Like the stereotypical Transylvanian numerologist on “Sesame Street,” I am transfixed by counting. Specifically, I am “Call Dr. Drew” addicted to top 10 lists. The best part is getting worked up; like “How dare that critic leave out the brilliant German relationship film Freudenschnitzel ?” Sadly, this year most critics agree. Although I find deviations in my personal annual decalogue delightful, there aren’t many. Blame it on a humdrum, mostly vanilla year punctuated with obvious gems, or blame it on the rain, yeah, yeah. Either way, don’t blame me.
My Top 10 Movies of 2010
10. True Grit — Jeff Bridges has been bad and badly hungover before but never this badass. His take on Rooster Cogburn proved you don’t need both eyes for a double-barrel dose of wicked cool. A remake of a John Wayne classic from fraternal directors (the Coen brothers) whose last effort featured a Moe-haired dude offing suckers with an air-powered cattle gun seemed, you know, bad. Yet this ain’t some weird, modern spin on a genre; it’s just a Western. Well, not just a Western: It’s the best Western in almost two decades.
9. The Social Network — Aaron Sorkin had been accused of falling off his game. Consider this script his middle finger to the haters. With dialogue sharp enough to shave with, the film pulsates an urgency that shouldn’t be possible given the subject matter (the creation of an online home for acquaintance stalking). Those who have this at the top of their list buy it as a definitive statement about our era, a fist clenched around the modern zeitgeist. Had it featured more women and been skewed less biographical, I’d agree. As it is, let’s just say I find it appropriate Facebook lets you “like” things and not “love” them.
8. Toy Story 3 — Just like the last film, I feel almost defensive about my low rank … but I’m the decider here! Maybe if there were no Toy Story 2 , maybe if Pixar didn’t perpetually poop quality … maybe it would be the best film of the year. Emotionally impacting and philosophically stimulating, time spent with these friends always feels too fleeting. Arguably the best third installment of a franchise ever made, Buzz and Woody don’t need my attaboys as they’re almost a lock to be in the first animated film nominated for the outright Best Picture Oscar in myriad fortnights.
7. The Town — I love me a heist movie, especially one in which everyone is just a giant, festering, open sore of emotion. Ben Affleck’s sophomore directorial effort should shut the slack jaws of some naysayers who dismissed his Gone Baby Gone as a one-and-done. A director’s most vital task is snake-charming performances from the cast. I liked Blake Lively in this movie. Think about that. Between Jeremy Renner’s vibrant thug and Rebecca Hall’s willowy pouter, this flick officially marks a path that I swear will end with Affleck entering Eastwood territory.
6. Waiting for Superman — The biggest tearjerker of the year was a documentary about our public school system. It’s one thing to endure America’s statistical slide via news bits about our declining global educational position, it’s another to watch as children have their futures stolen. Complete with a captivating villain (a belligerent teachers’ union), heroes (like Geoffrey Canada) and victims (beautiful, exceptional children), director Davis Guggenheim managed to piss me off and break my heart, and I didn’t even have to buy him dinner.
5. Easy A — Yeah, you read that right, I put a teen sex comedy from a first-time writer and second-time director in my top 5. Why? Because it was easily the funniest movie I saw this year. Because Emma Stone is a straight-up, old-school, movie star fox. Because the supporting cast got the biggest laughs without upstaging the lead. Because it had an emotional soliloquy about gay identity that made me weep. So go ahead and make fun all you want; I’ll comfort myself with being right.
4. Restrepo — War documentaries have overpopulated like Tribbles this past decade … I wonder why. Most focus on Iraq, skew either heavily political or embarrassingly nonpolitical and try to shock-and-awe viewers into compassion. Restrepo just shows you how deadly, awful and real the Afghanistan War is. Without exploiting its baby-faced central figures, directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger found my hurt locker and opened it right up.
3. Kick-Ass — What better way to show that we’ve taken the solemn “reality” of cinematic superheroism too far than by having fun showing what would “really” happen to a costumed vigilante. The first half is violent deconstruction and guffaw-worthy satire; the second half is a demonstration of the glee a comic book adaptation can provide when not restrained by half-baked notions of “what’s possible.” Oh, and it features a preteen female ninja. Top 3 for that alone.
2. Black Swan — Sucks to be Darren Aronofsky. Somehow he directs his masterwork, blending Kafka, David Lynch and Tchaikovsky, and can’t reach my top spot even with Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman gettin’ their experimentation on. Lyrical, sensual, frightening as hell and jam-packed with more social metaphor and commentary than can be consumed and purged in multiple sittings, this is film as high art.
1. Inception — It’s rare that my favorite film of the year is also the best. Writer/director Christopher Nolan basically blackmailed Warner Brothers into giving him an obscene budget for what was a twisty-turny brain bender dressed up in crowd-pleasing clothes. Look quickly and you’ll see a satisfying, visually evocative thriller. Look again and you’ll see a labyrinthian narrative wedged between the best work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard. Each viewing spills new treasures, and I couldn’t love it more.
But it seems wrong to end on such a happy note given the blah year, so here are the five movies that I’d “Old Yeller” if given a shotgun and some privacy.
The Worst 5 Films of 2010
5. The American — Ebert loves it. I hate it. Clooney shouldn’t have done it.
4. The Last Airbender — Even when it’s someone else’s idea, M. Night needs to Shyama-stop.
3. The Tourist — I expect this from you, Jolie … but Johnny? Say it isn’t so.
2. Alice in Wonderland — Alice was in Wonderland. I was in hell.
1. Secretariat — The racehorse wins again! The prize? My hatred.
I’m lucky enough to work with two fellas whose opinions I greatly respect. Just read their lists to see why. Note: This is some bonus coverage for you loyal internet fans, as we're going to give the full top 10 of both critics below instead of the top 5 we were restricted to in print! Ah, the joy of the limitless space that is the interwebs.
Ben Coffman’s Top 10 of 2010
10. Jack Goes Boating
9. A Prophet
8. Exit Through the Gift Shop
7. Shutter Island
6. Winter's Bone
5. Carlos — Okay, it’s long. Like, really long (550 minutes in its miniseries incarnation). But it’s also an incredibly detailed and surprisingly fast-paced look at the godfather of Marxist terrorism.
4. The White Ribbon — Like a pre-industrialization Problem Child, this unique and largely forgotten film redefines “Hitler youth.” At times maddening, always stark, Michael Haneke’s black and white morality tale set in imperialist Germany resonates as one of a kind.
3. 127 Hours — Danny Boyle’s excruciating follow-up to Slumdog Millionaire may be most attractive to cinemagoers who have a hard time throwing out Outdoor magazine back issues, but it’s another stylish, grandiose exploration of the human condition by a director who has already established himself as a modern master.
2. I Am Love — The cinematic equivalent of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” this triumphant fairytale of a love story will leave you feeling good about life and Tilda Swinton’s acting chops — not to mention her ability to speak Italian.
1. Babies — It’s a fact: babies are irresistible. A deceptively simple premise executed to brilliant effect, this fun documentary detailing the swaddling-to-toddling lives of four infants from around the world is the best movie of the year purely because of human nature.
Justin Senkbile’s Top 10 of 2010
10. La Danse: Le Ballet de l'Opera de Paris
9. Never Let Me Go
8. The Disappearance of Alice Creed
7. Shutter Island
6. Black Swan
5. Exit Through the Gift Shop — Leave it to street-art god Banksy to make a brilliant, hilarious, reality bending, potential hoax of a documentary. As funny and profound as any of his work with the spray can.
4. Antichrist — Yes, Lars Von Trier's latest controversy was the fourth best film of 2010. And no, I don't think I could stomach seeing it a second time. It’s a little heavy-handed and occasionally disgusting, but it's really a much-needed, visionary bit of screen anarchy.
3. The Social Network — This Facebook origin story is so quick, smart and engaging that it would be a great film even without the astonishing performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake.
2. 35 Shots of Rum — Released on a few screens in 2009, Claire Denis’ tale of life in and around a suburban Paris apartment building didn’t make it to Nebraska until this past spring. It’s warm, hypnotic, beautiful and so, so simple. I have yet to get it out of my head.
1. I Am Love — This severely under-seen Italian melodrama is a whirlwind of sound, color and movement, not to mention plenty of emotional fireworks. It's absolutely intoxicating. Plus: Tilda Swinton!