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The Best Films of the Year…So Far

August 30, 2010 1 comment

By general consensus 2010 has not been a great year for films so far. But some films do stand out above the pitiful pack. Here are six:

1. Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s latest film had a deep personal and emotional impact on me. This is Scorsese’s deepest exercise in working with genre. He is able to use all the crafts over the years of filmmaking to put the viewer into the off kilter world of this film. Look at the way he uses editing and a cup of water to leave you wondering what the hell you just saw. I think the reason I was so taken by this film is because of the way it examines how a man deals with guilt and remorse. This is a theme that Scorsese has explored in his earlier films and in this film it is represented by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall sent to investigate the disappearance of an escape mental patient on Shutter Island. This is certainly DiCaprio’s best acting performance. He has the emotional range to go to levels I’ve never seen from him before.

2. Animal Kingdom

This Australian crime film blew me away and only got better the more I thought about it. The terrific feature film debut from writer-director David Michod follows a young seventeen man caught up in the war between his criminal band of Uncles and corrupt Australian police. The title of the film is appropriate, because this film is all about survival. The boy, played by James Frecheville, is introvert, quite, he is making up how to survive on his own. The film doesn’t glorify this criminal world, there is a real documentary feel to it, which I loved. Great performances from Ben Mendelsohn, as Frecheville’s most terrifying Uncle. The audience feels this kid’s terror when Mendelsohn is on-screen. Jacki Weaver, as the matriarch of this crime family, is also terrific. She’s not the brains behind the crime family, but rather a mother who would do ANYTHING to protect her sons. And this makes her just as scary as any of her sons.

3. Inception

Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” is the lone standout in the shit storm of big budget, disappointing summer tent pole film released this past summer. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a man who steal information from person’s dreams. Instead of stealing an idea, he has to try plant an idea inside the mind of corporate head, in order to get back home. This is a film that I could watch over and over again. It is just pure entertainment. I remember sitting in the theatre in joy and amazement at some of the things depicted on-screen. That anti-gravity fight scene in the hotel is pure cinema. Roger Ebert sums up the film well, he says “it is wholly original, cut from new cloth, and yet structured with action movie basics so it feels like it makes more sense than (quite possibly) it does.”

4. The Kids Are All Right

This is a great look at the struggles a relationship and a family go through. It doesn’t matter that the relationship and family is led by two women. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a couple whose children decide to find their sperm donor father, played by Mark Ruffalo. The performances all around are excellent. Bening, as the “breadmaker” of the family, is the best she has been in some time. She could have played the part as an over-the-top caricature, but she is a real person, who feels real pain when Ruffalo enters the family and almost takes her place within the family. Ruffalo also gives a great performance as the biological father. He is great at playing this cool, yet douchey guy. The film never exploits him as the “villain” in the film. Credit director Lisa Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg for crafting this excellent examination of a family.

5. Restrepo

This is a great documentary following two filmmakers as they are embedded with a platoon of soldiers in the deadly mountainous region of Afghanistan known as the Korengal Valley. We get to see the war through the soldiers’ eyes. Besides the gunfight battles, we see how dangerous and crucial communication is with the local Afghanistan people in order to win over the Valley’s residents. When a soldier is killed, you can’t help but be touched when the other soldiers are recounting the pain at losing a member of their team. The end the documentary leaves us with the thought that it might be impossible for us to ever “win” this war and was it worth the loss to get control of this Valley.

6. Cyrus

A terrific film from directors Mark & Jay Duplass, the founders of the “Mumblecore” movement. In “Cyrus” John C. Reilly falls in love with Marisa Tomei, but he doesn’t fall in love with her odd son played by Jonah Hill. This is a perfect blend of comedy and drama. There are real human moments that you would never find in a mainstream Hollywood movie. Great performances all around, especially Hill. He expertly walks that fine line between rational and irrational. His character is never a caricature, but a person who is simply afraid that he might lose his mother.