As always, however, there were a number of fantastic films released—some of them blockbusters and some of them more obscure. My choices for the ten best films of the year follow. They are in no particular order, and my rankings are solely based on personal preference—not critical reviews, box office gross or any other factor.
Once you’ve read my choices, hit the comments and let us know which ones you agree with, which ones you don’t and if there are other 2010 films worthy of mention that we left off. Here we go:
The King’s Speech
Take two of the screen’s greatest living actors and give them a riveting, mostly-true story set against the backdrop of the darkest days of the twentieth-century and what do you get? One of the best films of the year, that’s what. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are equally astounding in their respective roles, and Helena Bonham Carter manages to get away from being Tim Burton’s muse for a few minutes and turn in a great performance as well. It will be a tragedy if this small-but-huge film does not take home several Oscars in a few months.
Toy Story 3
Quick, how many third films can you think of that are the best in their trilogy? Joining that list of movies you can count on one hand is the final Toy Story from the wizards at Pixar. This film takes the familiar cast from the first two movies and mixes in the patented Pixar blend of humor, poignancy and charm. The result is the best animated film of the year, one of the best overall films of the year and another notch on Pixar’s impeccable list of achievements. Someday the studio will have to release a clunker, but it ain’t this year.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
This will likely be the most controversial choice in this list. Scott Pilgrim is definitely a “love it or hate it” kind of movie, and I fall squarely into the former camp. Yes, the title character is a variation on the George Michael Bluth-type that Michael Cera has been playing for years, but it works in this nerdy/hipster hybrid role.
The movie is a feast for the senses, with speed-of-light visuals and vintage video game sound effects coupled with a witty script and great supporting cast. This movie looks like it was an absolute blast to make, and is very, very funny. When the cast seems like they’re having a great time, it’s likely the audience will too.
I’ve never seen the original John Wayne version, nor read the novel both films are based on. I consider that a plus, as I was able to go into this movie with no expectations or preconceptions.
Insiders who read my “Best of the 2000s” list last year will know that I am a huge Coen brothers fan, and their latest does not disappoint. Genuinely funny, occasionally brutal, and always riveting, this is the Coens at their finest. Don’t even get me started on the dialogue, with its perfect, rapid-fire blend of eloquence and ignorance. The only sour note in the whole thing for me was the poorly executed “rattlesnake” scene. Besides that small misfire, True Grit is a tremendous achievement in cinema.
Christopher Nolan is right up there with the Coens on my short list of favorite filmakers, and this blockbuster thriller shows why he deserves to be there. Nolan takes a fascinating concept and couples it with some great performances and seamless special effects. It’s not often that a film this good makes this much money.
The multilayered plot threatens to double back on itself one too many times, just like Nolan’s equally fabulous Memento, but like the latter film, Inception manages to just avoid dissolving into incoherence. And I know people who are STILL talking about the meaning of the last shot.
Thanks to some superb performances, especially by a gaunt Christian Bale, this film manages to transcend most of the cliches of the boxing genre. Mark Wahlberg is excellent as a down-on-his-luck pugilist, and the movie is not afraid to get the audience cheering. The Fighter joins Rocky and Raging Bull on the list of the top boxing movies of all time.
How to Train your Dragon
A second animated film on this list? Absolutely. With Dragon, Dreamworks has finally shown that it’s capable of combining technical wizardry with sophisticated storytelling to produce a film of near-Pixar quality.
This tale of Hiccup and his crippled erstwhile enemy is beautifully animated and has a surprising amount of heart. Especially encouraging is the ending, which packs quite a bit of maturity and a bit of melancholy into something that is usually saccharine-sweet in most children’s films.
The Ghost Writer
This movie came and went early this year, hardly making a dent in the box office charts. And that’s a shame, because despite whatever his personal failings may be, Roman Polanski demonstrated that he’s still a top-tier director with this film. Ewen McGregor gives a quietly powerful performance as the unnamed “Ghost”, and Pierce Brosnan turns in his best performance in years as the not-quite-Tony Blair former prime minister. The movie also ends with the best, most stylish closing shot of the year. Hitchcock would be proud.
Another top-notch film from a legendary director, Shutter Island is a creepy masterwork. With its heavy atmosphere and stellar performances, this movie is both modern and a throwback to thrillers of years past. The final moments seem a bit rushed after the protracted, tension-filled buildup, and the payoff is not quite as good as it could have been. Overall, however, I rank this up with the best of Scorsese’s works, and it amply demonstrates that the old guy’s got a few surprises left in him yet.
The Social Network
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg may not have appreciated this movie, but pretty much everyone else who saw it does. Aaron Sorkin’s machine-gun dialogue has never been more spot on, and Jesse Eisenberg is outstanding as the college misfit who would go on to become the world’s youngest billionaire. Even Justin Timberlake’s surprisingly capable performance adds something to this extremely well-crafted film. It’s hard to imagine a world without “the Facebook”, and it’s hard to imagine a way to improve this story of the site’s inception.
Dishonorable Mention: Clash of the Titans, Grown Ups, The American, The Bounty Hunter
Best Movies I Didn’t See: Winter’s Bone, Black Swan