- #1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the best movie of the year. That is the conclusion I have come to after months of debate between a host of comparably exceptional films in a year that many have argued is subpar. You know what? Any year in which a movie this perfect has legitimate competition for Best Film of the Year is an impressive one indeed. Edgar Wright directs a tale of a young man who falls in love (or rather, ‘in lesbians’) with a young woman with baggage, and struggles to defeat those demons to preserve their relationship. That those struggles take the form of elaborately choreographed martial arts duels and giant monsters generated through the power of indie rock is no mere flight of fancy. This adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s perfect comic series beautifully illustrates the mundane struggles of the modern 20-something as interpreted through a loving haze of pop culture influence. Wright first experimented with this particular brand of exuberant subjective filmmaking with the now-classic television series ‘Spaced,’ but with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World he perfects his craft, like Scorsese moving from Mean Streets to Goodfellas. But beyond such subjective craftsmanship, herein lies the most heartfelt story of the year, in which love conquers all even though the conquering takes center stage. I’ve never met anyone who isn’t completely in lesbians with Scott Pilgrim, the most lovable movie of the year… and the best.
- #2. Inception
“In a dream… we create and perceive our world simultaneously, and our mind does this so well that we don’t even know it’s happening. That allows us to get right in the middle of that process… by taking over the creating part.” In a brief exchange Christopher Nolan explains the artistic genesis behind Inception, the most mindblowing film of the year. Inception depicts genuine inspiration almost frame-by-frame, as the audience discovers some of the most unexpected images and sensations ever created for celluloid. The flaw, of course, is that we can only discover Inception once: our subconscious can only react to it on a single occasion before our intellect takes over and begins dissecting the film’s rules, plotlines and spectacular parallel editing to see if they all work. And they do. They really do. Inception might be the best movie ever made, but only the first time you see it. After subsequent viewings it is merely a brilliant work that will be studied for decades to come.
- #3. 127 Hours
Danny Boyle’s whirligig direction would either seem like an odd choice for a film about one guy with his arm trapped under a rock or a fittingly ironic one, but perfect…? Seems to be. This adaptation of Aron Ralston’s autobiographical tale is a surprisingly complex film of seemingly random events converging into the most life-altering moment imaginable, and of a modern loner’s confident swagger giving way to an appreciation for a world he spent most of his time trying to escape. But this isn’t a Capra-esque story, and not just because of the extended sequences of self-mutilation: Ralston’s liberation would have been impossible were it not for his self-reliance, but without his newfound humility it’s equally unlikely that he’d have even survived. It’s that balance that makes 127 Hours such a distinctive achievement thematically, and Franco’s superlative performance that makes the film the most inspirational of the year.
- #4. MicMacs
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s best film is also the one that nobody’s talking about, which is a shame since this beautiful fairy tale of violence not begetting violence deserves a much bigger audience. Danny Boon stars as Bazil, whose father was killed by a landmine and who himself was shot in the head years later, causing him to lose his job and his home in the process and live his life knowing that the bullet in his brain could kill him at any moment. Along with a group of houseless (but not homeless) eccentrics, Basil embarks on a journey of retribution against the arms dealers who destroyed his life and countless others, using not violence but creativity, whimsy and poetic justice to make these monsters bring about their own downfall. All the magic of Amelie but with a newfound social relevance, MicMacs is the best film of the year that most people never even knew about.
- #5. Toy Story 3
Leave it to Pixar to make an international box office sensation for children about the horrors of mortality. Beneath the hilarious gags and clever prison break plotting Toy Story 3 is about what happens to the things (and people) you love after you stop loving them, and it would take a heartless bastard indeed not to be affected on a deep, personal level by Woody, Buzz and all the friends we’ve grown up with over the past 15 years as they are put in a home (well, a daycare center) where they are abused and mistreated and finally thrown away altogether, holding hands not for dear life but because they know it’s the last thing they will ever do in this world. The happy ending isn’t tacked on by the Disney corporation for the sake of selling toys, it’s a beautiful reminder that love can be passed from person to person instead of simply abandoned when its inconvenient.
- #6. Catfish
The backlash against Catfish may have dwarfed the fanfare that fueled it, but all the arguments that this documentary is ‘fake’ or focuses too heavily on suspense have missed the point: this is a remarkably personal story that has more to say about the nature of human interaction in the internet age than even the justly-lauded The Social Network. A professional photographer develops an online friendship with a family living halfway across the country, but after years of loving interactions begins to suspect that they are not who they’ve claimed to be. What could have devolved into an indictment of Facebook’s dangerous dichotomy of anonymity and self-promotion instead settles into the most compassionate film of the year, judging not when others would damn to hell. A beautiful film whose only flaw was an overzealous marketing department.
- #7. Harry Brown
An old man afraid to use the subway. An old man not afraid to use the subway. In between there is a story of shocking violence and sympathy. You can say that Harry Brown is the tale of an old man pushed to far by young whippersnappers, exacting brutal revenge to soothe his injured soul. You can also say that Harry Brown has a potent message about the necessity for measured violence to quell anarchic violence. But at its heart there is only Harry Brown, a soldier who once again finds something to fight for and refuses to do it without dignity. Harry Brown is the sympathetic character piece that the Death Wish pantheon always could have been, anchored by yet another brilliant performance from the invaluable Michael Caine.
- #8. Exit Through The Gift Shop
Like Catfish, 2010’s other great documentary, Exit Through The Gift Shop has suffered the slings and arrows of doubting critics, artists and audience members who suspect the entire tale – in which faux-documentarian Thierry Guetta shadows the most reclusive street artists in the world before becoming an art sensation himself – is just another prank performed by famed artist Banksy, who directed the film. Exit Through The Gift Shop never claims to be didactic in nature (nor did Catfish, incidentally), so claims of fraud are fruitless: this sequence of events has deeper meaning whether it actually happened or not, and the rare footage of street artists like Banksy, Space Invader and Shepard Fairey in action would be a ‘must watch’ even for anyone who would actually be offended if this ‘story’ is a lie. But the film’s endgame, in which the founders of an artistic movement take personal responsibility for its own inevitable downfall, may be the most depressingly introspective conclusion of any film in years.
- #9. The Fighter
You’d expect a movie about a fighter called The Fighter to be about a fighter, wouldn’t you? Then you’d be just as surprised as I was to discover that David O. Russell’s latest film instead uses those old Rocky clichés to tell an impossibly rich story about family. Mark Wahlberg plays Micky Ward, an underappreciated and underworked professional boxer whose family cares more about his crack-addicted brother’s comeback than his own shot at greatness. Christian Bale eats scenery as the surprisingly complex drug addict but he leaves plenty for the rest of the cast, including a wonderful Amy Adams as a loving girlfriend struggling to compete for Micky’s affections with the women who raised him. The Fighter seems to be leading to obvious conclusions about choosing your own family only to transform into an earnest celebration and love and acceptance on all sides. You can’t choose your family, but you can choose to fight for them.
- #10. Step Up 3D (and the B-Movies of 2010)
Step Up 3D accepts this award for all of the incredible B-Movies that defied expectations in a supposedly disappointing year for cinema. From sequels and remakes that were better than the original (Hatchet 2 and The Crazies), to straight-to-video flicks that were better than most theatrical releases (Undisputed III: Redemption, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Batman: Under the Red Hood), to surprisingly intelligent ‘lowbrow’ entertainment (Machete and Hot Tub Time Machine) to the impossible-to-categorize journey through the tweener subconscious that was Standing Ovation. Jon Chu’s delightful musical superhero tale Step Up 3D led this impressive pack, however, as the overachieving threequel to an otherwise idiotic series of films: It’s sparkling entertainment matched with some of the finest – if occasionally the dorkiest – use of 3D in modern cinema. Step Up 3D is a Five Star “Three Star” movie, and just one of many this year.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order):
Douchebag, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, How To Train Your Dragon, The King’s Speech, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, The Social Network, Tangled, The Tourist, True Grit, Winter’s Bone