Second, I’ve made the decision not to list Four Lions on my top ten despite the fact that it would be there if I didn’t work for the Alamo Drafthouse, aka the same people who released the movie in the US. I was a huge fan of the film back at Sundance, long before the idea of coming to create Badass Digest was even mentioned, but I’ve decided that listing it on my top ten would look too much like a conflict of interest.
Finally there are a couple of movies I just haven’t seen yet. There are some - like Dogtooth - which I suspect could have made the list, but to the best of my knowledge has not played in LA yet (as far as I can tell Dogtooth only played in a limited New York run this summer). I’m a little worried I might regret not having seen Rabbit Hole when I made this list, but I feel fairly confident that the unwatched DVD of The Kids Are All Right won’t be haunting me when I reread this list in a year or two.
And so without further ado, here are my ten.
Don’t you look at me like that. I know what you’re thinking: “He doesn’t have 127 Hours on his list but he has MacGruber?? The SNL movie nobody saw?” Well, first of all this is my list. Second of all, MacGruber is the funniest movie I saw in 2010 and the fact that nobody else knows this doesn’t impact the movie itself. I was very skeptical going in - almost all SNL films are bad, and basing one on a repetitive, generally unfunny skit seemed like an almost perversely rotten idea - but Jorma Taccone’s directorial debut is exactly the right combination of raunchy, stupid, anarchic and plain weird. It’s a film that may never quite become a mainstay, but that’s okay with me.It’s a very funny film with a perfect Val Kilmer performance. I don’t know what else you need in life.
9. The Ghost Writer.
Great thrillers are hard to come by, especially in this day and age of hyper chases and sweetened explosions. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ novel is a wonderful mix of paranoia, political carping and humor. A self aware noir that doesn’t deconstruct but rather luxuriates in the trappings of the genre, The Ghost Writer is fun and funny. But it’s also tense and exciting. And at least once it has the weird echoes of Polanski’s own life; the scene of Pierce Brosnan watching himself on TV through the lens of a news chopper outside his window must be a reflection of the way the polarizing director feels about his own relationship with the media. Another great thing about the film: Alexandre Desplat’s score is so good and so classical that I thought it was a temp track made up of great film scores the first time I saw the movie.
For the record: This spot was a toss up between The Ghost Writer and Shutter Island. I think The Ghost Writer ends up being more successful and more satisfying, but Scorsese’s mindfuck movie is another well-constructed genre gem.
8. True Grit.
There’s something to be said for craftsmanship. Like The Ghost Writer, True Grit is just an impeccably made movie. The film is beautiful and the writing is divine. But none of that would matter if the Coens hadn’t found heart in the story of a young girl who hires a dissolute federal marshall to avenge her father’s murder. A second viewing of True Grit proves that this is a movie where the surface beauties only serve to enhance the wonderful character and acting work that makes the film truly live. Hailee Stanfield delivers THE performance of the year as the tough and verbose Mattie Ross. Jeff Bridges, meanwhile, effortlessly adds another iconic role to his oeuvre and Matt Damon finds the ideal spot between the Coens’ usual goofy characters and playing a guy who feels real and competent and decent.
7. A Prophet.
Usually if I said a movie felt like a TV show it would be an insult. But French gangster drama A Prophet feels like an entire season of a high quality HBO show; sprawling and deliberately paced, the film essays the rise of an unlikely criminal mastermind from lowly hood to capo. Those who like their gangster films filled with violence may be disappointed - although there is terrific and visceral violence - but those who like their films to be about something and to include impeccable character work will be delighted. Some actors act but Tahar Rahim, as Malik, the young Muslim boy who finds his true calling in prison, just exists within the role. Over the course of two and a half hours he visibly and physically transforms; it’s almost like different actors are playing the same role.
6. Winter’s Bone.
What an amazing film. There’s not a bad note in Winter’s Bone, not a false step and not an off-key moment. Every performance is lived-in and real and honest. Director Debra Granik takes a concept that’s almost a joke - an Ozarks noir - and makes it into a story that is not just gripping but unexpectedly sympathetic to the poverty-stricken, drug-saddled mountain people. That sympathy isn’t condescending but simply humane, and it never gets in the way of telling a cracking yarn about a girl who is trying to find her father. At the film’s heart are two incredible performances - a career-maker for Jennifer Lawrence as Ree, the bundled up beauty who juggles feeding a family with getting justice, and a career-reaffirmer for John Hawkes. Many of us knew that Hawkes was good before Winter’s Bone but this movie shows just how good he is, and will probably be considered his long-awaited breakout.
5. Scott Pilgrim vs The World
In a couple of years when the hype and the box office are just distant memories, people are going to realize that Scott Pilgrim isn’t just a great, sweet and funny movie, it’s an actual cinematic groundbreaker as well. Director Edgar Wright is one of the most specific and exacting filmmakers working today but his genius comes in the way he makes his heavily planned and stylized shots feel alive and immediate and even spontaneous. There’s not a moment in Scott Pilgrim that wasn’t planned, storyboarded, pre-visualized, and probably done dozens of times over and over again but nothing feels stale. And Wright never loses sight of the human story in the midst of all the technical aspects of his filmmaking. It’s the way that Wright marries hyperactive visuals with real emotion and keeps both exciting and immersive that makes Pilgrim a classic.
4. Enter the Void.
This is almost like a dark companion piece to Scott Pilgrim. Gaspar Noe’s latest is a punishing ordeal but it’s one that every serious film lover must see. Ambitious and sure, sort of pretentious, it’s a psychedelic adaptation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, a first person journey post-death through the eyes of an American drug dealer gunned down in a Tokyo toilet. Mind bending and beautiful and irritating and overlong and indulgent and breathtaking and brilliant all at once, Enter the Void isn’t popcorn fare and it isn’t to be half-watched while doing something else. It’s the work of a director at the top of his game pushing his form as far and as hard as he can, never compromising and often avoiding simple good taste. Enter the Void is the kind of movie that leaves you exhausted but incredibly optimistic for the future of cinema as art.
3. The Social Network.
Two years ago ‘The Facebook Movie’ was a joke. I never got it. When you have Aaron Sorkin, one of the finest writers working, teaming up with David Fincher, one of the finest directors working, you know you’re going to have something special. What surprised even me was how special the film ended up being; the merging of these two perfectionist talents created something bigger than either of them. The Social Network is a movie that finds incredible drama in really small human moments, that uses dialog the way other films use special effects and that manages to have so many layers of meaning and comment while working so entertainingly on the top layer. It’s also probably the most misunderstood movie of the year, being attacked by feminist critics for its female characters and being attacked by clueless critics who think the film is lauding Mark Zuckerberg for being a dick. The reality is more complex, more nuanced and more heartbreaking than that.
2. Black Swan.
2010 hasn’t been a year filled with Big G Great Films, but the Great Films that we have gotten have been incredible. Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is just such a Great Film, a movie that is a beautiful trip into a hell of anxiety. It’s a movie that you will physically feel, a film that tears away at your flesh and your nerves and that will swallow you whole. I was clenched the whole film, lost inside the incredible point of view of Natalie Portman’s Nina, a prima ballerina with a deteriorating psyche. A companion piece to his debut film Pi, Black Swan is a more mature and more assured work; some will find it small but to me it’s intimate. That intimacy makes the film something you experience as opposed to watching it. And it’s the movie that pays off all of Natalie Portman’s many years of promise in a spectacularly unhinged performance - a performance that, were she a man, would be getting hailed as an all-timer.
I’ve never been a fan of Christopher Nolan, so nobody is more surprised than me that his film is the top of my list this year. But Inception is a magnificent film, a movie that uses every single thing I don’t like about Nolan to its advantage. It’s a movie that is marvelous entertainment, that’s an engaging braintwister, that’s a thematic triumph. Inception is the rarest of film - the kind you can just watch to enjoy the action and the grandeur of the filmmaking or that you can watch to explore the headier concepts and the deeper meanings. There was no moment as cinematically joyful this year as Joseph Gordon Levitt bouncing around the hotel hallway in a Fred Astaire fight scene. Inception is the kind of movie that makes me feel better about big blockbuster films; amidst a steady stream of shit tearing up the box office here was a film that was not only great and smart and fun but also popular. I’m so used to my favorite movies of the year being ignored by the masses that Inception‘s success was almost shocking. And that score! It’s bombastic and big and overblown and simply a blast. I think that sums the film up - it’s a big blast.
So I tip my hat to you, Nolan. I’m not going to change my mind on Batman Begins or The Prestige, but you’ve got a new convert for now.