The Top 9 Films of 2010

9. Despicable Me (3D)

[Director – Pierre Coffin/Chris Renaud]

With a premise loosely coupled with The Incredibles, where professional superheroes living amongst the normal are replaced with professional supervillains, and a promotional based around small yellow thumb like creatures that go by the name of minions, we are bestowed with a successful family film that balances all of its strong aspects perceptively well.

Rather expectedly the minions aren’t typically ruthless or menacing, but rather mischievously humorous and therefore endearing as followers of a powerful baddie named Gru (Steve Carell). Themes of family and replacement bounce around as Gru battles with his evil dispositions and an inherit desire to effectively parent three orphan girls.

Whilst there are stronger animations this year, and its conformity to the 3D wingding wasn’t really necessary, Despicable Me was still a surprisingly enjoyable cinema experience. Furthermore strictly no prizes for Pharrell Williams of N.E.R.D please, who provided officially one of the laughably bad film themes of recent times.

8. Monsters

[Director – Gareth Edwards]

The notoriously lo-fi motion picture did wonders for independent cinema this year, with first time director and BBC visual effects man Gareth Edwards writing the ‘script’ (essentially rough paragraphs depicting a scene with a few key lines to integrate) and doing the cinematography on his laptop.

Coldplay and Brian Eno collaborator Jon Hopkins provides a typically electronic and ambient yet startlingly futuristically beautiful score to wrap your ears around. If Brian Eno wrote a hypothetical Music For Films concept album, Jon Hopkins made the imaginary a reality. The two lead actors are particularly strong, their real-life marriage doing wonders for their on-screen chemistry. Beautifully shot scenery and impressive monster CGI (laptop created) make this winter blockbuster a strong contender for the coveted Hollywood Agitator Of The Year award. A D.I.Y masterpiece.

7. Inception

[Director – Christopher Nolan]

Christopher Nolan’s small but reputable film portfolio boasts the billion-dollar monster The Dark Knight and the mind-bending maverick Memento. So it’s no surprise that what the London born film-maker has aspired to here is a muscled concoction of the two with a rather first-rate outcome. DiCaprio and Michael Caine (The Dark Knight) are the big names drawing in the punters but since Tom Hardy catapulted himself into the Hollywood stratosphere with his rock hard depiction of Charles Bronson after a string of subtle television appearances, Inception deploys his essential début on the mainstream screen as an incarnation of cool.

From the offset Nolan juggles with the danger of overdoing the intellectualism, but never quite manages to drop a thing, not even for a second. It’s the kind of film that thrives in the cinematic environment, with very obvious expensive special effects. Inception explores dream invasion, the prospect of breaking and entering ones mind with the necessary technology available. Thus there is understandably a surplus of Oh! It’s a dream within a dream within a dream. Easy does it.

6. How To Train Your Dragon (3D)

[Director – Chris Sanders/Dean DeBlois]

Excusing the first two Shrek chapters and Sacha Baron Cohen’s depiction of King Julian in the Madagascar films, DreamWorks have always suffered at the mightier animating hand of Pixar in almost all aspects of film-making, except the accolade of highest grossing animated film, that’s for Shrek. But after the dive-bomb disappointment of Shrek Forever After, 2010 is the year they have redeemed themselves with an excellent concise story that appeals both visually and narratively.

Based on a children’s book of the same name, How To Train Your Dragon is a valiant mixture of emotionally winsome writing and blazing 3D special effects. And thankfully they’ve dropped the whole ‘talking-animal’ and ‘animals do quirky things they wouldn’t usually do’ trademarks and the dragons are just dragons. But this doesn’t sacrifice any form of magnetism or connection. It’s so enjoyable, that hopefully this marks the start of an intelligent progression for DreamWorks. Maybe they should stick to literature adaptations.

5. The Illusionist

[Director – Sylvain Chomet]

Sylvain Chomet’s follow up to the big indie hit Belleville Rendez-vous is animation the likes of which competed admirably with the major animation production companies this year. Like Gareth Edwards (Monsters) we have another three trick pony here in Chomet with co-writer, director and composer accolades to his name, co-written since the storyline is an adaptation of Jacques Tati‘s original manuscript ‘L’Illusionniste’.

Animated in picturesque Edinburgh we follow a magician struggling to maintain an impact on a 1950s society whose growing obsession is focused upon British rock n roll groups. Attention to detail is utterly profound with an intricate animation of the Jenner’s department store, which is still pulling in consumers to this day. Chomet’s hand-drawn animation is endlessly distinctive and instantly recognisable. Much like Belleville, all dialogue tip-toes on silence allowing you to absorb the impressive scenery and, like a quiet musical concert, the audience are forced to shush and lean in further. But for goodness sake, do not watch if you’re already sad!

4. Another Year

[Director – Mike Leigh]

Supported by the once defunct but since rescued UK Film Council, Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky, Vera Drake), dishes up a typically British slice-of-life (technical term: ‘In medias res’) to shock your system. The story revolves around the unbreakable marriage of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), whose surrounding circle of friends are the epitome of mid-life crisis unhappy.

Leslie Manville utterly steals the show as Mary, an anxious Quinquagenarian (50-59 years old) first divorced and then dumped by her married lover.  Her life progressively spirals out of time, lost in a sea of depression and alcohol. Uplifting? Strangely a little bit. Every cloud has a silver lining, and like a compulsory jab before a holiday; it is in fact the painful injection of realism we actually need. The last thing anyone requires is another new variation on the escapist far-fetched love fantasy that inevitably ends in total perfection. Again, probably do not watch if already sad.

3. The Social Network

[Director – David Fincher]

This has and will appear in many end-of-year lists, but there is good reason. Facebook’s active user count is over halfway in its bid to reach 1 billion users, and for many of us has become an integral part in our everyday lives. Not one member of Facebook staff endorsed the film, although rather ironically the guy who was essentially betrayed by Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin (we’ll ignore those pesky twins), acted as a consultant to the book ‘The Accidental Billionaires’.

The screenplay adaption of this book is successful, employing flashbacks as a device to flick between the legal dispute and the origin of the site. Furthermore the acting (excusing my qualms with Jesse Eiesenberg) is engaging, Trent Reznor’s score suitable, and the direction informative. Zuckerberg is currently 26-years-old and thought to be worth around $6.9 billion, equal to only a 24% share of the company. This grants him the title of youngest billionaire on the planet, and Time Magazine’s person of the year 2010. The Social Network will sit as an engaging historical footnote in the Facebook saga. One for being inspired.

2. Exit Through The Gift Shop

[Director – Banksy]

The infamously evasive yet über prolific Banksy took his artistic golden touch into cinema this year creating a “documentary” that showcases his original artistic stance whilst simultaneously lampooning the often dizzying hype surrounding his work. The contradictory feeling that it was completely genuine, yet also like a Spinal Tap for the art world, only added to the film’s charm.

The opening scenes embellish an almost historical ambience of street art on a global scale, with the Banksy name refusing to be mentioned until a good amount of time has passed. This is fitting, since the focal point of the motion picture itself is actually immigrant Thierry Guetta and his accidental meeting with Banksy, pseudonym Mr. Brainwash [clue much?]. The notion eventually surfaces that just because Guetta films everything he sees, this superficial experience does not convert into any actual talent for succinct film-making, or a concise sequencing of his supposedly ‘artistic’ vision. Banksy’s fellow Bristolian Geoff Barrow of Portishead supplies the music and is also narrated by Rhys Ifans. Entertainingly funny and appropriately absorbing.

1. Toy Story 3 (3D)

[Director – Lee Unkrich]

In the battle of CGI animation production companies DreamWorks have always been inferior to Pixar, despite Shrek 2 once bearing the title for highest grossing animated film of all time. But since the rivalry began in 1998, Antz was always a far weaker rip-off of A Bug’s Life, just like Finding Nemo embarrassed Shark Tale later on. And whilst the first two Shrek outings were total blinders, the third was an inanimate mess with no obviously natural storyline progression within the plot. This is the hurdle Pixar utterly soared over, with the third Toy Story instalment clinching the highest-grossing-animated-film-of-all-time in the process. The rivalry is amusingly summarised here, and it is apparent that for the lesser studio it has always been more of a question of quantity, both in terms of profit and films seemingly made on a production-line, over quality.

In a similar fashion to the Harry Potter books, I’ve grown up with Toy Story, ageing at approximately the same rate as our protagonist Andy. So it’s no surprise I almost cried more than twice in this, and I’m supposedly a big hardy male. This just goes to show how skilful storytelling coupled with experienced animation can appeal to the passions of both adults and children alike.

-James Godwin, December 22nd, 2010
Copyright © 2010. James Godwin. All rights reserved.