5. Get Low (dir. Aaron Schneider)
There’s not a lot of love for a film that sat on the shelf for almost a year and then got buried in late summer when everyone was preoccupied with its backwoods cousin Winter’s Bone. However, what resonated more with me on this one – though I did love Winter’s Bone – was not only the optimism that a bad man can earn redemption, but also the absolute stunner of a performance Bobby Duvall turned in. It’s easy to forget a man who’s been relegated to the curmudgeonly supporting ranks since 1997, but he struck back nicely with his turn as Felix Bush. In a just world he’d earn an Oscar nom for it.
4. Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan)
This wins all kind of respect in my book for being both insanely smart and insanely successful. Perhaps Nolan rode a bit of Caped Crusader cred in breaking the bank here, but I won’t hold that against him. What impressed me most was his ability to take the mind-bending, convoluted narrative track he began laying with Memento (or perhaps even Following) and filter it through not only with high production values and action sequences, but with characters and emotions that the audience could actually empathize with.
3. Never Let Me Go (dir. Mark Romanek)
A long time ago Mark Romanek flipped his status as one of the greatest music video directors of all-time into an opportunity to jump to feature films. Then he made One Hour Photo. Maybe it’s in light of that mess that Never Let Me Go was such a shock. Some found it overly bookish, some found it just too bleak, but I love the fact that he was able to take such a futuristic and dystopian story and give it such a classic feel. It doesn’t hurt to have some of Britain’s finest young talents as your cornerstones, which makes it even more surprising to me that this film didn’t find a wider audience.
2. The King’s Speech (dir. Tom Hooper)
…And then there are those films that just fire on all cylinders. Perhaps it’s the genius of Colin Firth in making us forget what an eloquent gentleman he actually is. Perhaps it’s the fact that Geoffrey Rush hasn’t been as possessed or delightful since Quills. Perhaps it’s just the Colonial tendencies acting up in my Canadian blood watching a King step up and earn his crown and the love and trust of his people. Or maybe it’s a little bit of all of that. Regardless, there’s a classicism in the storytelling and a clever genius in the mise-en-scene and art direction at play in this one that make it feel like both a longstanding classic and a stylish modern epic.
1. Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
I don’t know if there’s a more polarizing director this side of David Lynch than Aronofsky. He’s steadily added to his filmmaking muscle with every film he’s made since Pi, and, for me, he finally flexed all of them in Black Swan. There were times in this movie that the viewer feels so completely lost and so completely helpless, and that’s not a reflection of erratic filmmaking; that’s a reflection of embedding a film so deeply in its heroine’s psyche that the downward spiral comes straight through the camera’s lens. Every movement, action, character and shot of this film felt choreographed and not just for dramatic effect. It’s a testament to the talents of Aronofsky, Portman, Hershey, Cassel and Kunis that this film never goes off the rails despite every one of its characters doing so in such spectacular fashion. It’s the best film I’ve seen out of him yet – and easily the best I saw this year.
Honorable Mentions: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Submarine, 127 Hours, The Kids are All Right, The Social Network.