Accompanied at the Top

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Inception' Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Inception'
Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan' Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan'

Top 10 films of the year

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Every year’s top 10 list feels a bit incomplete due to the nature of the release schedule in the Midwest. Studios frantically scramble to offer screenings or screeners for critics to consider films that may not play in their markets until early the following year, if at all, and we include these selections on our lists as confoundingly frustrating teasers. It should be noted though, that this is never our intention. My personal road to hell is paved by a belief that, at the end of the season, I want readers to have a reference guide for those slow nights in years to come, when there’s nothing new in theaters or on the main premium cable channels and either thanks to a trip up and down the aisles at the neighborhood DVD rental/retail spot or an on-demand pick, this leads to an undiscovered gem.

In the case of 2010, while there are a couple of inclusions from my festival forays that haven’t made it to the Dayton area, I could still point to films like “Somewhere,” “Another Year,” “Rabbit Hole,” “Blue Valentine” and “The Way Home” that I will have to join you in seeking down the road. Rest assured though that we will make that journey together and I look forward to sharing my impressions with you (and hearing from you as well).

Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan'

“BLACK SWAN” (Darren Aronofsky)

Aronofsky orchestrates a vivid dance of creepy psychosexual tensions and fragmented reflections that dives into the blackest hole, but somehow still is able to take flight. As fever-dream-inducing as “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” may have been, “Black Swan” is the one you can’t shake. And Natalie Portman is the queen of this dark adult ball.

“THE SOCIAL NETWORK” (David Fincher)

Genius is prickly and unwilling to suffer fools. Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) is the least social person you’re likely to see gracing screens this year, but Fincher’s film walks audiences through a fictional account of the creation of Facebook, the number one social network in the world.  Eisenberg’s portrayal is genius personified.

“127 HOURS” (Danny Boyle)

Why would anyone want to sit through Danny Boyle’s retelling of the five days Aron Ralston spent trapped in a Colorado canyon before he finally decided to amputate his arm?  Who wants to see the actual deed in such graphic detail?  How about anyone inspired by this purest expression of what it means to be human? James Franco helps us to see how Ralston stared at death fast approaching on the horizon and struggled valiantly to slow its inevitable progress.

“BIUTIFUL” (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)

Inarritu forgoes his usual triptych format for a focus on one character’s arc, although he infuses it with three of four complications. Fortunately, Javier Bardem plays that character and he quite simply is acting on a completely different plane than any other performer this year (the closest comparison might be Daniel Day-Lewis who inhabits that creative space as if it were a deserted island).

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (Tom Hooper)

King George VI (Colin Firth) must overcome a powerfully debilitating stammer to inspire England to persevere during the dark days of World War II against Hitler. Unaccredited (and highly unorthodox) speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) helps him find his voice.  Firth and Rush lock into step together to transform a historic event into one of the most personally affecting stories of the year.

“THE FIGHTER” (David O. Russell)

All of the early performance-buzz surrounding this film noisily centers on Christian Bale’s dramatically intense weight loss, how Melissa Leo owns the low-class end of the character spectrum, and the welcome change of pace that the movie affords Amy Adams. Yet, the real power punch of “The Fighter” is the sneaky hook from the unassuming long-suffering producer & star Mark Wahlberg.

“MOTHER & CHILD” (Rodrigo Garcia)

Annette Bening deserves her share of praise for “The Kids Are Alright,” but her best work may have been in writer-director Garcia’s novelistic exploration into the many facets of (and longings for) motherhood. On top of that, the film presents the most complex and diverse post-Obama world onscreen this year or likely for years to come.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Inception'

“INCEPTION” (Christopher Nolan)

How was Christopher Nolan supposed to top the near landmark highs of “The Dark Knight?” That’s the wrong question to ask because he obviously never considered that to be a problem. Nolan just stuck to making the same kind of film he makes best – twisty puzzles full of big ideas and ever-expanding visual landscapes that occupy the rare air above our heads, but remain engaging.

“THE TILLMAN STORY” (Amir Bar-Lev)

I could argue (and I did, mostly with myself) that this wasn’t even close to being the best documentary of the year (granted this was a year for the ages with the likes of “Inside Job,” “Waiting for Superman,” “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and even “A Piece of Work” on Joan Rivers), but the timing of “The Tillman Story” (coinciding with the Wikileaks scandal) makes the film’s release certainly one of the most relevant examinations of governmental corruption to emerge this year.

“CLIENT 9: THE RISE AND FALL OF ELIOT SPITZER” (Alex Gibney)

What makes this Spitzer documentary so fascinating is not the idea that there was a conspiracy against New York’s crusading attorney general and governor, but that ultimately he was the main instrument of his own destruction. Watching him attempt to explain himself is the epitome of human drama.

Forget About It: “LITTLE FOCKERS”

I thought “Skyline” had safely secured this spot, but after enduring this laugh-less affair that is chockfull of recognizable faces doing little more than wearing crude masks on their way to cashing paychecks for drivel that will still likely earn yet another sequel. There is no focking way I will ever watch this or any installment of this series ever again.

Reach DCP freelance writer T.T. Stern-Enzi at T.T.Stern-Enzi@daytoncitypaper.com.


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