1. Winter’s Bone
My favorite movie at Sundance this year is also the year’s best. This completely original film gives us a glimpse into a world few of us know anything about, and draws us in to the story of a young heroine who was forced by circumstances to grow up too soon. Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes gave two of the best performances of the year. Compelling stuff.
2: The Kids Are All Right
This movie received much attention for featuring a same-sex relationship, but it’s not “about” that at all. Instead, it’s about relationships and the human need for companionship and a family. This is one of those rare movies where you care very much, and root, for all of the characters. Excellent performances by the entire cast.
3. The Freebie
Director Katie Aselton’s shoestring-budget movie about a couple’s decision to give one another a “free pass” to have a one-night-stand was one of the most authentic and relatable portrayals of a relationship I’ve seen since “The Puffy Chair.” A convincing portrayal of the havoc that mutually-agreed infidelity can create in an otherwise healthy relationship.
4: The Ghost Writer
Although Roman Polanski is odious as a human being, he remains a skilled filmmaker. This movie was incredibly good at making you feel what the characters felt – both in terms of the setting and the performances. I found myself engrossed.
5: The Social Network
David Fincher returns to form, directing Jesse Eisenberg in the role he was born to play. An interesting look at the man who has redefined the way we all interact with one another, and the ironic difficulty he has in engaging in personal relationships. This was a great-looking movie with an excellent cast.
6: Let Me In
I was initially annoyed by Matt Reeves’ decision to remake “Let The Right One In,” thinking he would dumb it down. I was wrong. Keeping what was great about the Norwegian film, Reeves made a distinctly American story about childhood, bullying, alienation, and most of all, friendship – themes that remain relevant across generations. “Eat some now. Save some for later.”
7: The Next Three Days
Ignored by audiences, this Paul Haggis movie suffered from a terrible title and very little marketing. But I found it to be a fast-paced, suspenseful, and plausible thriller led by an excellent performance from Russell Crowe. Also, I have come to the conclusion that Liam Neeson (who had a memorable cameo) makes EVERY movie better.
8: Easy A
Many filmmakers have tried, and failed, to imitate what John Hughes did in the eighties. They forget that what made those movies so good was that Hughes treated teens, and their problems, seriously. This modern take on “The Scarlet Letter” does that – it’s funny and real. Emma Stone deserves her Golden Globe nomination.
9: True Grit
I had very high hopes for this one, and was somewhat let down. After seeing the preview, I was hoping for something “grittier” (forgive the pun); perhaps an update on the themes explored in “Unforgiven” (then again, the Coens already kind of did that with “No Country for Old Men”). That being said, I found myself being thoroughly entertained.
10: The Town
Okay, it had a lame ending that felt inauthentic and forced. But it was a well-constructed film that was paced right, with a great story and characters I cared about. Ben Affleck is really coming into his own as a director. Jeremy Renner was excellent, once again.