I set out to make this list with the full notion that it would be a top-ten list. As in, a list with ten films. It was a depressing experience to discover that I had not seen ten great films this year. I’d seen eight, maybe nine. And I’d seen plenty of bad films. But I was reluctant to put films that were just okay on this list. This list had to be of the best films of the year. I could not, in good conscience, put How to Train Your Dragon on that list, though it is a solid picture. I was extremely underwhelmed by The King’s Speech and Winter’s Bone. The other side of that coin is that I haven’t seen Black Swan. Or 127 Hours. Or The Fighter. I’ll get around to all of them eventually, but this is a list of the films that I saw this year that were truly excellent. All nine of them.
9.) Shutter Island
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been a big Martin Scorsese fan. Sure, many of his films are brilliant, and I’ve seen them multiple times, but he’s never really been one of my favorite directors. I’m always more intrigued by the stories in his films than in his direction. That said, the story in Shutter Island was awesome. Although it started to lose me somewhere in the third act, a great twist brought me right back. I know that some people claim to have seen the twist coming, and to be honest, I can see that being the case. It wasn’t all that shocking, and the handling of it wasn’t so great. But it’s all worth it for that great final scene between DiCaprio and Ruffalo which ties the whole film together thematically. I’d watch it again just for that moment.
It’s like The Hurt Locker, but real. Sorry if that sounds a bit shallow, but that’s as simple as I can make it. I tend to throw the word “riveting” around a lot, especially when talking about war movies. I certainly used it to describe The Hurt Locker. But the word “riveting” doesn’t do the experiences of the people in this documentary justice. The word is too rich, too fictional. As a fictional film, Restrepo would be riveting. But it is a documentary. So I’ll use a different word. Harrowing.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that very few people reading this know what the heck Monsters is. What it is is everything that I would like to see in a movie. That’s not necessarily even relating to the content. I want more movies to be made this way, with tiny crews and tinier budgets. The director, Gareth Edwards, did the special effects for this film by himself. They look fantastic, and Edwards proves that effects should come last when it comes to making a movie. Story should come first, and characters. But as a bonus, even the effects are great. Thank you, Gareth Edwards.
6.) True Grit
This film totally came out of nowhere for me. Early in 2010, I saw a press release about it, and I was intrigued. I didn’t know a lot about the Coen Brothers then, and even though I was lukewarm on A Serious Man, I’m always up for seeing directors taken outside of their comfort zones. A remake of a 60s Western certainly fit that bill. And then I forgot about it. The trailers passed me by, and I didn’t pay it another thought until I started hearing some good things from respectable sources. I went to see it, and was blown away by the sheer entertainment value. I wouldn’t use the word “rollicking”, but it was a fun ride from beginning to end. This was augmented by a very strong performance by Hailee Steinfeld, which will win her the Oscar if there’s any justice in the universe. Also of note, the spectacular cinematography. There wasn’t a more beautiful film this year.
I already posted a review of this when it came out, but I’m not too happy with it. When I wrote it, I was still struggling with whether or not I actually liked the film, so I just listed some undeniably good things about it and hit ‘Publish’. Now, six-and-a-half months and three more viewings later, I can tell you that I absolutely loved Inception, but not for the reasons I thought that I would. I had hoped that I would find it to be a deeply thought-provoking, highly intelligent film, full of incredible thematic depth and questions to be puzzled over for days. Well, it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Instead, we got an incredibly engaging action movie with spectacular visuals, great performances, a well-rounded lead, and a very intriguing magic bean*. I’ve come to peace with that. Inception will never be anything more than that, and that’s okay. I’m still going to watch it plenty more in the future.
4.) Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Now, I’m not going to do too much crying over the poor box office returns of this one. If this was the first in a potential trilogy, I’d be up in arms. However, this film told one complete story. There isn’t ever going to be any more Scott Pilgrim, so we can’t waste our time moping about hoping for it. This film told a singular story, and it’s just waiting to be discovered by aspiring film buffs of the future who are looking for a movie unlike anything that came before or after it. This film will be passed around college dorms by people frantically telling their friends, “You have GOT to see this movie, it’s incredible!” Hopefully, they’ll be just as enthralled as I was by the hilarious story, beautiful character relationships, and head-exploding visuals. I have no doubt that they will.
3.) Toy Story 3
I don’t think I’m going to say it any better than I did in my original review
2.) The Social Network
David Fincher is my favorite director. As you can see by scrolling down a bit, I was originally going to do a big retrospective where I caught up with the films of his that I had never seen and wrote reviews of all of them. Well, I did see all those films, but a lot of things got in the way of me actually writing anything about them. However, watching them did teach me one very important thing. David Fincher is my favorite director. As far as I’m concerned, he can do no wrong. Even Alien3, while terrible in the context of the franchise, is great tonally and has some very interesting characters. So, unlike many others, I never doubted that his “Facebook movie” would be anything less than great. I was right.
This was the most entertaining wide release of the year. There wasn’t a single moment that I wasn’t completely wrapped up in the proceedings, whether I was laughing, listening, or just absorbing the pure emotion that was put on film (most of it from Andrew Garfield). I laughed, I cried, and I fell in love. Not just with the spectacular actors (or characters), not just with the restrained direction, not just with the dark score. With all of that, and more. This is just about as perfect as movies get.
1.) Exit Through the Gift Shop
And what could possibly top it? Well, I said that Social Network was “the most entertaining wide release of the year”. Exit Through the Gift Shop was not a wide release, not even close. And it was the most entertaining film of the year. And of the decade.
So, what is this mysterious film that most of you have never heard of? I’m not going to tell you. All I can tell you is that it’s available for Instant Viewing on Netflix, and that it’s available to rent on iTunes. I will tell you that it’s a documentary (sort of) about street art (kind of ), and that it’s the most fun I can ever remember having while watching a movie. Simply put, there isn’t anything wrong with this film. It manages to be entertaining (I’ve been using that word quite a bit, haven’t I?), moving, and really thought-provoking. The Social Network is “just about as perfect” as a movie can get. Exit Through the Gift Shop is that perfect. It isn’t even a film that I want to watch over and over. But it is a film that I’ll probably watch at least once a year for the rest of my life, to remind me what movies can really be. Because, if nothing else, it’s a movie about movies, and a pretty damn good deconstruction of filmmaking to boot. Who could ask for anything more?
* A ‘magic bean’ refers to the one aspect of a story that could absolutely not exist in real life, but is needed to get the story going, and thus accepted by the audience. In Inception, the magic bean is the technology that allows people to enter dreams.