Somewhat surprisingly, yesterday's list of 2010 movie favorites was made up of mostly "mainstream" Hollywood hits. Since I'm not a completely uncultured swine, there were plenty of other movies I liked last year, some of which flew a little lower under the radar...
Jacques Audiard's A Prophet may not have been released stateside until 2010, but it's officially a 2009 picture (hence, its Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination that year). Had it not been, the dynamic French crime saga almost certainly would've made the favorites list. And we'd be hypocrites to champion movies that show us stories we haven't seen before and not mention Dogtooth, Giorgos Lanthimos's uncompromising tale of extreme parental control (and Greece's Best Foreign Language nom this year).
The year saw many "What's-reality-and-what-isn't" documentaries — Catfish, I'm Still Here, and Marwencol among them — but none on as potentially big a scale as Exit Through the Gift Shop, Bansky's history of modern street art/possible elaborate prank. But scripted features had a pretty good year, too: Aaron Sorkin's Social Network was a lock for Best Adapted Screenplay, but were it most other years, the Coen Brothers likely would've taken the Oscar for their inimitable dialogue in True Grit. Both films were (decidedly different) celebrations of the English language.
I'm glad that Natalie Portman took Best Actress, but I was equally enthused when Winter's Bone's Jennifer Lawrence was nominated. Directed by Debra Granik, the film featured some of the best, most subtle, performances of the year, anchored in Lawrence's star-making turn as a new breed of noir hero. (Claire Danes's Emmy-winning portrayal of the titular Temple Grandin in Mick Jackson's rousing HBO biopic was another of the year's standout Best Actress contenders.)
Performances may not have been the focus here, but when looking back on the year's visual achievements, it's impossible to discount Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void, the French provocateur's latest nightmarish vision. The movie, a two-and-a-half-hour recreation of the hallucinogenic drug experience, certainly isn't a contender for the year's best writing, but its cinematic innovations make it absolutely unlike any other feature length film (and served as the basis for Kanye West's seizure-causing "All of the Lights" video). Similarly, albeit in a much lighter context, Edgar Wright's (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) comic book adaptation, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, brought us video game-inspired visuals never before achieved on film.
In another kind of visual achievement, the year offered some impressive animated features that weren't Toy Story 3: Sylvain Chomet, the writer-director behind 2003's outstanding Triplets of Belleville, adapted an unproduced screenplay by the legendary Jacques Tati for The Illusionist. Set in 1950s Scotland, the movie is a whimsical, if melancholy, semi-autobiography of Tatischeff, a lonely, aging magician/Tati stand-in.
Illusionist was among the Best Animated Feature nominees at the Oscars, to which Bill Plympton is no stranger, having been nominated several times for his well known animated shorts. The writer-director's first feature (entirely hand-drawn by Plympton alone), the film noir morality tale, Idiots and Angels, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008, but was released theatrically last year. The picture, fueled by Tom Waits songs, provides an ample platform for Plympton's singular, incredible work.
Finally, I'm not sure whether something kept My Dog Tulip out of the running for Best Animated Feature, or if the short-sightedness of the Academy is to blame. Writer-directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's adaptation of author J.R. Ackerley's 1956 memoir utilize sketchy animation, a beautiful color palette, and narration by Christopher Plummer to render Ackerley's touching, yet unsentimental account of life with his beloved German Shepherd.
Alright...thanks for the memories, 2010. As always, outrage over anything I've egregiously omitted can be expressed in the comments.
Onward and upward!