We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
A troubled ballerina, some toys, a punk/prophet/genius, a man who didn't want to be king, a couple that didn't want to face the end, and more. The year of 2010 may not have been a standout for film itself, but it was certainly a year that presented some movies bound to be remembered well beyond the award season prime that some of them have been bestowed. In the tradition of attempting to assess the best of an entire year of film, I've compiled my own "Top 7 of 2010" list, which correlates a film's placement pretty closely to the scores I originally gave them. My one regret, looking back on however I viewed the movies of 2010, is that I did not give Inception a "10."
Now, onto the list ...
7. Black Swan
Recap: A hard-working ballerina (Natalie Portman) suffers from mental and physical problems when she tries to play both the white swan and black swan in a presentation of Tchaikovksy’s “Swan Lake.” This psychological thriller is directed by Darren Aronofsky, and features Natalie Portman's performance of her lifetime.
Reason: Black Swan is one beautiful, strange bird. Brought to life by a truly excellent performance from Natalie Portman and a stunning realization by director Darren Aronofsky, the film is a compelling trip into guilt and paranoia that comes with its own kind of darkness. However obvious the connection between the story and it’s source material may be (the plot is never meant to be surprising itself), the film grabs the audience’s attention with its freakishness, which is put to the audience without much guidance. Strange things happen to Nina the closer she gets to her opening night performance, and the head-scratching continues to pile on. The film ends with a tremendous finale, one that indicates classical talent in all of the film’s aesthetic areas. Aronofsky and Portman are at the top of their ability. Bravo!
6. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Recap: Boy (Michael Cera) plays bass. Girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) plays hard to get. Boy gets girl. Boy must “defeat” all seven of Girl’s evil exes. “And … FIGHT!” Directed by Edgar Wright, who has Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead also on his high scores.
Reason: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World actualizes the fun fantasy of video games, by blending the logic of the video game universe with that of reality’s more simple, and arguably much more boring existence. With Scott Pilgrim, life is a video game with 1-Ups, bonus points, hit combos, and even the opportunity to destroy our girlfriend’s evil exes. In more ways than one, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a dream come true.
A big gulp of summer-slurpee sugary awesomeness, the film possess a monstrous imagination that grows bigger and bigger as the story’s events progress to even more epic heights. It is a movie that doesn’t trap itself with video game aesthetics, but it instead uses that style for many creative advantages, making for a fresh experience that is funny, warming, and more internet-message-board simply, “f**king cool.”
The romantics of the arcade have finally been given their fuzz bass-driven love song to their certain way of looking at the world. With Scott Pilgrim being the victor against mediocre boyfriends/movie experiences, he rings true something that has been echoing since the age of Revenge of the Nerds – the geek has indeed inherited the Earth.
5. Blue Valentine
Recap: A young blue-collar couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) spend a night in a sleazy motel in a final attempt to save their marriage. Awarded numerous nominations, Michelle Williams is up for "Best Actress" this year for her work in the film.
Reason: The most haunting aspect of Blue Valentine is its honesty. Like other commendable movies about two humans trying to create one love, the film strikes into the audience with its tangibility, as portrayed by murky performances from the powerful Gosling and Williams. It’s the type of movie you don’t want to take a date to, because you’ll see so much of yourself in the film that your own Dean+Cindy-like deep discussion will be almost inevitable. At the same time, Blue Valentine is not a movie that can avoid discussion. It doesn’t leave your heart or mind for a while, especially if it takes residence within one’s own memories. Literally, Blue Valentine is so good that it hurts.
Providing a full view of a palpable relationship, the film provides another acute definition for heartbreaking. The irony within this story is that Blue Valentine would not beat as hard were it not for the potent on-screen relationship of its two luminous stars.
4. Toy Story 3
Recap: With their 17-year-old owner Andy moving off to college, the toys are brought to a daycare in hopes of finding new adventures and friends. It is now officially the highest grossing animated movie of all time, and also the highest grossing movie of 2010.
Reason: If anyone has figured out the anti-formula to enchanting its mainstream audience, it’s Pixar. Their stories avoid clichés with such aggressive left turns that it could be argued they don’t even know what a “cliché” even is. From the door-chase in Monster’s Inc. to the multi-rat kitchen scurrying in Ratatouille, Pixar have shown a near-genius talent in the field of small-world engineering. Part of the jaw-dropping experience recurring throughout their films is watching how the creators defy gravity with their boundless imagination, and how any item or location can be assigned multiple locations. The grade-A animation we see in their films, now in 3-D, is just the beginning.
With Toy Story 3, not only do Pixar succeed in bringing toys to life in the ways that only witches could dream of, but their flowing creativity is channeled towards making them brilliant, heartfelt creations that appear more human than most of the billboard-friendly faces we see weekly at the cinema. Like real human beings, these toys never collect emotional dust, nor can they resign to a one-color simplicity.
It is only then fitting, as this trilogy draws to a close with a sweet but “transitional” note, that we feel the authentic ache in our heart, the chill down our spine, or the tear down our eye. We have loved these toys, or these clear mirrors of our youthfulness, as if they were our own.
3. The King's Speech
Recap: On its way to receive some crowning from Oscar, this film about King George VI's speech impediment created massive buzz during this year's festival circuit, and has since set its goal on Oscar domination. All three lead performances, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, are nominated, with Firth's performance earning numerous awards including this year's Golden Globe for "Best Actor in a Drama."
Reason: The King's Speech is a movie of great craftsmanship. Colin Firth's performance is truly one of this year's best, considering the power he has to break your heart with only his eyes alone. Secondary on The King's Speech's level of praises is the script, which is concise yet very entertaining. David Siedler pulls together a touching true story that feels like Hollywood wrote its course of events - the idea that Siedler makes it so honest and involving is possibly the film's best attribute. Then of course there's Tom Hooper's direction, which turns something like The King's Speech into a sprightly period piece. In the hands of many other directors, The King's Speech would be as stuffy as it may look from the outside. But there's a reason why this movie is such a success with mainstream American moviegoers - it's a regal movie that isn't afraid to open its lives to the public.
2. The Social Network
Recap: The story behind the creation of social networking website Facebook, and the legal disputes that divided and almost destroyed the billion dollar company.
Reason: This is not a film about the social networking aspect of Facebook. Friend accepting and socializing prove to be the most difficult tasks for the main characters of The Social Network to process. Especially it’s centerpiece, Mark Zuckerberg, a man that carries with him an absolutely beautiful irony – that this website, which has created a whole new way of interacting with people, is the product of a man who doesn’t have the skill to make friends. As the (magnificent) trailer for the film mentions, with its footage of our Facebooks and the song “Creep” by Radiohead, our lives are made in his image. We, with our beloved Facebooks, are the real epilogue to The Social Network’s story.
The Social Network is a marvelous film that is the result of a stunning true story being put into the best hands possible. Fincher uses his expert grasp on editing energy to condense the complicated story behind Facebook into a pulsing success, as guided by a brilliant screenplay from Aaron Sorkin that focuses on Zuckerberg’s weaknesses over his obvious successes. The entire deal is brought together by an incredible performance from Jesse Eisenberg, who turns the once archetypal characteristic of “curly haired and awkward” into an art form.
The power of Facebook is impossible to deny, and Zuckerberg will always be a god-like being, walking amongst us in secrecy. Whether the events within this movie are entirely true, or whether they merely stand as the parting words of bitter anonymous witnesses, The Social Network is successful in bringing down Zuckerberg the God down to earth, and out of his own orbit. If only for just two hours.
Recap: A team of “dream extractors," those who steal ideas from people’s minds for a living, are hired by an energy company mogul to do the impossible – plant a destructive idea into the brain of his competitor. This movie has been racking up awards nominations with little avail. Inception has received eight Oscar nominations, including "Best Original Screenplay" and "Best Picture," but unjustly not "Best Director."
Reason: During a Hollywood era where expensive movies like Avatar are confused for being "original" because of the way they are filmed, in explodes Christopher Nolan with Inception, a 150 minute spectacle that probably even made Charlie Kaufman's brain blow-up (and dare I say it, this movie is beyond most of Kaufman's work). Cue the oft-parodied Hans Zimmer foghorn score, because Inception deserves it - Nolan's film is a massive masterpiece, a start-to-finish example of phenomenal filmmaking, and a declaration that original ideas are not dead - nor do Hollywood productions need to rely on true stories for their ideas. There is absolutely no movie from this year that has more ambition than Inception, and it prevails above and way, way, way beyond genre expectations. With all of its grandiose concepts and ideas (an action movie made with dream logic) the film never loses control of its tightness, nor of its audience's trust. Even one viewing of the film (I've now had five, my latest was a few days ago) indicates that Nolan is a writer/director to be fully trusted, with Inception a movie to become fully immersed in. The King's Speech is a great novel, The Social Network is an even better extensive profile piece, but Inception goes beyond just art made for the conscious mind. Inception proves that dreams are what movies are made of.