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The Best Films of 2010

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

With 2010 behind us, it’s time for my list of the ten best films released in the year 2010. All lists are subjective, and you will probably disagree with some of my choices. But who really cares what you think? Kidding. Without further ado, here are the best films of 2010:

1. The Social Network

Honestly, I had a hard time deciding my number one film of 2010. It could have easily been “Shutter Island.” Why “The Social Network” makes my number one slot is simple enough. I put the blu ray of the movie on and was only prepared to watch a bit of it, and suddenly I just couldn’t turn it off. The film is made with such mastery, that I couldn’t resist watching it again. I remember when this project was first announced in the Fall of 2008, many people thought a film about the founding of Facebook couldn’t possibly be good. Those nay sayers were dead wrong. David Fincher’s direction and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay make for a dynamite combination. The actors are all on the top of their game. Jesse Eisenberg, as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, is an enigma of a character who we simultaneously hate and feel sympathy for. Andrew Garfield is also good as the moral center of the film, and Justin Timberlake conveys the right amount of arrogance and charisma as the man who breaks up the Eisenberg Garfield friendship. Armie Hammer delivers a career making role playing the Winklevoss twins who sue Zuckerberg over Facebook. The film moves at a lightning pace; the editing and fast talking dialogue never deliver a false note. If any film this year could be called perfect, this film could be it.

2. Shutter Island

I named Martin Scorsese’s film the best film I had seen so far back in August of 2010, and it only falls down one slot months later. The film, about a U.S. Marshal who searches for an escaped mental patient, divided audiences and critics alike when it came out last February. Many discounted the film because of the false narrative of the story. Others, including myself, may have found the narrative false, but the emotions and truth behind it, to be incredibly moving. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the U.S. Marshal, who is deeply haunted by the death of his wife, while he searches the island for the escape mental patient. When his character finally confronts his haunted past, it felt like an emotional punch to the stomach. I literally left the theatre in a trance like state after the film’ s resolution. There is wonderful filmmaking on display from Scorsese and his regular crew composed of Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert Richardson and Dante Ferretti. This is the kind of picture that you can watch multiple times and find new meanings in each scene.

3. Animal Kingdom

This is a terrific feature film debut from Australian writer-director David Michod. A young seventeen old boy, played by James Frechville, gets caught in the middle of a war between his criminal family of Uncles and a group of corrupt Australian police. The title of the movie is appropriate because Frechville is literally struggling for his own survival between the two. The film features great performances from Ben Mendelsohn as Frechville’s insane Uncle Pope, and Jacki Weaver, as the matriarch of the family. I can’t begin to say too many great things about Weaver. She is terrifying, but she underplays it. She comes across as simply a mother who will do ANYTHING to protect her sons. I was on edge watching this film because just when you thought it was going one place, it goes in another direction. The film doesn’t glorify the criminal lifestyle, but it shows us the terrifying consequences that everyone in this family must pay. I can’t wait to see what Michod has to offer next.

4. Somewhere

Sofia Coppola has been one of my favorite filmmakers ever since her sophomore feature, “Lost In Translation” came out in 2003. What I loved about that film and her new film, “Somewhere,” is how she is completely a visual filmmaker. She uses the image to tell us everything about the characters and the atmosphere of the story. In her latest film, Stephen Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a Hollywood action film star who lives an empty life of excess at the Chateau Marmont. His lifestyle is changed when his eleven year old daughter, played by Elle Fanning, arrives. Both lead actors are pretty damn great here. Dorff easily conveys a real sense of emptiness and loss in just his body behavior. Elle Fanning as Cleo, is a remarkably smart young lady, who managed to grow up normal within the crazy atmosphere of the Hollywood lifestyle. Coppola doesn’t condemn the celebrity lifestyle outright, instead she shows us the ridiculousness and appeal of it. This film is Coppola’s most minimalis to date. There is no real traditional story line present in the picture. Coppola simply uses the visuals to tell the story of a man who is able to find some measure of truth amidst his empty life.

5. Inception

Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was the lone standout in the shit storm of big budget, disappointing tent pole films released in summer 2010. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a con man who is able to enter people’s dreams and steals their ideas. The plot at first glance, may seem confusing, but it’s rather quite simply. The film simply demands the audience be an active participant, which is something that most mainstream Hollywood blockbusters never ask of their audience. Nolan raises the stakes of the film as we go deeper and deeper into the layers of dreams that DiCaprio and his crew dwell into. Though structured as a heist film, the film’s emotional core of DiCaprio reeling over his dead wife, played by Marion Cotillard, is what makes the film memorable. The picture’s incredibly level of craftsmanship, the terrific musical score by Hans Zimmer and the boldness of the screenplay’s originality make this one of the most exciting films to come out of a major studio in some time.

6. True Grit

This film is probably Joel and Ethan Coen’s most sincere film to date. This story centers on thirteen year old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who searches for the man that killed her father, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). Mattie is assisted in her journey by a U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and a Texas Ranger named La Beouf (Matt Damon). Among the great level of A-list talent in the film, the film is really held together by the performance of Steinfeld. She more than holds her own against Bridges, Damon and Brolin. She isn’t the rambunctious little girl we sometimes see in films, but she is a hardened person who has experienced a lot despite her youth. Bridges perfectly inhabits the role of the drunken, rough Cogburn and Damon is the perfect comic foil to Cogburn. This movie feels like a traditional Western we would have seen from Ford or Hawks. The last fifteen minutes of the film is just bravura filmmaking. The Western imagery captured by cinematographer Roger Deakins is breathtaking. The Coen’s always fill their films with interesting faces, and I love all the character that we meet in this film. A mysterious, strange encounter with a doctor wearing a bear suit comes to mind. I left the theatre wanting to spend a lot more time these characters.

7. A Prophet

I was not going to list this film on my top ten of 2010 because I originally counted it as a 2009 release. But since the film didn’t get a U.S. theatrical release until 2010, I’ve decided to put it on my list. This French film from director Jacques Audiard, is about a half French, half Arab man who is sent to a French prison and slowly rises up the ranks inside to become a mafia kingpin. Tahar Rahim, who plays the young man, Malik, is terrific here. He has a magnetic movie star quality to him. He has the potential to become a big movie star that can actually act. That’s a deadly combination. Audiard does a very good job of showing us the life and death stakes that Rahim encounters inside the prison. I’m specifically thinking of the scene where Rahim has to commit his first murder using a strategically placed razor blade. That scene is so masterfully constructed that it leaves you on the edge of your seat. The film has been compared to “The Godfather” and after watching it, you’re going to understand why people are comparing it to that great film.

8. Black Swan

It took me a second viewing to take in everything that this film had to offer. During my first viewing, I was impressed technically with the picture, but I was a bit turned off by some of the fake scares that occur during the film. On my second viewing, my appreciation of the film grew even more and I was even more impressed with the performance of Natalie Portman. The film is an examination of Portman’s descent into madness as she prepares for the lead role in the ballet production of Swan Lake. This is without a doubt the most intense, fearless performance that Portman has ever given. You feel the pressure literally pounding down on her, it’s all present in her body and face. Director Darren Aronfosky shoots the film with a gritty realism that flies in the face of the psychological fantasy elements present in the story. The climax of the film occurs during the production of the “Swan Lake” ballet and when Portman transforms into the black swan, it’s quite extraordinary to see. I love how the camera glides during the ballet and allows us to see Portman let go of all her inhibitions. The cinematography in the film by Matthew Libatique is quite extraordinary here.

9. Catfish

There was a lot of buzz surrounding this documentary when it premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. People who saw the film at Sundance recommended that people should go into the film knowing as little as possible. I took that advice and was really surprised at the griping story this documentary told. The documentary follows a young New York photographer, Nev Schulman,who develops a romantic relationship with a girl through Facebook. Schulaman begins to develop suspicions that something is not quite right with the young woman. Nev, along the films directors, Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, document the journey the three of them take to meet the girl in person. There has been alot of controversy surrounding whether this film is a complete fake. Regardless of that issue, there is no denying that this is a great story. The film builds a lot of suspense building up the Nev’s meeting with the girl. When the story’s truth is revealed, it is sad, uncomfortable and touching at the same time.

10. The American

This film, directed by Anton Corbijn, stars George Clooney as a professional assassin that specializes in building weapons intended for death. He lives a solitary, empty life in the shadows and Clooney soon finds his own life threatened by a mysterious figure. I really enjoyed the hell out of this picture. I was immensely impressed with what is essentially an art film that could have come out of the 1970’s. The crowd I saw the film with seemed very unimpressed. It wasn’t the movie they were expecting. This probably has to do with the film’s marketing that emphasized the action. The film is very minimalist and not every story detail is neatly explained to the audience. There are long stretches of silence that do an excellent job of building suspense. Give the film a fair chance and you might come out being totally impressed at the level of craft and expertise that went into this film.

Rounding out my top 25:

11) The Kids Are Alright 12) 127 Hours 13) Exit Through The Gift Shop 14) I Am Love 15) Rabbit Hole 16) The Tillman Story 17) The King’s Speech 18) Restrepo 19) Cyrus 20) Blue Valentine 21) Toy Story 3 22) The Fighter 23) Winter’s Bone 24) Inside Job 25) Never Let Me Go

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Best Female Performances of the Year…So Far

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment

1. Annette Bening as Nic in The Kids Are All Right

In the film, Annette Bening plays the uptight head of her family, consisting of her two kids, and her lesbian partner, played by Julianne Moore. Bening never plays this part as one might expect. Her character is stuck up, but there is also humor and warmth in her performance. Both Bening and Moore are convincing as a couple who have been together for twenty years. There is a scene where she uncovers a terrible secret and the simple look on her face conveys all the pain and hurt she is feeling.

2. Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone

This is a breakthrough performance that showcases that Jennifer Lawrence can carry an entire film. At age 20 she is able to hold our complete attention as she plays a young teenage girl who is in search for her father. Her father has gone missing and has put up the family’s trailer up for bond. In her search for her father she navigates her way through the dark underworld of the Appalachian community in which she lives in. She puts on a front of toughness, but deep down she is still a young lady scared for herself and her famiy.

3. Jacki Weaver as Janine Cody in Animal Kingdom

In my previous post about the best films of the year so far, I already praised Jacki Weaver’s performance as the matriarch of an Australian crime family. She may come across as a sweet motherly type, but she can be really frightening. She can put the fear in you all without raising her voice or lifting her hand in violence. I had never heard of Weaver before, she spent most of her career working in Australian film, television and theatre. But now she’s a an actress who is on my map. I’ll be rooting for this performance to get some serious attention when awards season arrives.

4. Chole Moretz as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass

Chole Moretz steals the show from every other actor in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kick-Ass.” Moretz plays a young superhero who partners with her father, played by Nicholas Cage, to fight crime. Moretz quite literally does kick-ass in the film. Hit-Girl is tough, strong, vulgar and Moretz has the personality and charisma to bring some level of believability to a character who does unbelievable things. This is a young actress who everyone should be looking for in the future.

5. Carey Mulligan as Rose in The Greatest

“The Greatest is a mess of a film. Mulligan, however, shines as a young pregnant girl who is forced to turn to her dead boyfriend’s parents for support. Last year’s “An Education” proved that Mulligan is already a great actress on the rise. Though this film may suck, she is able to rise above it and give an emotionally powerful performance as a young girl looking for her place in the world. The emotion she displays when she first meets her dead boyfriend’s father, played by Pierce Brosnan, is genuine and heartbreaking.

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.