When I reflect on 2010 cinematically, I think about Avatar. For the first two months of the year it was the phenomenon, and opened all sorts of questions about the future of cinema. Hollywood responding by post-converting a couple of rush-jobs, and green lighting more 3-D films to the point that by the end of the year audiences are no longer responding with any great enthusiasm. 3-D defined the year of cinema, and mostly for the worse, but I think we’re at a point that 3-D is no longer a selling point, so perhaps we’ll see people use it right again. And that said, some of the best films of the year were made in the studio system, but mostly those were done by directors who were left alone.
I’m going to recuse myself from Four Lions for a number of reasons, but missing from this list are Winter’s Bone, Blue Valentine, Rabbit Hole, The Town, Carlos, Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, and Step Up 3-D, all of which I rather enjoyed, but didn’t crack into my top fifteen. With Winter’s Bone, it’s a really good movie, and John Hawkes is amazing in it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to include it. There’s also a question of festival vs. theatrical release on some of the foreign films I’ve included. I would have included A Prophet (which wasn’t really released until 2010) but it was a best foreign film nominee for last year. I’ve spent a lot of the last couple weeks playing catch-up, watching some interesting small films that deserve love (Marwencol), and some awards films I didn’t care for that much (I liked The King’s Speech, but it didn’t suck me in). But at least two of those last minute films (Everyone Else, Dogtooth) made my list. Of course all lists are subjective, and in 1999 many people wouldn’t have included Galaxy Quest as one of the best films of that year. And yet it was. But I went with what spoke to me.
Damon on MacGruber:
I do a show called First Dollar Gross every Monday at 4pm (Pacific) on justin.tv, and I mentioned a couple weeks ago that when people got their year-end lists together that MacGruber deserved a place as one of the funniest films of the year. Year’s almost over, and MacGruber is still the film that made me laugh the hardest. Most of the jokes are the sort you’d expect of a twelve year old boy restaging Rambo, but they constantly deliver.
Current rating: 8.9 out of 10
Contributing factors: Powers Booth. A love of shitty action films from the 1980’s and wailing sax.
Performance to savor: Will Forte. Long one of the best performers on Saturday Night Live, this is a film that should play as a one note joke. Maybe it is, but Forte finds ways to play every variation on that joke. Blaupunk.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Get MacGruber inside your ass right now!”
Damon on The Fighter:
This is how you make a formula picture. It’s with heart and comedy. David O Russell’s tale of Mickey Ward, a boxer that was near the end of his career when everything got turned around, fits into the heartwarming, based on true story tales of perseverance and moral turpitude, but it succeeds because of its winning cast and no bullshit approach.
Current rating: 8.9 out of 10
Contributing factors: A hatred for Boston. Just kidding. Christian Bale finally showing that he doesn’t just have to scowl and pout all the time.
Performance to savor: Melissa Leo. What a chameleon.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The Fighter will knock you out… with greatness (also, kidney punches)”
Damon on The Social Network:
David Fincher’s “Citizen Kane for the internet era” casts Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg (the creator of Facebook) as the mascot for entitlement rage. Always wanting to join the clubs that would never have him for a member, Zuckerberg and the film are the perfect metaphor for how one can be totally wired in and totally isolated at the same time. Oh yeah, and there’s that sublime Aaron Sorkin dialogue and a great row of supporting players. If the last spoken line weren’t a miss and I thought the crew race/ “In the Hall of Mountain King” sequence didn’t stop the movie cold, this might have been my film of the year. Which suggests this is a pretty good year.
Current rating: 9.1 out of 10
Contributing factors: Rooney Mara shows up and says “hey world, check me out.” in two scenes. A seriously spectacular creation montage.
Performance to savor: Jesse Eisenberg. A character on the verge of Aspbergers syndrome, his Zuckerberg is a perfect mixture of genius, resentment, and hurt.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The Social Network makes Hackers look like Anti-Trust.”
Damon on Enter the Void:
My old pal Jeremy Smith thought Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible was the best film of the decade, while I found it to be – much like Requiem for a Dream - excellently made, but ultimately too gimmicky in its narrative to be profound (to me). Enter the Void is much less schematic, and exceptionally messier, but the sheer filmmaking bravado in the movie is transcendent of what amounts to its actors’ limited skills. The acid trip of a young man who dies and is reborn, the film features some new-age thoughts on life and death, and is a perfect visualization of a drug trip. Bottom Line: even if the narrative is garbage (and I don’t think it is), Noe’s visual acumen is such that he creates one of the most watchable films of the year.
Current rating: 9.1 out of 10
Contributing factors: Whoever operated the stedicam. Whoever helped create the vagina-cam. The Blacklight sensibility.
Performance to savor: Paz de la Huerta. Though as an actress she’s mostly terrible, she’s decidedly the naked it-girl of the year (nit girl), and she’s got no problem running around without clothes. She’s also one of those weird strobe light honeys where some angles flatter her, and others… not so much, but that makes her fascinating to look at. Plus she gets naked a lot. I said that, right?
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Enter the Void of Paz de la Huerta’s acting and vagina.”
Damon on The Ghost Writer:
Roman Polanski is a great director, and when he’s got the material, he knows how to deliver. In what on the surface appears to be a condemnation of Tony Blair, Pierce Brosnan stars a vacuous prime minister who is being pursued by human rights activists while Ewan MacGregor plays his alcoholic ghost writer. A late stage replacement for the recently deceased initial ghost writer, MacGregor unpacks a mystery that may suggest the American government used the faux-Blair as a puppet. The craft on display here is immaculate, and Polanski knows pacing, so this a classic mystery, with a great punch line of an ending. When Polanski directs a film like this, it’s always a poison pen Black comedy, and few people can go blacker.
Current rating: 9.2 out of 10
Contributing factors: Alexandre Desplat’s elegant score creates a great mood. Eli Wallach can show up in anything and make it better; the same could be said of Tom Wilkinson. And the film has a great look by DP Padel Edelman.
Performance to savor: Olivia Williams. The femme fatale of the piece is both harder and more fragile than she looks.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The Ghost Writer should be extradited to the top of your Netflix cue immediately!”
Damon on True Grit:
The Coen Brothers have found their groove, and are churning out great films year after year. As I said on the site, what I love about them is how much they enjoy playing with genres, and also finding material that they sync up with and are able to make their own. A tale of revenge, True Grit works best as an adventure story, with Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie Ross looking for her father’s killer, and teaming with Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger LaBouef and Jeff Bridges’ Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn. Through both she learns a lot about the world ahead, and then faces up against her father’s killer Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Just a whip-crack film all around.
Current rating: 9.3 out of 10
Contributing factors: Roger Deakins brilliant photography never hurts, nor does Carter Burwell’s score. They are the Coen’s most reliable contributors.
Performance to savor: Josh Brolin. The film is based on the idea – as is often the case – where a character is spoken about, only to be revealed in the third act. Here, Brolin’s reveal and characterization are much like the film itself: much simpler, and much more potent than expected.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “True Grit is the best western of 2010. Wait, what?”
Damon on Black Swan:
Few filmmakers are working on the level of Darren Aronofsky, and here he mines the same obsession-based narratives that have been his stock and trade. Though I don’t think this reaches the profound heights of The Fountain, Black Swan is one of the great portraits of what an artist must put themselves through to create something transcendent. To make great art, one must be able to tap into other voices and people in your head, and the film makes that literal. And at the center is Natalie Portman, giving a career-best performance that pushes her harder both physically and mentally more than any role previous and shows that she can deliver, something years of Star Wars films called into question.
Current rating: 9.3 out of 10
Contributing factors: Mathew Libatique’s great lighting, hot Sapphic sex, Clint Mansell killing it for Aronofsky yet again, and Winona Ryder and Barbara Hershey playing the roles of the passed up. Vincent Cassel as the dude who gets to make out with Portman and Mila Kunis and then go home to Monica Belluci.
Performance to savor: Portman. This is a dividing line performance.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Natalie Portman is ready to destroy you now.”
Damon on Everyone Else:
There is a point for everyone in a long-term relationship – or at least past the honeymoon period – where you start to see the things that annoy you about your partner. And in Maren Ade’s Everyone Else the little verbal hiccups where you tell someone you love them and they can’t respond in kind are tiny deaths. It doesn’t mean the relationship is necessarily over – or even doomed – but the inability to communicate wants and needs, the inability to reciprocate when your partner needs reassurance are always traumatic. For Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger), they’re on vacation in the Mediterranean, but both do things that annoy the other, and suggest their harmonious relationship is due for a fight, or perhaps it just won’t work out. A film of tennis, the ball keeps going back and forth and though at times painful to watch (at one point one partner asks to have sex without protection and the other refuses), it’s a film about the accrual of the little moments and hesitations that make love so challenging. The film turns those moments into a brilliant exploration of how we make good things worse.
Current rating: 9.4 out of 10
Contributing factors: A familiarity with dysfunctional relationships and passive aggression.
Performance to savor: Both Minichmayr and Eidinger are excellent. To recommend one above the other would be to suggest that both aren’t great, and both aren’t at fault. Both can act like assholes, and both can play the passive-aggression game like nobody’s business.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “This ain’t no Air Supply song”
Damon on Greenberg:
If Greenberg has a fault, it’s that what Noah Baumbach and co-creator/carrot felater/ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh created is so obviously connected to the works of Bob Rafelson, with some John Cassavettes and a taste of Hal Ashby in there as well. They made a 70’s homage piece. But the one thing they changed (and way for the better) is the age range of the character. Ben Stiller’s Greenberg isn’t young at all, he’s graying, and the world has passed him by. It gives the film a more grounded and more pathetic truth. For Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, there was a level of self-imposed melodrama, for Greenberg the main character is staring at the fraying rope keeping him above water, and can see it is falling apart. The film captures someone who might have been something, but has never fully come down to see the world on the level he needs to to get by – even though he knows he’s damaged. I can’t forgive (or watch) Ben Stiller’s hackwork, but I’m glad to see he’s still got talent.
Current rating: 9.4 out of 10
Contributing factors: Greta Gerwig. I am in love with her for this movie, sans questions, and from the amazing oral sex scene to her drunken sing-a-long she did nothing but win me over. I want to see what this actress does next, except for No Strings Attached, which is what she’s doing next. Then again, she’s in the new Whit Stillman.
Performance to savor: I mentioned Gerwig above because if I have a favorite supporting performance of the year it’s Rhys Ifans. Here is an actor who knows how to do everything by keeping everything on the inside. It’s a performance of quiet, helpful agony.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The year’s best film about an asshole and doormat (copyright Mike D’Angelo)”
Damon on Dogtooth:
I went into this film blind and I recommend that approach, but if I am to justify the film’s placement it would help to say why. Giorgos Lanthimos’s 2009 film Dogtooth creates a world where a father (Christos Stergioglou) raises his three children with his wife (Michele Valley) and pretends the rest of the world is suffering some sort of post-apocalyptic struggle. He brings in Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) to service his son (Hristos Passalis) and his sexual needs, but otherwise the outside world is unknown to them (they are told a phone is a salt shaker, and many other false definitions). All of the children initially obey without question and fear the outside world, but when Christina grows bored with her lover’s adherence to his own pleasures, she tempts the older daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) with outside gifts for oral sex. Sexually explicit (but all plot driven), this is the version of The Village M. Night Shyamalan should have made. You don’t need to know Plato’s cave metaphor to know where this is going, but the idea of people in isolation told untruths is a potent metaphor whatever you want to apply it to (say, Fox News). But this is a film that benefits as much from what is shown as from what is not said. It’s a film that lets you fill in the blanks, but constantly lulls you in, and gets you involved by using sex as a weapon against the audience (that might be turned on by it at first). And ultimately the film works as a metaphor suggesting that the Garden of Eden was bullshit. That’s pretty great.
Current rating: 9.4 out of 10
Contributing factors: Sheer surprise and sexual frankness.
Performance to savor: Anna Kalaitzidou. The bored outsider who unwittingly changes how the children see the world (if only momentarily), she gets the most active role, the one who is willing to change things if only because she’s horny.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The family film of the decade”
Damon on Inception:
“It was all a dream; I used to read Word Up Magazine…” Christopher Nolan is great at making puzzle boxes, and this is one box that is endlessly fun to get into. I’ve seen the film four times now, and it never fails to enthrall and raise interesting questions. But none of that would be interesting if Nolan hadn’t also assembled a crack team of actors and technicians to assemble his dream vision of a narrative that – from all evidence – may have never actually happened on any level. Nolan is firing on all cylinders here, is able to intercut four levels of Dreaming and still be coherent, stage a fight sequence that’s wholly its own, and still manage to make you think about everything you just saw, and reconstruct it in your head. And remember: with the last shot it’s not a question of whether it falls down or not, it’s the question Nolan raises by showing it.
Current rating: 9.4 out of 10
Contributing factors: Hans Zimmer’s score, which is epic and obviously not Zimmer on autopilot. Jeffery Kurland’s costume design – everyone in this movie looks like a male model. And the film’s effects team – there are things here I ain’t never seen before.
Performance to savor: So many. But I’m going to give the edge to Tom Hardy, who makes his exposition crackle, and manages to be treat almost everything he encounters with an arched eyebrow. Hardy’s both uber-cool and campy in the film.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “BRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRMASTERPIECE.”
Damon on Mother:
The greatest thing about Bong Joon-Ho is that he understands genre and formula and knows how to ass-fuck them. Mother is partly a procedural about a retarded man (Bin Won) accused of murder whose mother (Hye-Ja Kim) rallies to find the real killer. But that description is just the framework, as there’s a lot of comedy, pathos, excitement and thrills. The closest parallel to Bong is Quentin Tarantino in terms of Hollywood, because both are happy to take side-streets and footpaths if they know it’s going to add to the story. And though the film works as a murder mystery, the joy of watching it is never knowing exactly where it’s going to go next – even if Bong Joon-Ho, like Robert Zemeckis in his prime, knows how to set things up and pay them off. Mother is one of the rare films that leave you guessing where and what will happen next, but in such a way that every moment you know you’re going to get something great.
Current rating: 9.5 out of 10
Contributing factors: Byeong-woo Lee. Great score.
Performance to savor: Hard to say it isn’t Hye-Ja Kim. A slightly older woman, this is the sort of role that Hollywood has no interest in making, and yet this proves they’re wrong.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Come for the murder and possible rape, stay for the comedy.”
Damon on Exit Through the Gift Shop:
Few films work even if you’re in contempt of its makers, but such is the power of Banksy’s maybe-documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film tells the story of one Thierry Guetta, who ends up in the entourages of some of the most famous graffiti artists of the 21st century, and then decides to become an artist himself. The subject of the film is outsider art – the work of graffiti artists – who are now becoming part of the establishment by choice (Shepherd Fairey – a subject of the film –did Obama’s Hope poster) or by art gallery sales or branding. Regardless of how much of the documentary you believe (and the film is the offspring – illegitimate or otherwise – of F for Fake), it is a searing portrait of this world, and whatever level you chose to embrace the film’s contempt for its output, the truth of Guetta’s success is undeniable. As someone who went through the 80’s and 90’s where authenticity was crucial to artistic success to the current generation where the most promising indie artists are happy/have little choice but to sell their art to commercials, few films have captured modern authenticity as perfectly. This is the film of 2010; this is the film that sums up where we are pop culturally.
Current rating: 9.7 out of 10
Contributing factors: Awareness of Graffiti, and artists like Neckface, etc. A fascination and contempt for the establishment.
Performance to savor: Well, it is a documentary, but Shepherd Fairey. He created Obey and Andre the Giant has a Posse, and is the key trigger that this may not entirely be on the level. He’s also one of the ground zero elements for internet memes (Kilroy deserves mention too).
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “I believe that Exit Through the Gift Shop said something.”
Damon on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World:
I hate to tie, but I have two favorites of the year. There are few filmmakers that have as much on the ball as Edgar Wright. Just think, even of the great comedies of the last ten to twenty years, how many besides the work of Wright’s can be claimed to be well directed? Judd Apatow – a genius, inarguably – jokes on his commentary for Knocked Up that in one of the shots that moves the camera he was almost dragged kicking and screaming to allow such a thing. Point and shoot is too often the name of the game, because many comedies rely on performers and concept. But though Wright showed heart with his previous films, one could (I wouldn’t) argue that they were riffs on genres. With Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Wright (working from the comic book by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and adapting the script with Michael Bacall) no longer relies on a single genre, and takes all his influences, and turns them into something we’ve never seen before. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a narcissistic Bass player and broke-ass twenty-two year old who tries to get over his last big break up by dating the safe high school girl Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) until he meets the woman of his Dreams, literally, in Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Unfortunately, she has some pretty violent baggage in the form of seven evil exes that plan on fighting and killing Pilgrim. Look, I haven’t even started talking about how funny the film is, how great the cast is, or the graphics and ingenuity involved. Or even how Pilgrim sees his life as a video game, which helps explain the central conceit of the film. The bottom line is this is next level shit, and the heart on display about chasing after the things you love, but it’s also about trying to understand yourself and your partner as “damaged goods” (as the film says “we all have our baggage”) enough to be able to start again. Ingenious and profound, not so shabby.
Current rating: 9.9 out of 10
Contributing factors: There’s a Warriors cue that sends me. There’s a couple of great cameos (“milk and eggs, bitch!”), the cinematography by Bill Pope, the music by Metric (easily the most electric cinematic moment of 2010 is when Envy Adams/Brie Larson sings “Black Sheep”), the videogame-based sound effects, “you made me swallow my gum.” The supporting cast. Holy greatness.
Performance to savor: All. How do I talk about Kieran Culkin and ignore the greatness of Ellen Wong? How do I talk about how awesome Chris Evans is without acknowledging Brandon Routh? Johnny Simmons without Alison Pill or Mark Webber? Fuck me, I love Brie Larson, Mae Whitman, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Jason Schwartman. But Michael Cera? That dude killed it, and the people who hate on him are wrong.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Scott Pilgrim made me swallow my gum (in a good way).”
Damon on Never Let Me Go:
Often science fiction uses the conceit of the predetermined existence as fodder for action. We’ve seen Logan’s Run (which we may yet see again) and The Island offer characters who are told they are going to die, who then rebel and extend their mortal coil. But life is not like that, and everyone (save Woody Allen) is born with an unknown but palpable clock. For the three main characters of Never Let Me Go (played brilliantly by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield), that clock is an egg timer as their existence is predetermined and they are essentially free-range chickens. Their travails in the film are petty- they concern themselves with relationship drama, and look for a way out of their situation. They hope that true love or artistic endeavors will lead to salvation. For Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel (with the screenplay by Alex Garland), it’s a chance to show people facing mortality and a wasted life not in old age, but in their twenties. Like Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day, there are far too many people who saw this as cold and removed – perhaps too British – but as an existential work, it uses a science fictional conceit to examine how so much of life is transitive and filled with minor tragedies that seem major at the time, while also making a pointed suggesting that one should live fully whilst living. I walked out of the film shaken and humbled by a great work of art, and one of my companions asked “well, why didn’t they try harder to get away?” To ask that question is to not understand what was accomplished here, which is a profound look at how we too often ignore our own mortality until it’s too late to go after what we want. Never Let Me Go is as close to a perfect movie as 2010 produced.
Current rating: 9.9 out of 10
Contributing factors: Romanek – after years of music videos – knows his way around a camera, but he chooses a muted tone, and his work is complimented by DP Adam Kimmel and production designer Mark Digby. Charlotte Rampling and Sally Hawkins are excellent in their brief turns, while the score by Rachel Portman is a perfect meditative commentary on the narrative.
Performance to savor: Keira Knightley. Though she’s been Oscar nominated, she’s both British and very attractive, which makes it easy to discount her work en masse (especially after the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). But as the bitchy pretty girl who steals Mulligan’s man with easy sexuality, her frailty and regret is one of the most haunting and powerful aspects of the film.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “A masterpiece.”