These are the best movies I saw in 2010. This does not necessarily mean they were released in 2010. I should also mention, I did not see TRUE GRIT until January 1st. If I had seen it one day earlier, it would have definitely been on this list
#10 PRINCE OF PERSIA
After a glimpse of the previews I had no interest in seeing this movie at all. The fact that it was based on a video game and apparently stuffed with CGI—I assumed it would be another tedious exercise in formulaic film-making. I was wrong.
My nephews had me watch it with them and I was extremely surprised to find myself watching a fun movie (stuffed with CGI), but also a movie that was original and clever. It rises above cartoon level triteness and moves through a relatively unpredictable story. Dastan, the adopted son of the king, must join forces with the princess Tamina to keep an extremely powerful dagger out of the hands of evil. Their adventure has the tone of Indiana Jones and several concepts that were actually original. That alone makes it a movie worth renting.
#9 THE BOOK OF ELI
A post-apocalyptic wilderness with a cryptic hero in possession of a mysterious book. From frame one of this movie, there is a tone of rare creativity and style. In fact, the first few minutes are like gazing at an eerie work of art. This movie is visually stunning in the best way. Not because they hired a crew of computer magicians, but because the director knows how to use light and subtlety. To top it off, there is a respectable twist at the end, which has you replaying the whole film in your head long after it’s done. And of all things—there are religious undertones that somehow slipped through the Hollywood Gestapo. No wild-eyed fanaticism and no corrupted quasi-truth. Just the plain simple implication that maybe there’s something to this Bible idea, after all.
#8 NICHOLAS NICKELBY
Whenever a movie does a Charles Dickens book justice, you can’t help but have a winner. Dickens knew how to create characters and this movie uses them well. Nicholas is a young man trying to support his family after his father dies. He takes a job as a teacher’s assistant at a grim school for boys. When he discovers that the school is full of cruelty, he does something about it. His courageous act sets in motion a story of friendship, love and a startling discovery. The acting is first-rate. If Hollywood figures out that Dickens wrote some other books as well, we might be in for some other great films in the future.
#7 MODERN TIMES
This move was made in 1936. Yep, you heard right. It’s the famous Charlie Chaplin movie. It deals with a man who works in a factory. He becomes so stressed by the pressure of his job, he has a nervous breakdown. He then finds his way into a new kind of life with the friendship of a young girl. And all along the way, he makes you laugh. Amidst the current commotion of 21st Century film, it’s easy to dismiss such a movie as a quaint artifact. But consider this. I showed this film to a group of juniors and seniors in high school—a fair representation of a jaded, modern generation. And when Charlie and his girl walked down the road in the last shot, everyone literally applauded. So there.
#6 TOY STORY 3
The only reason this movie is not higher on my list is because it was a sequel. That means for the most part we were simply revisiting characters who are already familiar to us. But it was a fantastic reunion. Pixar waited for the right story to wrap up the trilogy and it was well-worth the wait. The adventure of Woody, Buzz and friends in a horrifying daycare center had all the grand feel of any Greek epic. It was a little dark in spots, so be warned. This actually might keep some kids up late, late—asking for a thousand glasses of water. But all in all, a fine movie that maintains Pixar’s stellar reputation. It was almost worth watching for the tortilla scene alone.
#5 DESPICABLE ME
Here is a great film with no visible means of support. It’s not based on a book, it’s not a sequel—it appeared simply out of the minds of some very creative writers. Gru is an evil mastermind who prides himself on being the best. However, a newcomer named Vector becomes serious competition and Gru has to resort to desperate tactics to compete—including taking in three orphan girls to use as pawns in his plot against Vector. We soon discover that Gru is haunted by an underwhelming childhood and that deep down, he is a compassionate man. In the midst of his epic plot to steal the moon, he discovers that what he truly longs for is in the hands of the three little girls who are looking to him to be their hero. I loved the unusual style of the animation. There was something kind of “off” about the whole look of the film that really worked. Great, great stuff.
#4 HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
This is going to be so stupid—or so I thought. I had heard of the book but the title seemed silly to me. The main character’s name is Hiccup (Oh, Brother). I fully expected the film to be a colossal waste of animation—possibly something that just barely escaped being released straight to DVD. Then Rotten Tomatoes started raving about it. Then my nephews and niece raved about it. Then I saw it for myself and now I must rave about it. Minutes into the film you will quickly realize you are in for a great adventure. The title is still stupid, but everything else is fantastic.
A hardy village populated by Vikings is constantly at war with a variety of dragons. Hiccup is raised to be a violent and vicious dragon-killer, but ends up being thrown into a shaky alliance with the most dangerous dragon of all. This has heart and laughs and action. This is definitely one to own.
There isn’t much to the story of Rapunzel. The original plot would probably fit on a single page. Taking this seed of an idea, this film grows the fairy tale into an epic with depth and style. Being a minimal fable, this allowed the writers plenty of room to explore back story and to develop the characters. And they did this very well. My only complaint is that, in contrast to the story itself, the music was nice, but relatively forgettable (with maybe one exception). However, the movie is clever and just complex enough to make it unpredictable. When the climactic point arrives, you are so emotionally invested in all the characters, one of the best things that can happen in a cartoon, ends up happening—you forget you’re watching a cartoon. Animation often serves only as a venue to toss around silliness with a dash of “subtle” adult humor that ends up being pitiful attempts to be clever. This is animation at its best, including the actual artistic detail. A dazzling story told in dazzling images.
#2 THE SOCIAL NETWORK
This is the story of a computer geek who has a bunch of conversations. You would think that such a film—about the origin of Facebook—would end up being merely a drowsy docudrama. This definitely is a film made of dialogue but virtually every word is stellar. You move from one conversation to the next but you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an incredible progression of events. Because you are. The fact that it’s a true story makes it even more enthralling. The soundtrack is superb and underplayed (surprisingly by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). This is the story of a young man who was in the right place at the right time with the right idea. But there is a bittersweet conclusion that leaves you wondering if you’ve just finished watching a success story or the tragic decline of a genius. Either way, the journey is worth watching.
I reviewed this film earlier on the blog, (see FILM REVIEW: INCEPTION) and so I’ll keep this brief. It is hands down, the best movie of the year. Maybe the best movie of the past five years. Not to mention an excellent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. The music perfectly aligns with the look and tone of the film—the images and music culminating in a final moment that will haunt you long after you leave the theater. This film is innovative, edgy, intellectual—one of a kind. It didn’t need a CGI overdose. It didn’t need 3D. It didn’t need excessive hype. It was simply a good movie—one that I will use as a unit of measure for films I have already seen and films yet to come.