The “Best of” lists for the year 2010 are about to be published. I’ve seen my fair share of the films on the lists.
This is a highly subjective list of the films that, this year, have impressed me. It doesn’t mean that they will earn Oscar nominations, necessarily, but they were worthy efforts. Many of them I saw at the Chicago Film Festival, in advance of the regular viewing public.
While there are some who are lauding “127 Hours,” (dubbed “A Farewell to Arm” by one wag), which is James Franco cutting his arm off as the hapless rock climber who was forced to do so to save his life, I am not among its admirers. I missed seeing Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” which was sold out the night I tried to get in, so keep that in mind. Also, “True Grit” and Mark Wahlberg’s new film, “The Fighter,” I have not yet seen, nor “Tron: Legacy,” which, to be honest, has not received reviews as strong as Jeff Bridges’ outing in “True Grit” for the Coen Brothers.
There is no particular order to my list. I’m just reporting on 10 films that impressed me mightily this year, which I enjoyed. If the film itself was not that strong, but a performance within it is deserving of mention, I will make that notation.
So, here they are, my favorite 10 films this year, so far:
1) “Toy Story 3:” You’d have to have a heart of stone not to tear up in places for “Toy Story 3.” I don’t even usually enjoy animated films, but this biggest box-office hit of the year for Pixar was pure pleasure.
2)”Inception” ‘” I’m still not sure what all, exactly, is going on in this film, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate what an achievement it was from Director Christopher Nolan. I’ll see this one again. And again. (A big year for Leonardo DeCaprio, who appeared in this film and Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.”)
3)”The Social Network:” The invention of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg was played perfectly by Jesse Eisenberg, with direction by David Fincher (“7”) and a script from Aaron Sorkin.
4)”Never Let Me Go” ‘” Bleak as it was, I found this film with Carrey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, (as Tommy, prior to his appearance in “The Social Network”) to be touching and well acted. A big year for Garfield — (and I don’t mean the cat.)
5) “Catfish” ‘” This documentary by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost demonstrates why you cannot trust what you learn about people you “meet” online. A documentary that played out almost like a horror movie, but was revealing of life in today’s cyber-world.
6)”The Town” ‘” Ben Affleck redeemed himself for “Gigli” and other atrocities by directing and starring in this story about Boston’s career criminal element. Long, but a really exciting film.
7) “The Kids Are All Right” ‘” There’s one scene where Mark Ruffalo’s sperm donor raises his eyebrows and gives “that” look before roaring off on his motorcycle, having come between a lesbian doctor (Annette Bening) and her landscaper lover (Julianne Moore) in meeting his biological offspring. Lisa Cholodenko’s raw, funny, well-acted family drama has much to recommend it, especially the acting of the three principals.
8) “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”: a documentary that Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg contributed, tracking the career of a truly groundbreaking comedienne.
9) “Winter’s Bone”: I liked Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of a girl searching for her father, and John Hawkes as her uncle is very good. The film, overall, was not as riveting for me as some of the more mainstream Hollywood fare, but that’s just me. Like “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” another good movie this year, the ending, for me, was flawed. I liked this film in the same way that I appreciated Robert Duvall’s performance in “Get Low,” which kept me thinking about it for days, despite its slow pace.
10) A tie, for me, between the little-seen “Norman,” which featured great performances from the always-dependable character actor Richard Jenkins (the dead dad on “Six Feet Under”), and the new-to-me Dan Byrd as Norman Long, with Emily VanCamp as Emily Parrish, (the love interest.) Directed by Jonathan Segal and written by Talton Wingate, this film moved me to tears. Norman’s dad (Jenkins) is dying of cancer, but, somehow, Norman misleads the student body into thinking he is dying from an inoperable tumor; the rest is touching human drama. If it comes to a theater near you, don’t miss it (or order it on NetFlix).”Conviction” was also quite good, and Sam Rockwell deserves an Oscar nomination for his role opposite Hillary Swank.
The other film that held my interest (I give the original music by Harry Gregson-Williams much credit for the ratcheting tension) was “Unstoppable,” with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine attempting to stop a runaway train that will spill hazardous chemicals throughout Stanton, Pennsylvania, unless the duo risk life, limb and their jobs to bring it to a halt. Able support from Rosario Dawson in a role that requires her to be assertive, rather than sexy.
Honorable Mention: “Love and Other Drugs” deserves mention for the acting within it from Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. The story may have been a bit treacly and, (at the expense of drama) emphasis was placed on skin, but it still had a worthwhile message about the pharmaceutical industry and how it has been hijacked by Drug Representatives. “Fair Game” with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, about the outing of secret agent Valerie Plame, also had strong performances from its stars. Also great, but little-seen, was David Schwimmer’s “Trust,” which showed the vulnerability of young teenage girls online and earned its 15-year-old Texas star, Liana Liberato, Best Actress honors at the Chicago Film Festival. [Another film this year that did not get the distribution or accolades it deserves.]