Wednesday, January 19, 2011

LeapBackBlog 2010 Film Awards – Part 5: Films

Film in 2010 was fantastic, full of great performances, great directing and great work behind the camera (or in post-production). More so than the last few years, 2010 had a greater number of excellent films, which made choosing the best films, performances, directors, and technical achievements very difficult. The LeapBackBlog Film Awards are comprised of what I think were the best and most interesting films, the strongest performances (taking into consideration who the actor is and what else they have done, and 2010 features a lot of amazing breakthrough performances), the narrative style that drew me in (best directing), and exquisite craftsmanship (best technical achievements). But really, these are lists of my favorites from the year.


Unflinching, 127 Hours is an intense film, the audience feeling each moment of panic, dread, elation, and euphoria.  The story centers on outdoorsman Aron Ralston and his incredible true story of survival against all odds. Danny Boyle directs the film to be a manic barrage of images and sounds, each conjuring emotions that create the journey. The film is a thrill ride, juxtaposing extreme emotions – a difficult task as it primarily takes place in a claustrophobic canyon. But what else would you expect from Boyle and his fantastic cast and crew?

A beautifully shot film about Nina’s rise to ballerina in her company’s new production of Swan Lake, Black Swan turns dark once director Darren Aronofsky warps it to be a psychological thriller. It is a scary film with jolting moments. But as it plays with the psyche of Nina struggling with the pressure to be perfect, the narrative is often unreliable, making for an interesting journey deeper into the darker recesses of Nina’s mind. The acting and technical work are aesthetically wonderful, leaving the film to be all the more alluring.

The first half of the finale in the Harry Potter series, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the perfect set up to what should be an action packed Part 2. But the film does not just merely play as a prologue. It is a very sad film at heart with characters being pushed closer to their breaking point and feeling the sheer anguish of their situation. However, director David Yates is very good at inserting humor into even the darkest films, and this is no different with many fun moments. And like many of the other films in the series, the aesthetics are amazing.

A heist film taking place on many levels within the target’s dream, Inception is simply an amazingly grandiose film. How writer-director Christopher Nolan every put it together is mind boggling. The acting and aesthetics are fantastic, but it is the characters and story (and astounding visuals) that make this (probably) the best film of the year. More than any other film during 2010, Inception was the cinema experience. But again, it is not all just spectacle. The story and characters are just as dense and rich. It is truly a masterful piece of filmmaking.

Probably the most fun of all these films, Kick-Ass is about a normal kid who tries to be a superhero. Director Matthew Vaughn’s realistic(ish) approach to the material pays off resulting in great action scenes, hilarity and genuine emotion. The cast is phenomenal and really elevate the film. Vaughn made this for fans of the genre who were tired of the predominantly sappy and lame adaptations coming out of Hollywood (though, of course there are a few great ones too, Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight for example), and we loved it.

The true story of King George VI’s friendship with his speech therapist, overcoming a debilitating stammer to lead his country during WWII, The King’s Speech is at its heart a buddy film (only surrounded with grave stakes and real consequences), which is very well crafted and structured hitting all the right emotional notes. Director Tom Hooper is also able to find humor in the serious subject matter and the cast is superb. It makes for a great companion piece to Hugh Whitemore’s Winston Churchill films.

Aesthetically brilliant, Never Let Me Go is tragic but hopeful tale of three children who grow up to be harvested for their organs. It is the most beautiful film of the year with wonderful cinematography, music and performances. Yet, the subject matter is difficult, as the dystopian film is haunting and ultimately heartbreaking. Director Mark Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland structure the story to focus primarily on the three children and their emotional journeys.

Probably the favorite to win the 2011 Oscar for Best Picture, The Social Network is the story of the founding of Facebook – lies, deceit, betrayal, and other fun stuff. It features excellent performances, music and a genius script by Aaron Sorkin. Director David Fincher does masterful work turning scenes of programming into exciting espionage. But what really makes it a great film is the character work, as the audience follows an antagonistic Mark Zuckerberg as if he were the hero of the story.

While this may just be a made for TV movie (though HBO’s homegrown movies are generally quite good), Temple Grandin is nonetheless one of the year’s best. It is a biopic about Temple Grandin an autistic woman who grows up to be a top scientist in the field of animal husbandry. Director Mick Jackson does good work visually expressing the perception that Temple has on her world, while also allowing the wonderful performance by Claire Danes to play as the center of the piece. It is a heart-lifting and inspirational treat of a film.

A classic western in style, True Grit features some of the year’s best performances, cinematography, music, and dialog. It is a hoot. Writer-directors Joel and Ethan Coen tell the tale of Mattie Ross who hires a U.S. Marshall to help her track down her father’s killer. The film has a perfect mix of humor, violence and drama to both entertain and enthrall its viewers. For those that love westerns (as I do), this is probably the must see of the year.

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