Saturday, August 13, 2011

THE BEST MOVIES OF 2010! (Sorry for the 8-month delay)

Jim Emerson's blog recently noted that more and more movie critics are taking the summer to put together a Top Ten List of "Best Movies So Far This Year". As per the usual, wait 'til the end of the year to make simply one list of the Best Films of the year. (Link to article is below.)

http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2011/08/the_best_movies_since_last_tue.html

This has become a common practice for critics, especially internet critics, for numerous reasons, I think the main one Emerson hits on the head, when he notes how most studios save their absolute best films for after Labor Day, which is the unofficial start of Oscar season. So in film terms, the first eight months of the year occasionally tend to get forgotten or at times ignored during Award season, and while most film released during that time generally give us plenty of reasons to ignore/forget them, there are always a few gems that shouldn't be, and its nice to make some kind of note on them. However, Emerson's blog attempts to focus on the bigger trend that half-year lists represent is that we are in fact a list-obsessed culture, one that's exploded in the days of the internet, and the general obsession of people making list out of everything. It's interesting timing for me, just as I'm trying to take advantage of that list culture. To those who might not have gone through my earlier blog, I have a list of every movie I have ever seen, and am currently about 20 movies from 3,000 feature-length films on the list, which is when I plan to first publish it on this blog. I wrote an earlier blog on how this list started and then grew to where it is today, which you can check to hear that story, but frankly, I am apart of the list-making, list-obsessing, list-debating, culture. I watched every AFI list program that came out, always had complaints and praises. For a while, when I had cable, I watched every VH1 list they did on Great Artists of Rock'n'Roll, or song, pop songs, dance songs, video, whatever, and somebody somewhere does a new list of random list of something new, I'd say about every week, and I don't mean random people, I mean, legitimate newspapers, magazine, TV channels, known established names within the industry. Hell, I still can't understand why VH1 cancelled "The List," a TV show in which five times a week, special guests made their own lists, and it was debated and voted on by the studio audience. The things is, lists are fun to obsess over and debate and it's easy way to analyze somebody's opinion, and like stamps, they're collectable, and the old ones become more interesting historically, and possibly more valuable because they show us the standards of where we've been. (Okay, maybe a list won't make anybody any money, literally, unless you count increases in sales and ratings) Some people lists are more interesting than others. I look forward to critic lists every year, as its their profession to know what's good and what's better and why. I take less interest in list made by the general public or by internet poll, but there generally based more on popularity than anything else. This is the same reason why I knock down reality shows that have an audience and/or at home vote.

Well, with all this, I have to say, I promised the list of the Best Movies of 2010, last year, and I'm gonna produce it. Why, so late, well, as I mentioned in one of my first blogs, I don't get to go see every movie all the time. In fact, as of today, by my count, I've seen 5 movies that were released in 2011. 4 I saw on DVD, 1 I got to see in theatres. I can make a list, but frankly it's not worth it. It's too small a sample size, even if I do think "Rango," is going to be tough to beat. But, most people don't have the opportunity to watch every film, and I haven't. I've seen about 150 or so films from last year, while that's a lot, there's a lot I'm still missing. I try to watch every important or big must-see movie throughout the year, sometimes it's even hard to tell what that is. I try to watch movies that critics seem to like, even if I don't agree, it good to see what they're recommending. There's always important directors, writers and actors who I almost always make a note to watch their films ASAIC (As soon as I can). Sometimes it's simply personal preference. When is it a good time to make a list for a year? I do think you have to have seen a certain amount of films, and you have to set some standard of quality to judge on. Well, for a minimum standard, I recommend and use the Academy Awards. Actually, I generally like to use as many award shows as possible, the big ones being the BAFTAS (British Oscars) Independent Spirits (Independent Films), Broadcast Film Critics Awards (the aforementioned critics) certain industry union awards are also always worth noting (DGA [Directors] WGA [Writers] SAG [Actors] PGA [Producers], there's dozens of them) and it's always good to keep up with certain films that either win awards at film festivals or get a lot of so-called buzz, at the major film festivals (Toronto, Cannes, Sundance, Telluride, a few others) but if you're not that interested in following all these awards as obsessively as some follow lists, then the Oscars, even if I/you disagree with them, are a good general benchmark. (In case some of you may be wondering, the Golden Globes, despite popularity and the national TV contract with NBC, they're actually not that well respected a standard in the industry, they're one of the minor, minor awards at best, but you can through them in there too.) And even narrowing it to the Oscars, we can narrow it to the major categories. The biggest is Best Picture, that's 10 (This year, I don't know if you've heard, instead of a set number, there's gonna be a surprise variable number somewhere be 5 and 10. Can't wait to see how they screw that one up) So, the main 10, the next category is Director, this year all the Directing nominees coincided with Best Pictures, so 10. That's was a lesser common occurance when there was the traditional 5. There's two writing categories, Adapted and Original Screenplay, so 10 nominees, but only one "Another Year," we haven't already mentioned, so 11. Now we go to acting, that's twenty nominations, but only 5 that we haven't brought up so far, so 16 total. Animated features, there's always 3 or 5 of them, this year 3, one, "Toy Story 3," got a Best Picture nomination, so 2, that's 18. There's a lot of technical categories, some of you might have a preference on them, I have some friends that keep close eyes on the music categories for instance, the two that I would focus on though are editing and cinematography. Editing is often the last stage of filmmaking, and some things are tougher to edit than others. Chase and action movies have a tendency to sneak into this category, and cinematography, is the lighting of the movie, and essentially the first part of the language of film, so it's always critical. This puts our total to, well, 18. All these films got nominated in other major categories. After that, it's always good to try and see the Documentary Feature and Foreign Language Feature categories, but it's not always possible. I haven't even seen three of the Foreign Language Films yet, including last years winner, "In a Better World." Those are preferable, but not always readily available. And basically, if you make it a point to watch all these Oscar-nominated films, plus whatever other movies you happen to watch during the year, you can probably say with relative confidence what the Best Films from last year were. And frankly, it's just a list, you can change it at any time, so it's not really anything of importance were talking about here, but, that's the standard I go with, and when I saw "Another Year," a couple weeks back, I had officially seen all the major category-nominated films, that I just named, and while I wanted to wait to see "Barney's Version," which won some smaller awards and got an Oscar-nomination for the Make-Up, I think it's time that I make an official list of films from last year, especially since if I've seen all these movies I've mentioned, than I know that most everybody can now see them themselves, if they haven't already, and hopefully you all, agree, but if you want to completely disagree with me loudly, that'd be cool too. The following list, will be the general, Top Ten style used by film critics, and mastered in parody form by the great David Letterman, and there'll always be a lot of noted "Jury Prizes", for films that didn't make the Top Ten, but are certainly special and worth noting anyway, and with this year's list, I have to say, I believe 1-4 can basically be interchangeable on the list. I think they're all the absolute Best Movies to come out last year, maybe some of the best ever made, and the order they're in, I've simply based on the most miniscule details of personal preference. After that, I find the list somewhat subjective.

Here we go, David Baruffi's
TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2010

1. "The Social Network"- Alright, it's a popular choice, but it really was amazing. David Fincher along with the great Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, crafted a modern-day origin story that's can be looked upon as the answer to the question "How did we get here?". It's also the rare movie that involves smart people who say smart things, a staple of Sorkin's work (TV's "The West Wing,") and also show in Marc Zuckerberg, a portrait of the, modern-day artist, the man who uses computer programs as his paints and easels. Jesse Eisenberg gives an amazing performance, and he is going to be the next great American actor, and this was his best role yet. It's Fincher's best movie yet, the supporting cast, especially Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake and perfectly casted. But it's the screenplay that helped make this unfilmable, elaborate, multi-perspective story about people who work in the language of computer, able to remain the intelligent people they are, while allowing us to understand what exactly happened and how it forever change the world.

2. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"- The first of the three films dubbed "The Millenium Trilogy," (All of which are amazing) based on the best-selling novels by Steig Larsson, this movie, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, is actually being remade and soon-to-be-released in America, directed by the aforementioned David Fincher, and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. While I have high expectations, this is one of those times where you have to see the original. This film has everything and the kitchen sink, plus a mysterious character that's one of the most unique and interesting film has ever seen. One who's actions we cannot predict, and thoughts we cannot read. The story itself actually isn't that far off from an Agatha Christie novel, but what a way to go about it. There's a rich old millionaire with his an island where his family lives, and he hired the recently sentenced to prison Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to investigate a long-ago murder in the family that's never been solved, and there's eighty possible suspects, many of whom are of a suspicious nature, including former Nazis, and that's just the beginning. Then there's the tiny, tattooed, pierced computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). With all due respect to Nathalie Portman, Rapace gave the performance of the year in my book, and what a tricky, often wordless performance this is. Let me put it this way, this is one of the few films, where I watched it, and then immediately decided to read the book. From somebody like me who doesn't read that much, it's the highest of praise.

3. "Inception"- From the mind that first brought us "Memento," Christopher Nolan has proven to be one of the best and most successful directors in Hollywood, most notably, the recent "Batman," films, which are the best of the superhero movies were constantly inundated with. "Inception," was his pet project that took him ten years to write, and is as genius and brilliant a phychological mindfuck ever created. It also takes full advantage of the most up-to-date special effects, in a way that we hope they get used, but almost never do. The story involves people who infiltrate  mind for business owners to try and find the latest and most hidden of ideas there competitors have, and now they have to infiltrate and plant an idea in someone's head. This movie take place upon layers and layers of out inner unconscious, and yet, I've seen it three times, I barely understand it but, I can't find any contradictions in logic. It's the Best Action movie since "The Dark Knight," and I'm still not completely sure which side of it's open-ending I like to take, but it's the most inventive creation Hollywood's dared in years. Congrats to Nolan, if for nothing else, for having that kind of Hollywood clout, so young.

4. "The King's Speech"- The winner of four Oscars, including Best picture, Director (Tom Hooper) and Best Actor (Colin Firth), it's the most touching film of the year, and easily the most inspirational. I thought Colin Firth's performance the year before in Tom Ford's "A Single Man," was amazing, here, he's proves he's one of the best actors alive. Playing King George VI, who's secret of his stutter was painfully revealed to an international audience due to the advent of radio, and with the Crown, the movie is as much about his friendship with his longtime speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) as it is about how he overcomes his impediment. 

5. "127 Hours"- Another inspirational story based on true events, but this one is a little more gruesome. While James Franco wasn't a great Oscars host, his performance in this film, which is basically all him, is one of the most impressive. From the same director/writer combo that did "Slumdog Millionaire," Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, "127 Hours," refers to the length of time hiker Aron Ralston has his arm, and himself, trapped between a giant boulder and a canyon wall, and how with the most minimal of equipment, he manages to break free, by cutting off his own arm. For an amazing visual stylist director like Boyle, how he manage to keep us entertained with an entire movie taking place stuck in a canyon is amazing even for him. Just the continuous backtracking shots that eventually lead to a bottle of gatorade alone is worth a viewing, even if the rest of the film might make you turn away squimishly.

6. "True Grit"- I had long given up trying to predict what the Coen Brothers are going to do next, but remaking a John Wayne classic would've been nowhere near my guess, and yet, for them, it makes perfect sense, and they made a perfect western, better than the original. (Although casting Matt Damon in the Glen Campbell part alone, might have done that) Similar to how they based "No Country for Old Men," very literally on the Cormac McCarthy novel, they went to the original novel "True Grit," for direct inspiration for this film, instead of the original movie, this makes the sudden appearance of a man in a bear costume, suddenly seem more logical than it should. While the story of a teenager insisting on getting the notorious Rooster Cogburn to find the man who killed and robbed her father is basically the same, the telling is quite different, and with amazing performances by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and where-did-they-find-this-one newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit," is possibly the Best Western since "Unforgiven".

7.  "Mother and Child,"- From Rodrigo Garcia, one of the most interesting film and TV directors around, comes a multi-narrative story of adoption that's almost cruelly ironic, but is also emotionally heart-wrenching. This was the film that I had the most emotional reaction to this year. Karen (Annette Bening) gave up a child for adoption when she was very young, sight unseen. Now she's a nurse at a hospital and while simultaneously starting to date fellow nurse Paco (Jimmy Smits), she begins to make inquiries on the whereabouts of her child. That child is Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) who's pretty cold-hearted for most of this movie, almost disturbingly so. She sleeps around and usually with people who are unavailable, partly just to ruin there lives. Then after having an affair with her latest boss (Samuel L. Jackson) she becomes pregnant. There's also a couple (Kerry Washington and David Ramsey) who are having trouble in their marriage, but are looking to adopt a child, but not for the same reasons. Don't think just because you've seen these kind of multiple storylines that you can predict how/if they will come together in this film, and why. Garcia is a master at touching, small, human stories. On top of directing such TV shows as "Six Feet Under," and "In Treatment," he made the wonderful "Nine Lives," a couple years ago, which involves nine vignettes, each following one different woman for one long take, in there lives, he also made the Sundance hit and Showtime movie, "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her," which also followed many different women. "Mother and Child," is his best film yet.

8. "Exit Through the Gift Shop"- Okay, it's not the most important documentary last year, but it was the most entertaining. Directed by the mysterious graffiti artist Banksy, taken mostly out of old footage of street art, that had been collected for years on videotape by French shop owner Thierry Guetta, Banksy, possibly inadvertantly and regrettably influences Guetta to create his own street art, even opening a Warhol-inspired high-pressed 1st show at the former home of CBS Studios. While Guetta is unbelievably passionate about art, he's not the most impressive artist, but he's an incredible subject for this documentary, which also documents the rise of street art from its underground beginnings all the way back to the '80s, to it's place now on found at art auctions and exhibits that grab on worldwide acclaim. And it has some amazing art by such great artists as Sheppard Fairey, Space Invader, and Banksy himself. The movie's also incredibly funny.

9. "Black Swan"-  Darren Aronosfky's "The Wrestler," made pro wrestling look like the most self-destructive, violent, and possibly the most suicidal thing anybody could ever do there own body. In "Black Swan," he makes ballet, look more self-destructive than pro wrestling. Led by Nathalie Portman's amazing performance, as an obsessed, closed-in ballerina, this movie lives in the surreal. She gets the coveted part of both the White Swan and Black Swan in her company's latest production of "Swan Lake," Nina starts to go somewhat insane. There's competition from a fellow ballerina (Mila Kunis, who should've gotten an Oscar-nomination) pressure from both her coach (Vincent Cassel) and her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), as well as the everlingering image of the company's former star (Winona Ryder) who she's replacing. Plus, whatever else is going on in her frigged up mind. I think certain movies where the terror comes from inside one's own mind tend to fail on camera, because it's impossible to capture the visual believably (This is my big complaint about "The Shining") but here, Aronofsky succeeds, scares the hell out of me, and keeps me on the edge of my seat, as Nina's (Portman) world and mind collapse all around her. I don't know what was real and what was imagined most of the time, and that was terrifying enough. Aronosfky achieved one of the toughest things possible with this film, creating terror inside a character's mind, keeping it there, and yet manage to make the audience feel every emotional as viscerally as any film I've ever seen. I don't always remember what happened in this film, but I remember the feeling I got watching this film.

10. "Blue Valentine"- Two of the best and bravest performances last year came from a small independent film that not many people are going to particularly want to watch, (And very few could due to the movie's original NC-17 rating, later changed to an R.) but few films have so painfully and perfectly exhibited a relationship ending (as well as beginning) as "Blue Valentine". Ryan Gosline and Michelle Williams are a working, lower-middle class couple. In flashbacks, we see young love sparkle between them. Today, they're married, with a young kid, and are on their way to divorce, and the unfortunate fact is that, neither one of them are at fault. Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance worked for ten years to make this movie, and it's one of the most devasting and realistic films about relationships I've ever seen, and most importantly, it's amazing performances by Gosling and Williams. It's not just the sex scenes that make it difficult, these two actors have to convincingly play the same character at two distinctly different parts of their life, and make the changes or evolutions or lack thereof of the characters seem believable. It's two of the best performances of the year, in a film that's subject matter might be too realistic and close-to-home for some people.

SPECIAL JURY PRIZES
(For the sake of brevity, these will simply have the title and director of the films listed, but they are all amazing films that just didn't find a place on my list, but easily could've. They'll be listed alphabetically)

LIVE-ACTION AND ANIMATION
Another Year-Mike Leigh
Easy A-Will Gluck
Fish Tank-Andrea Arnold
The Ghost Writer-Roman Polanski
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest-Daniel Alfredsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire-Daniel Alfredsson
Greenberg-Noah Baumbach
Hereafter-Clint Eastwood
I Am Love-Luca Guadagnino
I Love You, Phillip Morris-Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
The Illusionist-Sylvain Chomet
Jack Goes Boating-Philip Seymour Hoffman
The Kids Are All Right-Lisa Cholodenko
Machete-Robert Rodriguez
Mother-Joon-Ho Bong
The Other Guys-Adam McKay
Rabbit Hole-John Cameron Mitchell
Red Riding Trilogy-Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, and Anand Tucker
The Runaways-Floria Sigismondi
Somewhere-Sofia Coppola
Toy Story 3-Lee Unkrich
Welcome to the Rileys-Jake Scott
Winter's Bone-Debra Granik

DOCUMENTARIES
Catfish-Henry Joost and Ariel Shulman
Gasland-Josh Fox
Inside Job-Charles Ferguson
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work-Rikki Stern, Anne Sundberg
Restrepo-Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Hunger
Waiting for 'Superman'-Davis Guggenheim
Winnebago Man-Ben Steinbauer
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