Going to the movies in 2010 reaffirmed that in the hands of the right talents, any subject can be cinematic, even the founding of Facebook.
A British royal undergoing speech therapy, a team meddling with an executive's nighttime imaginings and a solitary adventurer literally pinned between a rock and a hard place might not sound like particularly promising movie material. But with filmmaking dream teams such as David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Nolan and Leonardo DiCaprio, and Danny Boyle and James Franco working together, seemingly chancy concepts were transformed into some of the best movies of the past year:
1. “The Social Network”: In retrospect it seems silly, but I went into “The Social Network” wondering what could possibly be interesting about the origins of Facebook, the now-ubiquitous Web universe populated by everyone from fifth-graders to grandmothers.
As it turns out, the story behind the much-disputed founding of the 500 million-member-strong online phenomenon is packed with complicated characters and juicy dramas worthy of a Shakespearean classic. The site's litigious beginnings are spun into an engrossing and surprisingly epic tale through the savvy guidance of director David Fincher (“Zodiac”), the laser-sharp writing of Aaron Sorkin (TV's “The West Wing”) and uniformly superb performances, including Jesse Eisenberg's nuanced turn as Facebook mastermind Mark Zuckerberg. With Facebook surpassing Google to become the most-visited website of 2010, movies don't get much more current than this.
2. “Inception”: Film fans and critics longing for a smarter breed of summer action movie got their wish in July with this high-concept heist thriller. Writer-director Christopher Nolan, who already has succeeded in making his Batman movies darkly thoughtful and slam-bam exhilarating, again brought his formidable storytelling skills to bear with his winding but never muddled tale of a team of dream stealers (the excellent Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) trying to plant a counterintuitive idea into the mind of a businessman (Cillian Murphy). The enigmatic ending kept my husband and me pondering long after we exited the IMAX house.
3. “True Grit”: Many movie fans felt Joel and Ethan Coen were treading on sacred cinematic soil by re-adapting Charles Portis' novel “True Grit.” After all, the 1969 adaptation already had moseyed into the annals of movie history. The film not only won John Wayne his lone Oscar, it also starred The Duke in one of his most memorable roles, as trigger-happy, alcohol-sodden U.S. Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn.
But the Oscar-winning Coen brothers made good on their vow to make a film truer to the tone and language of Portis' wonderful book, crafting a sublime addition to the Western movie canon. While celebrated actors Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon turn in fine performances as Cogburn and vain Texas Ranger LaBeouf, respectively, 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld makes a stunning film debut as indomitable heroine Mattie Ross.
4. “Toy Story 3”: After more than a decade, the toys were back in town, and their return was as hilarious, thrilling and emotionally satisfying as cinephiles could have hoped. The animation geniuses at Disney/Pixar faced to-infinity-and-beyond expectations with the release of the long-awaited third film in their groundbreaking computer-animated series, and they blasted their lovable gang of plastic playthings into the upper echelon of movie trilogies. Thought-provoking and wildly entertaining, the final ride of Sheriff Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen) and their playroom pals deserved its place as the best-reviewed and top-grossing film of 2010.
5. “127 Hours”: For the follow-up to his beloved 2008 epic “Slumdog Millionaire,” which won eight Oscars, director Danny Boyle again turns a survival story into a captivating and life-affirming movie that's occasionally excruciating to watch. While “Slumdog” sparkled with magical realism and bustled through the slums of Mumbai, India, “127 Hours” is based on the true story of solitary adventurer Aron Ralston, who against seemingly insurmountable odds lived to tell the tale of becoming trapped in a remote canyon near Moab, Utah. James Franco's fearless turn as Ralston imbues the movie with real-life urgency.
6. “The King's Speech”: Stalwart thespians Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush bring cracking chemistry and accessible humanity to Tom Hooper's fact-based period drama about King George VI (Firth), a lifelong stutterer who finds himself thrust onto the British throne during the golden age of radio as World War II looms, and Lionel Logue (Rush), an Australian commoner and aspiring actor who becomes the royal's speech therapist and closest friend.
7. “Winter's Bone”: Director Debra Granik's Sundance Festival grand jury prize winner unflinchingly transports audiences to the Missouri backwoods, where poverty, methamphetamine and family dysfunction are as much a part of the Ozark Mountain culture as crystal streams, mighty forests and bluegrass music. The taut thriller hinges on Jennifer Lawrence's breakout turn as Ree Dolly, a tenacious teenager who will stop at nothing to find her bail-jumping father, who has used their ramshackle home as collateral on his bond. Determined to protect her mentally ill mother and two young siblings from eviction, Ree must face down the ruthless members of her meth-making criminal clan on her harrowing quest.
8. “Never Let Me Go”: Director Mark Romanek's (“One Hour Photo”) elegantly haunting adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's acclaimed novel unfortunately lasted a mere week in a single Oklahoma City theater. Set in an alternate reality long changed by radical scientific breakthroughs, the lovely film combines the heartbreaking warmth of a British romantic drama with the chilling horror of a science-fiction cautionary tale. Through the tale of three friends (Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, who give indelible performances) locked in a painful love triangle, Romanek gracefully explores the fleeting nature of life.
9. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”: It doesn't boast the stunning performances of Darren Aronofsky's mind-bending ballet drama “Black Swan” or the harrowing exploration of drug addiction and poisonous family ties of David O. Russell's hard-hitting boxing biopic “The Fighter.” But Edgar Wright's (“Hot Fuzz”) faithfully amped-up and video game-inspired adaptation of the popular “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels earns its spot on my list because it was one of the most inventive and downright fun movies I saw in the past year.
10. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”: By 2010, the late Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy of crime novels and the Swedish-language films based on them reached global phenomenon status. While the film franchise produced diminishing returns, the initial movie at least lived up to the frenzied hype. Director Niels Arden Oplev skillfully adapts Larsson's twisty first book into an electric thriller and introduces the world to Nordic actress Noomi Rapace as unforgettable antiheroine Lisbeth Salander.