It’s been a pretty wicked year of movie watching for the editors of Gordon and the Whale. In 2010, we collectively attendedSundance,SXSW, AFI Fest, Dallas IFF, Fantastic Fest, LA Film Fest, and I ventured to Canada to cover the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time in GATW history. Since Sundance’s opening in January, we’ve slowly been building our lists - lists that are today known as the GATW Editors’ Top 10 of 2010.
Organizing the list is always the hard part. Which ones should make the cut? What order do I put them in? These two questions linger all the way until “Publish” gets clicked. Well, our lists are done and that time is here. The films picked are very eclectic and diverse, ranging from films only seen at festivals, to films released in 2010 as slated. Enjoy! -Chase Whale, Editor-in-Chief
Member of the Austin Film Critics Association
It has been such an interesting movie watching year for me. I never once imagined that I would be sitting next to journalists like Scott Weinberg or James Rocchi, or even THE Roger Ebert and THE Harvey Weinstein in a screening, but it happened. Paying attention quickly became the least of my worries, and composure became the most. Below is my top ten, seven of which I saw in (at least one of) their presence. These films engaged me so much that my focus didn’t break for the films’ entire running time. If you know any of the four aforementioned men, you understand how powerful that can be.
10. ANIMAL KINGDOM
Aussie flicks are all the rage in my top ten and here’s one of them, David Michod’s ANIMAL KINGDOM. I once described it as a “really badass Australian version of POINT BREAK” to pound into my readers’ brains that it’s not just your typical cops and robbers story. KINGDOM displays the unnerving things people will do when they are backed into a corner.
9. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
Is GIFT SHOP real? Is it staged? Who cares - this movie is awesome! Artist-turned-director Banksy delivers a very interesting and entertaining look at the graffiti world, when an unknown French man with a camera accidentally becomes famous when he starts to create art of his own.
8. BLACK SWAN
Leave it up to Darren Aronofsky to show the soft side of a wrestler, and leave it up to him to show the dark, sadistic side of a ballet dancer. Nothing this man makes is short of beautiful, even if haunting and uneasy to watch.
7. BLUE VALENTINE
Love can be beautiful, and love can be painful. Derek Cianfrance’s BLUE VALENTINE explores both sides in a non-linear look at a young couple from the day they meet, to the last day they are together. What makes this movie so good is the fact that the love our characters have that brings them together and rips them apart feels so real. Anyone who’s every experienced love - and the pain of love - should by moved by this.
French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux was probably on a lot of drugs when he made his second feature, RUBBER. A tire rolls around and kills people with its psychedelic mind (tire?) powers. Yes, that sounds like drugs to me. But what Dupieux achieves is a well-made, very smart full-length feature about a killer tire. The fourth wall is broken. Bunnies are blown up. Laughs are a-plenty. And there’s absolutely no reason for it.
5. FOUR LIONS
Terrorism is hilarious. Huh? Well, in Christopher Morris’s FOUR LIONS, terrorism is hilarious, or at least, it’s supposed to be taken that way. Four British Jihadists plan to blow themselves up, that is, if they don’t kill each other first in the planning process. In a time when acts of war seem like second nature, FOUR LIONS lightens the mood on the idiocy of it all.
4. THE KING’S SPEECH
THE KING’S SPEECH was the talk of the town when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The reason: it tugs at the heart. Following the formula of GOOD WILL HUNTING and WITH HONORS (remember this film?), SPEECH follows a man who enlists an unlikely person to help him grow into the man he’s destined to be.
3. TRASH HUMPERS
Writer/director Harmony Korine is notorious for making trash cinema. He literally took it one step further with his latest flick, TRASH HUMPERS, where three fearless misfits who wear masks that resemble Freddy Krueger wreck a town and hump (seriously) everything in their way. Yeah, shit gets weird. Harmony’s idea of shooting this on video tape and wanting his audience to make believe this was randomly stumbled upon is so clever.
SUBMARINE is what HAROLD AND MAUDE would look like if they both met and fell in love in a British high school and Wes Anderson was their match maker. I’m going to end on that.
1. THE LOVED ONES
True terror lives in the heart of Sean Byrne’s THE LOVED ONES. The film still doesn’t have a U.S. release, but I don’t care - it could go on my list every year if allowed. There are movies that are violent for the sake of being violent, but LOVED ONES needs that violence to push the extremely fucked up story forward. Just when you think things can’t possible get any worse, more rampage gets drilled into your skull.
This year of film took us all over the map, forward and backward through time, and into alternate realities (a few of them simultaneously in some cases). Think about all the places we’ve traveled together in the means of theatrical transport known as cinema: inward to the heart of love and love lost, into the subconscious of the dream world’s multiple and concurrent layers, back to the ’30s and ’40s to relive the struggle of a would-be king, behind the scenes of the world wide web for the birth of a digital empire, into the psyche of a tormented dancer losing grip with reality, onto the pages of a comic book mixed with the experience of a video game, into the underbelly of the outback, back to the old West, down a canyon, and even farther underground into a coffin, and so many more places. We’ve witnessed life, death, love, hate, peace, violence, adversity, and the overcoming of. All a shared journey experienced between us - the audience - and the storytellers - our tour guides if you will who have escorted us to these places in a way like never before. Below you will find the year’s best films that I, along with many of you I’m sure, was moved the most by whilst on the cinematic voyage of 2010.
Disclaimer: Don’t see a film on this list and you’re puzzled by its exclusion? There’s always the possibility that I unfortunately didn’t get to see it in time for this list’s creation. Or that I did, and I just didn’t like it! Email me and we can talk about it if you’d like.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a stringy haired, tattooed Grim Reaper-like guardian angel throwing up the devil horns on one hand and the middle finger on the other as the world he set on fire just for the hell of it burns behind him. Doesn’t sound like the makings of one of the sweetest coming of age movies of the year. But I assure you, it is.
Ryan Reynolds, a 84 x 28 x 23 pine box, a lighter, a flashlight, two glow sticks, a half-charged cell phone, a few ominous voices, and that’s it! All combined to create the minimalistic, stylistic, claustrophobic thriller BURIED. Together Reynolds, director Rodrigo Cortés, and writer Chris Sparling unearthed a film so real and unrelenting in its non-stop thrills and terror that it would make even Alfred Hitchcock smile behind his hand as he covered his eyes. It keeps you completely immersed in every single second of its 95 minute runtime, never leaving the box it takes place in but always thinking outside of it.
9. 127 HOURS
If ever there was a story of courage, it is Aron Ralston’s - the real life adventurer who found himself between a rock and a hard place quite literally when his arm was trapped by a boulder while hiking in Blue Johny Canyon, Utah, ultimately having to sever it off himself with nothing more than a cheap multi-tool. It is awe-inspiring in every sense of the word, uniquely displaying the depths of human spirit and the will to survive, made even more awe-inspsiring by Danny Boyle’s kinetic, visceral direction and James Franco’s one man show-like portrayal in 127 HOURS. Difficult to sit through it may be but only because of how genuinely well the story is retold by Boyle and co.
8. TRUE GRIT
It wouldn’t be a year of great cinematic adventures without a film by the brothers Coen. And it wouldn’t be a top 10 list without TRUE GRIT, the brother’s latest pièce de résistance a la revenge. It felt like a perfect marriage with something old being the Coen’s long awaited reunion with The Dude - donning the eye patch once worn by The Duke as Marshall Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn , something new in the year’s best breakthrough performance by Miss Hailee Steinfeld, something borrowed from Charles Portis’ 1968 Saturday Evening Post turned novel in which the director’s accessibly adapted in a way that only they could, and something blue in Matt Damon’s solemn, swaggering portrayal of the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf.
7. ANIMAL KINGDOM
In a world where we’re all given a place on the food chain, what will some do to claw their way to the top? That’s the question this gritty crime/family drama asks and answers so beautifully and tragically, with both the silence of a whisper in its slow burning narrative and the noise of a shout in its cringe-inducing moments. If the world is comprised of lions and lambs, ANIMAL KINGDOM is the best tour of the zoo you’re going to get this year.
6. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Many said that an aforementioned film on this list defined the current generation of hipsters, bloggers, gamers, and indie rockers. Those people must have missed SCOTT PILGRIM (along with the rest of the world quite unfortunately, as not too many people turned out for Edgar Wright’s authentic adaptation of Brian Lee O’Malley’s monochromatic graphic novel). Here’s a funtivity for you. Step 1: Throw in a blender an 8-bit video game, some anime, a comic book, a Martial Arts film, an iPod filled with indie music, and a graphic tee for flavor. Step 2: Blend and drink, chasing the pop culture concoction with an energy drink. Step 3: Take a roundhouse kick to the face. Or you could just watch SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and receive the same exact experience.
5. BLACK SWAN
Who would have thought that a film set in the world of competitive ballet could be so, dare a say it, interesting? But visionary director Darren Aronofsky sure proved that wrong this year as with his dark and twisted tale of sex, drugs, and classical dance featuring Natalie Portman spreading her wings to give her best performance to date.
4. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
I use to think of Facebook as a dot com commons, a digital domain if you will to debut the latest pics from the hottest social gathering or just an outlet to share with your “friends” sought-after information about the delightful meal you were about to consume. And then I saw THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Now I see Facebook as a Roman-like empire with a Shakespearean rise to fortune and glory, with its tormented Caesar Mark Zuckerberg at its virtual rostrum. But that’s what you get with David Fincher behind the camera, Aaron Sorkin holding the pen, and Jesse Eisenberg starring in a role he was born to play. In short, I “like” this movie a lot.
3. THE KING’S SPEECH
For a film about the power of words, I have none to describe it! THE KING’S SPEECH is moving beyond mere syllables strung together in what will surely be a failed attempt to capture its real life inspiration. If you want “powerful” redefined, see this film and be rendered speechless yourself.
It is rare phenomenon for a film to come along and equally appeal to the masses of mainstream movie goers and the niche of cultural cinephiles. Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION was just one of those white tigers of a film that worked on multiple levels. *wink wink nod nod* The totem, so to speak, to authenticate the reality of this? To this day, I am still caught up in an intense debate with both my dad and my colleagues of the blogosphere on the simple spinning of a top and its subsequent mind maddening implications. It changed the way we thought about dreams. It changed the way we looked at storytelling. And it will surely change the way that films are made in the years to come.
1. BLUE VALENTINE
Coincidentally, my favorite film of the year hasn’t even officially been released yet! Fortunately, I was amongst the first eyes to see and hearts to be affected by the beautiful BLUE VALENTINE when it premiered at Sundance in January. The feature-length debut from writer/director Derek Cianfrance comes in the form of a poignant portrait of love and love lost so raw, unrelenting, and emotional, it won’t just tug at your heart strings but take firm hold and rip them right out of your chest. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give award-worthy performances as a boy and a girl who fall in love quickly, get married out of necessity, and are torn apart slowly. All is told through juxtaposed scenes comparing their beginning to their end. From its narrative, to its performances, to its direction, to its cinematography, to its music, BLUE VALENTINE is a sweet yet somber love letter written on celluloid. While difficult to watch, it deserves to be seen.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order to due the fact that I have no more hair to pull out for the maddening act of ranking): A PROPHET, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, THE GHOST WRITER, HIGH School, HOWL, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, I SAW THE DEVIL, KICK-ASS, THE KIDS ARE ALL RGHT, THE LAST EXORCISM, LET ME IN, THE LOVED ONES, THE TOWN, TRON: LEGACY, RED HILL, SKATELAND, SHUTTER ISLAND, TOY STORY 3, WINTER’S BONE, YOUTH IN REVOLT.
West Coast Editor
This year has been a slow burn when it comes to picking my favorite films, scribbling notes in my Moleskine, tapping out titles to keep in mind on my iPhone, endlessly reordering my top ten, then throwing in a list of Honorable Mentions for good measure. But the majority of the films below are ones that have stuck with me over time, flicks that, very often on first viewing, were assured a place in this list. Viewings have stretched all the way back to snow-drenched Park City in January, to rain-soaked Los Angeles just last week, but these are films that will continue to occupy my mind for a good while.
A tangled and dreamy web that never provides full answers or complete disclosure. Was it all a dream? Was it all a nightmare? Who cares, when it’s all scored by Hans Zimmer?
9. TRUE GRIT
On the surface, the Coens’ remake of the semi-classic is one of their most accessible works. Go deeper, however, and their Western speaks to all manner of things – the meaning of America, the question of grace, the weight of a gun.
8. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
A fairy tale with real world consequences and genuine emotion, all wrapped up with pitch-perfect 3D that proves that extra dimension is (sometimes) (more than) worth those additional dollars.
A festival favorite that combines both believable romance with even more believable alien “monsters.” A deceptively quiet film that somehow gives you all the answers and still makes you want to see (and ask) more.
6. THE FREEBIE
The possibility of infidelity has never been both so damn sexy and so bracingly sad. Katie Aselton pulls triple duty here – starring in, writing, and directing this indie gem. But the real work comes from a sensitive and stirring performance by none other than Dax Shephard.
5. WINTER’S BONE
The darkest little slice-of-life flick this side of Appalachia, consuming and combustible, just as scary as BLACK SWAN, just as dark as DOGTOOTH, but more honest than any other film on this list.
4. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
A shifting kaleidoscope of a “documentary,” it consistently begs engagement from its audience – but I dare you to not find yourself sucked in, tickled, and more than a little brainwashed by its end.
3. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
An exceedingly well-crafted piece of work, it boasts every element that makes a film great – performance, writing, directing, score. It’s the year’s total package film.
Both darkly funny and just plain dark, it’s an unwavering film that will either enthrall you or repulse you. One family’s maddening lifestyle as a microcosmic commentary on the abuses and tricks of those in power, it will bash your teeth in – if you’re brave enough.
1. BLACK SWAN
Big and bold and relentless, unhinged and unlimited, it’s a superlative work, a modern psychological horror masterpiece so breathtaking that it makes me write words like “masterpiece” and “breathtaking” to describe it without batting a single (critical) eye.
Honorable Mentions: THE KING’S SPEECH, FOUR LIONS, NEVER LET ME GO, ANIMAL KINGDOM, UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS, BLUE VALENTINE, TOY STORY 3, THE NEW YEAR, and ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT.