It's the end of the year, which means it's time for best of the year lists! Here Gawker entertainment writers Richard Lawson and Brian Moylan weigh in on the best movies they saw in 2010.
The Social Network
Facebook is certainly something that many people use, but not necessarily something that many people care about, in any emotional sense at least. And therein lies the brilliance of The Social Network — director David Fincher, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, and their eerily at-ease (save Justin Timberlake, perhaps) cast managed to create such smart, classical drama out of some nerdy internet thing. With an almost-overwhelming snappy intelligence and a surprising twinge of melancholy, The Social Network was this year's most exhilaratingly polished movie. And Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin was the year's most unexpected crush object.
A companion piece to his The Wrestler, Black Swan is part two in Darren Aronofsky's meditation on how we break our bodies, hearts, and souls in the quest for fulfillment. But where The Wrestler had standard B-grade sports uplift melodrama as its engine, Black Swan has dizzying psychosexual terror, the sort of stuff we used to see a lot of in movies like Rosemary's Baby and Suspiria, but seemingly lost the talent (or regard) for in recent years. Black Swan definitely revels in sneaking a gnarled, bloody toe across the line of over-the-top, but the grainy, ever-coiling tension created by Aronofsky and his trusty cinematographer Matthew Libatique leaves you too unsettled to laugh.
And now for something completely different! Once every few years a teen comedy comes along that has enough wit, originality, and non-cloying sparkle contained within that it pretty quickly allows you to stop feeling guilty for being an adult at a teen movie. Like Clueless or 10 Things I Hate About You before it, Easy A respectfully acknowledges the conventions and rules of its genre and then self-assuredly defies them with a refreshing flair for offbeat, almost heady humor. Emma Stone is entirely winning as a girl who makes a pretend slattern of herself, Lisa Kudrow has a few brief-but-memorable scenes as a frazzled guidance counselor, and Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, as Stone's loosey-goosey parents, all but walk away with the movie, and into the annals of Greatest Movie Parents Ever. They should make a sequel all about them.
I Am Love
Luca Guadagnino's Italian-language collaboration with the fiercely oddball Tilda Swinton is almost not a movie. It's more art project than narrative feature. Though there is a rough plot — the somewhat cloistered Russian wife of a Milanese textile magnate finds sexual awakening in the arms of another man — I Am Love is far more concerned with creating huge splashes of mood and feeling. With achingly gorgeous camerawork and an ear-rumbling score, it's maybe the weirdest movie I saw this year, a less sinister Savage Grace, but also the one that provoked the most raw emotion. Never has a post-movie glass of wine been so necessary, so rattled was I by the movie's tragic, hopeful, near-ecstatic ending.
A spare and nearly bloodless Australian crime thriller, Animal Kingdom tells the story of an orphaned teenage boy who's sent into the arms of his frighteningly amoral (and animalistic, get it??) extended family, a band of low-level bank robbers with a killer sense of self-preservation overseen by Jacki Weaver's terrifying grandma from hell. First-time feature director David Michôd traffics in an old school kind of hard-boiled grit, but does so with visual invention and shocking, nasty slashes of humor. I can't wait to see what he does next.
Honorable Mention: Nicole Holofcener's acute and biting Please Give; the inevitably tear-inducing Toy Story 3; the hillbilly noir odyssey Winter's Bone; the elegantly crafted box office juggernaut Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1, and the absurdly charming restorer-of-faith-in-romantic-comedies Going the Distance
Worst Movie: I'm tempted to put easily, and deservedly, hated movies like the execrable Valentine's Day or the hysterically sloppy Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief down for Worst Movie, but for taking such an excellent novel and turning into a pretentious (if pretty looking) and ultimately boring love triangle weepy, I'm going to go with Never Let Me Go.
Probably the biggest box office success of the year, Christopher Nolan's puzzle box of a movie defies that common logic that blockbusters need to be stupid to be successful. What's he going to do next? Make a $200 million movie with subtitles? That will show them! Still the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream thriller never went slack for a moment, even when burdened with lots of exposition necessary to make the movie's conceit make sense. The final salvo—a nailbiter that is playing out simultaneously in three worlds operating at three different speeds—alone will have countless papers written about it in film school for decades to come. It's not perfect, but it's probably the smartest blockbuster we'll see for a long time.
The King's Speech
Further proof that all a movie needs to be successful is a good story, a fine cast, and excellent timing. The King's Speech is not at all splashy, but is deeply moving and satisfying. Colin Firth—in the year's second best performance after Natalie Portman in Black Swan—not only mimics the speech impediment of King George VI, but also the deep-seated rage he has from a life of being looked over. Geoffrey Rush's outsize personality was never better as the King's unconventional speech therapist and surprising friend and Helen Bonham Carter shows she can still rock a period costume well into middle age. Just like the British people at its center, this movie would never make a spectacle of itself, but its stiff upper lip is just a disguise for the rousing emotion and strength that lies beneath.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World
This graphic novel adaptation was seen mostly as a box office failure or another in a long string of Michael Cera's disappointment. What many people don't see is that it is a narrative triumph. Using the visual and storytelling vernacular of video games and comic books, Scott Pilgrim is like no other movie you've ever seen, but one that anyone who spent time in front of an XBox or an issue of The Avengers will recognize. Ostensibly it's about a Toronto slacker who has to defeat his ex-girlfriend's seven evil exes so that they can fall in love, but it's really just a geeky metaphor for the baggage we bring to any relationship and how we need to fight through it and mature before we can commit to something more meaningful. I have a feeling that on the strength of its DVD sales and enduring appeal Scott Pilgrim's reputation will eventually see victory in its fight against the world.
What happened to romantic comedies? Why do so many of them suck so badly? Was this always the case? Maybe the lowered expectation is why I have such a strange affection for this flawed by lovable chick flick. Or maybe it's because it's not so much about an annoyingly chipper woman (Rachel McAdams) falling in love with a man, but about her falling in love with her job. She's tasked with saving a morning news show and drafts a grumpy old news man (Harrison Ford) and pairs him up with a perky morning vet (Diane Keaton). Naturally there's a love interest (the misused but incredibly dreamy Patrick Wilson), but the script by Devil Wears Prada scribe Aline Brosh McKenna is about more than love, it's a girl who finds fulfillment in the office—something all of us lonely wage slaves know something about.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
You want meta? How about a documentary about a guy making a documentary about an artist where the artist ends up making a documentary about the filmmaker? Yeah, it's pretty nuts. This film by British street artist bad boy Banksy starts off as an homage to graffiti scribblers and other outlaw artists by Thierry Guetta, a crackpot thrift store owner in L.A. It later morphs into a film about Guetta himself as he transforms himself into Mr. Brainwash, a street artist just like the ones he idolized. What seems like a straightforward story becomes a comment on the modern art business, celebrity culture, the art of hype, and film making itself—all while being funny, endearing, and compulsively watchable.
Honorable Mention: I'll second Richard's endorsement for Winter's Bone, the most unlikely thriller you'll ever see. I also loved the lesbian family dramedy The Kids Are Alright; the hilarious, heart-breaking, and excruciatingly honest documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; and Jackass 3D which I will never again apologize for loving because it is the only movie to make me laugh so much my face hurt.
Worst Movie: There were many movies that disappointed this year (Iron Man 2, Alice in Wonderland, Tron: Legacy, Burlesque) but none so much as Sex and the City 2: Consumerism Never Sleeps. I'm a big fan of the original series (cliche, I know) and the first movie wasn't bad, but this Michael Patrick King abomination was so wrong on so many levels. Not only was the story completely ridiculous and the characters more caricatures than ever, but its consumerist and moral colonialism over the Middle East was borderline offensive.