Most film critics start off each year with a list of their top 10 movies for the year before, an act of timing that often masks the fact that the first week of a new year is used to dump on an unsuspecting public the absolute worst garbage produced. This year is no exception, with the godawful-looking “Season of the Witch” coming out on Friday.
And so it is that I’ve taken a look back over the more than 100 movies I’ve seen in 2010, picking my 10 personal favorites. I won’t presume to say that they’re objectively the 10 best — I would have had to see more than 250 films last year to give an honest assessment of that. And while I know “The Social Network” is great filmmaking and appears to be the unanimous favorite for this year’s Best Picture Oscar, I think it’s too easy to simply agree with the pack. So, instead, I’m offering up 10 flicks that moved me, made me laugh or thrilled me the most. Many of them were underrated and little-seen, but they are well worth renting now.
1. “Cyrus.” This indie film came out in July and served up what appeared to be the most unusual love triangle ever: Marisa Tomei as a lonely single mother, John C. Reilly as the even lonelier guy who is saved by her love, and Jonah Hill as her grown-up son, Cyrus, who seems way too close to his mom. Thankfully, nothing is as it first appears, and this crazily funny and surprisingly touching film winds up being my favorite gem of the year.
2. “City Island.” In perhaps the funniest movie of the year, Andy Garcia led a stellar, Oscar-worthy ensemble cast in the story of a working-class family in the New York City enclave of City Island, where each family member has their own improbable dream or wild secret. As everything gets revealed in the brilliantly written final half-hour, the audience at the screening I attended was literally whooping with laughter.
3. “True Grit.” My choice for Best Picture among the likely Oscar nominees, this sumptuously mounted Western is classic Hollywood filmmaking at its finest, yet is given an utterly fresh spin by America’s quirkiest filmmakers, Joel and Ethan Coen. Total newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as the young girl who hires Jeff Bridges to find her father’s killer will likely walk away with Oscar gold.
4. “Solitary Man.” Michael Douglas made more headlines for battling cancer and reviving his Oscar-winning character of Gordon Gekko in the also-solid “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” But he delivered what I believe to be the best performance of his career in this criminally under-viewed portrait of a former used-car kingpin struggling to revive his career and his love life after a stint in prison for fraud.
5. “The Crazies.” This remake of an obscure George Romero horror flick came out of nowhere to deliver the biggest mix of laughs and scares to hit theaters in 2010, led by a fantastic performance by Timothy Olyphant as the sheriff of a small town whose residents have suddenly gone insane.
6. “Hereafter.” Clint Eastwood’s epic drama takes on the biggest questions of them all — life, death and what happens next. Three hauntingly sad stories set in the US, France and England come together with a powerful yet understated climax, filling me with hope.
7. “The Fighter.” You want uplift? This classic boxing tale follows the true story of Mickey Ward, a career punching bag of a boxer who finds love and finally learns to stand up for himself, both in the ring and in his life. Four of the best performances
of the year by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams
and Melissa Leo, combined with the year’s most rousing climax, has created a new-generation “Rocky.”
8. “The Town.” Ben Affleck pulls off one of filmdom’s great all-time comebacks by starring, directing and co-writing this epic crime drama about a bank robber who falls for a teller who his gang victimized. Combining a touching love story with kick-ass action and perfect performances, this is likely to be one of this year’s Best Picture nominees, along with “True Grit” and “The Fighter.”
9. “Please Give.” Writer-director Nicole Holofcener is one of today’s most reliable producers of relatable human comedies, making the kinds of films Woody Allen created in his heyday. This film mixed great performances with vibrant New York City settings and hilarious dialogue to satirize the bleeding-heart guilt of upper-crust white liberals.
10. “The Next Three Days.” Crushed by the dumbest release date of the year (it opened against Harry Potter), this thriller by Oscar favorite Paul Haggis (“Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby”) gave Russell Crowe his best film in at least five years, with him playing a man determined to do anything to break his unjustly accused wife (Elizabeth Banks in the year’s most underrated performance) out from prison.