In theory, it should be easy to figure out my 10 favorite movies of the year. I give them grades when I write the reviews. Come December, all I have to do is sort them from A to F and draw a line after the top 10, right? Simple math.
Unfortunately, as it often does, math fails us. How do you compare all the movies that got the same grade? What if a subsequent viewing of a movie has increased or diminished my opinion of it? What if I never got a chance to see “Marmaduke,” or that rom-com where Jennifer Aniston was handcuffed to Gerard Butler? How can I possibly issue a decree?
So it’s imperfect, and there are movies I didn’t see, and after the first two spots I could probably change the order around. But as far as I’m concerned, these are…
The Best Movies of 2010
1. “Toy Story 3.” What could have been a cash-grab sequel is instead a miraculous culmination of the series’ themes. How can any movie (we’re well past the stage of marveling at the fact that it’s a cartoon) address weighty existentialist themes in such a poignant fashion, without sacrificing humor, action, and all-ages entertainment? How is every emotion, high and low, conveyed so gracefully and organically, without a hint of contrivance? How does the third entry in a franchise not just match but in some cases exceed the accomplishments of its predecessors? I’m sure the Pixar people enjoy raking in cash as much as anyone, but never for a second does “Toy Story 3” feel like it was made specifically for that reason. From start to finish, in every last detail, it feels like a labor of love.
2. “Inception.” Here’s another miracle. “Inception” has a complicated premise that requires the viewer to pay attention constantly — and yet rather than being lauded by critics and fading into box-office obscurity, which would normally be such a movie’s fate, it was lauded by critics and made $825 million worldwide. Christopher Nolan’s trippy story is a technical marvel, almost as dazzlingly proficient (and emotionally disconnected) as anything Stanley Kubrick ever made. I hear he makes a pretty good Batman movie, too.
3. “Black Swan.” Natalie Portman makes stage fright truly terrifying in Darren Aronofsky’s exploration of what artists will do to achieve perfection. This movie is bizarre in such a variety of ways that it’s almost a spoiler to tell you in what type of bizarreness it mostly indulges.
4. “The Social Network.” Ostensibly about the founding of Facebook, this crackling techno-drama astutely observes the way the millennial generation communicates. This may well be what sociologists use a hundred years from now to try to make sense of the early 2000s.
5. “The King’s Speech.” The year’s most joyful picture. It’s a crowd-pleaser, a critic-pleaser, and an all-around hooray-for-life extravaganza. I nominate Colin Firth for king of everything.
6. “Rabbit Hole.” For emotional catharsis, it’s hard to beat this sensitive drama about a married couple coping with grief. Best Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart performances ever? Maybe so.
7. “127 Hours.” A one-man show is hard to pull off. A one-man, one-handed show is even harder. Yet here’s James Franco, directed by Danny Boyle, doing exactly that.
8. “Mother.” I’m still haunted by this Korean mystery about a woman whose mentally handicapped son is accused of murder, leading her to do whatever it takes to clear his name. If this were an American film and the woman were played by Meryl Streep, her Oscar nomination would be in the bag.
9. “Animal Kingdom.” More mothers and sons in this harrowing tale of survival of the fittest in Australia’s criminal underground. The felonious life has rarely been so unglamorous.
10. “Four Lions.” This audacious British comedy treats terrorism seriously while mocking its practitioners. It’s amazing someone even had the guts to try this, let alone that they pulled it off so well.
Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):
“Cyrus,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “The Illusionist,” “Let Me In,” “Lovely, Still,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Splice,” “The Square,” “True Grit,” “Winter’s Bone.”
Films I didn’t see that might have been contenders, considering how many other critics have listed them: “Carlos,” “Dogtooth,” “I Am Love,” “Inside Job”
The Worst Movies of 2010
I have grown just as stingy with my F grades as I have with my A grades. Some of these got a D-minus (“a gentleman’s F,” as one reader called it) because they didn’t enrage me quite enough. Trust me, though. They’re all bad.
1. “Little Fockers.” Imagine some lazy actors improvising scenes as characters they last played six years ago. Imagine them being given no instruction on what should happen in the scene, only that it should involve these characters. Whatever you are imagining is 30 times funnier than “Little Fockers” and has fewer Viagra jokes.
2. “Trash Humpers.” Untalented provocateur Harmony Korine tries to see how tedious and genuinely irritating a movie can be. The answer? Very!
3. “Leap Year.” One of two awful romantic-comedies tied to a particular day of the year. In this one, Amy Adams proves that it is possible for her to be unlikable.
4. “Valentine’s Day.” Ancient Hollywood hack Garry Marshall relaxes his sphincter and releases 125 minutes of steaming rom-com cliches into your cinema-toilet.
5. “Vampires Suck.” The only good joke in the film was the one they stole from me.
6. “The Back-Up Plan.” Jennifer Lopez becomes artificially inseminated, THEN meets the man of her dreams! She’s on a collision course with wackiness!
7. “My Soul to Take.” Wes Craven has a reputation as a master of horror, and evidently he is tired of that.
8. “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Yikes, bad year for Wes. This remake of his 1984 semi-classic is as worthless as the vast majority of copycats the original inspired.
9. “Yogi Bear.” They put off making this film until the people who grew up with the TV cartoon were old enough to get the senior discount at the theater.
10. “Clash of the Titans.” How can a movie with a kraken be boring? Tune in and find out.
Some likely contenders that I didn’t see:
“Alpha and Omega,” “The Bounty Hunter,” “Furry Vengeance,” “Marmaduke,” “Nutcracker in 3D,” “You Again”
Longest movie: “Carlos.” The full version, shown in three parts, is 332 minutes long; the “condensed” version is 165 minutes.
Longest title: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”
Shortest title: “RED”
Least enjoyable good movie: “Blue Valentine”
Most enjoyable bad movie: “Skyline”
Do not get these movies mixed up: “The American” and “The Tourist”; “I Am Love” and “I’m Still Here”; “Never Let Me Go” and “Let Me In”; “The A-Team” and “Easy A”; “Eclipse” and “The Eclipse”; “Date Night,” “Knight and Day,” and “The Next Three Days”; “Frozen,” “Buried,” and “Winter’s Bone”; “The Last Airbender,” “The Last Exorcism,” and “The Last Song”; “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” “Shrek Forever After,” and “Hereafter”
Movies with animals in the title: “Black Swan,” “Catfish,” “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” “Dogtooth,” “Fish Tank,” “Four Lions,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “The Human Centipede,” “Jackass 3D,” “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” “Piranha,” “Rabbit Hole,” “The Wolfman,” “Yogi Bear,” and, of course, “Animal Kingdom.” (Honorable mentions: “Marmaduke,” “Secretariat.”)
Movies that sound like they could be about a honeymoon gone wrong: “Why Did I Get Married Too?,” “Let Me In,” “Enter the Void,” “Furry Vengeance,” “You Again,” “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” “Dear John,” “The Back-Up Plan”
Family comedies in which former action stars play domesticated tough guys who must win over their girlfriends’ children while hiding their secret lives: Jackie Chan in “The Spy Next Door,” Dwayne Johnson in “Tooth Fairy”
Movies with extraordinarily misleading titles: “The Karate Kid” (it’s about kung fu), “Alice in Wonderland” (it’s a sequel to the familiar story, not a remake), “Robin Hood” (it’s a prequel to the familiar story, not a remake); “The Greatest” (it’s terrible).
Two-and-a-half-hour movies directed by gay men, aimed at female audiences, in which privileged, vaguely horse-faced American women go overseas to get their groove back: “Sex and the City 2,” “Eat Pray Love”
Globe-trotting action comedies in which a woman is abducted by a suitor who claims to be a government agent but might just be insane, and they fall in love, and she helps him with his mission, and she is frequently drugged or tied up: “Knight and Day,” “RED”
Documentaries in which children hope to be selected in education-based lotteries: “Freakonomics,” “Waiting for ‘Superman'”, “The Lottery”
Movies that take place largely in the characters’ dreams or imaginations: “Inception,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Shrek Forever After,” perhaps others that would be spoiler-y to mention