I don’t usually do scores or ranked lists on my blog entries. I find
it to be way too arbitrary for my tastes and I don’t like the idea of
complex opinions boiled down to simple numbers. However, this is the
time of year when amateur and professional critics start putting
together their lists of the year’s greatest and/or worst entertainment
offerings, so I may as well follow suit and give it a try.

I’ll be presenting three ranked lists of films released in 2010.
First up are the films that made me think, made me teary and made me sit
in awe at the filmmaking skill on display. These are the kinds of films
that Academy voters go ape for, though a few of my choices have gained
depressingly little awards press at present.

If 2010 is going to have any films that qualify as cinematic
classics, then I submit that these are the movies most worthy of
consideration (among those I’ve seen, anyway). Let’s get started.

Mentions: The Complete Metropolis
and The Secret of

Metropolis is a classic by any standard and the newly extended
version is a great improvement. Likewise, The Secret of Kells is
an exemplary kids’ film with some of the most eye-popping animation
ever committed to celluloid. However, though both of these films saw
American releases in 2010, Metropolis itself debuted in 1927 and Kells
first premiered overseas last year. Therefore, I don’t consider them
eligible for this list.

#10. Toy Story 3

This was a wonderful capstone to Pixar’s trilogy. The opening
sequence alone was a marvelous work of top-notch creativity and
animation. The themes of change and mortality were very
well-expressed, the ending was perfectly tearjerking and the climax
was genuinely scary. Sure, the threat was undercut by the knowledge
that Disney would never let Woody and Buzz die horrible fiery deaths
onscreen, but still.

This was a well-written, thoughtful and heartfelt sendoff to Andy’s
toys. It was also very humorous, particularly in how it gave
punchlines to jokes that had gone running since the first movie.
Disney and Pixar delivered three movies that I hold very dear, though I
hope they continue having the sense to leave the franchise alone.

#9. Get Low

I’ve got three reasons for why this one makes the list: Robert
Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek. Murray is wonderfully droll as the
honest scumbag in charge of a funeral home and Spacek is simply
radiant as our main character’s old flame. Nevertheless, this is
Duvall’s movie, and he carries it elegantly. With nothing more than raw
emotion, Duvall makes every bit of his character’s age and emotional
baggage plain to see.

Best of all, these three performances are wrapped around a narrative
that serves as a thoughtful and poignant contemplation of death. The
movie addresses mortality with staggering width and depth, which I
personally find highly laudable.

#8. The King’s

Here is a cast loaded with acting talents, every one of whom gives a
sterling performance. The only one miscast is Timothy Spall, but he’s
clearly trying so hard and the film shows so little of him that I can’t
hold it against the movie too much. We’ve still got Helena Bonham
Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi, after all.

But foremost among the cast are Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, both
of whom are on fire here. Their teamwork in this movie is what makes it
funny, emotional and amazing to watch. They make the gradual friendship
of their characters believable and sympathetic in a way that simply must
be seen to be believed.

#7. Shutter

Leo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams were
all solid in this movie — especially DiCaprio — but everything that
makes this movie great is entirely Martin Scorsese. Though the score
often feels like it should be in a completely different movie, the sound
design is otherwise crackerjack. The imagery here is unparalleled and
the editing makes for a very well-paced film. Indeed, the editing does a
lot to make the various hallucinations and flashbacks even more
dazzling. Best of all, the story is presented in such a way that
rewards viewers who pay attention, don’t watch passively and come back
for another go-round. It’s hardly an uplifting film, but the execution
of this psychological thriller was still amazing.

#6 (tie). Winter’s
/ True Grit

Okay, maybe I should rate True Grit a little higher (call it
#5.5, I guess), but these are both such amazing films that are great for
such similar reasons that I can’t help but put them together.

Both are anchored by tough, fearless and Oscar-worthy performances
from newly-discovered teen starlets. Both have wonderful actors in solid
supporting roles (John Hawkes/Garret Dillahunt and Jeff Bridges/Matt
Damon, respectively). Both use staggering cinematography to depict
hostile settings far removed from anything we’d call civilization. Both
have amazing screenplays with suspenseful plotlines and masterful

It pleases me greatly to hear that Jennifer Lawrence and Hailee
Steinfield are getting Oscar buzz for their respective roles and I hope
that this year marks the start of long and successful careers for both
of them. In the meantime, we have these two great movies that deserve to
be honored in their own right.

#5. Inception
(second take)

This was a hard one for me to place. On the one hand, I’m aggravated
by the fact that this movie has so many plot holes that it tries to
explain away with the ambiguous premise that it’s all a dream. That’s a
pretty lame excuse, in my opinion. On the other hand, I personally found
it very difficult to notice these storytelling deficiencies until after
the movie was done.

This film is superbly crafted without a doubt. The premise is
wonderfully creative and executed with staggering effects. The rotating
hallway scenes alone are Oscar gold. It also helps that the film is
wonderfully cast with actors who are giving their all, particularly
DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy.

It’s a truly fun and unique movie made by a man who’s earned his
place as one of WB’s most prominent directors currently working. It
integrated top-notch visual effects with story like precious few other
movies I’ve ever seen. That’s more than enough to put this film on the
list, in spite of its imperfections.

#4. 127 Hours

Easily the greatest thing about this movie is how superbly it puts us
inside the head of our protagonist. The tight editing, the brilliant
camera work, the inspired sound design and the Oscar-worthy performance
by Oscar host James Franco are all expertly coordinated by that
extraordinary director, Danny Boyle, with the singular intention of
making the audience feel Ralston’s pain. And man, does it work.

Boyle shows us exactly how any liquid would look to a man dying of
dehydration. He shows us the pain Ralston went through as he amputated
his own arm. He leads us to share Ralston’s descent into desperation and
madness. And paradoxically, every second of it was as grueling as it
was captivating.

#3. The Social

There will be hell to pay in Hollywood if this film doesn’t get the
Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Aaron Sorkin filled this movie with
whip-smart dialogue and an ingenious way to depict a compelling legal
drama in a way that also provided narration. This is a very wordy movie,
but the text and its themes of success and overconfidence in the face
of rejection are delivered by a crew of stellar actors, every one
perfectly cast and firing on all cylinders.

Meanwhile, David Fincher proves once again that he is incapable of
making a film that doesn’t look good. Fincher and his crew set up every
shot superbly and expertly edited the film through all of its speeches.
Add in a surprisingly good score from Trent Reznor and sound design that
makes dialogue clearly audible in a thumping club and you’ve got a film
that succeeds on every level.

#2. Black Swan

A tale of suffering for art’s sake, meticulous in how it depicts
every moment of pain and madness. The dance scenes are wonderfully shot
and choreographed, often done in a single take. The color scheme and set
design are harshly simplistic in a way that highlights the central Swan
Queen/Black Swan conflict. Every actor in the cast turns in a
staggering performance; Natalie Portman in particular takes her acting
talent to new heights with this one. What’s more, this film had dream
sequences that were more horrifying and brain-teasingly ambiguous than
any other movie this year, which is quite an accomplishment against Inception
and Shutter Island.

This is a great film that’s absolutely worthy of all the awards buzz
it’s been getting… yet I still wouldn’t quite call it the best of the

#1. Never Let
Me Go

This is, in every possible way, a beautiful film. Every shot is
gorgeous. The music is wonderful. The cast is led by three adult actors
and three child actors, all of whom are phenomenal. The script has a
wide variety of very intimate themes and commentaries on the human
condition, all of which are interconnected with great care and expressed
in poignant ways. Even the film’s handling of exposition is inventive
and compelling to watch, presenting huge chunks of we know about this
film’s world either as ambiguous and hope-filled hearsay or as
tearjerking calls to reality.

This is a coming-of-age tale that’s heartbreaking and life-affirming
in equal measure. Call it manipulative, but I still found this film to
be more deeply moving than any other this year, so much so that it’s why
I’m calling Never Let Me Go the year’s best. Pity it isn’t
getting any awards buzz, though. Seriously, what gives?

For an alternative take on the year’s best, check out my sister blog
at Smart
in Name Only