It’s been awhile since I put together a list of my favorite films of the year. It was a busy year, so I didn’t see that many new movies, but I did see some really great stuff in 2010, so here are my top 5 favorites.
5. The Town – directed by Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck’s last directorial effort was the arresting Gone Baby Gone about a kidnapping in a Boston neighborhood and ensuing investigation. It was a smart, character-driven crime movie that challenged the audience to decide what they thought of the actions of the characters. With The Town, Affleck continues this train of thought with a story about a group of thieves pulling jobs in a low-income neighborhood in (you guessed it) Boston. Four childhood friends plan and execute bank robberies and armored truck robberies in the tradition of their fathers before them. When the leader of the gang becomes romantically involved with a woman the gang took as a hostage and released, things get complicated. I love a good heist movie and the action here is great, but the core of this film is about the characters. Are we cheering for the gang to succeed or for the leader to walk away from his long life of crime? Are their actions excusable in any way? And what about the low-ball tactics of the police force to corner the gang? This film lives and thrives in the gray areas.
4. Shutter Island – directed by Martin Scorsese
The psychological thriller has to be one of my favorite genres of film. The legendary Alfred Hitchcock was the master of this type of story and any modern film owes a lot to his efforts. With Shutter Island, modern legend Martin Scorsese takes a crack at telling a twisted psychological thriller with Leonardo DiCaprio as his leading man. The setting of an insane asylum is perfectly creepy and the foggy cinematography does a lot to set the mood. DiCaprio’s character is a US Marshall assigned to investigate the disappearance of a residence of the island asylum. As he and his partner poke around the facility, however, they uncover many shocking revelations. It’s a film that keeps you guessing and slowly reveals the reality like fog burning off in the sunlight. The film also features a perfectly chosen score with restless strings, 40’s era radio tunes and Max Richter’s neo-classical leitmotifs.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – directed by Edgar Wright
Switching gears completely from the first two entries, I loved Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I have read the comic book source material and I was thrilled to hear that Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) would be behind the camera. His whimsical style and willingness to push the set pieces to their limits really lent itself to this story. Michael Cera plays the titular character who is a bass player in a band, a deadbeat and in love with a mysterious girl. Soon he learns that, in order to date her, he must defeat her 7 evil exes. The dialog is sarcastic and fast and the special effects and scene transitions are downright amazing. Not to mention the craziest fight scenes you’ve ever witnessed. This film didn’t gross much at the box office, but it will definitely capture a cult following on DVD. It’s loud, goofy, random and lots of fun.
2. Toy Story 3 – directed by Lee Unkrich
The first Toy Story film has become a classic in its own right. When Pixar chose to produce a sequel, cautious optimism paid off with another great film. But a 3rd film was stuck in development hell for years as Disney and Pixar sparred over a worthy storyline. [It’s interesting to note that a rejected storyline featured the toys going on a trip overseas and now the next Pixar film, Cars 2, features a storyline about the cars going overseas.] Finally, everyone agreed on a story about the toys being abandoned to a day car center when their owner (Andy) goes away to college. On the surface, it sounds like a decent plot, but nothing too deep. But if Pixar excels at one thing it’s crafting a story. The film spins a beautiful picture of a group of characters struggling with being forgotten and abandoned. They believe they will be thrown away and make a break for it. Throughout the film, their leader, Woody, pleads with them to believe that Andy didn’t intend to throw them away and he wants them back. The group ends up in extremely dire straights and plummets into darkness and despair as they give up on ever being loved and cared for again. No spoiling the ending, but the beauty of the conclusion cannot be properly put into words. This could be Pixar’s finest hour. Any studio attempting a “three-quel” should take notes – this is how it’s done.
1. Inception – directed by Christopher Nolan
My favorite film of the year was definitely Inception. Nolan is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors working today. The idea for this film was hatched 9 years ago as Nolan was playing around with the concept of stealing people’s dreams. The idea was then spun out into a labyrinthine story about a group of thieves that steal ideas out of people’s heads as they dream by “breaking into” those dreams. However, the main thrust of the plot surrounds the gang attempting to do the opposite: planting an idea into the mind of an individual who would then believe it to be his own. Inception. In order to do this, they construct an enormous plan involving dreams within dreams, complicated setups and lots of guns. Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic here, as well, as the leader of the gang who is haunted by memories of his wife invading his own dreams and sabotaging his schemes. As the story folds over itself again and again, the viewer is tasked with distinguishing what is real and what is a dream. All that and some of the most amazing action sequences you’ve ever seen combine to form a blockbuster film with a lot of brain power too. This film has been endlessly analyzed since its release and that, too, is a testament to its greatness.
There are a lot of movies I haven’t had a chance to see yet, so what was your favorite film from 2010? What should I add to my Netflix queue?