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2010 will go down as the year that Hollywood got their act together and finally provided more than just explosions or Matthew McConaughey bickering with Kate Hudson. Big budget event films were slapped with a heart and brain. The spoof film became funny and original again. Sure, there are some indie darlings that made a dent this year, but all in all it was a much needed reminder that we can still trust Hollywood to get some things right. So 101 movies later, here are my top ten films of the year.
10. MacGruber- Overcoming the stink of past SNL vehicles and the hit-or-miss nature of the skits of which the film is based on, writer/star Will Forte spreads his wings as an unsung comedic genius. Blowing past its initial concept as a “MacGyver” parody, the humor of “MacGruber” never relents, while also being a poignant representation of how the war over America is between idiots. Lowbrow humor has never been so clever. Who knew a man with a piece of celery up his butt could be so hilariously subtle and down played?
9. The Warrior’s Way- With the ho-hum premise of cowboys vs. ninjas, it’s a marvel that filmmaker Sngmoo Lee found room to infuse layered characters amongst tons of blood shed. There’s a good hour bereft of action, which gives us the opportunity to get to know and absolutely adore each protagonist. Once the final action sequence comes along, the audience actually gives a hoot about who lives and dies. The action is mesmerizing, both gorgeous and intense. Imagine if Zack Snyder understood the human condition and you get “The Warrior’s Way”.
8. Stone- Violent, unrelenting and bizarre, “Stone” is an excellent example of subdued fantasy filmmaking. As the lover of an arsonist seducing a parole officer, Milla Jovovich proves she’s more than just the chick that kills zombies every three years. Superb directing/acting, an airtight screenplay, and a haunting musical score by Jon Brion and Radiohead create a dreamlike universe.
7. Inception- 2010 marks the year that Hollywood science fiction traded in its diapers for a pair of adult slacks. In lesser hands, such an ambitious concept would overwhelm the innards of the narrative and leave little room for character and emotional context. Thankfully, Christopher Nolan is the antithesis of “lesser hands”. A main point of critique concerns the film’s seemingly ambiguous ending. Without going into monstrous detail, Nolan isn’t giving an “F you” to the audience. He has answered what happens to Cobb, but he challenges you to answer how he got there.
6. Buried- Director Rodrigo Cortes achieved the impossible: he made a movie about a single man in a box one of the most suspenseful tales ever put on film. Cortes proposes audiences don’t find fear watching nameless devices reach their demise; they want bleeding heart humans with layers. Ryan Reynolds mentally strips naked on screen, giving every single bit of humanity he has to offer. His portrayal of Paul will have you screaming, laughing, and close to weeping. “Buried” isn’t just a clinic on how to make horror, but a clinic on how to engage an audience visually, emotionally and physically.
5. Toy Story 3-How do you get adult audience members to bawl openly without a care in the world? By effortlessly tapping into the pain we all most go through once we’re forced to grow up. The last fifteen minutes of “Toy Story 3” will go down in history as one of the most powerful scenes in film history. Looking back at the rest of the film, you’ve got a structurally sound adventure story with long lost characters we’ve all loved and missed.
4. The King’s Speech- The biopic is a tough nut to crack, especially when the subject has a speech defect. Colin Firth doesn’t merely speak with a goofy voice to warrant every award being given this year; he immerses himself in King George VI’s pain. Each time Firth stammers while giving a speech, he’ll break your heart with the frustration in his eyes. Director Tom Hooper gets why this story is worth telling and refuses to sentimentalize or play for laughs.
3. Tangled- Disregard the trailers, which will have you believe this is laugh-riot laced with pop culture references. This is a computer generated, very modern animated film, yet it’s able to balance it’s modernity with old fashioned whimsy. The filmmakers smartened up and don’t rely on a novelty like traditional animation to reintroduce audiences to classic Disney storytelling. The humor is contemporary; utilizing recent editing techniques like jump cut montages, while the central love story and musical numbers retains a timeless charm. Pixar is no longer the only powerhouse in Disney’s arsenal.
2. Black Swan- While watching psychological thrillers, modern audiences are accustomed to answering what’s really happening. ‘I knew it! She was a ghost the whole time!’ Darren Aronofsky challenges those viewers to stop looking for answers and watch “Black Swan” for what it is: pure uncut art. He’s not a puzzle maker trying to trick audiences; he’s simply a director weaving a no-holds-barred metaphor of passion and brilliance. Nina Sayers’ (Natalie Portman) doesn’t inhabit our universe; she is a creature of the Aronofsky-verse where he dictates what can and cannot happen without worrying about logic. Oh, and if you haven’t heard already, Natalie Portman delivers the single best performance of the year.
1. Tron: Legacy- In 2010, the definitive statement on our current technological age was made with grace….and it’s a sequel to a 1982 science fiction film with a niche audience. On the surface, “Tron” will dazzle you with state of the art bleeps and bloops, along with the best score in ages. Beneath the surface, however, is the best portrayal of “Frankenstein” ever filmed. This isn’t your run of the mill ‘technology bad, humans good’ story. “Tron” touches on the gray area of playing God, neither damning nor commending. Even further under the surface is a gutsy spiritual story exposing a ‘higher power’ that can’t meet his creation’s expectations. In short, there’s so much food for thought here you’ll practically choke and that’s meant in the best way possible
Sean Lechowicz is a film critic and screenwriter from Chicago, as well as the world’s biggest Wall-E geek.
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