It’s that time of year again, the time when critics both well-known and unknown create their lists of movies that were the very best of the year just ended. People seem to love these sorts of things – my top 10 for 2009 remains one of my most popular pages in terms of visits on my site. I expect that this page will probably do even better.
As I said last year, these lists are entirely arbitrary and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. For one thing, people’s tastes are different. A movie that may affect me deeply might seem manipulative to you. A movie that floats your boat may seem a waste of time to me. We all have our buttons.
The truth is, assigning a “best of” tag to anything is a highly fluid process. I’ve given these movies a position on the list but the truth is ask me what my top ten is a few weeks from now and it likely won’t be the same as it is here. It might also include one or two movies that I might have missed during the course of the year, or others that I have seen again recently and re-adjusted my opinion of. Hey, it happens – as with women, it is a critic’s prerogative to change their minds.
What gets a movie on this list? The basic qualifier is whether I liked or not. After that, I’m looking at movies that affected me emotionally, or that I thought was innovative either in its storytelling techniques, its look or its approach. While special effects continue to improve and push the boundaries, nothing this year rivaled the complete game changer that was Avatar last year, so you won’t see a lot of special effects-heavy movies on this year’s list, although Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World both came very close indeed.
Some critics limit their list to five movies; others go larger, with 20, 25, sometimes even 50 movies on their list. I’m limiting it to ten; it’s an arbitrary number, and seems to be something of a standard. Five isn’t enough and twenty is too many. Ten seems suitable for a list of movies that I think is worth honoring above and beyond all the rest.
Most of these movies are either in general release at the moment or are available on home video, on demand or on cable. You may not agree with all my choices. You may wonder why I didn’t choose, say, Toy Story 3 or The Social Network (which might be the most controversial omission) or why I did choose the ones I did. As I said, ask me again later and my mind may have changed.
This is meant to invite discussion or at least some thought. You may not agree on all of these films being the ten very best – you may not agree on the order. However, I think that we can all agree that these are all quality movies that have something to offer nearly everyone. If you’re looking to see a good movie, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t walk out of any of these feeling disappointed.
There are a number of movies that didn’t quite make the cut of the top ten. I thought I’d add them here so you can get an idea of which ones came close, were considered and ultimately not chosen. Again, I will stress that all of these are quality films worth seeking out if you’re looking for entertainment, enlightenment or insight. In no particular order;
The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Inception, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, Waking Sleeping Beauty, Get Low, Love and Other Drugs, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Shutter Island, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Secret of Kells, Leaves of Grass, Warlords, A Prophet, Cyrus, The Kids are All Right, The American, Let Me In, MegaMind, I Remember, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days.
Also a special shout-out must be made for Montana Amazon, an amazing little indie film that certainly would have made a good case for the top ten but is not scheduled for theatrical release until 2011. If it comes to your town, by all means seek it out. If you’re interested in reading the original reviews, just click on the title.
(Zeitgeist) Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Marina Cacciotti, Maria Cali, Grazia Csarini Storza, Alfonso Santagata, Luigi Marchetti, Marcello Ottolenghi, Petre Rosu. Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio
Released March 17, 2010 I first saw this at the Florida Film Festival and was overwhelmed by its charm and gentle nature. Here was a movie whose only aspiration was to make those watching it feel better, with perhaps a comment or two on aging in general. Genial Gianni takes on several older women along with his mother for a mid-August holiday in the oppressive heat of Rome. Gianni, chronically unemployed, is swept through life rather than sweeping through it, wanting no more than a good glass of white wine and the ability to cook a good meal.
WHY IT IS HERE: Gianni Di Gregorio wrote, directed and starred in this highly personal project which was based on his recollections of caring for his own elderly mother in the last years of her life. He also filmed it in his own apartment and utilized personal friends in the cast. The end result is a film that feels more like you’ve been invited to lunch by Italian friends, and are sitting around the table talking about this and that with them. Who doesn’t need more of that in their lives?
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Aunt Maria decides to run away and have a glass of wine or three or more. Drunk off her ass, she makes a pass at Gianni when he retrieves her but not before displaying a vulnerable side that comes out of left field.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $675,299 domestic (as of 1/6/11), $9.3 million total.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Currently available on home video.
(Fox Searchlight) James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara, Clement Posey, Kate Burton, Lizzy Caplan, Treat Williams, Sean Bott, John Lawrence, Rebecca Olson, Pieter Jan Brugge, Jeffrey Wood. Directed by Danny Boyle
Released November 5, 2010 Danny Boyle won an Oscar with his previous movie Slumdog Millionaire and is in serious contention once again with this movie. He could have gone with a big budget film as his follow-up, done any one of dozens of projects but this was what he chose to follow-up his Oscar party with, the story of a cocky type-A personality who gets into a pickle and has to resort to extreme measures to get himself out. These types of true-life stories may be inspirational on paper but they don’t often translate to Hollywood box office gold, so choosing this project was a brave move in and of itself.
WHY IT IS HERE: Most of the movie takes place in a narrow canyon with Aron’s arm pinned to the wall with a boulder. It’s almost all Franco for the bulk of the movie and Franco delivers with a memorable performance that has to be a major contender for the Best Actor Oscar this year. Nominations for director and screenplay are probably not out of the realm of possibility either. The film takes essentially one person in a confined space for about an hour of screen time and makes it riveting, making this as good a piece of filmmaking as you are ever likely to see.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene in which Aron imagines himself as a guest on a talk show, in which the host asks him some pointed questions is humorous and poignant simultaneously.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $10.6 million domestic (as of 1/5/11), $10.6M total.
BUDGET: $18 million.
STATUS: Theatrical run has been completed for the most part; you may be able to find it in second run theaters. Home video release is tentatively scheduled for March 2011.
(Paramount) Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper, Dakin Mathews, Jarlath Conroy, Elizabeth Marvel, Roy Lee Jones, Ed Corbin, Leon Russom. Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Released December 22, 2010 I was none too pleased to find out that one of my all-time favorite westerns was being remade. I’m a big believer that if something ain’t broke, you don’t need to fix it. Most Hollywood attempts to remake classics had ended up in disaster – ask Gus Van Sant about his fling with Psycho sometime. On top of that all, Westerns haven’t been in vogue since, well 1969 when True Grit was first released. I had plenty of misgivings all right – and then I heard it was the Coen Brothers that would be directing it. Sigh. Everything is going to be all right.
WHY IT IS HERE: While this is still the basic plot and the same characters, the whole feel is different. The movie is said to be more in line with the Charles Portis novel the original was based on, and certainly feels more authentic to the time period of the original. The language is very much in line with the way people spoke during that time in history. That said, it isn’t The Duke and it isn’t the original and it will never really replace them, but given that Bridges turns in a performance that is as good as any actor turned in this year, it stands on its own.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Mattie in the pit. ‘Nuff said.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $95.4 million domestic (as of 1/6/11), $95.4 total.
BUDGET: $38 million.
STATUS: The movie is still out in general release in the United States and Canada; overseas release is planned for the early part of 2011. Home video release is tentatively scheduled for May of this year.
(Disney) Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman (voice), Timothy Spall (voice), Stephen Fry (voice), Christopher Lee (voice), Michael Gough (voice), Michael Sheen (voice). Directed by Tim Burton
Released March 5, 2010 From the beginning I thought this was a perfect match. Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll are much like peanut butter and chocolate; two great tastes that taste great together. Burton is one of the few modern directors that has the vision that is even in the same ballpark as Carroll’s.
WHY IT IS HERE: This is one of the most visually impressive movies of the year. The vision of Underland is whimsical to be sure, sort of like an English garden as seen through a kaleidoscope while smoking a hookah. However, the thing to remember about this Alice is that this isn’t Lewis Carroll’s Alice. This is a different story based on Lewis Carroll’s characters. I guess they decided to keep the name for marketing value.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The Mad Hatter’s victory dance. You’ll know it when you see it.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $334.2 million domestic (as of 1/8/11), $1.0 billion total.
BUDGET: $200 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video.
(Sony Classics) Christian Friedel, Leonie Benesch, Ulrich Tukur, Burghart Klaussner, Ursina Lardi, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Leonard Proxauf, Susanne Lothar, Rainier Bock, Branko Samarovsky. Directed by Michael Haneke
Released December 30, 2009 Although this was released in 2009 in New York and Los Angeles, most of the rest of the country didn’t get to see this until January of 2010. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, this movie looked at the nature of evil and how it can appear in the most innocuous of places. Filmed in black and white, the movie never really attracted much of an audience which is a shame. It deserved better.
WHY IT IS HERE: The realization of a pre-World War I Germany is one of the best I’ve seen from a modern movie. It captures the nuances of a different era, from the politeness of the children to the monstrous discipline imposed on them. The last vestiges of feudal society are shown in this very chilling and very thought-provoking film.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The scene when the Baroness discovers the ruined cabbage patch is priceless.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $2.2 million domestic (as of 1/11/11), $19.2 million total.
BUDGET: $18 million
STATUS: Available on DVD/Blu-Ray at most online and local home video outlets.
(Paramount Vantage) Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, Anthony Black, Daisy Esparza, Bianca Hill, Bill Strickland, Randi Weingarten, Bill Gates, George Reeves, Davis Guggenheim (voice). Directed by Davis Guggenheim
Released September 24, 2010 Guggenheim came into prominence after directing the acclaimed documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Although some decried it, it did bring global warming into national consciousness and made Al Gore hip (briefly). Now, Guggenheim turns his attention on the American public school system, noting that almost everyone agrees it is badly in need of fixing.
WHY IT IS HERE: The movie shows the importance of education and suggests some means of fixing the public school system. While I don’t agree with all of the film’s conclusions (I think that the problem is much more complicated than blaming it on the teacher unions’ refusal to get rid of tenure), it certainly opens up the opportunity for dialogue and hopefully, focuses the attention of more Americans on the problems facing our students who at this point are going to be competing in a global economy insufficiently prepared for it.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The interweaving lottery results as the students being followed throughout the movie await their fate on which their future hangs in the balance.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.4 million domestic (as of 1/24/11), $6.4 million worldwide.
BUDGET: Not available.
STATUS: Scheduled for home DVD/Blu-Ray release on February 15, 2011.
(Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O’Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate O’Brien. Directed by David O. Russell
Released December 17, 2010 Six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Bale) and Best Supporting Actress (Adams and Leo) show the members of the Academy were high on this movie and critics gave it high praise as well. The story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward resonated with everyone who’s ever had to struggle to get out of a family member’s shadow.
WHY IT IS HERE: Great performances (Wahlberg didn’t get a Best Actor nomination but many felt he should have) and a terrific story made this one of the year’s highlights. Casting is definitely the key, as the chemistry between the various characters is authentic and compelling. Is it as good as classic boxing films like Raging Bull? No, but it’s damn close!
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The catfight between Amy Adams and the sisters. Classic!
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $72.7 million domestic (as of 1/23/11), $73.4 total.
BUDGET: $25 million.
STATUS: Currently in wide release.
(Roadside Attractions) Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Garret Dillahunt, Lauren Sweetser, Shelley Waggener, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Isaiah Stone, Tate Taylor, Sheryl Lee, Ronnie Hall, Ashlee Thompson. Directed by Debra Granik
Released June 18, 2010 Every year at the Florida Film Festival, there is always one movie that just seems to capture my attention and imagination, and one that just is so good that it cannot be ignored. This year, even Oscar didn’t ignore it – the movie wound up receiving a nomination for Best Picture, as well as Lawrence for Best Actress and Hawkes for Best Supporting Actor. This is as high-quality an indie film as you are ever likely to see.
WHY IT IS HERE: In some ways, this is a grueling movie to watch. Ree Dolly, as played by Jennifer Lawrence, searches for her wayward drug dealing dad who has put her home at risk. With her mother suffering from mental illness, Ree is it when it comes to her younger siblings and it has cost Ree plenty. She yearns for a normal teenage life, one she knows she will never have. It’s heartbreaking, it’s compelling, it’s a look at the dark side of the mountain people to whom loyalty is a given but truth isn’t necessarily so.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: A scene where Ree crashes a party where the people there are singing; it is both awkward and eloquent at once.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $6.3 million domestic (as of 1/23/11), $7.8 million total.
BUDGET: $2 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video.
(Warner Brothers) Madeline Carroll, Callum McAuliffe, Anthony Edwards, John Mahoney, Aidan Quinn, Rebecca de Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Weisman, Ashley Taylor, Israel Broussard, Cody Horn, Ruth Crawford. Directed by Rob Reiner
Released August 6, 2010 First love is very special, very frightening and unforgettable. We remember it our entire lives and yet no movie has captured it so beautifully and as touchingly as this one. Director Rob Reiner makes his best movie in years, aided by a wonderful supporting cast (particularly Mahoney) and a pair of juvenile actors who are as good as anybody out there.
WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that flew below everybody’s radar. Critics missed it and audiences certainly did, as the studio gave it a microscopic release. It missed out on major award and fell between every crack that Hollywood has. That makes this a hidden gem just waiting for audiences to discover it. No movie left me feeling as good when I left the theater this year. I highly recommend you seek this one out – you’ll thank me for it later.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: The conversation between Juli and Chet…or the one between Bryce and Chet…or the uncomfortable dinner scene with the Loskis and the Bakers…Oh hell, any scene that has Mahoney in it.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $1.3 million domestic (as of 8/6/10), $1.8 million total.
BUDGET: $14 million.
STATUS: Currently available on home video.
(Weinstein) Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Jennifer Ehle, Derek Jacobi, Claire Bloom, Timothy Spall, Eve West, Roger Parrott, Anthony Edwards, Patrick Ryecart. Directed by Tom Hooper
Released November 26, 2010 The Royal Family is much in the news and on the silver screen lately, with the Royal Wedding set for this year as well as films such as The Queen showing the human side of the family which has often been de-humanized by their status, not entirely of their own doing. Here, we see the courage of habitual stutterer George VI (father to current monarch Elizabeth II) who learns to overcome his affliction with the help of unorthodox Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue. Rush, who plays Logue, was a producer on the film which received more Oscar nominations (12) than any other this year. Firth has a Golden Globe for best dramatic actor already on his mantle; he’s an odds-on favorite to add an Oscar to his collection.
WHY IT IS HERE: This is a movie that displays unusual courage and charm, given the subject matter. Some movies just grab your attention from the moment the projector lights up the screen and keep it until the theater employees come in to clean up the theater. This is one of those films. Every performance here is nothing short of amazing, led by Firth and Rush, as well as Carter – all of whom will be competing for acting Oscars in February. Director Tom Hooper brings you into the Royal Family’s boudoir and you feel like a fly on the wall in the palace halls, and that works for me. This is a quality production, from the set design to the costumes to the score and especially to the acting performances. I honestly thought the top three movies this year were very close in terms of quality – I could have been just as happy with either #2 or #3 in this spot – but at the end of the day, if there was one movie from 2010 that you should see for sure, this is it.
HIGHLIGHT SCENE: Some have mentioned the climactic scene where the King gives his radio address, but I much prefer the scene when George and Elizabeth are revealed to Myrtle Logue as her husband’s clients; it’s charming and shows as much heart as any scene in the movie.
BOX OFFICE RESULTS: $59.0 million domestic (as of 1/25/11), $108.8 total.
BUDGET: $15 million.
STATUS: Currently in wide release.