Yes, yes, I know: this is nothing more than a game. For one thing, a few of these movies aren’t technically from 2010. Many are from the prior year, having only just made it to America’s shores now. Some played only at festivals. Another is simply a short. But they’re all magnificent stories, writ large on the big screen or as small and subtle as a river clamshell that rests on the tip of your finger.
But why ten? Who knows–that’s part of the game. There were a lot of great movies this year, and as a critic and lover of film it’s always a great frustration to leave stuff off of a list. But ten is iconic, it’s a nice round number that makes us all happy, and far be it from me to mess with tradition. So I’ll say this: don’t avoid these movies as well if you ever get a chance to watch them on DVD or in a theater: Alamar; Machete; Dogtooth; The Good, the Bad, and the Weird; A Town Called Panic; the documentary For Memories’ Sake; The Bone Man (good luck finding that one); The Tillman Story; and Exit Through the Gift Shop.
But I’d also like to turn your attention to some older movies I first discovered this year. The reason for this is simple: you just can’t see everything in one year, and there’s a ton of old stuff to be found if you look hard enough. One of these, Roxie Hart, a 1942 William Wellman flick with Ginger Rogers, is nearly impossible to find. We screened this at the Trylon microcinema this summer, but I was out of town. So what–I glommed it on Ebay for ten bucks. You can do the same. If you’re heading to sites like this, you have it in you to do some digging. So, dig away.
Great movies I saw at home or on the big screen definitely not from this year: the aforementioned Hart; the ’69 doc Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin, part of Sound Unseen’s monthly music film screening at the Trylon; flipping out about Seijun Suzuki and especially Branded to Kill; perhaps the most incredible discovery (thanks to James Parrish!) is the Maysles’ Brothers’ Salesman; Jamie Uys’ bizarre as all hell Dirkie, about a boy lost in the desert of Africa (a Trash Film Debauchery screening); though I’d seen it many times before, introducing a pristine print of The Lady From Shanghai at the James River Film Fest was certainly a highlight; the far from critically acclaimed Chaplin film Limelight at New York’s Film Forum and finally admiring the tramp; being utterly blown away by Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Heights Theatre; speaking of The Heights, the best time my wife and I had at the theater this year was the screening of the trashy Airport, replete with sexy stewardesses to show you to your seat; Dennis Nyback’s “Bad Bugs Bunny” 16mm extravaganza of racist and un-p.c. cartoons; and, last but certainly not least, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, the Jimmy Stewart/Anthony Mann series I helped program at the Trylon, which included Thunder Bay, a batshit crazy movie about an oilman (Stewart) who fights those ignorant shrimp fishermen as he tries to poke an offshore oil rig into the ocean floor. Includes my favorite line of the year: “Where’d you get your man-learnin’, pigeon?”
But enough of the past. Without further adieu, here’s my ten favorite films of 2010:
10. Flat Love, written and directed by Andrés Sanz. Full disclosure: my pal D. H. Johnson stars in this movie, but without his telling all his friends about the thing, I would never have seen this lovely little gem. The story of a man (D.) who falls in love with a painting of a gal on a beach… and his real-life girlfriend’s attempts to cope. Narrated by Isabella Rossellini.
9. Marwencol, directed by Jeff Malmberg. A touching and endlessly fascinating look at a man, Mark Hogencamp, who was beaten nearly to death and lost his memory in the process. So what does he do? He builds an amazing little model city, Marwencol, and takes photos that are as moving as anything you’d see. This doc takes some surprising turns.
8. Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky, written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz.
7. Cooking History, directed by Péter Kerekes. A stunning and brutal documentary about the relationship between food and… war? Absolutely. One of the most thought-provoking movies I’ve ever seen.
6. Another Year, written and directed by Mike Leigh. Yet another gorgeous Mike Leigh film. This guy could be the greatest director of actors in the world. Year is the story of the uneven distribution of happiness, of friendship, and, as in all Leigh films, how we cope with unfulfilled expectations.
5. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, written and directed by Woody Allen. Allen’s best movie since Crimes and Misdemeanors.
4. Mid-August Lunch, written and directed by Gianni di Gregorio.
3. The Builder, directed by R. Alverson, written by Alverson and Colm O’Leary.
2. Carlos, directed by Olivier Assayas, written by Dan Franck. Though this makes me sound like a hyperbolic quote-whore, Carlos is an epic en par with The Godfather. It really is… except that I’d say it’s a better movie, and has more to say. Édgar Ramírez is riveting as Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, or Carlos, the brutal, narcissistic terrorist who held sway over the world for almost twenty years. Carlos speaks volumes about the nature of violence as a tool of political dissent, of the media, and of terrorism in particular, and should be playing in theaters around the country and amazing the world at large. Five and half hours long, it is never boring–I almost watched it again as soon as I finished watching the thing. A masterpiece by any standard.
1. The Social Network, directed by David Fincher, written by Aaron Sorkin. A comedy, with a serious edge, to rival His Girl Friday for its rapid-fire dialogue, not to mention the finest performance of the year in Jesse Eisenberg (and I doubt he’ll even be nominated.) Oddly enough, this movie, which takes place almost entirely indoors, in front of computers or in restaurants and bars, should not be missed on the big screen. Incredible.