by Jaime Grijalba.
So, here I am, after all my talk about doing my list in february I’m doing it now. Why? Well, I was checking my blog archives and it turns out I always posted my list a couple of days after the Oscar nominations, an ocassion that always bring me some sort of happiness: I get to see a lot of films and everyone is doing their predictions, even if the nominees aren’t what you expect, you always root for something at the end of the day. Looking back, awards season has always meant something for me, and the Oscars have a special place in my heart, since usually I started going to school the next day, now university, and you always have something to talk about for a couple of days (and it’s an excellent conversation fuel with people you don’t know yet).
Now this should be the paragraph in which I talk about how a bad year for movies 2010 was, and how future looks dim and somber and how we are all going to die a sad death. I won’t do this to you, but I’ll say this, 2009 was a better year for movies, the range between good and bad films was very small and I have to say that any of my four favorite performances of last year (Nicolas Cage, Catalina Saavedra, Christoph Waltz and Maggie Gyllenhaal) are way better than the four performances that (for now) are my favorites of 2010. There has been a real disminishment in quality overall and I can’t explain why, there was no real technical dazzlement apart from the movies that make the first five spots in my list.
So, I bother you no more with my random thoughts and I present to you the better 20 films of those I’ve seen in 2010. Keep in mind that this list includes shorts, TV movies and miniseries as well, and they must’ve been released in the year 2010 period, no 2009 or 2008 movies that were unseen until now, no exceptions made whatsoever. Let’s start then.
20. Machete (Robert Rodriguez/Ethan Maniquis)
This is the first, and I really do hope not the last, movie based on one of the fake trailers that played during the course of “Grindhouse” (2007). While my favorite was “Don’t”, directed by the always awesome Edgar Wright, this one was a second favorite for me, and I was glad that it was being made by the same team that brought it together in its shorter version. This is a quality exercise in the new wave of movies that homage exploitation movies from the 60’s and 70’s, this time the mexploitation genre. There are two things that make this worthwhile seeing, one is the splendid cast, really surprising for a movie that is just a rehash of a B-movie with no art ambition (at first sight), Danny Trejo’s acting is truly amazing for the character he’s playing, this is Steven Seagal’s best movie in decades, Jessica Alba surprises after a bunch of bad choices, Michelle Rodriguez plays a character she has played before but with an interesting twist that makes it lovable, Robert de Niro is just there to be amazing and Don Johnson is there to be Don Johnson. The second thing is that it is aware of itself and its silliness, if it took itself too seriously, at the moment in which Machete goes and uses an intestine as an elevator would be unbearable.
19. You Don’t Know Jack (Barry Levinson)
This HBO TV movie features two great comebacks, both of them I’m really happy about. First, there’s Al Pacino, who gives an amazing performance as the controversial real life figure Jack Kevorkian, who assisted many suicides as a doctor for people who didn’t want to go on with their sickness. Even if you are for or against this procedure this movie is highly watchable for Pacino alone and to Levinson’s direction, which is the second comeback I’m talking about. The story feels unbiased, while it centers on a one-sided figure, it manages to talk about what’s wrong with the issue, and that balance is direct responsability on how the elements are played by the director, and in that way this is Levinson’s best project in over a decade. Pacino’s performance has been recognized in many places as one of his best in his career as he combines all the aspects and doubts that a person like Kevorkian would have in his everyday life, being this his best performance in years and one of the strongest of 2010. For those against this issue, don’t worry (I’m still doubtful about this one) it doesn’t try to convince you otherwise nor it tries to embellish Kevorkian as a white knight when it all comes down, as it is expected.
18. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
What it’s so great about the latest film of Roman Polanski? Is it the always present sense of danger even in the safety of the house of an ex-prime minister? Is it Desplat’s splendid and captivating score? Is it the perfect chemistry-antagonization between Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan? The way the weather seems to reflect the suspicions and plot movements in the story? How we are kept guessing until the last moments who did what and when? The surprisingly good Olivia Williams playing the always faithful wife of the ex-prime minister? Eli Wallach? That excellent piece of camera work and score that makes the delivery of a piece of paper one of the most exciting action scenes of the year? The nihilistic ending? The way it talks about things we know and yet at the same time it never mentions them? How we all thought this was going to be the last Polanski film? Was it the minimalistic yet splendid set decoration? Choose five.
17. Salt (Phillip Noyce)
“Ok, let’s see how bad this movie really is…”
“Hey! That’s really cool!”
“I want more?”
That was an aproximate rendition of my reaction to this film. Who puts faith in a movie like this? No one, yet I’m not alone in seeing this as a pleasant surprise and one of the best action movies in years, and that’s because it’s quick, to the point, and at the same time, relevant (even if the russians are in the mix). Angelina Jolie makes a good case for female action heroines, and she was already showing it with her earlier efforts in the two Tomb Raider movies (obviously, less succesful).
16. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)
Sane or insane? Does it matter? This film has proven to be an argument starter, many think that it demonstrates the downfall of Scorsese’s career during the last decade, while the other side struggles between the ‘very well made thriller’ and ‘love card to cinema’ argument. As you can see, I am more on the possitive side, and while I agree with the positions assumed here, I think there’s much more to it, as I consider this to be one of Scorsese’s best films. Maybe it was the cinematography, the excellent musical choices, or the surprising Di Caprio’s performance as a mentally unstable U.S. Marshall. This movie stands more than in its eternal quandary of what is real in Teddy Daniel’s mind, as it manages to speak about many other things like, for example, what it means to be a man in today’s society in which the female figure is definitively more important in every aspect of modern life, just see how the displacement, the speech and the death of the femenine characters in the movie are the fuel of every action made by their male counterparts, and how every change in their situations changes the plot. And for my money, this one is better than ‘Goodfellas’, just putting that out there (mafia films aren’t usually my cup of tea).
15. Day & Night (Teddy Newton)
As worth seeing as the movie that came after this short, and just as worth of rating among the best work of the year, this short animation came before the Pixar release of the year, ‘Toy Story 3’. Using 2D and 3D animation, this reminds of a Chuck Jones cartoon in which the characters don’t talk but there’s a narration through it, like ‘The Dot and the Line’, it is said that it was one of the few reasons to see Toy Story 3 in 3D (I couldn’t possibly know, I saw it on 2D). Its message of tolerance and acceptance towards the other, as well as impressive animation work and just seeing how much fun this two characters are having on the screen makes it one of the best animation shorts by Pixar so far.
14. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright)
Is this the future of movies? I hope not, because this is way too original visual wise to be a trend I could follow. This impressive visual effects show is really little else, and while I am in the generation that this aims to, I was left cold with some of the references made here: I was not a kid of the Nintendo, I was more of a PlayStation guy, the music is not of my liking, indie music has never appealed to me, as it does appeal my friends. I can see why someone can find this movie ‘hipster’, but it didn’t strike me as much as I thought it would, something that did happen with a Spike Jonze short from this year ‘I’m Here’, which I found almost unbearably hipster. The story of Scott Pilgrim and the 7 Evil Exes may sound tiring, even formulaic in some sense, but as it went on, I managed to see something else, as they were preparing to fight, or even while they fought, the dialogue seemed to have been lifted off from hundreds and hundreds of kung-fu films from the 70s, you know, Shaw Bros stuff, and that was something I found neat and more than a show-off, a labour of love towards a generation, a ludic generation, a generation that lives and breathes the stuff that Scott Pilgrim is made of, even if some people don’t like it.
13. How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DeBlois/Chris Sanders)
This was the big surprise of the year, no one would have guessed that this would become one of the most acclaimed movies of the past year, an animation feature from Dreamworks Animation, a studio that doesn’t always rank among the best animation works of any given year, but with this sweet charming adventure they have achieved their best work yet. With a nordic feel akin to Dean DeBlois prior work, the documentary ‘Heima’, about the musical tour of the icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós in their home country looking for new sounds and doing spontaneous concerts. I felt the movie was really good because I felt I was inside of a new world, fully created, just for this movie, and while that achievement could be thankful to the series of books it was based on written by Cressida Cowel. It’s important to say that famous cinematographer Roger Deakins, who helped the directors into giving this film a ‘live-action feel’, which feels completely realized on the big screen. I was told, once more, that this was another movie worth seeing in 3D, I hope they had a nice time. At the end of the year this manages to be a movie that gathers a lot of incredible technical talent to bring us one of the best animated motion pictures that it’s not from Pixar, the only fault I can find is the voice characterization, the voice I listened to couldn’t possibly come from that character.
12. The Social Network (David Fincher)
The critical darling, the one that’s receiving all the accolades from all the critic circles from all over the United States, and even in some places as far as my country, Chile, is being given the status of ‘masterpiece’ and ‘Oscar winner’. Well, it is good enough to make into my list of the best of 2010, but not in the top 10 (which, after all, is what really counts for everyone, the extra 10 usually show how ecclectic/good/bad taste someone has). As a Facebook user since late 2007, I was part of the first batch of chileans that became part of this social network, and I was completely ignorant about who created it, or what kind of struggles it went into, I was just angry and sometimes happy about the many (many) changes it went through in its interface and modus operandi, so seeing how it all came together and the libels going around between all these group of people really put this webpage in perspective. I kinda hated how it all begun, there was no real emotion, and by that I mean other than the need of a payback because you were dumped, and this movie really managed to capture that emotionless group as it went along through the Facebook opening and explosion. The movie is extremely well done, with absolutely fantastic cinematography, an invigorating score (by a couple of guys I don’t really like), rapid and electrifying dialogue, and the one of the best ensemble casting of the year, lead by Eisenberg and Garfield. As I said, this emotionless group was portrayed so well, that the direction tone felt emotionless as well, and that distance from the material what brings me to not liking it as much as everyone else.
11. Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard)
I’ll use the commentary I wrote under JAFB’s top 10 list of 2010, which featured this film on the spot number 2. This movie represents the cinema of the past. This movie is the last movie, the last movie from the past, because it is a deconstruction of all its formal qualities: dialogue, cinematography, plot, characters, lighting, sound, editing, everything becomes palpable, the filmmaking method is made visible, everything may seem ridiculous or completely serious, the movie doesn’t try to hide its themes over layers and layers of plot, it makes the characters (are they characters?) say what Godard wants us to understand about how the world is working, how is the state of filmmaking, how the movie of the past, the movie with all those elements, is dead, and must search another way to move forward. This was one of the most important movie-going experiences I’ve had in my life, because I managed to see that I can’t make a movie that’s similar to this, neither I can make a film that’s similar to anything that has been done before, because this is the last straw, all the elements are there, there is nothing more to do, everything has been done, and if you don’t like ‘pastiche’, you might as well start to think how to invent the wheel again.
Now you wanna know my top 10, right? Well… you’ll have to move from here to my blog here, where I continue with my top 10, in spanish, but as usual, there’s a little button at your right that allows you to translate my musings to your idiom of choice. Oh, and if you wish to comment on my choices, do it in both places, as you can separate between this 20-11 and the 10-1 there.
See my 10-1 choices and other stuff about 2010 here.