A heroic Greek myth in an indie film’s clothing. Director Debra Granik and star Jennifer Lawrence turn an unassuming tale of American rural poverty, in which a teen girl goes on a perilous journey to uncover the whereabouts of her drug-cooking father, into an intimate feminist drama that also evokes Homer’s “Odyssey.” Not to be missed, or underestimated.
Five movies for the price of one. The catch? They’re all playing at the same time. That’s the breathtaking accomplishment of writer-director Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending (and -twisting and -turning) thriller about a team of dream thieves. Inception would be astonishing simply for the fact that it works. That Nolan and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard manage to make the movie emotionally resonant, as well, elevates it far beyond a technical achievement.
3. True Grit
A true Western, delivered by Joel and Ethan Coen without a trace of their trademark irony. As the movie follows a mission of vengeance – a 14-year-old girl’s pursuit of her father’s killer – it’s sure to note the many bodies that this righteous angel leaves in her wake (technically it’s Jeff Bridges, as the ruthless marshal she hires, doing the killing). True Grit is another deeply moral tale from two decidedly Old Testament filmmakers.
Remember hand-drawn animation? Soon, it may be a distant memory. Until then we have this wondrously fertile effort from director Sylvain Chomet, who delights in all the squiggles, doodles and faces, faces, faces that the clean lines of computer animation keep at bay. And as it follows a 1950s magician struggling to find stage space in the burgeoning era of rock and roll, the movie also works as a noble lament for its own art form.
Were there any 2010 movie characters more deeply flawed, deeply affecting and deeply real than those at the center of this emotionally cathartic family drama? That mainstream audiences could relate as easily as they did despite the film’s “alternative” setting – Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a married couple whose family is threatened with the arrival of their kids’ biological father – is a testament both to the cast and the empathetic eye of writer-director Lisa Cholodenko.
More traditionally mythical than Winter’s Bone, this saga packs nearly as powerful of a wallop. It’s certainly more visceral, as Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn deliriously documents the brutal violence endured – and delivered – by a one-eyed warrior in 1,000 A.D. It’s a rough consideration of the savagery that lies just beneath our skin, no matter how much civilization we’ve managed to conjure.
Director Edgar Wright took Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels about an easily infatuated twentysomething bassist (Michael Cera) and put them were they belonged: on a dazzlingly dynamic movie screen. The visual virtuosity – as when a frowning emoticon replaces a character’s face – isn’t just empty showmanship. It’s an ingeniously inflated dramatization of the way today’s youth employ images as their primary form of communication.
8. Toy Story 3
Authentically moving enough to make me shed a tear for that poor He-Man action figure I left behind years ago. From the start, Pixar’s series has been attuned to the magical bond between kids and their playthings. This bittersweet, thoroughly satisfying finale chronicles how that bond inevitably must break.
The harshness of Martin Scorsese’s mental-asylum freak show has faded, allowing it to linger as a bravura evocation of post-traumatic stress. (The veterans suffering here are survivors of World War II, but the topic couldn’t be more timely in 2010.) What begins as a crazily creepy popcorn thriller about a marshal (Leonardo DiCaprio) investigating the disappearance of an inmate at a hospital for the criminally insane eventually turns into something far more disturbing – and important.
10. Animal Kingdom
Did Darwin direct this? Actually, it was David Michod, who takes a standard crime drama (this time set in contemporary Australia) and invests it with a survival-of-the-fittest sense of paranoia. After his mother’s overdose, a soft-spoken teen (James Frecheville) goes to live with his toothy grandmother and four feral uncles. You watch in crippling fear, wondering who is going to try and eat him first.