I decided the best time to reveal the best movies I saw last year is ahead of the Oscars®, as I am skipping the guessing game this year. It’s just so predictable. Though I admit the tight race between two certain best picture nominees. Also, I did see all those nominees, and a lot of them are on this list. Still, the greatest movie I saw released in 2010 was not even nominated in the foreign film category…
1. White Material
This film handily surpassed everything I saw this year—pure poetry in cinema. When a ragtag group of child soldiers emerges from the jungle brush to a melancholy jazz-like tune by Tindersticks, I could not help but think, These are the true Lost Boys. Shot for shot, Claire Denis’ film blew me away with its composition. A consistent sense of dread permeates every scene until Denis ratchets it up to pure horror. White Material is an amazing portrait of awful effects of colonialism to its extreme. Rarely have I heard so much spoken in imagery alone. The only time the movie may have dragged for me was when there was dialogue (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
2. The Social Network
With one dash of creative license at the end of this movie based on an admittedly inconsistent array of facts, director David Fincher has once again created a film that shines a penetrating light into our current society. Somehow many in this world have fallen off the tracks of solid ground. The bumps and dust of earthen soil below our feet no longer provide the satisfying footing to live on. Today’s “true” social life exists somewhere in a much more elusive place: in the layers of a false reality. Fincher presents us with the profile of a man who seems to have it all, except true human connection (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
3. The Fighter
OK, pardon the Oscar® reference, but Christian Bale has earned the award. Few actors disappear into their roles as well as Bale, and he stole the movie with this amazing performance. (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
A dark glimpse into a man who only seems misanthropic but is actually more in love with his sad, negative self over anyone else around him. The titular character is a walking pile of hang-ups he constantly projects on others. What Greenberg (Ben Stiller) hates about people is what he hates about himself. Director Noah Baumbach has turned one of the darker corners of his film career, but shines an amazing spotlight on human behavior (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here; I also wrote a review for the film ahead of its release).
5. The Kids Are All Right
The movie speaks beyond sexual orientation and looks at the strength of union between two halves of a couple. It’s a delicate look at how the thin cracks of a lengthy marriage can so easily, yet harshly come apart only to reveal a hidden strength within– a rare topic in Hollywood movies, which often hype the falling in love part of a relationship and end it there. Buoyed by fine performances all around, especially by the two actresses at the heart of the story, director Lisa Cholodenko knows where to find the drama in a long-term relationship (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here; It was the first movie I saw last year that I had thought deserved Oscar® notice, and it got it).
6. Carlos – 5 1/2 hour Roadshow Edition
An amazing study of the disillusionment of an idealist (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
A powerful documentary about the freeing power of art (support the Independent Ethos, buy the DVD here).
8. 127 Hours
The crowd at my preview screening broke into cheers when Aaron Ralston (James Franco) cut that last bit of pesky flesh to find his freedom. Director Danny Boyle does incredible work to set up self-mutilation as a grand victory. I doubt another filmmaker will tell a story about such a subject this well for a while to come (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
9. Black Swan
Give Natalie Portman’s performance credit for making this predictable movie interesting. Director Darren Aronofosky is getting a bit repetitive in his themes. But this is probably his tightest tale of obsession turning to madness he has told (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
Over-hyped as too difficult a movie for the Hollywood-fare-craving masses, Inception was lazily relegated by many as an attempt to tell a confusing story most will not understand. In fact, rarely has there been a script so well-suited for the principles of the medium of cinema. Movies are, after all, simply dreams rendered in physical form. With it’s reliance on edits to make sense of an experience broken up by cuts in time, there is no better way to tell a dream than in the form of a movie (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
11. The American
Despite the A-list Hollywood actor fronting the American (George Clooney) this film comes from a world of the more atmospheric cinema of European cinema (director Anton Corbijn is Dutch after all), not to mention the early seventies. It fills the viewer up like a fine and tenderly cooked meal, instead of the usual greasy junk from Hollywood that only tastes good in the mouth but soon enough makes you want to throw up. There is a mesmerizing pace to the American. Corbijn allows the camera to linger longer on the takes, impregnating the scenes with emotional and psychological depth (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here; I also wrote a review for the film ahead of its release).
The most harrowing film I saw this year. Never has becoming a “super hero” felt so wrong and idiotic. This film captured the lunacy of those exploring that venture to an even scarier degree than Watchmen (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
13. True Grit
The Cohen brothers do it again: witty dialogue, dynamic storytelling, great characters and genius casting with a bonus of much due respect to the Western genre (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
14. Please Give
Nicole Holofcener’s tightest film to date. It’s any amazing criticism of all those better-of and their hollow sympathy for those they perceive as in need of help (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
15. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Utterly underrated. It celebrated youth culture while wittily subverting it (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
16. Toy Story 3
I still don’t get why grown men are reportedly and sometimes admittedly weeping at this movie. I’m sure the Pixar team behind this melodrama with toys are laughing all the way to the bank, seeing as they knew how to hold on to their imagination and carry it into their professional careers (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
17. A Solitary Man
Michael Douglas made a man who should be reviled sympathetic. I hated everything about this rich douche, but I still found myself rooting for him. It stands as a real shame the award-givers never acknowledged Douglas for this role. I guess he was too busy fighting cancer to maintain the high profile needed to be recognized (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).
18. Let Me In and 19. The Last Exorcism
Few “horror” directors know how to grab the pit of your soul and shake it up. These two films certainly did that (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray of the former here and here for the latter).
20. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (trailer)
Yes, I never saw the film, but the trailer was its own little cinematic poem unto itself. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films seem to activate multiple levels of consciousness in the viewer. They unfold in a place somewhere beyond straight narrative. By not trying to mimic the “real world” as most mainstream films do, his cinema works on a more vibrant level of existence. In effect, I have never felt more alive and aware while watching one of his movies, which draws repeat viewings like a well-crafted album invites repeated listens. I hope to finally see this movie in some form in the US where it will surely appear on my list of favorite films of 2011 (support the Independent Ethos, buy the blu-ray here).