What's an Oscar columnist to do?
I write about the movies, and I've been known to give my opinions on what I like and what I don’t, so it makes sense to finish out the year with a Top 10 list.
But I also tend to cover everything through the prism of Oscar, and I've got this AMPAS Best Picture ballot that I can't return to PriceWaterhouseCoopers because they'd throw it straight into the trash. (They're sticklers about the fact that you actually have to be an Academy member to vote.)
So here, for the second year in a row, is my solution — This is my 2010 Oscar ballot, filled out the way I'd fill it out if I had a vote. But since I don't have a vote, it's my 2010 Top 10 list.
This one snuck up on me. The first time I saw it, in September, I found it dark and haunting, and thought Javier Bardem was pretty great. The second time, in November, I more fully embraced Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's search for beauty in the darkness, and Bardem's utterly magnificent performance as a man grasping at life in the face of death. The third time, in December, I realized that this crushing tone poem ("sordid poetry," Werner Herzog called it) moved me like nothing else released this year.
2. "Black Swan"
The most exhilarating movie experience I had all year came at 9 a.m. on a chilly Toronto morning when, after a week of not enough sleep and an hour in a rush line on the cold sidewalk, I was jolted awake by Darren Aronofsky's gloriously overheated fever dream about identity and madness and obsession. And its final half-hour – a crazy, weird, ludicrous, magnificently over-the-top crescendo of blood and paranoia and melodrama and Tchaikovsky – sent me back out onto that sidewalk muttering (and texting) "holy crap."
This choice is something of a cheat, because I wouldn't really be allowed put it on an Oscar ballot. These three films, which together last five-and-a-half-hours and make up one of the richest, densest, most panoramic theatrical experiences I had in 2010, debuted on French television and aren't eligible for the Oscars. But Olivier Assayas' bracing look at the rise and fall of a notorious terrorist is eligible for greatness, and a Top 10 list can say to hell with Oscar rules.
4. "Animal Kingdom"
Succinct where "Carlos" is sprawling, David Michod's quiet, tense Australian drama is the other great crime story of the year: "Goodfellas" meets "A Prophet," with Jacki Weaver as the scariest matriarch since Joan Crawford.
5. "Winter's Bone"
Debra Granik's tiny indie gem is a hardscrabble backwoods tale of poverty, the ravages of methamphetamine, and real true grit that doesn't need to wink at the camera. And oh, what faces: skeletal mountain man John Hawkes, tough mama Dale Dickey and the magnificent Jennifer Lawrence, who gives this tough little character study its heart.
In what was a very good year for documentaries, my favorite doc was the one that opted not to compete for an Oscar. Jeff Malmberg's film chronicles an upstate New York man who copes with a brutal beating by creating, and retreating into, a scale model of a World War II Belgian village. First-time filmmaker Malmberg has crafted a lyrical, smart and tremendously moving portrait of a damaged soul who seems torn between trying to heal and trying to hide … with a jaw-dropping twist at the end to bring it all full circle.
7. "The King's Speech"
Because "The King's Speech" is seen as going up against the hotter, timelier "The Social Network" at the Oscars, it feels as if I'm damning Tom Hooper's drama with faint praise to say it's exemplary filmmaking. But it's as purely satisfying a piece of cinema as you'll find, with a touch that's light and supple, not solemn and stodgy, and performances worthy of the hype.
8. "Four Lions"
The funniest movie I saw all year, Chris Morris' profane, politically incorrect comedy felt something like the brilliant "In the Loop" transplanted from the world of politics into a landscape of hapless would-be jihadists in London. Complete with my favorite punchlines of 2010: "Rubber dinghy rapids, bro," "F___ Mini BabyBel!" and "Is a Wookie a bear, Control?" (Context is everything.)
9. "Toy Story 3"
If there was ever a target audience for Pixar's 11th consecutive hit, it's probably my son, who was five when the first "Toy Story" came out and is now off at college with his Woody and Buzz toys sitting in a box at home. But if there was a secondary target audience, it might be parents who helped their kids pack up those Woodies and Buzzes. Given the fact that Pixar is pretty much always smarter and sharper than anybody else doing this kind of thing, was there ever any doubt that this one would hit home? (Rhetorical question. Of course there wasn't.)
10. "Never Let Me Go"
Lots of people stumbled over a key question ("Why don't they resist?") that hovers over Mark Romanek's sad, luminous adaptation of the Kazuo Ishiguro novel about young men and women calmly submitting to an unspeakable fate in an alternative England. To me, the answer was perfectly obvious, and the film a beautiful, heartbreaking and perfectly devastating meditation on humanity and complicity.
Movies that it hurts not to include: "Blue Valentine," "The Kids Are All Right," "Inception."
Movies that don't hurt so much, but I do wish I could include them: "Rabbit Hole," "The Fighter," "The Social Network," "127 Hours," "Another Year."