Looking at my list of notable films from 2010, I’m struck by what a surprisingly fertile year it was for cinema, despite Hollywood’s ever-increasing market-driven homogeneity and ever-decreasing theatrical distribution opportunities for non-blockbuster fare. My highly unscientific tally counts more than 85 films that were of interest to me this year, including at least 10 that were actually released in 2009 but weren’t available to be seen in Athens until January or later. A great number of these, too, I haven’t seen for one reason or another—whether simply because I missed them, like Toy Story 3, I Am Love and Restrepo; because they haven’t yet been released here or on DVD, like Certified Copy, Carlos and Tiny Furniture; or because they’re recent releases that I haven’t made it out to yet, like The Fighter and True Grit.
In retrospect, I’m puzzled by some of my filmgoing choices this year—why didn’t I even consider seeing Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter?—and ashamed of others—did the distant memories of Broadcast News and As Good as It Gets really entice me to pay money to see How Do You Know? 2010 also was a year without a film that just exploded to the top of my year-end 10 (as A Christmas Tale did in 2009); there’s very little distance separating the first six or seven on this list.
There were some very, very good films I first had the opportunity to see this year that didn’t make the cut: A Single Man, The White Ribbon, Greenberg, The Secret in Their Eyes, Please Give and The Social Network are only a few of those that shouldn’t go unmentioned. And lest I forget, two of the most thrilling releases of the year were Criterion DVDs: Max Ophuls’ 1955 Lola Montes and, especially, Leo McCarey’s 1937 Make Way for Tomorrow.
So, for those of you who like lists, here’s mine:
1. Everyone Else I guess we’ll call it a romantic comedy, but that’s hilariously inadequate. The truth is, I don’t know what to call Maren Ade’s indescribable portrait of a love affair on the brink of collapse, except brilliant. Over the course of a very tense island vacation, every provocative and faulty detail of the two main characters’ relationship is teased out, tested and negotiated; Ade’s witheringly insightful script and direction, as well as the note-perfect, all-on-the-line performances of her two leads (Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger) made this the most exciting and surprising film of the year.
2. Black Swan I can’t express how cool and weird it was to see a film like this in a multiplex. If Darren Aronofsky’s fevered, baroque fable about the actual perils of fully committing to one’s art, harrowingly brought to life by Natalie Portman, can pass for mainstream these days, then maybe the apocalypse isn’t quite upon us after all.
3. The Kids Are All Right Speaking of reasons not to give up hope, this exemplary comedy/drama about the upheavals in a two-mom family when the kids seek out their biological father is the kind of thing you wish Hollywood would crank out a few times a year, if it wasn’t so obsessed with stupidity. Lisa Cholodenko’s film is funny, honest, heartbreaking and absolutely filled with wonderful performances. Just about perfect.
4. 35 Shots of Rum/ White Material Claire Denis’ last two films—a 2009 release that didn’t play here until 2010 and a 2010 release that opens at Ciné Jan. 21, respectively—both deserve to be on this list, so I’ll let them share.
5. A Prophet Jacques Audiard’s raw, tough-as-nails prison drama achieves truly epic dimensions despite its intimate scale and unpretentious style. If we were giving out awards for lead performances here, Tahar Rahim would get one for his nuanced portrayal of an unassuming young thug who games a racist criminal hierarchy through his intelligence and opportunism.
6. Wild Grass Alain Resnais’ insistently unconventional modern fairy tale thumbs its nose at every cinematic rule it encounters while swinging freely to its nimble, jazzy rhythms. Better taken as poetry than prose.
7. Police, Adjective Corneliu Porumboiu’s darkly and dryly funny meditation on the power of language to uphold unjust power structures was this year’s most notable entry in an ongoing cycle of films from young Romanian directors whose work should be exciting to follow for years to come.
8. Winter’s Bone A gothic Ozark odyssey from director Debra Granik, who, with teenage star Jennifer Lawrence and a magnificent supporting cast, delivered one of the most compelling and suspenseful dramas of the year.
9. Broken Embraces Pedro Almodóvar keeps turning out perfectly crafted, wonderfully entertaining, wholly individual films, and he’s almost singlehandedly made Penélope Cruz into one of the most glorious movie stars since the era when that meant something.
10. Animal Kingdom This brutal, labyrinthine gangland saga from Australian director David Michôd was one of the most promising feature debuts of the year.
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