Aah, who gives a shit what I think were the best movies of 2010? You have your favorites, I have mine, and neither of us has the authority to pronounce any set of films the “best.” (Best what? Best you’ve seen? Best in America? Best that got a theatrical release?) Having said that, for me this year there was Enter the Void and then there was everything else. Gaspar Noé may strike a lot of people as obnoxious but he delivers the goods. Enter the Void doesn’t really have any answers for us about what happens after we die but it sure moves heaven and earth to explore the possibility cinematically. Most likely, I’d guess, you just go out like a candle and that’s it. A true void. The film is really Enter the Trippy Light Show, but its vigorous attempts to go beyond the infinite earn it, I think, comparison to 2001. And that’s no small feat.
Even this, the greatest film achievement of the year in my eyes, has a comforting message: you die, you get to float around and visit your survivors, you might even get reincarnated. 2010 was the year of comfort films for people who need comforting. 127 Hours tells us that Aron Ralston’s loss of his arm made him a better person. Black Swan tells us that craziness leads to a triumphant final performance and poetic death, not being swaddled in Thorazine in some overcrowded, underfunded laughing academy. True Grit, a terrific old-school entertainment, tells us the bad guy can be hunted down and killed with a little frontier gumption. Even The Social Network tells Mark Zuckerberg he isn’t really an asshole, an assessment that came as a surprise to anyone who’d been watching the movie. And these are only the critically-acclaimed Oscar-chasers.
Most top-ten lists have been giving lavish, sack-tickling fellatio to The Social Network and Black Swan, which are essentially the same movie. Socially maladjusted twentysomethings pursue perfection, meet wilder versions of themselves, get lost in a maze of their own obsessions. Natalie Portman turns into a swan and perishes, Jesse Eisenberg sits and refreshes Erica Albright’s Facebook page. A self-pitying special-snowflake first-world-problem whine can be heard just under the fancy soundtrack music of both films. I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doin’ here. I’m a loser, baby, so why don’tcha kill me.
As for Inception, the mainstream version of Enter the Void: the further away I get from it, the more it seems that the whole is exactly the sum of its parts — the knockout dreamscapes you all saw in the trailer — and nothing more. It’s something, and one of the smarter films to earn almost $300 million in America, but for me one visit was enough. Your mileage not only may vary but very possibly will.
I dig movies that fuck with me a little, or show me something I haven’t seen. (Inception did that, but then didn’t have much to say about it. Christopher Nolan is a thinker but not a philosopher, an artist but not a poet.) This year moreso than ever, apparently. If it’s fake Cronenberg you’re after, pass up Black Swan and rent Splice, a wounding and complex and almost completely overlooked meditation on biological dread. If it’s fake Polanski you want, shrug off Black Swan and hit up the real thing, The Ghost Writer. I couldn’t have been less interested in Iron Man 2, but enjoyed the hell out of two other comic-book movies this year: Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, with which enjoyment very few geeks will beg to differ, and poor Jonah Hex, which only Armond White and I seemed to like. In the realm of low budget, Richard Griffin’s Nun of That and the Soska Sisters’ Dead Hooker in a Trunk deserve more eyes on them. A Serbian Film is in a category by itself; having “gone there,” it ultimately has nowhere to go. Much more subversive, and funny, was Tom Six’s The Human Centipede, the first film in a while that Roger Ebert awarded no stars not because he found it terrible but because — great poetic phrase and the reason nobody should count Ebert out yet — the movie “occupies a world where the stars don’t shine.” Indeed it does, and Dieter Laser is the dark star of that constellation.
Special mention goes to the following: Noomi Rapace’s cumulative performance as geek goddess Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara has huge shoes to fill); Martin Scorsese finding his movie-drunk groove again in Shutter Island; Woody Harrelson in the best superhero movie nobody saw, Defendor; Todd Solondz’ Happiness update Life During Wartime; the art-installation fun of Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated; Emma Stone and the rest of the witty cast of Easy A; the first two-thirds of The Last Exorcism before it decided to turn into The Devil’s Rain; Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass and Let Me In; the fundamentally shitty but fairly amusing Legion; the guilty pleasures Machete and Resident Evil: Afterlife; the cult-of-personality docs I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; and the best line of the year, Tina Fey’s probably-improvised “That’s amazing, Jeremy, but I’m gonna go home now and fart into a shoebox” in Date Night.
Did I miss anything? By all means, harangue me about it in the comments.