The Films of 2010: Favorites So Far
I fear that I’ve given the wrong impression about the crop of films that have released so far in 2010. Readers of this blog are no doubt aware that I’ve written fewer film-related posts than ever before in the past six months, but that’s hardly a reflection on what’s been going on at the movies. It has, in fact, been a very good year for film, if not in terms of the sheer number of great new releases than at least in terms of the quality of them. That I haven’t said much about them speaks only to the general busyness of my own life, and to the level of focus I’ve put into reviewing new music releases (which is, of course, this blog’s primary focus).
But there have been enough fine films to engage my head and my heart that I should pause to celebrate them, if only briefly. Here is a list of my five favorites of 2010 so far– with the acknowledgment that I have not seen many of the year’s most celebrated arthouse releases. That said, all five of these films could very easily end up on my year-end list this December, with three of them representing the work of master filmmakers (or in one case, a collective of filmmakers) at the peak of their powers, and the other two showcasing relatively new talents who have made very strong grabs for my attention.
As always, these are simply my personal favorites– the films that have meant the most to me.
01. Toy Story 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich)
In a way, this was my most-anticipated movie of 2010, and yet it took me a couple of weeks to work up the courage to go and see it. I have nothing but resolute faith in the wizards at Pixar– their movies are uniformly high in quality, and most of them end up ranking very high on my year-end best-of lists– but the Toy Story films are particularly special to me: I grew up with this franchise, with these characters and stories, and they are as beloved by me as any big-screen characters I can think of. The thought of seeing them again for a final send-off was exciting and melancholy at the same time– much like the film itself.
But oh, what a joy. Pixar continues to exhibit astonishing levels of mastery, and this could very well be their finest film– or at least a solid contender. It’s a rich extension of the characters and themes of the first two movies, which means that, as with those first two, there is both deep characterization, a focus on storytelling, and a host of complex, existential questions that make Toy Story much more than typical kids’ fare. And like those first two movies, this one is almost old-timey in how it mingles slapstick comedy and cheerful humor with undercurrents of deep sadness; what it amounts to is a work of infectious joy that arises from tough scenes and real grief. It’s a supremely special movie, and it leaves me with no doubt in my mind that this is the finest, most consistently brilliant film trilogy of all time.
02. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)
Scorsese’s Hitchcock homage is also a horrific portrait of men made so desperate by the world’s madness, they escape into a madness of their own making. The film speaks to manhood, to living in uncertain times, to coping with loss and anger– but what makes it not only profound but truly masterful is Scorsese’s sure command of cinematic vocabulary, how the movie evokes films and eras past to convey its complicated emotions and its solemn themes.
03. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
The Ghost Writer arrived at a time when Polanski’s future– as a filmmaker and as a free man– was in question, but there’s nothing uncertain about this film, an edgy, angry, and altogether engrossing political thriller that finds the director in top, mischievous form. Everything about its construction speaks to a master of his his craft, but what I love most about it is how it captures an era of moral ambivalence and rampant paranoia with a sense of outrage and indignity, but also with careful balance and compassion.
04. How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders)
Never before has a Dreamworks animated film come so close to emulating Pixar levels of excellence. Robust storytelling, characters we care about, heart and sincerity without a single pop culture reference or throwaway gag to be found– now there‘s a welcome development.
05. Please Give (Nicole Holofcener)
I’ve seen Holofcener compared to Woody Allen in more than one review, but her films bear comparison only to the most heartfelt and compassionate, least neurotic films in Allen’s canon. This is a film so rare it takes you a while to realize just how special it is; it’s a simple story about well-intentioned but mistake-prone, grown-up individuals trying to do the right thing in a world where doing the right thing can be tough. It’s hilarious, but also full of heart.