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Ten Years Later: 2010 Movies

It's another installment of the Hindsight Awards, Ten Years Later. The 2010 year in movies was one where I already had a few favorites that were a little more under the radar. I did enjoy a couple of the biggest movies of the year, Inception and The Social Network, quite a bit, but the only other movie with much Oscar buzz in my top 25 was The King's Speech at 23. Although some of the top movies from 2010 are some favorites, this wasn't that strong of a year. There area a lot of good and very good movies with a lot of hidden gems, although it is thin on great movies. This exercise challenged me to see what held up from ten years ago and to search out films that were missed over the past decade. There were quite a few that I had missed that ended up being very enjoyable, like Certified Copy, a movie that kicked off a personal appreciation of films for Iranian directors. I’ve made a list of everything watched from 2010 over on Letterboxd with links to all of their reviews but this list is of the top twenty-five plus a few awards. Here are the actual Academy Award nominees and winners from the 20116 Oscars for reference. Instead of deciding between lead and supporting actors and actresses I have awarded two outstanding actors and two outstanding actresses as well as a best ensemble casting.

  1. Inception

  • Best picture, best director: Christopher Nolan, best stunts and special effects

This is still a lot of fun to watch. While all of the dream within a dream conjecture is no longer a mystery to bother figuring out how to crack, it’s still an absolute spectacle. Inception still holds up as the most complete Christopher Nolan movie, the most epic and imaginative of his filmography. Years later Dr. Strange imitated the folding of the city scene, yet it still feels more real and more mind blowing here.

2. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

  • Best ensemble cast, best music (tie)

It’s candy. A movie about video games and bands and the nether space of life between college and being a grownup. This was the first Edgar Wright movie that doesn’t take place in the UK and it feels authentically North American. This lives in a fantasy version of Toronto where video games come to life and this surprises no one. It’s incredibly entertaining, never quite overwhelming and the music is fantastic.

3. 127 Hours

  • Best music (tie)

This has a reputation for the shocking moment where the main character cuts off his hand, supposedly viewers were throwing up in the aisles when it premiered, yet it is one of a handful of movies that sends me to tears every time I see it. The final scene is such an incredible rush of near-death persistence and crescendoing survival that gets me every time. The music as the helicopter lands is so moving that I place it with the other great scores and soundtracks of 2010.

4. The Social Network

  • Best cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth, best music (tie)

Although it now seems that a sequel would be even darker and chaotic, this is still a beautifully made movie. It’s the flagship of the David Fincher filmography and the reference when filmmakers hire Trent Rezner and Atticus Ross to score a film. The characters are complicated and well acted. Everything feels so natural that it’s easy to overlook that two of the characters exist only because of face replacement tricks. It’s a bit of a reverse-BB-8, when Star Wars fans first learned the robot was mostly shot practical in tha world where computer graphics were expected.

5. The American

  • Best actor: George Clooney

I don’t feel as though this has survived in the consciousness of movie watchers. Director Anton Corbijn mostly makes music videos and hasn’t made a new movie in five years. This is a really beautiful slow burn of a spy movie where the main character is not necessarily the lead spy, but the gunmaker who is forced into an hitman role when he tries to get out. George Clooney give one of his best dramatic performances in a very quiet role. It’s a movie of a spy’s downtime punctuated by creatively conceived violence that always sits in the back of my mind when watching other spy movies. It kind of feels like a mix of The Limits of Control and Morvern Callar with a sprinkle of the motel scene in No Country For Old Men.

6. Certified Copy

  • Best writing: Abbas Kiarostami, best actress: Juliette Binoche

It just took the opening shot of this to convince me to watch more movies from Abbas Kiarostami, which led me down a rabbit hole of his films and other Iranian directors Asghar Farhadi and Jafar Pahani. It’s just a really simply composed shot of a book discussion that leads into a real mind bender of a movie about a man and a woman that appear to be strangers at first, then perhaps they do know each other, and perhaps they’re married, and maybe they’re breaking up. It really plays with your head. Julliette Binoche is incredible, it’s hard to tell if her character is crazy and taking the man along for the ride, playing a game, or they’re jumping parallel universes. It’s unlike the other Iranian movies I’ve seen, but I suggest them all.

7. Baseball: The Tenth Inning

  • Best documentary

The nine part Baseball documentary came out in 1994 and this catches up with the game after an incredible series of events in the history of the game in the ‘90’s and first decade of the 2000’s. At times this gets a little caught up in the labor disputes and PED problems and glosses over some of the on the field achievements. This does hit on every one of the biggest stars of note during the relevant time period in some very nice profiles.

8. Four Lions

This is the story of a sleeper cell of Islamic Extremists living in London who are trying to establish themselves as terrorists with laughs around every corner. Oddly this is one of the darkest and one of the funniest movies of its time. I could see this getting remade in the US with a group of bumbling insurrectionists.

9. Somewhere

  • Best actor: Stephen Dorff

I rewatched this to also get through the Sofia Copolla filmography and I found it more interesting on rewatch. The story of an actor who is a star but is not respected for his craft who is spending more time with his young daughter around L.A. and on location for publicity. He juggles his stardom and the temptations that come with it with the realization of what fatherhood means. It’s a slow movie but has aged really well.

10. Incendies

  • Foreign language

This dark horse Denis Villeneuve film is a war film from the perspective of a refugee’s family. It’s a very difficult movie to get through but is incredibly moving and beautifully shot. Villeneuve has put together such a great filmography of seven great movies since 2009 and this was just the second in that run.

11. True Grit

  • Best actress: Hailee Steinfeld

It isn’t the best Coen Brothers western, but it’s still incredibly good. They just have an amazing filmography. The funny thing is that the original was the film that John Wayne won his Oscar, and here Jeff Bridges acts circles around that performance as both feeling more authentic, feeling more comfortable in the character and much more amusing than Wayne. Hailee Steinfeld has a lot of difficult things to do as an actor with odd dialogue and a wide range of emotions in her role and she knocks it out of the park.

12. Boy

Taika Waititi tells a personal story about a Maori boy and his absent father that comes back as a hero in the boy’s eyes. This has the humor expected from Waititi with a ton of heart. As with almost all of his movies, Waititi surprises with flourishes of stylized filmmaking that are exciting within the film without distracting from the story.

13. Senna

The story of a tragic Formula 1 that is so dramatic that it feels like a narrative, fictional film. Ayerton Senna was such a great driver, a fantastic character and it was all filmed so beautifully because of the coverage of his races.

14. June 17th, 1994

This tells the story of a single day in sports and sports news, a wild day in sports that happened to also be the day OJ Simpson had his slow speed chase through Los Angeles. It’s incredible how every corner of sports had something big happening all at once. Told simply with news broadcasts and without a narrator, it’s as though the viewer is channel surfing on one compelling day.

15. The Other Guys

While this is an incredibly funny buddy movie and Will Ferrell at his best, it also happens to be Adam McKay’s first dip into social commentary films. He would kind of get into the subject of economic inequality and the 2008 crash much like The Big Short, and yet it handles the explainer section of the movie a little better. And still it’s one of the funniest movies of recent memory.

16. Shutter Island

This was the forth time in eight years that director Martin Scorsese tapped Leonardo DiCaprio for a role in one of his movies. This is more of a horror/psychological thriller that plays with supernatural horrors, mental illness and questionable therapy techniques. It’s a haunting mindbender if you go along for the ride.

17. Hereafter

This is one of those movies that felt like it popped in and out of popular consciousness yet it is one movie that stuck with me for a long time. I also don’t tend to enjoy Clint Eastwood movies because they tend to be pretty depressing, that tone is kind of perfect for this film about a Matt Damon character that reluctantly communicates with the dead and a storyline that includes the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. It’s a movie that doesn’t really fit in a single theme but is quite interesting in the eclectic nature of it quite compelling.

18. The Everlasting Flame

The official documentary for the Beijing Olympic Games, this was one of the first to not be produced by Bud Greenspan in several years. Change was good as new life was injected into the form. It is a good Olympic film, it hits on the Opening Ceremony that was so impressive and handles to events pretty well, although it’s not quite at the top of the very best of the Olympic documentaries over the last century.

19. Nostalgia For The Light

Although this was a little slower than I would have liked this is a quite uniquely styled documentary with an artistic sensibility. This gets into two of my favorite topics of the natural world for me, The Atacama Desert and Astronomy. I don’t quite know as much as I would like about either, but I am always excited to learn more about either subject any chance I get. It’s really interesting to see both covered in a documentary that is more to the level of The Criterion Channel than a typical science themed TV channel.

20. Pillars of the Earth

This is a miniseries based on a book by Ken Follet about a medival village trying to build a cathedral. The cast is great, a mixture of older actors and young actors on the verge of breaking out as big stars. Incredibly compelling, it’s a great experience to see this story that spans decades with characters that grow up into maturity and others that die off unexpectedly reminicent to Game of Thrones.

21. Carlos

Another miniseries, Carlos tells the true story of the most notorious terrorist in the world during the 1970’s and was on the run into the ‘90’s. While he can be treated like a marxist rock star, here he is seen as more complicated, and a terrible husband and boyfriend.

22. White Material

This is an intense telling of a French coffee producer living in an African Country as a brutal civil war breaks out. Directed by Claire Denis, this, like Incendies, shows a brutal reality for civilians when war breaks out in a country and their society collapses. I once read that 80% of the deaths in modern war are of civilians and these movies show the very real and terrifying dangers of war for the people that aren’t supposed to be engaged in fighting.

23. The King’s Speech

You know what? This holds up. It was kind of a joke of an Oscar movie when it came out as the kind of drama you could take your parents to see in the theater, but on rewatch, it’s still incredibly compelling and fares really well after a decade of prestige TV and movies about British monarchs.

24. Super

In just the second film that James Gunn directed, he subverted the superhero genre with a movie about an out of shape, ultra religious, mentally unstable vigilante trying to become a superhero in real life. It’s darkly funny and more rooted in reality than other “what if superheroes were real” movies. It was his audition for Guardians of the Galaxy, and the first of at least five straight superhero movies.

25. 13 Assassins

Japanese director Takashi Miike’s take on Seven Samurai where the assassins battle back an army while using inventive weapons. Miike is best known in the US for gore filled horror films, most notably Audition, and his tendency to involve very realistic looking losses of limbs. This samurai movie doesn’t shy from that sensibility, it is not an easy watch and the brutality is not presented in a way to lesson the blow, it comes without a sense of humor. Miike is an insanely prolific director, some years he puts out like five movies in a year and this is considered among his best.

Honorable Mention

It was not the greatest year for animation and the first How to Train Your Dragon (43) was fine enough to be the best animated movie of the year. While the human character designs aren’t my favorite style of art and the voice acting casting is perhaps not the best, the animation and story are pretty good.

Worst Movie

Salt: Thin plot to a spy movie that attempted to save itself by stunt casting, it was originally written as a male lead, and wouldn't work with either casting. Ultimately, it's a boring movie that forgets to have an ending.

Final Thoughts

Outside of the top movies, this was just a so-so year for movies. The batch of documentaries were decent, it was the start of a run of good documentaries with Exporting Raymond, The Tillman Story, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Exit through the Gift Shop, Gasland and Tabloid. This year saw the last movie from Ridley Scott, Unstoppable, an enjoyable runaway train thriller. Another Year and Howl were a few dramas that just missed the list. The batch of comedies, Kick-Ass, Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Get Him to the Greek, The Trip and MacGruber, were all enjoyable, but not earthshattering. There were a handful of movies I was seeing for the first time that made enough of an impression to make the list, Certified Copy, The Everlasting Flame, Nostalgia For the Light, Carlos, White Material and 13 Assassins. It was a year where some of the edgier movies were the best of the year, but it was a rather thin year at the cinema.

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