Stephanie Zacharek's 10 Best Movies of 2010
There's no other American filmmaker quite like Sofia Coppola: She has the most delicate touch of anyone working today, yet there's fierceness in her precision. Somewhere appears to drift along: Stephen Dorff gives a marvelous, understated performance as a too-successful movie star who's decamped into a world of bored stasis at the Chateau Marmont, only to be nudged out of it by a surprise visit from his preteen daughter, played by a fawnlike (and superb) Elle Fanning. Only at the end does it become clear how much feeling and fortitude Coppola has poured into every seemingly casual scene, every offhand moment. It takes nerves of steel to make a movie this unassuming, and this moving.
The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski gave us one of the most beautifully crafted thrillers of the year, in which a writer (Ewan McGregor) is hired to polish up the memoirs of the former British prime minister (a cool-as-Italian-marble Pierce Brosnan), which turns out to be not exactly the safest job in the world. This wily, mischievous entertainment is put together like a piece of clockwork, with no silly editing or inane wriggly cameras. The basics are all you need -- and yet, these days, more than you can usually hope for.
A movie that's basically a bunch of young guys talking, when they're not totally nerding out. How does it work so well? David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin give us not just a fictionalized version of the birth of Facebook, but a study of how being a misunderstood asshole can work both for and against you.
Colin Firth stars as the stuttering king-to-be, Albert, who overcomes his fear and faces his public by working with a self-styled speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush). The movie's pleasures lie in its quiet but sharply observed details, and in the performances given by Firth, Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, as Albert's concerned but cautious wife. She eases him toward boldness and confidence without ever wounding his masculine, kingly pride. And she wears some great hats.
Luca Guadagnino's story of a repressed Italian society wife finding true love with a down-to-earth chef is both crazy (in the good way) and meticulously controlled (also in the good way). And it features Tilda Swinton in one of the finest performances of the year; she's like a translucent butterfly, with long, long, human legs.
Yes, it's cheating to cram two movies into one entry. But isn't it grand to have too many good movies to list, rather than not enough? Here, two marvels of animation: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud's thoroughly disreputable and deeply pleasurable Despicable Me brings lots of casual naughtiness to the increasingly classy -- too-classy -- world of animation. And Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's My Dog Tulip is a near-perfect adaptation of what may be a perfect book, J.R. Ackerley's memoir about the years he spent with his beloved pet Alsatian. My Dog Tulip is computer animation that has the look and warmth of old-fashioned hand-drawing; it's the best of both worlds, proof that there's no reason they can't co-exist.
Marco Bellocchio's haunting feature about Mussolini's mistress, Ida Dalser, is epic filmmaking done on a relative shoestring. This is a grand, melodramatic sweep of a movie, and it features another of the year's great female performances: That of Giovanna Mezzogiornio as the ill-fated Ida. Her eyes seem larger than life; so does her suffering.
Olivier Assayas' five-and-a-half-hour portrait of Carlos the Jackal -- starring a regally foxy Édgar Ramírez -- follows the nation-hopping (and bed-hopping) trail of the international celebuterrorist without ever condoning his less-than-moral acts. The thing moves like a shot, though it's also available in a surprisingly satisfying two-and-a-half-hour version.
The brilliant Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To spins a tale of principled hit men and the aging restaurateur -- played superbly by French pop star Johnny Hallyday -- who hires them to avenge the death of his daughter and his grandchildren. The movie's violence is brutal, but so beautifully staged that you can hardly take your eyes off it. There's more, and better, ballet here than in Black Swan.
Two examples of mainstream thrillers -- although the latter is more of a caper -- that attempted to give audiences something beyond choppy editing and incoherent action sequences. The first was greeted warmly by audiences and some critics. The second was met with a resounding "What the heck?" Anton Corbijn's The American looks and feels like a movie made by a filmmaker who hasn't been to the movies since the '70s -- and I mean that as the highest compliment. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Tourist -- clearly modeled on sprightly '60s espionage romances like Charade -- met with more open hostility from critics than any movie I can recall in recent years. I can certainly see viewing it as a failed experiment (though I don't happen to share that view), or being disappointed by it, or simply not having a good time. But those who saw it as a major crime de cinema should get out more. Movies aren't lumps carved out of gold or wood or lead. They're mechanisms with many moving parts, each intended to strike a mood or set a tone or in some big or small way pull one of the many, many levers in our equally complicated brains. How a DP frames scenery we've seen, or think we've seen, 100 times, the knowledge that the actors are in on a movie's jokes, the fact that a costume designer has taken care with all sorts of small but crucial details: There are almost too many things to be open to in movies.
When it comes to The Tourist, I'm baffled that more critics didn't see, for instance, the wit in the idea of a woman boarding a train for another country with only a tiny clutch bag, to find upon her arrival that her absentee lover has filled the closet of her luxury hotel room with evening gowns and jewels. (I'm hoping no one thought that was supposed to be realistic. If this is your idea of realism, I have only two words: Call me!) Few movies this year gave me the kind of light, glancing pleasure I got from The Tourist. If only all experiments could "fail" so grandly.
Honorable Mentions: Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, Mia Hansen-Løve's The Father of My Children, Sngmoo Lee's The Warrior's Way, Tanya Hamilton's Night Catches Us, Lee Unkrich's Toy Story 3, Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank, Nicole Holofcener's Please Give, Neil Jordan's Ondine, Matt Reeves' Let Me In, Robert Rodriguez's Machete, John Wells' The Company Men, Marshall Curry's Racing Dreams, Tony Scott's Unstoppable, Vincenzo Natali's Splice and Bartosz Konopka's Rabbit a la Berlin.
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