MOVIES | Top ten movies of 2010: Erik McClanahan's picks

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Most critics and cinephiles have come to the conclusion that 2010 was a weak year for films. I respectfully disagree. It all depends on the type of films you sought out. If cinema is your thing, then Minneapolis is a near-utopia. The Walker Art Center, the Trylon Microcinema, St. Anthony Main Theatre, the Uptown Theatre, the Lagoon and Edina cinemas, along with the countless film festivals that befall the city and state every year...it's rife with cinematic possibilities. All provide great and varied options outside the mainstream multiplexes. And if you stayed inside the comfort of those multiplexes, well, I can see why you'd think it was a bad year for movies (especially the summer, which was pretty lousy, save for a few titles). [Also see Jim Brunzell's 2010 top ten list.]

And now with digital distribution becoming more prominent (video on demand, Netflix, Hulu), interesting, well-made, and obscure films are becoming more accessible for audiences. You just have to seek the good ones out. My colleague Jim Brunzell and I can help with that. So consider the following list a nice, healthy rundown of film recommendations (after all, these top 10 lists have to serve some other purpose besides boosting our critical egos) for films that you can catch online or DVD if you missed them in the theater. Also make sure to look for many of these films to still hit Twin Cities theaters sometime in 2011; I managed to check out the Vancouver Film Festival this year, which provided me the opportunity to see a lot of excellent titles that haven't yet opened in Minnesota.

Before I get in to my official top ten of 2010, which was quite difficult to whittle down (surely a sign it was a strong year, no?), I want to briefly go in to a whole bunch of other films I loved or really liked this year. Some of these could easily go in to my top ten, but I simply had to make a choice. My top ten ultimately came down to which titles have stuck with me the most, but I'm also admittedly partial to certain directors, many of whom have made films that appeared in prior year-end lists of mine. I tend to love films with a strong, distinctive directorial style, and often dig stuff that's weird and out there, but also carries some level of entertainment and genre appeal.

I never see enough documentaries, but this year I managed to check out some particularly strong nonfiction entries: Restrepo, A Film Unfinished, Collapse, Art of the Steal, The Tillman Story, and Catfish are well worth checking out. As for animation, I loved A Town Called Panic, Toy Story 3, and How to Train Your Dragon. I found The American, with George Clooney, to be one of the more underrated films of the year. The same can be said for the excellent adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's celebrated novel Never Let Me Go, from writer Alex Garland (Sunshine, 28 Days Later) and director Mark Romanek (24 Hour Photo). [Also see: Jay Gabler's blog entry about Never Let Me Go.]

Danny Boyle somehow made an entertaining film out of 127 Hours with his stylish, visceral take on Aaron Ralston's real-life ordeal that led him to cutting off his own arm. Made in Dagenham is precisely the kind of mainstream dramatic entertainment that Hollywood should be making more of. [Also see: Jim Brunzell's interview with Made in Dagenham director Nigel Cole.] Four Lions, a comedy about suicide bombers, was one of the funniest comedies I saw this year, and easily the darkest. The Kids Are Alright should get a ton of attention come Oscar time, and deservedly so, as I found its story of a lesbian couple (played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) narrowly averting a crisis once their sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) is introduced to the kids to be truthful and funny. I also loved Cold Weather, My Joy, Aurora, and R, which should reach arthouse theaters some time next year.

The honorable mentions (essentially my 20 - 11, in no particular order, with some combo picks):

Everyone Else and Blue Valentine: two brutally honest and realistic breakup stories. If you're in the mood for a good old emotional punch to the gut, give these a watch. It's worth the emotional turmoil because they're so well-made and beautifully acted.

Certified Copy: A mysterious and fascinating puzzle starring Juliette Binoche, about a writer and an antique shop owner who may or may not be an actual couple.

Carlos: An amazing achievement by director Olivier Assayas; I loved all five-plus hours of it. With an amazing turn by Edgar Ramirez. Read my review here.

Red Riding Trilogy: Another wonderful, long-form narrative that made it to cinemas. This three-film-long story (each film is subtitled with the year it takes place: 1974, 1980, 1983) about corruption and serial killers in Yorkshire is akin to such classic noirs like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, deftly weaving fiction with real historical events.

Love Exposure/Cold Fish: Two films I saw this year by one director, Shion Sono. Fish should get a spring release at one of the art-house theaters in town. Love Exposure I saw on import DVD, but I hear that eventually it will get a proper release in the states on DVD. If so, seek it out. Check out the article I wrote about the two films here.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird: I wrote a huge article about the lovely world of modern South Korean cinema earlier this year, inspired by the release of this badass western by Kim Ji-Woon. One of the best action films of the year.

Down Terrace: A wonderful, often very funny gangster tale that features Robert Hill in one of my favorite performances of the year. This British indie gives a fresh spin on the gangster genre. Read my review here.

Enter the Void: I thought this would easily make my top ten, but somehow it just narrowly missed the cut. Regardless, it's one of the most innovative, stylish film experiences you're likely to ever experience. A trippy journey in to death that only Gaspar Noé could create. Read my review here.

Father of My Children: This French film had my crying like a baby about midway through, when the plot makes a sudden turn in to tragedy. It's out of nowhere, becoming a film of two halves that finds hope in even the saddest moments in life.

Another Year: From master British filmmaker Mike Leigh comes another of his spot-on observational comedy/drama/character study hybrids. The key to this film is the relationship between Jim Broadbent's Tom and Ruth Sheen's Gerri, the married couple who has it all figured out, who go through a year with friends and family.

Top Ten

10. The Robber, directed by Benjamin Heisenberg
A fascinating, thrilling film about a man who runs marathons and robs banks. Why do we care? Because he's so damned good at it, and it's a blast to watch. Read my review here.

9. Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Strange, surreal and gory journey in to the new world (and hell, basically) with a small clan of Vikings, taking with them a man of supernatural killing talents, called One Eye, played by Mads Mikkelson. Read my review here.

8. The Social Network, directed by David Fincher
Yep, I'm joining the chorus on this one. It's another fantastic film by one my favorite filmmakers working today, David Fincher. Aaron Sorkin's script should win every writing award there is. The cast is ace. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have created the best film score since Johnny Greenwood's work on There Will Be Blood. The film is my pick to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Even though it's not my favorite of the year, I could live with that. Happily. [Also see: Jay Gabler's blog entry about The Social Network.]

7. Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan
Another common pick in top-ten lists this year. This is the kind of film that re-awakens my passion for cinema. The best, most well-thought-out and executed action film of the year. Christopher Nolan can seemingly do no wrong.

6. Alamar, directed by Pedro Gonzalez Rubio
An absolutely beautiful, simple and concise (at 73 minutes) film that will move even the coldest of hearts. Read my review here.

5. Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by Banksy
My favorite documentary of the year. I love it when documentary stories start out as one thing, and evolve into something else entirely by the end. This is a classic example of such a film. It both celebrates and satirizes the modern art landscape, specifically street art. Banksy has pulled a nifty trick with this one, but is real or made up? Doesn't really matter either way, as it's a brilliant, hilarious and entertaining story. An example of a man in the right place at the right time, and thankfully he was filming most of it. Would make a wonderful triple bill with F For Fake and My Kid Could Paint That.

4. Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky
The best example this year of the key to making a great film: it's how you tell your story. And Darren Aronofsky should win the directing Oscar for his work here (though I think it will go to Fincher for Social Network, which I could live with). I love films that get inside the head of a character, especially if that character is crazy and unreliable. Natalie Portman's Nina Sayers is one such character. Cinema, better than any other art medium, can give you a literal interpretation of someone's point of view. This is something Aronofsky executes with precision. Portman is amazing in the role (she should win Best Actress this year at the Oscars). The visual style, from regular Aronofsky director of photography Matthew Libatique, is filled with so many layers and striking visual motifs it'll make your head spin, making you want to watch it again and try to pick up everything that's going on in the frame. I could go on. Just see it. [Also see: Jay Gabler's review of Black Swan.]

3. Animal Kingdom, directed by David Michod
Best genre film of the year. Best debut by a first-time filmmaker this year. From Australia, this beautiful and brutal (the violence comes out of nowhere) gangster tale about a family of bank robbers reaching the end of their reign is a nuanced, well-written, and impeccably acted piece of work. Standouts are Jacki Weaver as the slithery matriarch who may be the one pulling all the strings and Ben Mendelsohn as the creepy, paranoid and mentally unstable brother unafraid to kill anybody who he thinks poses a threat. This should become a crime movie classic in due time.

2. Dogtooth, directed by Giorgos Lanthimos
This Greek film was atop my list for almost the entire year since I caught it in the spring. It's the story of a husband and wife who've kept their three children, now teenagers, confined to their house and yard their entire lives. Only the dad leaves to go to work. The parents change the meaning of words so as to temper curiosity in the children. It's all so weird, fascinating and darkly comic, and a wonderful fable about the perils of overprotective parenting. Director Lanthimos treats the audience with respect, letting you figure out what's going on organically in the story. Read my review here.

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Look for this one to come to the Walker Art Center in February. Not to be missed. From Thailand, it's a magical, bizarre story about accepting death. I've never quite seen a film that treated this usually dour subject matter with such reverence, acceptance and quiet awe. Boonmee is a man who heads to the jungle to die, and then he encounters the ghosts of his wife and his long-lost son, now reincarnated as a man-ape thing with glowing red eyes. Sounds weird, I know, and it is, but that's part of its charm. It gets weirder, and more beautiful as it goes. It's the type of film that if it grabs you, and you're able to go along with it and just let it wash over you, you will find the experience to be quite rewarding. Its mysteries are meant to be just that, and maybe there's a clear delineation of the plot to be found, but I prefer to just enjoy and soak up all the ambiguities. A film I will return to again and again.

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    Erik McClanahan's picture
    Erik McClanahan

    Erik McClanahan is a freelance film journalist and critic in Minneapolis. He is also co-host of KFAI's Movie Talk.

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    Exit Stage Left

    Thanks for the list Erik. I always know if you like it..... so do I. 

    Exit Through the Gift Shop was a great documentary and I am glad to see you enjoyed it also. 

    I have printed off the list and am ready to get started. Great for snow days in Minnesota. Take care.