One of the most bold and original films of the year just happened to be one of the biggest hits. Inception is a huge film on every level yet takes risks on a narrative level that most films wouldn’t dream of. What keeps me coming back to Inception isn’t the great set pieces or the excitement, but the many different ways there are to look at the movie and deconstruct it. Taken at face value, the film works as a complex heist story that navigates different layers of the subconscious as well as deals with deep feelings of loss and pain. If you want to dig deeper, it also with make you really examine what is real and what is a dream with no clear explanation. The theories out there are complex and well argued as to what the movie is saying, but regardless of what you thought, you can’t deny that it made you think.
On the surface, Biutiful is a dark and depressing film. It centers on a man played by Javier Bardem who is dying of a terminal illness. With the time that he has left, he tries to make the best of the difficult world he lives in, filled with corruption and make sure his children will be okay once he’s gone. There really is a beauty to this film and how it tells the story though. It is filled with hope underneath the surface and Bardem gives the best performance of his career so far. It’s an incredible film and one that has stuck with me for months since I saw it. Haunting and beautiful.
8. WINTER’S BONE
The indie darling of 2010 lived up to the hype. While the lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence got much of the accolades for her brave and wonderful performance; I think that John Hawkes steals every bit of the film he is in as the uncle. This is a subtle film that puts you firmly into a very specific time and place and never takes a false step. Director Debra Granik does a wonderful job capturing this world and its inhabitants with subtlety and grace.
7. THE AMERICAN
The American is not only one of the very best films of the year; it is also one of the worst marketed films of the year as well. The studio decided to sell it as a “Bourne” style action suspense thriller, when it is actually much more slow paced, thoughtful and precise and should be compared to films by masters like Melville and Dassin. Every frame is brilliantly composed and constructed, making it a pure pleasure to watch. George Clooney strips away the charm and charisma that has made him a movie star and delivers one of the best performances of his career. The American is a fantastic film and is a call back to a style of cinema that has been seemingly lost, requiring some form of patience from the audience, while rewarding that patience along the way.
6. ENTER THE VOID
Without a doubt, this is the most bold and daring film of the year. Many people will be offended and turned off by what they see, but no one can argue that Gasper Noe is absolutely an original visionary. The entire film is shown through the eyes (literally) of the lead character and he goes on quite a ride. There are many graphic scenes in the film, but the overall experience is like nothing I’ve had in the cinema. Noe is at the top of his game and while I prefer his previous film (the controversial Irreversible) I think Enter the Void is incredible.
5. ANOTHER YEAR
I’ve always been hit or miss with Mike Leigh despite all the love he’s gotten over the year. Another Year is my favorite of his films and he creates (with the help of Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) one of the best on screen relationships I’ve ever seen. This is a movie about people, not plot, but it is always fascinating, entertaining, heart breaking and captivating a it covers four seasons with these wonderfully realized people. Lesley Manville is fantastic as the friend of the family that can’t quite seem to pull herself together and get on track with her life. This is a truly wonderful film.
4. BLUE VALENTINE
I first saw Blue Valentine at Sundance and it was my favorite film of the festival. It has since been slightly recut and has only gotten better. It focuses on the relationship of Dean and Cindy, played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in two of the best performance of the year. Crosscutting between the beginning of a relationship and the disintegration of one, this is a heartbreaking film, but totally worth the ride.
3. BLACK SWAN
I am a huge fan of Darren Aronofski and have loved all of his movies. They all have a very specific vision that is unmistakable. He makes his movies and I never see compromise in them. Black Swan is no different. There is no question of the similarities to the masterpiece The Red Shoes, but Black Swan takes a similar approach in a totally different direction. It is a dark, sexualized tragic horror film set in the world of ballet. The visuals of the film and the photography are fantastic, but the most striking element is the high level of tension that Aronofsky maintains. It’s a disturbing and beautiful film that grabs a hold and never lets go.
2. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
What more can be said of The Social Network? It is one of the greatest living writers, teaming with one of the greatest living directors and the result lives up to both. It’s a brilliant script by Sorkin that is complimented by a relatively restrained Fincher behind the camera and a whole film full of great performances. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.
1. A PROPHET
When Malik is sent to a French prison, we don’t know the crime, but we do know that he is weak and way over his head. Over the next few years, we see him grow, develop and turn into a criminal beyond anything he could have been on the outside. This is a brilliant film that can be compared to crime dramas like City of God, The Godfather and Goodfellas, but is totally unique. I could not recommend this film more highly.
Here are my 11-21 (in order) if you're curious:
TOY STORY 3
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
THE KING'S SPEECH