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.