It's that time of year when movie critics everywhere are busy with bookkeeping, tallying up 2010's screen offerings and issuing their Top 10 lists.
But dictating the year's “best” films is so often a rote ritual, driven by urgencies of the upcoming awards season and marked by a certain inevitability as studios march out their prestige pictures and promotional blitzes to generate maximum holiday fanfare. Thus, many top 10 lists are necessarily top-heavy with these inescapable Oscar contenders.
The fated suspects show up on every list: “The Social Network,” “Inception,” “The King's Speech,” “Black Swan” and so on. And rightfully so. These are indeed among the year's indisputable best.
In a mild act of rebellion, we hereby issue our highly subjective list — not of “bests” but of “favorites.” These movies might not show up on others' lists and they might not figure into the manufactured hype of the pre-Oscar run-up, but they're movies we found among the most thoughtful, stimulating and/or fun and entertaining in 2010.
Here they are, in no particular order:
• “Metropolis” — Though it was originally released in 1928, the restored version with 25 minutes of formerly lost footage makes Fritz Lang's futuristic silent masterpiece feel finally complete, like a brand-new film. Its release was truly one of the year's highlights.
• Steig Larsson's Millennium Trilogy (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest”) — Taken individually, the films of this Swedish-language trio had their excesses and lapses. But collectively, their chilly Nordic noir style, psychological complexity, exhilarating thrills and indelible characters added up to a relentlessly haunting and compelling time in the theatrical darkness.
• “The Ghost Writer” — Roman Polanski's personal and legal demons notwithstanding, the Oscar-winning maker of “Rosemary's Baby” and “Chinatown” showed he still has the master's touch with this cool, cunning and polished political thriller that packed loads of sinister, Hitchcockian intrigue and a memorable climactic wallop.
• “My Dog Tulip” — While “Toy Story 3” will certainly garner the lion's share of animation kudos, this modest, hand-drawn treat for canine lovers (originally released in 2009 but just now making U.S. rounds) adapts British academic J.R. Ackerley's wise and prickly 1956 memoir of life with his exuberant German shepherd. It's a human-scale story that's a tad more sophisticated, rough-edged and offbeat than the broad-stroke, family-friendly stuff that studio animation units have polished to glossy perfection.
• “Leaves of Grass” — Tulsa native Tim Blake Nelson corrals an unruly passel of influences — classics, philosophy, spiky comedy, bleak drama, the Coen brothers — to produce a smart, funny and bracingly irreverent journey back to the quirky offshoots of his Okie roots. All the parts come together neatly in this light-dark film (the title itself suggests a heady dichotomy — wacky tobacky or the words of Walt Whitman?), which is graced with an uncanny duel performance by star Edward Norton.