Posted January 17, 2011

Updated February 2, 2011  /  Updated March 2, 2011

 

Try as I may, I still found it difficult to compile my ten best reasons for entering a movie theatre in 2010 and reveal it at the same time that many other critics have over the last several weeks.  The primary reason, as always, is that many of the late season, high marquee films have not yet seen the light of day here in Saskatoon (sigh), but thankfully many of the ones that I was yearning to screen did arrive in a timely fashion.  Nonetheless, I still endeavor to see a few films that have not been available to me yet (namely 127 HOURS, BLUE VALENTINE, RABBIT HOLE, and SOMEWHERE).  Just in case anyone was wondering where there are among this list…not to worry…I have not forgotten about them, and upon screening them - and if they warrant an inclusion anywhere here - I will do just that.  

As of the above updated posting date, I have seen 117 films that were released during the 2010 calendar year, which is a personal best since I began this site rather humbly in 2004 (I saw 111 in 2009 and 110 in 2008) and something that I hold with a bit of selfish pride (remember, I am not a professional critic, nor do I get paid to do this gig, nor am I granted access to press screenings).  Of those 117 efforts, I found myself positively and strongly latching on to about 50-plus of them and another 22 I found moderately satisfying.  2010 was generally a very good year for releases big and small, and I found myself dishing out more four star reviews than in any other past year.  Either I am being far too lineate on these films or they were legitimately worthy of such superlative praise on my part. 

As with all of my TEN BEST compilations, I must always emphasize that these lists are personal and subjective.  People have criticized me at times for lacking objectivity when it comes to film criticism, but when has this type of writing ever been anything but subjective?  These ten films listed below are ones that have personally stayed with me the most during the last twelve months.  Furthermore, my ultimate aim is for variety on these lists, and the TEN BEST FILMS OF 2010, I feel, has greet depth of choices.  There is a sci-fi thriller, a psychological horror thriller, a family melodrama, a coming-of-age drama (two, actually), a character driven dramedy, a Hitchockian film noir thriller,  a comic book adaptation, and a romantic drama.  You can complain all you want regarding my suggestions, but there is no denying that each one compiled here could not be anymore different. 

Lastly, as always, it should be mentioned that I often find it frustrating and difficult to exclude certain films off of my Ten Best lists, which usually necessitates me going further and extended my picks to a TOP 25.  This serves the purpose of paying fitting homage to 15 other great and memorable films that I could just not bring myself to include in the Top Ten. 

Okay, enough with the introduction, here are my...
 

 
 

1.   INCEPTION

 
 

Just as he did with THE DARK KNIGHT in 2008, Christopher Nolan has made the very best film of the year in INCEPTION. 

Featuring the most wickedly ingenious script of 2010, shot on a grand and epic scale (with a reported $160 million budget) in six different countries around the world and featuring an all-star cast of respected actors performing at the top of their game, Nolan has achieved a career high masterstroke work with INCEPTION.  The way he so thoroughly and effortlessly transports viewers into this intriguing hybrid of the sci-fi fantasy, the tension-filled heist flick, and the riveting psychological thriller is noteworthy enough, but he also manages to immerse those genres into a dissection of some of the most prevailing themes of all fiction: the nature of reality and our perception of it.  All of this works harmoniously together to create one of the most thoughtful, thrilling, and contemplative escapist films in a long time. 

The overall plot is far too dense to modestly disseminate: All you need to know is that it stars a rock-solid-as-ever Leonardo DiCaprio as a corporate raider that uses methods no other movie thief has ever attempted: he does not break into buildings and simply rob them, but rather he uses cutting edge science and technology to infiltrate the minds of men to steal their ideas that allow him to profit in the real world.  One last mission he attempts involves the incredibly convoluted and dicey proposition of “inception”, which involves entering dream states upon dream states of his unsuspecting victims and then planting ideas within their subconscious.  Now that’s fiendish ambition. 

Nolan has now fully emerged as one of the most shrewdly sophisticated and accomplished directorial minds of his generation.  From early successes like his mind-bending thriller MEMENTO to his police procedural INSOMNIA and, yes, to his virtuoso re-imagining of the BATMAN film universe with BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT, Nolan has managed to forge a career of astonishing  variety, even when all of his films manage to touch on similar themes of obsession and perception.  Moreover, all of his work, INCEPTION included, places an intimate level of trust in the attention spans and intelligences of their audience members.  He defies them to engage their minds in the stories and characters first while other directors bombard them with visceral mayhem and teeth-clenching noise.   No other populist filmmaker has taken audiences on such a ride as Nolan has, and INCEPTION fully emerged in 2010 as a dream worth entering.

 

2.  BLACK SWAN

Natalie Portman has always been a fine young actress that has carved out a career of memorable film performances (see LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, GARDEN STATE, CLOSER, and V: FOR VENDETTA), but she has never so creepily approached such dark and obsessive depths to her performance craft as she does so astonishingly in Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN. 

At face value, Aronofsky’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2008 film THE WRESTLER may just feel like a regurgitated SHOWGIRLS: It has familiar elements of the types of back-stage melodramas about young female performing artists (the naive and pensive newcomer trying to make a name for herself; the behind-the-scenes catfights and squabbles; the double-crosses; the intense ambition that supersedes all other artistic imperatives, and so on), but BLACK SWAN is only superficially about the world professional ballerinas: what it’s really compelled with is its main character's (played by Portman) nightmarish descent in madness.  As a result, Aronofsky's film feels more like surreal nightmare come to life than a prosaic and routine “dance” film, and it is the grotesque juxtaposition of the beauty and grace of ballet set against the backdrop of one performer’s ever increasing insanity and break from reality that truly makes BLACK SWAN a work of such unexpected potency. 

And, of course, there is Portman herself, and her Oscar worthy performance here is startling on two distinct levels: (a) she more than evokes a plausible level of technical mastery of the art of dance (she trained for nearly a year to effectively look and feel the part of a ballerina) and (b) she brings such an untamed, animalistic and erotically charged magnetism showcasing her transformation as a once-shy and introverted girl and into a feverously anxious and twitchy cauldron of paranoia and fear.  I have never seen Portman so completely inhabit a role that’s so tortured and damaged as she does here, and BLACK SWAN is a crowning verification of not only her abilities as an actress, but also another stunningly executed achievement for Aronofsky himself: BLACK SWAN  is a perfect companion piece to THE WRESTLER in how they both look at tragically flawed characters that drive themselves to inhuman limits to achieve their professional aims.  After the mournful failure of 2006’s THE FOUNTAIN, Aronofsky’s career comeback is all but secure now.

  3.  BLUE VALENTINE  >

I have never seen a relationship presented in a film with such a frank rawness and immediacy as was the case in BLUE VALENTINE, which featured performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams that never once struck a phony or falsely contrived note.  All throughout the film you grow less and less conscious that you are watching a pair of actors portray a couple and instead feel more like eavesdropping participant in their lives.  Gosling and Williams are so eerily convincing it’s like watching a documentary about a doomed, six-year romance.  There are sublime moments, like one set in the past of Gosling stringing his ukulele to a melancholic Elvis jingle as Williams prances around.  Then there are darker scenes, like a climatic verbal standoff - showing older version of the characters, set in the present - unleashing their fury in a doctor’s office.  Through all of these key sequences It becomes really hard to not acknowledge what genuinely natural performers these actors are. 

The film is also a sweeping triumph for its Brooklyn-born director, Derek Cianfrance, whose spent a better part of his life seeing this story through to silver screen fruition.   Using loose and sparse vérité camera moves alongside honing in on prolonged takes of the actors, Cianfrance immerses us in the microcosm of a couple’s life like few films before it have.  Interestingly, the film teeters back and forth from the present to the past, which creates a yo-yo-like sensation of uncertainty (even when we feel we have all of our questions answered about the couple’s meeting, courtship, and marriage, we are then abruptly dealt with new questions), but the non-linear narrative gives the film an exploratory momentum.  The ending does not give us a rosy and pristine Hollywood fairy tale rendering of married life, but rather a toxic dissection of its pair of lost souls that once loved one another and may never rekindle their passion again. 

added March 2, 2011 

  4.  THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

I absolutely cringe at the thought of the type of film that THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT could have been: it might have oh-so-easily approached the level of tawdry and sensationalistic melodrama concocted for cheap and disposable sitcom laughs.  The fact that Lisa Cholodenko’s dramedy wholeheartedly overrides all types of preconceived expectations makes it one of 2010’s most sublime surprises. 

The basic plot concerns two lesbian mothers (played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, both of whom have never been better) that have two teenage children that were conceived artificially via a donor.  One of the kids (played by Mia Wasikowska, in a performance of soft spoken naturalism and poise) decides that she and her brother (played by Josh Hutcherson, another young actor of atypical composure and sincerity) should actively seek out their biological father (Mark Ruffalo, effectively playing the trickiest role).  When the entire family invites the father into their lives, complications slowly, but surely ensue. 

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT amazingly is not a gay agenda film, nor is it trying to sermonize a gay messages here:  the script is just a frank and honest portrait of the highs and lows of a family unit, and it is presented so candidly, intelligently, and movingly that the film never feels constrained by any potential story conventions or genre expectations.  The characters speak with a refreshing honesty, insight, and articulation and the manner that Cholodenko humanistically grounds the characters, their dilemmas, and the overall minutia of their mundane and significant events that befall their lives makes the film breathe with a soulful veracity.  THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT may have an eccentric and offbeat premise, but, in the end, it’s a marvelously intuitive observational study of both marriage and family.  Gay…straight…it does not matter in this film.

5.   FISH TANK

 

Andrea Arnold’s FISH TANK is a film of urgent and minimalist power.  Unrelentingly dark and pessimistic, her film is a unflinchingly realistic, fly-on-the-wall portrait of an inarticulate, perpetually hostile, and anti-social teenager (Katie Jarvis, in one of the most extraordinary film debuts ever) and it maintains such a focus and a sense of immediacy with her story that her plight begins to feel more tangible and real: few films this year immerse audience members so systematically that you begin to feel like an eavesdropping voyeur. 

We see everything this girl perceives through her own eyes and disaffected soul: there are no attempts at shamefully pontificating about her impoverished settings and living conditions, nor does the film slavishly engage in hooky sentimentality that it certainly could have.  Arnold makes no attempts whatsoever to justify, rationalize, or apologize for this troubled and deeply angry youth: all she presents – and with a stark and depressing clarity of vision – is a chilling representation of adolescent fury, frustration, and naiveté.  The film would never have worked if it were not for Jarvis, a young performer with no formal acting training before Arnold – as legend has it – cast her after one of her casting assistants saw Jarvis bitterly arguing with her boyfriend in a Tilbury Town rail station.  What Arnold saw in Jarvis, I guess, is a girl that could call up and channel her real-world rage into the film’s main character.  That judgment call paid off, because few performances this year – by veteran actors or not – attained Jarvis’s level of heartfelt empowerment and authenticity, which is what made FISH TANK such an unmistakably authoritative human drama. 

 
 

6.  RABBIT HOLE >

 

John Cameron Mitchell’s RABBIT HOLE – based on the Tony Award winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire – is one of the most honest and compellingly realized portraits of shared grief that I have ever seen.  It concerns a tragedy that should never befall any parent under any circumstance (the death of a young child) and what the film does with such an exactitude and compassion is to deal with how the parents (played in career high performances by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) find different outlets and paths to cope with their mutually shared anguish.  The husband decides to use a newfound acquaintance at a couples therapy group to help ease his pains whereas the wife decides to confront the young teenager that accidentally killed her son.  The moments between Kidman’s grieving mother and the teen (played with a soft spoken and solemn melancholy by Miles Teller, an astonishingly natural young actor) are the most quietly captivating of the film that in no way degenerates into predictable, soap opera-worthy confrontations: the two quietly and openly reveal to the other all of the subverted feelings about the child’s death, which opens a path towards both of them finding inner peace. 

Many people skipped RABBIT HOLE when initially released, which is a shame, citing that it was too intensely depressing and downbeat to sit through.  It’s true that RABBIT HOLE deals with subject matter that is uncompromisingly bleak and sad, but the film elevates itself above being a crude and malicious downer for the manner it observes and deals with how people that share in the emotional burden of dealing with tragedy often find different ways to cope with it.  Very few films are as compassionately rendered and honest when it comes to portraying how grief not only affects the individual, but also how the paralyzing enormity of anguish can often nearly destroy a once flourishing marriage.  Ultimately, though, RABBIT HOLE becomes ironically uplifting for how it shows people that have hit an emotional abyss attempt – however they can – to get on a path towards recovery.  I may never know what it’s like to lose a child, but RABBIT HOLE is one of those rare transformative and immersive dramas that made me feel what it’s like, which is to its venerated credit.  

added February 2, 2011 

7.  THE SQUARE

 

Tragically, THE SQUARE was a film that not enough people saw in 2010.  It is the product of a 37-year-old former Aussie stuntman turned first-time feature film director (Nash Edgerton) and based on an original idea by Joel Edgerton and it completely blindsided me: it is a calculatingly nerve-wracking and deliciously taut and intense psychological thriller crossed with film noir…and most importantly, it’s done with a focus and patience with the unfolding of its bleak narrative in ways that few mainstream Hollywood films could muster.  Hitchcock would have been envious. 

The story itself is rooted in classic noir traditions in the way it presents two deeply flawed and troubled characters attached via forbidden and adulterous love that later segues into greed and gluttony.  In the end, their union and choices destroy all of the safety and secrecy of their relationship.  Edgerton builds this story with an exactitude and persistence: he knows how the foundations of pacing, tone, and building and maintaining suspense are paramount for films like this and to watch the story unravel – and show the universal truth of how one misdeed often begets several more cataclysmic misdeeds – makes the film that much more persistently foreboding.  THE SQUARE is sort of like the mish-mash of BLOOD SIMPLE, A SIMPLE PLAN, and BODY HEAT and you can sense the consummate skill of its makers reverberate through every waking minute of its running time.  It’s one of the most intense, grisly, depressing, and exhausting experiences I had in a theatre in 2010…and the manner with which the film made me feel uneasy is to its credit.

 
 

8.  GREENBERG

 

Writer/director Noah Baumbach knows how to command observational dramedies better than any other filmmaker.  The way he provides an intimate portal into the everyday personalities that populate his films is handled with such an unflinchingly honest dramatic sentiment and oftentimes a dark undercurrent of pathos.  The people in his films have the commonality of suffering, in one form or another, so much that they seem forever tumbling into unavoidable emotional chasms with no hope in sight.  Crucially, he never pathetically asks viewers to like his flawed characters, but he does invite them to see things through their warped prerogatives, and he does so with an inquisitive tenderness and understanding. 

Baumbach’s 2005 effort THE SQUID AND THE WHALE (which made my list of that year’s TEN BEST FILMS) achieved all of the aforementioned aims, and his newest effort, GREENBERG, most definitely does as well.  Perhaps even more than his past films, GREENBERG highlights just how obsessive the writer/director is with ripping apart his fragile and blemished personalities when they are at their most vulnerable and grounded.  The title character (played in disciplined and undercranked performance by Ben Stiller that makes you stand up and completely re-evaluate him as an actor) is a man in his early-40’s that spends most of the film being…well…a dislikable, cantankerous, arrogantly elitist, and unsympathetic asshole.   He spends his time in an ego-centric freefall and is often infatuated with the way he thinks the world is against him.  The most inspired coup de grace of the film is how Baumbach and Stiller never invite us into Greenberg’s world so that we can easily sympathize with the man: this is not a feel-good, easy-going, or whimsical Stiller comedy of social awkwardness.  The greatness of this film is that it never engages in petty payoffs or soft-pedaling of the character: we suffer alongside Greenberg if an effort to understand what makes him tick, but we still hate the jerk all the same.

9.  WINTER'S BONE 

 

Debra Granik’s WINTER’S BONE is a film of disquieting and evocative allure.  It’s a work of modest means, told with an economy and simplicity, but it creates a startling out-of-body sense of being transported to another time and place in ways that films fifty times its budget often can't attain.  The film whisks us into its bleak, oppressive, and depressingly natural environments (the setting is the rough, dilapidated, and oppressive corner of Southern Missouri) and it sort of cleanses itself of any reference to modern day touches (it just might as well have taken place during The Depression).  At the center of this landscape of misery and hopelessness is a young and unassuming girl (played in a performance of riveting sturdiness and world weary courage by 19-year-old Jennifer Lawrence, a star in the making) that must take it upon herself to perform an emotionally grueling task that, if not performed, will have dire consequences on herself and her family’s ability to simply live.  

The film’s is an unqualified triumph on two distinct levels:  Firstly, Granik and cinematographer Michael McDonough make incredible use of real world exteriors and interiors to provide a portal into this crumbling and poverty stricken microcosm that gives the film a creepy and foreboding atmosphere (this is a world that’s hostile, grungy, and unwelcoming).  Secondly, WINTER’S BONE is a supreme achievement on a rich performance level, with young Lawrence front and center who transforms her own baby-faced façade into a figure of tough resiliency and determination.  She is not too different from many other teen movie personas (she just as risky and impressionable), but what makes her such a memorable creation is the daily obstacles and ordeals she is dealt with and the daring manner she tries to overcome them.  Few films marry an urgent and redolent visual style and a sense of mood with grounded performances of total believability like WINTER’S BONE. 

 
 

10.   SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

 
 

Make no mistake about it: as it’s tagline euphorically and proudly states, Edgar Wright’s SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is an “epic of epic epicness.”  Yeah…and then some.  

Wright (the young Brit mastermind who made the side-splitting SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ) achieves an absolute first in SCOTT PILGRIM: it’s an American film adaptation based on a Canadian comic book directed by a Brit starring a Canuck and filmed in the Great White North.  The film is also an unprecedented auditory/visual assault on the senses, and I mean that in the most complimentary manner possible.  The film channels and maintains a hyper-caffeinated vitality and imagery that I’ve rarely seen in a film, and Wright’s unapologetic embracing of the kinetic and vivaciously over-the-top vibe of Bryan Lee O'Malley's source comics alongside its sardonic and subversive parody of the video games and comics of yesteryear make SCOTT PILGRIM and daringly realized original.  And…explain to me if you will…but name one other film that involves, in random order, rock & roll music, sly pop culture satire, video game and comic references, larger-than-life heroes and villains that can defy gravity and all known laws of physics, a sweet and coming-of-age love story, and…yup…kung fu?  You can’t?  Didn’t think so.  In the end, SCOTT PILGRIM will go on as a cult classic for its unbridled, go-for-broke imagination, its pulse pounding and vibrant aesthetic, and its free-wheeling, idiosyncratic quirkiness.  

Oh...and the film has heart too.

 
  ...and now to round off my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2010 with my selections from 11-25:  
 

11. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOOThe first film in the MILLENNIUM TRILOGY, based on the late Stieg Larsson's globally popular novels, introduced us to one of the great female heroines of recent memory  Removed from the TOP TEN March 2, 2011

 

12. THE KING'S SPEECHTremendously performed period drama featuring how England's King George VI managed to confront and deal with his debilitating stammer; a rare kind of inspirational, overcoming-all-odds pictures for how it makes us identify and empathize with a man that was anything but a downtrodden and societal fringe figure.  > Removed from the TOP TEN February 2, 2011

 

13.  RESTREPOCourageously mounted and executed documentary about the daily lives of combat troops serving in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan that's more compellingly interested in the people involved and not the politics of war.

 

14.  TRUE GRITThe Coen Brothers achieve a real coup here in their adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 western novel: they masterfully erase our memories of the watered-down John Wayne version while meticulously submerging us within the finer details of the source novel itself. 

 

15.  BURIED: Like THE SQUARE, Hitchcock would have been euphorically proud of this ingenious Rodrigo Cortes thriller that is set entirely within the claustrophobic confines of a...coffin.  A pure and masterfully conceived exercise in dread and anxiety.  

 

16.  GHOST WRITER: If you ignore all of the infamous scandals that highlight the man, there is no doubt that Roman Polanski can still make extraordinarily nuanced and elegantly paced thrillers, and GHOST WRITER is no exception.  

 

17.  GREEN ZONE: The great film technician Paul Greengrass made one of the most criminally overlooked action thrillers of 2010 in GREEN ZONE, which balanced high octane and virtuoso action set pieces with real world political quandaries that few other action films are able to marry so successfully.

18.  TEMPLE GRANDINClaire Danes gives her finest performance of her career in this absorbing and fascinating HBO film about one of the most pre-eminent visual thinkers of our time, made all the more amazing considering that Grandin suffers from high functioning autism. 

19.  YOU DON'T KNOW JACKAnother great HBO entry that features one of Al Pacino's most assured and textured performance in years as the infamous "Doctor Death"; a very multi-faceted look at Jack Kevorkian's deeply eccentric personality and his noble minded, but highly controversial crusade as a pro-euthanasia advocate.   

20.  HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON::  One of the most delightful surprises of 2010 came in the form of this Dreamworks animated effort about a young Viking's unusual friendship with a mythic creature: done with far more sincerity, charm, and intelligence than many were expecting. 

21.  THE TOWN Ben Affleck does not need to worry about his career reputation, because his second directorial effort in the gritty and atmospheric heist drama THE TOWN reinforces him as one of the finest rising filmmakers working today. 

22.  THE SOCIAL NETWORKA few minor flaws didn't hamper David Fincher's exquisitely directed re-telling of the early days involving the creation of Facebook; Aaron Sorkin's colorful and ambitious screenplay is the real star here.

23.  GET LOWOne of the most bizarrely offbeat - but touching heartfelt - indie dramas of 2010 featured a Dream Team pairing of the quintessentially sardonic and dry Bill Murray and the wily veteran Robert Duvall.

24.  TRON: LEGACY:   One of the most hyped and anticipated big budgeted blockbusters of the year emerged not only as a worthy and faithful sequel to the 1982 cult original, but a completely immersive visceral experience of awe-inspiring visual dynamism.

25.  LET ME IN:  One of the best horror films and remakes I've seen in a long while, which had the dubious task of following up and respecting the universally revered Swed import from 2008; meticulously pays tribute to its antecedent while making itself stand proudly and originally on its own two feet.   

 
  Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:  
 

THE AMERICAN::  George Clooney gives a soulful and melancholic performance in this character driven action drama about a hitman that wants to go clean.   

AVATAR: COLLECTOR'S EDITION CUT:  Writer/director James Cameron has made a side-career of taking his most audience-respected blockbusters and re-tooling them for a post-theatrical home video release, and his newly orchestrated extended cut of AVATAR added a better introduction and more character building scenes, whihc made this return trip to Pandora better than the original one.

THE BOOK OF ELI: The welcome return to directorial pursuits by the Hughes Brothers after a nine year absence resulted in a well-oiled and thrilling post-apocalyptic film that balances in thoughtful and provocative religious overtones. 

CEMETERY JUNCTION:  Brit funnyman Ricky Gervais followed up his spectacularly hilarious THE INVENTION OF LYING with this little seen, but moving, witty, and smart coming-of-age drama that did not succumb to hackneyed formulas and stale genre conventions.  

CENTURIONYeah, it was GLADIATOR-lite, to be sure, but director Neil Marshall has made quite a name for himself as a filmmaker that can take nickel and dime budgets and make the resulting films look like their multi-million dollar Hollywood efforts; the sure-footed, intense, and hard-edged Roman-era CENTURION was no exception.

CONVICTION:  > Sam Rockwell and Hilary Swank gave two Oscar caliber performances in this real life court room/prison drama about a sister crusading for a lifetime to free her imprisoned sibling for a crime he did not commit; one of the few feel-good inspirational melodramas that does not engage in superficial and saccharine overkill.  > Removed from the TOP 25 March 2, 2011

THE CRAZIES:  One of the most underrated horror thrillers of the year came in the form of this modern remake to the George A. Romero 1970's cult fav; it's lean and mean, less-is-more artifice served the scares and frightening atmosphere well. 

DAYBREAKERS:  After enduring the banality and Harlequin romance-centric TWILIGHT films, it was a welcome relief to watch a horror film like DAYBREAKERS that not only carved out a fresh niche for Vampire fiction, but also returned the bloodsuckers back to their rightful form as menacing a scary presences in the movies. 

DISTRICT 13: ULTIMATUMNot to be confused with DISTRICT 9, this Luc Besson written sequel to 2006's DISTRICT B13 was another rousingly satisfying cuisine of junk food action intrigue and gravity defying martial arts mayhem.

EASY A:  Emma Stone fully emerged in 2010 as a major star and her delightful sassiness, droll sophistication, and unequivocally appealing presence made EASY A a delight to sit through. 

EDGE OF DARKNESS:  This Mel Gibson starring action thriller came out early in 2010 and well before his most recent publicly released mental breakdown, but "Mad Mel's long gestating return to screen acting did pay lucrative dividends in this tenacious and exemplary paced genre effort.  

FASTERDwayne "The Rock" Johnson joyously (hells yeah!!) to the type of fever pitched, high velocity, and balls-to-the wall action films that this granite jawed and chiseled specimen initially promised in his career before he slummed away in a sea of disposable and forgettable family films.  More, please, Mr. Johnson.

THE FIGHTER: David O. Russell's fact-based account of junior welterweight boxing champion "Irish" Micky Ward balanced itself reliably between ROCKY and RAGING BULL; contained a career-high performance by Christian Bale, a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor at this year's Oscars. 

FROM PARIS WITH LOVE : John Travolta oozes kick-ass cool bravado in this other notable Luc Besson-written exploitation action flick; enjoyable for how it never apologized for its preposterousness and over-the-top, testosterone induced thrills..   

GET HIM TO THE GREEK:  This spin-off film to Nicolas Stoller's brilliantly amusing FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL proved that the odd pairing of Russell Brand and Jonah Hill provided for some of the year's most knee-slappingly great laughs.  

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE The second film in the MILLENNIUM TRILOGY has a few shortcomings that did not plague THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, but it nonetheless was a slick and thoroughly involving mystery thriller.

THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST:  The third and final film in the MILLENNIUM TRILOGY is the lesser of the two films that spawned it, but the culmination of Lisbeth Salander's personal journey remained as potent and hypnotizing as ever.  

GOING THE DISTANCE: Stars Drew Barrymore and Justin Long (once a real-life couple) made for an effective romantic comedy pairing that helped to override this film's script inconsistencies and flaws. 

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE:  It had a hot tub...that was a time machine.  "Nuff said.

HUGH HEFNER: PLAYBOY, ACTIVIST, AND REBEL:  Brigitte Berman's remarkable fascinating documentary about the publisher of Playboy Magazine that offers surprising insights into the "other" Hef that many people may not be aware of.  

THE KARATE KID: The thought of remaking one of the most cherished and iconic 1980's films simultaneously seemed like a foolhardy proposition at best and a crane kick to the heads of the film's purists, but this KARATE KID-redux paid ultimate respect to the Ralph Macchio/ Pat Morita original while thanklessly imparting some freshness into the proceedings.

KICK-ASS: Cheerfully subversive satire of the conventions and iconography of comic books that understands its intended targets and shows both remarkable appreciation and disdain for them. 

THE LOSERSA good, old fashioned, high octane action picture - based on the DC Comics series - that harnesses its gung ho sensibilities with a real zest.  

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS:  Terribly underrated and little seen romcom that took a refreshingly adult approach to the subject matter and genre conventions.  

MacGRUBERA barely 60-second SNL skit is improbably made into a 99-minute feature film that maintains a comic tenacity and unhinged preposterousness with a very game and willing cast; it's unbridled willingness to do anything for a laugh made me laugh a lot.

MACHETE: A cinematic first: a movie based on a fake movie trailer; Robert Rodriguez's ode to B-grade exploitation thrills made with A-grade production values and stars went for broke and never looked back.

MORNING GLORY: Harrison Ford's career rebound performance here in tandem with the chirpy feistiness and luminosity of co-star Rachel McAdams made for on the more delectably offbeat - and effective - pairings of the year.

OCEANS: Another splendidly executed and frequently awe-inspiring documentary from Disneynature, this time providing many beguiling and exquisite imagery for the depths of our oceans..

THE OTHER GUYSAn immensely goofy and marvelously delirious buddy/cop comedy that once again showcased bizarre-comic-brilliance of Will Ferrell; It's is utterly impossible to not laugh during a scene when he describes his uber-hot wife (Eva Mendes) as a "hobo."

PREDATORS: Harshly loathed third film in the PREDATOR sci-fi series that, in my mind, worked reasonably well as a  professionally made and well-oiled homage to the 1987 original effort that modestly recaptured that film's thrills.

SHE' OUT OF MY LEAGUEIt's another hopeless-geek-meets-a-bombshell-who-grows-to-love-him sex fantasy comedy, but stars Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve had palpable chemistry and allowed the film to rise above the contrivances of its story.

SHUTTER ISLAND   Martin Scorsese masterfully evoked the quintessence of the great suspense thrillers of the past with his thrilling and darkly atmospheric adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel.

THE SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: Yet another terrifically mounted HBO film centered on the relationship between British PM Tony Blair and U.S. President George Clinton that provided an intimate peek into the mindsets of two frequently opposed political forces.

THE SWITCH: Undervalued romcom that featured another deliciously dry and hilariously understated comedic performance by Jason Bateman that made the film more than just another disposable sperm-donor-daddy farce.

TOY STORY 3  Pixar continued their domination of the computer animated film genre with their fitting curtain call to one of the most cherished film series of recent memory. 

UNSTOPPABLE: > This Tony Scott-helmed action thriller warranted - and deserved - worthy comparisons to SPEED for how it took a bare bones premise and forged a 90-minute-plus exercise in unadulterated mayhem and thrills.  > Removed from the TOP 25 February 1, 2011

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS: Oliver Stone's long developing sequel to the 1980's zeitgeist effort WALL STREET marked an inspired return of Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko back to the screen.

WINNEBAGO MAN: One of the more eccentric and funny films of the year was this documentary chronicling the maker's attempts to discover the whereabouts of a f-bomb uttering Winnebago salesman long after his appearance in a late 1980's blooper reel.

YOUTH IN REVOLT:  A much forgotten, but strangely wacky, shrewdly drawn, and authentically rendered teen sex  comedy that relished in showing Michael Cera off with his unimpeachable confidence and droll understatement that makes him a comic star to be reckoned with.  

 

 

   

 

 
     
 

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