Our Critics’ Picks for Favorite Movies of 2010

WESTWARD HO!: The dry humor and bloody mayhem of the novel it’s based on make
True Grit seem like ideal material for the Coen brothers.

WESTWARD HO!: The dry humor and bloody mayhem of the novel it’s based on make True Grit seem like ideal material for the Coen brothers.

Dogtooth

In Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ clever dark comedy, a father has created a perfect, untroubled, harm-free existence for his three children—by never letting them leave the grounds of their comfortable home, keeping them utterly ignorant of the outside world. But as the children enter their 20s, barter, sex, and ’80s movies just can’t be kept out forever. At turns affecting, ribald, and brutal, Dogtooth never breaks its wicked deadpan as the “kids” guilelessly grapple with their world imploding like the ape people from 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Lee Gardner)

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Though questions about Exit Through The Gift Shop’s veracity are sure to crop up throughout awards season, “mockumentary” will never be the right word. Banksy’s film doesn’t mock its subject, or the documentary form itself; the film’s first half, in particular, is an able primer on street art, assembled with the arch wit you’d expect from the movement’s guiding light. Instead, the film subtly evolves into nonfiction-as-prank (or vice versa?) as it turns its eye to commerce and hype. The result is a scathingly essential art essay, no matter how disingenuous its methods. (Nick Huinker)

Four Lions

It’s sadly rare for a comedy to stack up against the edgiest films of the year, but Christopher Morris’ pitch-black jihadi farce makes a serious go of it. Following a cell of would-be Muslim terrorists through their varying attempts to cause mayhem in the British suburbs, Four Lions is a fearless send-up of the disconnect between reactionary fundamentalism and our silly modern world, driven home by the rabid buffoonery of its nonetheless well-drawn characters. Film satire isn’t dead; it’s just been hiding out in the UK. (N.H.)

Jackass 3-D

Avatar may have made the case for 3-D in under three hours, but the studios spent most of 2010 making the case against it, pushing rushed conversions out to take advantage of The Great Upsell. Hilarious, then, that the strongest argument for 3-D as more than just a gimmick came in the form of the Jackass crew’s latest outing, which took consistent advantage of the technology in the basest manner possible. Not just the funniest film of 2010, but also the only live-action one worth donning the glasses for. (N.H.)

Mother

If Bong Joon-Ho’s solemn murder mystery has anything in common with his 2006 creature feature The Host, it’s how much he’s willing to bring to a genre where coasting often goes unnoticed. Unconvinced that her developmentally disabled son is capable of the murder for which he’s being held, the title character (veteran Korean actress Kim Hye-Ja, in one of the year’s finest performances) takes it upon herself to play detective. Bong’s thought-provoking, often beautiful thriller confirms his reliability on the international stage. (N.H.)

A Prophet

A great year for crime films worldwide doesn’t get any greater than this. An inexperienced young Franco-Arabic thug Malik (Tahar Raham) gets locked up and gets schooled on the race-riven kill-or-be-killed realities of prison power by a bulldoggish old-school Corsican gang boss Cesar (Niels Arestrup). Director Jacques Audiard’s patient, unsentimental account of Malik’s education puts A Prophet in the company of Goodfellas. (L.G.)

The Secret in Their Eyes

Like its fellow great art-house thriller The Silence of the Lambs, Argentinian Juan José Campanella’s movie is about a murder investigation, but it’s also about something else—in this case, the passions, regrets, and grudges we quietly hold onto throughout our lives. It’s a subject rarely explored well in the truncated time/attention span of mainstream cinema, but Secret provides genuine emotional depth along with tight plotting and bravura set pieces, such as an astonishing soccer-stadium manhunt. (L.G.)

True Grit

Though a shaky third act holds it back from the perfection of last year’s A Serious Man, Joel and Ethan Coen’s take on the Western classic also happens to be their most accessible film in a decade. The razor wit and blunt violence are to be expected; what’s surprising about True Grit is how other Coen signatures, like top-notch casting (Jeff Bridges may have won the Oscar a year early) and Roger Deakins’ unmatched photography, lend an uncharacteristic emotionality to Mattie Ross’ prairie vengeance. (N.H.)

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