As of this writing, two days before the Oscars, I’ve seen 36 films released in 2010, which I’m quite certain is a personal record.
I’m not sure I saw a 2010 movie that I’d describe as truly great, though several were very good. Of the ten Best Picture nominees, two (The King’s Speech and 127 Hours) are simply bad movies, another (Toy Story) is nothing special at all, and at least two more won nominations that should have gone to better films. Natalie Portman’s performance in Black Swan is the most acclaimed acting performance of the year and will likely win her an Oscar, which is a bit like giving the Best Picture award to the film with the biggest explosions.
Anyway … Here are the 36 2010 movies I’ve seen as of this writing, in (rough) order of quality. My numerical rating scale is explained at the end.
Winter’s Bone: 8.5: Probably the best film of 2010, and it probably won’t win a single Oscar.
The Fighter: 8: This ground has been plowed countless times, but rarely this well.
Rabbit Hole: 8: A subtle film that trusts its audience -- most notably, trusts it not to need expository dialogue.
Another Year: 8: This year’s Rachel Getting Married: An exquisite, patient, and wonderfully-acted film that will turn off viewers who need protagonists with whom they can identify in exclusively positive ways.
[UPDATE: I inexplicably left Blue Valentine off this list. It’s an 8.]
The Kids Are All Right: 8: Had the potential to be overly saccharine, self-important, or both, but it wasn’t. Very nicely done.
True Grit: 7.5: Very well-crafted, but I can’t say that I care.
Biutiful: 7.5: Javier Bardem’s upcoming Best Actor loss will be one of the evening’s travesties. Another: Biutiful was not nominated for cinematography, while the thoroughly bland King’s Speech was. Like every other Iñárritu film I’ve seen, Biutiful approaches, but doesn’t quite reach, true greatness. (Or maybe it does, but loses me along the way?)
Please Give: 7.5: A small, quiet film about the problems of relatively comfortable people. (Hey, not everything has to be a tragedy.) Superb cast. New Rule: If Nicole Holofcener makes a movie featuring Catherine Keener, see it. You won’t be disappointed.
The Town: 7.5: Like The Fighter, The Town didn’t innovate, but it executed well.
Fair Game: 7.5: A chapter of a much larger story. For some viewers, awareness of the unexplored portions of the story may have enhanced the telling, but for me, it distracted.
The Social Network: 7.5: Well made, but why? And why take such liberties with an ostensibly true story about contemporaneous figures? And what’s with the portrayal of women? It’s the favorite for the adapted screenplay Oscar, which is a shame, as that’s where the film’s (significant) problems are.
The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town: 7: Fantastic, intimate portrayal of an artist at work. I’m probably overcompensating for my bias in favor of the subject by underrating it here.
Black Swan: 7: Visually striking, a strong first hour, and as good a performance as you could ask for from Natalie Portman, but her character’s unsympathetic starting point and straight-line descent into madness remove any real emotional resonance or suspense, making for a surprisingly dull second half. Portman’s likely Oscar win will come at the expense of at least three more-deserving nominees (Williams, Lawrence, Kidman.)
Inception: 7: Eye candy.
GasLand: 7: Good thing there’s a banjo; without it, the flammable drinking water might be too much to take.
Morning Glory: 7: Media types who wrongly thought it was about them trashed it -- but if they hadn’t gone in hoping for Broadcast News, they might’ve focused instead on Rachel McAdams’ emergence as a charming Diane Keaton-style comedic lead.
Animal Kingdom: 6.5: Well-acted but didn’t keep my attention. (In fairness: This may have been due to viewing circumstances rather than the film itself.)
Hot Tub Time Machine: 6: More depth than the title suggests -- the frequent 80s-movie references aren’t just cheap gags; they’re wry nods to the fact that we aren’t that young any more, and things didn’t go the way we expected. Still, basically a frivolous (but good) comedy.
Date Night: 6: Exactly what you want and expect it to be, assuming you want it to exist in the first place.
The A-Team: 6: Serves its purpose.
RED: 6: Mary Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich … How bad can it be?
Get Him to the Greek: 6: I expected funnier. If it’s the kind of movie you’re inclined to see, you probably won’t regret watching it. But you won’t regret missing it, either.
Runaways: 6: If you care about the subject matter, it’s good enough. If not … probably not.
Iron Man 2: 5: The first one was a 7 or an 8. This one would’ve been a 3 or 4 if it starred almost anyone other than Robert Downey Jr.
Salt: 5: Pretty much a paint-by-numbers action flick, but it gets points for being the rare action movie that casts a woman (rather than her breasts) in the lead.
Knight And Day: 5: Some entertaining moments.
The Ghost Writer: 5: Sterile and dull and made by a fugitive from justice.
The Other Guys: 5: There’s a good, funny movie in here. Unfortunately, there’s an extra 20 minutes of bad, unfunny gags spread throughout.
Greenberg: 5: Seems like there should have been more here.
The Losers: 5: Meh.
Toy Story 3: Nothing special -- and, ideally, kids movies wouldn’t reinforce gender stereotypes this much.
127 Hours: 5: Nicely captures the feeling of sitting through The King’s Speech. Actually, it wasn’t that painful … which is the problem. A movie about a guy who cuts off his own arm after being trapped in a hole for five days shouldn’t be this light and empty. James Franco is good, but director Danny Boyle made a 90 minute Mountain Dew commercial. Boyle seems to enjoy making horrific situations as beautiful and pleasant to watch as possible. Let’s hope he never gets around to making a holocaust movie.
The King’s Speech: 4: Tedious crap. This would be a 3 were it not for Colin Firth. All the actors did their jobs well, actually (though none as well as their Oscar nominations would suggest.) Unfortunately, nobody else did. Slow, repetitive and aimless.
Killers: 4: Bad.
The Bounty Hunter: 4: Worse.
Cop Out: 3: Kevin Smith is funny. Tracy Morgan is funny. What happened?
What the ratings mean:
10: A truly extraordinary, Annie Hall-level film. I don’t see many 10s.
9: An excellent movie that I’m happy to see win major awards. Most years, the 1-3 best films I see will be 9s.
8: A very good film and a legitimate Best Picture nominee (in a 10-nominee field) but not something I think should win.
7: Usually a good, well-made movie of modest ambition, or ambitious, generally good movie with significant flaws.
6: An adequately enjoyable time-waster but not worth going out of your way to see.
5: Worth watching on a long flight, but that’s about it.
4: A bad movie, to be avoided even on long flights.
3: An awful movie with absolutely no redeeming qualities. May involve Keanu Reeves or time travel.
2: An awful movie that has pretensions of greatness and depth.
1: Vanilla Sky.