2010: Favorite 25 Films of 2010 (15-06)
25 films that defined our 2010

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(25-16) (15-06) (05-01)

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15. Four Lions
Dir. Chris Morris

[Drafthouse]

Although a few of this year’s best films leaned hard on the first half of the phrase “dark comedy,” Four Lions was an exception — a film that never let its humor be undercut or overwhelmed by the grimness of its subject. The first feature from British comedy veteran Chris Morris, Four Lions followed a group of amateur jihadists in North England as they fought over what form their debut attack should take. The endless gaffes and juvenile infighting of the insurgents made it clear that this was a film that refused to be freighted with its own political urgency. Often more English than Muslim, the group devoted more time to beans on toast than they did to prayer or study; their destructive impulse stemmed more from aimlessness than from fundamentalism. Although elsewhere disdained and condemned out of hand, the terrorists here were inept enough and childish enough to become endearing, even sympathetic. Abetted by some brilliant performances, well-crafted insults, and relentless slapstick, Four Lions managed to be at once absurdly funny and emotionally resonant. A subversive figure in British radio and television for 20 years, Morris has never had much truck with sentimentality. With Four Lions, though, he brought levity to a challenging, heavy topic and managed to make it not just hilarious, but human.

• Four Lions: http://four-lions.co.uk
• Drafthouse: http://www.drafthousefilms.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/four-lions

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14. Toy Story 3
Dir. Lee Unkrich

[Pixar Animation Studios]

Pixar’s status as the most innovative and technologically superior animation studio in the world is pretty much unassailable at this point. While the advances the animation powerhouse have made in the last decade are — from a purely technical perspective — totally mindblowing, what really made the latest installment of their most cherished/lucrative franchise such an absolute joy to watch was its ability to draw us into a story rife with sincere, big emotions without becoming overtly cloying or sickeningly fake-nostalgic. The family-friendly animated feature chose to cover some of the more pressing issues of real life, most notably the debilitating feelings of utter worthlessness that the cast-off (laid-off?) toys have to grapple with on their way to confinement and abject humiliation in a Stalag 17-esque Day-Care prison nightmare. Perhaps it was the unbridled and un-cheapened optimism of the film that made us appreciate it as much as we did, but when it was all over and the credits ran, it seemed as though the CGI technology Pixar put so much R&D into had finally caught up with the film’s deftly wrought narrative. It’s not every day that slo-mo extreme close-ups of animated toys elicit actual responses from adults with real problems and real lives to get back to (and, you know, kids and stuff).

• Toy Story 3: http://disney.go.com/toystory
• Pixar Animation Studios: http://www.pixar.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/toy-story-3

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13. The Social Network
Dir. David Fincher

[Sony Pictures]

In David Fincher’s nervy, nimble hands, the story of Harvard genius Mark Zuckerberg and the creation myth of Facebook lost its cool, intellectual reserve and became entertainment. No mere revenge of the nerds, this cyber success story had flow and punch. Through kinetic visuals, Aaron Sorkin’s words, words, words became visceral. There’s not much sex, drugs, or rock ‘n’ roll in social networking, and the film wisely reframed this story as a classic tale of the cost of the rise to power. Dramatic weight went to the betrayal, debauchery, and dizzying success that made Zuckerberg such fierce enemies. The performances were notably strong, from Armie Hammer’s conquering both Winklevoss twins, to Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, who delivered a cocky diatribe on his greatness while being fondled by models in a club. Then there was Jesse Eisenberg as the NerdKönig himself, the socially autistic but razorsharp Zuckerberg. Hell, even Trent Reznor chipped in, contributing the memorable and prickly score. Dust off that tux and clear some room on the mantle, readers.

• The Social Network: http://www.thesocialnetwork-movie.com
• Sony Pictures: http://www.sonypictures.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/social-network

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12. I’m Still Here
Dir. Casey Affleck

[Magnolia Pictures]

Taking in Casey Affleck’s tempered, naturalistic directing and Joaquin Phoenix’s tour-de-force performance quite simply blew us away. The fact that the whole thing was an elaborate and bafflingly time-consuming fake didn’t really detract from our ability to appreciate the insane amount of mastery and patience needed to pull the whole thing off. Phoenix’s work in particular was downright awe-inspiring, the actor fully embodying a character with virtually no redeeming qualities for well over a year. I’m Still Here was more a meditation on the nature of fame and consistently nurtured egotism than the cheap ploy to garner attention that many critics figured it to be. Phoenix’s masterwork of characterization wasn’t merely a rehash of Crispin Glover or Andy Kaufman, but something refreshingly new and vivid. Rather than being a sensationalist novelty, the sensationalism that surrounded the film upon the realization of its artificial nature spoke to the central question that its makers were trying to get at. Namely, in film, is there really all that much of a difference between what’s real and what’s not? And, if so, is it really all that important? A film that asks such basic questions about the nature of narratives and their respective realities is always going to make certain segments of the population upset, and we loved every minute of it.

• I’m Still Here: http://imstillheremovie.com
• Magnolia Pictures: http://www.magpictures.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/im-still-here

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11. I Am Love
Dir. Luca Guadagnino

[Magnolia Pictures]

As quickly as Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love presented the viewer with melodramatic conventions, it subverted and twisted them like one of the cinematographer’s hypnotically winding shots. The Recchi family of Milan, whose name is playfully close to the Italian word for “the rich people,” were not the cutthroat capitalists we’ve come to know and hate, just a tad on the amoral side with a possessive and ultimately ironic instinct for self-preservation. Tilda Swinton’s Emma Recchi was not the upper-crust matriarch trapped in a loveless marriage with spoiled children, but perhaps a little confused at her life’s journey across the class and culture divide of Soviet Russia to la dolce vita. And the younger, haute cuisine chef who presented her object of romantic redemption was less a working-class hero in the mold of Rock Hudson in All That Heaven Allows than a strangely figurative embodiment of the “salt of the earth.” The existential quandary of Emma’s decision to find a personal rebirth, inspired by seeing her children awaken into their own adult lives, ultimately became a nuanced examination on the role of place: geographic, socio-economic, or emotional.

• I Am Love: http://www.iamlovemovie.com
• Magnolia Pictures: http://www.magpictures.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/i-am-love

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10. Mother
Dir. Bong Joon-ho

[Magnolia Pictures]

A Bong Joon-ho film is like someone with a poker face who can’t stop smiling at the aces he’s about to lay down. He’s good and can usually conjure some touching human moments, but he takes a little too much pleasure in unfolding his sickeningly devious plots. Mother may be his first movie to break free of the poker hand and play freely. With it, the director proved that, although he has risen to the top of the current wave of South Korean ultra-violent directors (Park Chan-wook, Na Hong-jin), he’s more than the sum of his virtuoso tricks and Grand Guignol setpieces (Park may have him bested there, anyway). Devious and disturbing though Mother may be, Bong was unwilling to sacrifice an equally painful examination of the deeper reasons people are driven to violence. In Mother, everyone had a reason to hurt someone else, from the world-weary cops investigating the local retarded boy (the one being accused of a bizarre murder) to the boy’s mom, a sweet little neighborhood apothecary. Beyond its insidious central mystery, Mother was the carefully detailed picture of an average woman being driven to an extreme end. Everybody made sacrifices in deciding what is right; Bong would like to remind us that if we have children, our decision may already be made for us.

• Mother: http://www.motherfilm.com
• Magnolia Pictures: http://www.magpictures.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/mother

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09. A Prophet
Dir. Jacques Audiard

[Sony Pictures Classics]

2010 has been a great year for genre films. My year-end list is populated with an inordinate number of gangster films and murder mysteries. I even have two Westerns on it. Yet, in this heap of genre-picture bliss, Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet was not only superior to these films, but also emblematic of the pensive revisionism that so many of these films seek. In the film, Malik (Tahar Rahim) — who is thrown in jail for an unmentioned crime — is slowly sucked into the world of prison crime with its racially drawn divisions. In his attempt to make a name for himself outside of the prison walls, audiences were treated to an intensely personal story of a damaged young man navigating a world dense with ulterior motives and malice. At heart, what is simultaneously a quiet personal film and violent thriller was an examination of shifting racial landscapes, the impact of the economic crisis, and political corruption. Audiard has made a number of distinctive, beautiful films, but A Prophet stands as his masterpiece.

• A Prophet: http://www.sonyclassics.com/aprophet
• Sony Pictures Classics: http://www.sonyclassics.com

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08. Flooding with Love for the Kid
Dir. Zachary Oberzan

[Self-Released]

Flooding with Love for the Kid might be 2010’s film with the most to say about cinema; it’s also the film least informed by it. Zachary Oberzan had a budget of $96 and used only one camera, but nothing in this one-man adaptation of First Blood (the novel that inspired Rambo) recalled the shaky, impressionistic beauty that much lo-fi filmmaking strives for. Instead, the shots were artlessly composed and always static. In fact, not a single frame was aesthetically pleasing — even the fonts were bad. But film isn’t nice composition, and Oberzan — an Obie-winning thespian accustomed to performing without props or sets — realized this, masterfully utilizing pacing, editing, and sheer conviction to transform household items into helicopters and cars, and to expand his 220-sq. ft. apartment into an entire county. It was an impressive feat, especially since he played 20 different characters (and 3 dogs), sometimes 6 onscreen at a time. Sure, part of this film’s joy was its gimmick, and part was its ridiculousness (which Oberzan, his Rambo hunting and eating a teddy bear, seemed to embrace). But emotionally, this film was as real as its guns and beret — the only items Oberzan actually bought. In showing what film can do without, Ozerban just emphasized what’s truly essential.

• Flooding with Love for the Kid: http://www.zacharyoberzan.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/flooding-love-kid

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07. Winter’s Bone
Dir. Debra Granik

[Anonymous Content]

Winter’s Bone was as gritty as unwashed bok choy and as American as peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwiches. None of that and precious little other food was in the film, which depicted bleak events in a desperately impoverished region of the Ozarks. My mom noted that the casting call must have brought together an intimidating — hell, a downright frightening group of people. Face tats, permanent grimaces, sunken eyes. And some of those people turned out to be phenomenal actors. The affecting performances were driven by subtle, understated writing and a simple but compelling story about a girl trying to uncover the whereabouts of her dad so that the cops won’t take away her house. We didn’t expect much to go right, and we weren’t surprised in that regard. But the characters’ terrible pain was truly sublimated: Winter’s Bone was a genuine tragedy. It hollowed us out, made us lighter and sadder. It taught us again that yearning can engender desire as well as depression.

• Winter’s Bone: http://www.wintersbonemovie.com
• Anonymous Content: http://www.anonymouscontent.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/winters-bone

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06. The Kids Are All Right
Dir. Lisa Cholodenko

[Focus]

It’s hard to argue that The Kids Are All Right wasn’t a “message” movie when its title underlined what it argued for — the validity of alternative families. What helped Kids transcend this tag is how it never sacrificed honesty or comedy for PC piety. The movie may have told its liberal audience what it wanted to hear, but unless you voted for Prop 8, that’s not necessarily the same thing as pandering. Yes, the kids are all right, but only because of their relative innocence; the adults, gay or straight, are pretty fucked up. With Annette Bening and Julianne Moore’s decades-old partnership poisoned by overfamiliarity and passive-aggressiveness, and Mark Ruffalo’s sensitive stud toxically in The Bubble, it’s amazing how much humor Lisa Cholodenko pulled from their interactions without glossing over the hurt they caused each other. To find a similar combination of wit and sympathy in American film, you may have to head back to the heyday of Paul Mazursky — and anyone who thinks The Kids Are All Right is too precious should remember how Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice ended.

• The Kids Are All Right: http://filminfocus.com/the_kids_are_all_right
• Focus Features: http://www.focusfeatures.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/kids-are-all-right

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(25-16) (15-06) (05-01)

(Return to the 2010 year-end map)