Saturday, February 19, 2011

My 10 Favourite Films of 2010.

I can’t tell a lie, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the majority of 2010 releases. Much of this was my own fault – I didn’t frequent my little arthouse digs quite as much last year (hence the highly commercial nature of the majority of my top 10) and whilst there are usually two or three obscure little treats in my top list, due to the fact that I barely watched any art films this year, the top 10 is the most blockbuster it’s been for a while. And what I did see, on the whole, I wasn’t impressed with. Should I have time I may do a least favourite 10, but until then, the goodies.

10. StreetDance 3D [full review here]
I have big, unapologetic love for my dance movies (Step Up 2 made the same position on my top list of 2008 two years ago). StreetDance 3D is very similar to the Step Up movies; it centres around dance and disaffected youth and looks at how dance gives them a raison d'etre, and like with the original Step Up with Channing Tatum, it fuses hip hop and street dancing with the more refined skills involved in ballet. 

As so much of the film revolves around the dancing spectacles, the acting, plot and dialogue aren’t the greatest, but they more than suffice, plus there’s the novelty of seeing Charlotte Rampling cast as a ballet teacher; even in autopilot, she’s nothing less than a queen. 

Set in inner-city London, the city is shot in a way that Woody Allen captured London in Match Point- practically on a pedestal, and the cameos from Britain’s Got Talent acts such as Diversity and Flawless, the acting debut from the wonderful cheeky chappy George Sampson, the trendy soundtrack and the modern day Romeo and Juliet parallel all somehow fit together slickly. So whilst it’s a simple enough film in terms of character and plot, the dancing is anything but, and StreetDance 3D is one of the few films wherein watching it in 3D genuinely does heighten the viewing pleasure. Definitely worth singing and dancing about.

09. Somewhere [full review here]
As I may ram down the readers’ of this blog’s throats (yep, all three of you), I was not a fan of Lost in Translation. Quite why I hate it so much is a topic for another day, but, the point is, on viewing the trailer of Sofia Coppola’s film about boredom, isolation and family, I got a distinctly Lost in Translation vibe from it and expected to dislike it as well. 

Which just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a film by its trailer, because, whilst there were still discernible echoes of Lost in Translation in Somewhere, Somewhere washed with me a lot better. 

There’s a very likeable sort of gentle chemistry between on-screen father daughter pairing Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning and various scenes which Coppola may have put in out of pure indulgence (such as the ice-skating sequence) actually add to its charm, and Coppola’s credentials as a music video director work to her advantage here, especially in the memorable and beautiful scene where Dorff and Fanning sunbathe to the pool to the melancholy lyrics of “I’ll try anything once.” 

Paint-by-numbers Coppola filmmaking, perhaps, but as a study of the things in life that matter, I connected with it, and it also serves as a delightful modern-day counterpart to Paper Moon, one of my favourite films.

08. Date Night
Scoff all you like, but I thought this film was bloody genius. 

At the centre you have a comedy King and Queen, Steve Carrell and Tina Fey, as a suburban husband-wife combo who get through life perfectly fine, albeit noticing that their marriage is slipping up on what Thierry Henry would dub the “va-va-voom.” 

On one of their date nights, they decide to venture into New York City, and in order to get seats at a pretentious restaurant, take on the identities of “the Tripplehorns”, which sets off a hilarious comedy of errors. 

With cameos from Leighton Meester, Mila Kunis, Mark Walhberg, Taraji P. Henson, Ray Liotta as well as two of this year’s Oscar nominees (for other films, obviously) Mark Ruffalo and James Franco, this is very much a Hollywood star back-pat sesh, but the smugness isn’t totally smeared in our faces as much as other films, such as Ocean’s 11.

Steve Carrell gets to use his comic timing to perfection (“he turned the gun sideways!” had me chuckling loudly) and Tina Fey delivers more of the deadpan, observation-comedy, but together, they make a wonderful comedy duo, and Date Night a very enjoyable film.

07. Made in Dagenham [drunken review here]
A delightfully charming true-life tale of how a group of women in the Ford plant in Dagenham campaigned for pay equality for women, Sally Hawkins steals the show and it’s a disgrace that such a sweet film was completely forgotten about come awards season. 

Like Starter for 10, Made in Dagenham is probably more likely to be fully appreciated by Brits, but there’s definitely a universal appeal in the theme of not giving up against the odds, even when practically everyone is telling you to sit down and shut up. 

Rosamund Pike gets to subvert her ditzy image and play against type as a stay-at-home mother who’s actually a lot smarter than her husband but has to pretend she isn’t, Jamie Winstone is the epitome of Essex in her brash bolshiness and up-and-comer Andrea Riseborough provides merriment too. 

Forget The King’s Speech, this was by far my favourite British film about overcoming adversity of the year.

06. Easy A
When we look back at the somewhat blah cinematic year that was 2010, one thing that I will definitely remember about it is it being the year that Emma Stone truly established herself on the scene. 

She’s always been nothing short of delightful in the past, even in truly dire films such as The House Bunny, but getting a film to herself and being expected to carry it is a big ask, yet Emma fulfils her job – and then some. As Olive Predergast, the maligned protagonist of the film who is wrongly dubbed a whore, slut and floozy by all of her fellow schoolmates, Emma Stone keeps the tale always on the right side of jovial, even when events take a turn for the problematic.

She’s obviously helped by some terrific zingers and one-liners, as well as a supporting cast that features Amanda Bynes hamming it up as a Christian Bible-basher, Thomas Haden Church as the chilled English teacher, Lisa Kudrow as the school councillor (and his wife) who cheats on him and gossip girl’s Penn Badgley as the love interest, but the fact of the matter is that there are just too few actresses in Hollywood that are as naturally likeable as Emma Stone, and her sexy, swaggerous red-hair, basque and Ray-ban combination will long be copied, never bettered. 

It doesn’t need to be said but I’ll say it; that girl will go far.

05. The Fighter
The Fighter opens to the tune of The Heavy’s “How do You Like Me Now” as Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, cast half-brothers from the same mother Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, strut down their neighbourhood, mini-heroes for their status as boxers (Eklund had a good run before he descended into crack addiction, and Micky has a few fights lined up). 

Coming from a family with seven sisters ruled under the iron fist of their loving but sometimes ill-advised materfamilia Alice Ward (Melissa Leo), Micky has always taken the advice of his family members, even when it’s ended up backfiring. When he starts dating local barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams), however, she opens his eyes to the fact that he needs to train to start sticking up for himself and his own best interests. Micky wants to win fights but he also wants to appease his family, thus the key premise of The Fighter

The acting is uniformly excellent but Christian Bale really stands out in his twitchy performance as the drug-addict who still rides on his former glory, oblivious (or simply refusing to accept) that he’s become a joke; the scene in jail wherein he watches the documentary about himself is heartbreaking. Despite the fairly grim plot-line, the film still managed to be funny and lively throughout; I in particularly enjoyed the shy sweetness of Micky and Charlene's tentative romance. 

There’s something about the whole against all odds type film that just appeals to me massively, and the flawed characters and themes such as loyalty and fraternity elevate The Fighter from standard boxer-movie fare and give it an extra one-two punch. 

Like Micky at the uplifting finale, this film is a winner.

04. Shutter Island
Completely forgotten about in awards season due to its release date in the first half of 2010, Shutter Island stands as my choice for the most underrated film of 2010. Adapted from Dennis Lehane’s book, Shutter Island is rife with mystery and feelings of foreboding throughout, and even having read the book beforehand, I was still thinking about it long after the credits had rolled. 

Atmospheric, tense and scary as hell, there’s more than a small dose of The Cabinet of Dr Caligeri in it, Martin Scorsese does some of his best directing in this perfectly sculpted and ingeniously shot (the bright lighting only goes to add doubt about what’s real and imagined) about Leonardo DiCaprio pretty much losing his mind. Inception who? There’s only room for one film about what’s real and what’s not with Leo DiCaprio wherein he has a crazy wife, bitches, and for me, that film’s Shutter Island!

03. True Grit
Whether it be Kill Bill, The Lion King, Hamlet or Inglourious Basterds, I do like a bit of the ol' revenge film genre. 

That said, the Western genre is probably my least favourite. If anyone could make me like the latter genre, though, it would be the Coens, by fusing it with the former. True Grit centres around 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who wants to avenge the death of her father by tracking down Tom Cheney, the man who killed him. 

She enlists the help of the unreliable but tough Rooster Cogburn, and soon the Texas Ranger LaBeouf wriggles his way into the mission, for he too has unfinished business with Cheney. On their journey they encounter various travails which truly test the level of grit they hold. 

True Grit is very much a film that embodies the whole The Climb mentality; the journey is almost more important than the destination, and no one captures this better than the heroine Mattie, played by Hailee Steinfeld. It’s hard to believe that this is Hailee’s first film role, because she is a revelation, her character is smart, resourceful and caring, and annoyingly stubborn. 

There is also a lovable normality to her heroine status; her attempts to fire a gun throughout the film always end in fail, and there’s also the novelty of seeing someone in such neat plaits talking about their plans for murder. Her performance, Shawshank Redemption-er Roger Deakin’s stunning cinematography and the film closing on Iris Dement’s gorgeous rendition of the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” give True Grit an immense sense of beauty.

02. The Social Network
I had my doubts about whether a film about Facebook would justify its two-hour running time, but the story behind did actually make for compelling viewing. As soon as Mark Zuckerberg (his annoyingness captured perfectly by Jesse Eisenberg) goes home after a bust-date and logs onto livejournal to whine about it, I knew this was my mind of film (I do exactly the same, haha). 

The sequences of Zuckerberg coming to piece Facebook together with his uncannily good HTML skills were exhilarating to watch, but there were also small joys in watching the social misfires of him and his best friend Eduardo Saverin (I still maintain that the way Garfield shimmies up to Zuckerberg in the Harvard Jewish Mixer alone should have been enough to bag Garfield a Supporting Actor nomination, but whatever). 

Saverin, played by the delectable Andrew Garfield, functions as his right-hand man and put up the funding for his Facebook idea, yet, later on, got shot out from Facebook, both financially and as a founder. It is this kind of lack of scruples and mercantilism that make Mark Zuckerberg a difficult character to warm to, but thanks to Eisenberg’s performance and the sharp script from Aaron Sorkin (it makes sense that he is so adept at writing political dramas because there is a huge deal of politiquing in The Social Network), there is at least a context to his narcissism, if not a justification. 

Going from intensely funny (“I'm 6'5", 220, and there's two of me”) to very serious in the matter of moments, what The Social Network ultimately illustrates is that no-one rises to the top without a cost, and, by the closing shot of the film – Zuckerberg pathetically refreshing Facebook repeatedly in the hope that the girl he created Facebook to spite/impress will accept his friend request – whether or not all that money truly made our nerdy protagonist happy is still open to debate.

01. Toy Story 3
As a study of letting the things we once loved so much we couldn't imagine them not in our lives, nothing works better than Toy Story 3Toy Story 3 marks the end to a  franchise that I grew up to; Toy Story I was the first film I saw in cinemas in England, true story.

It also completes a highly impressive personal hat-trick for me of their’s: WALL-E was my #1 film of 2008, Up was my #1 film of 2009 and now Toy Story 3 is my favourite film of 2010. 

And rightly so, because I highly doubt anyone other than Pixar could have me shed as many tears over toys as I did in the closing scenes of Toy Story 3. Featuring flawless visuals (the details to which the children’s playroom was rendered with showed weeks and weeks of work and attention to detail - that Totoro doll! Priceless) a voice cast featuring Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, John Cusack, Wallace Shawn and the inspired casting of Michael Keaton as Ken (haha!) as well as the introduction of a vaguely sinister purple teddy bear and a creepy looking giant baby, Toy Story 3 was not at a lack of intrigue, danger and suspense as well as the standard comedy bought by Buzz, Mr Potato Hed and T-Rex. 

Andy might have gone off to college and grown up, but Toy Story 3 illustrates that there is always a part of us, deep down, who holds onto the things that are most precious from our childhood. By the end of the film, my eyes were practically red from the crying, but those were happy tears. 

A bittersweet goodbye to a wonderful trilogy of films.


Katie said...

but those were happy tears

You can't not quote Cheryl, can you Em? ;)

Luke said...

My top ten:

1. Inception
2. Shutter Island
3. Toy Story 3
4. Black Swan
5. The Fighter
6. The Social Network
7. Blue Valentine
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
9. The King's Speech
10. Winter's Bone

(I have not yet seen Rabbit Hole, Another Year, Made in Dagenham, Biutiful, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Somewhere or, err, StreetDance 3D...)

Do you want to compare acting line-ups, or are you saving them for a blog post? :)

Emma said...

Oooh, I've heard good things about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World!

I watched Blue Valentine just the other day, didn't really do anything for me. Watching their marriage disintegrate was was just too painful.

And ehhh at Inception and The King's Speech.

So I'm presuming you didn't care for True Grit then?

I'mma do my acting line-ups, complete with visual aids this week! :D

Luke said...
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Emma said...
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Luke said...
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Luke said...
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Luke said...

Hurry up with your acting line-ups. :P

Luke said...
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The Social Network and Toy Story 3 would be my favorite. I like watching how Zuckerberg's brilliant minds work and how we worked with Facebook. Toy Story 3 shouldn't be missed now that Andy goes to college and I love watching the toys save each other at the nursery. Great article!

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