Top Films of 2010 | Pete Timmermann

The best movie of 2010 is 33 years old.

Both 2008 and 2009 were subpar years for movies, but 2010 has come back big-time, with a ton of really great films all coming at once. My rough cut of this list contained 26 films; it broke my heart to pare off some of the films to keep the list to ten. That said, a lot of this year’s biggest successes were harder to see than usual; three of the top four films on my list showed theatrically three times or less in St. Louis, and I disqualified two brilliant films from the running (the Thai film from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Sion Sono’s Japanese film Love Exposure) because they didn’t get an official theatrical run anywhere in the United States before the end of the year. Both of those films have been picked up for U.S. distribution now, at least; Strand’s got the former and Olive Films has the latter. Look for both of them near the top of my 2011 list—assuming neither distributor drops the ball.
Speaking of distributors, I couldn’t be happier about Drafthouse Films entering the fold; Tim League, the CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse (easily one of the three best movie theaters I’ve ever been to), announced in September that the Drafthouse name was going to get into film distribution as well, and that they had picked up the excellent Four Lions for its flagship release. I can’t wait for their second pick.
Also of note is the fact that 2010 has been a very good year for documentaries; aside from the two that made my below list, The Art of the Steal, Jackass 3D (if you want to count it as a documentary—what is it if not a nonfiction film?), Last Train Home and Waiting for “Superman” all came very close.
A few other great films that I’d be remiss to go without mentioning from this year are Enter the Void (which never made it to St. Louis theaters but is coming out on home video in January 2011), Fish Tank, Somewhere, Toy Story 3 and True Grit.
And now, without further ado, here, in my opinion, are the best films of 2010:
1. House (Janus Films, NR)
Yes, the best movie of 2010 is 33 years old. Nobuhiko Obayashi’s brilliant and bonkers longtime cult film in Japan, House (which is its Japanese title; the English word House, though you sometimes see it billed as Hausu, came first to American theaters and then home video for the first time ever in 2010, and we’re better as a culture for having it. I haven’t had this much fun in a movie theater in years. If you can’t find it in you to love a film about a house that eats teenage girls, a watermelon salesman who possesses voodoo magic, and a teacher who gets a bucket stuck on his butt and falls down stairs in stop-motion, I have no time for you.
2. Dogtooth (Kino, NR)
When I went to see Dogtooth at the Webster Film Series on Halloween night, I knew basically nothing about it (even so much as that it was from Greece) aside from that it had won an award at Cannes and had been getting heavy festival circuit play. And what a great movie to see unawares! (Feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t seen Dogtooth, and prepare yourself to catch up with it upon its January DVD release.) Dogtooth is easily one of the most dangerous films of the year—we have the fairly graphic killing of a cat, a near-constant threat of incest, close-ups of genitals, and all sorts of things of that ilk—but also the most imaginative and elaborately considered world created in any film this year.
3. The Social Network (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)
All of the criticism The Social Network received was totally missing the point; it seems to me like only the most deluded and unable to follow simple themes would watch the film and mistake it for a fully factual representation of the story of the creation of Facebook. Really, if nothing else, it just feels too much like a movie, and I mean that as a compliment to the film: There’s nothing particularly forward-thinking about it as far as movies go (which threw a lot of David Fincher’s legion of fans), but it takes the classical Hollywood style and runs with it, producing a film that I guarantee will be around for a long time, both as a time capsule of life in the ’00s, but also as an example as a near-flawless narrative film.
4. Secret Sunshine (IFC Films, NR)
I first saw Lee Chang-dong’s film Secret Sunshine at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2007 and loved it. It took until February of this year to play even once in St. Louis, at the Korean Film Festival at Washington University, and then at the end of the year IFC Films started to roll it out for regular theatrical runs. IFC’s release strategy is to make their films available through On Demand at the same time as their theatrical runs, which means we can see it here in St. Louis (albeit not theatrically) right now, and I can’t recommend checking it out more highly. Imagine if Pedro Almodovar made a film in South Korea, and that’s pretty much what we have here. It has the Almodovar-requisite strong female lead (an excellent Jeon Do-yeon) and novelistic approach to the story, which is twisty and fulfilling throughout. I also can’t wait for Chang-dong’s Poetry, which is coming early 2011; one of the few benefits of having had to wait so long for Secret Sunshine to come to America is that Lee was able to make another film in the meantime.
5. Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13)
The best documentary in a year of great documentaries, Charles Ferguson’s amazingly entertaining dissection of America’s current financial crisis is as easy (and weirdly fun) to watch as any less weighty film. If you’ve been keeping up with what we’ve gotten ourselves into all along you won’t find a lot of new information here, but like last year’s Food, Inc., it’s hard to imagine a more concise or lucid overview of the well-documented problem.
6. The Tillman Story (The Weinstein Company, R)
Historically, I don’t care about professional football players or about people in the military, so it doesn’t seem like I would like a documentary about a professional football player who leaves his multimillion-dollar contract to join the military…unless that person is Pat Tillman, a very smart and charismatic football player/soldier/American. The Tillman Story is specific about its focus and story where Inside Job is not (not that they cover the same subject matter, unless you want to call “corruption” the subject matter of each), but both films, alongside The Social Network, capture the modern era as well as any film to have come out.
7. A Prophet (Sony Pictures Classics, R)
When A Prophet premiered at Cannes in 2009, it immediately garnered comparisons to films like The Godfather, which seem like they’d have to be an overstatement, but turn out to be surprisingly apt. Cross The Godfather with something like Goodfellas and set it in a French prison, and you’ve got the epic-scale story of rising through the ranks of organized crime that A Prophet depicts. Bonus points for containing easily one of the best scenes of the year, when the film’s young lead Malik (Tahar Rahim) makes his first kill in prison, in what is an incredibly tense and well-executed scene.
8. Blue Valentine (The Weinstein Company, R)
The scene where Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are shown having sex intercut with them post-coitally putting their clothes back on in Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now has been influencing filmmakers for decades now. But where in the past it has mostly just influenced specific scenes (generally sex scenes, like in Steve Soderbergh’s Out of Sight), with Blue Valentine the idea comes full circle, which is structured in its entirety as a juxtaposition of the young, cute courtship between Ryan Gosling’s Dean and Michelle Williams’ Cindy and the dissolution of their marriage, with nothing in between to bridge the gap. The end result is amazingly affecting, and Gosling’s and Williams’ are easily amongst the best performances of the year. And, like A Prophet, it gets bonus points for a particularly great scene: where Cindy tap dances to Dean’s funny song.
9. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Universal, PG-13)
Dogtooth and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World have practically nothing in common, but one thing that both films have in spades—but so many other films glaringly lack—is originality. But where Dogtooth is creepy and mean-spirited, Scott Pilgrim is just a hell of a lot of fun. Michael Cera hasn’t been this likeable since Juno, and Hollywood casting agents really need to start putting that girl who plays Knives (Ellen Wong) in everything. Kudos are also deserved for successfully bringing the video game aesthetic back to movie theaters artfully for the first time since 1998’s Run Lola Run.
10. Greenberg (Focus Features, R)
I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more likeable film about such an unlikeable person. Ben Stiller’s title character and Greta Gerwig as Florence, Greenberg’s brother’s personal assistant, are brave enough to make their characters as thoroughly flawed as writer/director Noah Baumbach wrote them, and in the process they create an elegant story about our self-destructive impulses, a human tendency that is often exploited but rarely explored in cinema.
| Pete Timmermann

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