From a film about Facebook that was a sign of the times to a Coen Brothers remake of a classic Western, 2010 was an eclectic year at the movies, a year in which old school stories and new technology shared equal screen time. And Jeff Bridges managed to get a piece of both, coming straight off his 2009 Oscar win for “Crazy Heart.” First, he made us smile by reprising his role as Kevin Flynn in “Tron: Legacy.” Next, his star turn as the notorious Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit” was one for the shoot ’em up record books, a staggeringly powerful performance in which he filled the big boots of John Wayne with ease.
Though Bridges was the most memorable actor of the 2010 movie scene, there were plenty of other stellar performances and noteworthy flicks. Here are the ten best movies of 2010, a list that includes animated adventures, a good old fashioned buddy comedy, a tale of the youngest millionaire, a Swedish thriller featuring a plucky female computer hacker, and a dream-scape in which reality is seriously skewed.
Little Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) seeks vengeance. This hard-nosed, 14-year-old girl has one imperative: find and kill Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the scoundrel who murdered her father. Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), the meanest U.S. Marshal in Arkansas, agrees to help Mattie in her quest, but only after she proves to him that she’s very tough and very serious. With the help of a dandified Texas Ranger (Matt Damon), the old drunk and the young avenger set out on horseback to capture Chaney. Employing a style that is as simple as it is breathtaking, the Coen Brothers capture the essence of the post-Civil War American frontier. They pay perfect homage to Charles Portis’s novel, taking us through a landscape full of simple beauty and veiled peril. Bridges delights as the boozy lawman, his voice a gravel pit of cigarettes and whiskey. Steinfeld eschews sentimentality, giving Mattie Ross all the no-nonsense tenacity of her rival outlaws. Damon manages comedy and drama in a balanced, understated turn.
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is back, but he’s much more meditative than he was in the ’80’s. Fans of the first “Tron” film will remember this character’s youthful swagger as he busted into the mainframe at ENCOM. Now it’s Flynn’s son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund), who gets to shine, as he is yanked into the computer world in “Tron: Legacy,” a sequel that comes nearly 30 years after the original. The special effects are definitely the draw here: as father and son zoom through the video game universe, audiences are awed by the slick motorcycles, planes and cadre of techie travel tools they use to get around. See “Tron: Legacy” for the fight scenes, for the chase scenes, for all the reasons you’d play an ultra hip video game. Bridges impresses, even in a film with a fairly thin plot and less than perfect character development.
The Social Network
The landmark movie about the invention of Facebook, “The Social Network,” is as powerful a creation as its subject, a film that transforms the brainy into the sexy, relegating the typically popular hunks to no-brained, whiner status. Writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher succeed in capturing on film the origin story of the most innovative communication mode of the 21st Century. Mark Zuckerberg (a brilliantly nervous, unflinchingly brave Jesse Eisenberg) is way too smart for Harvard, but a dud in the dating department, with a popularity obsession that borders on savantism. Then he creates Facebook and everything changes. Hot chicks dig him, lawsuits are brought against him, and friends turn into enemies. The young cast shines, though the absence of intelligent females gets in the way of the storytelling. Smart dialogue, focused direction, and a compelling premise all add up to an engrossing film.
In Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s documentary, “Catfish,” the question of Facebook romances and on-line love affairs takes center stage. It’s an entirely gripping tale told in a way that’s fresh and of-the-moment. It all starts when 24-year-old Nev, a photographer who shares an office with the two filmmakers, gets a painting in the mail from eight-year-old Abby, who commits one of Nev’s published photos to canvas. Intrigued and touched, Nev becomes Facebook friends with little Abby, triggering a series of strange events. As Nev falls in love with Abby’s supposed sister, things get sketchy.The film works on several levels, not the least of which are the tools the young filmmakers employ to tell the story. Google maps locate our main characters and trace their steps, while close ups of cursors pointing and clicking to accept Facebook friend requests keep us firmly planted in Nev’s point of view. But slick storytelling devices are only a fraction of what the film has to offer. The filmmakers have a deep sense of compassion for those who use Facebook as an on-line fantasy-land.
Leonardo DiCaprio dazzles in this film about dreams vs. reality. Writer/director Christopher Nolan (“Dark Night”) keeps us guessing here, wondering where the dreams end and the real world begins. Dom (DiCaprio) knows how to steal secrets from people by entering their dreams and snatching ideas. But before he can get into the subconscious, Dom needs a team of experts on his side, including Ariadne (Ellen Page), who will help him build the world of the dreams. The key question is this: can Dom plant an idea in someone’s head (the term for which is “inception”) with as much skill as he can steal ideas? The nail-biting action never stops here as we feverishly follow the dream team on their dangerous pursuit.
How to Train Your Dragon
Hiccup is a Viking teenager who just doesn’t fit in. His dad reminds him every day that he’s a bit of a wimp, not exactly Viking man material. But when Hiccup begins to communicate with the dragons, the fire-breathing beasts that the Vikings fight on a daily basis, the tables start to turn for our young outcast. Though his father is at first outraged by his son’s new gift, Hiccup ends up becoming an unlikely hero. This is a home run for Dreamworks, an animated life lesson that has action, heart and solid storytelling on its side.
The Girl Who Played With Fire
Simply put, Noomi Repace steals the show here. The second installment in a trilogy based on books by Stieg Larsson, “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is a relentless thriller about a seriously fractured family and a woman who has been badly damaged by them. Computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Repace) is on the run. Set up for murder, she goes underground to hunt the true criminals. Her screwed up family life and history of violence make her both a prime suspect and an intriguing good guy. Unpredictable and packed with riveting dialogue, this is a mystery for intellectuals, with plenty of action and adventure for thriller fans.
Toy Story III
Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are back as Woody and Buzz Lightyear in this Pixar gem. Andy, our lead character and keeper of toys, is heading off to college, leaving all his toys to find a new home. Will they become garbage? Will they end up the playthings of a new kid in town? Will they be stuck at a nursery school where the other toys are mean and nasty? Finding out the answers to these questions is fun. Bring a tissue: waving goodbye to Andy is the stuff of serious tearjerkers.
The Kids Are All Right
It’s all about the cast in this modern day family dramedy by Lisa Cholodenko. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a married couple with two children. When the kids become teenagers, they want to meet their father. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a not-very-grown-up grownup, who is nice to the kids, but begins to disrupt their parents’ marriage. Bening is the standout here, playing a serious head of household who isn’t exactly the most popular parent in the land. See it for the important take on the modern American family.
The Other Guys
Director Adam McKay brings us a pure and simple buddy comedy that brings on the goofy giggles. Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell are an unlikely pair, one a tough cop with a touch of the psycho in him, the other a desk jockey nerd. But the two get thrown together and unveil a massive white collar crime, putting them in a position to elevate themselves to the best crime fighting duo in town. Of course, they botch the job in myriad ways, but in the end they prevail.