Eclipsing my record set in 2009 for films seen in a year (now 137), 2010 has proven to be a big year at the movies. That said, I am unable to name a definitive #1 film for the year so have listed (in alphabetical order) my Top 10. I also have an Honourable Mentions list for films that I really liked and recommend you seek out.
Note: this recap comprises only of films released in Australian cinemas between January 1 and December 31, 2010.
2010 has been a year of growth for The LennoX Files and I've appreciated your readership, especially that of my 13 followers. I'd also value your feedback, so let me know what films you enjoyed, even loved, in 2010. And here's hoping for an even bigger year at the movies in 2011.
In a good year for French films – Welcome and Gainsbourg are also worthy of mention – Jacques Audiard's prison drama, centred around a terrific performance by Tahar Rahim, was mighty impressive. A barely literate young man, Malik (Rahim), survives his sentence by becoming the gopher for the prison's Corsican gang boss whilst keeping his own contacts with the Arab community, in and out of prison. Audiard doesn't exactly depict Malik's rise in the ranks as unappealing but he doesn't skimp on the brutality either; a scene involving a razor blade was perhaps the most tension-filled I saw all year. Even at two-and-a-half hours, A Prophet is not too long a stretch.
Okay, so it's kind of a cheat to cram three films into one slot but hey, it's my list! Every year animation just gets better and better with Pixar long rivalling their live action cousins. Now others are rising to the challenge. FANTASTIC MR FOX was a wonderful retro stop-motion delight, via the imagination of Roald Dahl, but with the unmistakable fingerprints of director Wes Anderson. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG saw Disney get their mojo back with a traditional 2D animated film, and arguably their best since The Lion King. And with HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, DreamWorks showed they are within striking distance of Pixar, eschewing pop culture riffing for a story of unlikely friendship that was big on action, humour and heart.
THE GHOST WRITER
Based on the Robert Harris novel, The Ghost Writer could easily be dismissed as an airport novel adaptation if it weren't so damn good. Roman Polanski is at the height of his powers in weaving this tale of suspense about a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) hired to polish the memoirs of an ex Brit PM being accused of war crimes. A never-better Pierce Brosnan plays the Tony Blair-inspired PM (but nothing like Michael Sheen), and Olivia Williams is excellent as the PM's chilly wife. With a nod to Hitchcock, Polanski uses suspense rather than action to ratchet up the tension in this first class thriller.
Easily the most talked about film of 2010, Christopher Nolan's journey down the rabbit hole and into the dreamscape was as deep as you wanted it to be. Essentially a heist film where the loot is an idea, and one planted rather than stolen, you either went with Cobb (Leo DiCaprio) and his team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy) on their mission or you didn't. Most audiences – and critics – went along for the ride, and even if it was more cerebral than emotional (although Marion Cotillard went some way to evening that score), you can't under estimate the boldness of both Nolan's vision, and Warner Bros for backing an original, non-sequel, non-franchise film.
The manufactured controversy surrounding the dropping of the 'f' bomb 'c' word by an 11-year-old girl missed the point, and those who skipped Kick-Ass as a result missed out on one of the funnest, coolest films of the year. That 11-year-old, Hit Girl (the impressive Chloe Moretz, also of Let Me In), was one half of a crime fighting duo with her father, Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage). They're eventually joined by Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson), a superhero wannabe who obtains his moniker for receiving said ass kicking. But he bounces back – and rendered pain free – to take on the bad guys led by D'Amico (Mark Strong). Yes it's violent but it's also funny, and just a little pointed.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Writer-director Lisa Cholodenko's film may be a comedy – and a smart one at that – but it's also political given that it depicts a gay family as normal as any other. Which is to say loving but flawed, with its strengths and weaknesses. Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore), a couple for 20 years, have two children (Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska) via an anonymous sperm donor. It's when the kids go looking for “dad” (Mark Ruffalo) that the cracks in the family unit become exposed, magnified and potentially damaging. The film is full of heart and none more bigger than that of Jules. Bening may be getting all the awards attention but it's Moore's performance you'll remember.
THE KING'S SPEECH
A period drama, an odd couple friendship and the most likely film to prevent The Social Network from walking away with the Best Picture Oscar, Tom Hooper's The King's Speech is the rousing, emotional and true story of King George VI, who suffered from a debilitating stammer, and his Australian speech therapist. Colin Firth, as the king, and Geoffrey Rush, as therapist Lionel Logue, are an acting dynamic duo, with Firth likely to win an Oscar and Rush, at the very least, to be nominated.
THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
Almost every year the Foreign Language Oscar throws up a surprise winner. And yes, A Prophet may have been more deserving this year, but I for one was seduced by Juan Jose Campanella's police procedural. Set in two time periods – 1999 and the political upheavals of 1970s Argentina – we follow Benjamin (Ricardo Darin), retired court investigator cum author, as he tries to reconcile past and present: an unsolved murder in the '70s, and his unspoken love for his then colleague, Irene (Soledad Villamil). There's a football stadium sequence which is mighty impressive but it's the love story that will seduce you. See it before the already planned US remake.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
In terms of critical response, David Fincher's film is the best of the year – and the most likely Best Picture Oscar winner – and it's an assessment hard to argue with. Starting with the brilliant screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, which the young and impressive cast – Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara – deliver at breakneck speed, Fincher captures a world – the rarefied air of Harvard – and a moment – the birth of facebook – which he frames in a quasi-courtroom drama. Facebook user or not (I am not!), film lovers should make friends with Sorkin, Fincher et al.
TOY STORY 3
For pure emotion, hands down the best film of the year! I saw the final installment in the much-loved Toy Story franchise twice – and cried both times. But why not lump it in with the other animated films at the top of this list? Because Pixar's film deserves special recognition, and not just as a great film. As acknowledgment that a franchise film need not be unoriginal or uninspired; that going out on top is far more admirable and brave than pumping out endless sequels purely for the money; and that despite being a “kids” film, Toy Story 3 dared to ask some serious questions about growing up and letting go. Thanks for the memories, Woody and Buzz, we'll miss you.
Animal Kingdom, Blue Valentine, Cairo Time, City Island, Crazy Heart, Easy A, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Hurt Locker, In The Loop, The Last Station, Me and Orson Welles, Precious, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Up In The Air, Welcome, Winter's Bone.