Friday, October 8, 2010

Best of 2010 So Far - Fall Update

Although not a popular opinion, I maintain that this has been a good year for cinema. Of the almost fifty 2010 U.S. releases I've seen this year, I'd venture to say that about half of them are very good films. What makes it even more positive for me is that my two most anticipated films of the year, Aronofsky's Black Swan and the Coens' True Grit, have yet to be released.

While I can't wait to see those films, there have already been ten films this year that I really love. Instead of keeping an ongoing list of ranked films throughout the year, I've gone with a list with five tiers and films listed alphabetically within each tier. Occasionally I'll move a film from on tier to another, but for the most part this allows me to keep a totally open mind about the films throughout the year, and will allow hopefully a more honest end-of-year ranking when I put that list together in February. I'm detailing my process just to explain that the only films I have in my top tier are films that I love, and had a visceral reaction to.

Of these ten films, I wrote about the following films back in May: The Ghost Writer, Kick-Ass, Shutter Island, and The Square.

One quick note: I find comparing a film to multiple similar films an effective method of relaying the mood, themes, and overall "feel" of a film without giving away too many specific plot details. It helps of course if the reader has seen the films to which I'm comparing, but if so, I believe a lot can be relayed in those comparisons, without writing five paragraphs on each film, and keeping it spoiler free. With that said, here are the remaining six films that I consider to be the best of the year so far, in alphabetical order:

The American
Clooney is pretty brilliant in this small, slow-paced thriller set almost entirely in a small Italian village, which is practically a character itself. His character is a hit-man who wants a fresh start and takes on one last job; very cliché, but Clooney brings a quiet, paranoid persona to this character that I found compelling throughout. The action scenes are almost entirely in the trailer, but they work very well paced throughout this otherwise contemplative film. I don't want to give away any major plot points, but I will say that The American is a perfect marriage between my favorite film of 2008, In Bruges, and Jim Jarmusch's over-earnest The Limits of Control. I don't think this movie will appeal to everyone, but as long as you aren't expecting a Jason Bourne film, The American can take you on a scenic, satisfying ride.

Animal Kingdom
Winner of the audience prize at Sundance, this Australian film from first time director David Michod is a crime drama about a teenage boy named Josh, played by first time actor James Frecheville, who is forced to live with his grandmother and uncles after his mother's death. We quickly learn that his entire family seams to be a part of a previously successful bank robbing gang that are now under constant surveillance, and obviously in the twilight of their criminal careers. He had avoided this lifestyle up to this point because his mother was not on speaking terms with his grandmother. Now, thrust in the midst of their turmoil, he is forced to find his place among or against them, lest he become just another casualty, collateral damage to their destructive way of life. Animal Kingdom is essentially Goodfellas, with a modern, less romantic view of criminal behavior, comparable to last year's terrific crime film Gommorah. An excellent entry into the genre, and worthy of the high praise and lofty comparisons. With The Square and Animal Kingdom already this year, they got something good cooking in the land down under.

Bong Joon-Ho is to Korean film what the Coen brothers are to American film. He brings dark humor and quirky characters to tense genre films with astounding effect. His Memories of Murder is one of my favorite films of the last decade, and he has yet to disappoint in the least. Mother is probably my second favorite of his films, behind Memories of Murder. It features an astounding performance from Kim Hye-ja as the title character who is desperate in her attempt to clear the name of her mentally handicapped son who has been accused of murder. Her undying , and at times unsettling devotion to her son leads her on a journey that I certainly was not expecting. The opening scene of the film sets the stage for the unpredictable nature of this film, and the end scene perfectly encapsulates it in a profound way. With Mother, Bong Joon-Ho has joined the ranks of directors whose films I await with much anticipation.

The Secret in Their Eyes
Although I've tried to keep myself from prematurely assigning ranks to films this year, I really think this film moved me more than any other so far. It is a beautifully shot film, although as with Mother, I can't wait to see it on Blu-ray, as the theater I saw it at doesn't have the best projectors. Set in Argentina, The Secret in Their Eyes is a murder mystery told from the present day perspective of a retired police agent writing a novel, as well as through flashbacks to when he was on the case decades earlier. In addition to being a murder mystery, it's also a love story that touches on themes of friendship, revenge, and justice. This film won the Oscar earlier this year for best foreign language film over the highly touted A Prophet and The White Ribbon. Watching the ceremony, I was skeptical of the Academy's choice, but now having seen this masterful film, I can truly say they got it right.

The Social Network
The Social Network was the most hyped film of 2010 to this point, besides Inception, and it's said to be an early Oscar front-runner for many categories, including best picture. The critics are in love with this film, and it's not hard to see why. While I'm not ready to declare it a masterpiece or the film that defines our generation, I was thoroughly entertained and enthralled throughout. Basically, every aspect of this film is expertly, if not masterfully done, and I agree that the film deserves a nomination is pretty much every category. Aaron Sorkin delivered a pitch perfect script filled with witty, hilarious, scathing, rapid fire dialogue. David Fincher's direction is tight and the pacing is blazing fast, especially considering many of the scenes are deposition testimonies and furious typing. Jesse Eisenberg is spot on as a quick-witted, incredibly smart, but socially inept Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Even the score from Trent Reznor is top notch and ties everything together with it's pulsing rhythms and electronic melodies. Of these eleven films that are my favorite for 2010 so far, this is the film I connected with on a visceral and emotional level the least. However, it is so entertaining and well made that I'm pretty sure it will be among my favorites at the end of the year.

Toy Story 3
If it wasn't for other Pixar films, I could say that Toy Story 3 is the best animated film in over a decade. Instead, it's the best animated film since Up, which is the best animated film since Ratatouille... you get the idea. These guys are money in the bank, both literally and in terms of consistent quality of film making. Toy Story 3 takes the characters we love from this beloved series to some pretty dark places. It can be argued that the plot structure is a little too similar to Toy Story 2, but it improves on it in almost every way. If you're one of the few people who haven't seen it, I'll keep it vague, but there is a climactic scene towards the end of the film that had me on the edge of my seat, with my heart in my throat and a tear in my eye. It's that powerful. It was a magical end to a nearly perfect trilogy, and one of the best films of the year for sure.

Those are the films that I consider the best of 2010 so far. What films would you have on your own list? I'll go ahead and throw in a list of films that just missed the cut. As usual, I reserve the right to change my mind before the end of the year.
  • Cyrus
  • Fish Tank
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Inception
  • The Kids are Alright
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
  • The Town
  • A Prophet
  • Winter's Bone