I hate to say it, but 2010 was, for me, another disappointing year at the movies. Until last week, I didn’t know if I could even come up with ten films deserving to be on my list.
Before I get to that list, I need to mention that my favourite foreign language film of 2010 was Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, but since it’s a 2009 film, I did not feel it was eligible for my list. Also worth mentioning is that I expect The Social Network will end up on most top ten lists this year, but it’s not on mine. It is a brilliant film and David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin deserve a lot of credit (and awards), but for me it was missing something (maybe just the fact that I couldn’t sympathize with a single character). I also expect Black Swan to win some awards; it almost made my top ten. Finally, for Gareth, I need to say that Shutter Island was my number 10 film of the year until I watched Fair Game last week. So I almost had two films on the list in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays a man obsessed with memories of his wife and children. How weird is that? Probably not so weird is the coincidence that three of my top ten films are about the 2003 invasion of Iraq (I spent a lot of time analyzing that invasion in preparation for numerous opportunities to lecture on the subject).
Okay, let’s get to the list:
10. Green Zone – Matt Damon is terrific as a soldier uncovering the possibility that the U.S. did not invade Iraq to find WMDs but to get Saddam. The premise and storyline seem incredibly naive to me (does anyone not know about the WMDs or that oil and military control were the primary motives? - see below), but this film’s heart is in the right place and it does a good job of humanizing the Iraqi people. Director Paul Greengrass gives us too much action, as usual, but otherwise it’s very entertaining.
9. I Am Love – An unusual Italian romance with hidden depths (including much religious symbolism), this film stars Tilda Swinton (who is perfect in the role) as a bored housewife whose life spins out of control.
8. Fair Game - Some films are great just because they tell a true story that must be told on film. This is one of those films. Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are a great team, playing the married couple who expose the truth behind the WMD invasion mentioned above. I read an article in The Guardian prior to the 2003 invasion that already exposed the same story, but I guess Blair didn’t get the memo (see further below).
7. Inside Job – The best documentary film of the year not only exposes the men and the criminal greed behind the 2008 financial crisis – it also reveals that these men are still the government’s leading financial advisors.
6. The King’s Speech – Colin Firth gives us another magnificent performance, this time as the new king who has difficulties speaking without stammering. Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter are perfect in supporting roles. I was disappointed that the climax had to involve a war speech but this is a wonderful old-fashioned drama.
5. The American – George Clooney is superb in his role as a gun expert who is beginning to struggle with his chosen profession and what it makes him do. Gorgeous cinematography, a great score and one of those rare modern suspense films which has almost no action (that’s a good thing).
4. Inception – Despite my concerns about the needless action scenes, the violence and the logical flaws, this overwhelming film by Christopher Nolan is what makes going to the movies so much fun. The fact that it’s a sci-fi film dealing with a favourite subject of mine (dreams) doesn’t hurt. Neither does the great acting (especially by Leonardo Dicaprio), the excellent cinematography and Hans Zimmer’s score.
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – My favourite foreign language film of 2010 is a dark Swedish thriller, the first of a trilogy based on the best-selling books by Stieg Larsson. This first film does a brilliant job of mixing character development and a powerful human drama with its suspense (highlighted, again, by a minimal amount of action). The sequels were not even in the same league. Great acting by Michael Nykvist and Noomi Rapace.
2. The Ghost Writer – Roman Polanski’s political thriller (one of my favourite genres) features brilliant grey cinematography and a tight screenplay, which help overcome some of the acting flaws (though this is one of Ewan McGregor’s best performances). Most importantly, this film dares to speculate on the vital question of how Tony Blair could have joined Bush in the ill-advised invasion of Iraq (see above).
1. Winter’s Bone – This outstanding film, directed by Debra Granik, sucked me so completely into its dark world that I was experiencing the same constant fear experienced by its many incredible characters, characters who felt so real I was given a sense of their entire lives in the briefest of glimpses. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing as a seventeen-year-old girl searching this dark world (Ozark Mountains) for her missing father while trying to look after her younger siblings.