We decided to do things differently this year, and I am so pleased we did.
I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert in their various shows, and one of my favorite times of the year was the big end of the year show as they would count down their top ten. I would be outraged in different ways by each, vindicated in some ways by each, and I found it to be a blast each and every time.
At Ain't It Cool, I always did a top ten list in print, and even though we've been playing with audio podcasting here at HitFix and I'm doing way more video interviews than ever, the idea of a video top ten never occurred to me. It was Greg Ellwood's idea for the year, and so far, we've seen Alan Sepinwall and Melinda Newman offer up video lists for the things that meant the most to them this year.
Today, it's my turn, and I love the way Alex Dorn edited this piece. I think 2010 was a great year of movies, and this feels like a piece that sums up what I'll most remember about this year, what resonated the most with me. The first time I tried recording the voice-over, it was over 11 minutes long, so I had to edit on the fly as I recorded it the second time. I thought I'd print the full text I wrote out so you can refer to the list here after you check out the video piece.
Keep in mind... I consider everything that I saw in a theater or at a festival eligible. I have to. Release dates are so strange, and so different around the world, that there's no way to treat it all as the same "year". These are the ten films that meant the most to me this year as a viewer, and if something here isn't out where you are yet, then hopefully you'll get the chance to see it soon.
Here's the full list of new films that I saw in 2010. That's everything I considered when building the list. Here are the titles that I did not see that were released this year. If you don't see it on those two lists, then it somehow got missed. In any case, I'd say seeing around 250 films this year gave me a solid base to work from when building the following list, and if you want to read my original reviews for these films, just click on the title:
I'm going to predict that this probably isn't coming to a theater near you. Ever. And some people may dismiss "A Serbian Film" as empty shock, but I disagree. This is an amazingly well-crafted film by director Srdjan Spasojevic, co-written with Aleksandar Radivojevic, and as angry a film as I saw this year. I've gotten letters and messages from people outraged that I recommended the film after South By this year because they read some list somewhere of the most extreme ideas or images in the film. I've said it before, but this film proves it as much as anything I've ever seen: context matters. Why you do something, how you do it, and what context it's in absolutely matters, and while I agree… "A Serbian Film" takes you places you are not going to want to go… it does so in service of a world view that is valid and real and bruised, a voice given a dark, horrifyingly funny outlet with this breathtaking bit of savagery.
Christopher Nolan's headgame "Inception" is a great example of what happens when a director takes full advantage of the freedom offered after a monster hit like "The Dark Knight." Nolan's big cold adventure movie across the interior of a tortured dreamscape is just weird enough that if it had tanked, no one would have been surprised. Instead, Nolan scored another monster hit, cementing him as one of the few truly commercial auteurs in the business. The film's effects and action are engaging the first time, but what makes "Inception" linger for me is the idea of getting lost in the guilt over a failed marriage and the struggle to do right by your children, no matter what. That's all that really drives Di Caprio through the film, and that human-scale connection is what makes all the acrobatics worthwhile.
8. "True Grit"
The Coen Bros's rousing adaptation of the Charles Portis novel True Grit pays due tribute to the earlier film version that won John Wayne his Oscar, while still staking out its own claim on the material. Jeff Bridges is a blustery shambling mess as Rooster Cogburn, the US Marshall engaged by the forceful, fascinating Mattie Ross to find the man who killed her father. Hailee Steinfeld is a major discovery as Mattie, and since the film is all about her point of view and, ultimately, the nature of her character, her performance is the thing that either makes or breaks the movie. Matt Damon is as sly and funny as he's ever been as "Lah Beeef" the Texas Ranger who keeps crossing paths with Mattie and Cogburn, and the rest of the cast shines. What gets me, though, is the way the film paints the growing respect between this determined girl and these men, each with plenty of things left to prove. This is one of the warmest films the Coens have ever made, and it's funny, and seeing it twice just makes me want to see it again.
7. "Four Lions"
This feels genuinely dangerous as comedy, and equally dangerous as drama, something that's not easy, earning it a spot as number seven on my list this year. It's been described as a slapstick comedy about London Muslim Jihadists, but it's more than that. It is an attempt by Chris Morris to understand these people and to render them human. There is nothing that unites us like laughing at each other, and Morris has made a film here that is not only hilarious, but most likely important. Truly savage social satire like this is something we absolutely need if we're going to stay sane, and Morris does as good a job as I've seen in recent memory of taking something incomprehensible and making us understand it utterly.
6. "Toy Story 3"
Rewatching this when it was released on Blu-ray convinced me that Pixar pulled off something very strange and almost subversive with this conclusion to one of the biggest trilogies of all time. There are so many things unspoken in these films that add up to this emotionally powerful experience, from the fatherless world Andy's grown up in to the nursing home subtext of what happens to the toys, that by the time we reach a harrowing moment in which these characters we've been watching for fifteen years reach peace with their own deaths, silently, collectively, it's cumulative and overwhelming. Our children are being spoiled by Pixar, and one can only hope it leads them to demand storytelling of this caliber from others as well.
5. "I Saw The Devil"
This will get a release on March 4 from Magnet Releasing, and I keep crossing my fingers, hoping for director Kim Jee-woon to have his American breakthrough. He's a sensational filmmaker, audacious and entertaining, and this wild new ride of his stars Lee Byung-hyun and Choi Min-sik, best known for "Old Boy," a secret agent and a serial killer locked in psychological combat. When a man loses his pregnant wife to a brutal lawless animal, it launches them both into a nightmare that plays out in a way I've never seen. It's a revenge film, which Korea seems to specialize in, but taken further and in a much more clever and thrilling way than I expected. This is the single best film in the genre since "Silence Of The Lambs," and honestly? I think I prefer this one.
4. "Rabbit Hole"
From here to the top, the order really was a struggle for me. Number four is a film so good it could easily have been number one in another year. That's how good 2010 has been. "Rabbit Hole" offers up a piercing portrait of how to rebuild after a devastating loss, and both Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are as good as they've ever been, a couple desperate to figure out what comes after the death of a child. The movie sounds like an exercise in sorrow, but John Cameron Mitchell, working from David Lindsay-Abaire's adaptation of his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, finds the humor and the hope in this horrible situation. I'll have much more to say in my full review tomorrow.
3. "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World"
There will come a point when people realize that they missed the boat on this one, and when that happens, "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" will finally be hailed as a classic. Because it is. All three of the film at the top of my list are there because no matter how much style there is, and all three are certainly stylish, they are fundamentally true. They speak to an honest reflection of the way we behave with each other, and with ourselves. They speak to our dreams, our feelings, our fears, our hopes. The way we love. The way we hate. In the case of "Scott Pilgrim," the idea of being responsible for the feelings of others is almost alien to our culture right now, and this film's advocacy of it is a beautiful thing.
2. "Blue Valentine"
The flip side of that is the wholesale emotional destruction of "Blue Valentine," as difficult a film as I've seen in recent years. It's amazing. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams expertly chart both the exact moment two people fall in love and the exact moment that love turns to curdled poison in their veins. It's a brutal experience, but beautiful, and writer/director Derek Cianfrance is a major new talent if this film is anything to judge him by.
1. "Black Swan"
Finally, my choice for the best film of the year should come as no surprise to anyone who's been reading along this year. Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" flattened me at Toronto, and it's only grown each time I've seen it since. It is a masterful piece about the things we do to ourselves in pursuit of our goals, and like all of Aronofsky's work, the more time you spend with it, the richer it seems to be. Natalie Portman has redefined herself, and I'm not sure she can ever push herself further than she did here. It's a great performance, and a great journey into this sad and broken soul. Everything Aronofsky's done so far comes to a head in this movie, and it is the one that I feel will resonate longest and loudest from 2010.
Tomorrow, I'll have my list of the top ten runners-up this year. We're also working on a worst of list for the site, and I'm doing some fun end of the year DVD columns as well. Expect plenty more from us over the holidays, and thanks for making 2010 fun for us here at HitFix. We hope we've made it fun for you as well.