In part one of this long overdue recapitulation of 2010, we discussed our favorite music of the year. The exciting next chapter finds On Tape combing through half-formed thoughts on the movies I enjoyed most among last year's cinematic crop:
5.) Shutter Island
Critics be damned; I had as much fun watching this creepy genre picture as Martin Scorsese seemed to have making it. Granted, the director could release two hours of paint drying, and it'd likely end up on my best-of list. (Probably wouldn't be much different from Kundun, am I right, people?) My enjoyment of the film comes much more from the experience of watching Scorsese let the mystery unfold than in the actual mechanics of its plot structure, and I'm a sucker for masterful filmmakers' takes on B-movies. Which brings us to...
4.) Black Swan
Yes, the dialogue can be corny, the characters are familiar, and many of the twists along the way aren't unexpected. But again, Darren Aronofsky so envelops the viewer in this haunting psychological thriller that, ultimately, the movie is wholly original. (With the possible exception of Shutter Island, there was certainly nothing else like it among the year's hits.) Natalie Portman's well deserved Oscar and Aronofky's lauded direction bring a welcome prestige — and larger audience — to independent horror filmmaking.
3.) The Social Network
As much as I enjoyed the Facebook pseudo-biopic upon its opening, I didn't have it pegged as potential Oscar fodder. Man, was I wrong. At this point, there's not much I can add that hasn't already been discussed among the praise that's been heaped on director David Fincher's sleek, punchy drama. It wasn't a shock that the Academy went with the Best Picture nominee tailor-made for their sensibilities in The King's Speech, but the fact that, in all likelihood, this thoroughly modern film was the runner-up speaks volumes about the resonance it had with its wide audience. As newly minted Oscar winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has explained, the movie's setting and focus may have its finger on the pulse of today, but its themes and character motivations — jealousy, betrayal, ambition, power — are ancient.
2.) Toy Story 3
I could put in some kind of caveat here, like, "Isn't it crazy that an animated kids movie made it this high on the list?" but by now, it should be a given that Pixar's films are among the most sophisticated and well crafted in American cinema. (Wall-E and Up were my respective favorite movies of the two years before this one.) What's actually somewhat surprising is that a "threequel" — less respected than the already questionable sequel — made the list. But as I've said before, I should just stop resisting the studio's ability to tell some of the best stories in modern filmmaking, and assume that whatever they're offering up at a given time will probably be among the year's best. (The fact that Pixar's next effort is a sequel to my least favorite of its entries, Cars, is somewhat worrisome — but just to be safe, I should probably reserve a spot for it now on my Best of 2011 list.) I can't think of a picture that I had a stronger emotional investement in all year.
I go to the movies for all sorts of reasons, but mostly, it's to see something that I never have before; to experience the kinds of storytelling that only film can conjure. Ever since the first time I went to see Memento, I've delighted in the elegant cinematic trickery that writer-director Christopher Nolan employs to bring his cerebral tales to the screen. Nolan is that rare creature: a filmmaker with a keen understanding for what audiences want to see, as well as the artistic ability and integrity to present it in an unpatronizing, challenging way. That he was able to do so in 2010 with an original property that's neither an adaptation nor a remake is particularly impressive. Months after its release, I'm still discussing with friends the ending's meaning, its intentional ambiguity inspiring passionate debate upon repeat viewings. This exciting, complex, visually enthralling meditation on dreams is everything that I'm looking for when I head to the movie theater.
So, what are your favorites?
Next time: the exciting conclusion, in which I share I my considerable list of cinematic honorable mentions. Stay tuned!