Let’s face it, 2010 wasn’t exactly a banner year for movies or the box office. There wasn’t a billion dollar juggernaut named Avatar. Or a gentle giant, like Michael Oher, to protect The Blind Side. There was no Star Trek, no Quentin Tarantino, and no slapstick comedy the equivalent of The Hangover.

Yet, for all its shortcomings, 2010 did provide many moments of movie magic. The toys from Toy Story returned for a final bow, Christopher Nolan inspired our imaginations, and independent filmmakers once again delivered the most original and compelling stories. 

In recognition of all these cinematic successes, I present to you:


Mark Sells, “The Reel Deal”

10. Toy Story 3

Very seldom will you find a sequel that is almost as compelling as its predecessors. But the team behind Toy Story 3 have managed to come very close. Kicking off a whole new world of animated moviemaking, Pixar launched the original Toy Story back in 1995, introducing audiences to Andy’s toys –the reliable cowboy named Woody and his futuristic partner, Buzz Lightyear. Not to mention, a slew of quirky characters ranging from Barbie to Rex to Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. The adventures have been heartwarming and nostalgic for the young and old. And this film completes the trilogy in a way that is somewhat darker and dangerous, but no less apropros – a fitting hand off for a franchise that has revolutionized the animation world.    

9. Black Swan

Directed by Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), the competitive world of New York Ballet gets heated when an artistic director fires his prima donna ballerina (Winona Ryder) and recasts a production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The result is a fierce and twisted rivalry between White and Black Swans – the naturally gifted, yet introverted Nina (Natalie Portman) and the erratic, yet sensual Lily (Mila Kunis). Shifting between seduction and sadomasochism, the film is reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s heroine in The Piano Teacher – a character who struggles for perfection, lives with her controlling mother, and sacrifices for the art. Can you be a great dancer without being a little crazy? That’s the question Aronofsky poses, boldly blending hallucination with reality in a shocking story that will leave you enthralled for days.

8. 127 Hours

This is the story of Aron Ralston, the Colorado mountain climber who was trapped under a boulder while hiking in an isolated canyon in Utah in May 2003. Over the course of 5 days, he patiently waits for a rescue that never comes. And throughout, reflects on his past, present, and future before ultimately, taking matters into his own hands. Directed by Danny Boyle, Academy Award winning director of Slumdog Millionaire, and featuring a heroic performance by James Franco, 127 Hours is an uplifting tale of one man’s personal triumph and survival. Even though it contains a cringe-inducing amputation scene, if you’re brave enough to endure it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the humor and spirit indicative of Ralston’s journey from darkness into light that’s sure to put Danny Boyle right back in the Oscar race. 

7. The Kids Are All Right

Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon), Kids is hands down, the best original screenplay of the year. A genuinely funny, heartwarming family drama about two children conceived by artificial insemination and raised by their two mothers, Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore). As teenagers, the kids seek out their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), whose independent, carefree lifestyle brings forth unexpected twists to their modern family. Smart, brilliant dialogue and sophisticated performances make this film utterly convincing. And it transcends typical family dramas simply by placing well-adjusted characters into universal situations and examining their imperfections.

6. Inception

Looking back to 2003, it’s now apparent that Memento was simply an appetizer – brilliantly backwards, it conveys a complicated mystery via a man suffering from memory loss. Then, fast forward to today. And with Inception, Christopher Nolan has taken it to the next level – an elaborate tale of multi-layered dreams and dazzling dimension. While both films feature characters adrift in time, Inception is bigger, bolder, and better. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the film follows Cobb, a corporate raider hired along with a team of specialized thieves to infiltrate a competitor’s mind and do the unthinkable – plant an original idea. What follows is a high paced heist, a convoluted grift that transports the team from one dream to another. And audiences eager to discuss the film’s complexities (Did the top fall?), from the theater to the water cooler.

5. The Fighter

Over the years, boxing films have a tendency toward cliché – an underdog overcomes obstacles in and out of the ring to become champion of the world. “Yo, Adrian!” And with David O. Russell’s The Fighter, there is that glimmer. But it’s buried in understated fashion via Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), an average boxer living in the shadow of his older brother, Dicky (Christian Bale), who allegedly knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard once upon a time. Micky is supported and equally antagonized by his family and the denizens of Lowell, Massachusettes – an impoverished, yet boisterous bunch. And must deal with his brother’s crack addiction before ultimately finding his way. Yet, what makes this film shine brightest is its supporting cast – Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and one outstanding performance by Christian Bale.     

4. Winter’s Bone

Speaking of clichés, in independent circles, calling the setting of a film a character is considered somewhat pedestrian. But in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, one can’t turn away from the harshness found in the backlands of the Ozarks – a place on the fringe where poverty runs rampant and survival means relying on the generosity of others. In the midst of this despair, 17 year old Ree Dolly must track down her father, who disappeared while on parole after he was caught dealing methamphetamine; otherwise, her two younger siblings and mentally deficient mother will be evicted from their house. A breakout performance for the ages, Jennifer Lawrence shows us a harrowing young hero – boldly assertive, self reliant, and strong. Through her conviction, compassion, and courage, she offers a flicker of hope, even in the heart of darkness. 

3. The King’s Speech

In 1939, on the brink of conflict with Germany, King George VI addressed the British Empire via radio to declare war in a now famous speech. However, George VI, formerly Prince Albert, suffered from a terrifying impediment that included awkward silences and stammers. Would he be able to overcome these stumbles and avoid public humiliation? Much of that would depend upon the relationship with Lionel Logue, a speech therapist and failed Australian actor hired to help and befriend the troubled king. Under the direction of Tom Hooper (The Damned United), The King’s Speech is surprisingly suspenseful, exploring a unique personal dilemma within the construct of a much bigger, historical drama. After all, George VI did not wish to be king, nor did he wish to address the public and expose his own flaws, but it was his obligation. And the film offers one of the best ensemble performances of the year, led by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, and Timothy Spall.            

2. Blue Valentine

Directed by University of Colorado alum, Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine is a devastatingly, honest portrayal of a couple whose marriage slowly disintegrates. Says Cianfrance: “I wanted to make a film that raised questions. And I hope that people leave the theater and fight about it!” Mission accomplished. Featuring magnificent performances from Academy Award nominees Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, the film runs the gauntlet of emotion, moving backwards and forwards through time, shifting between tender moments of early infatuation to complex feelings of disinterest, frustration, and anger. Thankfully, the film skirted an NC-17 rating last November by the MPAA and now has a chance to compete for awards because it’s truly, one of the most provocative films of the year.

*NOTE: A special screening of Blue Valentine will be shown on Monday, January 10th at the Landmark Mayan. Simply print off a pass for two here and present at the theater! But you’ll want to get there early. Seating is on a first come, first serve basis. And due to limited seating, there are no guarantees of admission.

1. The Social Network

Prior to the film’s release in November, the whole idea of a movie concerning a technology start up might be enough to induce a snore. But that’s where you’d be wrong. Adapted to screen masterfully by Aaron Sorkin and directed at a high speed rate of suspense by David Fincher, the film takes a relatively uninteresting subject like the founding of a social networking site and turns it into a sophisticated tale of friendship gone awry – greed, ego, and the pursuit of technological relevance. Add to that a young, vibrant cast consisting of Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, and Rooney Mara; plus, a stand out performance from Jesse Eisenberg, and there’s no question, you’ll “Like” this fascinating and original take on the Facebook phenomenon.