My top 20 movies of 2010

2010? Yep, 2010. Since chances are I don’t get to see many movies for a given year until well into the following year my list is a year behind. The good news is that if you’re a Netflix streaming subscriber there are quite a few films here to watch instantly.

20. The Way Back

An underrated film seen by too few people. Peter Weir directs this tale of a small group of soldiers from different countries in WWII who escape a Siberian labor camp only to make the long journey through the Himalayas. The acting is superb. The diverse group makes the harrowing journey all the more interesting.

19. Buried

If you can’t take Ryan Reynolds pass on this one. I don’t have strong feelings about him one way or the other. I admired the guts of a movie shot entirely in a coffin buried under the ground. There is no way this should be an entertaining feature length film, yet it is.

18. The Oath

A documentary about two men, brothers in-law, who have ties to Osama bin Laden and the events of 9/11. One, a former bodyguard (Abu Jandal) for bin Laden, goes free while the other, a driver (Salim Handan) for bin Laden, is held in Guantanamo Bay. It’s not a political activist film. It’s a character study, and what a character Abu Jandal is. He’s a man full of contradictions. Out of the two men, he was the only one who once pledged his allegiance to bin Laden and jihad. He now claims he doesn’t, except when he does. He walks free while his brother in-law is imprisoned.

17. Catfish

This is the 2010 movie about Facebook. That other movie was about a lot of things but not necessarily about Facebook. Abby, an 8 year old artist, gets in touch with Nev, a 24 year old photographer, through Facebook. The two develop a long distance friendship. Nev starts to talk to members of Abby’s family over the phone, including Abby’s 19 year old sister who Nev begins to fall for. When things start to not add up, Nev and his friends making the documentary start digging. There are those who question the authenticity and ethics of this doc. I found it a tale for our current day – one quickly becoming dominated by digital gnosticism.

16. Please Give

A small indie flick with a cast of characters who are interesting (though not often “fun”) to hang out with. A mom (Catherine Keener) who feels constant guilt over her wealth and denies her daughter many material things in life as a result. It also drives her to desperately give to those she perceives are poor, whether they actually are or not. Meanwhile, mom and dad (Oliver Platt) do their best to make friends with the cranky elderly lady next door. They covet her apartment so they can expand their space once the neighbor dies.

15. How to Train Your Dragon

I had zero interest in seeing this one but I’m happy I did. The animation is outstanding. The relationship between Toothless the young dragon and a puny adolescent viking is endearing. I could do without most of the other kids but not so much that it ruined those scenes or the movie as a whole. A pleasant surprise and a fun movie to watch with the family.

14. The Book of Eli

I realize I’m likely out on an island by myself with this one. A post-apocalyptic story about Eli (Denzel Washington), a man who is on a journey to protect and deliver the last copy of the Bible. There are those who want the book because they crave the power they’ve heard it holds. A violent film that has a much deeper message at its core, though some may miss it in the spectacle of all the action.

13. The Fighter

A strange yet enjoyable movie about Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his family, including Dicky (Christian Bale), a once great fighter who becomes a drug addict. This is not so much a story about the triumphant underdog or the redemption of the addict but rather a dark comedic look at a dysfunctional family. The acting is top notch and carries the film as it weaves its way towards a more typical sports finale.

12. Four Lions

If you are easily offended by the idea of terrorists as comedic fodder do not give Four Lions a look. This is the tale of four British wannabe jihadis who are not unlike Dumb and Dumber’s Lloyd and Harry. The satire is heavy and some scenes bring uncomfortable laughs. There is something to offend both the political left and right.

11. Cyrus

An indie comedy that made me laugh throughout. Struggling after divorce, John C. Reilly finally finds the woman (Marisa Tomei) of his dreams except for one small gotcha – she has a 20-something year old son (Jonah Hill) and mother and son are incredibly attached. The awkward moments abound. John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill battle one another in small and large moments that provoke much laughter.

10. Monsters

Nevermind the fact that the budget for this sci-fi film was $500k, it’s solid all the way through. Granted, the acting is a little weak here and there but I liked the two leads in general. Aliens have inhabited earth for several years and there is an infected zone in Mexico just across from the US. A photographer and his boss’ daughter need to make it out of Mexico but miss the last boat out. Their journey and discovery along the way is engaging. An impressive feat for any sci-film regardless of the budget.

9. The King’s Speech

I wrote a review earlier. The dynamic between the king and an unconventional speech therapist is strong. An enjoyable film (even when predictable) thanks to the excellent cast.

8. 127 Hours

Much like Buried, this film should not be exciting. The true story of Aron Ralston (James Franco) who gets his arm pinned while rock climbing and ends up cutting his arm off. The tension is ramped up knowing the major event is going to happen. Danny Boyle makes a film stuck in one tight spot feel as though it’s frenetic. Franco pulls off the difficult task of carrying this mostly one man act.

7. True Grit

Coen brothers films are hit or miss for me. This one was surprising as it was far less quirky than previous Coen brothers films and has a fairly straightforward narrative. An unbelievable cast makes every moment worth watching, especially the young lead, Hailee Steinfeld, who more than holds her own. Plenty of humor and heart in this one. Heart in a Coen brothers movie? Shocking, I know.

6. Another Year

A small film that spends the year with an older couple and the people who enter and exit their lives. Lesley Manville’s Mary character is both incredibly annoying and oddly irresistible. The film is all about characters and feels so authentic that it makes you squirm at times when confronted with some of the sad realities these folks find themselves facing. Through it all, the central couple keeps things grounded and hopeful, even when it seems everyone and everything around them is hanging by a thread.

5. Winter’s Bone

Not the feel good film of 2010. A backwoods film noir that is as much about the small moments as it is the bigger mystery its lead character, an outstanding performance by Jennifer Lawrence, struggles to solve. One of the best supporting performances can be found here in John Hawkes’ character. A menacing man who is filled with surprises.

4. Inception

There is no way this movie should work. I don’t care that Christopher Nolan wrote and directed it. It’s a sci-fi action flick revolving around the world of dreams. Somehow Nolan and his star studded cast pulls it off. Even when the dialogue is dominated by exposition it delivers by following it up with insane levels of action.

3. The Social Network

The story of how Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook isn’t terribly interesting when you cover the outline. However, when you take that story and combine it with Aaron Sorkin’s rapid fire dialogue and actors with the ability to make you believe they’d be that witty you start to get a good movie. Putting it over the top is Fincher’s meticulous direction and the pitch perfect soundtrack. This could have been a terrible movie. I think it’s important to remember that, as it makes the end result that much more impressive.

2. Toy Story 3

Maybe this is sentimentality taking over but I loved every moment of Toy Story 3. Two of my favorite scenes are the Lotso and Big Baby back story and, of course, the toys heading into the fire. This could have been a simple cash grab, instead it’s full of creativity with both new and old characters.

1. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Whether true, partially true, or a complete hoax, it doesn’t really matter. This documentary hits all the right notes. We get a glimpse at the world of street art, the mystery of Banksy, and a commentary on how silly the commercialization of art can be with the creation of Mr. Brainwash. It tells a complete story, full of intrigue, interesting characters, and many laughs. If it’s all just one big joke by Banksy, so be it.