Saturday, January 01, 2011

My Top 20 Films of 2010

Following on from my Top 10 TV Programmes of 2010, below are the full-length feature films which I've rated most highly over the past 12 months. As usual, films must have had a UK theatrical release within the calendar year to be eligible (so The King's Speech, True Grit and Black Swan must all wait till next year's list).

In terms of trends, the faux-documentary appears to be a form very much in the ascendancy (see Catfish, Exit Through The Gift Shop and I'm Still Here). Dark themes also seem to be a discernible trend - even the wholesome Toy Story has swung a bit to the dark side for it's third outing.

As for on-screen talent, Nic Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio, Casey Affleck and Anna Kendrick appear to be this year's magic ingredients, all appearing in more than one film on the list.

Anyhoo, enough chit-chat; here's the list:

#1 The Secret In Their Eyes

Deserving winner of Best Foreign Language Film at the 2010 Oscars, this Argentinian thriller's 2 hours plus running time whizzes by thanks to a gripping narrative, delightful period production detail and compelling central performances.

#2 Winter's Bone

I was lucky enough to catch this at the Edinburgh Film Festival, with both Director and Lead in attendance and was blown away, both by the incredibly evocative cinematography and by the power of Jennifer Lawrence's performance. Not cheery, but an extraordinary piece of filmmaking that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

#3 Another Year

Mike Leigh at his most gentle but still hugely affecting. Great performances all round although for my money it's Lesley Manville's heartbreaking portrayal of Mary which most deserves the recognition of the Academy judges come February.

#4 Inception

As a piece of pure cinematic spectacle, it's hard to beat Christopher Nolan's brain-melting dreams-as-Russian-dolls thriller, which left the other summer blockbusters dead in the water thanks to a bold blend of CGI and live action stunt work.

#5 Catfish

2010's 'other Facebook film' served up far more food for thought on the profound implications of social networking for society at large than it's blockbuster cousin. Whilst many (re)viewers got hung up on the veracity of the footage and the knock-on implications for the integrity of the filmmakers, I allowed myself to be swept along by a genuinely compelling human drama.

#6 The Social Network

Less about Facebook and more about one man's drive for success and the collateral damage when that drive is matched by good fortune and timing. As you'd expect, Sorkin and Fincher ensure the dialogue and direction are a notch above most Hollywood fare and Jesse Eisenberg is hugely believable as Zuckerberg. Hell, even Justin Timberlake is good.

#7 Toy Story 3

It must suck to be Dreamworks, because when it comes to CG animation, nobody does it better than Pixar. Everything about this third outing from Buzz, Woody and the gang is note perfect, with the right blend of old and new characters and a cracking script ensuring it's equally enjoyable for adults and kids.

#8 Exit Through The Gift Shop

As with Catfish, you could easily fixate on the authenticity and authorship of the various elements of this somewhat elaborate narrative tapestry. Or... you could just sit back and enjoy another gripping human drama delivered via the documentary form and doff your cap in Banksy's general direction. I opted for the latter :)

#9 Precious

The story of a overweight, illiterate, Harlem teenager, pregnant with her father's second child as a result of rape, the scope for getting this wrong was huge. But a combination of a deft adaptation of the original novel and knock-out performances from Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique and (I never thought I'd write this) Mariah Carey, keep this the right side of good throughout.

#10 Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Wow. Nic Cage really is like the little girl with the curl. When he's bad (as he seems to be more often that not these days), he's terrible. But when the planets align, as they have done here, he's just incredible. Herzog allows Cage the freedom to really push the envelope and make the role his own, negating any need for comparisons with Harvey Keitel's Bad Lieutenant. Simply jaw-dropping.

#11 Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Ahead of seeing Scott Pilgrim I couldn't help wondering whether it was going to suffer coming so soon after Kick Ass, another hyper-stylised, CGI-enhanced helping of comic book violence. I needed have worried however; Edgar Wright really turned the dials up to eleven for this one, out kick-assing Kick-Ass on the video-gamifciation (sorry!) of fight sequences and dowsing the whole thing liberally with pop-culture references.

#12 The Town

One of the best thrillers of the year came from the rather unexpected direction of Ben Affleck, who co-wrote, directed and starred in this Boston-set crime drama. Strong central performances from Jeremy Renner (of Hurt Locker fame), John Hamm (Mad Men) and Rebecca Hall (one to watch) helped distinguish this further. I'm now rather hoping he makes another one.

#13 Shutter Island

A Scorsese/DiCaprio billing's a tough one to call these day after the brilliance of The Departed (my number one film of 2006) and the overindulgent bilge of The Aviator (which got a dishonourable mention in my 2004 round-up). Mercifully, it's nearer to the former than the latter on the Scorsese/DiCaprio sliding scale, although it never quite tips the balance from engaging thriller to modern classic.

#14 The Killer Inside Me

Not an easy watch this one, with a wholly unsympathetic central character and some very convincing scenes of extreme domestic violence. It's a credit to Casey Affleck's portrayal then that this isn't an unbearable 109 minutes. Indeed, it's his charisma coupled with the character's psychopathic tendencies that brings to mind Michael Madsen's turn in Reservoir Dogs and leaves one with the same uneasy feeling of having been seduced (much like his victims), by the charm of a smooth talking psycho-killer.

#15 I'm Still Here

Unlike Catfish and Exit Via The Gift Shop, I'm Still Here does insist that you actively engage with the question of it's veracity rather than just sitting back and enjoying the ride. Unfortunately, this frequently threatens to destabilise the narrative and the viewer's emotional engagement with it. That said, there comes a point where you're left in little doubt that the whole thing's a hoax, that you can just sit back and marvel at the audacity and tenacity of Affleck and Phoenix's giant ruse.

#16 Kick-Ass

Coming, as it did, ahead of Scott Pilgrim, Kick-Ass was a much needed shot in the arm for comic book adaptations, successfully translating the kinetic energy of the original from page to screen with genuine verve and freshness. Nic Cage is once again in no-holds-barred scenery-chewing mode, although it's Chloe Moretz's Hit Girl who really steals the show.

#17 Four Lions

A comedy about a group of British jihadists from the creator of Brass Eye and The Day Today... I really wasn't sure what to expect from Four Lions going into the cinema and in particular, whether I was likely to come out laughing. Well, somehow Morris pulls it off, creating a film which is by turns laugh out loud funny and hugely emotionally affecting, with characters which are broadly comedic but never lose their humanity. Definitely has to be seen to be believed.

#18 Up In The Air

Fresh from the success of 2007 Oscar-winner Juno, Jason Reitman has scored another hit by peppering what could have been a wholly mainstream adaptation with just enough indie juice to make it stand out from the crowd. An eminently watchable Clooney spars with both Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick to good effect and there's a decent quotient of chuckles to be had along the way.

#19 Dogtooth

A thoroughly disquieting watch, Dogtooth is a taboo-busting Greek allegory addressing childhood, family and human conditioning which lingers on in the memory long after the final ambiguous frame fades to black. Not for the feint-hearted.

#20 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

It's tough to translate books as well loved as the Millennium trilogy to screen, but the Danish writing and directing team do an admirable job with the first (and best) of the three novels, aided by some smart casting and good decisions re. how best to compress the action to an acceptable running time (it's still 2 and a half hours). Crucially, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist manage to convince as Lisbeth and Mikael, to the extent that they've now supplanted my own mental images of the characters, forged whilst reading the books.

Related posts:
My Top 20 Films of 2009
Best Films of 2008
My Top 25 Films of 2007
My Top 30 Films of 2006
My Top 25 Films of 2005
My Top 20 Films of 2004


Nigel Smith said...

Interesting list Dan. One of my cultural new year's resolutions is to watch more foreign films but will add Secrets in their Eyes and Dogtooth to my Lovefilm list.

Do you really count Catfish as a 'faux-documentary'? The Phoenix fiasco definitely is (pointless film IMO); Exit Through the Gift-Shop a bit more tricky.

Stuart Ian Burns said...

Don't forget that "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and its sequels are all a compression of a much longer tv mini-series released theatrically.