Late to the party! 2010 saw many truly awful films (see Top 10 Worst Films list), but there were some truly great films to savour as well. Here’s the best of the best …
2010 was something of a rollercoaster year for movies. There were many lows, but towards the tail end of the year, a whole lot of highs suddenly showed up. I’ve not yet seen some of those critically-acclaimed highlights like “True Grit”, “127 Hours” and “The Fighter”, but in December alone, I watched three films that ended up on the following list. Last year had quite a number of films that I wouldn’t hesitate to call “great”. So on the whole, 2010 was a balanced year…
Almost made my Top 10 for its sheer audio-visual brilliance alone.
Hilarious (and spot-on) blaxploitation parody. Michael Jai-White is awesome in the title role.
Ip Man 2
Larger scope, more fights, and a quietly confident performance by Donnie Yen.
Sometimes, complexity comes not from plot machinations, but through the examination of interpersonal dynamics. And what better subject matter for that than a family of criminals? Everyone can attest to having a slightly dysfunctional family. Be thankful yours is nothing like the Cody clan. The story revolves around a young man whose entire household is a microcosm of the worst sides of human nature. And presiding over it is the matriarch, whose loving, Susie Homemaker exterior hides a scheming monster. Aussie Director David Michod has crafted a deceptively simple tale about how the strong manipulate the weak, and how fear drives the human animal to surprising responses.
The well-worn ‘everyone-is-connected’ plot gimmick may now seem passe. The truth is, it’s no different from any kind of twist, so the trick is to use it well. “Mother And Child” uses it beautifully. A gentle, sensitive film that explores the various facts of motherhood, it transcends any danger of being lazily contrived by feeling very honest. Director Rodrigo Garcia brings a European flavour to the American setting, and the cast play the emotional notes carefully, so it never slips into Hallmark sentimentality. It’s still poignant and powerful in all the right places. A DVD of this film would make a great Mother’s Day gift.
Late to the party. This was a 2009 release in the States, but we got it in early 2010. It’s a worthy Top 10 film for any year, but especially so last year. The world was still gingerly crawling back to recovery from the global recession, so “Up In The Air” was timely. George Clooney plays a man whose job is to fly around the country to fire people on behalf of their employers. The facelessness of the corporations parallels his own detachment from humanity. The film also makes a touching statement about how our sense of self-worth, and even identity, is so deeply tied to the jobs we hold. The film works so well thanks to an unusually introspective performance from Clooney, who took it even further in “The American”.
I’ll get my main criticism out of the way first: the plot is way too similar to Michael Mann’s classic “Heat”. A bank robber who falls in love with a woman, only for her to discover what he does for a living, while a driven cop closes in on him. The thing is, “The Town” is based on a novel called “Prince Of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan, so I’ll give it a pass on that front. It’s not hard to forgive, because everything else about the film is superb. Ben Affleck directs himself and a talented cast to note-perfect authenticity to the gritty, blue-collar Boston setting. The shootout sequences are worthy of the crime genre’s best, and the characterisations are top-notch. The stand-out performance belongs to Jeremy Renner, who does ‘sociopathic’ with scary conviction.
“The Social Network” is actually about loneliness. Isolation. Disconnection. Ironic, isn’t it? For the inventor of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, his status at the end of the story is the same as it is at the beginning: alone. And everything in between that we witness of him is a constant. He does not change, grow or even devolve. At least that’s the way he is portrayed in this film and it’s by design. The Zuckerberg of the film is a metaphor for the impersonality of technology. Specifically, social media. We live in an age where we are more connected than ever before, yet it’s harder to make real human connections any more. Sly commentary aside, the film is like a boxing match, with actors delivering Aaron Sorkin’s muscular screenplay as if their careers depended on it. And it should, since the film is a star-making turn for almost everyone involved. Like its protagonist, “The Social Network” is a fiercely intelligent movie that doesn’t wait for its audience to keep up. One of director David Fincher’s best. Also, props to the brilliant score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Another 2009 film that only found its way onto my Plasma screen in 2010. It’s a shame that “An Education” wasn’t shown in Malaysian cinemas. Perhaps the subject of a British schoolgirl who discovers her sexuality and a larger world outside of her cloistered environment, was considered too controversial for our delicate Asian values. Carey Mulligan is delightful. It’s remarkable how she conveys the gradual maturing of her character right before our eyes. And Alfred Molina is hilarious as her stuffy dad. The production design is also a treat, capturing 60s England to a tee.
Darren Aronofsky’s “horror” movie is a multi-faceted experience. On the surface it shares the same theme with his last film “The Wrestler”, about performers whose bodies begin to crumble under the immense pressures of their art. “Black Swan” treads far deeper into psychological territory, and examines themes like sexual repression. Natalie Portman’s ballerina is a girl trapped in a woman’s body, thanks to her overbearing mother. The gruesome physical metamorphosis she goes through is a metaphor for artistic awakenings, the full realisation of potential, which in turn is really all about burgeoning sexuality. I also loved the cinematography. The ballet sequences are shot with a kind of surreal stop-motion quality, and the camera motions are in tune with the dancers, all sweeping moves and graceful spins. This is a bold vision on display. “Black Swan” is melodrama done right.
I was skeptical when they first announced Part 3. It just didn’t feel necessary, because on a thematic level, the 2nd film had already provided a complete journey for Woody, Buzz and gang. True enough, TS3 has the slight feeling of re-treading old ground about outliving one’s purpose in life. But it’s in the 3rd act that the real heart of the film is revealed: braving mortality, and letting go of one’s old life. Then it all clicked into place, making the emotional payoff at the end feel completely earned, and very affecting. This is why Pixar is the best at what they do. Making great films that just so happen to be animated. Now I understand the necessity of Part 3. It’s to make “Toy Story” one of the best trilogies out there.
This British film has done the impossible: a comedy about Muslim terrorists that pulls no punches in its socio-political satire, yet manages to be side-splittingly funny too. Writer/Director Chris Morris is a master of tone. He has the uncanny ability to walk the line between being farcical and being critical. The four titular protagonists are morons who have no clue that they have no clue what they’re doing, which is what makes it so hilarious. Yet there is something about them that is eerily reminiscent of real-life religious extremists, so that you take them seriously at the same time.
“Inception” was a massive box office hit around the world. But this film’s biggest success is that it made audiences feel smart. That’s the highest praise anyone can give a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster nowadays. Which is really sad, but it’s also a rather hopeful sign. Maybe now we can have more films like these that engage the viewer on a deeper level. A brain to match the brawn. It won’t be easy of course. For better or worse, films like “Inception” come along once in a rare while.
TRIBUTE > To wrap up, I’d like to use this space to pay tribute to one of the film’s actors, who was also in another film on my Top 10 (“The Town”). English veteran Pete Postlethwaite died of cancer three weeks ago. Look him up on IMDB; he had a long and memorable career playing every sort of character imaginable. Thank you and goodbye, Mr Postlethwaite.
Storyteller by trade and dreamer by nature, Wai has been deeply nuts about the celluloid world since the first time he discovered he could watch a story instead of reading it. But he likes writing about it. Wai goes by a single name because he likes to avoid any “Imperial entanglements” (a.k.a. “conflict of interest with the powers that be” for those of you who don’t speak Star Wars) in his employment. Plus, cool people use one-word names. He has just set up a movie website, the first of its kind in Malaysia, in an effort to foster greater filmic knowledge for the rakyat. Check out Electro Shadow.
Tags: An Education, Animal Kingdom, Black Dynamite, Black Swan, Four Lions, Inception, Ip Man 2, Mother And Child, The Social Network, The Town, Top 10 Best Films Of 2010, Toy Story 3, Tron Legacy, Up In The Air
Storyteller by trade and dreamer by nature, Wai has been deeply nuts about the celluloid world since the first time he discovered he could watch a story instead of reading it. But he likes writing about it. Wai goes by a single name because he likes to avoid any “Imperial entanglements” (a.k.a. “conflict of interest with the powers that be” for those of you who don’t speak Star Wars) in his employment. Plus, cool people use one-word names. He has just set up a movie website, the first of its kind in Malaysia, in an effort to foster greater filmic knowledge for the rakyat. Check out www.electroshadow.com
Posted on 23 January 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.
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