But that's enough preamble. Here are my top 10 films.
Audiences have wised up in recent years regarding the manipulations inherent in most documentaries, and 2010 found a group of docs that made their own unreality part of their appeal. While I'm Still Here ended up rubbing some viewers the wrong way, I was particularly dreading watching Catfish - which details the online friendship between photographer Yaniv Schulman and the 8 year-old painter Abby and her family - since reviews began questioning its legitimacy immediately upon its release. I put on a mask of skepticism when I sat down to watch it, which made my strong emotional reaction to the material surprising to myself. I lean towards the whole thing being 100% legitimate (or as legitimate as a documentary can be), and in that case it's the most gripping documentary I've seen since 2009's The Cove. To reveal anything would be unfair, but needless to say this is a film that explores the necessity of illusion as a motivator in many of our lives. Surprisingly heartbreaking.
The backlash on Danny Boyle's adaptation of the harrowing true life survival tale of Aron Ralston, who after being trapped in an isolated canyon was forced to cut off his own hand in order to escape, began almost immediately. I'll admit to rolling my own eyes at the initial tales of audience members fainting from shock (a very William Castle promotional move), and Boyle has shown a tendency towards unnecessary flash in the past that has rubbed me the wrong way. Color me surprise that I found 127 Hours to be absolutely gripping, with Boyle occasionally falling into his bad habits (and a few achy moments of schmaltz) but treats the material beautifully, assisted greatly by a subdued and sympathetic one-man-show performance by James Franco. This could easily have fallen into TV movie territory, but this is a thankfully sincere and rapidly paced tale of legitimate courage.
Before Youtube your best bet at finding pieces of video oddness came with underground tape trading, and one of the most memorable of these pre-viral videos featured profane outtakes from a 1989 promotional video for winnebagos. The "star" of this video - Jack Rebney - soon became known internationally as the 'Winnebago Man', and his anger amused hundreds of thousands; including documentary filmmaker Ben Steinbauer who decided to see what effect this video had on the life of Mr. Rebney. What transpires is often sad, sometimes hilarious, but always riveting. After quite a trial tracking the man down, Steinbauer discovers someone who seems to both reject attention while craving the excitement of being listened to - though he's a difficult subject to summarize (or tolerate). During a year when it seemed like there was another internet-based sensation every week, it's fascinating to examine the real effect that fame (even minor) can have on a person's life.
Make no mistake, this is a horror film. There are shades of Cronenberg and Lynch, but the sheer commitment to daring is pure Aronofsky and scenes that would become hokey in the hands of a lesser filmmaker somehow succeed to becomes a distillation of the pressure to succeed in the world of ballet. In many ways a companion piece to Aranofsky's previous film The Wrestler, Black Swan similarly has a powerhouse performance in the lead as well as a reliance on handheld photography that brings out the simple beauty in an artform that can sometimes feel aloof or distant. Beautifully bold, and worthy of repeat viewings to further unlock its secrets.
Many wonderful filmmakers - from Stanley Kubrick to the Coens - have been unfortunately (and often unfairly) labelled as being emotionally distanced from their films. Inception is a clever exercise and work of immense technical skill, and as challenging a blockbuster as has ever been released, but the characters do sometimes feel a bit flat an uninvolved and there is a sterility to the proceedings that I felt removed me from the universe in which it takes place. However, Christopher Nolan deserves plenty of credit for simply keeping all of these disparate elements in the air and somehow wrapping things up as neatly as one could reasonably expect. This is a filmmaker who is still growing and evolving, and if he sometimes seems a little in awe at the toys he has available to him, he could hardly be blamed. Tremendously entertaining work, though you may find yourself searching for a pulse.
I'll be back later in the week with my Top 5!