More Bests, Not Bests

But first the results of this year's "Where's Whitey?" award for Best Animal Performance of 2010. Despite a late surge from such newcomers as the chicken in "The Social Network" and  "the donkey, the llama,and especially the two cats in Jean-Luc Godard's 'Film Socialisme,'" which unfortunately had to be disqualified because it didn't open here yet, the overwhelming winner was "Little Blackie" from the Coen Brothers' "True Grit." Needless to say this award is a significant indicator of the film's Oscar fortunes.

Michael Atkinson


1. "The Red Riding Trilogy"

Three films, three directors, one screenwriter, three decades, five hours, uncounted dead children and venal Yorkshire cops and moldering cellar secrets. Nothing this year had the ambition of this three-headed helldog. On DVD, feel free to use the hearing-impaired subtitles to parse the muttering Northern accents; Brits do it, too.

2. "Dogtooth"

 The preeminent critique of conservative overparenting. Which is no joke. Actually, it's as much science fiction as 1984, and as much a prison breakout drama as Brute Force.

3. "Never Let Me Go"

 More science fiction, which only means it's a scalding metaphor. The year's most finely-tuned heartbreaker.

4. "Mother"

Bong Joon-ho has always been about character studies amid catastrophe, but this is the loopiest yet.

5. "A Prophet"

 A real prison odyssey, French, but with canines as long as your thumb.

6. "I Am Love"

 Tilda Swinton and l'amour fou and Italian food, and it's true enough in its details (about class, most of all) to get you to hold your breath when the panic sets in.

7. "Ajami"

An Israeli-Palestinian collision-drama, like Crash but actually excellent, with a cast of masterful amateurs and never a false moment.

8. "Vincere"

Italian maestro Marco Bellocchio chronicles the early days of Benito Mussolini and the fate of his lover/revolutionary comrade Ida Dalser, scrambling history with this new thing called cinema, as if the 20th century began as one giant, crazy newsreel.

9. "Monsters"

An on-the-shoulder indie shot in the guise of a documentary throughout Mexico and Central America, but with digital add-ons it becomes another brilliant piece of science fiction, in which Mexico is quarantined due to alien infestation. Never less than completely convincing, and given the context that's saying something.

10. "The Good, the Bad, the Weird"

Winking and hip-swivelling from its opening credits to its last gasp, Kim Jee-won's lo mein western is an entrancing study in excess - as the camera swoops alongside through 1930s Manchuria to a hurtling locomotive about to be beset by multiple heists, you can just feel Quentin Tarantino's zipper strain.

Runners-up, in order: Marwencol, White Material, Secret Sunshine, Winter's Bone, Valhalla Rising, The Exploding Girl, Four Lions, The Milk of Sorrow, Wild Grass, The American, Father of My Children, Flooding with Love for the Kid, True Grit, The Oath, I Love You Phillip Morris, Best Worst Movie, The Thorn in the Heart, The Illusionist, No One Knows about Persian Cats, Please Give, Double Take, The Fighter

Not Best

2010's Most Overrated Films

1. "The Social Network"

Overrated enough for any ten movies and enough to stick in my aorta like a gym sock. Sure it's slick, but has there ever been such a big-deal movie about so little? Isn't Facebook just a waste of too much of your time, every day?

2. "Inception"

 Brain-bending? Irritatingly grandiose, is more like it, and far from original - Joseph Ruben's "Dreamscape" and Henry Hathaway's "Peter Ibbetson" went there first, and far more charmingly.

3. "Shutter Island"

 A remake of "Inception." Or vice-versa. It's hard to imagine that Scorsese himself wasn't bored with the predictable story one-third of the way through.

4. "Restrepo"

Immediate, powerful American-platoon-in-Afghanistan stuff, but it's also a one-sided, pity-the-soldier piece of subtle, hawkish propaganda, in which we grow intimate with these heart-of-gold warriors even as they kill civilians, maim babies and then spend months bemoaning the death of a single platoon member, for whom the film is named.

5. "The King's Speech"

 What, it's all about a single speech? He wasn't even the leader of the government! It's The Queen all over again - an entire drama and national crisis dependent upon what an ineffectual modern monarch says to the media.

6. "Black Swan"

Retitle it The Unhappy Ballerina.

7. "Exit Through the Gift Shop"

Was the film a hoax or the real-life artist at its center a hoax, and either way, why should it matter?

8. "The Ghost Writer"

 What a shock, to think that a British politician might have something, vaguely, to do with the CIA.

9. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1"

 Honestly, no one thought it was great, the series being far gone beyond the need for critical response at all, but honestly, almost three hours of those three brooding on hillsides and arguing in a tent?

10. "127 Hours"

Ten minutes in, I couldn't wait for him to cut off his arm. But I had to.

Betsy Sherman


1 "The Social Network"

2 "Un prophete"

3 "Red Riding trilogy"

4 "I Am Love"

5 "Please Give"

6 "Black Swan"

7 "Greenberg"

8 "Winter's Bone"

9 "127 Hours"

10 "Toy Story 3"




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