The movie industry in 2010 was a lot like the book industry — you go a year or two waiting for your favorite authors’ books to be released, and then they all seem to come out around the same time. Such was 2010, a year that was dominated by many of my personal favorite performers and directors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Ben Affleck (as actor and director), Anna Boden/Ryan Fleck, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Robert Downey, Jr., The Coen Brothes, Simon Pegg, and Edgar Wright. It was something of an embarrassment of riches, the sort of year that actually justified the Academy’s decision to expand Best Pictures nominees to ten entries.
In fact, in the end, I had a lot of difficulty narrowing down the best movies of 2010, so here’s a shout-out to the runners-up: Due Date (the Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis road comedy); The Adjustment Bureau (the Matt Damon movie — one of five in 2010 — based on the Phillip K. Dick novel); Hereafter (another Damon movie, directed by Clint Eastwood); Greenburg (Noah Baumbach’s return-to-form after the awful Margot at the Wedding; The Company Men (the Ben Affleck unemployment drama); and Kick-Ass, which was more fun than it had any right to be.
With the honorable mentions out of the way, here were the Best Movies of 2010:
The Fighter: Before it finally arrived it to the big screen, David O. Russell’s The Fighter went through several iterations of cast and director before ultimately ending up with Russell, Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Melisa Leo. There were, of course, reports of on-set troubles (as you’d expect with Christian Bale and Russell, particularly where it was Wahlberg — and not Russell — who had final cut), but Russell’s genius cut through all the bullshit. The true-to-life story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Wahlberg) and his brother trainer (Bale) was hard-hitting and inspirational, without ever being sentimental. Smart, pulverizing, and brilliantly acted, The Fighter is one of the all-time best boxing films.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: Yes, I heaped an immense amount of shit on this movie before its release, noting that it was only going to appeal to the hard-core geek demographic and that Michael Cera had worn out his welcome three years ago. But that’s the power of Edgar Wright, y’all. Scott Pilgrim was an excellent successor to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz — it was pure adrenalized geeky fun and solidified Wright’s reputation as one of the best comedy-action directors around. And yes: I’ll eat my shoe — that flaming sword was awesomeness.
Paul: Meanwhile, Edgar Wright’s regular collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost joined forces with Greg Mottolla (Superbad, Adventureland) and made the best road comedy of 2010 (barely edging out RDJ’s Road Trip). It was nice to see the dynamic between Frost and Pegg (who was the doofus sidekick this time) reversed, although it was scene-stealing Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig who pushed Paul over the top. You don’t see a lot of great geeky sci-fi flicks with a rich sense of humor, but Paul — which was about two road-tripping comic book dorks who stumble onto Area 51 — was the perfect storm of bad-ass geekery. It was a fantastic year for comedies, but Paul may have been the best.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half-Nelson, Sugar) beautifully applied their tender directing style to the coming-of-age story based on Ned Vizzinni’s young adult novel. Keier Gilchrist, as a 15-year-old clinically depressed high-school student admitted to an institution populated with eccentric characters (including one played by Zach Galifianakis), had one of the best breakout performances of the year. Boden and Fleck blended humor and pathos brilliantly, and gave us a sweet, often heartbreaking film that stuck with us long after we left the theater. As customary for Boden Fleck films, however, Funny Story was applauded by critics — and despite the presence of Galifianakis — unseen by audiences.
The Town: Ben Affleck followed up his excellent directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone with an equally gripping — and more entertaining — heist flick that finally gave Jeremy Renner the break-out role he’s deserved, after The Hurt Locker got shut out of the Academy Awards last year (fuck you, Avatar). Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall — who formed the central romantic relationship in the movie — were ably joined by Chris Cooper and Affleck himself, who provided excellent acting support for the movie, which was also written by Ben (based on a Chuck Hogan novel, The Prince of Thieves). I never get tired of Boston-set movies (this one was actually set mostly in Charlestown), and The Town is 2010’s The Departed, a complicated movie with conventional roots, and a film sure to bounce Affleck onto the directing A-list.
Inception: Christopher Nolan’s July release, Inception, was something of a sleeper hit, if you could call a sci-fi action movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio directed by the director of the second biggest movie of all time a sleeper. I say that because Inception had only a modest $40 million opening, but was rooted in the top five for most of the latter half of the summer, steadily chugging along and picking up word-of-mouth audiences. That word of mouth, however, mostly revolved around what the hell Inception was about. Even having seen the entire film, most people still only have a vague idea of what the enigmatic story behind Inception was — part James Bond thriller, part Wachowski action flick, and part messed-up sexual morality tale — but everyone has been wowed by how cool it was to watch. It was, as Nolan promised: “Bigger than The Dark Knight.”
Iron Man 2 : Seven months after its release, and most of us are still on a collective blood-rushing-to-our-head high. How awesome was this movie? Robert Downey, Jr. delivered as only he can; Don Cheadle made us completely forget about Terrence Howard; Sam Rockwell finally (finally) catapulted himself into household-name status; Mickey Rourke was insidiously loathsome; and for a few minutes, at least, we forgot why we hated Scarlet Johansson. Oh, and remember that thing with the thing? Ho.Lee. Shit. Jon Favreau killed, finding the right balance between creating the perfect sequel and setting it up for the eventual Avengers movie. You really just can’t say enough about how good Iron Man 2 was. Also, that Robert Downey, Jr.? He’s a handsome man. I would let him over-sugar my coffee anytime, if you get my meaning.
Toy Story 3: Pixar’s latest, the third in the Toy Story franchise, was exactly what we’d all expected: A brilliant, absolutely delightful animated movie that raised our spirits and even stole our hearts briefly. What else is there to say about Pixar? This one picked up in before Andy set off to college, where he dumped all of his toys at a day care, creating more adventure and heartbreak for Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the toys. It was an enjoyable, heartfelt movie, and the filmmakers deftly demonstrated how 3D technology should be used. Also, Michael Keaton’s Ken Doll — perfection!
The Social Network: Yes, for nearly two years leading up to its release, we scoffed at the Facebook movie, laughed at the audacity. Pffft. Never underestimate either screenwriter Aaron Sorkin or director David Fincher, who provided one hell of a compelling comedic drama. The movie explored the origins of Facebook and the sleazy, double-crossing machinations behind the way Mark Zuckerberg stabbed a series of creative and business partners in the back, which cost him quite a few friendships, but made him obscenely wealthy. Jesse Eisenberg was brilliant as Zuckerberg, and Justin Timberlake — as Napster founder Sean Parker — was surprisingly well cast. Just an all around smart human drama with a healthy dose of humor, a little sex, and a lot of betrayal.
True Grit: After a small creative dry spell in the mid-Aughts, the Coens have found their groove again, and True Grit, based on both the Charles Portis novel and the John Wayne original movie, was every bit as good an effort as No Country for Old Men in 2008. Matt Damon — who began the year with Green Zone, before moving on to The Adjustment Bureau and Hereafter — capped 2010 with an Oscar caliber performance, along with Josh Brolin and Coens’ regular, Jeff Bridges (who may just win an Oscar for the second year in a row). The Coens prove that you don’t need eye-popping special effects or 3D technology to make an excellent film — all you need is a compelling story and strong performances. True Grit delivered that in spades and has become the top contender for Best Picture of the Year.