#5 - BLACK SWAN
Intoxicating, horrific, and beautiful, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan serves as the perfect thematic sequel to his 1998 microbudget debut, Pi. Ballet has replaced math as the protagonist's unhealthy fixation, but as a disturbing journey into obsession and delusion, the narrative beats are similar, often identical. I'd lambast Aronofsky for plumbing his own leftovers if Black Swan weren't every bit as great as its spiritual predecessor. Aronofsky knows how to draw bizarre, disquieting energy from even the most seemingly mundane scenes, and this film also cements The Wrestler's suggestion that he may be the best working actor's director in the world. Whatever retarded, manufactured "controversy" sprung up around how much of the dancing she did, Natalie Portman's performance is brilliant, among the greatest of the last ten years. Shocking news for anyone who feels that Portman using a dance double for a few long shots negates her performance: Heath Ledger did not actually get into a truck and get flipped over in it during production of The Dark Knight. Oscar revoked, right?
#4 - THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Like Quentin Tarantino, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is a man whose smugness and unflinching belief in his own greatness begs you to hate him even as the irritatingly consistent quality of his work speaks for itself. Sports Night and The West Wing? Two of the best TV series ever. I may have smirked to see him taken down a peg with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but just as Tarantino followed up Death Proof with Inglourious Basterds, the wit and the power and the dazzling energy of Sorkin's screenwriting rose forth from the ashes as strong as ever in The Social Network, instantly shutting up thousands of internet whiners who spent two years bitching about how they thought a Facebook movie was stupid. More breathless and propulsively-paced than the vast majority of action thrillers (thanks to Trent Reznor's brilliant score as well as Sorkin's script), here is a film about corporate greed and torn loyalties that humiliates nearly all that came before it. Why anyone would stoop to going back to Wall Street with this film available is beyond me.
#3 - A PROPHET
A truly awesome mix of the prison movie and the familiar "rise of a crime boss" narrative, A Prophet tells the story of Malik, an illiterate nineteen-year-old Muslim who gets thrown into a rough, violent prison for a six-year sentence after hitting a cop. He's forced to align himself with a gang and do their dirty work (up to and including murder) to survive, but gradually and eventually, without giving away specifics, starts taking things into his own hands. Tahar Rahim is absolutely incredible in how much he evolves his lead performance through the film's two and a half hours with little obvious makeup or other crutches. The change is in his eyes, his face, his voice, his body language. He's a completely different character going in and coming out, but without the evolution ever feeling jarring or unconvincing. It's like you've just watched an entire TV series about Malik, not one little movie. A Prophet had its Best Foreign Language Film Oscar stolen by the great-but-clearly-inferior The Secret in Their Eyes, but thankfully it now sits on Netflix Watch Instantly for all to see. It's a bit of a time commitment, but there are few 2010 films more worthy of that commitment. Just two, in fact!
#2 - INCEPTION
Like many, I went and saw Christopher Nolan's Inception opening weekend (and again the next weekend). Unlike many others, I then opted out of the conversation entirely. I didn't read any reviews, didn't click on a single message board thread about it, didn't read a word of the thousands of pages of vitriolic arguments about the ending. Outside of watching and enjoying the movie several times, I have spent approximately five total minutes of my life on Inception fandom since the film's release — I didn't even review it on this blog, despite it being my most anticipated movie of the year. I guess this might be why, despite some apparently being exhausted by the mere mention of it, I continue to absolutely love the film, as I absolutely love damn near everything Christopher Nolan touches. I had no hesitation describing him as one of the greatest blockbuster filmmakers of all time before Inception; now I have even less.
You've seen the movie. You don't need me to tell you about how dazzlingly ambitious and creative it is, how cool the action scenes are, how gorgeous it looks, how it swings from thrilling to haunting to deviously clever from scene to scene. The film caters equally to The Dark Knight fans looking for crackerjack summer entertainment and Memento fans looking for an elaborate cinematic puzzle, and, going by box office results, just about everyone in between. Nolan is one of the few working filmmakers who deserves final script authority, final casting say, final cut, and whatever budget he wants for whatever he wants to make. Studios should just throw him bags of cash, get out of his way, and let him do his thing.
#1 - SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Inception, A Prophet, The Social Network, and Black Swan are all great, of course. If Scott Pilgrim vs. The World didn't exist, I'd be happy and satisfied to call them my favorite films of 2010. But Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does exist and it's a warm, gooey mix of classic video game nostalgia, comic book action, and Arrested Development that if I didn't know better I would think Edgar Wright made just for me. True, I'm not Canadian, but everything else about it is a cinematic Cupid's arrow straight through my heart. A few times a decade am I lucky enough to sit in a movie theater and fall so madly in love with the film unspooling before me. On a more objective level I could go into how vibrant and creative the action scenes are, how propulsive and unique the editing is, the great music, and how simultaneously sweet and hysterically funny the film is from beginning to end, but at a certain point I don't know if being objective about film is that useful, especially on a blog. I love Scott Pilgrim vs. The World because it's about and is filled with stuff I love, simple as that. I'll cherish and continue to watch it forever.
I think I'm actually going to re-review the film around its upcoming one-year anniversary — despite how much I enjoy it, I do have some issues, particularly with the ending — so I won't bother going too much more in depth right now. But just know that I have pure love for it, and it's unquestionably my favorite movie of 2010.
That wraps up the top 25, but stay tuned: best performances, directors, screenplays, and movie moments of 2010 are still ahead.