2010 wasn’t quite a one-movie show, but it was almost one. The Social Network was a statement movie, and the rest were just entertainment. But there was some great entertainment.
Links in the movie titles are to trailers.
10. The King’s Speech: Winning the Best Picture Oscar might have done The King’s Speech more harm than good, considering it had already made the bulk of its box office and now has the misfortune of being the movie that beat The Social Network, which was only the defining movie of a generation (NBD). But The King’s Speech was a true pleasure to watch, with an understated style that allowed the two lead performances (Colin Firth as the reluctant King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as the sort-of speech pathologist who helped him overcome a stutter to give the speech declaring war on Germany before WWII) to make flashy statements of their own. As both a speech-language pathologist and a stutterer myself, I found the story and execution fascinating in their authenticity.
9. The Kids Are All Right: While The Kids Are All Right is a delightful comedy of errors that functions both as a plump set piece for its actors (the great Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo with the up-and-coming Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) to dig into and as a nuanced look at family dynamics, I want to set something straight (so to speak) about this movie for my Christian readers. The critics at the time, unsurprisingly, lauded The Kids Are All Right for its progressive views about the modern family, saying that director Lisa Cholodenko successfully blurred the lines between two-gender couples and single-gender ones. I don’t agree with them; I actually think Cholodenko did a brilliant job of honestly examining how a family with two parents of the same gender (moms in this case) was inherently different than a “traditional” family. And for Christians, this difference may be enough to swing you away from watching this movie. But I would challenge you to sit down to watch this movie with an open mind, because it helped engender within me a sense of empathy with an entire segment of the population (LGBTQ) that used to be so alien to me.
8. The Secret in Their Eyes: This Argentine movie worked on two levels. On one level, it was a fascinating whodunit that drew me in till the very end, waiting for the twisted crime to be solved so it could bring some semblance peace to all involved. On another level, it was a compelling love story, contemplating how the feelings of a judge and former detective of a certain age must eventually succumb to the weight of time.
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop: A documentary that’s structured like a conventional documentary but ended up throwing paint on that structure and turning it upside down several times over. Directed by Banksy, the notorious British street artist with the corner on provocative imagery set in everyday locales, Exit Through the Gift Shop was ostensibly about another aspiring street artist, Thierry Guetta, who happened to be very bad at street art, though the film ended up being about even more than Guetta, satirizing the art world and those who consume within it. Exit was made all the more intriguing by the fact that no one could tell if it was real or a mockumentary. I prefer to think it’s fake, but what do I know?
6. Winter’s Bone: Remember when we didn’t know who Jennifer Lawrence was? Chances are, even though she was nominated for her first Oscar for it, you missed out on Lawrence’s breakthrough role, since no one saw Winter’s Bone. And that’s a shame, because this haunting movie was one of the more unflinching looks at backwoods American life I’ve seen that didn’t give in to stereotypes and that accurately depicted the emphasis on blood and family that runs through middle America.
5. Tangled: Underrated by critics but beloved by audiences, Tangled was the smashing success that Frozen wasn’t in terms of quality. Obviously, Frozen has been the bigger hit, but as a movie Tangled was far more whole and charming than last year’s winter tale. A retelling of the story of Rapunzel, Tangled was formed in the old-fashioned Disney mold with a new-fangled Pixar sensibility. It seemed to take flack for being unoriginal, but is singing the same old song a sin when you sound better than the old one? Beautiful visuals, a memorable score, and winning characters elevated Tangled to the top of Disney’s princess pack.
4. 127 Hours: The general public already knew Danny Boyle’s kinetic filmmaking style from Slumdog Millionaire, a divisive movie that I happened to love. 127 Hours seemed to be designed to put Boyle’s cinematic histrionics to the ultimate test: Could he make the story of a man getting his arm stuck under a rock visually interesting? The solution, of course, was to let the rock-climbing incident function as a framing device to explore the rest of Aron Ralston’s life, but that was easier said than done, since Ralston was a real person, and it would be far too tempting to slide into meaningless clichés about cherishing one’s life or living to the fullest. But Boyle and his crew were more than up to the task, crafting a visceral memoir that ultimately tells a more complicated story about a man whose very nature seemed to have gotten him into his predicament and who had to draw upon the depths of that nature to get out of it. James Franco’s performance was probably his best up to that point and since.
3. Inception: Until Interstellar, Christopher Nolan only wanted to dazzle our brains. Inception was his proudest achievement in that regard. The Dark Knight was impressive for a myriad of reasons that had less to do with its plotting, while Inception was impressive almost solely for how Nolan navigated the movie’s labyrinthine plot. Nothing about Nolan’s filmography before Inception hinted at the level of creativity he and his crew displayed in the movie’s visuals. And despite what the haters said, Inception‘s story, centered around Cobb’s (DiCaprio) efforts to get back to his children, felt full of emotion, climaxing in the ending’s ambiguity.
2. Toy Story 3: It really shouldn’t have worked. A second sequel for a story that was only meant to last one installment? Those are usually cash grabs, but once again, Pixar proved why they were tops in animation, forging a fitting end to our toy heroes’ story. (Or is it the end? Good grief.) What was even more surprising than the movie simply being good was the fact that it was probably better than the first two, thanks to Pixar weaving metaphors of loss and the passage of time into the story of Andy passing Woody, Buzz, and their friends on to another kid as he heads off to college.
1. The Social Network: It’s impossible for me to look back on 2010 and not see The Social Network as clearly the most important movie of the year. I think back then I would have told you that my favorite movie of the year was Inception; I think I saw it in theaters four times. As for The Social Network, I appreciated the movie, but it didn’t move me or wow me in any way. The film was simply an accurate chronicle of the American dream infiltrating every corner of cyberspace. But the years have been kind to The Social Network; its portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg (the inimitable Jesse Eisenberg, who may have peaked super early in his career- sorry, Jesse) and the founding of Facebook ended up being both diagnostic of the present and remarkably prescient for the future of America’s greed. Watching it again recently, I realized I had forgotten how funny the movie was and how incredible it looked. This may not be David Fincher’s best movie (that might still be Zodiac), but it was 2010’s.
Another Fifteen (alphabetical)
Animal Kingdom: An auspicious debut for Australian director David Michôd, Animal Kingdom did for Aussie mob movies what The Godfather did for American mob movies, which admittedly says more about the dearth of Aussie mob movies than about Kingdom‘s quality, but still, it was a great movie.
Another Year: At this point, Mike Leigh was an unimpeachable master director, and Another Year, about one year in the life of a beloved English couple, continued his incredible streak.
Despicable Me: The minions are due for their big-screen breakout, but first they boosted this delightful animated film into a whole other level from modern, non-Pixar animation.
The Ghost Writer: This chilly thriller somehow came and went, but Roman Polanski’s minor masterpiece has one of the best final shots in recent memory.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1: Obviously the lesser of the two final HP flicks, but don’t let that overshadow how well-made and -acted Pt. 1 was, even in its actionless middle.
How to Train Your Dragon: Dragon came out of nowhere that year; its unusual story about the young Hiccup showing his Viking village the value of the dragons they hate was charming in its wit and breathtaking visuals.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work: Made all the more poignant following the comedienne’s death this year, this documentary was already an insightful peek at her comedic process and her inner processing.
Last Train Home: Lixin Fan probably wasn’t trying to change the documentary genre, but his movie about Chinese migrant workers unwittingly became among the first in a wave of more meditative and image-focused documentaries less dependent on talking heads.
Lebanon: I haven’t seen Fury yet, but it would be hard for Brad Pitt & co. to top this riveting film about an Israeli tank crew.
Let Me In: I fully expected to reject this movie outright, since I love-love-love its Swedish antecedent, Let the Right One In, and although the American version scrapped the original’s creepier, gritty style for a more polished look, Let Me In did tell a clearer story with more affecting performances.
Monsters: Gareth Edwards has Godzilla to his name now, but Monsters was a brilliant, atmospheric monster movie with a built-in metaphor for America’s immigration woes that worked way better than District 9‘s clunky apartheid counterpart the year before.
A Prophet: A Prophet left Shawshank’s redemption burning to a crisp in its wake, as Tahar Rahim’s Malik orchestrates a takeover of the mafia inside of a prison, painting a terrible picture of the system, which appeared to be broken in all countries, not just ours.
Shutter Island: Shutter Island didn’t actually hold up when you thought about its plot, but if anyone cared, it wasn’t me, because I was too busy enjoying the scenery-chewing from Ben Kingsley, the twisted implications of the story, and another underrated turn from DiCaprio.
The Town: Gigli be damned; if Gone Baby Gone hadn’t already, this bank-heist/family drama/romance proved that Ben Affleck deserved your respect.
Waiting for ‘Superman’: It might have been easy to poke holes in Waiting‘s one-sided arguments, but that doesn’t mean that Davis Guggenheim’s screed about America’s public education system wasn’t right.
Future Top Tens
12 Years a Slave
Inside Llewyn Davis
The World’s End
Short Term 12
Zero Dark Thirty
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Dark Knight Rises
Silver Linings Playbook
Life of Pi
The Tree of Life