30
Dec
2010
Feature: Jordan's Movie Quest
Jordan's Movie Quest: The Year 2010
Jordan
Every year since the stellar 2007, I have found myself arguing against the claim, "this has been a bad year for movies." To an extent, the last two years have been of lesser quality (likely in no small part due to the lingering effects of the writer's strike), and yet, just like last year, as it came time to make my year end top ten list, I had a hard time cutting the list down to ten. Again, this is not because of an overabundance of "classics" this year; on the contrary, this problem mostly arises from the pack of mediocre movies that gather near number ten. Like last year, I have to include honorable mentions (this time out, those movies that barely missed making my top ten were Shutter Island and Winter's Bone, both of which it pained me to cut from this list), and yet, only ten movies can make the list. It should also be noted that all of my efforts to see Restrepo, I Am Love, and A Prophet were foiled, so its impossible to know whether those would have made my list. Anyway, here are the ten that made the cut:

10. Greenberg-Noah Baumbach tends to make movies about shockingly literate, infuriatingly misanthropic and completely maladjusted human beings who don't ask for forgiveness nor invite even the slightest sympathy. However, that doesn't make his films any less true to life. Ben Stiller is incredibly committed to keeping the titular character unlikable, as he travels to L.A. to housesit for his vastly more successful brother, has an abortive relationship with the subtly heartbreaking Greta Gerwig, and tries, maybe, to move past his own insecurities for long enough to become an actual human being. The stellar soundtrack and fantastic cinematography ground this film that manages to be both stimulating and hysterical.

9. The Fighter-There is little on the surface of David O. Russell's newest film to set it apart from any number of boxing movies over the last several decades. The film follows Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg, doing his best straight man) as he tries to make it after a career full of being one step away from a championship. What sets The Fighter apart is the stellar supporting cast, and the conflicts they represent in Micky's life. He lives forever in the shadow of his brother Dicky (Christian Bale, in an Oscar worthy performance), an ex-fighter and current addict who lives off of his former glory and the favoritism of his enabling mother (an excellent Melissa Leo), who also tries to exert her control over Micky. His only chance at escaping the destructiveness of his family is his new girlfriend Charlene (a revelatory Amy Adams), a no-nonsense bartender who aggressively looks after Micky's best interests. From materials that could easily have mired the movie in merdiocrity, The Fighter rises like its protagonist and takes a run at actual glory.

8. Exit Through the Gift Shop-From a documentary following a faux documentarian who obsessively tracks and films street artists, to a documentary about that man becoming a street artist himself, and finally to an examination of how we define and criticize art, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a wildly entertaining and thought provoking documentary without peer in a year filled with promising documentaries that failed to deliver (I'm looking at you, Waiting for "Superman"). The film functions as a history of the modern street art movement, a psychological study of a fascinating and possibly unhinged character, and a philosophical and cultural query that will leave you talking for days after the credits roll.

7. The King's Speech-The rare period piece that is exhilarating and inspiring instead of staid and ponderous, The King's Speech follows George VI (an outstanding Colin Firth) as he struggles with a debilitating speech impediment that keeps him from riveting and uniting his country during a time of war. Documenting his struggles from his time as third in line to the throne of England (behind Michael Gambon's George V and Guy Pearce's Edward VIII) to his time leading the country through World War II along with Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall, or, as he will always be in my mind, Peter Pettigrew), the film is, on the one hand, an enthralling examination of the pressure to rule. More importantly, the film is an in depth analysis of George's personal relationships, both with his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) and with the real love of his life, the controversial, eccentric speech therapist Lionel Logue (a scene stealing Geoffrey Rush). Heartwarming, inspiring, thought provoking, and surprisingly hilarious, The King's Speech is what all period pieces should aspire to be.

6. True Grit-It has to be very difficult stepping into the role that won John Wayne his only Oscar, and as such is iconic as an understatement. Yet Jeff Bridges doesn't miss a step as the rough, caustic Rooster Cogburn, a lawbreaker turned lawman who reluctantly agrees to accompany a the young Mattie Ross (the excellent Hailee Steinfeld ) on a mission to apprehend the convict who murdered her father (Josh Brolin). Along with a comically verbose Texas Ranger (Matt Damon), Mattie and Rooster learn the importance of relying on others as they face not only their prey, but also the specter of ending up alone with their own thoughts and flaws. Joel and Ethan Coen continue their almost career-long hot streak with this pitch black comedy that slowly develops into a powerful emotional statement on the bonds that keep us going and the flaws that hold us back.

5. Toy Story 3-The third installment in Pixar's always awesome Toy Story franchise is a startlingly mature film considering its ostensibly a kids movie. It follows Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang as they desperately struggle to remain relevant to an owner who is about to head off to college. The whole group suffers from an almost religious angst over whether they should stand by the owner who has neglected and abandoned them or try their luck on their own for once. The movie took seriously the potential tragedy of being a functionally immortal creature resigned to a role that has a very limited time limits, and there were few more heart wrenching moments than the scene when the characters we have grown to love over the last decade resign themselves to death and take a grim solace in the fact that they can spend their last moments together. And yet, I'm not sure there was a scene as uplifting this year as the film's conclusion, in which the toys get a second chance at making a kid happy. This is a kid's movie people, and yet it is easily one of the most stimulating, moving, and emotional films this year.

4. Inception-Christopher Nolan is a bold, inventive, masterful director, who managed this year to take a film that could easily have buried itself in endless exposition and turned it instead into an expertly plotted and thrilling examination of loss and grief. Dominick Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) makes his living stealing ideas from the heads of executives by entering their dreams. Along with his associates Arthur (the ultra smooth Joseph Gordon Levitt), Eames (Tom Hardy) and newcomer Ariadne (Ellen Page, making much of her role as the audience) he agrees to pull one last job, helping Saito (Ken Watanabe) to convince the young Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) to split up his father's company through a difficult process known as inception. Pulse-poundingly plotted and ponderously philosophical, the film manages to be both an excellent post modern heist film and a psychological examination of a tortured protagonist. Inception ultimately becomes an analysis of the ways we fail ourselves, the lies we tell ourselves, and the lengths we're willing to go to be able to move even one step forward.

3. The Kids Are All Right-Yet another movie that seemed destined to be mired in mediocrity with a plot that has been done a hundred times before, The Kids Are All Right slowly pulls you in, emotionally investing you and adding a level of realism to a tired cliché. Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) have been together for years, and have each given birth using the same anonymous sperm donor. As their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) prepares to go off to college, her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) convinces her to help him track down their biological father, who is soon revealed to be the bohemian Paul (Mark Ruffalo). As the kids form a strange, and strangely strong bond with Paul, their mothers attempt to deal with the insecurity this causes them, while also going through a rough patch themselves, the film asks questions about the nature of families, the strength of the bond between a family, and the difficulty of staying with someone after decades and as the stress of real life begins to overwhelm the passion of youth. The Kids Are All Right is smart, honest, real, moving, and hilarious, all while giving new life to an old story.

2. The Social Network-When it was announced that David Fincher would direct Aaron Sorkin's script there was a collective moment of pause. Fincher specializes in fantastic visuals and cinematography, while Sorkin is the king of rapid fire banter and wit filled dialogue. Somehow the two made it work, though, delivering a compelling portrait of a darkly obsessed genius who gives up his relationships, and to an extent, his humanity in the pursuit of one great idea. Framing the story of the creation of Facebook with two lawsuits against creator Mark Zuckerberg (the stellar Jesse Eisenberg), the film traces the site's genesis with all of its complexity and battling egos. Managing to combine real discussions of intellectual property with lasting questions about social status, isolation, genius, and obsession, The Social Network (which also stars the excellent Andrew Garfield and a surprisingly game Justin Timberlake) is a stimulating and energetic account of a man who is petty, arrogant, and more than a tad misogynistic, but also sympathetic for his endless desire to find a place where he can truly belong.

1. Black Swan-Director Darren Aronofksy's follow up, and thematic companion to The Wrestler follows a fragile, meek, and obsessively dedicated ballerina Nina Sayers (the Oscar-worthy Natalie Portman) who wins the lead in a new production of Swan Lake and begins to mentally deteriorate as she strives forcefully for the perfection that eludes her. Pushed harshly forward by a brilliant director (Vincent Cassell), an insanely strict mother (Barbara Hershey, who also deserves an Oscar for her performance), and a potential rival (Mila Kunis), Nina begins to lose her grip on reality as she tries to master her performance as the Black Swan. A retelling of Swan Lake that doubles as a metaphor for Hollywood and an examination into the potential downfall inherent in obsessive passion, Black Swan is a vivid, sometimes terrifying waking nightmare that also serves as a heady look into acting, sacrifice, obsession, and the elusiveness of perfection.
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