MAGNET editor Eric T. Miller and contributing editor Jud Cost—two veteran moviegoers who firmly believe that if you like eating noisy popcorn that much, please stay home and enjoy all you want—have returned with their pre-Oscar best-of lists for 2010. Miller has been lucky enough to live in Philadelphia for the past 20 years and take advantage of the three excellent Ritz Theaters, which play 12 screens’ worth of indie movies year round. Cost has been doing this for so long, many of the films he adored as a kid (black-and-white gems like Room At The Top, On The Waterfront and Wild Strawberries) could only be seen in the ’60s by driving long distances to one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s repertory film houses. Check out Miller and Cost’s picks from last year.
:: Eric T. Miller’s 10 Best Movies Of 2010
1. A Prophet
Director Jacques Audiard’s epic film about an Arab teenager who enters a French prison as a small-time criminal and leaves it six years later as a mafia kingpin is one of the best mob movies I have ever seen. Tahar Rahim is mesmerizing as protagonist Malik, and longtime French character actor Niels Arestrup is terrifying as his ruthless nemesis.
2. The Social Network
Hands down, the best American movie of 2010—and one I will watch again and again. Director David Fincher’s smart, deft handling of Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant, dialogue-driven screenplay and Jesse Eisenberg’s creepy-yet-compelling take on Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg resulted in the most fun two hours I’ve had in a theater in years. If you didn’t love this, you don’t love movies.
This three-part, five-and-a-half-hour, multiple-language extravaganza stars an exceptional Édgar Ramírez as Carlos The Jackal, the Venezuelan terrorist who achieved notoriety during the ’70s for various high-profile hijackings, kidnappings and murders. Director/co-writer Olivier Assayas’ Carlos is probably too challenging for most, but it kept me hooked from minute one.
4. The Fighter
Christian Bale gives the performance of the year as Dicky Eklund, a real-life, washed-up boxer with an addiction to crack cocaine and a desire to train and assist his younger half-brother in his quest to become welterweight champion. Director David O. Russell has yet to make a bad movie, and the performances from the rest of the cast (especially Melissa Leo as the siblings’ mom) are nothing short of stellar.
5. Red Riding 1974 / Red Riding 1980 / Red Riding 1983
More multi-part crime action from Europe. Each episode of this British trilogy (adapted from novelist David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet) was directed by a different filmmaker and shot in a different format, which only ups the tension and confusion and makes all the revelations found in the final installment that much more jarring. Be prepared to be engulfed by a world of serial killers, police corruption, illicit affairs and worse.
6. Animal Kingdom
In the early ’70s, the U.S. held the patent on this kind of crime-fiction film. Not anymore. Australian writer/director David Michôd’s debut(!) is a tour-de-force depiction of a working-class Melbourne crime family that’s grittier than anything the Coen brothers did last year. The opening and closing scenes are two of my favorites from 2010, but it’s what’s in between that makes this movie so special.
7. The King’s Speech
I’m not usually a big fan of historical dramas about British monarchs, but director Tom Hooper, writer David Seidler and an outstanding cast led by a terrific Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush have delivered a stirring, humorous, personal movie about friendship that’s impossible to not by inspired by. And how they made it all seem so natural and simple is perhaps the film’s most impressive feat.
8. The Kids Are All Right
The kid actors in this are way more than all right, and the adults (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo) are even better. Co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko’s pitch-perfect take on the modern family is funny and sad, hopeful and messy, just like in life, and it has two of my favorite non-Social Network lines of the year: “Shut the front door!” (Ruffalo) and “I need your observations like I need a dick in my ass!” (Bening).
9. The Town
No one captures working-collar Boston like Ben Affleck, who scores a hat trick with co-writing, directing and starring in this adaptation of the Chuck Hogan novel Prince Of Thieves. Jeremy Renner leads a top-notch supporting cast, with small-yet-memorable roles brought to life by Blake Lively, Chris Cooper and the late Pete Postlethwaite. The Town is the kind of movie that Oscar needs to show more love to, if only so they keep getting made.
10. Black Swan
The phrase “psychological thriller” gets tossed around way too much, but it’s the perfect description of director Darren Aronofsky’s claustrophobic character study of a ballerina who may be losing her mind. Natalie Portman does the best work of her career as the lead, and her supporting cast (especially Mila Kunis as the rival dancer) is perfect.
Honorable mention (alphabetically)
The American, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Fish Tank, The Ghost Writer, Inception, Mesrine: Killer Instinct / Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1, 127 Hours, Shutter Island, Terribly Happy, Winter’s Bone
:: Jud Cost’s 10 Best Movies Of 2010
1. The Social Network
Having already proven how lovably earnest he can be in The Squid And The Whale and Adventureland, Jesse Eisenberg takes his egghead, machine-gun delivery to the next level as the thoroughly unlikable Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook. Justin Timberlake, who makes an excellent weasel as Napster founder Sean Parker, feeds Eisenberg plenty of Iago-like bad advice. What at first glance sounded like a dreary subject for a film sweeps you up in its frenzy like a South American soccer crowd being stampeded towards the exit gates. One thumping-good scene in a nightclub with the oily Timberlake explaining the unlimited monetary potential of their creation to Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield (as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin) is positively electric. Aaron Sorkin’s dervish of a script pumps up what might have been dead-boring in lesser hands to the near-Shakespearian. Greed, loyalty, jealousy and success get a thorough scouring in a film that’s as emblematic of its time as The Graduate was 40 years ago. Warning: After seeing this, you might want to think twice about that application to Harvard.
2. The King’s Speech
Anyone who watched PBS’ Masterpiece Theater in its Alistair Cooke-hosted heyday realizes what a vast talent pool of first-rate English actors, many RSC-trained, exists for anyone casting a period-accurate British costume drama. Using just enough of her regal clout as Queen Elizabeth, Helena Bonham Carter excels here as someone with enough common sense to find a way to solve a major Royal Family problem. Once rumored (falsely, by the man himself) to be John Wesley Harding’s girlfriend at Cambridge, Bonham Carter is better known as “the actress who never appears in modern dress,” for her fine work in Room With A View, Howard’s End and many others. As is customary these days, however, it’s the two male leads, Colin Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who get the meatier assignments. Set in pre-WW II London after his brother, Edward VIII, has abdicated, this is the true story of the reluctant young king desperately trying to manage a crippling stammering problem.
3. True Grit
One year after his Oscar-winning turn as Bad Blake, the hard-drinking, middle-aged, overweight country singer reduced to playing bowling alleys, Jeff Bridges returns as hard-drinking, middle-aged, overweight U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn, reduced to taking money from a teenage girl to track down her father’s murderer in Indian country. Bridges might think about trying his hand at something completely different next time out (maybe a schizophrenic ballet dancer). This remake of the film that won John Wayne an Oscar in 1969 substitutes a dark, forbidding landscape for the rugged Western grandeur that illuminated the original. The picture’s dialogue follows archaic 19th-century speech patterns employed in Charles Portis’ novel. Dubbed by some “hillbilly Shakespeare,” it’s a striking blend of the lingo of folks whose only book was the bible and the straight talk used by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn. Bridges makes you forget all about Wayne, Matt Damon is excellent as the Texas Ranger sidekick, and Josh Brolin is menacing as the hunted killer. But all three are outshone by the 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who absolutely nails Mattie Ross. Steinfeld proves beyond a doubt that she’s the one here with the lion’s share of true grit.
In a short-but-fertile directorial career that’s produced fascinating results (The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation), Sofia Coppola revisits a recurring theme in Somewhere: loneliness. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is an A-list movie star, wasting his days away in the decadent splendor of the Chateau Marmont, boozing, smoking, snorting and hopping into the sack with the nearest Hollywood starlet, where he frequently nods off in the act. Everything changes when Marco’s ex informs him he’ll have to take their 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (a superb Elle Fanning) for a while. After reconnecting with the pre-teen, Marco eventually realizes that things must change. Those with short attention spans might think Somewhere is way too slow. And Coppola does linger over certain scenes essential to the story’s evolution. Marco’s black Ferrari cruises, lap after lap, around the oval of a deserted race track; after dropping his daughter off at the helicopter that ferries her to summer camp, Marco, already developing a little pot belly, boils a tub of spaghetti, then piles a heaping portion onto his plate; and Cleo looks daggers at her dad over breakfast as they’re joined by his latest one-night stand. All serve as telling clues to Marco’s fate.
5. Blue Valentine
Heartbreakingly sad though it may be at times, Blue Valentine is no tragedy. It’s simply a razor-sharp portrait, edited brilliantly with plenty of flashbacks to happier times, of a marriage that’s destined to fail. When they meet, Cindy (Michelle Williams) is a med student and Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a house painter. Whether he’s serenading her by plunking on a guitar and warbling “You Only Hurt The One You Love” in ’20s-crooner falsetto or he’s punching out her boss (a philandering doctor) in his office during business hours or they’re both trying to spice up their floundering relationship with a drunken weekend in a rundown, outer-space-themed motel room, the chemistry between Williams and Gosling is unmistakable. To make things even more stressful, they’re raising a daughter, Frankie, by her previous boyfriend. It took director Derek Cianfrance six years to put financing together and shoot the film in Scranton, Pa., plenty of time for Williams and Gosling to prepare to give the duo performance of the year, where the laughs and the lumps in the throat almost run over one another.
6. The Fighter
Mark Wahlberg has been overlooked in the awards ceremonies this year, but it was his dedication to this project, training hard for years when it looked like the picture might fold, that helped make it happen. And it’s Wahlberg’s rock-solid, meat-and-potatoes portrayal of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward that gives supporting-role shoo-ins Christian Bale as his coke-addicted half-brother Dicky Eklund and Melissa Leo as his controlling mother plenty of space to work their magic. Unlike all those Rocky movies, the boxing scenes here (not the entire focus of the film) feature people actually getting hit. Amy Adams, as always, shines as Charlene the tough/vulnerable bartender/girlfriend. And the jarringly homely Greek chorus of seven big-haired sisters (one of them the sibling of Conan O’Brien), each sporting her own distinctively rosy mare’s nest, helps complete a mugshot-honest portrait of the family’s hardscrabble hometown of Lowell, Mass.
7. Get Him To The Greek
Unlike Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he’s only mildly annoying as a pampered Brit rock star squiring Jason Segel’s ex-girlfriend around Hawaii, Russell Brand gets to run hog-wild here with the return of Aldous Snow (his stage name an uproarious blend of scholarly British writers Aldous Huxley and C.P. Snow). It’s about time someone got in one last potshot at the record biz before it becomes just a coke-dusted memory disappearing up its own pyloric sphincter. With a sense of timing and a group dynamic somewhat reminiscent of Stan Laurel to Brand’s Oliver Hardy, Jonah Hill (Superbad, Knocked Up) is the clueless record-company employee assigned to chaperone the out-of-control Limey through a dream/nightmare of sex, drugs and booze to get him to L.A.’s Greek Theatre in time for his big comeback gig. In the bountiful landscape of Judd Apatow-influenced comedies that also includes 40 Year Old Virgin, I Love You Man and Pineapple Express, this one is as good as it gets.
8. Animal Kingdom
Like they do with Olympic skating champs, maybe somebody should arrange a post-Oscar tour that features an “only one gets out alive” style cage match between Melissa Leo and Animal Kingdom‘s Jacki Weaver. These are two conniving, back-stabbing, string-pulling moms like you only think you had when you were a kid. It’s good to see the return of Guy Pearce, excellent in L.A. Confidential and Memento, as the only honest cop on the force. The main focal point here, from frame one where he’s just seen his mother die from a heroin overdose, is James Frecheville as J, a now-abandoned teenager who has to learn fast from his cousins and auntie, brutal villains one and all, just to survive. The one thing J eventually figures out for himself is that, no matter how nasty things may get, family is still family.
Of the magical teenage trio that starred in 2007’s Superbad—Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jonah Hill—it may be the versatile Hill, the rotund, curly-haired wise-guy of the bunch, who has the longest shelf life. Here he is, appearing twice in this year’s top 10, this time as Cyrus, the slightly creepy son of George Costanza’s fantasy-camp dream girl Marisa Tomei. Even John C. Reilly knows that if someone as ravishing as Tomei has fallen for his less-than-classic good looks, there must be an unknown agent at work somewhere. The x-factor is Cyrus, a stay-at-home borderline nutter who lets his mother’s new boyfriend know, in no uncertain terms, the first time they are alone, how he feels. “Seriously, don’t fuck my mom,” he tells an astonished Reilly. How Reilly deals with a problem that, at times, seems like it could turn violent, fuels the latest entry in the Duplass brothers’ impressive film canon (Baghead, The Puffy Chair). Like In Search Of A Midnight Kiss, it too effectively uses plenty of great location shots of old Los Angeles.
10. The Kids Are All Right
When two teenage kids in a movie family are named Joni (for singer Joni Mitchell) and Laser (possibly as an homage to a favorite cat toy), you can lay odds the story takes place in Los Angeles. Long ago, Paul (a rollicking Mark Ruffalo) made a deposit at a Tinseltown sperm bank, then is shocked to get a phone call 20 years later from the two kids he helped bring into the world, now seeking their birth father. The gregarious (and curious) Ruffalo, who owns a successful restaurant, agrees to meet his surrogate family, the two kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), their mom (Nic, an obstetrician played by Annette Bening) and their other mom (Julianne Moore as Jules, a start-up landscape designer). “I love lesbians,” mutters Paul awkwardly when the kids first describe their unorthodox family arrangement. Unlike Animal Kingdom, the only crimes here are those of passion. But very much like the Aussie thriller, this one attaches an entirely new, non-Republican meaning to the term “family values.”