1. The Social Network
I can easily say that this is the best film of the year. It is brilliant; it is complete. I've been a staunch supporter of David Fincher for the past ten+ years. He's underrated and was completely screwed over at the Oscars this year - a damn shame. Anyway, I was actually able to appreciate this movie even more after watching A Few Good Men. It began to feel more mature and less "Hollywood." The Social Network is an exploration of life that doesn't dwell within the confines of your typical Hollywood film. There are no clear heroes and villains; there is no clear resolution. There's no cheesy dialogue or unnecessary scenes. Everything about this movie works. Also on display here are some very fine performances - Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Rooney Mara, and Justin Timberlake are flawless and real. And I don't mean flawless in the sense that Eisenberg perfectly portrayed Mark Zuckerberg. I think that too many people are getting caught up in the debate of whether the film is one hundred percent accurate or not. No film is one hundred percent accurate. What I love about the script here is that it focuses on different points of view. We're not getting one story here - but several. And hats off to Fincher and Aaron Sorkin because the movie is never confusing or dull. You've also got to love the Trent Reznor score. Great all-around film.
2. True Grit
It's truly a gift that the Cohen brothers seem to put out a movie each year. True Grit is Joel and Ethan back to their best - both Burn After Reading and A Serious Man were good, but this one comes closer to No Country For Old Men. And speaking of Oscar snubs, Hailee Steinfeld should be the proud owner of one right now. I haven't seen the original John Wayne version, though I've seen some clips on AMC. I don't know that I will ever watch it because I honestly don't care for John Wayne, and my friend Sharon (who's currently reading the Charles Portis novel) has told me that the Cohen's version is pretty much a word for word adaptation. But she also stated that the movie was funnier, which I would expect. And that's really why I love the Cohens. They provide accurate portrayals of the books, and also do a great job of improving on them. And anyone who says that Jeff Bridges' version of Rooster Cogburn can't hold a candle to John Wayne can piss off. Jeff Bridges is the better actor (Wayne is only iconic as this point) and Bridges is so much better in True Grit than he is Crazy Heart - for which he won an Oscar.
Tough call here because I wasn't sure whether or not this movie would be usurped, after having just watched Blue Valentine. I'm going to go with Inception (for now), because of my love for Chris Nolan and because of the originality of this script. I've talked about this movie with Jeff many times. It should be viewed as a heist film - like Ocean's 11 - and that's why the script doesn't take the time to explain the stories of the other characters. In Ocean's 11, we only learn the most about Danny Ocean. In this case, we have Dom Cobb, played brilliantly by Leo. But yeah, there are too many complaints about this film that I feel are unwarranted. I love it for its ambition. I love it for the subject matter of dreams. The Science of Sleep was a fun movie, but Inception is such a better film. Nolan came up with a highly original concept, and I don't think he should be criticized for that, even if you think he ultimately failed. I get that Ellen Page's character is annoying and a fill-in for the audience. It doesn't really bother me, though. I've seen it multiple times and each time I get hung up in the love story between Leo and the beautiful Marion Cotillard. I was consumed by the cool persona of Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's respective characters. And that's without even mentioning the visuals. Gordon-Levitt's zero-gravity fight scenes are always a joy to watch. And that sequence was beautifully executed in Nolan's decision to make the set they shot in rotate. I also love the scenes with Ellen and Page walking through dreams -with her manipulating the architecture and the cafe and street exploding. Great stuff.
4. Blue Valentine
Maybe someday this movie will overtake Inception. I have to see how it sits with me, having just watched it. I've felt for a while now that both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were some of the best actors currently working. This film is a great showcase of that. The scene near the end of the film when Gosling confronts Williams at work is obviously very intense and real. It was interesting to see Gosling completely lose control in that way. He was scary and intimidating. He pulled it off perfectly. I also got a strong sense of Michelle Williams' character early on that I was able to understand why she felt the way she felt. That isn't to say that Gosling's character was such a terrible person who deserved to be divorced. But I could understand why she was just tired with him and why she couldn't do it anymore. Another interesting thing about the film is the use of flashback intermittently. I wonder if the audience is supposed to say to themselves, "Aw, they were once in love. They just need to realize it again" as if there is some hope for them. If you like someone, you want things to work out for them. You also have to consider their daughter in the relationship. But honestly, I never had the impression that the relationship could be salvaged. I don't know. Just a thought.
5. 127 Hours
James Franco is the shit! Sorry, I was watching Freaks and Geeks recently, and I felt that that needed to be said. He carries this film. I was never bored by it, and Franco and Danny Boyle both deserve a great deal of credit for that. Danny Boyle is one of those directors that if you watch any of his stuff, you instantly realize how talented he is. I don't know - it just seems obvious to me...and especially with this film. Think of the shot where the water travels up Aron's hydration pack or the shots of Aron's internal system. He's a very clever director. I haven't read Aron Ralston's story, but I think this film is a great tribute to what happened to him. The scene where he begins to see everyone from his life is very emotional and interesting. And yes, the end with the Sigur Ros track is definitely one of those scenes where you get chills down your back.
6. Black Swan
I feel like Natalie Portman's performance was a real transformation in this film. Obviously I'm not alone in that opinion, seeing as how she won every award this year, but I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that. She was good in Closer, horrible in Revenge of the Sith, and fantastic here. And obviously Portman's character in the film undergoes a transformation as well. But I feel like she really embodied Nina Sayers. She is that sweet, innocent girl who has the potential to do very dark and mature things. Great stuff. Also, I really got the sense that Vincent Cassel character allowed for Darren Aronofsky to be a character in the film. And there I'm referring to the fact that Aronofsky played a lot of mind games with Portman and Mila Kunis. I love the ending - it's very dark and fitting...or, "perfect," as Nina says. And my favorite shot is when Portman is spinning on stage, and with each turn she turns more and more into a black swan. Visually stunning. Beautiful. But yeah, I'm not big on thrillers that make you jump in your seat - this film is the exception.
7. Winter's Bone
The best part about this film is the acting. John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence are perfect and deserving of acclaim (too bad I didn't feel the same way about Hawkes while he was on Lost). Everyone in the film is authentic. Teardrop is a great character because he's both frighteningly intimidating and a caring, supportive Uncle to Ree. I really like the scene where Ree is talking to the Army recruiter. Your heart just goes out to here. Her life story is a tough one to watch, but Lawrence does a hell of a job in portraying it.
8. Shutter Island
When I saw this movie in theaters, I really loved it. Since then, my admiration for it is kind of on the decline. I'm not sure why, but it is. Once again, Leo is great. I'm glad Mark Ruffalo got the role as his partner Chuck - he's phenomenal. The script is captivating. It's a mystery that you never feel bored. And then there's Scorsese...a man who needs no introduction. And so, the cinematography is great and beautiful...even when the images are most disturbing. But I love the shot of when Michelle Williams dissolves into ash. The Concentration Camp scenes are also very haunting. But with that background for Teddy, you see that this film is really hitting on larger themes. The theme here being the idea that people can be absolute monsters. The scene were Teddy comes home to find his children in the lake is also very painful to watch. But yes, I wouldn't call this a perfect movie probably due to the extent that Ben Kingsley explains Leo's condition. I just feel it could have been done better, I suppose.
I think this might be the only documentary that will ever crack my top ten. Maybe not, though. But this movie definitely deserves recognition. It deserves discussion and I would recommend it to everyone. Though, that recommendation comes with a warning: read nothing about this film and don't watch the trailer. I did see the trailer before watching it, though. I really wish I hadn't but it wasn't as if it ruined the movie for me. It's still an interesting story that's well-executed. There's some controversy as to whether or not the filmmakers staged the events in the film. I honestly don't think they did. Although, yes, I do have questions as to how something like this could happen. But there you have a talking point for a discussion. We live in the age of the computer. We do rely on it too heavily for social networking or other things. But yeah, the tagline is too true: "Don't Let Anyone Tell You What It Is."
10. The American
I was surprised by this film. I didn't think I'd like it as much as I did. Like many people, I'm very familiar with George Clooney. We're familiar with him because he pretty much plays the same character in each film (yet only Michael Cera seems to get shit for this). While Clooney doesn't necessarily stray from his usual persona, we do get a little something different here. The audience never really finds out much about him. We know he can kill a man with his bare hands. We know that there are people who are trying to kill him. We know that he enjoys the company of the beautiful Violante Placido. Beyond that, I don't think there's too much. But Clooney does a great job here. I thought the story was interesting and the cinematography was great. I also really enjoyed the ending. It was pretty sweet.
Honorable Mention: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Never Let Me Go, Inside Job, I'm Still Here
Shite Films: Alice In Wonderland, Prince of Persia, Date Night, Hot Tub Time Machine