My Top Ten Films of 2010
(film comments by Mark R. Leeper)

It is once again time to pick my ten best films of the previous year. Last year I thought that it was a particularly weak year for films. Sadly, that trend has gone even further. In addition, the best film of the year will make few reviewers'/critics' top ten lists because it did not have a theatrical release. It was made for HBO and appeared there first where it swept the Emmy Awards, but was not well noticed by the major film critics. That situation is particularly galling because a French made-for-TV movie had its first showing in the United States as a theatrical film, so it is eligible for the major film awards.

As usual I will not keep the reader in suspense and will present my choices with the best first.

1. TEMPLE GRANDIN--Made for HBO, this is the true story of Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science, a college professor, and a person with autism. She has used her individualized condition to reexamine livestock handling, to redesign animal handling mechanisms, and to shed new light on the autistic mind. Clare Danes gives a hypnotic performance and director Mick Jackson keeps the film visually interesting and full of ideas. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

2. TRUE GRIT--The Coen Brothers remake one of the classic Western films--a John Wayne Western yet. Their work was cut out for them, remaking a well-liked film, but they manage to make the characters more real and even to give the story a little more edge. Jeff Bridges gives one of his best performances and Hailee Steinfeld more than holds her own against the other leads. Matt Damon sort of fades into the background. It is not clear we needed another adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, but the production is first rate. It has more texture and more edge than the Wayne film. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

3. THE SOCIAL NETWORK--When we entered the Internet Age we entered a strange new world in which it is possible accidentally to become a billionaire. Based on truth, this is the story of how Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) fooling around invented Facebook and the power struggles afterward when the new web site became a mega-money maker. The story is complex, but mesmerizing. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

4. THE KING'S SPEECH--This simple likeable story of the future King of England attempting to overcome a speech impediment is playing to sold out theaters here in the United States. THE KING'S SPEECH tells the story of how a self-effacing prince of England overcame stammering to be a leader for his people when they went to war against Nazism. Tom Hooper directs a film that gives a rich and warm study of the royal family of England. This is one of the best-written films of the year. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

5. RABBIT HOLE--Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart turn in moving performances in this story of a formerly happy couple hit by the loss of a child and the ironic reactions of the couples' friends. This is a journey into anguish and loss, but it does not wallow in self-pity and is even at some times witty. Under it all there are some wry observations of inter-couple relationships. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

6. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO--An investigative report probes into a forty-year-old mystery of a disappearance of a girl from a gathering of a rich and influential family. He is dealing with forces too powerful for him, but is rescued by a mysterious and troubled young biker with almost fantastic abilities. This is the first of a trilogy about "The Girl", but it gives us enough of a taste to want to know more about this woman. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

7. WAITING FOR SUPERMAN--It is impossible to overestimate the importance of education to the well being of this country. There is no question that our schools are sick and in desperate need of healing. Writer-director Davis Guggenheim lays out the problem. This documentary is a thorough look at the educational system and how it hinders rather than fosters the intellectual growth of our children. This year there were several really powerful documentaries that really deserve to be seen and studied. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

8. FOUR LIONS--This is a low-budget, dark comedy with a very clever concept behind it. Four dim-witted Jihadi warriors plan a giant terrorist attack in England, but bumble at just about every turn. Parts of the film are very funny and parts are misfires. But even on the misfires one almost feels one should laugh just to support the very idea of the film. Britain's TV director Chris Morris makes his first feature film for the movie branch of Britain's Channel 4. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

And somehow similar:

9. CARLOS--This is a five-and-a-third hour mini-series from France telling the story of the legendary terrorist Carlos (the story is based on fact but with gaps filled in with speculation). Though for two decades Carlos was at the top of the "wanted" lists, we see that the man himself was lazy, narcissistic, and not really very bright. Edgar Ramirez plays Ilich Ram¡rez S nchez, know as Carlos. The first of the three parts is hard to follow, but eventually writer/director Olivier Assayas makes the story worth the effort. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

10. INCEPTION--There comes a point when enough is too much. Writer and director Christopher Nolan makes an intelligent thought-piece that is at the same time an explosive action thriller with lots of digital effects. There is little time to absorb the ideas. It may be better to see it more than once. In a world where a few people have the capability of invading and redesigning dreams, a team induces dreams in the heir to an industrial empire and then enters those dreams to plant an idea. This is a long film with a lot of fiery explosions, intelligent ideas, sputtering machine guns, and violent car crashes. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Honorable Mention goes to these six films:

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT--A two-lesbian-parent family is functional and stable until the children decide to meet the donor-father they share but have never seen. Meeting him upsets the dynamics of the family. What starts as a comedy about unconventional family relationships turns into a drama with ironically more conventional relationships. Annette Bening, Juliette Moore, and Mark Ruffalo star. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

TOY STORY 3--Some of the most serious films being made today are the comedies from Pixar Animation Studios that the whole family can enjoy. Pixar has another hit returning to the "Toy Story" franchise. In TOY STORY 3 young Andy who always loved his toys is going to college and his toys are going into storage. As a last- minute reprieve they go instead to a day-care center where they can play until they break. Unfortunately that fate may not be as far away as they had hoped. The writing quality is what makes this film work as a comedy, an adventure, and a film with some serious affecting human drama. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

CITY ISLAND--This comedy-drama is a real joy. In an Italian- American family living on an island off the Bronx, everyone has a secret or two that he keeps from the others. These secrets and the misunderstandings they cause become a major force in the family. Writer/director Raymond De Felitta has an uncommon talent for creating simple but compelling characters. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

IN SEARCH OF BEETHOVEN--This 139-minute documentary of Ludwig van Beethoven is the most intelligent film biography of a composer I have seen. By featuring great musicians and conductors giving their commentary on the music itself this film is a step more intelligent than most musical biographies. Beethoven's music is transcendent and washes over the viewer. Phil Grabsky writes, directs, and even films this account. Juliet Stevenson narrates. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

AFGHAN STAR--Just as Americans have their television program "American Idol", since 2005 Afghanistan has had its own popular music program "Afghan Star". It is the same and not the same. The difference is that religious fanatics like the Taliban can at any time decide singing a song is a capital crime. This is a country torn apart by those who want to bring in modern international ways and those who want to seal off the country with a fundamentalist fascism. This documentary follows four contestants on "Afghan Star" and what they experience risking their lives for a singing competition and for freedom. Havana Marking directs. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10


					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper