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10 out of 10: The Ten Best Movies of the Year

Contrary to popular opinion, I was actually relatively impressed with 2010 as a year in cinema. It was no 2008, with a consistent string of impressive hits (both big and small). However, it wasn’t as bitterly disappointing as 2009 was, with letdown after letdown. Sure, there weren’t that many hugely successful sequels or reboots, but the vast majority of them weren’t soul-destroying wastes of film. So I’m quite happy. This year I actually had to cut several items from the list to get it down to a perfect ten.

This wasn’t an amazing year for blockbusters. The A-Team was disappointing, and – while I enjoyed Predators – it wasn’t a great or perfect film. However, it seemed to be the year for quirky films offering distinctive visual styles. Looking at the list, there are three movies with unique visual styles listed – in each case I think that the narrative underscores it, but it’s interesting to look at how shrewdly these are designed. I think I struck a balance between big films and relatively quirky movies, along with standard awards fare.

As ever, this is my opinion and my opinion alone, so I welcome debate and discussion. Keep in mind that, as with all similar lists, I live in Ireland, so I haven’t seen all the movies released in the States – particularly Oscar fare. If they’re good, films like 127 Hours and The Black Swan will appear on the list next year. Also keep in mind that I haven’t seen everything – so this list is liable to change as I see a few of the films that I might have missed over the course of the year.

So, with all these provisos included, let’s get started.

10.) Tron: Legacy


It appears that I liked this more than most. For me the fairytale story of the year wasn’t The Princess & The Frog, it was the story of the One True King-in-Exile  Flynn who watched his evil surrogate son Clu usurp his kingdom and run it into the ground, waiting for his Prince Valiant Sam to deliver the fantasy world from the tyranny of perfection. It’s a simple story which could have easily been adapted into one of Disney’s animated fables – there’s still a place for those in this day and age, isn’t there? Visually magnificent, with wonderful sound mixing, the movie was a pure sensual treat, an example of how to do eighties nostalgia properly. Daft Punk’s soundtrack certainly didn’t hurt.

9.) Easy A

High School isn’t like a John Hughes movie, except when it is. Easy A didn’t rewrite the rules when it came to teen comedies, but it did well to respect both its characters and its audience. Emma Stone is set for great things, and the script sparkles with wit. Like the previous entry, it’s a throwback to the eighties – this time the oft-maligned “teen comedy” genre. It’s good clean fun.

8.) Up In The Air

This one only came out in Ireland early this year, and is proof that I do agree with the Oscars sometimes (and also that I can remember films that came out before October). It’s George Clooney being George Clooney, but that’s much more entertaining than when it’s George Clooney trying to be a dour hitman, right? It’s quite predictable, but it has three winning performances from three leads who are just great at what they do. I should probably add some points for it being timely and all that, but I really don’t want to dwell on how horrible the world is at the moment. So I guess this movie deserves credit for being about how horrible the world is at the moment and still being one of the best movies of the year?

7.) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Between this, Tron: Legacy and some of the higher ranked films on the list, perhaps this was a great year to be a visually stunning and provocative film. Or maybe I was just feeling especially shallow this year. I don’t know. Edgar Wright demonstrates that he’s more than just an incredibly hilarious British director, handling this lushly styled trip into the psyche of a twenty-odd year-old “awesome” manchild who finds himself having to deal with the emotional baggage that his latest crush brings. You have never seen a movie that looks like this – there’s seldom two minutes that pass without Wright doing something visually interesting – and that’s what makes it work. If you can get the obscure gaming and weird nineties references, that’s even better.

6.) Toy Story 3

If Cars 2 and Monsters Inc. 2 are even half this good, I might be okay with the fact that Pixar aren’t going to produce an original film in the near-to-distant future. I don’t think I can do this film justice on my own, so I’m going to consult the esteemed Dr. Robert Doback:

When I was a kid, when I was a little boy, I always wanted to be a dinosaur, I wanted to be a Tyrannosaurus Rex more than anything in the world, I made my arms short and I roamed the back yard, I chased the neighborhood cats, I growled and I roared, everybody knew me and was afraid of me, and one day my dad said “Bobby you are 17, it’s time to throw childish things aside” and I said “OK Pop” – but he didn’t really say that he said that “Stop being a fucking dinosaur and get a job”.

Toy Story 3 is kinda like that, except it’s a very good movie and it fairly thoroughly explores the theme. It’s for the people out there who shed a little tear when their father told them to stop being a fucking dinosaur and get a job.

5.) Shutter Island

Yes, it’s another movie that I liked more than most. There’ll be at least one more between here and the top, I promise you. Shutter Island doesn’t work as a narrative. It especially doesn’t work as mystery, which is how it sells itself to the audience. It’s much better as a collection of rich themes and fascinating imagery. I remarked in my review of the film that perhaps we are looking at Martin Scorsese’s Holocaust film – not just because it features scenes from the Second World War, but because the themes and underlying ideas are so deeply connected. How do we reconcile the horrible deeds that we have done (or allowed to be done) with our idea of self? Is delusion the only way to cope with the trauma of the twentieth century? Shutter Island isn’t a story so much as it’s a parable – it’s not really about what it’s really about. It’s a mood, or a sense, or a state of mind rather than a rational plot. It’s also pretty much love it or hate it, so I won’t dwell too long on it.

4.) I Love You Phillip Morris

I’m a sucker for a romantic comedy. The fact that this film couldn’t find a distributor in the States is downright shameful, especially because there is nothing controversial about it – it makes me wonder about the era that we live in. But I digress. I Love You Phillip Morris is based on a true story. Having done the research, I’m amazed at how true that story was and how little it was embellished. It is, like the entry directly above it, a story about identity and how easy it is to conceal or distort, but also what that means for the individual. I’d almost think that the twenty-first century is having some form of identity crisis. More than that, the story is smart, funny and more than a little tragic. Carrey is stuck half-way between “serious dramatic actor” and “slapstick comedian” and – while it’s not his best work – he pulls it off.

3.) Kick-Ass

There’s something universal about the story of Spider-Man. As cool as Superman and Batman are, they’re disconnected – one is an alien, the other is a billionaire. Peter Parker is just an ordinary guy with ordinary responsibilities trying to do the right thing. That’s noble, because he’s in a comic book. If somebody decided to do that in real-life, they’d be certifiable nutjobs. But perhaps also a little noble. I didn’t care for Mark Millar’s original graphic novel, because it was just so ridiculously petty and cynical, trying to seem cool. Matthew Vaughn’s big screen adaptation keeps the novel’s dry wit, but removes a lot of the hipster cynicism.

In many ways, the movie is a reconstruction of the superhero origin, rather than a deconstruction. As much as we may laugh at these childish ideas, what’s wrong with the idea of helping your fellow man? Dave, bruised and bloodied in his costume, challenges a bunch of thugs who mock him, “The three assholes, laying into one guy while everybody else watches? And you wanna know what’s wrong with me?” Maybe there’s something a little heroic about that. But also more than a little nuts.

2.) The Social Network

The Social Network has been likened to Citizen Kane. That’s a bit of a grand comparison, to be honest, but perhaps it strikes a chord due to the similar themes. The story follows the founding of Facebook, but its themes are timeless – I reckon that’s a large part of the appeal. Just how far does one go to secure success? How much complaining about another’s success can one do before it becomes embittered whining? And, of course, the classic age-old question: what is the price of success? David Fincher’s tale is smart and sophisticated, compelling without being showy, understated without ever seeming dull.

It’s a typical story of class struggle – except this time it’s not the poor and uneducated defeating the wealthy elite, it’s the nerds beating the jocks. However, Aaron Sorkin’s script never falls into the pratfalls of similar tales – he’s shrewd enough to know that you don’t get that powerful and successful by being a completely nice guy, and that as much as the audience loves the underdog, they might not be comfortable with what that underdog has to do in order to win.

1.) Inception

A visual masterpiece. A bold experiment. The first truly original blockbuster in quite some time. Conclusive proof that – if you put the $200m in the right hands – major studio films can be brave and challenging. Inception is all these things and more. More than that, it’s a conscious counter-argument to the establish Hollywood belief that audiences are morons who can’t or won’t follow anything more complex than “good guy against bad guy”. Can you imagine pitching this to a major studio? “So they’re thieves… who sneak into people’s heads and steal ideas…” Yep, you’d still be waiting for that call back from the executive, who was probably fired for letting you on the lot in the first place.

There’s been some complaint about the relative simplicity of the dreams. Who dreams, you might ask, of a city street or a hotel or an ice fortress? These are fairly banal settings and all seem far too rational for dreams – they serve as the backgrounds for car chases, fistfights or full-frontal assaults. However, Nolan knows that in order to get the audience on board, you need to play fair with them – a truly irrational or abstract dream world would be truly random, and thus difficult to sell to mainstream movie-goers. By using set-ups with which the audience is familiar with, Nolan can play with bigger ideas (rather than spending more time setting up each scenario).

That’s the real appeal of Inception – it’s a challenging, thought-provoking, deep movie for everyone. Most of the items on this list would be considered “niche” or “cult” films (perhaps it has been a “niche” or a “cult” year, I suppose), but Inception is a movie you can watch with your parents, grandparents, younger siblings, hip cousins, well-read aunts… and everybody will get something out of it.

In case you can’t tell, it was the Christmas movie this year…

9 Responses

  1. I still have not caught Scott Pilgrim. I would have never anticipated that before it was released.

    Shutter Island came out in February and I still haven’t seen anything else this year that came close to topping it. DiCaprio’s performance and Scorsese’s painting of a descent into madness and the way we cope with trauma easily stood out as the best to me.

  2. I REALLY want to see I Love You Phillip Morris, but I highly doubt it’s going to get a release in Australia.

    Overall, a great list

  3. Well, my stance on Inception is already known: I think there is less than meets the eyes here but even I included it in my top 10 because it was still one of the most entertaining film of the year. Love the inclusion of Easy A and I can see that the geek is you has spoken 🙂 Nice top 10 Darren!

  4. It’s not my favourite, but each time someone cites SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD, I get a little bit elated.

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