*I wrote this yesterday morning when NPR was reporting Rep. Giffords had died. What it has to do with a top ten list, I don’t know, but I was in the mood to vent.
On the disturbing and tragic weekend when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been shot, several more wounded, and six others killed (including a federal judge and a nine year old girl just out to see democracy in action) in Tucson it seems fairly frivolous to publish a post celebrating my favorites of 2010. As this country drifts towards a third world economic and political system championed by blind ideologues on the Right, I feel like I need to justify my passion for movies and storytelling, though I really shouldn’t have to. Most of my regular readers understand the power and benefit of storytellers inspiring our collective imaginations. They remind us of the possibilities we had forgotten, the goals that fell by the wayside, and the empathy we so desperately need today.
I don’t know what motivated the shooting yesterday morning, though there are plenty of political commentators and buffoons who have been calling for violence both directly and indirectly for years now. They suggest how the wonder of storytelling can be turned against us by weaving fantastic and paranoid tales for their own political gain. They’ve convinced many people that Obama is a Muslim Manchurian candidate sent to subvert our country with Communistic programs. That Obama is neither Muslim nor anywhere near is Communist is immaterial to them. It helps further their agenda.
Whether Jared Loughner was inspired by Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, or Sarah Palin (if your “crosshairs” map had nothing to do with guns, why did you take it down?) is almost irrelevant because they have been spearheading our descent into Banana Republicanism for years: non-regulated markets, limited social services, low taxes (especially on the wealthy), a weak educational system, and, not coincidentally, easy access to guns. I’ve always wondered why the people who think these things are so wonderful don’t go live someplace that already has them in place, like Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and parts of Colombia. Stays in those places would give them a taste of what’s to come here should they have their way.
Luckily there are still enough people who value truth, fact, and honesty that are willing to stand up and expose their misuse of data, twisting of facts, and omissions of truths. Their plan to dismantle civilization ushering in a new Dark Age under the supervision of Ayn Rand’s soulless “philosophy” will not go as expected. And, of course, one of the best ways to dilute this myopic Constitutional fanaticism and laissez-faire fetishism is to tell stories that touch people’s souls. Maybe if more Tea Partiers saw more of the movies on the list below (and sought to understand them), they would be a little less likely to paint everyone who doesn’t agree with them or who looks different from them with the same dismissive and dehumanizing brush. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
Now that I’ve made a “serious” point, I don’t feel quite so guilty about my focus on movies. Getting back to the subject at hand, here is my list of favorite movies that were released in 2010. I see these movies as everything that is right in our culture today, as opposed to the dishonest rhetoric like hateful political talk that goes on day and night or the absurdly ahistorical Kennedy miniseries that the History Channel has finally declined to air because, from what we see in the script, it amounts to little more than a right-wing character assassination of Jack Kennedy. But let’s move on from this political diatribe. Focus, Jason, focus.
This list is partial and temporary. I loved all the movies on it, but there are still several I haven’t seen like Mother and Child, Please Give, Biutiful, I Love You Philip Morris, Godard’s Socialism, among others. (In fact, looking at a list of releases for 2010, it’s amazing how many of them I haven’t seen considering all the time I spent at the movies.) And this doesn’t even include foreign titles that won’t make it to us until later this year. So think of this as a tentative list of the best, subject to many changes by the time I do this officially when I finally get here on my annual countdowns.
1. Toy Story 3
2. Another Year
5. I Am Love*
6. Rabbit Hole
9. The Social Network
* These are actually 2009 releases, but we didn’t see them in theaters until 2010 here in the U.S.
Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Best Actor: Edgar Ramírez (Carlos)
Best Supporting Actress: Olivia Williams (Ghost Writer)
Best Supporting Actor: Ciarán Hinds (Life during Wartime)
Yes the best movie of the year is Toy Story 3. I don’t know how that gels with those commentators who called me heartless or some other such nonsense for not liking True Grit.
Natalie Portman was stunning in Black Swan and all indications are she will get an Oscar for it. Other close contenders were Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Vincere), Hye-ja Kim (Mother), Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Lesley Manville (Another Year), Tilda Swinton (I Am Love), Rachel Weisz (Agora), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Naomi Watts (Fair Game), and Isabelle Hupert (White Material).
Edgar Ramírez will not be eligible for an Oscar because of the Academy’s increasingly archaic rules, but he gives one of the most complete performances of the year in Carlos. Other close contenders are James Franco (127 Hours, a movie he essentially carried by himself), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), Sean Penn (Fair Game), George Clooney (The American), Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter), Andrew Garfield (Never Let Me Go), and Jim Broadbent (Another Year).
For best supporting actress I chose Olivia Williams for a mysterious and layered performance in Roman Polanski’s political thriller The Ghost Writer. Nods should also go to Amy Adams (The Fighter), Diane Wiest (Rabbit Hole), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech), Kiera Knightley (Never Let Me Go), Alba Rohrwacher (I Am Love), Ruth Sheen (Another Year), and Allison Janney (Life during Wartime) *Update (Jan. 13): I forgot to include Barbara Hershey in Black Swan.
Ciarán Hinds, in an overlooked performance from an admittedly pretty bad movie, is my best supporting actor. How many people can make a child molester so compelling without being exploitative? (Oh yeah, the last guy to play the part, Dylan Baker in 1998’s Happiness.) Other close contenders are Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech), John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole), Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Christian Bale (The Fighter), Max Minghella (Agora), Nicholas Duvauchelle (White Material), and Flavio Parenti (I Am Love) *Update (Jan. 13): How could I have forgotten the wonderful work of Armie Hammer as the Winkelvoss twins in The Social Network?*
The worst picture I saw in 2010 was The Last Airbender, an especially tedious and cynical exercise. It wasn’t even so bad that it was funny. It was just plain terrible. It was made even worse when I sat down and watched the animated series and I found that M. Night failed to capture any of the humor of the characters. Everything was so unnecessarily dark. The creators of the show ought to be annoyed while they spend all the money. Runners-up for the worst are Little Fockers, Paranormal Activity 2, Tron: Legacy, Burlesque, Greenberg, Micmacs, Robin Hood, and Faster.
Faster also ends up as one of the most disappointing because of Dwayne Johnson’s failed attempt to get back into action, the place he should have been all along. He looked uncomfortable in the film, like he didn’t know the cameras were running. If he’s going to be in something this stinky he should at least throw us a bone and spend more time with less clothes on. I have scientifically worked it out and if he had been (at least) shirtless in 65% of the movie, it would have been 84% more bearable. (It would have still been bad, but an enjoyable bad — like eating bad blueberry pie. No matter how bad, it is, after all, still blueberry pie.)
Other disappointments were Hereafter, Alice in Wonderland, Shutter Island, The Town, Get Low, Splice, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, Howl, and Greenberg.
And there have been a slew of overrated pictures: Winter’s Bone, Exit through the Gift Shop, Greenberg, The Kids Are All Right, True Grit, White Material, and Waiting for ‘Superman’.
All in all it was an interesting year of movie-going, if not exactly great. There was a decent action movie (Inception), a couple of pretty good romantic comedies, which is quite a feat for this now barren genre (Letters to Juliet and How Do You Know), a charmingly goofy Christmas horror/thriller from Finland’s (Rare Exports), and a few shockingly good remakes (The Karate Kid, Let Me In, and The Crazies ).