Well, looks like another year has passed us by. It was a good one for me in virtually every way imaginable, and that extends to the movie theater (or DVD player, as was the case more often than not) as well. It was a terrific year for movies, and anyone who tells you otherwise just isn't looking hard enough.
Anyway, here are my favorite movies of 2010, presented chronologically as always.
The Ghost Writer
Part mystery, part psychological portrait, part human tragedy, Martin Scorsese's best film in many years was the year's first great film, and an unexpected treasure. Review here.
The Ghost Writer
Sad that when a movie comes along that does the sort of thing Hollywood used to do well - that is, tell a cohesive story with style and craft - it is something we have to savor, as it's the exception as opposed to the rule. This is not to take anything away from The Ghost Writer, which is as good as genre film making gets - and there are some very pointed, non-preachy insights into the political process to boot. Review here.
Hye-ja Kim gives one of the year's great performances in Bong Joon-ho's unusual film, which was a real treat after his interesting though highly problematic previous effort The Host. Whereas the manner in which that film tried to balance the serious and the silly was borderline offensive, Bong has found a way to streamline his sensibility much more effectively in the years since The Host. A disturbing tale of the extents a mother will go to protect her child - right or wrong - Mother is a simultaneously twisted and hilarious document of parenthood, permeated by a cruel irony.
Marco Bellocchio's Vincere is a deeply affecting film about a fascinating historical footnote - the plight of Benito Mussolini's first wife (portrayed by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, in a performance that is nothing short of stunning), the hell he put she and his first born child through after he went away to fight in the first World War and met another woman. As he ascended to power, he had their marital documents destroyed and had both her and his son committed to insane asylums, where they both died tragically young - she at the age of 56, their son at the age of 26. The remarkable thing about Vincere is that it puts you through this anguish without being exploitative in the slightest.
Easily one of last year's most unique films, Connor McPherson's The Eclipse is at once a frightening horror film and intimate human drama; a fascinating exploration of both the horror genre and human loneliness. A lovely, scary, and deeply affecting film that showcases one of Ciaran Hinds' two great performances from the last year.
Alain Resnais' latest film is a quixotic recapitulation of the French New Wave; an elegy about aging, a simultaneously comic and tragic examination of love and lust, and quite frankly the most inventive aesthetic work I've seen in a long time. In short, it is nothing short of a total fucking masterpiece, and hands down my favorite film of last year.
Life During Wartime
Todd Solondz is now so much more than a bitchy, though perceptive, observer of the faults of our culture, he is one of our great humanitarians - a director who challenges you to empathize with those society teaches us to hate. Considering the extent of the cruelty in our world, this is revolutionary. Review here.
Eccentricities of a Blond-haired Girl
Perhaps the only film you could ever call "delightfully antiquated", Manoel de Oliveira's Eccentricities of a Blond-haired Girl is just about the most sublime 60 minutes imaginable - a recontextualizing of an Eça de Queiros short story written in the 19th century to the modern world, a dramatic conceit that at once makes the past feel immediate and the present feel timeless.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
One of last year's most pleasant surprises, Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger isn't any less cynical than Allen has been for the last, oh, 30 years, but here he plays it in almost a gentle way, which is not to say he softens the punch of the material in any way. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is yet another of Allen's odysseys of infidelity, but what separates You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is he deals with the misery people inflict on one another in an emotionally honest way, acknowledging that your actions have consequences both on your own life and on the lives of those around you. Review here.
Chang-dong Lee's Secret Sunshine is a radically structured melodrama, one that takes such unusual turns throughout its 2 and a half hour run time that you feel emotionally drained as you watch the tale of Shin-ae, a widow who moves to her husband's hometown Milyang in South Korea after his death. For the first 45 minutes, the film plays as a borderline quirky drama/comedy hybrid that you could almost see Indiewood doing (poorly). Then the film takes a sharp, sudden shift, one that would be literally criminal to discuss here as it's so dramatically potent. But suffice to say, it changes the film completely, and it transforms into something deeply tragic and, I think, pretty great. Jeon Do-yeon anchors the film with a sensational performance that is nothing short of haunting.
What I would consider the Coen brothers greatest virtues as film makers - their idiosyncratic humor, their insights into the American south, their elevation of American folklore to almost mythic stature, their sense of morality, their reverence of film genre, their genuine considerations of spirituality and faith - are all on display in the brothers' adaptation (not remake) of True Grit. While the film is on one hand a scathing satire of Old West racism and sadism, both as it existed in history and on film - some of the Coens' sharpest gags in years highlight the casually cruel treatment of Native Americans - True Grit is, ultimately, a moving portrait of family, and the manner in which the film's three characters (Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie, Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn, Matt Damon's Labeouf) transform into that family over the course of the film is incredibly powerful. By the end, True Grit becomes a meaningful testament to history and our place in it; the final line, which I dare not reveal here, is at once a simple profound truism. All the performances are great, but it is Hailee Steinfeld who is the true revelation here.
You could label Mike Leigh's latest film as "The Abyss", as his latest is quite dark and extremely troubling, yet there is a palpable optimism as well. Of course, this is a Mike Leigh film, so the drama springs out of the narrative in the most unusual ways - as opposed to the central characters providing us with the drama and the supporting characters existing solely to be thoughtful listeners and advice-reciters, the central characters - a married couple played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen - are as stable as a rock; as in love with one another as the day they were married, happy as can be, and just all around good people. It's everyone around them who is fucked up. What is remarkable about Another Year is that it pays homage to the depth of suffering and unhappiness in the world, yet is in no way oppressively glum or downtrodden; like life itself, there is joy and misery and everything in between.
Favorite Male Performances:
Jeff Bridges - True Grit
Jim Broadbent - Another Year
George Clooney - The American
Leonardo DiCaprio - Shutter Island
André Dussollier - Wild Grass
Lars Eidinger - Everyone Else
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Ciaran Hinds - The Eclipse & Life During Wartime
Anthony Hopkins - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Ben Kingsley - Shutter Island
Mark Ruffalo - Shutter Island
Jason Schwartzman - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Ben Stiller - Greenberg
Justin Timberlake - The Social Network
Favorite Female Performances
Sabine Azéma - Wild Grass
Jeon Do-yeon - Secret Sunshine
Greta Gerwig - Greenberg
Shirley Henderson - Life During Wartime
Iben Hjejle - The Eclipse
Hye-ja Kim - Mother
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Lesley Manville - Another Year
Giovanna Mezzogiorno - Vincere
Birgit Minichmayr - Everyone Else
Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Ruth Sheen - Another Year
Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit
Olivia Williams - The Ghost Writer
Now, bring on 2011! I promise I'm going to be on top of my shit this year, as the paltry amount of output from me this year is literally depressing.