Before December though, I would substitute the word uninspired for terrible. This summer in particular was one clunker after another. I know we don’t go to the movies in the summer to see Academy Award material, but is it asking for at least craftsmanship and professionalism. So many movies were just so very average, as disposable as tissue, even lacking in basic entertainment value.
As of this writing, I have seen more than 70 2010 movies, either at the theater or later on DVD and cable TV. I didn’t get to see everything. I regret not seeing “The Town” and hope to make quick amends on that one. I mainly see traditional Hollywood fare, but thanks to the After Hours Film Society in Downers Grove, IL, I was able to see a fair number of art, independent and foreign films. Many of these were critically acclaimed, but a surprising number of them left me cold.
My area of west suburban Chicago is blessed with many second-run movie theaters so I didn’t pay first-run prices for a lot of these. But the movies were so undistinguished that I resented even spending $3 to see them and felt myself asking, usually about halfway through, why I wasn’t home watching something on TCM instead. I felt that way more this year than any other year I can remember, and I’ve been going to the movies on a regular basis for more than 40 years.
But all in all, there were 10 films which gave me much pleasure and several, I think, will be timeless classics. Heck, even Tony Scott delivered a good one with “Unstoppable.” Maybe it wasn’t such a bad year after all.
In descending order, my top 10 films of the year are:
10. The Secret In Their Eyes
Last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film was gripping from beginning to end. Benjamin and Irene first meet in 1974 during the investigation of a rape and murder when she is a judge’s assistant and he is a young investigator. In 2000 they meet again when Benjamin wants to re-open the original investigation. Irene is now a respected judge. The movie bounces back and forth to the 1974 investigation and the current one. I don’t want to say any more, but this is terrific entertainment with a concluding chase at a soccer game that Hitchcock would have applauded. Well deserving of its Oscar.
9. Get Low
Some of the year’s best acting was found in this wonderful film. Set in Tennessee in the 1930s, Robert Duvall plays an eccentric hermit who plans his own funeral, even deciding who will give his eulogy. He wants to see what people say about him, and to see that his money will be well spent. Wonderful period detail with a dryly funny Bill Murray as the town’s undertaker, and Sissy Spacek as Duvall’s old flame.
8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/The Girl Who Played With Fire
Like everyone else, I was mesmerized by the books and thought these adaptations from Sweden were excellent. I still need to see (and read) “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”, but if it’s even half as good as these, it will be a winner. Noomi Rapace may be not be physically perfect for the Lisbeth Salander role – she’s not petite enough – but she inhabits the role so thoroughly, it’s one of those instances where physical resemblance isn’t important.
The Coen Bros. were smart to retain much of the pitch perfect dialogue from the book, which is one of the great American novels. Still it irks me a bit when some say how faithful this is to the book, much more than the first version, done in 1969 with John Wayne. While I think the Coen Bros. do a better job of successfully translating the film’s tone, the Wayne version actually features more of the book, and uses just as much of the dialogue as the current version does. The Coen Bros. version’s ending is truer to the book, but I prefer the sense of closure the earlier version gave us. Still a marvelous, marvelous film but if I had a gun pointed to my head, I would give the nod to the original.
6. The Social Network
Good movie, but for me a tad overrated. Beautifully shot and splendidly acted, it was a real pleasure to hear such rich dialogue on the screen delivered by such good actors. But, in the long run, it struck me as being about two groups of self absorbed millionaires fighting over even more millions. But there’s no denying the entertainment factor while watching it.
5. Easy A
One of the warmest, funniest, wisest and most human films of the year, this was a total delight from beginning to end. This story of Olive, a high school girl who gets an unearned reputation for being loose and the consequences that follow, was captivating viewing. Emma Stone became a star with this movie and I hope we’re graced with her talent for a long time to come. She has the talent, charisma and screen presence of the great actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Why this wasn’t a bigger hit I have no idea.
4. The Ghost Writer
The year’s best and smartest thriller, courtesy director Roman Polanski, with nary a gun shot or chase sequence in sight. Ewan McGregor is hired to ghost write the memoirs of former British prime minister Pierce Brosnan just as revelations about the prime minister’s approval of torture activities threaten to erupt in scandal. The setting is a lonely, windswept, autumnal beach on Martha’s Vineyard in a house where everyone harbors secrets. Some complained about the ending, but I thought it was chilling. I thought Brosnan was revelatory in “The Tailor of Panama” (2001), and he’s even better here. I love it when former 007s show what good actors they really are.
One of the best trilogies of all times gets a memorable and genuinely moving send off. I wish they could bottle what it’s in the air at Pixar Studios and distribute it throughout the rest of Hollywood.
2. The Fighter
Incredible acting fuel this true working class life story about boxer Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his crack-addicted trainer Dickie (Christian Bale). Everyone here is at the top of their game. I loved the sisters in this. They’re more frightening than anything you’ll see in a horror movie.
1. The King’s Speech
What can I say, but as perfect and impeccable a movie as you’ll see all year, just tops in direction, acting and writing. There’s nothing so satisfying as a good story well told. I can’t imagine anyone of any age group not being captivated by this movie.
The Girl on the Train: French film based on a real case about a young Jewish woman who fakes an Anti-Semitic attack. Sad to watch, but engrossing from start to finish. Catherine Deneuve plays the girl’s mother, and she’s as wonderful to watch as ever.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I: A good build up to the big finale, but more than a bit sluggish in its pacing. What I’ve always liked about the books, and the movies, is how positively Dickensian the characters are who inhabit this world. For me, this one didn’t have enough of those Dickensian moments. And my main complaint about this entry is the same problem I had with the book – when are they going to get out of that damn forest? It had me pining for some awesome Slavko Vorkapich montages to show the passing of time.
Letters to Juliet: Vanessa Redgrave talks granddaughter Amanda Seyfried into driving through Italy to look for the lost love of her youth. I know this likely has not appeared on other Best of 2010 lists, but to me it was completely satisfying in a way so many current movies today aren’t. Emotions are honestly earned, the Italian location footage is to die for and the characters are very appealing and very human. Put a Max Steiner score and a Delmer Daves director’s credit on it and it could have been a most enjoyable evening at the movies in the 1960s, and believe me, that is not an insult. Plus, I’m in love with Amanda Seyfried so that helped a great deal.
Salt: It was nice to watch an action movie and be able to actually follow the action. That hasn’t happened with a new actioner in a long time.
Worst Films of the Year
The A Team: Loud, obnoxious and stupid. When I think of the classic tradition of men with a mission movies like “The Guns of Navarone” (1961) or “Where Eagles Dare” (1968) and then see trash like this, it makes me want to weep. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
Loved by Many, but Left Me with a Mere Shrug of the Shoulders
Alice in Wonderland; Animal Kingdom; How to Train Your Dragon; I Am Love; Inception; Mother; Winter’s Bone