The Last of the Bests and Not Bests


So it's time to close the books on 2010 and, like Johnny Hallyday in this still from Johnnie To's "Vengeance" (number 9 in A.S. Hamrah's Ten Best list), and raise a toast to "Another Year" (Number 1 in A.S. Hamrah's Ten Best list).  Brett Michel also offers his thoughts and judgments on the past year in film.

A.S. Hamrah

Ten Best of 2010 [in alphabetical order]

1. Another Year (Mike Leigh)

2. Around a Small Mountain (Jacques Rivette)

3. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)

4. Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)

5. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)

6. Inspector Bellamy (Claude Chabrol)

7. Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham)

8. Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine)

9. Vengeance (Johnnie To)

10. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Woody Allen)


It was difficult to narrow down a list of 10 films to represent the very best of what 2010 had to offer. Not that there wasn't a wealth of good films (there were), but there were few great ones. Surprisingly, not even a gorgeously rendered movie from Pixar, that staple of my year-end lists, made the cut. (Indeed, not a single animated film appears in my top 10 - a rare occurrence.) Sure, "Toy Story 3" was miles above "Cars," but its first hour couldn't do anything to alleviate my feeling that the film was unnecessary, "Toy Story 2" having concluded on such a perfect note. Still, while few of 2010's films achieved perfection, there were quite a few that did many things right. Before I dive in to the numerical list, I'd like to acknowledge some of the year's other highlights, any number of which could have ended up in my formal top 10:

[see bottom of post for huge chunk of also-rans]

With those worthy candidates out of the way, I now present you with my picks for the 10 BEST FILMS OF 2010, somewhat arbitrarily numbered, in descending order:

10. "Jackass 3D" (Jeff Tremaine, US) Wait, what's the third big-screen spinoff of the decade-old MTV series doing on this list? Simply put, it's the movie the third-dimension was made for (Sorry, "Avatar"), a homoerotic fever-dream that entertains and mocks its core audience in equal measure. Johnny Knoxville and his band of merry Jackasses may be noticeably aging (Knoxville is distressingly gaunt; Steve-O is distressingly sober), but the winning formula they've come up with for this final(?) installment makes any deficiencies worth it. To wit: slow-motion + 3-D x Jackass = win.


9. "Somewhere" (Sofia Coppola, US) Far more European in flavor, and thus far less accessible than Coppola's companion piece, "Lost in Translation," some have criticized this portrait of a celebrity (Stephen Dorff) sleepwalking through his life as lacking a personality like Bill Murray to anchor the film. I'd argue that such a presence would sink the simple, perpetual pleasures of experiencing a father/daughter relationship where the parent/child roles are ill-defined.

8. "Sweetgrass" (Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, France/UK/US) A colleague claims that he can't tell the difference between security-camera footage and this beautifully-shot eulogy for a dying way of life, a film documenting the herding of sheep toward the pastural mountains of Montana. If security cameras can capture these superbly edited moments, then I quit.

7. "Like You Know It All (Jal aljido mothamyeonseo)" (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea) The latest of Hong's split-narrative explorations of introspection-challenged men features a pseudo-autobiographical stand-in for the filmmaker, a director who fumbles his way from a film festival jury to an island town and an adulterous reunion with his past. As always, Hong views his lead through an accepting lens, while exposing every fallible misstep.

6. "Last Train Home (Gui Tu Jie Che)"  (Lixin Fan, Canada/China/UK) China's "economic miracle" is placed under a microscope in a documentary that explores the human cost on a very personal level. Fan follows a married middle-aged couple of garment workers as they make an annual 1,300-mile trek from their factory to the village where their teenaged children live. Heartbreaking.

5. "A Brand New Life (Yeo-haeng-ja)"  (Ounie Lecomte, South Korea/France) Inspired by her own life, Korean-born French filmmaker Lecomte recreates the childhood trauma of a little girl abandoned at an orphanage by her newly-remarried father. Kim Sae-ron gives a perfectly natural performance of the willful girl, whose emotional rebirth is literally embodied in a powerful scene that must first find her burying herself under mounds of earth, emerging soiled, yet spiritually purified.

4. "Exit Through the Gift Shop" (Banksy?, US/UK) A documentary (I'm going on faith here) that's either a record of guerilla graffiti pioneers like Shepard Fairey or a thought provoking look at the bankruptcy of modern art. "Art is a bit of a joke," Banksy concludes, appearing hooded and shrouded in silhouette, his voice altered electronically. Is the film itself an elaborate hoax? I'm happy not to be sure.

3. "Mother (Madeo)" (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea) No working filmmaker exhilarates my senses in the way that Martin Scorsese used to than Bong Joon-ho, and this, after only four features. A master of tonal shifts that would cripple most directors, Bong has fashioned a mystery of matriarchal love and obsession that leaves you guessing until its final revelations, ending with my favorite moment of the year, a masterful long-shot that Bong holds for minutes.

2. "The Social Network" (David Fincher, US) So much has been written about this film, that I hesitated about including it in my top 10, yet there's no denying the near-perfect fusion of the contributions of everyone involved in crafting a document that captures the zeitgeist better than any movie of the past few years. And never again will I jokingly refer to actor Jesse Eisenberg as the poor man's Michael Cera. (I'll come back to this below.)

1. "True Grit" (Ethan and Joel Coen, US) Sure, this isn't quite the masterpiece that "A Serious Man" was, but I think that says more about the overall quality of 2010's films compared to those of '09 than it does about the Coens' latest, the best western to come along since "Unforgiven." Simply a good story exceptionally well acted and told, until the final reel hits an unexpected emotional target that Henry Hathaway's 1969 Duke-starring adaptation of the Charles Portis novel didn't even bother to aim for.

Alas, as tough a time as I had coming up with the very best titles of 2010, it was all too easy to determine the year's worst. Of course, there are far too many to list, so I've limited myself to naming only a handful of the worst offenders. Keep in mind, with the hundreds of movies I sat through, even I had the good sense to skip "Furry Vengeance" (my colleague Alicia Potter took that bullet), which is why it won't appear here. With that out of the way, I leave you with my list of the 5 WORST FILMS OF 2010:

5. "For Colored Girls"  (Tyler Perry, US) Can a mid-seventies play made up of twenty monologues delivered by seven women survive the transition to movie screens in 2010? The short answer: not if it's adapted by Tyler Perry. Consolidating the diverse stories of Ntozake Shange's Obie-winning "choreopoem" into a Harlem walk-up more suited to an episode of "227," Perry's fashioned a melodramatic, tone-deaf musical of women's hardships, one where stereotypes soliloquize rather than sing.

4. "Cop Out"  (Kevin Smith, US) Smith was a hired gun on this misfire, but directing has never been his strong suit; it's his writing that's earned him a small but loyal following. Alas, he didn't even write this film. Considering the semi-improvised mess onscreen, I'm not convinced anyone did. Bruce Willis barely earns his paycheck and Tracy Morgan overacts enough to earn two as they play "a couple of dicks" - the film's original title.

3. "Remember Me" (Allen Coulter, US) Robert Pattinson trades his fangs for James Dean's cool detachment, but he scotches the finer details, like smoking a cigarette convincingly. The jaw-dropping nature of the film's importance (which helps explain the unwise participation of Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan and Lena Olin) is tastelessly revealed in the film's finale, which some of Pattinson's partisans mistook for profundity.

2. "The Last Airbender" (M. Knight Shyamalan, US) The man Newsweek anointed "The Next Spielberg" (um...) has compressed the entire first season of Nickelodeon's beloved anime-influenced cartoon series into an unwatchable, 3-D puree of mysticism and spiritualism, old themes for Shyamalan. As the titular "last Airbender," newcomer Noah Ringer emotes as though in a school play, but could anyone make lines like "We need to show them that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in their beliefs" sound, well, believable?

1. "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (Edgar Wright, US/UK/Canada) The new tolerance test, baldly exposing the critic/fanboy divide. In theory, I should have loved Wright's third feature, unabashed fan of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" that I am. Add in my youth spent reading comic books, and a still-quite-active passion for video games, and you've got my number, no? No. Plus, between this, "Year One" and "Youth in Revolt," I think I'm officially done with twee li'l Michael Cera. And for those who claim Wright's re-written the rules of cinema, Welles-like, I offer my own observation: you're illiterate.


 [Brett's second guesses:]

"Agora" (Alejandro Amenábar, Spain), "Airdoll" (Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan), "The American" (Anton Corbijn, US), "Another Year" (Mike Leigh, UK), "Biutiful" (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Spain/Mexico), "Black Swan" (Darren Aronofsky, US), "Boxing Gym" (Frederick Wiseman, US), "Cairo Time" (Ruba Nadda, Canada), "Carlos" (Olivier Assayas, France/Germany), "Children of Invention" (Tze Chun, US) "The Crazies" (Breck Eisner, US), "Cyrus" (Jay and Mark Duplass, US), "Easy A" (Will Gluck, US), "The Eclipse" (Conor McPherson, Ireland) "The Fighter" (David O. Russell, US), "Fish Tank" (Andrea Arnold, UK/Netherlands), "Four Lions" (Christopher Morris, UK), "The Ghost Writer" (Roman Polanski, France/Germany/UK), "Greenberg" (Noah Baumbach, US), "How to Train Your Dragon" (Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, US), "I Am Love (Io sono l'amore)" (Luca Guadagnino, Italy) "I'm Still Here" (Casey Affleck, US), "The Illusionist (L'illusionniste)" (Sylvain Chomet, UK/France) "The Karate Kid" (Harald Zwart, US/China), "Let Me In" (Matt Reeves, US) "Mademoiselle Chambon" (Stéphane Brizé, France) "Marwencol" (Jeff Malmberg, US), "Ondine" (Neil Jordan, Ireland/US), "127 Hours" (Danny Boyle, US/UK) "Piranha 3D" (Alexandre Aja, US), "Please Give" (Nicole Holofcener, US), "Predators" (Nimród Antal, US), "A Prophet (Un prophète)" (Jacques Audiard, France/Italy), "Rabbit Hole" (John Cameron Mitchell, US), "Secret Sunshine (Milyang)" (Lee Chang-dong), "Tiny Furniture" (Lena Dunham, US), "The Town" (Ben Affleck, US) and "A Town Called Panic (Panique au village)" (Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, Belgium/Luxembourg/France) 

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