As the season turns and we move toward the heartiest portion of the filmic year, it seems as good a time as any to take stock of what’s been seen thus far. Certainly I haven’t made it to the theater for every new release, but 2010 has been for me a year of unrivaled theater going. There are films on the horizon; Black Swan, The Fighter, True Grit and so on that promise to, at the very least, introduce some interesting characters and concepts, and at best hoist a golden statue at the 83rd Academy Awards. Still, the year so far, while at times inevitably shallow and frustrating, has still seen some remarkable motion pictures pass into history.
Here are my Top Five…
5) Let Me In
Matt Reeves’ controversial homage to the Swedish Let the Right One In is as good as it is precisely because of its controversy. It’s that rare instance of a thing winning your grudging admiration despite your sturdy resistance to it. Any fan of the original dreaded the notion of Let Me In, and yet, any original fan seems forced to admit that Reeves’ remake is objectively compelling and rich, if only in its faithful reconstruction. But the film is not just a remake, with a pair of young American actors sure to be long tenured and a setting and tone darker and more in the vein of tense, American thrillers. Let Me In is a gorgeous and loving retread of a film that might just be worth retreading. At the very least, Matt Reeves did everything within his power to make choosing between the two an exasperating venture.
Christopher Nolan is an almost shamefully successful Director; his films not only all his own and critically heralded, but generally performing absurdly well at the Box Office. With Inception, Nolan takes the intriguing notion of dream walking and places it in the background, allowing the film itself to be mostly a great heist thriller. Combining Science Fiction and Crime/Action often ends with impressive results (Star Wars, Bladerunner, Children of Men) both in story and visuals. While Nolan’s story is fantastic and fun, it may be his visual storytelling that people remember most about Inception. Nolan used the freedom of a dream world beautifully, one sequence in particular showing us things we had never before seen on the big screen. Christopher Nolan’s latest success is precisely the type of tentpole film future directors will be referring to decades from now as “the one that pulled me in.” It’s simply that mesmerizing.
3) Never Let Me Go
It’s a testament to the type of viewer I am that a film so entirely emotional would rank this high. It’s not that the film lacks technical achievement; it’s beautifully shot, the performances are strong, the direction is generally laudable. But for me it’s all about the visceral experience of Never Let Me Go, the exhausting, terrible, wonderful, real experience of it. As much as I dissect film with a critical eye, I feel that at its heart it must be as simple as this: how much did this film pull me in and take me away? Take me away from my seat, from the theater, from my life. Regardless of message, this must be a film’s goal, and Never Let Me Go achieves it elegantly. Innocence, frustration, distrust, lust, love, good and evil. All elements are not only recognized, but felt, and this, simply this, makes a film great.
2) Toy Story 3
Pixar is the King Midas of film studios, nearly every one of its 11 films a critical and financial success. With Toy Story 3 they had the luxury of an established, successful franchise sure to bring an abundance of nostalgic fans. And Toy Story 3 takes full advantage of this nostalgia, often referencing lines from the first and second films and never letting character exchanges stray from their comfortable routine. This is the beauty of the franchise: not only do the stories depend on the persistent reminiscence of childhood, but they have slowly morphed into something worth reminiscing about themselves. This is why the end of the third film is so dramatically emotional. Because it’s the end. It’s the end of the franchise and if you allow yourself to savor the final chapter’s conclusion it feels like something akin to the end of childhood.
1) The Social Network
It’s hard to disparage a film so technically magnificent. My only real concern lies in Aaron Sorkin’s aggressively taken liberties, though that’s a conversation for another time. Once you’ve waved goodbye to the moral implications of this film’s conception then the path is more or less clear. Simply sit back and enjoy, because David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin and co. have put together a masterpiece, and I don’t use that term lightly. It’s simply that every element, from sound to score to lighting to performance to script to story to theme, everything is fantastic, everything is considered, everything is realized. This seems to be Fincher’s legacy: a maniacal workhorse whose vision is obstructed entirely by his vision. But would you have it any other way? The team up of Fincher and Sorkin seems a perfect match, with Fincher treating Sorkin’s hummingbird dialogue as just another texture to be played with. Thematically The Social Network gets at the very real consideration of savant-like genius; a beautiful mind with an aptitude for social ineptitude. It may not be as “Based on a True Story” as we would feel comfortable with, but is that the story we want to see? Of course not. The fact is that Fincher and Sorkin’s version of the truth, regardless of its rectitude, is far more interesting. While the real heavy, Academy stuff may be yet to come, it seems that The Social Network is a lock for a number of a nominations, and a pretty good bet to take home the little golden man that everyone’s fighting for.