2010 was not a very good year for the motion picture arts and sciences. Well, it wasn’t very good politically, economically, or in most other respects, either — but cinema was probably due for a period of the doldrums, and 2010 appears to have marked the beginning of such a period.
The pallid, peaked nature of this year’s movie crop was underscored for me during the holiday movie-going season. I was unenthusiastic about the latest Coen Brothers feature, True Grit—a remake of an unremarkable John Wayne vehicle of 40 years ago — and my fears were borne out. The Coens do their best with what appears to be shallow source material (though I must admit I haven’t read Charles Portis’ novel, so perhaps I’m giving it short shrift), and the film has some fine moments (including a surreal meeting between the film’s protagonists and a frontier medicine man), but it’s no Blood Simple or Barton Fink.
True Grit is depressingly linear, lacking in energy, and burdened by pages of clumsy and bizarre contraction-free dialogue. Perhaps folks in the late 19th century really did say ‘I do not know’ instead of ‘I don’t know’ all the time, but it surely is distracting in the early 21st… and thoroughly at odds with what we’ve been taught by the previous ten decades of talking westerns.
So what went right in 2010? With Oscar forecasting about to kick into high gear, it’s tempting to play the game, but looking back at the films I saw last year it’s hard to identify many worthy of recognition. Probably the best film I saw last year was Toy Story 3, which wrapped up the Pixar franchise in grand and near apocalyptic fashion.
There were a couple of excellent documentaries in The Oath and Exit Through the Gift Shop, a brilliant character study in The King’s Speech, and an outstanding literary adaptation, The Killer Inside Me, that had most critics tightly clutching their pearls and in need of a heavy dose of smelling salts as they lay sprawled upon their divans.
Beyond that, we had some enjoyable but inconsequential features by directors from whom we expect better (Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer), an impenetrable Christopher Nolan joint that at least attempted to bring a modicum of intellectual heft to the summer blockbuster season (Inception), and… and… well, there was the fifthtieth anniversary reissue of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Does that count?
Without further ado, here are the ten films I enjoyed the most in 2010. The top two are almost guaranteed to draw Oscar’s attention, but, after that, the Magic-8 ball is considerably murkier.
And what was the film that tormented me the most in 2010? Without a doubt, it was Tim Burton’s horrific 3-D reimagining of Alice in Wonderland. There’s usually something of value to be found in the worst of Burton — even Mars Attacks! has its moments — but Alice was a series of psychedelic, headache-inducing bad trips. Let’s hope that the great man’s next film, a feature-length remake of the short subject that first put him on the map, Frankenweenie, makes amends for this disaster.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly film recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.