Despite some chattering about the state of motion pictures and poor offerings in 2010, this hasn’t been a terrible year for movies. What was missing, however, was a runaway favorite — a movie of epic scope and quality.
For my best picture of 2010, I chose Winter’s Bone, which is saying something in itself. Winter’s Bone is wonderful, beautiful, and a hard film that is tremendously realized, but it is also a small film. No movies in 2010 had the eschatological resonance of a Babel (2006) or the gothic profundity of a No Country For Old Men (2007). In short, 2010 was a year of bridesmaids and no clear brides. As usual, it picked up near the end, and there are a handful of very good movies in theaters right now. And so, without further ado, here is my subjective stab at the movies I thought were the cream of the crop for 2010.
Winter’s Bone – See above
The King’s Speech – The acting, the story, impeccable directing. A moving and often funny film that is a joy to watch.
A Prophet – This is maybe on some 2009 lists, but it came out in Dallas in 2010. The French film about a quiet, ambitious Algerian man caught up in the underworld of a French prison is gripping and historically urgent.
Black Swan – Aronofsky’s best, with fantastic performances — immersive drama packing a puzzling parable about life, art, and sexuality.
Animal Kingdom – A killer year for Australian filmmakers (yuck, yuck). Ben Mendleson’s performance in this Down-Under crime thriller is one of the year’s best, and David Michod’s direction and able handling of his downtrodden ensemble makes this movie feel like the debut of Scorsese’s heir.
Best Foreign Films
Fish Tank – A small British film about a fiery adolescent girl living in poverty on the outskirts of London, Fish Tank features great street acting in a grimy world that reeks of the Dardenne brothers’ bleak, realist style.
Farewell – Wonderful and engaging real life spy drama thick with political and philosophical musings and featuring a great performance by filmmaker Emir Kusturica
Mother – It should come as no surprise that Koreans can do creepy films (have you seen The Host or Oldboy?), but many of this film’s scenes play like classic Hitchcock.
Last Train Home – It was a strong year for documentaries, but this film about a family lost to the throws of contemporary Chinese life is so sublime, so moving, so impeccably crafted that it could easily run in theaters as a feature film.
Inside Job – This movie doesn’t just break down the financial meltdown in a way that removes the veil of mystery, it empowers the public to take charge of their nation’s future by challenging the hypocrisy that, as Inside Job reveals, still pervades the corridors of power. Activist and educational filmmaking near its best.
Restrepo – The closet thing to real war on film. Restrepo presents confounding political, moral, and personal conflicts by merely humanizing the soldier’s experience of conflict.
Sweetgrass – Breathtaking and poetic cinéma vérité. You will be hard pressed to find a more beautifully shot film.
Exit Through the Gift Shop – I don’t want to get stuck down this rabbit hole again, so just read the review.
Best Animated Film
Toy Story 3
The King’s Speech — The jumble of personalities and the succinct setting of its royal world provided the director and performers with the tools for a vivid experience.
The Social Network — It took two viewings for this film to resonate with me. Its first scene is impeccable, but throughout Social Network manages to take the language of computer nerds and court depositions and turn it into something like Greek drama.
True Grit — Artful and witty language carries larger-than-life characters.
Debra Granik — Winter’s Bone
Darren Aronofsky — Black Swan
Danny Boyle — 127 Hours
Lisa Cholodenko — The Kids Are All Right
Christopher Nolan — Inception
Adam Kimmel for Never Let Me Go: I wasn’t a fan of the movie, but its entire emotional thrust was contained in its striking mood and visual tone. That this ever felt like a truly moving picture says mountains about its exquisite photography, which accomplished some of the heavy lifting.
Colin Firth — The King’s Speech: We ached with and for him.
Joaquin Phoenix — I’m Still Here: The way Phoenix and Affleck pulled off their docu-dooping was cynical, condescending, and artistically immature. But now that we know it was fiction, Phoenix’s year-long performance was a monster.
James Franco — 127 Hours: Franco was pinned to a rock, and yet he dragged us through an exasperating psychological journey.
Jesse Eisenberg — The Social Network: An engaging and topical film that proved more subtle and morally compelling on a second viewing, Eisenberg’s fast-talking version of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg carries the film’s momentum and heart.
Ciaran Hinds — The Eclipse: Much of what worked about this little Irish film, a feeling mediation on loss and loneliness, had to do with Hinds’ sensitive performance.
Natalie Portman — Black Swan: Portman displays such a breathtaking range of power and emotion that this performance remains unforgettable.
Annette Bening — The Kids Are All Right: Though it didn’t make my top five, The Kids Are All Right was one of my favorite films of the year, and Bening’s deep-feeling performance contained such a relatable honesty that it reminded us that the best drama can often be found in our everyday heartaches.
Jennifer Lawrence — Winter’s Bone: A stony performance, but one which allowed her character to really feel chiseled from the same Ozark rock as the hard-faced supporting cast, many of whom were real locals.
Julianne Moore — The Kids Are All Right: So hysterical, so lovable, so fragile and endearing.
Katie Jarvis — Fish Tank: Spunk to spare; true-grit honesty.
Best Supporting Actor
John Hawkes — Winter's Bone
Ben Mendelsohn — Animal Kingdom
Christian Bale — The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress
Jacki Weaver — Animal Kingdom
Helena Bonham Carter — The King’s Speech
Gemma Jones — You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger