2010: Year in Review
What a fantastic year for cinema. We were given subjective experiences that test the boundaries between fantasy and reality. We were given domestic dramas tackling the tough issues and refusing to pull punches. We were given harrowing tales of men struggling with guilt and grief. We were given a film that examines the origin of Facebook and one that personifies the repercussions of it. Finally, we were given streamlined entertainments which unapologetically display genre tropes and conventionality while offering well-crafted performances and top-notch direction. Expert skill in everything from performance to cinematography to editing was displayed this year in film. I look forward to another year that I can like as many films as I did in 2010.
This was also the year for the blending of art and commerce. The talky drama The Social Network came away with nearly $95 million domestic gross, the gritty psychological thriller Black Swan has already gained $79 million domestic (it will end of being one of Fox Searchlight’s biggest hits), the high-concept action film Inception grossed $292 million, True Grit, one of the highest grossing westerns of all time, has already raked in $132 million domestic, The Fighter has picked up about $70 million so far, and The Town ended its theatrical run with about $92 million. All of these are very respective numbers for very well-made films which never pander to audiences, even while some of them give them what they expect. This year has proven that audiences will surrender their $10 if word-of-mouth tells them to, and word-of-mouth is typically generated by nothing other than pure quality. The theater-going experience is still alive and well, and it will continue to be, if movies like these keep getting churned out. I ordered the list below, but it’s mostly arbitrary, considering many of them are interchangeable. I also included films that I enjoyed a great deal but simply didn’t make the cut. I’d like to know what your favorites have been.
Honorable Mentions: Toy Story 3, The Kids are All Right, Kick-Ass, The King’s Speech , True Grit, The Town, Barney’s Version
1. Blue Valentine-an absolutely searing portrait of a marriage in crisis. It never feels false or overwritten. Gosling and Williams turn in the most intensely internalized performances of the year. It’s sometimes excruciating to watch, but it’s impossible to look away. An all-consuming experience.
2. Another Year- Deceptively simple and profoundly moving as it quietly epitomizes the human experience without becoming consumed by a sense of importance. The character arc belonging to Mary, brilliantly portrayed by Lesley Manville, is one of the most heartbreaking I’ve ever seen.
3. The Social Network- Sorkin’s endlessly witty and cleverly structured script is more than matched by Fincher’s subdued but beautiful visual style. Jesse Eisenberg is revelatory as a guy who experiences emotion much more deeply than perhaps he would like to project. It’s smart, perfectly paced, and genuinely entertaining.
4. The Fighter- A committed cast, led by the astonishing Christian Bale, makes this mostly conventional story work in ways perhaps the script doesn’t deserve. But, David O. Russell finds the heart in it all, and it’s one of the few movies this year after which I actually felt like cheering.
5. Black Swan- a thrilling, go-for-broke exercise in subjective filmmaking. Portman is stunning, and the images that Aronofsky creates stick in your mind for days afterwards. It establishes a particularly unsettling tone and mood, and it’s exciting to be in such an edge-of-your seat vice-grip.
6. A Prophet- The quintessence of muscular filmmaking. It is a triumph on both macro and micro levels, refusing to let up until it’s all played out.
7. Rabbit Hole- Two very hard-hitting performances anchor this tricky tale of grief and loss. It’s appropriately melodramatic and wrenching when it needs to be, but in between you can find a lot of life and humor and hope. It pulls off something that appears to be much easier than it is, and it’s one of this year’s best scripts.
8. Shutter Island- a moving tale of a man who delves into a fictitious narrative to escape a real-world wrestling match with intense guilt and trauma. DiCaprio is mesmerizing; the editing displays some interesting tricks; and a final sequence is haunting in its depiction of human frailty. It’s a fascinating give-and-take between one of my favorite novelists and filmmaker.
9. Inception- Beautifully shot and edited, this film also plunges viewers into a mind that’s experiencing its own difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality. It achieves its moments of greatness in times where the “rules” it sets up are being broken. Certain sequences are memorably jaw-dropping.
10. Catfish- a sort of mystery which features slowly evolving twists if not outright thrills. Some have questioned its authenticity, but if it’s a put-on, I’ve never seen actors behave so naturally. From the beginning, it’s enthralling in its unconventionality. And by the end, it presents a startlingly moving portrait of an empty center surrounded by a social network.