Hey guys! Long time no see!
First off, I know that it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on here, and I am also filly aware of the fact that this list may seem kind of late due to the fact that the major portion of award season is already underway. However, this is a list that I have been wanting to do for quite a while, and I have seeing as many films as I can to make it a great one to post it up.
Secondly, I’d like to point that while I have seen quite a bit of what this year has to had to offer, I have NOT seen everything that is out there. So before you suffer a diabetic coma over your movie not being up here, know that it might not be because I didn’t like it, but because I just didn’t get around to see. Two movies I would like to clarify in particular in regards to this are The King’s Speech and The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste), which are a pair of films I really wanted to get my hands on but couldn’t find in time. So once again, if your favorite film this year isn’t up here, the fact that I didn’t see it might be the reason why (except for The Social Network which I just didn’t really like all that much).
But I digress, let’s get this list going. So without further ado, here are my picks for the ten best films of this year plus a couple of honorable mentions.
This year appeared to be a testament to the fact that despite the amazing quality films that Pixar has been able to consistently produce, they are not always on top. Whereas other animation studios this year either attempted to do something new or at least craft an excellent film, Toy Story 3 provided only hollow, superficial entertainment with a sequel that rehashed previous plot points and honestly didn’t need to exist. This left Pixar as a prime target for being one-upped in its own ballpark, and Despicable Me certainly came up to the plate on that point.
The key word to describe this movie is fun: pure, hilarious FUN. From the cleverly Looney Tunes-esque humor and the excellent take on supervillain conventions, to the enjoyable characters and vocal talent, this film kept me laughing from beginning to end. It’s slick and inventive, but can also be subtle and heart-warming. It was a very involving movie on multiple levels, especially in regards to its protagonist Gru, who is one of the more fun “bad guys” I’ve seen in recent years. As such, it demanded a mention, even if it wasn’t quite up to par for the reigning ten.
In regards to this movie, I consider myself quite lucky in that I am ignorant in regards to the original 1969 version with John Wayne. To all the seething cinephiles out there though, don’t worry I already have a copy of that movie ready for viewing later. I waited to see it on purpose, so that I would not have my judgment clouded when viewing the remake. I wanted to judge this film on its own merits, which there are quite a few to behold.
This film was a collection of everything that Coen Brothers have at their disposal: great dialogue, breath-taking cinematography, and the ability to mount tension and action like no other. The characters are great, and the acting as a whole is even better. I was especially surprised by Hailee Steinfeld, who really blew me away in this piece. These elements all came together into a very cohesive and effective Western story. While it was bogged down by Jeff Bridges and his somewhat hammy performance, I still enjoyed this movie and wanted to give it a shout-out here.
And now ladies and gents, the TOP 10!
10. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Here it is folks: the first great video game movie. The one that would show critics everywhere, especially that video-gaming trashing Roger Ebert, that it can exist. And that it is a force to be reckoned with and appeased before it wombo combos your scrotum into millions of tiny flesh-colored pieces. Fear this film that Ebert didn’t even see (that rat bastard) and that barely made back half its budget…..yeah…no. But still, it’s quite great.
While funny, action-packed, and full of enjoyable characters, the real star of this film is the world that it creates: a hodge-podge tribute to every video game nerd’s wet dream (even the angry ones). The integration of the retro gaming conventions with live-action film is seamless and give this film a large amount of rewatchability just on its array of references within. It’s damned great and inventive world and I loved it as a visual experience because of that. Now if Michael Cera had been as good as that whole universe, then this film would be higher on the list but as such it sits at the Numero Ten!
9. The Kids Are All Right
What if I told that you the Incredible Hulk was the father of Alice from Alice in Wonderland and that said Alice was the result of a sperm donor arrangement with a pair of lesbian lovers that happened to include the second Clarice Starling and that one neurotic tight-ass who was married to Kevin Spacey in American Beauty? Who you believe me? No, you wouldn’t because it sounds unreasonable. In fact it sounds like something that Raoul Duke saw in the depths of an ether binge right?
Well, actually the movie is much better than that and surprisingly grounded in a warm, if somewhat stressful reality. It’s an involving comedy-drama that can be as emotionally tragic and it can be subtly funny, which it usually is. This balance is a charming one and one that finds itself only elevated by the overall excellent performances of the cast, particularly Mark Ruffalo who is really showing his stuff as a powerhouse actor this year. Granted, it’s a shame that he has been overshadowed by many of the other performances of this year, but I’d be damned if I didn’t give him or this piece a shout-out.
8. Winter’s Bone
More often than not, life will hand us a barrel of shit and expect us to deal with it. It is in these times that we are pushed to the limits and must overcome and deal with the situation if we expect to survive. If we do, we end up all the stronger for it and if we don’t we become George W. Bush. This movie is all about that time in our lives and Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a girl just like anyone of us who had to deal with such hardships. Of course hers involved meth-labs, back-stabs, and death but hey…we’ve been all there right? Right….?…
Anyways, Jennifer Lawrence is the reason this movie is on the list as her performance alone is extraordinary. Yes the movie has great atmosphere and an involving story, but Jennifer Lawrence hits every one of our emotional chords and expertly wrenches our hearts with every line she delivers. It’s great stuff and is up there among the best performances of this year. She had me from the very beginning and as a result, so did the movie.
7. Rabbit Hole
Another film about dealing with tragedy, Rabbit Hole takes what Winter’s Bone did and takes it to the next level. This is a movie that does not rely on spectacle or set-pieces, but choose to minimize everything to the level of a stage-play. Contained within are a pair of emotionally ravaged characters who attempt to climb out of the well of their own sorrow, but claw at each other in their failed attempts. It’s the type of movie that hinges entirely on the level of acting that its performers provide, and that level is thankfully of the highest quality.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are fabulous in this movie as a married couple that have recently lost their child. Their sorrow is our sorrow and their pain becomes our pain. That is how involved we are because of these performances. I’m glad that Nicole Kidman got the recognition she deserved for this as she and Eckhart both deserve everything they get for this. It’s a minimal movie but more powerful because of it and it is for me, one of the best that this year had to offer.
6. The Town
Who knew? Seriously, who knew that Ben Affleck could not only direct but could direct a fine piece of work such as this? I’m honestly shocked that he could, considering he has been one of the most roller-coaster actors I’ve seen since my good friend Nic Cage. I’m also honestly shocked that after sitting down with that in mind, I loved the hell out of this movie.
Now before you start dropping all kinds of matter-of-fact bitching and moaning, I’m fully aware that this is kind of a Scorcese rip-off, especially when you compare it to The Departed (a.k.a the Wrestlemania where Jason Bourne and the Joker got on a nut-tapping match with pretty-boy Jack Dawson and Max Oayne). But frankly, this movie was executed so well that I didn’t really mind. The dialogue was natural and top-notch, the action sequences were gripping and full of great tension, and the performances (especially from my boy Jeremy Renner) were all griiping and very well-done. Suffice it to say, I loved the hell out of this movie as both a crime-drama and a breakthrough for Ben Affleck.
5. How To Train Your Dragon
As I said before with Despicable Me, this year allowed for a slew of other studios to get a level of animated praise and recognition equal to that of Pixar every year, who usually comes in to a fight like a man sucker-punching a small child. Dreamworks made the biggest blow in this regard with How To Train Your Dragon which showed that when they try, they still got it.
This movie was, in a word, exhilarating. The action and flight sequences were breath-taking, the animation was stellar, and the score for this film was one of the best that this year had to offer. Simultaneously, it proved that it wasn’t just a simple fun light show, as its clever screenplay, great characters, and overall emotional involvement displayed for us. This movie is a powerful one and not only trumps Pixar, but most of the movies this year with its expert execution.
4. The Fighter
Anybody who knows me can tell you that I love boxing movies, and as such I always look at new ones with a stern eye. I’ve seen many a disappointment from this genre, and it is one that remains very susceptible to cliche and predictability. While I must admit that this film suffers from that criticism, it is only very slightly as this film is one that elevates to the top of the heap through its execution and performances.
With an emotionally-involving story and great direction, this movie already had a spot reserved for it among one of the better films this year so why is it at the top? Well, this may seem like a running theme at this point but the performances ramp this movie up to a great quality. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams are demanding, no-nonsense characters full of such depth and personality that we are dared not to eat up every scene they’re in. Mark Wahlberg plays Mickey Ward with solidity and humility, which has led him to be overlooked by many people this year but not by me. As for Christian Bale, he is astounding and reminds us how much determination and preparedness he brings to every role he takes. This film is a masterwork of execution and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
3. Black Swan
I love Darren Aronofsky as a director, and I never thought that he would ever be able to top himself or his masterpiece Requiem for a Dream. However, as can happen ever so occasionally, I was wrong and Black Swan not only trumped his popularly-attributed magnum-opus but rocked me to the core.
This film plays with your senses in a way that’s hard to describe verbally or on paper, and does so with every element at its disposal. The invasive score from Clint Manswell, the terrific paced and visual script of Aronofsky, and the constant soirees between reality and the inner psychological turmoil of the lead character are extraordinary when played in unison and really take you through a wild ride of melodrama at its finest. The key attribute to look at here is Natalie Portman, who is simply brilliant in her portrayal of a troubled ballet dancer obsessed with perfection, and deserves the Oscar for this performance. This film entranced me and ultimately took me for a ride even I didn’t expect, with a stellar conclusion that managed to both excite and scare me. This is a film-making of the highest caliber and performance at its best.
2. Shutter Island
Much like Black Swan, this film is a mind-bending psychological ride through hell and like that film, it is one of pure, masterful direction. Unlike that movie however, Shutter Island is also a work of pure atmosphere and realizes that aspect to its fullest potential.
The cinematography is eerily gorgeous and combined with the art direction and visual effects of the dream sequences, creates a haunting and threatening universe that sucks us in with all the allure of an imminent train wreck. This can be attributed to Scorcese’s brilliant visual direction, which is a nice change of pace from his usual forays in the crime genre. Coupled with this is a stirring performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, whose acting power and watchability shows that he cannot be stopped this year. Ultimately, this movie hit me hard and I was so immersed in the world of the film, that I felt like I could reach out and punch Jackie Earl Haley for even thinking of being in the Nightmare remake.
Most movies are a re-tread of old material and the majority of that provided entertainment only as a re-hashing of previous successes. Sequels, reboots, remakes, and adaptations clutter our movie world and they do so because the movie public stupidly proves to Hollywood, time and time again, that original ideas just don’t deliver at the box office. However, this movie is not only exception to that rule but does so with a level of mastery only Christopher Nolan could provide.
Of course I’ll mention the obvious triumphs of the film: the score, screenplay, acting, technical aspects, and direction. Everything involved in making this movie is of the highest possible quality that cinema can deliver. However, this movie has two things that set it above just well-done cinema: its emotional core and its staying power. A lot of movies have cool ideas and great execution, but Inception carries us along on an emotional level and as such, we are as invested in the story as Dom Cobb, our protagonist, is. It’s because of this that I loved this movie and even enjoyed all of the actions sequences and car chases, because I genuinely cared about what’s going to happen and I cared about who it’s going to happen to. Also, this movie’s staying power is incredible, as it is one of those movies we’ll be talking about years because of its world, its story, and the execution of both. This not only managed to be one of the best films of the year, but it has become one of my all-time favorites. This is proof that original film-making is not dead and that there are some directors out there who still have the gift of invention, spectacle, and story-telling.
Well, I hope you all enjoyed this list. Until next time!