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Jan 11 2011

Best of 2010: Prophets,Toys,Fish Tanks and Rabbit Holes

Previously: Honorable Mentions
(Short on time so the second half has to wait.Apologies.)

Part 1
The Film Experience loves nothing more than being transported by the movies.亚博主页The year's top dozen (a baker's dozen) took us deep inside French prisons,soared over Viking villages,danced into British projects and stumbled into Australian crime dens.This year's best films wandered 'round places both far flung (wealthy Italian estates) and right next door (New York City's Lincoln Center wherein a certain ballerina frets and pirouettes andtransforms).

Wherever the year's best took us,we wanted to go.In fact,we're ready to go again.Just let us grab that unpublished manuscript and a treasured childhood toy for the journey.And,oops...just -- updating facebook status.Okay,nowwe're ready.Let's go!

[mild very vague spoilers onThe Ghost WriterandFish Tank]


Un prophètedir.Jacques Audiard
[Sony Pictures Classics,Feb 26th]
Last year'sshouldawontheforeignoscarcontender treads excessively familiar ground patiently,biding its time.Malik (breakthrough sensation Tahar Rahim) may be a criminal savant but Jacques Audiard is the alpha dog in this dank dangerous racially charged prison (and outside of it as well).The French auteur's always expressive cinematic voice makes full use of both image and sound.They flicker and pulse as if in whispered conversation,haunting each other with their most awful details.Malik's horrifying character arc from remorseful killer to skilled death-dealer is so gradual that you're as surprised as he when you fully grasp the new criminal ecosystem when exiting this prison.

Toy Story 3dir.Lee Unkrich
[Disney/Pixar,June 18th]

This latest and hopefully lastToy Storyadventure expertly capitalizes on nostalgia for itself.(Please don't make another one Pixar as you'll taint the beautiful full circle affect of this one.) Scene for sceneTS3is maybe both the best comedy and the best tearjerker of the year.  The only reason it's not in the top ten -- shush,I realize it's supposed to be -- is that its deep comforts and emotional potency are inarguably the product of 15 years of other movies and cozy familiarity with the characters.Its considerable charm and four hankie finale is not exactly derived fromthismovie itself.In other words,it's got an enormous advantage over practically everything else that came out in 2010.It's like when everyone declared the end ofStar Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sithso epic and moving and pretended that the movie didn't suck while it borrowed its emotional affect from the Force being with us for 30 years.The difference here (he quickly adds) is thatToy Story 3is a marvelous movie in its own right: inventive,hilarious,beautifully staged.

Rabbit Holedir.John Cameron Mitchell
[Lions Gate,Dec 17th]
This is a refreshingly unhistrionic portrait of grief and those are rare beasts.Its unassuming strengths,and maybe that hushed release in the noisiest of movie seasons,might be the thing(s) preventing it from breaking out.Which,come to think of it,is reflective of Becca herself (a great Nicole Kidman) as she's always getting in her own way.David Lindsay-Abaire's expert screenplay gets so many things about grief right.It understands that those most in need of comfort often push it away,it gets the way righteous anger leaks out as freeform hostility,and it sees that strangers can offer clarity and windows to healing that loved ones,with their messy intimacies,cannot.This might not sound likefunbut it's sometimes bracingly funny.Rabbit Holebegins with a shot of Becca opening a bag of soil while she tensely gardens.Mitchell's sensitive direction and the fine cast do the work,but they trust you to notice their eventual flowering.

Top Ten List

How To Train Your Dragon
dir.Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
[Dreamworks,March 26th]
Here's to happy miracles.When was the last time you saw a movie boy rewarded for using his smarts and intuition and accepting his peaceful nature?When was the last time the hero of an epic was a pacifist rather than a warrior?I won't hold my breath waiting for the answer.(Gandhi?)How to Train Your Dragonfigures out how to have it both ways of course (this is mainstream cinema) and likeTangled,it trips on nervous bids at popularity: why do the kids speak with modern American snark while all the adults have Scottish accents?I haven't a clue!But its flight sequences are as magical asAvatar's and Toothless,the dread Night Fury is a brilliantly executed character.This is a personal choice but this movie arrived in my life right when I needed it.Our top tens ought to be a personal,else why make them?Dragonmight be the best hug-your-pet movie sinceBabe(1995);it's not perfect but that'll do.

The Ghost Writerdir.Roman Polanski
[Summit,March 19th]
We never learn the name of the ghost (Ewan McGregor) hired to shadow and write about a politician under investigation (Pierce Brosnan) and why should we?The movie also plays it coy.Polanski's amazing sleight of hand alternately flashes us a political satire,a nihilistic comedy,a murder thriller and maybe even a drama about having a really shitty job for which no rewards or public acknowledgement will ever come.The Ghost Writerhas memorably sinister interiors filled with sharp angles and splashes of blood red color.The exteriors are no safer as the endless stormy weather,slick streets and bodies washed ashore portend.Can a whole film be a red herring?It all builds towards the year's most brilliant ending,a vanishing act,a negation.

Fish Tankdir.Andrea Arnold
[IFC Films,January 15th]
Arnold's sophomore feature follows an angry British girl Mia (Katie Jarvis) around in her grim daily life as she hates on her family,picks fights with the neighbors,crushes on her mom's new man (Michael Fassbender,predictably excellent),and dreams of becoming a professional hiphop dancer.There are plentiful movies about downtrodden inarticulate characters each year but few this acutely observed.Even whenFish Tankrisks going off the rails by willfully slamming into metaphor (the horse) or veering towards the edge of genre territory (an abduction) it works a peculiar beguiling magic.Just when you think the movie can't possibly resolve the gangly awkward impulses of its teen protagonist towards any satisfying conclusion,it stages a farewell dance that's both perfectly surreal and absurdly mundane.Wow.


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Reader Comments (32)

I dig the first few.Loved A Prophet and really like The Ghost Writer,too.

I have to ask,though,what is it that makes the ending of The Ghost Writer the best of the year?
I think it was excellent aesthetically and I understand the purpose of his death but I must admit that it seemed to literal and anti-climactic to hit that perfect end note.For me it didn't register with enough cinematic oomph like other potential anti-climaxes such as No Country For Old Men's.It felt like it just happened.I'd love to hear your take on it.

January 11,2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Fiore

"Ghost Writer"is my #1 of the year.Still baffled why "Rabbit Hole"didn't get more attention.It's so moving.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnthonyDC

Like these a lot,although I have Rabbit Hole and Toy Story 3 up in my top 5.As for A Prophet...well,despite not seeing until a week after the Oscars,亚博主页I actually put it in my 09 lineups after seeing it,since it was Oscar eligible/nominated.Usually though,unless something makes an Oscar longlist or actually receives a nomination,I put it in the year of initial US release,so Certified Copy or Uncle Boonmee will go in 2011.Probably not the best rule considering how much I like to complain about staggered/delayed release dates for foreign films but it works well enough for me haha.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered Commenterjbaker475

I am loving this list so far.All of these turn up in my top 20.Looking forward to part 2!

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterN8

yes!!!the list beings… and what a wonderful selection (FISH TANK made my top 5 while GHOST and DRAGON made my top 10 as well) so far… can't wait for the remaining seven!

I'm so thrilled it not only made your Top 10 but also that it ranked higher than TOY STORY 3.Don't get me wrong,I loved T3 and totally get the magnitude of it's place in film history.However,so much of TOY STORY 3's magic and emotional wallop derives from having lived with Woody,Buzz,Rex and the rest of the gang for nearly fifteen years (for the record,I'd probably have nomed TOY STORY for Best Picture in ‘95).Standing on it's own,I still find T3 to be an excellent film but I personally find DRAON to be the superior work;the writing/story,the enchanting visual design and effects not to mention the sound editing--which trumps TOY STORY 3's hands-down—is such an unforgettable triumph.John Powell's lyrical score --with those beautiful Scottish pipes and Celtic coloring—achieves such grandeur alone.Either way,it's been *such* an amazing year for animation.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

I think Toy Story 3 should definitely be higher on the list!While How to Train...is more impressive when it comes to visual and sound effects,it's Toy Story 3 that has the heart,the story,the funny and the more inventive writing.

I'm still not sure how to feel about Ghost Writer's ending.I loved the final shot,but when you look at the screenplay: how could that be possible?I don't think it's believable to consider that in case it was not an accident,how is it that they moved so fast?He wasn't even supposed to be at the event.

PS: I don't think I did any spoilers on it.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex in Movieland

Hmm,I understand your point that Toy Story 3 has the buildup,but I don't think of it as a point of weakness even if that's not quite what you meant.It's no easy task to bring the whole series full circle,and the fact that part 3 did achieve that,I think can easily speak for it's strength as an individual film itself.Does that make sense?Either way,I still find it definitely a few notches higher than HTTYD even though I like latter quite a lot too.Still,it didn't quite get to me like it did for a lot of people.

I'm torn whether I think The Ghost Writer,I Am Love,TS3 or The Social Network has the best ending.Many films really nailed their final moments this year.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeeking Amy

best opening and ending from a movie for me (though I have this movie in 2009 list) is from "Mother".The opening definitely,the dance!

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Papa

"Fish Tank"is my #2/#3 of the year (I need to re-see "I Am Love"to decide).Loved "Dragon"and "Toy Story 3".Unfortunately haven't seen the rest yet (although "Rabbit Hole"opens next month and I cannot wait!)

Sooo looking forward to the top 7!

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Un Prophete is my number one for the year.I knew nothing about it before I saw it -- except for its Oscar nomination -- and I was just blown away at the scope of the story it tells.

Kicking myself for missing Fish Tank in the theaters.Anyone know when it's going to be out on DVD?Netflix doesn't have it yet.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I have never seen any of the "Toy Story"movies,nor do I intend to,but I am SO HAPPY that "How to Train Your Dragon"made your top ten.I have been extoling its virtues since I saw the film early last year,hoping that everyone who could would go see it.Though I'll concede that it's not perfect,it does work on so many levels -- action-adventure,buddy movie,family drama,romance -- while being both genuinely humorous and touching.Aside from "Black Swan"and "The Fighter,"I can't say that I like any movie as much or more.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroy

I posted 15 Honorable Mentions yesterday,so here's 10-8.

9.King's Speech
8.Kids Are All Right

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew R.

Casey -- hmmmm.i'm not sure what my take is [SPOILER] except that the death (although we don't see that either so...) felt so satiricially spot on about forcing his negation which captured the nonexistence of ghost writers -- whose existence is never acknowledged.Plus it makes everything before it seem like it didn't happen.Which is also interesting because what did happen exactly?I dunno.It's been too long since i've seen it.

jbaker -- so in other words you do it like Oscar (for which A Prophet is ineligible this year despite finally opening in 2010) which is totally fine.I can't do it that way because i have my own awards so i can't wait to see what Oscar does.I have to announce before they do so as to not be influenced :)

ryan -- agreed.another fine year for animation.it's getting ridiculous!I'm almost beginning to feel that the best thing Pixar did for the world wasn't so much making good movies as forcing everyone else to up their game to compete :)

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

San Fran -- it's my understanding that FISH TANK is getting a Criterion release later this very month.

Andrew -- thanks for playing along.

Carl -- yup (on Mother's awesome bookend)

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Nathaniel - I suppose I hadn't considered the gravity of the ending in terms of what it means after the film.The concept of the surviving characters erasing the fact that everything happened did in fact happen does add another dimension to it.I appreciate that insight.

Troy - Out of curiosity,I have to wonder why you do not intend to see any of the Toy Story films?Bad reviews from a trusted source?

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Fiore

@Casey: I have somewhat of a disdain for the Disney/Pixar entity.I feel like at this point they can release a four-and-a-half-hour-long loop of stick figures walking around in circles and have it deemed an instant classic.It's as if there's such a reverence for what they initiated with respect to animated features that we automatically elevate their output without really considering if it actually is THAT good.Just my opinion.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroy

Yes,"Fish Tank"!I was so hoping that it was going to make your top ten.And I thought "Animal Kingdom"would be an honorable mention for you,so I'm stoked that it's pretty high in the list!That is,if I'm interpreting the opening paragraph correctly.

And "How to Train Your Dragon"edges out "Toy Story 3"by a hair for me too.

Loving the list so far!Even my least favorite movie on here ("The Ghost Writer") was pretty good.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz N.

@Troy: But how could you make that judgment without watching the movies?

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Troy -- i get your point actually.I firmly believe that if these movies were live action there would be far fewer hosannas.There is something about the form that makes people drop their guard I don't hink it's quite as simple as making them feel like children again but there is SOMETHING going on.

the obvious it-wouldn't-fly is the sentimentality because when live action movies get corny or gloopy they get completely reamed by critics.in animated films it's "heartwarming"

but that said i love most of Pixar's work though some are merely "pretty good"a bug's life and one is not good at all (cars) so it's not like they're infallible as people think they are.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Nat,about TS3: It's an improvement on last year's model (Up,which gets REALLY BORING after first viewing.) Also: Toy Story Best Picture of '95?Over Heat?Don't get me wrong,it's in the top 5,along with The Addiction,Safe and The Usual Suspects,but I could not see anything other than Heat as a winner.(A couple of Allegorical Indie Dramas,a middle brow,supremely executed thriller and an animated film as just nominees,with a BIG,BIG,BIG action/drama film taking the trophy.Oscar line ups should be like that.)

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

@Steve: I guess I should specify that I have seen a few Pixar films -- "Monsters,Inc.,""Finding Nemo"(my fave and a pick of mine for one of the best of 2003),"The Incredibles,"and "Up."

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroy

@Troy - I get that.To be perfectly honest I see that as what's happening with TS3.I liked it and It does have a lot of the good qualities people claim it does but I think it's been massively exaggerated.I do,however,think they would be worth a look for you as,all opinions aside,Toy Story is the brand that made Pixar this seemingly infallible giant it is today.The first one,imo,is legitimately one of the best films of the 1990s.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Fiore

That makes sense Troy.Thanks for clearing up.I personally love Pixar,but I do not love all of their works,specifically A Bug's Life,Cars,The Incredibles,and Monster's Inc.I think their best individual works are Finding Nemo and WALL-E,but the trilogy of Toy Story is just brilliant.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Loved,loved,loved How To Train Your Dragon!Agree with everything you said.
I've only just watched TS3 on DVD (very bad of me I know - I'm forever annoyed at myself for missing it at the cinema) and I didn't consider why it had such an emotional impact until I read what you just wrote.
I agree again - I really,really,really hope Pixar don't make another one - it would just wreck it,unnecessary and unwanted.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuth

i honestly expected to see Rabbit hole much higher...in the top 10,actually

January 12,2011 | Unregistered Commentereduardo

I love How to Train Your Dragon.I went to the cinema with no expectations whatsoever,and ended up being completely surprised at how good it was.While I think Toy Story 3 is an excellent film,I like HTTYD just as much.

January 12,2011 | Unregistered Commentermelvel

Eduardo -- well,I saw 134 movies this year i think (more than ever) so #11 is pretty damn good ;) in the end i just couldn't part with any of the top ten though i did try in some drafts!

January 13,2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Love love love the list,the mention of Un Prophet and also for adding a films to my queue.Plus,thank you for mentioning Xavier Dolan!I caught I Killed My Mother this summer and can't wait for Heartbeats.People need to know this guy exists.It's also nice to know I'm not the only one out there who ranked How To Train Your Dragon,an absolutely wonderful film,above Toy Story 3 (which wasn't shabby either,and truly great in its best moments).

Can't wait for the Top 7!:)

January 13,2011 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I think I'd rather continue my offline life than reading (sad) news about Pfeiffer's career.:( Why doesn't any big auteur read your blog and give her a meaty challenging part?There's no justice in this world,that's why.Seriously,a (cinematic) world that glorifies people like Margaret Thatcher by giving her a biopic played by Streep and forgets Pfeiffer isn't worth caring that much.

January 13,2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I think I'd rather continue my offline life than reading (sad) news about Pfeiffer's career.:( Why doesn't any big auteur read your blog and give her a meaty challenging part?There's no justice in this world,that's why.Seriously,a (cinematic) world that glorifies people like Margaret Thatcher by giving her a biopic played by Streep and forgets Pfeiffer isn't worth caring that much.

January 13,2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Oops,sorry about that.Feel free to delete the repeated comment.

January 13,2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Great FIsh Tank by Andrea Arnold in top 10,Beats other oscar nominations for best film last year a,an education,inglorious bastards,presious,and qualifies this year for oscar nod.Having received critical acclaim and awards across the globe,let's hope this little fish is allowed to swim with the big fish across the pond.The cast are superb,complete noviceses Katrie Jarvis,Rebecca Griffith and Charlotte Collins,with their raw honest talent,hold their own with the fabulous Micheal Fassbender,and Kirsten Wareing,well deserving of Best British Film at the Baffta's and a Dury Prize at Cannes for Andrea Arnold.

January 14,2011 | Unregistered Commenterangela davidson
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