In honor of tonight’s Academy Awards, let’s all put 2010 to bed. I’ll do my part here with my favorite films from last year:
9. The Town
Ben Affleck, where you been all my life? This guy is undergoing a career resuscitation the likes of which are rarely seen. First, his sparkling directorial debut “Gone Baby Gone,” and now this, a tense thriller that is worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as “Heat.” And, man, Jeremy Renner is must-see viewing once again.
7. The Fighter/True Grit
These are listed together because they both left me feeling the same way: They’re both solid genre films with excellent performances, but neither raises to the level of truly “great.” That’s not a knock on them, either. It’s just we’ve seen the boxer/Western before; making a film that doesn’t just parrot the genre is an achievement in itself, and these are both excellent examples of well-worn areas. But neither rose above their respective worlds to set themselves apart.
6. The A-Team
This is where I remind you, this is not a “best of” list, but rather a ranking purely on favortism. “The A-Team” is not a better movie than those listed above it, but it was such a pleasure to watch. This should’ve been a bigger hit than it was. The casting is the key: the four leads—Neeson, especially—take their roles seriously and give the film a gravitas most stupid action movies lack. It helps, of course, they have a great script to work with, packed with one-liners that leave you chuckling long after the credits roll. Pure fun, this one.
I didn’t actually love this movie; the gotcha ending was extraordinarily irritating. But I rank it this high because it was so fascinating. Christopher Nolan has a singular vision, and he’s the only director working in Hollywood today who could’ve pulled this off—the Spielberg of this generation. We always complain about not seeing anything original in the Cineplex … well, you certainly can’t make that claim here. Nolan twisted our minds and our senses into pretzels this summer, and irritating ending or not, it left us all talking afterward. That, alone, is a worthy achievement. Add the stunning visuals and whirlpool storytelling, and “Inception” is one I think we’ll still be talking about a decade from now.
4. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows—Part 1
Director David Yates pulled off a magic trick of his own with this one, somehow making J.K. Rowling’s complex mythology (confusing even when reading her novel) understandable. And along the way, he made a movie with the heart and soul of an indie wrapped in the budget and trappings of a blockbuster franchise. Not many directors would take the time in a production like this to allow for one of its best scenes: Harry and Hermione’s dance in the darkest of nights. The best installment yet of this series, “Deathly Hallows—Part 1” will go down as “The Empire Strikes Back” of the Potter films.
3. Get Low
The most underappreciated, underrated film of 2010. Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and Lucas Black (you know, the kid from “Sling Blade”) all give outstanding performances in this story of love, betrayal, guilt, and redemption. It starts out as an offbeat comedy about a man planning his own funeral, and then in Act 3 morphs into a touching tale of a man in search of forgiveness for a sin he’s carried with him for far too long.
2. Toy Story 3
If asked a different day, this may be my favorite film of last year. A true masterpiece, Pixar somehow managed to top itself yet again in its signature franchise. Laugh-out-loud funny, edge-of-your-seat exciting, jaw-droppingly imaginative (toys as mafiosos!), and an ending that can make grown men cry … this is a tremendous film for all ages. Its message of looking to the future and not clinging to the past is one to live by.
1. The Social Network
A portrait of an online artist as a young man, this fascinating and gripping tale of Facebook creator (?) Mark Zuckerberg left me pondering for days what the cost of fame, wealth, and success. Aaron Sorkin (though I loathe him personally) delivers the crowning achievement of his career with a script that deftly weaves what is essentially two legal proceedings into a spellbinding narrative. Add the sure hand of director David Fincher, a career-defining performance from Jesse Eisenberg, and the fact “The Social Network” left me puzzling over its revelations for days, and that all adds up to my favorite film of 2010.
A Note About ‘The King’s Speech’
I understand why this film earned so much critical acclaim and so many nominations, but it left me feeling too cold to make this list. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter are all outstanding, but Firth’s character is a little hard to root for. I hope it doesn’t win tonight.