Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Films of 2010

Backstabbing computer geniuses, arm-hacking survivalists and incinerator-avoiding plastic toys were just a few of the characters movies had in store for us in 2010.

As I initially approached this list, I considered that this was not a particularly great year for movies. But as deciding on the top 10 became a greater challenge the more I hit the theaters, I realized there were quite a few great films out this year. Here's a look at the 10 best:

1. The Social Network: Proving it's more than just "The Facebook Movie," David Fincher's fast-talking drama could very well be this generation's defining film. Powered by Aaron Sorkin's breathless and intelligent script, this is a thrilling look at the personality clashes, betrayals and possible ethics violations that led to the creation of the world's most popular website. Sorkin's dialogue launches off the page, delivered by a pitch-perfect ensemble that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and Andrew Garfield. It's a film about a revolution that changed the way we connect with our friends, business partners and families - and it may have all been thought up by a man who was too brilliant to navigate any of that correctly himself. Funny, tense and almost dangerously brilliant, this is far and away the best film of 2010.

2. 127 Hours: Much of this film's publicity centered on the "keep your eyes open" climax, when Aron Ralston - played with wonderful nuance and depth by James Franco - cuts off his own arm with a pocket knife to free himself from death in a narrow gorge. While the scene is one of the year's most visceral, the film is not the extreme experience many have hyped it up to be. Directed with boundless energy by Danny Boyle, "127 Hours" is an exciting, powerful and moving meditation on survival and the things we cling to to keep ourselves alive.

3. Four Lions: Chris Morris' debut film has not opened on Detroit screens yet and I'm not sure when, or if, it will ever get a wide release. This British film follows a group of Islamic suicide bombers as they plot a massive attack - and it's a comedy. Understandably, many aren't ready for a "terrorism comedy" yet, but Morris' film defangs the jihadists by making them a group of bumbling, in-fighting idiots who can barely keep from blowing themselves up during practice runs. Full of surprising wit and insight, while still being explosively funny (pun intended), Morris manages to take the wind out of terrorists' sails by exposing them as hypocritical oafs, but also keeps in mind the dangers that stupidity can cause.

4. The Fighter: David O. Russell's boxing drama embraces and transcends its formula trappings with this tale of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a Beantown fighter with a shot at the championship. On the surface, "The Fighter" is the typical underdog story we've seen hundreds of times before. But, like "Rocky," it's elevated to greatness by a cast of diverse, fleshed out characters, most notably Micky's brother Dicky, a one-time contender felled by a crack addiction. Played with manic energy by Christian Bale, Dicky is the unpredictable livewire who could help or hinder Micky's career. Bale finally delivers on the greatness he's been promising for years, and forces Wahlberg, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams to match him with their solid work.

5. The King's Speech: Director Tom Hooper makes history engaging, funny and all too human with this fantastically portrayed look at King George VI's struggle with speech. Colin Firth delivers the best performance of the year as the hot-tempered, easily-frustrated and reluctant monarch. Geoffrey Rush is hilarious and humane as the doctor who befriends and helps the king as he prepares to address the nation in the early days of World War II. By focusing on fears of public speaking, Hooper grabs our attention from the first scene, and Firth and Rush have never been better in this inspiring film. It's "Rocky" with a radio.

6. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: Each year, there's a film that I love unconditionally because it's shown me something I've never seen before. Edgar Wright's adaptation of Brian O' Malley's underground comic is that film for me this year. Michael Cera brings new shades to his awkward young man persona as a self-obsessed indie rocker who must literally fight for the love of a beautiful woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Proving that his phenomenal comedies "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" were just warm-ups, Wright infuses this action-comedy with so much energy, wit, visual flair and joy that it nearly explodes off the screen. I've seen "Scott Pilgrim" three times since its release and each time I discover some new trick Wright throws into the mix. The most fun I had at a theater this year.

7. Get Low: Just as much a pleasure as "Scott Pilgrim," but more deliberately paced, "Get Low" is a funny and touching look at guilt, forgiveness and friendship in a small Depression-era village. Robert Duvall is at his grizzled best as a recluse who comes out of hiding to throw a funeral party for himself and Bill Murray is as wonderfully sardonic as ever as the undertaker looking for ways to exploit the situation. Director Aaron Schneider's film is funny and beautiful to watch, and its final moments reveal a surprising resonance. A wonderful little gem.

8. True Grit:
Joel and Ethan Coen may appear to have gone mainstream with this remake of the popular John Wayne film, but a closer look reveals all their quirks are still intact in this enormously entertaining take on the Charles Portis novel. Once again, Roger Deakins delivers breathtaking cinematography. Once again, the Coens' love for language results in dialogue that tickles the ears. Once again, they get a phenomenal performance out of Jeff Bridges and, once again, their film perfectly balances darkness, humor and heart. And so, once again, they've made one of the year's best films.

9. Toy Story 3:
There are few greater pleasures each year than watching a new Pixar film. Not content to simply recycle old gags for their third go-round with Buzz, Woody and company, the animation wizards concoct what may be their funniest and most heartfelt adventure yet. Bursting with originality, this prison-break take on the tale has more laughs than the majority of the year's comedies and yet it also manages to deliver some of the year's darkest adventure scenes, mixed with a heart-tugging meditation on loss, mortality and growing older. Anyone with dry eyes in the final scenes has never truly been a child.

10. Inception: How did Christopher Nolan decide to follow up "The Dark Knight's" commercial success? By gambling on an inventive, labyrinthine and visually exhausting action movie that makes his "Memento" look like an episode of "Two and a Half Men." The gamble paid off and, fueled by a phenomenal ensemble and deliriously inventive special effects, "Inception" became the year's most complex, original and enjoyable head trip.

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