2010 had a lot of really good films. What it did not have was a lot of really great films. For me, nothing truly led the pack. Inception was the film of the year, but beyond its cultural relevancy, it did not leave a lingering impression on my mind. 2010 had no Inglourious Basterds, no There Will Be Blood, no Let the Right One In, no Finding Nemo. I don’t feel like there was a “best film,” in the usual sense; just a collection of comparable extremely good films. So my reasoning for selecting my #1 required a different approach, which I’ll explain when the time comes.
No matter how hard I try, there are always films I simply did not have time to see before December 31 rears its weary head. 2010 was no different. I don’t know if any of these films would have made my Top 15, but it is worth noting that I still have not watched The American, Never Let Me Go, I Love You Phillip Morris, or Enter the Void.
Let’s do this thing…
Joshua on Hot Tub Time Machine:
It is hard to imagine that a movie this stupid could be so under appreciated. Yet what should have been a modest hit in our post-Hangover world has wound up feeling like a well kept secret. HTTM hits that oh-so easy to miss sweet spot right between clever and completely retarded, and it hits it hard. It’s frankly amazing that this movie works at all. With every other step the film almost topples into an unfunny disaster, which only adds to the delirious fun of the film – a bit like watching a really drunk guy break dance next to a wedding cake. A shamefully half-assed romantic subplot with Lizzy Caplan and some misguided gags held the film back from being a mini-masterpiece, but I did not laugh harder during any other film this year. And that counts for something.
This gets my #15 junk food slot, very narrowly beating out Piranha 3D.
Contributing factors: The “I Love the 80’s” nature of a lot of the lazier jokes could have sunk the film, but inspired moves, like involving 80’s perennial asshole, William Zabka, won me over. And though he may make a lot of crap these days, I can’t help but continue to love John Cusack. That man’s delivery is still golden.
Performance to savor: Crispin Glover. If only for the way he gestures for a tip after heaving everyone’s luggage to the floor with surly indifference.
Scene to savor: Rob Corddry air drumming to Motley Crue while asphyxiating in his garage.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Oscar-nominee William Zabka’s return to glory!”
Joshua on Cyrus:
I have never thought that the Duplass brothers truly belonged in the Mumble Core community, and I mean that as a compliment. You could always see bolder aspirations lurking behind the no-budget off-the-cuff sensibilities of films like Baghead. Cyrus shows that these guys can hang closer to the mainstream, and without losing their soft naturalistic charms. This isn’t a film with big belly laughs, like HTTM. It also isn’t a film with big moments, like Four Lions. But I don’t think keeping a warm smile on my face for 90 minutes is any lesser a goal or easier an accomplishment for a comedy. Calling a comedy “sweet” feels like a backhanded compliment, but that is such an apt description of this film.
Contributing factors: The three leads have great chemistry, but the relationship between John C. Reilly and Catherine Keener really made the film for me.
Performance to savor: John C. Reilly. Few actors can be so inherently sympathetic while also being so totally pathetic. Your desire to see him happy is the entire crux of the film.
Scene to savor: The awkward montage of Reilly trying to flirt with women at a party.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Jonah Hill doesn’t cock-block the funny!
Joshua on Four Lions:
I was not intending this to be three comedies in a row. That’s just how the pieces fell. But if HTTM worked out my stomach muscles, and Cyrus did cardio on my icy heart, Four Lions gave my brain some exercise. This was the smartest comedy of 2010 – albeit, that is not saying much, but it could likely have been the smartest comedy in any recent year. Doing envelope-pushing comedy with Muslim terrorism almost feels easy, because it is such a touchy subject. Chris Morris’ stroke of mad genius was not to weave his pitch-black satire from the perspective of non-Muslims (like Family Guy would do), but to craft a film that feels like a parody Muslim terrorists might make of themselves.
Contributing factors: The silliness. A less confident filmmaker may have felt that the subject matter necessitated taking the high road at all times, but Morris did more service to the film by being willing to get silly when the opportunity arrived. “Is a wookie a bear?”
Performance to savor: Nigel Lindsay’s Barry. “Indignant” was never a funnier attitude.
Scene to savor: The town hall meeting. “Just cause I’m Muslim you thought the bomb was real?”
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Terrorism hasn’t been this funny since American Dreamz!”
Joshua on Scott Pilgrim vs The World:
I was not nearly as gaga for this film as many of my contemporaries. It is my least favorite of Edgar Wright’s output (including Spaced). Though I absolutely adore the rest of his output, so that is not as negative as it sounds out of context. I did not emotionally connect with this film, but it is hard to overlook the sheer creative prowess Wright displays in his execution. From a directorial standpoint the film is nothing short of stupefying – an ADD explosion of visuals and filmmaking techniques and tricks. Before I’d seen Scott Pilgrim, Mr. Nunziata said he thought this was a film that would inspire younger people to go to film school. I don’t doubt it.
Contributing factors: Generally speaking, I don’t think editing should be something you are actively noticing while watching a film (unless you’re an editor). Here it is impossible not to. The film moves like a comic book, but in a way that feels right as a film and not just an annoying gimmick like Ang Lee’s Hulk.
Performance to savor: Ellen Wong. Her character needed to straddle the line between annoying and sympathetic, and that’s hard to do.
Scene to savor: The face-off with Chris Evans.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Canada comes alive!”
Joshua on Dogtooth:
If you can manage to see Dogtooth (which will be arriving in more cities next year) without learning anything about its concept, I strongly recommend you do so. I walked into this film blind, with not even an inkling of its storyline, and holy shit… this fucking movie. Some films use weirdness as a creative crutch, a cheap way around having to do something clever (weird for weird’s sake). Then there are films like Dogtooth, where the provocative strangeness is the very fabric of the story. Off-putting. Dangerous. Indelible. Seriously, if you haven’t read anything about this film, don’t. Then see it when it comes your way. And get your brain fucked.
Contributing factors: I have no way of knowing what I would have thought of this film had I known more about it going in, but slowly piecing together the high concept of the story was a fantastic experience.
Performance to savor: Christos Stergioglou as the father. The calm rage.
Scene to savor: An unorthodox way to acquire a VHS of Jaws.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Dogtooth will fuck your mind!”
Joshua on Exit Through the Gift Shop:
Questions of authenticity hovered over some of 2010’s more prominent documentaries, but whereas the feeling of staged bits ultimately hurt Catfish for me, the power of Exit Through the Gift Shop is that it doesn’t matter where reality ends and Banksy’s (potential) bullshit begins. The film works equally well and with just as much power in either scenario. In fact, it takes on different shades depending on which truth you choose to believe. And that’s just the analytical aspect of the film. Regardless of the veracity of Mr. Brainwash and his exhibition, the portions of the film documenting the rise of the street art movement are captivating enough to exist in their own right.
Contributing factors: The art. Seeing it happen. Hearing the artists talk about it. Watching soon to be Los Angeles mini-landmark “obey” stencils being mundanely assembled in a Hollywood Kinko’s.
Performance to savor: Banksy. Some feel that the Banksy we “see” talking in the film is simply too funny to actually be the real artist. Maybe he is an actor playing Banksy. Maybe Banksy is just that funny. Either way, it works.
Scene to savor: The nearly disastrous Disneyland art stunt.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Prepare to find art accessible!”
Joshua on The Wild Hunt:
Alexandre Franchi and Mark Antony Krupa have some balls. Any sane filmmakers would have taken their idea about a group of LARPers whose game of dress up goes horribly wrong and pulled it in one of two directions: either make it a straight up goofy comedy, or make it a fucked up thriller. Not these Canadians. They saw this as a classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment. What has stuck with me over the months about this bizarre little gem isn’t how funny it is, or how crazy it is, but that it is both. And successfully so.
Contributing factors: The portrayal of LARPing itself was fascinating; poking fun, yet quite respectful. Plus I’m a sucker for all things Viking.
Performace to savor: Mark Antony Krupa co-wrote a fantastic character for himself. Comically pathetic. Noble. Badass.
Scene to savor: The ending.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “As if Paul Schrader directed Role Models!”
Joshua on Black Swan:
Following Pi and The Wrestler, Black Swan completes a sort of trilogy for Darren Aronofsky. The man loves Icarus tales of brilliant/talented individuals who fly too close to the sun and destroy themselves in the pursuit of glory. And this may be the best of the bunch (though I do love me some Pi). The Wrestler brought him closer, but I think this is the film that will bring Aronofsky from a fringe favorite into the club of directors your parents might name drop. Here he showed that he’s got the skills to get freaky without sacrificing accessibility for the common slob.
Contributing factors: I know nothing of the ballet world, but it is a credit to the film that I walked away feeling like I now do.
Performance to savor: Portman. She made me so thoroughly believe she was meek that I got a shiver of goosebumps when she finally hit us with her black swan.
Scene to savor: Winona + face stabbing = images scarred into Josh’s brain.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Did we mention the lesbian scene?!”
Joshua on A Prophet:
This is a film I was surprised to hear so little talk of this past year. This is no hoity-toity foreign film. This is approachable. Exciting. Violent. Fun. Were it not for the subtitles, any gangster film lovin’ American would eat this up. For a film largely confined to a prison, Jacques Audiard hands us some epic storytelling. I never quite knew where Malik’s journey (or the film) was heading, and I was handed surprise after surprise. Eventually I just stopped guessing and rode this 155-minute wave to its memorable conclusion.
Contributing factors: I love that the film dumps us – like Malik – into a busy and complicated world without any set up or over explanation. I felt just as disoriented and swept up by sudden events as our hero did.
Performance to savor: Niels Arestrup as Luciani, the Corsican mobster.
Scene to savor: Malik’s razorblade-in-mouth assassination mission.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “This prison movie has no rape!”
Joshua on The Illusionist:
We all know hand-drawn animation is a dying art form (as far as theatrical features are concerned). And while I was happy to see it back in action at Disney with last year’s The Princess and the Frog, the film was a bit underwhelming – I think it also left a lot of viewers wishing it had been CG. The Illusionist on the other hand should leave even a casual viewer with a sense of the power hand-drawn animation can have. Sylvain Chomet is really trying to swipe the mantle of ‘dialogue-free master storyteller’ from Jean Jacques Annaud, and the emotions he and his team can cull without the aid of dialogue from these two-dimensional shapes is spellbinding. This was probably the most heart-breaking film I saw all year too.
Contributing factors: Not to be repetitive, but this movie looks like white hot awesome.
Performance to savor: The Illusionist’s long suffering rabbit.
Scene to savor: When the Illusionist keeps preparing and unpreparing to get on stage, while the foppish rock band continues doing encores.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Not the Edward Norton magician movie!”
Joshua on How To Train Your Dragon:
It is often said that Dreamworks is the Looney Tunes to Pixar’s Disney. I cannot think of a more offensive thing to say about the Looney Tunes than comparing that wealth of brilliance to dreck like Madagascar and the Shrek series. Despite nabbing some major box office and the first Best Animated Feature Oscar, I have never found the race between Pixar and Dreamworks to be even remotely close. Yet here we are in 2010, with Dreamworks besting Pixar, and besting Pixar’s warhorse franchise no less. Toy Story 3 was an extremely well done film, but it felt more like a really good episode of a Toy Story TV show (to steal a fitting critique from my buddy Pat) than it did a movie. And Dragon did not feel like a Dreamworks movie at all. Where were the big movie stars cast despite their mediocre vocal talents (yeah, people want to hear Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz)? Where were the pandering pop culture jokes? Most importantly – where was the lack of heart?
Contributing factors: The character animation for Toothless was superb – the personality of a dog, with the motion and movements of a cat. And its black scale design and texture was incredibly iconic. Also, did I already mention that I’m a sucker for all things Viking?
Performance to savor: Gerard Butler made up for all those awful rom-coms right here.
Scene to savor: Hiccup first bonding with Toothless through the power of drawing.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The Dreamworks staff finally watched a Pixar movie!”
Joshua on The Fighter:
Nothing surprised me about The Fighter’s story. I knew nothing of the real-life events, but it’s just such a typical sports drama story. I knew which matches Micky Ward would win and which he would lose. I knew when he’d get into arguments with various supporting characters and when they would make up. Making a generic story sing is probably the ultimate test of a filmmaker’s skill level, and David O. Russell certainly showed that you don’t need a unique concept/plot to craft a compelling film. This was simply a treat to watch. I wish it was an HBO show so I could revisit the volatile Ward-Eklund clan every week.
Contributing factors: Speaking of HBO, this felt like a David Simon joint. Russell one-uped even Ben Affleck this year when it came to casting lived-in Massachusetts faces. The town of Lowell lived and breathed through the casting.
Performance to savor: Bale, obviously, but I’m gonna say Jack McGee. A consummate character actor, McGee is always fantastic, and he anchors the shit out of this movie as the lone voice of calm and reason amongst the Ward-Eklund mob of wackos.
Scene to savor: The at first funny and then tragic premiere of Dicky Eklund’s HBO documentary.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Tom Savini couldn’t cook up broads this horrific!”
Joshua on The Social Network:
“How is that going to make an exciting film?” That was my first reaction to learning that Sorkin and Fincher were doing a Facebook movie. I knew the story. It’s real-life exciting, and makes an interesting read in an on-line article. But a movie? Boy was I wrong… sort of. What impressed me most about this film wasn’t that the story turned out to be exciting, but rather that it didn’t. Despite millions and billions of imaginary Internet dollars being at stake, the events of the story are just petty arguments and minor squabbles, climaxing in a big non-ending. But like Russell did with The Fighter, Sorkin and Fincher showed us that any story can be made not only interesting, but totally riveting.
Contributing factors: The dialogue. Fincher pulled this potentially boring beast together and made it vibrate with the tension of a taught thriller, but Sorkin’s script was the true hero. He is the one who cracked the mediocre story, and more importantly, cracked the mediocre character of Zuckerberg. His decision to play the entire film as a revenge scheme against a single girl was what made it work as well as it did for me.
Performance to savor: Armie Hammer. Having originally been exposed to him clowning around on the short-lived Reaper, I could not have been more impressed by the subtly of his dual performance here. Making identical twins distinguishable without giving one of them an eye-patch or a limp is no small feat.
Scene to savor: The opening break-up scene.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Learn the story behind the thing that eats up three hours of your life everyday!”
Joshua on True Grit:
This is a lesser Coen Bros work. But at this stage in their career that just means that the film was merely outstanding instead of an instant classic. Calling the decision to put Bridges in the lead role “inspired” casting almost doesn’t do it justice. In his decades long career, not a single person has ever accused or championed Bridges as the new John Wayne. Yet he immediately seemed like the only acceptable choice. And kudos to Bridges for not being afraid to tackle the part. The original True Grit is only a decent film, but The Duke is The Duke, and he’s the best part of the original film. This film is better than the original, and Bridges conjures a marble-mouthed performance that is both different and equally as iconic as Wayne’s.
Contributing factors: The cast. The Coens are the masters of making even the smallest of characters pop off the screen with quirky memorability.
Performance to savor: Everyone from Steinfeld down to a great gross toothy performance from Barry Pepper was worth savoring, but I feel like giving a well-deserved shout out to Dakin Matthews, for his brief but tasty performance as the bitter and flustered Col. Stonehill, who Mattie outwits while trading horses.
Scene to savor: The interrogation scene at the lonesome shack, which will leave you marveling that the film got a PG-13 rating.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “You will not understand half of what Jeff Bridges says, but you will love him anyway!”
Joshua on Best Worst Movie:
Do I think this was a better made film than True Grit or The Social Network, or expertly crafted films that didn’t make my cut like The Ghost Writer or Inception or Shutter Island? No. But as I said at the top, for me 2010 did not have a strong leader. So I decided to make my choice based on what emotionally impacted me the most this year. That was far and away Best Worst Movie. Halfway through my first viewing of the film I wished it were a human being so I could give it a big fucking hug. I want to hug this movie. I am not sure how the average person would react to Best Worst Movie, but I really don’t understand how any film fan cannot fall in love with it. Without overtly doing so, this film explores the very concepts at the heart of cinematic viewing, and by extension the concepts of what makes art “art,” and how/why humans respond to it. The fact that this all happens in what is otherwise a retrospective about Troll 2 (a movie I couldn’t care less about) is amazing. The motives behind everything we do here at CHUD, the site’s very raison d’être, glows hot in Best Worst Movie. Cinema is at its best when it is a communal experience. It is something we want to share with other people. And this is a movie about fandom.
I have seen this film twice. Once as a screener at home alone. I loved it. Then I saw it again as a double feature with Troll 2, with a packed audience and Michael Stephenson and George Hardy in attendance. I loved it even more. Best Worst Movie taps into a special quality that transcends its actual filmmaking. I am hard pressed to think of another piece of non-fiction that better evokes the “magic” of movies.
Contributing factors: Troll 2 director Claudio Fragasso makes the film, first as the butt of endless jokes by being cluelessly and aggressively ignorant to the quality of Troll 2. Then at the end he transforms into something nobler, and with him takes Best Worst Movie itself. The man unwittingly sums up the power of cinema with one simple line, when he says: “Being considered the worst movie is almost as much a compliment as being considered the best. It means I’ve made an impression.”
Performance to savor: George Hardy. Like the film itself, the man is a juggernaut of feel-good spirit.
Scene to savor: The scene where composer Bobby Tahouri is showing off the Troll 2 score gets me every time. The self-satisfied look on his face is comic gold.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “You will hug this movie!”