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A Year in the Dark

film_girlwhoLooking back on the best films of 2010
The economy sucks, and universal health care is still a dream, but in one crucial way, things were looking up in 2010: I had multiple 4-star movies to choose from in compiling my annual Top 10 list. (Unlike last year, when I only saw one movie I considered 4-star-worthy, and that was a cartoon.)

Of course, most of the movies I loved this year were small and independent, demonstrating once again the inverse relationship between gigantic Hollywood budgets and quality.

These may not have been the biggest, most influential movies of the year, but they’re the ones I loved to pieces, well worth tracking down if you’d like to stage your own personal 2010 Film Retrospective.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND Tim Burton’s winsome, nutty remix dares to imagine an entirely new story populated by Lewis Carroll’s enduring fantasy characters, a funny, girl-empowering saga that is often Carroll’s equal in wordplay and drollery. Johnny Depp is sublimely silly and soulful as court jester and spirit guide, the Mad Hatter.

ONDINE Neil Jordan turns to the myth-haunted seacoast of Ireland for this beautifully-wrought, seductive modern fairy tale about a fisherman and the otherworldly woman he hauls up in his net. In juxtaposing fantastical elements with gritty reality, Jordan spins a beguiling tale of suspense, poetry and enchantment.

NEVER LET ME GO The plot borders on sci-fi in this adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel about young people facing a startling destiny with varying degrees of desperation, bravado, and courage. But director Mark Romanek’s approach is life-sized and achingly real in a film of haunting emotional power for anyone who has ever loved and lost.

NOWHERE BOY Aaron Johnson plays the young John Lennon with sass, heart, and deadpan bravado. Director film_nowhereSam Taylor Wood doesn’t focus on the birth of an icon, but the struggles of a conflicted teenage boy to become himself. Emotionally and musically, the film hits all the right notes.

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP Is art a joke? The answer is yes and no in this savvy, wickedly entertaining doc about a would-be filmmaker and his subject, elusive and notorious street artist Banksy, who takes over the film. The result captures the evolution of art, culture, and politics in one sly package.

TOY STORY 3D Whimsical, hilarious, and poignant, it celebrates the magical world of a child’s imagination, and ponders the inevitability of growing up and letting go. Veteran Pixar director Lee Unkrich maintains the delicate balance between action, comedy, and heart.

‘THE GIRL WHO’ TRILOGY Taken together, this often violent but uncompromising Swedish trilogy (The Girl In the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) based on the globally bestselling Steig Larsson novels tells the complete story of computer hacker-turned-avenging angel Lisbeth Salander (the incendiary Noomi Rapace). Each film bristles with action, politics, and suspense, but what makes the series such a rush is the depiction of strong women who stand their ground in a social order where casual misogyny is so deeply ingrained, it’s scarcely noticed.

THE KING’S SPEECH The sort of gorgeously mounted British production for which the word impeccable was coined, this is a compelling history lesson and a wry comedy of royal manners. Fine performances from Colin Firth, as a prince with a crippling stammer, Geoffrey Rush as his eccentric speech therapist, and a Who’s Who of splendid British thesps in supporting roles.

film_alice

WINTER’S BONE This nerve-rattling exercise in dread and redemption will knock the bejeebers out of you. Directed with grit and assurance by Debra Granik, this Southern Gothic noir thriller is a tough-minded morality play with plenty of twists and turns, and a star-making performance from young Jennifer Lawrence.

THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS A new piece in the puzzle in one of the greatest ongoing cinematic treasure hunts ever. This new print of Fritz Lang’s silent 1927 Art Deco futuristic masterpiece incorporates a whopping 25 minutes of “new” footage recently found in a film museum in Buenos Aires. The plot finally makes sense and the visuals are absolutely stunning for their era—or any era since.

Honorable Mention:

INCEPTION Despite way too many chaotic, time-wasting shootouts, Christopher Nolan’s audacious drama plunges us into the mire of the human subconscious, combining a kinetic dreams-vs-reality thriller plot and amazingly complex dreamlike visual structures in an elaborate story of memory, guilt, love and redemption.

Runners-up:

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN

MAO’S LAST DANCER

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

HEREAFTER


Guilty Pleasures:

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED

GET HIM TO THE GREEK

TAMARA DREWE
Not seen at press time: Black Swan, The Tempest.

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