Saturday, January 15, 2011

My ten favorite movies of 2010

First, this caveat: I haven't seen yet the following movies which generated a lot of critical acclaim and made the top ten of most critics’ lists and thus were not included when I made my selection.

a) 127 Hours – Danny Boyle’s follow-up to “Slumdog Millionaire” had a short run in the theater chain near my place and I totally missed it by a day.
b) Buried – This Ryan Reynolds thriller was buried in the very few theaters it was screened at.
c) Another Year – Mike Leigh's another purported masterpiece has yet to go wide -- and may not go wide after all, sadly -- and I will just have to wait for the DVD release.
d) Animal Kingdom – Great reviews but was already gone from theaters when buzz about this small Aussie crime drama started gaining ground.
e) Rabbit Hole – This Nicole Kidman drama may not be released locally and I do not want to drive 50 miles to catch it.
f) Somewhere – Sofia Coppola’s Venice grand prize winner is not showing locally.
g) Blue Valentine – Great reviews but the stylized camerawork I see in the trailer is turning me off.
h) Never Let Me Go – The movie was gone from theaters before I realized it was already showing. Too bad!

All that said here are now my favorite movies of 2010. This is not my definitive best list but a list of those movies which really made me so excited about cinema and made me go see it twice – or five times in the case of ‘The Social Network’ – within the same year.

1) The Social Network – Saw this movie five times -- three times in theaters and twice on Blu-ray (on the same night!) This David Fincher masterpiece is a great testament to how great storytelling could transform what were seemingly simple routine mediation hearings into a powerful and thrilling expose of the greed and genius that went into the creation of the world’s most influential social networking website. Aided by a great cast, superb score and Aaron Sorkin’s incredible screenplay, “The Social Network” continues to charm and offer thrills even on your 5th viewing. The familiarity of the story generates a sense of anticipation and excitement similar to that of opening a treasured present you yourself wrapped.

2) Inception – Easily one of the most original movies of the year. This multi-layered exploration of dreams challenges the viewer to follow closely the story otherwise they will find themselves lost in some level that may not be real anymore. The classic spinning top that closed the movie is still being debated now but there’s no debating this Chris Nolan masterpiece is truly one of the year’s very best.

3) Toy Story 3 – I am not a big fan of animation but this Pixar drama of separation and letting go was so remarkably well-made that it made me cry a bucket when the inevitable ending came. It didn’t promise a happy ending but it gave the viewers some token of reassurance that every ending are marked by a new beginning. Sad, yes, but it was ultimately hopeful.

4) A Prophet – This French thriller documents the rise of a young juvenile delinquent from being a lowly convicted criminal to becoming the leader of the mafia while serving his jail sentence inside a prison that’s no less different from the real free world – from the recognizable hierarchy to the intrigues, backstabbing, assassinations and murders. This unapologetic and unbiased examination of criminal life does not impose on the viewers to make a particular opinion of the main character’s sense of morality but engages us to just look at him as a person thrust into a world where his survival may constitute what maybe considered wrong in normal, ethical society. The incredibly felt performance by Tahar Rahim as the young Arab and the somewhat familiar score by Alexander Desplat are the other plus points of this Cannes-winning film.

5) The Secret in their Eyes – This Argentine movie was last year’s Best Foreign Language winner at the Oscars. The story spans three decades and the secret is not so much about the murder mystery that was the focal point of the narrative but the unspoken and unexpressed love between two people who may have let fear get in the way of what would have been their opportunity to uncover what their hearts truly see that their eyes couldn’t say.

6) Winter’s Bone – Jennifer Lawrence delivers what is perhaps the best female performance of the year. The movie is also about secrets and the bone in the title both suggests the hardship Lawrence’s character had to go through one particular winter when his father disappeared while she, her catatonic mom, and two young siblings were being threatened by eviction from their home and the actual secret that brings a shattering conclusion to this suspenseful exploration into the backwoods of small-town America.

7) The King’s Speech – The performances are awesome. The set pieces are majestic. The musical suite towards the climax of the movie is quite moving and memorable. What else, oh yes, I have to give you a brief synopsis. It’s a real-life story based on the incredible friendship between King George VI and a speech therapist on the days leading to World War 2. The movie highlights the extraordinary courage of a reluctant heir to overcome his speech impediment if he is to become a king and rule England.

8) Black Swan – Fil-Am Matthew Libatique’s inspired camerawork helped create Natalie Portman’s disturbing but remarkable performance as a ballet dancer hounded by insecurity and her descent into madness. The story was inspired by the Swan Lake ballet and director Darren Arronofsky added to the theme of betrayal layers of insecurity and paranoia that further heightened the suspenseful nature of the narrative. The story ends quite predictably but the journey to that end was the real draw of this movie.

9) The Fighter – Melissa Leo, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Mark Wahlberg all deliver the finest performances of their careers in this David O. Russell uncharacteristic boxing drama. It tells the story of two brothers who are both boxers and their relationship to their overbearing mother who acts as their manager. The movie has several key boxing scenes but the most powerful scenes were not those that involved actual fights but the quiet scene between the brothers when they decided they had to go apart so that the other can shine while the other can finally get the help he needs and the scene in the car when the frustrated mother cannot seem to find the way to express her anger to a son she obviously favors.  

10) The Ghost Writer – Roman Polanski’s film-making strength is in delivering simple unassuming thrillers and surprising the audience with a twist that is remarkably apparent in hindsight. The movie is a story of a ghost writer hired to polish the memoirs of a former British prime minister and the secrets he discovers that could potentially endanger his life and bring prominent people to their downfall. Skillfully adapted from a bestselling book with a cast of great actors, “The Ghost Writer” was a pleasant discovery on DVD after it had a short run in theaters in early spring of 2010.

There are also other movies I enjoyed that did not make my limited list but I would still like to mention here, but in no particular order:

Shutter Island, The Kids Are All Right, Piranha 3D (Yes, that movie!), Easy A, The Town, Unstoppable, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I did not like True Grit, in case you are wondering.

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