Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2010: The Best Movies of the Year: Introduction

The last two years that I sat down to do this report, I was admittedly feeling rather stressed and depressed – and thought that the depression might have been why the films on my list were so dark. But this year, I feel happier than I have in a long time – and if anything, the films on my top 10 list are even darker this time around. Perhaps I just like depressing film.

I saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 220 films from 2010, which is down a little from previous years, as I skipped more films that I didn’t really want or need to see. There will always be films that I miss, and wish I could have seen – Marwencol, which I missed when it came to Toronto, as well as The Strange Case of Angelica, Tiny Furniture, Daddy Longlegs and Hadejwich – those last four never did come to my area are the ones that come to mind for 2010. But that’s about it – all the other films that I think I should have seen from this year I have. I base this one my annual survey of Movie Critics Top 10 lists – which I think is more expansive than anyone else’s. This year’s addition surveyed 650 critics – and The Strange Case of Angelica was the only film that made the top 50 that I did not see (and it was number 50). And I should point out that two films that did make the top 50 were not considered for these lists, although I have seen them both and loved them. Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet is a masterpiece, but since I saw it at the 2009 Film Festival, and it was nominated at last year’s Oscars, I consider it a 2009 film – and put it on my list there when I did my top 10 lists for every year back to 1927 this past year. Lee-chang Dong’s even more brilliant Secret Sunshine similarly made my 2007 list – because I saw it that year, and I assumed that it was never going to actually get a release date in North America. His newest film, Poetry, which I saw at last year’s TIFF Festival will be released this winter, and will be eligible next year (all these rules make my head hurt, but they make sense to me). I did include one film that will probably appear on many more top 10 lists next year - because it will not be released in America until April - but I do consider it a 2010 film, because that is when it was released in Canada - and it is an Oscar nominee this year. Normally, I try to get this report out sooner, but the studio behind Biutiful decided in their infinite wisdom to hold back its release in Toronto until February 11th – and since it got a nomination for Best Actor at this year’s Oscars, I considered it my duty to wait.

Anyway, enough of all that. Let’s get onto the cinematic year that was 2010. To me, it seems like every year, more and more critics decry it as the “worst year in recent memory”. I don’t know what films they were watching, but I didn’t find 2010’s crop of films to be that bad at all. In recent memory 2007 was far and the best – with masterpieces like There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, I’m Not There, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and the aforementioned Secret Sunshine. The following year, 2008, was definitely the worst year in recent memory. 2010, much like 2009, was somewhere in between those two extremes. This year, I wanted to expand my runners-up section to include an additional 25 films besides my top 10 list – and that doesn’t even include documentaries, which had a very strong year, and so I decided to include them separately. Yes, you had to venture outside of the multiplex this year to see many of the great films – but since when has that not been the case? But even having said that, 6 of my top 10 films were very much mainstream American films – if you lived near a movie theater, you most likely had a chance to see them.

My list – especially my number 1 choice – may end up boring some people who have already read a lot of top 10 lists this season. I made the least ambitious choice for my #1 film this year that I could have possibly made. I don’t like being part of the herd, and yet I comfort myself with the realization that it was my favorite film long before I knew it would dominate the year end lists and awards ceremonies the way it did. If I didn’t switch my vote to The Hurt Locker or Slumdog Millionaire in the past two years, when they had similar runs, why would I change my vote away from my choice this year?

Looking at the films on my top 10 list, I see a lot of established directors – directors who have been among my favorites for years now. There are only two new filmmakers – two who never had a film on a top 10 list of mine before – who cracked the lineup this year. It wasn’t exactly a great year for breakout filmmakers. And yet, the established filmmakers who made my list are all master filmmakers – all filmmakers with relatively long careers behind them with multiple masterpieces listed among their credits. There is, in short, a reason why they make my list multiple times over their careers – they are better than everyone else.

I will say that some things changed for me over the past year in regards to films. I have been less invested the awards race this year than ever before – it all seems a little too preordained this year, and in addition to that, the bloggers and writers who cover the awards race seem to behaving much pettier this year – much snarkier. What I love about the awards race is that it gives us a chance once a year to sit down and discuss the best films and the best performances and individual technical achievements of the year. But the whole awards system seems to have devolved into who is right more often – and I honestly get bored of the whole process. Let’s discuss the films themselves, and not just in terms of their awards potential. My passion for that has not faded in the least.

Another thing I find that as I grow older (I’m all of 29 this year), I find that movies that are more purely technical achievements are not as interesting to me anymore. A decade ago, I was probably fairly close to the Ain’t It Cool News Crowd, which I typically don’t pay much attention to anymore. I am moving more towards films that speak to me on a personal level, rather than just films that are “cool”. Perhaps this is me maturing; perhaps this is just the first step in me becoming a fuddy duddy like the older Academy voters who think that Frost/Nixon is a better film than The Dark Knight or Wall E. I don’t know, and I don’t much care either. The lists that follow are my lists – feel free to disagree all you want, and call me an idiot if you feel the need to – but it is my list. If you don’t like it, go make your own.

As in years past, I have gone overboard this year. What will follow, starting tomorrow and continuing for the rest of the week, two posts of runners-up 35-21 and 20-11 and my top 10 list. I have also done top 10 lists for the year’s best documentaries as well as top 10s for all four acting categories at the Oscars (and no, I don’t just put the actors where the studio thinks they belong, but where I do), as well as the top 10 ensemble casts of the year – an award I think is valid and should be an Oscar category. Finally, I will give you my own personal Oscar ballot – what I would have voted for had I been an Academy member. I have already posted my list of the worst films, Worst Performances and most disappointing films, as well as the best and worst movie posters, so have a look if you missed them. And with that, I will bring my 2010 cinematic year to a close.

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