Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jeremy's Top 10 Films of 2010

2010 was the year of the great ending. It's extremely difficult to conclude an entire film in a way that distills its theme without forcing a resolution or being a bit too on the nose. But this year, several films saved their greatest moments for late in the game.

As enticing as the first two acts of "Black Swan" are, several past films have inspired the same puzzled excitement, only to limp to the finish line with a labored reveal. But the third act was a perfect culmination of the main character's psychosis, which she harnesses into a dance performance.

Given its rather bleak worldview, the conclusion of "The Illusionist" required stunning execution. Anything less would have inspired ridicule. So Sylvain Chomet delivered one flawless shot after one perfectly timed cut after another.

And the simple, sly framing of the chilling last shot of "Dogtooth" lets the film's uneasy subject matter linger.

I could go on, starting with the final moments of the best film of 2010, but I better just get to my top 10 list…

1. "Never Let Me Go"
With a remarkable economy of storytelling, Mark Romanek mixes the familiar with the extraordinary in this alternate-history science-fiction tale, based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel. Carey Mulligan, who is quickly establishing herself as one of the best young actresses around, joins with Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley to portray three friends who grew up in a government-run British schoolhouse, raised for a very specific purpose. (There are also several great supporting performances.)

Romanek manages to make things clear to us even when they aren't clear to the characters, making the film's push toward inevitable heartbreak all the more devastating.

2. "Black Swan"
Darren Aronofsky somehow manages to satirize star culture with merciless black humor whilst truly getting in the head of a woman who wants nothing except to perform her role perfectly — and keep her new place at the top of her dance company.

3. "Lourdes"
There is a moment in Jessica Hausner's film that is so astounding, that is built up to so beautifully, that you almost wonder if you really saw it. Set in the French mountain town known for its miracles, "Lourdes" follows the expedition of a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic who travels with a tour group to queue up to be bathed in healing water like it's the new ride at Six Flags. Hausner's film is sly, funny and constantly surprising.

4. "A Prophet"
French director Jacques Audiard's smart, visceral film depicts a correctional system that breeds more crime and violence. It focuses on Malik, a man who uses his intelligence and adaptability to play the system and take advantage of the corrupt hierarchy of prison life.

5. "The Illusionist"
While some filmmakers buy up the rights to make lifeless, digital versions of legendary performers of the past, Sylvain Chomet ("The Triplets of Belleville") revived Jaques Tati by using his distinct animation as the defibrillator. Every frame is drawn with care and affection, and Chomet brings out the humor and deep sadness from the unproduced Tati screenplay.

6. "True Grit"
Joel and Ethan Coen re-adapted Charles Portis's western novel into a film that stands brilliantly on its own, loaded with memorable performances and gorgeous cinematography. Jeff Bridges's performance as Rooster Cogburn is one of those instantly iconic turns, but young Hailee Steinfeld does equally outstanding work with a less showy role.

7. "Last Train Home"
Lixin Fan's beautifully shot documentary examines the changing landscape of China through the eyes of one family. We see the difficult lives of migrant Chinese workers, trying to get back to see their family. Fan not only reaches a level of extreme intimacy with the family, but captures their story with remarkable visual grace. From the first shot to the last, Fan shows a visual precision rarely associated with documentary filmmaking.

8. "Somewhere"
Sofia Coppola's exploration of secluded movie star life may seem simple, but it's actually a carefully observed study of how the world reacts to fame, and how famous people in turn react to that changed world. The film is about a star (Stephen Dorff) as he spends more time than usual with his daughter (Elle Fanning). Coppola doesn't merely study the father-daughter relationship, but how the movie star's life — women constantly throw themselves at him — affects that relationship.

9. "Dogtooth"
All parents feel the urge to protect their children from certain evils of the adult world. The Greek film "Dogtooth" is about some parents who take that urge a little too far, lying to their children about the outside world, which they've never seen because they aren't allowed to leave the confines of their house. Director Giorgos Lanthimos balances horrific scenarios with deadpan humor, and never becomes complacent with the film's concept. He constantly finds new ways to disturb the hell out of us.

10. "The American"
In the tradition of the great thrillers of the 1970s, Anton Corbijn's "The American" precisely builds its mood while letting the suspense slowly increase. It seems that audiences, drawn to the film by George Clooney's sexy sexy star power, felt duped after flocking to the film on its first weekend. Maybe it's just a matter of taste, but I can't see how anyone who was really paying attention could be bored.

Eleven tied for 11th: "Bellamy," "Carlos," "Sweetgrass," "White Material," "Wild Grass," "Winter's Bone," "Another Year," "Around a Small Mountain," "Shutter Island," "Mother" and "Toy Story 3."

Honorable Mention: "Alamar," "Animal Kingdom," "Catfish," "Enter the Void," "Everyone Else," "The Fighter," "A Film Unfinished," "The Ghost Writer," "Green Zone," "Greenberg," "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow," "How to Train Your Dragon," "I Am Love," "Exit Through The Gift Shop," "The Kids Are Alright," "Life During Wartime," "127 Hours," "Please Give," "Rabbit Hole," "Red Riding Trilogy," "Scott Pilgrim vs The World," "The Social Network," "The Town" and "Vincere."

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