I'll list my absolute favorite first:
The Kings Speech. (2010) Tom Hooper
This story had me in tears from beginning to end. No other 2010 film has gotten under my skin like this. Can a film about a royal who can't get out of stuttering mode really be all that great? Honestly, the story -- the script -- is incredibly rich, establishing a relationship between King and commoner that is pure gold to take in, and the performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, which bring that story to life, are among the finest performances I've seen this year. If life is fair at Oscar time, this film will give The Social Network a run for its money; I would love to see Colin Firth wrap up the Big Win for Best Actor. The final speech is... devastating... What. a. Film!
The Fighter. (2010) David O. Russell
Sick of boxing movies? I can't say I blame you. The seventeen Rocky films have made us leery of even a decent film like Cinderella Man. And although The Fighter has that common boxing movie ending, the heart of the film is about so much more. A family trauma is really at the core of this story, mixed in with Christian Bale's struggling crack addict character, the older neighborhood champ-brother of our story's boxing hero (Mark Wahlberg). Excellent performances are graced from the entire cast, but look for Amy Adams in the upcoming nominations. Her supporting actress role is the glue that holds this family, and The Fighter, together.
127 Hours. (2010) Danny Boyle
Have you heard about 127 Hours? It's that one about the rock climber who gets trapped under a rock for days and rips his arm off to escape his own death? Well then, you pretty much know the story. You might think, as I did: How can a simple plot like that translate into a 94 minute film? The answer is Oscar winning director Danny Boyle. His frenetic editing, his use of split screens, his fun vision for the nightmarish sequences of James Franco's character, isolated in a rocky Utah crevice, turn this simple tale of a captured climber into one man's psychological descent into longing and madness. The opening shots scattered over Free Blood's electro sounding "Never Hear Surf Music Again" are among the best opening moments in a film in 2010, and they launch the 94 minutes into fly by mode. Seriously, I felt that if I sneezed, the film would have been done... I have a question, though: James Franco has been announced to host the Oscars this year -- how is that going to work if he also receives a nomination?
Black Swan. (2010) Darren Aronofsky
Anyone who knows me or has previously visited Filmsweep knows of my love for Darren Aronofsky. I love his independent, get it done spirit, his twisted energy for the form, and how he confounds the eye and mind with imagery. In that respect, Black Swan is no different from other Aronofsky films like Pi or Requiem For a Dream. These are fever dream films where characters are soaked in trauma, but without Aronofsky's flight-like mise en scène here, or his blistering, rapid eye montage in general, his stories would never come across as gut wrenching as they do. Black Swan easily wins this year for Best Cinematography, and expect Natalie Portman to get nominated for leading lady in the role of a ballerina on the brink of artistic destruction. I'm also leaning toward expecting her to win.
True Grit. (2010) Ethan and Joel Coen
There's some witty, fun dialogue in this reshuffling of the old John Wayne western, and Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon never cease to amaze -- I have a huge guilty pleasure in all the Bourne films, and Jeff Bridges -- well he's Jeff Bridges! (Last year's Crazy Heart rocked as much as "The Dude".) However, it's Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross that steals the show in True Grit. She plays a resolute, overly mature fourteen year-old gearing up to hire out Bridges (here, "The Duke") to avenge her father's murder. Her determined scenes and the lengths she goes to are some of the strongest displays of feminine power onscreen this year... While it's my least favorite of the films in this lot, it's still excellent in many ways. The final month of 2010 brought us some great works to choose from; if you're looking for a western, True Grit will certainly fill that bill, but I look to quite a few previous works from the Coens, which is where their best stuff remains.
I'll be posting my Top 10 of 2010 on January 25, the same day the Oscar noms are announced. As my list typically contains many foreign films, I'll also be listing my five favorite US films that didn't make the Top 10. It should be interesting to see how my lists differ from the films that are nominated, but this is one of my favorite times every year -- like any other film aficionado, I love seeing and making these little lists!