Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Best Films of 2010

Anyone who has been paying attention to the slow drip of year-end accolades would probably be able to guess which of 2010's films were considered the best, non? There's the one about the crazy ballerina, the one about the guy who goes hiking and has to cut off his arm for some reason, the one about the FaceBook dweeb and the one where the guys try to knock off the Boston baseball landmark. I suppose. Know which ones I what I would choose? Here. We. Go.

Toy Story 3
Many toys all close together, with Buzz Lightyear and Woody holding the top of number 3.

This is easily the best film of 2010. Easily. Yes, it's a G-rated cartoon. Yes, all of the characters have appeared in Happy Meals. None of it matters.

Let me direct you to a scene deep into the film by way of example. It is a moment where some of the toy protagonists realize that in spite of all their cleverness and determination, there’s no way out of the fatal trap into which they’ve fallen. In any other children’s film, this would be a time for comedic panic, long-withheld personal confessions, or dramatic statements that would immediately turn out to be ironic. In any other children’s film, the moment would quickly peak and pass. But Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc.) holds for long, excruciating moments on the silent characters, as they pass from disbelief into sorrowful resolve, then take each others’ hands and wait. And wait. And wait.

It’s a shockingly grim sequence, but this is what Pixar films do best: find a place of deep emotion and explore it without blunting it, overexplaining it, or passing it off with a laugh. Toy Story 3 never gets darker than this moment, but time and again, it similarly finds real, resonant emotion in the antics of a bunch of children’s toys having adventures when nobody’s looking.

Plus, I cried like a Baptist. Not once but three times. Three times, people! That's good film-making.

True Grit
True Grit

Some people come of age. Others have it thrust upon them. In the first few scenes of this remake of the John Wayne classic, young Mattie Ross (played crisply and unsmilingly by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) has paid the undertaker and seen three men hanged. And yet, her troubles have just barely begun. True, she could simply turn around and go back home. But she’s determined to see her father’s killer (Josh Brolin) brought to justice, which means enlisting the help of the meanest Federal Marshal money can buy, a one-eyed frontier veteran named Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), who’s happy to pull a cork or a trigger, happier still to say as few words as possible while doing so, and prone to few gentle sentiments when he does talk. He’s the perfect guide, in other words, for the hard country into which her nemesis has disappeared.

The Coens brothers direct True Grit with a light touch, but like the stark, funny novel on which this film is based (written by Charles Portis), their adventure tale shaves off none of the rough edges. It’s simultaneously rollicking and grave, alternating moments of fine dark humor with startling violence as it drags Mattie into the world of adult responsibilities and the danger and lost innocence that come with them. She tries to buy revenge using the terms of trade her father taught her, then discovers she’s made a purchase that won’t fit easily fit onto a sum-filled balance sheet. Here, the West is a place of blood, black humor, and unsparing consequences meant to test the character of even the toughest men, to say nothing of a willful girl with revenge in her heart and braids still in her hair.

The Kids Are All Right
The Kids Are All Right

Isn't this that movie about the lesbians? Yes. The ones where the kids go looking for their Baby Daddy? Yes. The one where Annette Bening has a scene by herself in a bathroom that is so soulful and real that I believe they began engraving her name on the Oscar at that precise moment? Yes. See it. Now.

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