Christine Champ December 31, 2010
It’s that time again — as another year ends and another Academy Awards ceremony approaches, we pay tribute to the best movies the year had to offer. Without further ado, here’s my loosely ordered top 10 list (it’s always tough to rank the cream of the cinema crop), along with a few honorable mentions definitely worth seeing.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Residents of the sparse settlement surrounding Finland’s Korvatunturi mountain range could care less about pop culture’s “Coca-Cola hoax” Santa, but they’re rightfully concerned about the real Brothers Grimm-style killer Klaus that’s roaming their hood. This dark, grimy, eerily enchanting Christmas story is far more entertaining than your average sugar plum-coated yuletide yarn.
What do you get when you put a suicidal 11-year-old, a frumpy, middle-aged, Tolstoy-loving concierge, and a refined Japanese gentleman under one posh Parisian roof? A bittersweet, funny, and unforgettable existentialist fairy tale.
10. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
That this festival favorite has yet to find a U.S. distributor while a third Michael Bay Transformers smash-’em-up will soon suck up theatrical space is another of those inexplicable injustices. More than simply a Shaun of the Dead for slasher flicks, Tucker & Dale is a sly, laugh-your-overalls-off cautionary hillbilly comedy of horrific errors that you should rush to see if it ever hits a theater near you.
9. Get Low
Some actors are always a good bet for a transcendent performance — like Robert Duvall. Especially when he gets low (as in six feet under), as cantankerous old Tennessee recluse Felix, who requests that townsfolk share their stories about him — flattering or damning — for his living funeral. It’s a recipe for disaster, left-field laughs, and misty-eyed pathos that includes Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, and a scandalous secret.
8. True Grit
Another Coen brothers bull’s-eye, True Grit has true wit, true character, and true talent. The last refers especially to Jeff Bridges who’s brilliant as expected as one-eyed, sharp-shooting, boozing U.S. Marshal Rooster, and Hailee Steinfeld as the indomitable, fast-talking girl who hires him to bring her daddy’s murderer to justice. Matt Damon amuses as a cocksure Texas Ranger, and the cinematography’s sufficiently, entrancingly wild.
7. The Fighter
Likable underdog hero (Micky Ward, aka Mark Wahlberg) … check. Spunky woman standing behind her boxing man (Charlene, aka Amy Adams) … check. Sweaty, blood-spraying, edge-of-your-seat bouts … check. The Fighter packs what a knockout fight film needs plus some unexpected punches, like Christian Bale‘s riveting, Oscar-worthy rendering of Ward’s self-destructing brother/trainer Dicky, and Melissa Leo’s flinty take on the chain-smoking matron of the bellicose, big-haired Ward brood. They take a feel-good fight film to the next cinematic weight class.
Proof that it’s possible to blend the best of movie-genre mainstays and make a satisfying and exquisite film feast. Haunting romance, adrenaline-pumping action, mind-bending science fiction and special effects, philosophical puzzles that make one question reality, captivating cinematography … Christopher Nolan’s Inception caters to mainstream moviegoers’ popcorn cravings while serving up something more substantial for film fans with more sublime tastes.
5. The King’s Speech
Colin Firth charms as usual in a period piece inspired by the true-life struggles of stutterer King George VI. Public speaking is the last profession he would have chosen — if he had a choice, which as a British royal, he didn’t. An everlasting gobstopper of expression, Firth’s character’s tripped tongue doesn’t stop him from conveying a medley of emotions instantaneously — often indignation, bewilderment, and amusement at his unconventional speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who insists on calling him Bertie and instructing him to do silly, un-regal things. Their witty and warm repartee, unlikely bromance, and urgent mission (due to World War II) produce a hilarious, touching, and triumphant film.
4. Animal Kingdom
A virtuosic Aussie spin on the crime family drama, Animal Kingdom merges the epic brutality of The Godfather with the ferocious unpredictability of Training Day. Thrust into his bank-robbing relatives’ crumbling underworld after his mother’s untimely death, teen Josh’s chances of survival seem bleak. His diabolical grandmother, the family don, is no help. Yet nothing in this tense, unsettling saga unfolds as expected.
3. Winter’s Bone
The Ozarks are a cold, menacing wilderness of poverty and meth-dealing biker clans whose severe social terrain teen Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) must navigate in order to find her father and keep her family from losing everything. Leading you deep into one of the darkest and deadliest back roads on the United States’ cultural map, Winter’s Bone‘s subtlety makes it all the more arresting — and Lawrence’s taut, tough performance has Oscar nom written all over it.
2. 127 Hours
How can you make the true tale of a man (Aron Ralston) crammed into a crevice for about 127 hours thrilling instead of tedious? Or stimulate sympathy for a reckless adventurer who neglected to tell anyone where he was going? Or translate his physical and mental state into something an audience can experience as well as witness? If you’re director Danny Boyle, you simply dip your brush into one of the many techniques in your filmmaker palette — music, flashbacks, dreams, split screens, hallucinations, TV commercial clips — and paint a powerfully vivid picture. I’ve never been thirstier than after watching Ralston’s water-yearning fantasies of torrential downpours and tantalizing soft drink ads. James Franco deserves kudos, too, for his painfully convincing portrayal of Ralston.
1. Black Swan
Ballet spectacle, erotic thriller, psychological horror trip, sci-fi fantasy … Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan does a seductive, uncanny dance that dizzies and possesses an audience like no other cinematic drug. It’s arguably like nothing you’ve ever watched before. Everything — including the pliés and pirouettes — is so visceral and charged, even ballet haters will find it hard not to swoon. Odds are good Natalie Portman will earn at least an Oscar nod for her mad swan song.
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