Best of the 2010s: My Favorite Films of 2010

Best of the 2010s: My Favorite Films of 2010

14.The Last Circus (directed by Alex de la Iglesia)
From my review:
If Michael Bay made films that have substance he would be Alex de la Iglesia. In this pic, a man is haunted by his father’s destruction at the hands of the fascist Franco government and attempts to honor his pop’s memory by continuing the family tradition of clowning. He ends up the “sad clown” to a masochist “happy clown,” and both vie for the affections of a beautiful acrobat. The violence gets pretty bad in this one as both men grow increasingly insane. One of the most fun, and still intellectually rich movies I’ve seen in a while. There’s also a lot of classic film references, particularly in the big finale which reminded me a lot of Tim Burton’s Batman work visually.

13. I’m Still Here (directed by Casey Affleck)
At the time this film was seen as a documentary that followed Joaquin Phoenix after he announced his retirement as an actor to become a rapper. This decision was met with much credulity yet Phoenix appeared in live venues and on late-night television under the guise of performing incredibly terrible music. At the time the documentary was released, Casey Affleck was presenting it as a real-life event and that Phoenix was a serious rapper. Instead, it’s been revealed that the entire affair was one long prank that involved Phoenix publicly embarrassing himself in some astonishing ways. The level of comedic discomfort achieved by the actor who is improvising his way through the picture has to be applauded. The film chronicles a mockery of artistic self-importance that so many famous people fall prey to, the idea that a slovenly drugged up drunkard is the final form of the great “artist.” Today, as people bemoan the Great Man ideology of Western culture, I’m Still Here was ahead of the curve in lampooning it.

12. Rubber (directed by Mr. Oizo)
From my review:
You can keep your Transformers, give me the sentient spare tire with telekinetic powers. Rubber is so strange but simultaneously enjoyable. It’s also one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen. It has no real peers, and it’s pretty impossible to peg it with a genre label. There are some weird meta elements at play and tons of very dry, subtle comedy.
Moreover, it’s to the director’s credit that he’s able to infuse a non-speaking, faceless object with so much personality and emotion. The film doesn’t seem too interested in a plot, mainly because so much of it is stepping back and talking about the fact that we are viewing an artificial reality. However, the best way to watch the film is to see it as merely an exercise in silliness.

11. Klown (directed Mikkel Norgaard)
In 2005, Danish comedian Frank Hvam created his take on Curb Your Enthusiasm, playing a fictionalized version of himself, an awkward, socially inept version. With his friend, fellow actor Casper Christensen they made five years worth of episodes going places that American television would fear to tread. This feature film sequel to the series has Frank kidnapping his girlfriend’s nephew to prove he can raise a child. Unlike American comedies, Klown is okay not having a laugh a minute, it builds to those crescendos, and when it reaches the significant moments of laughter, they are hysterical. The core of the comedy are the two main characters getting into deeply compromising positions and having to painfully explain their way out of them, often failing at that charge. Frank Hvam is acutely aware that people are driven by very base urges and mines that for his comedy.

10. Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan)
From my review:
Inception plays like a beautiful literary science fiction novel more than a film. It is so dense and full of ideas; you can’t help but feel overwhelmed at first. Nolan has produced a film that begs for multiple viewings and intelligently leaves its ending open for interpretation. So often that twist in a movie comes off as sloppy writing, but here the ambiguity is the trigger for Nolan’s inception on us. The seed of questioning our reality begins and is much better presented than The Matrix. Here there are no hard sci-fi overlords; instead we are our jail-keepers, constructing realities that make us feel safe when we knew if we woke up, we’d deal with unpleasantness. The dream infiltrators all have a totem, an object that no one else should touch, that they carry in the waking and dream world. If the object obeys the laws of physics when used, then they know they are awake. Cobb’s is a small silver top; he spins it and, if it doesn’t wobble and fall over, he knows he is still trapped in a dream. The dream layers in the film are incredibly complex and unusual. At one point they are in four separate layers of consciousness.

9. Winter’s Bone (directed by Debra Granik)
Ree is a seventeen-year-old girl raising her younger siblings when she finds out her drunk of a father, Jessup, has skipped bail after putting their house up as collateral. Our protagonist states that she’ll find him and sets up with a quiet, stern determination to keep her family under a roof. This was the film that put Jennifer Lawrence on the map, and she carries so much weight for being only nineteen years of age. She portrays strength and vulnerability in a profoundly organic way, and you can quickly forget this is just a character. Winter’s Bone also does a stellar job establishing the setting in its opening and keeping that tone and atmosphere going throughout. The bleak landscape is complemented by a seedy underbelly, the sort of organized crime you’d expect to see in a big city film. It would be very easy to slide into drawled cliche and stereotype, but Granik presents this world with respect and reality.

8. True Grit (directed by The Coen Brothers)
From my review:
The Coens are employing their most robust tactics in this film: dialogue and character. The language of the characters is so precise and specific, and this is how they have created countless memorable and iconic characters. True Grit is a showcase for the complex figure of Mattie Ross, who could quickly become a “girl power” anachronism. Instead, through well-placed pieces of dialogue, we learn about Mattie’s role in her home and the extra responsibility she has been strapped with. She is both courageous and vulnerable in a way many female characters in film rarely are. Beyond Mattie, the central and side characters all have unspoken histories that we catch glimpses of. As she and Rooster travel the wilderness, they encounter characters who may have a line or two (or none at all) and are fully realized figures in this world. The Coens succeed in producing another film chock full of those things that cause the brains of film geeks like myself to salivate.

7. Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky)
From my review:
Beth is a pretty clear parallel, the Ghost of Christmas Future, showing Nina what she could become in the clutches of Thomas. Beth has been abused in many ways by Thomas and finally has some modicum of strength to begin to stand up for herself. She eventually starts to see how powerless she is against the more dominant male figure in the conflict, so she throws herself in front of a car as her only form of protest. Historically suicide as a protest has been a tactic used by many women in seemingly unwinnable situations. Sadly Beth doesn’t die but ends up broken and stitched back together, laying in a hospital bed that Nina visits. Nina’s two encounters in this hospital room display a shift in her personality: first as a terrified and frightened girl and the second as a vicious woman who will not succumb to her supposed inevitable future.

6. The Social Network (directed by David Fincher)
From my review:
The Social Network reminded me of All the President’s Men. That film was made only a couple years after the events of Watergate, and it is a much stronger film about the Nixon administration than it would have been if they made it in 1990. The Social Network is very much about this moment and mindset in time. The young men behind Facebook were following the capitalist fundamentalism they were born into in the 1980s. They were never too concerned about the money behind the site, it merely worked to fund the venture, but they desired the power that came with it. There’s a moment in the film, Mark and Eduardo have just had sex with a couple of girls in a club bathroom, they stand outside grinning and revealing their adolescent nature. Eduardo turns to Mark, smiling, and says “We have groupies.” Counter this with an image at the end with Mark obsessively refreshing a Facebook page, and it’s clear this mindset is a destructive one.

5. Beyond the Black Rainbow (directed by Panos Cosmatos)
Nostalgia has a pretty poor track rate when it comes to genuine audience satisfaction. What so many get wrong is focusing on details and Easter eggs when what makes us view the past with fondness is the feeling and tone of the cinema of our pasts. Black Rainbow captures that late night, up past your bedtime feeling, watching a horror-science fiction film where your hazy state of mind leaves you with just the unnerving imagery. The plot in this film is a secondary feature, with the primary being the music video like-atmosphere of The Institute where our heroine is held captive. The aesthetics of this picture have had a profound influence over me in the ensuing decade, shaping my tastes in music and horror literature. While Cosmatos’ Mandy is more cohesive film, Black Rainbow is a more textured experience; the sort of movie you can get lost inside as it ebbs between dreamlike and nightmarish.

4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (directed by Edgar Wright)
From my review:
The humor here is so wonderful; it’s geeky and silly and the film never takes itself too seriously. It’s the kind of thing you expect from Edgar Wright. Characters talk in a hyper-real way, popping in and out frame whenever they are needed. The standout in the cast for me was Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay roommate Wallace. Wallace is devoid of stereotype and is simply a perfect compliment to Scott’s often immature relations with the female of the species. The rest of the cast hits every note they needed to. None of the characters are all that fleshed out, but the conceit of the film is that they don’t need to be. This is a live action video game, so characters are more types rather than three dimensional. Despite that lack of character dimensionality, the film does an excellent job of world building. While the far edges are kept blurred, the world of this fictional Toronto feels like it is bursting with life with so many characters passing through the frame.

3. Incendies (directed by Denis Villeneuve)
From my review:
Incendies becomes something more substantial than a mystery about a dead parent’s past when the secret is revealed. It is stunning how in a single moment the disparate threads of what is a harrowing reinterpretation of picaresque come together, and we realize the whole film is more akin to a Greek tragedy. The ending forces us to go back to the haunting opening montage and understand what we were seeing, the birth of something horrible. In turn, Villeneuve refuses to label anyone the villain. Is a villain who had no choice in the way their life unfolded truly an evil person? Alternatively, are they merely the organic result of the broken, hate-filled system that churned them through. The twins find some modicum of quiet peace, but the “villain’s” state of mind is left more ambiguous, we don’t know how they will process what comes next and we shouldn’t.

2. Certified Copy (directed by Abbas Kiarostami)
From my review:
Everything about Certified Copy reveals the playful nature of Kiarostami, manipulating not just our perceptions of the relationship between Miller and the woman, but using perspective to obscure and explain the physical space around them. During table conversations, they look directly into the camera when they speak. One scene has the woman in the background through an archway, talking to a young married couple. Miller sits against a wall with his back to them in the foreground, with the reflection of another young bride fretting over her turn at taking a picture under a local attraction. During Miller’s talk in the film’s opening the camera cuts back and forth between him and the audience, then staying on him, before cutting back the audience where it remains for rest of the talk, distracting us from his words with an argument between the woman and her teenage son.

1.Blue Valentine (directed by Derek Cianfrance)
From my review:
Taking a step back, Blue Valentine is such a simple story. People fall in and out of love. The magic is in the performances which weren’t rehearsed beforehand. Cianfrance had Gosling and Williams do a lot of character work and then allowed many scenes to have moments of improvisation, using the first take with all the flaws present. This works so brilliantly when the couple is in their early days, and we see these beautiful moments of their love blossoming. Reflexively, the rawness present in the twilight of Dean and Cynthia’s union cuts to the core. The rails are falling out from underneath them and the volatile efforts Dean goes to trying to grasp onto what they had and Cynthia’s breakdown failing to communicate that she doesn’t want to keep this alive feel way too real.

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One thought on “Best of the 2010s: My Favorite Films of 2010”

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