Trying to figure out the themes that the 2010 year in cinema gave to us is not a hard task at all. If anything, this year’s best films had an irrepressible surge that impelled them all toward themes focusing on alienation, instability, conformity, and deception, all different routes that lead to the same destination: at an arrival of self-discovery.
Below are my picks for the Top 30 films of 2010, all of which, in one way or another, had characters that had to confront the danger that was permeating their existence, as a bullfighter bravely confronts an oncoming bull. This confrontational theme knew of no cinematic boundaries. It hit hard in Toy Story 3 and The Kids Are All Right just as hard as it did in Winter’s Bone and Black Swan. It did not matter if Andy had to confront college or if Nina had to pierce a deep wound into her own being just so an answer could be derived. All characters in all 30 films were just as much bothered with universal issues as they were with personal demons. King’s Speech demonstrates this as King George VI has to face WWII and his stammering issue. And the directors of these films did not revile such themes, as they satisfyingly indulged in them by creating unwelcoming atmosphere fostering trite and brutal themes and making them into something glowingly artistic.
Here are my picks for the best films of 2010:
30. The Secret in their Eyes- Directed by Juan Jose Campanella
29. Mademoiselle Chambron- Directed by Stephane Brize
28. Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl- Directed by Manoel de Oliveira
27. Carlos- Directed by Oliver Assayas
26. 127 Hours- Directed by Danny Boyle
25. Mother and Child- Directed by Rodrigo Garcia
24. The Kids Are All Right- Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
23. Winter’s Bone- Directed by Debra Granik
22. Lebanon- Directed by Samuel Maoz
21. Vincere- Directed by Marco Bellocchio
19. Inception- Directed by Christopher Nolan
18. Red Riding Trilogy- Directed by Julian Jarrold, James Marsh and Anand Tucker
17. True Grit- Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
16. Bluebeard- Directed by Catherine Breillat
15. The Killer Inside Me- Directed by Michael Winterbottom
14. Exit Through the Gift Shop- Directed by Banksy
13. I Am Love- Directed by Luca Guadagnino
12. Animal Kingdom- Directed by David Michod
11. Somewhere- Directed by Sofia Coppola
10. The American
Directed by Anton Corbijn
The American possesses a mission that is essential to existentialism: It desires to find the soul of an unbalanced man. George Clooney embodies this man who is an indistinct killer on a break in the hills of Italy. The casting of Clooney urges the film toward a more mysterious atmosphere. Clooney is situated in a role that requires him to look vulnerable; to wear a countenance that is demoralized. This side of Mr. Clooney has been foreign to movie going audiences. We see his withered, worried face and we automatically begin to think — what is this man concealing? What are his motives? What does he believe in? Here is a film that requires us to observe heavily the disposition of a man who does not have a center. The film contains vicinities littered with existential, religious and romantic landmines. Only an artist, such as Anton Corbijn, will dare to decorate his film elaborately with such themes. The film’s dissection of humanity is done so meticulously and artfully that we instantaneously recall classics by Michelangelo Antonioni’s existentialist drama, The Passenger, and Jean-Pierre Melville’s highly stylized crime class, Le Samourai. Both of those films prided themselves on discerning man on an entirely different level. They see man as if he is under a microscope.
9. A Prophet
Directed by Jacques Audiard
For want of sufficient nourishment no need to go further than director Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet. It is profoundly full with top notch performances, knockout direction and a musical score meant to produce the most feeling. But what becomes more of all of this is that it is a psychological film just as much as it is a crime film, whose focus is just as reliant on social and environmental issues as it is on criminal issues. There is a current raging with more and more intensity as the film goes on and Audiard sets it loose as he sheds light on the illiteracy problem occurring in France. This subtext may seem out of place in a crime film but it is anything but that. It takes up residence in the film and we see the whole fruition of it when we see 19-year-old Malik, the illiterate prisoner, more easily able to adapt to a criminal lifestyle than it is to read a children’s book in a competent and coherent manner. The way in which Audiard expresses the many notions of depravity is unglorified in every sense of the word.
8. Enter the Void
Directed by Gaspar Noe
The void, according to flamboyant director Gaspar Noe, is life. What a pessimistic outlook. But Noe does present to us through his new film Enter The Void potent, disturbing, and rotten instances that back his pessimistic perspective. As soon as we are born into this world (Noe gives us an unprecedented example of this) we have entered the void, and we only enhance the blackness of that void by making ourselves susceptible by living a life that approaches the disgusting, sick, and horror-stricken. His film is a fully realized portrait of a decaying city (Tokyo), but is it really about the world? And a fully realized portrait of its sinful inhabitants (Oscar, Linda, and their friends), but is it really supposed to represent all of humanity? Both city and its inhabitants, no matter what way you look at it, have entered the void long ago. Both have fallen victim to life’s unfair ways and are guilty of self-annihilation ever since their conception. Noe grants us a personal experience unlike any film this year, showing us his story through the eyes of his main character (who gets killed early in the film) and then through the main character’s spirit as it hovers above the city following the people he was close to. Enter The Void is a journey through the layers of hell. It is one of the few films that can be called comparable to Dante’s vision of Hell.
7. The Social Network
Directed by David Fincher
Yeah the fruition of Facebook is important, but David Fincher doesn’t find it a necessity to indulge in it. Neither does Jesse Eisenberg’s pinpoint portrayal of Zuckerberg. Both play the story of Facebook as being a contaminant. Fincher gives us the story, via Aaron Sorkin’s rapid script, told in a non-linear fashion, but finds more interest within the characters’ ambitions, motives, and prejudices. How the creation of Facebook came to be is just a dessert. The main course is watching the film’s characters trying to endure a gauntlet of evil vices. A celebration of discovering Facebook cannot be found in Fincher’s film or a promotion of it. Gloom and despondency are of eminent importance here. There is a faint glimmer of happiness but that rapidly becomes intangible, paving the way for a film perpetuated by loneliness and hatred. Inevitably, the characters cannot escape this dreadful atmosphere. They afflicted it upon themselves, along with remorse and suffering. In exchange for fame and riches they have constructed an immoral framework around themselves, confining them for however long to remain malicious to one another.
6. Toy Story 3
Directed by Lee Unkrich
A refreshment is before us, beginning with the director Lee Unkrich’s cunning workmanship in which marvels are indeed to be seen and a plot whose narrative is tightly coherent thanks to screenwriter Michael Arndt. Surely to amaze the eyes of all those who behold it, partly because of the exquisite visuals, Toy Story 3 shockingly contains action scenes that will rival any action film this summer. But the film succeeds best when it places emotion over action. The joy found in children playing with toys and toys enjoying being played with, is what Toy Story does best. And in this new installment we catch a glimpse of that in the faultless beginning and closing sequences. The film escalates to its highest point when it is evoking that special feeling of creating a new world where our imaginations are the only thing that is governing us and everything outside of childhood is completely eradicated.
5. White Material
Directed by Claire Denis
In a film replete with resplendent imagery, world-class filmmaker Claire Denis inevitably moves toward an evil that is evident in all humanity: She refuses to back her camera away from confrontation. Most directors have a reluctance to unite sorrow with grace, chaos with bliss, evil with beauty. Denis doesn’t. She perceives these odd pairings and has the audacity and ingenuity to construct most of her films around them. Despite the expanses between each pairing, she reduces the disperateness between each so they come to be inseparable. Somehow this concoction — this anomaly — works in a way that renders her latest film White Material into an inscrutable masterpiece. The film presents to us a land ripe for disorder and susceptible to abhorrent activities, but this world unfolds poetically, intoxicating us with its remarkable natural beauty. A French woman (Isabella Hubert), owner of a coffee plantation in an unnamed country in Africa, isn’t threatened by the ongoing warfare between rebel insurgents and the country’s army. When most flee the country due to fear she stays with her husband and son, believing the army will protect her plantation. White Material can be seen as a portrait of a woman’s unerring tenacity and greed or her fervent obsession with colonialism in a post-colonial world.
4. Shutter Island
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese’s foray into violent territories has been characterized by blood, weapons, extreme wealth, and more blood. Working with these characteristics he managed to use them to help mold his image of Man, using them as instruments to inflict pain upon Man in the process. Scorsese has become synonymous, as we have all come to know, with violence and gangster qualities, leading him to produce unequivocal masterpieces. But, surprisingly, he works at equal competence when he displays Man as a helpless entity, one who suppresses his true feelings and, as in Shutter Island, one succumbing to psychological occurrences that are far beyond his collective knowledge. The film is slighted heavily towards Man’s abandonment of the reality he has always perceived. Scorsese triumphantly pieces together his film, bit by bit, by borrowing and elaborating on classical themes. Other directors that do this churn out films that react mechanically and feel detached from its director’s vision. Not Scorsese, he seizes such themes and then mixes, twists and contorts them so they come to represent themes that he has been dealing with since his first feature in 1967, Who’s That Knocking At My Door?
3. The King’s Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper
A great throbbing vitality, coming from a genuine and witty friendship of a King and a speech teacher, is instilled in Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech. A film in many ways that can be a precursor to The Social Network in ways that focus on the lack of physical communication and the ways that go in to fixing such a defect. In what could have otherwise been a mundane and all too relaxing film about Kings and Dukes and their inability to communicate with each other, and one’s inability to fully articulate his own words is made intriguing by an ingenious script by David Seidler. Hooper grants to us a picture, which is in the vein of classical Hollywood filmmaking, about a King, George VI (an award caliber performance by Colin Firth), who is emotionally broken due to his stammering speech impediment. This takes away many opportunities to communicate with his children and with his country that is on the brink of entering WWII. His wife (Helen Bonham Carter) seeks the help of an unconventional speech instructor named Lionel Logue (an award caliber performance by Geoffrey Rush). Recent films depicting royalty and personage have been hampered by boredom and too much self-awareness. They seemed to have self-inflicted themselves with aloofness. We don’t get that with The King’s Speech. What we get is a new vision of royalty that shows the prestigious handicapped and in a state of persistent fear. And George’s inability to fully come to terms with this by himself is what gives the film its power. Firth’s performance is a tour-de-force as he gives the King not airs but deeply embedded flaws.
2. The Ghost Writer
Directed by Roman Polanski
There are no qualities in The Ghost Writer that could render it un-masterful. From the intensely engaging opening sequence to the eerily haunting ending, there is never a moment that seizes to be inventively informative. It goes straight to its intended place and nowhere else, showing along the way a perceptible amount of assurance which calls to our attention that a great director is at the top of his game. When a ghostwriter (Ewan McGregor) is hired to write the memoirs for a former prime minister (Pierce Bronson), the ghost gets in way over his head, running into roadblocks that shouldn’t be knocked down, but yet he insists, attempting to expose life threatening secrets. All techniques of the conventional thriller have disappeared in Roman Polanski’s newest film. He travels a straight trajectory, hardly ever taking any unnecessary detours as he is so faithful to his main idea and guiltily absorbed in it as well. This tautness found here is what makes it resemble those classic thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock. Think Foreign Correspondent, Suspicion, or North by Northwest. The Ghost Writer, finding its acquaintance with the master’s films through a series of expertly crafted scenes that rely little on sensation and heavily on tone, is a film that demands to be seen not only because of its artistic capacity, but for its ability to convey an important message.
1. Black Swan
Directed by Daren Aronofsky
Combine the wonderful sounds of orchestral music with the delicate beauty and undulating movements of the ballerinas along with the indelible images that cinema provides for us and we get a truly ambitious film that is a mixture of poetry, sex, feverish dream, nightmares, and psychology. But most impressively it is an innovative fusion — of cinema and ballet — that has been rarely seen in the film medium. Here is one of the most complete films in recent memory. A film well in accord with what makes a film great, ingraining in its foundation a surplus of great performances, visionary direction, emotional music, and surprises emerging from a unique script that is not afraid to approach the unconventional. And this unconventionality begins when Black Swan perverts all things good that usually have a tendency to comfort us, such as music, ballet, purity, motherhood, and desires. The film is, gloriously but disconcertingly, a catastrophic assault on all of these things, but more emphasis is shown on dethroning elegance from the world of ballet and perverting this world’s time-honored brilliance into something abhorrent. It is easy to accentuate gracefulness. Leave that for lesser talent. The task comes when one needs to find abhorrence in something already made beautiful and elevate it so that it drowns out beauty. Only then will one have fulfilled their duty as a visionary artist. Black Swan has two instances of this genius: Natalie Portman submerges her beauty to illuminate a more visceral side as she embodies Nina Sayers, a ballerina who cannot withstand the pressure of getting the opportunity to play the roles of both Black and White swan for a New York Ballet company headed by Vincent Cassel. And director Darren Aronofsky does not want to embrace the easiness of replicating world class art (the ballet Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky). Instead he eradicates its original beauty and radiance, creating a film alteration of Swan Lake that is equally as stunning. Black Swan, mutating euphoria to anguish and despair, is an uncompromising masterpiece that is not afraid of stripping the veneer off of people and things that are seemingly beautiful.