Given the flood of awful movies rushing into theaters during January and February, the 2010 Fim season doesn't really end until all of the Awards (not matter how punishing they may be -- for proof read our live blog of the Oscars) are handed out. In most cases those films clogging your multiplex today were slated for release in 2010, so I don't consider them contenders in the next phase of trophies and glamour and serious discourse. I feel it's cheating to compile a Top Ten list without seeing all the best picture nominees (check), the insightful array of documentaries (check), or those limited release sleepers (check, I think -- inspire me), before forming an informed opinion. After two months of tundra-esque winter, I can honestly say I'm caught up. Almost a week post Oscars no doubt. And with that, here is my belated (depending who you ask) list of the Top Ten Films of 2010. If you're unfamiliar with any of these, I highly suggest a rental (or at least go watch the trailer):
10. Piranha 3-D
I don't think I've ever had this much fun in the theater, and for that Piranha 3-D gets a spot. The schlock is never-ending once Richard Dreyfuss is sucked into a whirlpool of his own blood. There wasn't even a need for the three dimensions, but it added a certain cheapness to this carnival of exploitation.
9. How to Train Your Dragon
There's been lots of talk about Toy Story 3, and while I cried waterworks during that film, it didn't have the same sense of adventure and nostalgic mood provided by the character of Toothless. Vikings with Scottish accents, imaginative design and storytelling that never reduced to scatological humor (the dragons don't talk), and the 3-D is probably the best I've ever experienced. Here it's worth shelling out the extra money for the thrill. Comparisons to E.T. are apt, as this was extremely well-done among a year when the animated film gained even more cache.
8. The Fighter
Couple this with the also excellent The Town and Boston on celluloid becomes a caricature. But O'Russell and his amazing ensemble cast (the sisters make it) know how to underlie the Rocky ascension of the story with a thin layer of comedy -- from beginning to end. It does follow a lot of conventions familiar to these types of films, but knows full and well when it's following those conventions. If you've seen this, go beyond and YouTube as much of the "real" story as you can (the real fights, Dickey's harrowing crack documentary) and you'll soon understand, not only how accurate O'Russell is in portraying this family, but how intriguing it was for him to adapt to the screen.
7. Carlos, the Jackal
Probably the fastest 5 1/2 hours I've ever spent with a movie. Where Steven Soderberg made a beautiful mess out of his two-part Che epic last year, Olivier Assayas knows that in order to dissect these tragic, bigger-than-life, anti-heroes, you need to show the audience as much of the tall-tale as you can. Carlos is implicit in letting us know a lot of what happened was never confirmed, but regardless, Assayas takes us step by step through the Jackal's life -- never really allowing us to take a side either way until the third act when Carlos becomes a bloated, paranoid, version of the svelte, revolutionary we cheer for at the start.
6. Exit Through the Gift Shop
There are certain parts of me that wanted to include I'm Not Here - Joaquin Phoenix's faux-descent into career limbo -- but it was flawed, noticeably fake, and indulgent. Banksy's documented field-tape on his own discovery, and rise, and perpetually ingenious concealment, not only deserved best documentary this year, it deserved a nod for best picture in my opinion.
5. Winter's Bone
There's always a wonderfully beautiful and poignant aura around movies that capture life in our depressed heartland, even when the subject matter is downright grim. Winter's Bone never succumbs to exploitation of its characters -- there's no exaggerative performance from either of the leads, just a natural drift -- and it never caters to the audience as something hopeful. There are only glimpses of hope in Jennifer Laurence's lead. Neither too poetic nor voyeuristic, the movie strikes the exact nerve between the auteur and the harsh reality faced by the inhabitants of this microcosm of (rough) American lives.
4. Blue Valentine
Epic bummer -- exhibit 2. The title, Blue Valentine, should be taken literally. This is equal views of pure love constructed on a whim and what happens when that love comes crashing down, brick by brutal brick. You want to root for both Gosling and Williams, even though you know within minutes they survive in the definition of dysfunction. The "doomed marriage" motif has been used a million times over (and mostly equipped with some kind of happy ending, just watch the barely recognized Rabbit Hole from this year) but here it seems authentic, every ugly detail in place. This is not a date movie.
3. The Social Network
Yeah Yeah Yeah. It should'a won Best Picture. It should'a won Best Director. Regardless, all of the accolades and generational hyperbole thrown the way of The Social Network, won't stop it from being one of those perfect films you'll watch any time of day, no matter where you come into it, if only films like this were still rerun, edited, and played ad nausea on lazy Sunday basic cable. Regardless of your age, race, gender, or generally disposition as to whether or not Facebook is a "revolution" in human communication, the journey of Mark Zuckerberg is one filled with all the drama of a Shakespearian tragedy. Not a syllable of dialog is wasted, not an edit without purpose, each scene building to our current present. A present that I think will remain for an awful long while -- no matter the speed of technology. It may not be the Citizen Kane of the '00s, but it certainly is the zeitgeist and in the timeline of film history, there will be a marker forever noting this.
2. Black Swan
More proof that it was an amazing year for film (I could probably rattle off ten more films that narrowly missed this list). Black Swan, sans the Oscar for Natalie Portman, would have likely swept any lesser year. I'm beginning to think that Darren Aronofsky speaks a cinematic language that is much too profound and complex for Middle America. They'd much rather see Portman having casual sex with Ashton Kutcher, than Portman struggling through a harrowing psychosis usually reserved for a De Palma or Cronenberg flick. I saw glimpses of both Carrie and Dead Ringers throughout Black Swan. Yet, even as a double of the Black Swan's arc, Aronofsky's Black Swan breaks ground and melts faces using a considerably bourgeois and misunderstood art-form -- ballet -- as his template. Take into consideration that the Black Swan, despite the massive attention to detail and pomp Aronofsky put towards its creation, was a appetizer leading up to his epic undertaking trying to top The Dark Knight.
Dogtooth is another film emblematic of the mass quality of 2010. With Dogtooth I'm not trying to be coy or elitist in my overall number one pick. It's truly that mesmerizing. It's that good. It has everything -- it will shock you, confuse you, make you cringe, make you laugh, and make you actually re-question those existential questions you've held onto since childhood. Giorgos Lanthimos' awkward suburban parable about a Greek couple who have sheltered their three teenage children from the outside world since birth is something I can legitimately recommend without any disclaimer. Yes, I previously lauded Dogtooth as "Herzog and Haneke bickering at the bottom of a cup of Fage yogurt," but please don't let that scare you off. At some point in your development as a youth, you experienced a moment from Dogtooth. I also said "absurd, but very believable," so there's that. There are plenty of absurd scenes (the children's vocabulary lessons spring to mind) and plenty too far out to mention in polite company, and still you are wrapped in the very real family drama being unwrapped here. Though completely foreign (both literally and metaphorically) to its Hollywood counterparts this year (and even among the Best Foreign Film nominees, except maybe Incendies) it stands alone. You will likely see an American remake and countless imitators looking for the right amount of kooky artistic elegance, but Dogtooth stands alone.