By Simon Dang | The Playlist January 7, 2011 at 7:13AM
Nothing quite like baring your cinematic soul to readers with a top 10 list. And it's not made any easier either by the fine writing that has already been seen on The Playlist in the 2010 analysis by our team of writers including that of Kevin, RP, Oli, Gabe, Drew and Chris (and those are just the ones who submitted a top 10).
Like our U.K.-based writer though, living outside of North America means a handful of major films won't see release here in Australia until the next coming months -- "The Fighter," "True Grit," "The Way Back," "127 Hours"," "Biutiful" and "Another Year," just to name a few. So, more so than most cases, this list should be seen more as my favorites out of the films I've had the opportunity to see in 2010 rather than my favorite of all films released in 2010. As you'll see, it's admittedly nothing jaw-dropping or groundbreaking and there seems to be no redeemable theme for what has ended up in there, but they're films that have stayed with me which amounts to something. Without further ado...
10. "The Town"
Ben Affleck backs up his strong directorial debut with an ensemble crime drama that, despite being fairly thematically and narratively familiar, still excited and thrilled to the very end. "Mad Men" fans alike might be disappointed with the wasted talent of Jon Hamm but it didn't matter as the conflicted trio of Affleck, Rebecca Hall and, in particular, Jeremy Renner, provided enough color and depth to contrast the riveting action. The one particular car-chase early on was so effective, it pretty much set the bar at a level which the film's climax at Fenway Park was never going to top.
9. "The Kids Are All Right"
My most enjoyable cinematic experience this year was no doubt Lisa Chodolenko's latest dramedy which juggled laughs, heart and drama with endearing sincerity. The fact the sexuality of the (lesbian) couple at the center of the story takes a back seat to everything else around can't be lauded enough. The leading band of experienced thespians in Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo are exceptional and complement the teenagers well, but it's Mia Wasikowska, who is the particular standout as she's pretty much the centerpiece in the final act.
8. "The American"
Anton Corbijn's anti-thriller must have enraged many a viewer with its "mis-marketing," and possibly even the studio who were probably approached with the promise of a "hitman film starring George Clooney." But what did they actually expect from the helmer of the Ian Curtis biopic "Control"? Quiet as a mouse and patient to say the least, the story sees Clooney more reflective and contemplative then his wordy and charismatic self but it's there he flourishes, confronting and battling his demons, anxiety and paranoia.
7. "Valhalla Rising"
It's somewhat ironic that this brooding Nordic road film of sorts is led by a mute, one-eyed warrior slave considering the fact director Nicolas Winding Refn is undoubtedly one of the most visceral, visually audacious directors today. The atmospheric, meditative tale is truly a marvel to behold with the helmer's go-to man, Mads Mikkelsen, who's remarkably expressive despite his communication limitations. One Playlister described the pic as "Terrence Malick directing horror" which, frankly, is pretty spot on.
6. "Winter's Bone"
One of the biggest breakout stories of 2010 was actress Jennifer Lawrence and it's not hard to see why, watching her portrayal of the equally headstrong and vulnerable lead of Debra Granik's noir part murder mystery, part family drama. Granik immerses audiences into the stark Ozark world though the eyes her character as she embarks on her desperate, hopeless journey with the surrounding world on her shoulders. The duo come out major winners along with John Hawke, who stars as the lead's mysterious, unhinged uncle.
A passion project kicking around for years in his head, Christopher Nolan pretty much plays on all his strengths with this psychological and philosophical, yet high-octane, action thriller showing just what a talented helmer can do when provided the creative and financial freedom -- hopefully there's some of precedent set here. The ensemble cast are all on cue and, while there's obvious stars, simply witnessing the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Ken Watanabe together through the mind of Nolan is pure ecstasy.
4. "The Social Network"
With a helmer at the top of his game, an acclaimed scribe penning and a cast filled with some of the freshest and most talented faces around, this film had all the right ingredients and even had this generation's defining creation as its subject. David Fincher masterfully crafts Aaron Sorkin's electrifying tit-for-tat script and turned the subject matter into something it should never have even resembled -- most evident in early sequences where the duo earned every cent of their paycheck by making Zuckerberg's technological babble and developments play like a heist film.
3. "Animal Kingdom"
This Melbourne-set family crime drama simmers throughout, putting audiences in a constant state of unease before cutting the tension with popping moments of tense drama and violence. The ensemble cast is in fine form with little known veterans Jackie Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn shining amongst a sea of rising stars, namely Joel Edgerton. A stellar debut from David Michôd.
2. "Blue Valentine"
Raw, honest and heartbreaking -- and even so despite all the hype. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams display why they're two of this generation's strongest actors, transcending performance with their experiment in method acting resulting in explosive, deeply affecting performances as the two halves of a downward spiraling marriage. Dual rollercoaster timelines only make it more affecting and by the time the two leads showdown at the father's house with their daughter innocently unaware outside, we're broken at what has become of this once blossoming love.
1. "Black Swan"
Darren Aronofsky's fascination with physical and psychological transformations continues to shine. This time, as somewhat of an antithesis to his last film "The Wrestler," the protagonist is a young, talented ballerina with the world ahead of her at the New York City Ballet. Her descent into the dark half of the "Swan Lake" character is viscerally stunning, the film's dance sequences are a visual delight -- especially the finale (hat tip to Matthew Libatique) -- and the acting by the delectable, fragile and incredibly disciplined Natalie Portman is outstanding; as are the talent that surrounds her.
Special Honorable Mention: "Somewhere"
If Quentin Tarantino ain't going to try, I will. Okay, it doesn't exactly reach the heights or depths of her previous work, but would this film have been viewed differently if there was a name other than Sofia Coppola attached? Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning turn in hearty, breakout performances for the stripped, minimalist tale of a fish-in-a-bowl actor reuniting with his estranged daughter that's definitely beautifully shot (c/o Harris Savides). One of our reviews touted the film as "shallow, hollow and an empty experience" which felt on point as the idea behind Marco's transient lifestyle.
Other Honorable Mentions:
We flirted with "A Prophet" for our top 10 and, although it eventually missed out, Tahar Rahim would no doubt be the very peak of any favorite male performances list. Edgar Ramirez wouldn't be far behind either, and if the second half of "Carlos" held a candle to the outstanding first part, it'd probably be in there as well. Banksy's brilliant study of society and art in "Exit Through the Gift Shop" takes the cake for favorite doc, but the joyous, quasi-doc "Alamar" is no doubt one that will stick with us for quite some time. Joaquin Phoenix definitely deserves compliments as an actor who took the best part of two years away from his flourishing career to commit to a mockumentary (that surely would have lost some novelty midway through), with his "I'm Still Here" director Casey Affleck earning a second mention for his batshit performance in Michael Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me," which was another that really pushed for selection. Bong Joon-ho's gripping murder mystery "Mother" was also in contention but, having seen in mid-2009, it's fallen down the ladder a touch. We've been big supporters of the Duplass Brothers since their days doing Mumblecore and their studio debut, "Cyrus," starring Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei definitely impressed as was the case with Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg," particularly Ben Stiller's honest performance. One comedy we'd recommend to anyone is Taika Waititi's charming coming-of-ager "Boy," which will hopefully see a North American release sometime in 2011.