. Kind of a subtle star-crossed lovers kind of tale, in which we see only an unconsummated romance that blossoms in the Middle East between an American woman (Patricia Clarkson) and an Egyptian man (Alexander Siddig) over the course of several days. Very evocative of both love bridging cultures and what day to day life is like in Cairo and other nearby cities.
What I said then: Unfolds with a laid-back but beautiful symmetry.
6. Black Swan A-
The story of a ballerina who goes nuts that you didn't know you needed to see. Director Daren Aronofsky is nearly incapable of disappointing, and he directs Natalie Portman here in the greatest performance of her career. Filled with both great supporting performances and truly indelible images, most of them tied up in the inward-looking visual horrors of progressing insanity.
What I said then: This is Natalie Portman's movie, arguably her crowning achievement.
5. The Social Network A-
The movie everyone is talking about, and which a lot of them are identifying as the best of the year. I disagree; it's slightly too Hollywood-slick for that, but still good enough to make the top five in my book. This relatively fictionalized story of the jerkoff who started Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg, played with uncanny flair by Jesse Eisenberg) may be slightly flawed but it's also unmissable: It's the one movie that manages to pierce the current cultural zeitgeist, and offers at times almost surreal insight to what's behind the experience of being a Facebook user -- which these days is nearly everyone.
What I said then: Taps into of-the-moment audience universality in a way no other movie does, or arguably even can.
4. Inception A-
Blockbuster of the Year. Both a thrill ride and a head trip, and with its layered dreams-within-dreams sequences is enhanced with multiple viewings. Movies like that are very hard to come by, as are movies with such conversation-piece endings as that spinning top.
What I said then: Christopher Nolan establishes some counter-intuitively strict rules about the passage of time in dreams, but which, effectively executed, renders Inception a genuine thrill to watch.
3. Winter's Bone A
It's hard to describe this one without making it sound both over-the-top and hokey, and yet it's neither. It presents a fully realized, very realistically dangerous rural world that transcends the notion of "grittiness." For Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role to be overlooked through awards season would be criminal; her clear depth of understanding of the plight of her character belies her age.
What I said then: It's always a feat when a film manages to be like no other, and Winter's Bone pulls it off on virtually all fronts.
2. The Kids Are All Right A
The Family Values story whose time has come: the kids of a lesbian couple decide to track down their sperm donor father and reluctantly they all become a sort of newfangled "modern family." Great performances all around and an acutely observant script, filled with equal amounts of heartache and humor. No politicizing whatsoever, which is is best quality -- and yet this would be the perfect film for showing paranoid conservatives how gay people are just as "normal" as anyone else.
What I said then: What's quietly revolutionary ... is how it completely normalizes family life regardless of the sex of the parents.
1. Toy Story 3 A
I haven't seen anyone else place this movie at the top of their "year's best" list, but I think in many cases it might be just because they didn't have the guts. It has two things working against it: 1) it's a cartoon; and 2) it's a second sequel. I say: so what? This movie transcends both its medium and its position at the end of a trilogy featuring the same characters. Bottom line, it had the deepest emotional impact on me, out of all the movies I saw this year. In my book that makes it the best.
What I said then: Astonishingly, a very convincing case could be made for Toy Story 3 being the best of the lot.
As for the year's worst, I usually come up with at least five, but I can only come up with one this year -- because I just don't go see bad movies, not as long as I'm paying for the movies myself, anyway; and I'm not getting paid to write these reviews. Why would I want to see movies I know I'm going to hate when there's nothing particularly in it for me?
I am, however, occasionally a bit off in my judgment of what I'm going to enjoy. And thus, the worst movie I saw (in its theatrical release) this year would be . . .
The Extra Man C
Average at best; particularly disappointing given the talent involved. Both Kevin Kline and Paul Dano are excellent actors; even John C. Reilly is commonly underrated. None of them are doing themselves any favors by being in this movie, which is odd just for the sake of being odd; uneven; and thematically disjointed. It's the kind of movie that ends and leaves you thinking, Why did I just watch that?
What I said then: If when the end credits roll the first thought is, Oh, give me a break, that doesn't really reflect well on the movie.
And now for the perennial film log . . .
1. 1/1 Sherlock Holmes C
2. 1/5 Leap Year D- *
3. 1/7 Nine B-
4. 1/9 The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus B
5. 1/14 Crazy Heart B
6. 1/21 The Blind Side B
7. 1/28 A Town Called Panic B-
8. 1/30 It's Complicated B (2nd viewing)
9. 2/6 The White Ribbon C
10. 2/13 The Last Station B
11. 2/21 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Live Action B
12. 2/23 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animation B /B
13. 3/10 Alice in Wonderland B-
14. 3/18 Life [TV show] B *
15. 3/23 The Ghost Writer B-
16. 3/24 Hot Tub Time Machine B *
17. 3/27 Greenberg C
18. 3/28 Sweetgrass B
19. 4/3 How to Train Your Dragon B
20. 4/6 Clash of the Titans B
21. 4/13 Date Night B
22. 4/18 Kick-Ass B-
23. 4/20 Death at a Funeral B
24. 4/24 City Island B
25. 5/4 No One Knows About Persian Cats A-
26. 5/7 Iron Man 2 B
27. 5/9 The Good the Bad the Weird B
28. 5/11 Babies B
29. 5/18 The Secret of Kells B
30. 5/23 Princess Kaiulani C
31. 5/24 Shrek Forever After B
32. 5/25 Hidden Diary C ***
33. 5/27 Casino Jack & the United States of Money B-
34. 5/29 Sex and the City 2 B
35. 5/31 Date Night B
36. 6/9 Violet Tendencies B- *
37. 6/12 The Karate Kid B
38. 6/15 The A-Team B
39. 6/18 Toy Story 3 A
40. 6/21 Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work A-
41. 6/22 Micmacs B
42. 6/27 Toy Story 3 A (2nd viewing)
43. 7/1 Please Give B
44. 7/3 Winter's Bone A
45. 7/5 Knight and Day B-
46. 7/8 I Am Love C
47. 7/11 Solitary Man B
48. 7/13 Cyrus A-
49. 7/15 Despicable Me B-
50. 7/18 Toy Story 3 A (3rd viewing)
51. 7/20 The Kids Are All Right A
52. 7/22 Inception A-
53. 7/24 Agora B
54. 7/26 Salt B
55. 8/1 The Kids Are All Right A (2nd viewing)
56. 8/6 Waking Sleeping Beauty B
57. 8/7 Great Directors C
58. 8/9 The Other Guys B
59. 8/11 Farewell A-
60. 8/17 Scott Pilgrim vs the World B
61. 8/19 Eat Pray Love B
62. 8/22 Get Low B
63. 8/24 The Extra Man C
64. 8/25 Life During Wartime B
65. 9/1 The American B
66. 9/2 Mao's Last Dancer B-
67. 9/4 Cairo Time A-
68. 9/7 The Tillman Story B-
69. 9/9 Inception A- (2nd viewing)
70. 9/16 Lebanon A-
71. 9/18 Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel B
72. 9/20 Buried B *
73. 9/22 The Town B
74. 9/26 Jack Goes Boating B
75. 10/6 The Social Network A-
76. 10/7 Freakanomics B-
77. 10/9 It's Kind of a Funny Story B
78. 10/11 The Birds A- **
79. 10/13 Never Let Me Go A-
80. 10/14 Waiting for "Superman" B
81. 10/16 RED B
81. 10/20 Let Me In A-
82. 10/23 Hereafter B
83. 10/25 Last Train Home A-
84. 11/2 Inside Job B
85. 11/3 The Next Three Days B *
86. 11/4 Nowhere Boy A-
87. 11/6 Due Date B-
88. 11/7 Conviction B
89. 11/9 Megamind B
90. 11/11 Fair Game B
91. 11/14 My Dog Tulip B
92. 11/16 Unstoppable B
93. 11/19 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I A-
94. 11/21 127 Hours A-
95. 11/25 Burlesque B-
96. 11/30 Love and Other Drugs C
97. 12/7 Tangled B
98. 12/12 The Tourist B
99. 12/13 Black Swan A-
100. 12/15 Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale B
101. 12/21 TRON: Legacy B-
102. 12/23 I Love You Phillip Morris B
103. 12/26 True Grit B
104. 12/27 The King's Speech A-
* SIFF advance screening
** SIFF Cinema screening (re-issue: no review)
*** Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival screening