Film > Screens
Top tens of the year
Current film critics pick their favorite movies of 2010
The Current’s critics have spoken: here you will find our picks for best films of 2010, many of which took forever to be shown in San Antonio, if they were shown at all. A message to the studios: Could you please stop treating SA like dirt? We’re one of the nation’s top 10 cities, dammit! We demand more screenings, and sooner. Like, tomorrow.
STEVEN G. KELLMAN
1. A Film Unfinished — Director Yael Hersonski took raw footage of the Warsaw Ghetto shot by the Nazi authorities for reasons unknown and “finished” it with interviews with functionaries and survivors viewing the footage. The result is a film about how history and identity get constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed.
2. Black Swan — A career-defining performance by Natalie Portman. The movie thrusts the viewer inside the workings of a high-powered New York dance company and the anxious mind of its prima ballerina.
3. The Secret in Their Eyes — A former prosecutor refuses to forget a judicial cover-up committed in the run-up to Argentina’s Dirty War. Under the adroit direction of Juan José Campanella, this Academy Award foreign film winner is both a taut thriller and a plangent meditation on crime and punishment, memory, and love.
4. The Social Network — David Fincher may not have been entirely accurate in recounting the rise of Mark Zuckerberg as the gawky, geeky emperor of Facebook, but as an audit of manners and mores in the silicon era, the movie is both enthralling and appalling.
5. Fair Game — Not since Fahrenheit 9/11 has a film about perfidy in high places aroused in me the same combination of anger and grief. A vivid reminder of how powerful figures in the Bush/Cheney regime got away with murder.
6. The White Ribbon — The strange and sadistic acts perpetrated, it seems, by schoolchildren in a German village during the months preceding World War I, appear to presage the barbarity into which European civilization would disintegrate. But director Michael Haneke (Caché) refuses to soothe a troubled viewer with facile explanations.
7. The American — Despite its Italian setting, The American is a classic Western directed by Anton Corbijn with admirable economy. In a role that might have been played by a younger Clint Eastwood, George Clooney provides the pretext for a nuanced study in character.
8. Winter’s Bone — A tenacious 17-year-old girl’s attempt to track down her ne’er-do-well father and save their house from foreclosure leads to a journey of discovery through the Ozark underworld. Debra Granik’s independent film makes up in grit for what it lacks in glamour.
9. Restrepo — Barely on the radar during the last election campaigns, Afghanistan never leaves the sights of the rifles and cameras in Restrepo, named for an outpost that was dubbed for a fallen soldier. Documentary directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger embed the viewers for a year with the Second Platoon as it engages the Taliban in a treacherous valley.
10. Lebanon — Like Beaufort and Waltz with Bashir, the movie draws on the gruesome experience of war between Israel and its northern neighbor. Director Samuel Maoz confines our view to what four panicky young soldiers observe from the inside of their tank as it cruises into combat.
Allow me to begin with a disclaimer: I’ve missed some stuff. And I don’t just mean those end-of-the-year, Oscar-baiting floozies including The King’s Speech, True Grit, Blue Valentine, Rabbit Hole, and The Fighter. (Actually I could have seen The Fighter, but I won’t, because I’m bored to death with Christian Bale. Suggest you switch it up with a romantic comedy or something, Batman.) I have it on very good authority that other 2010 offerings, whose release dates were sprinkled throughout the year, were also dandy, such as: Please Give, Enter the Void, Tiny Furniture, Micmacs, White Material, and all those Swedish movies about that girl with the tattoo who played with fire and then stepped in a hornet’s nest. I’ll get around to them.
On to what I did have the pleasure of viewing. There was much to love, if not wholly, then certainly in part. And so, in no particular order (except for the first one):
Black Swan — For being the very best movie I saw this year, and for inspiring endless possible readings. The most compelling use of close-ups I’ve seen since The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). If Darren Aronofsky and Richard Kelly aren’t the next generation of the Davids (Lynch and Cronenberg), I will eat my hat.
Greenberg — For Greta Gerwig’s totally buyable performance as a 20-something who thinks so little of herself she puts up with Ben Stiller’s trite nonsense, and her unconventional delivery of screenwriter Noah Baumbach’s words, which already sound like the uncomposed ramblings of a neurotic.
The Kids Are All Right — For daring to portray a family with two mommies as happy and healthy as any other, for Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of a creep sperm donor, and Julianne Moore’s hippy-dippy-lezzie mama who gets caught watching guy-on-guy porn and then attempts to explain the mysteries of arousal to her children.
Splice — For seeing the line and not giving a damn. It’s sci-fi failing gloriously.
The Social Network — For the first 10 minutes of dialogue (which allegedly took 99 takes to get right), for some of the best one-liners of the year, and for Jesse Eisenberg’s dead eyes.
I Am Love — For beauty, melodrama, and SWINTON.
Daybreakers — For managing to tell an often-frightening vampire story, yet set in a future where the bloodsuckers dangerously outnumber their food source. Ethan Hawke is likeable again as a chain-smoking vampire hematologist, and Willem Dafoe is still as likeable (and nutzo) as ever.
Inception — For starting passionate debates, and for the gorgeous sequence in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt defies gravity. I found it artfully hollow, but hey, if a movie’s worth a yelling match, it’s probably worth seeing.
Winter’s Bone — In a perfect world, Jennifer Lawrence would give Natalie Portman a run for her money at the Oscars. If the sets and costumes look authentic, it’s because they are.
1. The Social Network — David Fincher’s internet epic is an incisively written and impressively controlled biopic where captivating legal drama meets new-media ambition. Jesse Eisenberg exudes a scary confidence and insensitivity in this relentless character study. It’s There Will Be Blood for the tech generation.
2. The King’s Speech — Directed by Tom Hooper, this little-known true story of King George VI and his battle with a debilitating speech impediment is charming, humorous, and engaging throughout. As the ineloquent king, Colin Firth is simply mesmerizing.
3. Toy Story 3 — From moments of pure delight to one of the most heartbreaking goodbyes in recent movie memory, the trilogy wraps up in a masterful way and once again proves Pixar is on a level all its own.
4. True Grit — Without comparing the film to John Wayne’s original of 1969, the Coen’s version stands on its own with noteworthy performances by Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.
5. 127 Hours — Based on the true story of adventurer Aron Ralston, who cheats death in a canyon by amputating his own arm to free himself from a boulder. James Franco is compelling through an emotionally charged performance and shows what an actor can do with an intense screenplay and so little physical room to operate.
6. Winter’s Bone — Beautifully shot across the vast, bleak landscapes of the Missouri Ozarks, director/writer Debra Granik’s minimalistic tale of strength and determination is a deeply moving experience, propelled by the amazing performances of Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes.
7. The Kids Are All Right — Filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko gives so much depth and realism to this modern-day-family dramedy, you can feel the love pouring out of her for each one of these unconventionally authentic characters.
8. Black Swan — Natalie Portman has never been better than in this stunning and unnerving film that examines destructive ambition and what someone will sacrifice to reach perfection.
9. Lebanon — This Israeli film is an aesthetic and poetic combat piece that places us in the confines of the most nightmarish of scenarios.
10. Carlos — As Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (aka Carlos), Edgar Ramírez epitomizes fearlessness and sophistication all while ruling with an iron fist and shedding innocent blood for his political cause.
1. Carlos — An excellent primer on the rise of terrorism and the fall of a man who sold the world.
2. The Social Network — The almost unbelievable true story about the founders of Facebook. The hyperkinetic dialog and Trevor Reznor’s score make it worth watching more than once.
3. Contracorriente (Undertow) — Set in a small fishing village in Peru, the film centers around a fisherman, his wife, and a dead gay artist who taunts and instructs his fisherman lover. A must-see film, it echoes Doña Flor and her Two Husbands and Visconti’s La Terra Trema.
4. Restrepo — Writer and journalist Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm) and cinematographer Tim Hetherington embed themselves with a platoon of the 173rd Airborne in Afghanistan. As revealing as it is devastating, Restrepo delves into the bonds war creates before, during, and in the aftermath of one brigade’s deployment.
5. The Kids Are All Right — Hilarity, truth, and social commentary with a superb ensemble cast. Lisa Cholodenko’s script and direction are spot-on.
6. A Prophet — The anti-Scarface. Equal parts prison drama, gangster thriller, film noir, and a subtle critique of the socio-political reality in France.
7. The Town — A bank robbery, a hostage, and a finale in Fenway Park. Ben Affleck’s thrilling take on Boston’s Charlestown area harkens to the mean streets of early Scorsese.
8. Ghost Writer — Roman Polanski’s masterful film of political and sexual intrigue. Its red herrings and labyrinthine twists are worthy of Hitchcock.
9. Boxing Gym — Frederick Wiseman’s documentary set in Austin’s Lord’s boxing gym captures the bond that unites young boxers from all walks of life in the sweet science. The rhythms and sounds of the gym, the movement of arms and legs, form a symphony of force and grace.
10. The Fighter — The story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half-brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale, who steals the movie). If Ward’s fights with Arturo Gatti had been its main focus, it might have been a top-rank contender.
1. Machete — Director Robert Rodríguez doesn't just deliver what he promised with his Grindhouse trailer, he makes that trailer 100 minutes long: three clean decapitations right when you find your seat, and the movie never slows down from there.
2. Toy Story 3 — Even Ice Age finally fell down with its third installment, but not Toy Story. This one’s something special: it puts Buzz and Woody and Andy up in that pantheon of trilogies.
3. Hot Tub Time Machine — With a premise like the one built into the title, how could this movie not be wonderful? Past all the jokes, though, it’s a study of loyalty and friendship, with John Cusack as our guide.
4. How to Train Your Dragon — Probably the best animated feature since … Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? Madagascar Escape 2 Africa? Who knew Vikings and dragons would be such a natural fit.
5. The Social Network — The controversy sold it, but it’s the tensions, reversals, and developments that drove it and made us forget about the controversy. Fincher doesn’t waste a single frame, either.
6. Inception — The layers of reality here would make The Matrix blush, yet the nested stories never quite let us forget that this is all swirling around one grief-driven guy. Director Christopher Nolan shames Hollywood again.
7. Black Swan — You don’t need to know or care about ballet to fall for this movie. Sure, the trailer screams ”horror,” but this is that more intimate kind of terror you see in the mirror: the kind you can't run from.
8. Let Me In — The least anticipated Americanization, sure, mostly because the Swedish original was already a perfect adaptation of the novel. But Let Me In pulls it off and doesn’t defang any vampires along the way.
9. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — A romantic comedy for the videogame set. Your face will hurt when you're done with this one.
10. True Grit — Jeff Bridges is Rooster Cogburn. The Dude owns the Duke. And the Coen Brothers now own True Grit.•
1. Toy Story 3 — It’s time to finally acknowledge that animation is a medium, not a genre, and stories rendered in CGI are not inherently less valuable than those captured on film. Pixar has been making movies worthy of a Best Picture designation for at least the past 10 years, and this is their crowning achievement. Storytelling at its finest.
2. The Secret in Their Eyes — Flawlessly written and acted, laugh-aloud funny and hold-your-breath suspenseful, you simply couldn't ask for more than this movie delivers. One of the best I’ve ever seen.
3. Inception — Some criticized Chris Nolan’s dreamscape as too cerebral, arguing that he made no effort to make you care about the characters. I completely disagree. The relationships between husband and wife and father and son resonated with truth, elevating this movie from a mere mind-bending thriller to a truly great film with universal themes.
4. Black Swan — Director Darren Aronofsky at the height of his powers. Natalie Portman commands the screen with star power heretofore only glimpsed. Horror may never have looked so alluring.
5. The American — As its title and vintage poster design indicate, this is a throw-back to the spare, tightly-wound sensibility of films of its ilk from the ’60s and ’70s. George Clooney plays well against type, bringing nuance and maturity to the role of a hired killer who takes one last job.
6. Shutter Island — Another example of Martin Scorsese's master craftsmanship. Using the cinematic grammar of noir mysteries, he keeps us off-balance concerning what kind of movie we're watching.
7. Hubble 3D — This made-for-IMAX documentary is one of this year’s three stellar performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, who narrates this breathtaking journey to the farthest reaches of the known universe. The movie should create a sense of pride in an American and a sense of wonder in any Earthling.
8. The Social Network — Sure, it may have taken liberties with the truth, but that's almost what the movie is about — the way that truth is a matter of perspective. In portraying (and dramatizing) the origin of Facebook, David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin caught a wave that is still rising, and their film moves with the same propulsive force.
9. Never Let Me Go — The less you know about this movie going into it the better, as it unfolds with the same unsettling grace of the Kazuo Ishiguro book upon which it’s based. This film makes an interesting compare-and-contrast to Harry Potter: both follow a trio of young people from an mysterious British boarding school as they make their way out into a world they don't fully belong to. Neither world is real, but the relationships absolutely are.
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One — After seeing the first half of Harry Potter's final film chapter, it is my belief that this series will become more popular, beloved, and highly regarded than Star Wars. (And not just because George Lucas isn't doing his legacy any favors.)•