06 January 2011

Alan Waldman : My 10 Favorite Films of 2010

Scene from City Island with Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia. Image from Rotten Tomatoes.

City Island tops the list:
My 10 favorite films of 2010

By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / January 6, 2011

Many people believe The King's Speech is the best film of 2010, but at this writing it has not come to my town, so I will consider it for next year’s list. Over the decades that I have been compiling my lists of favorites, they have ranged from 15 movies to 30.This year there were fewer good films, but then I went to theaters less and spent more time watching excellent older films on Netflix (see below).

My top 10:
  1. CITY ISLAND is a wonderful comedy drama about keeping secrets from your family. It only played briefly in theaters, but it is a real treasure that I am 99% certain you will love. Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Emily Mortimer, Alan Arkin, and three unknowns are absolutely terrific. The script is great -- funny, insightful, surprising, sweet, offbeat, warm-hearted, and thoroughly enjoyable.

  2. INSIDE JOB accomplishes the difficult task of making the labyrinthine financial crisis of 2008-2009 understandable -- and therefore infuriating. At a worldwide cost over $30 trillion, the great economic crime put millions of people out of work, just so a handful of greedy banks could further enrich themselves. The film is smart, brilliantly edited, and compelling. It includes succinct interviews with top financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics. Despite the seemingly dry subject matter, it never stalls out but keeps driving forward. At rottentomatoes.com, 97% of the 92 critics surveyed gave it thumbs-up.

  3. IN THE LOOP is one of the most hilarious films of the decade. I seriously recommend watching it on DVD with the English subtitles. It is in English, but the jokes and funny insults come so fast and furiously that you sometimes have to back up and read them to catch everything. Scottish actor Peter Capaldi steals the film with his astonishing range of insults and wisecracks, but the fine American/British cast also includes James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, and some funny folks with whom we are unfamiliar. The plot deals with the efforts of British and American bureaucrats and officials to try and prevent their countries from getting into a Middle East war. Fully 94% of 150 reviewers liked this film.

  4. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is great for several reasons, but most of all for Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant, brilliant script. The film deals with the creation of Facebook by a couple of Harvard undergraduates. At first it was just a way to evaluate datable girls, but it has since grown to a global phenomenon with 500 million users. The journey to that success is highly entertaining, and the bright young cast adds a lot. At Rotten Tomatoes, 97% of 258 critics liked this one.

  5. FAIR GAME is both a gripping thriller and a true history of how Karl Rove and other Bush Administration officials, to cover up their lies about Niger yellowcake uranium allegedly sent to Iraq, outed CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame (well created by Naomi Watts) and demonized her husband, Joe Wilson (nicely limned by Sean Penn). The film has lots of compelling detail that was not in the news, such as the fact that the Bushies’ illegally identifying Plame directly cost the lives of 18 Iraqi nuclear scientists she was trying to help escape. This is a supremely well-made film that grabs you early and doesn’t let up.

  6. THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES is an outstanding Argentinean film noir murder mystery that justifiably won the 2010 Oscar for best foreign-language picture. Dealing with an investigation into a murder 25 years earlier, it is a gripping, complex, fascinating thriller (and love story), enriched by the performance of great Argentine actor Ricardo Darin (also terrific in the fine films Nine Queens and Son of the Bride). This one was a hit with 91% of 126 critics.

  7. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is an electrifying Swedish revenge thriller, based on one book of the global best-selling trilogy of novels by the late Stieg Larsson. A disgraced financial journalist and a brilliant-but-troubled computer hacker investigate the disappearance of a woman 40 years before and dig up all kinds of dark family secrets. There is lots of graphic violence, but the quality of the drama will justify it for most viewers.

  8. PASSING STRANGE is Spike Lee’s film of the extraordinary Broadway musical of the same name by writer/singer/composer Stew. All 24 critics tallied at Rotten Tomatoes liked it. It combines superb songs, imaginative staging, fine performances and splendid stage and film direction to tell a story that captures a lot of a young black men’s experience, going from a religious youth to mind-boggling political and sexual adventures in Europe. This one is a real hidden treasure.

  9. SOUTH OF THE BORDER is a solid Oliver Stone documentary that incisively refutes Bush Administration and Fox News lies about Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez and several other Latin American leaders who have bravely freed themselves from U.S. and International Monetary Fund dominance. Full of provocative insights, it includes fascinating interviews with the gutsy presidents of Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay and Brazil.

  10. DATE NIGHT is a very funny mistaken-identity comedy with splendid performances from Tina Fey and Steve Carrell.
My wife Sharon and I Netflixed many good older films, including Elsa and Fred, For Roseanna, The Memory of a Killer, Understanding Betty, Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story, Charlie Chan in Reno, Vantage Point, The Assignment, Me and Orson Welles, Wasabi, James Taylor: A Musicares Tribute, Cream: Disraeli Gears, You Don't Know Jack, Good Hair, Bill Maher: But I'm Not Wrong, Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg, Sneakers, and Owl and the Sparrow.

We also enjoyed Netflixing lots of great (primarily British) TV. These recommendations are in addition to our perennial favorites, including the legendary comedies The Thin Blue Line, The Vicar of Dibley, Blackadder, Absolutely Fabulous, Fawlty Towers, League of Gentlemen, Not Going Out and Gavin & Stacey, and the great Brit mysteries, including A Touch of Frost, Midsomer Murders, Cracker, Inspector Morse (followed by Inspector Lewis), Poirot, Miss Marple, New Tricks, Inspector Lynley Mysteries, and Jonathan Creek.

We watched and enjoyed episodes of each of these Brit series in 2010: Trial & Retribution, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Life on Mars, The Last Detective, The Commander, Wycliffe, and Judge John Deed.

We also thoroughly enjoyed the Brit series Desperate Romantics, about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the Henry VIII saga The Tudors, the small-town comedy/drama Doc Martin, and episodes of the excellent U.S. series Damages, Nurse Jackie, The Job, and Leverage.

[Houston native Alan Waldman is a former editor at Honolulu Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter.]

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