10) The Fighter – David O. Russell has earned a pretty sour reputation in Hollywood and the proof is online in viral videos that show him endlessly berating his cast. But try not to confuse the artist with the art. The Fighter is a harrowing journey of lower-class Boston redemption. Mark Wahlberg realistically portrays real-life pugilist Micky Ward who became a pro-boxer in the 1980s but it’s Christian Bale who, as brother Dicky Eklund, deserves to take home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his haunting portrayal of a washed up, drug addled former fighter.
9) Toy Story 3 – When the gang of toys we first came to know 15 years ago, heads towards an inferno, resigned to accept their fiery end as rejected playthings, I about lost it. The beauty of Pixar’s oeuvre is that they really do have the best track record in Hollywood. The humanity they impart into each and every frame of CGI animation holds more grace and beauty than most Oscar-bait awards drivel. And those damn toys earn it, too.
8) 127 Hours – Okay…your assignment…if you so choose to accept it: to create a visceral, squirm-inducing adventure film that centers on one character pinned in one location: Go! Putting aside the horrific true story of hiker Aron Ralston’s gripping experience; James Franco will blow you away as he inhabits the many sides of a man coming to terms with his certain death. As usual, Danny Boyle’s high-octane shooting/editing style keeps the film aloft with a bright and dizzying pace.
7) Exit through the Gift Shop – The glorious fun in Banksy’s documentary is trying to determine what, if any of it, is actually real. And while the film, which centers on the street art movement of the last 15 years, may not actually conform to the genre in which it masquerades, that surely does not lessen its captivating qualities. Thierry Guetta may be the single greatest character of the year.
6) Inception – Christopher Nolan hasn’t disappointed me yet as he’s segued from psychological low-budgets (Following, Memento) to psychological blockbusters (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight). His films are rooted first and foremost in the mind and the labyrinthine exercise of Inception is one hell of a ride. Many scoffed at the final cut to black but the pure bliss of Nolan’s visual and symbolic imagery and the ingenuity of his intelligent screenplay are something more summers should be packed with.
5) True Grit – Joel and Ethan are my long-lost brothers. They are the biggest inspiration in the types of films I make; always tackling new genres and infusing them with their trademark wit. True Grit is the Coen Bros’ first full-on western and they don’t pilfer from the Duke but rather build up from Portis’ original novel. Fantastic performances, gorgeous Deakins photography, and an homage to the fraternity and gender divides of the old frontier, True Grit shines as an anachronistic jewel.
4) The King’s Speech – On paper this one couldn’t sound more dry but the assured work of director Tom Hooper and the blissful performance of Colin Firth as Britain’s stammering King George VI really dominates with its mixture of humor and gravitas. And there are subtle cinematic techniques that enrich the storytelling not often found in period films. Just go back and re-watch the shot/reverse shot exchanges between Firth and Rush and notice how they weighted the actor on the wrong side of the frame thereby exploiting tons of negative space.
3) The Social Network – What was originally bandied about as “That Facebook movie” opened the awards season by storm defying expectations telling the drama surrounding the creation of a social network empire. Aaron Sorkin’s monumentally witty script doesn’t ever reduce the real figures to mere caricatures. Eisenberg’s performance as Zuckerberg is one of the finest of the year. It’s nice to see Fincher attempting new styles of film and storytelling (which I found far less successful in the chemistry-less Benjamin Button). With all of the intrigue and weight of a Shakespearean masterpiece, The Social Network turns the trivial matters of elite Harvard douchebags into first class filmmaking.
2) The American – Too few saw The American and of those that did, too few enjoyed it. Poorly marketed as a sly Hitchcockian thriller, the film, concerning George Clooney’s artisan weapons’ maker, plays closer to an impervious art film. What is at once a gorgeous travelogue, an homage to 70’s intrigue, and a quiet meditation on modern masculinity, The American is unlike any other film released this year: quiet, assured, mesmerizing.
1) Black Swan – Films marketed as psychosexual experiments seem to have gone extinct in recent years, or at the very least, were left to the Frenchies. However, Black Swan brilliantly inhabits the dangerous psyche of Nina Sayers, a perfectionist ballerina, played to perfection by the sumptuous Natalie Portman. Director Darren Aronofsky hasn’t just filmed a narrative about a descent into madness but summons his blistering cinematic techniques to infect the spectator with this nightmarish journey. Inspired by Powell/Pressburgers’ The Red Shoes and Polanski’s Repulsion.