Friday, December 24, 2010

The 2010 Dubbies!

Alright gang. This time next week I'll be posting my thoughts on the 10 best films of 2010. But every year I decide to do an "alternative" list, where I make not of films I particularly enjoyed that were just did not make my top 10 list.

This year there were plenty of films that were hard to cross off my list in order to make room for the best. But here are some of the films I greatly enjoyed and, in fact, will likely return to more than the ones on my top 10 list for sheer entertainment value. Enjoy!

1. The "Seriously, this was Number 11" award--Winter's Bone: I went back and forth about whether I was going to include this great little thriller on my top 10 list and, sadly, I had to sacrifice it for another film that I loved just a little bit more. But don't let its absence fool you--this is a fascinating little film. Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal as Ree Dolly, a teenage girl in the Ozarks who must navigate a labyrinthine community of pseudo-related meth cookers and addicts to locate her father's body and save her home. There's a wonderful sense of setting to this film and the town of tightly-related, closely-guarded folk is perfectly realized. John Hawkes should also be recognized for his role as a grizzled hick with a heart of gold. A fantastic little movie.

2. "The Best Non-'Inception' Mind Game of the Year"--Shutter Island: Leonardo DiCaprio fried audiences' collective brains on several occasions this year. And while Inception is the more complex, tightly-wound piece, it's Shutter Island that packs the more emotional punch. Directed with wonderfully tense and disorienting "bump in the night" flair, this dark mystery--set on an island asylum in the 1950s--is twisty and unsettling, getting more dangerous and bleak as its secrets are revealed. DiCaprio, as a US Marshal with some secrets of his own, is perfect and the film's final moments turn Dennis Lehane's original pulp twist into one a harsh, disturbing and unforgettable rumination on guilt and fear.

3. Best Horror of the Year--"Let Me In": Being an ardent fan of the original "Let the Right One In," I wasn't too thrilled when it was announced "Cloverfield" director Matt Reeves was going to helm an American remake. But Reeves' take on the story keeps tale's dark heart alive, in this sad, brooding story about a lonely young boy (Cody Smit-Mcphee) who befriends a girl (Chloe Moretz) who is not what she seems. A haunting and poetic meditation on lost innocence, Reeves gets surprisingly adult performances from McPhee and Moretz and Richard Jenkis turns the young girl's caretaker into a tragic figure. Tense, horrifying and sad, this is a movie that crawls under your skin and haunts you all the way home, but it's also a surprisingly tender story of friendship and young love that equals its Swedish counterpart.

4. Best Mainstream Comedy--"The Other Guys": There's another comedy--one that hasn't gotten wide release yet--that was actually the funniest movie I saw all year. But behind that was this fourth collaboration between Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Their riff on the buddy cop comedy may have more plot than their previous films, but it's just as bizarre, quotable and hilarious as an "Anchorman" or "Step Brothers." Ferrell creates another great character as a buttoned-down desk jockey and Mark Wahlberg ratchets up his intensity as his action-loving partner. But it might be Michael Keaton, as a cop with a fondness for R&B group TLC, who steals the show. Just remember: pimps don't cry.

5. Best Popcorn Movie--"The A-Team": I'm still not entirely sure why this film did so poorly at the box office. I was well prepared for Joe Carnahan's update of the 1980s TV show to be dark and gritty, getting rid of everything that made the silly, over-the-top program so beloved. Instead, Carnahan pulled together Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley and Quintin Jackson to create a movie that's just as absurd as the show ever was, with stunts that make over-the-top sound conservative and nods to the franchise that made fans smile. Bonus points for Patrick Wilson, whose villain was so wonderfully daffy that I'd like a spinoff just of him.

6. Best Art House Drama--"Never Let Me Go": What a sad, beautiful little film. This haunting science fiction drama--about boarding house kids with a tragic future planned for them--never goes the conventional route. A rumination on mortality, it starts with a fantastical premise--what if we grew clones to supply us with organs--and then keeps its foot squarely in the side of drama, letting the implications of that reality play out. Carey Mulligan continues to prove she's the real deal as a sad, sympathetic young lady dealing with a destiny to die young. Kiera Knightley shows an anger, passion and range I didn't know she had and Andrew Garfield continues his strong year as the conflicted and angry young man who knows the world regards him as worthless. A beautiful, tragic drama that left me shaken as I left the theater.

7. Best "Non-Inception and Non-Shutter Island" Brain Bender--"Black Swan": What a weird, beautiful, terrifying and disturbing little movie. Natalie Portman may never be better than she is here as a ballerina whose grip on reality begins to shatter as she prepares for the lead roles in "Swan Lake." Mila Kunis is revelatory as a fellow dancer who may be our heroine's competitor/friend/lover. Darren Aronofsky's direction is dizzying and the final 20 minutes are pure delirium. Had the film cared a bit more for its narrative and not been so content to depart from reality in its final act, this would have been on my top 10 list.

8. Best Horror, Part 2--"Frozen": Adam Greene's survivalist/horror story is a chilling addition to the "don't go outdoors, because you will die" genre. Three friends get on a final run at a ski resort and, through a set of surprisingly plausible circumstances, are left stranded above the snow when the resort closes for the week. What unfolds is a taut and grim battle with fear, frostbite and the howling wolves circling below. I'm not a skier; this movie will not change that.

9. Best indie comedy--"Greenberg": As Ben Stiller milks money out of a dead franchise this week with "Little Fockers," it's nice to be reminded he can still do solid work with this little gem by Noah Baumbach. Stiller plays a cynical young man recovering from a mental breakdown at his brother's house who develops a crush on his brother's assistant. Hateful without being hated by us, Stiller captures all of character's sadness and anger. As the girl who begins to heal him, Greta Gerwig steals the show--and there were times I wish the film had been simply about her confused and aimless twentysomething.

10. Best documentary--"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work": If, like me, you don't care much for Rivers' acerbic humor, this movie won't much change it. You will, however, garner a great respect for this woman's career, as the movie unflinchingly follows her for a year and lets her tell about her struggle with Carson, her husband's suicide and her fears of being left without work. A fascinating look at showbiz.

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30s, engaged and living in Motown. Wrestling with life, love, faith, art, film, culture and everything in between.