Foreclosure, massive fraud, manufactured right-wing outrage, a growing suspicion that how we live now is untenable: Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? Or, rather, how did you like the movies of 2010, which in rare instances (ten, give or take) ameliorated the sense that art is powerless and journalism impotent?
1. Winter’s Bone
In what is by leagues the best movie of 2010, Ozarks 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) embarks on a bloody, nightmarish odyssey to locate her lost father to keep the bank from foreclosing on the house in which she lives with her young siblings. Debra Granik’s harshly beautiful adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s “Ozark noir” achieves a mythical intensity, building to a midnight boat ride on what might be the River Styx—and to a silent scream that will echo forever in your mind. The performances of John Hawkes (as Ree’s meth-fueled uncle) and Dale Dickey (as a violent but all-too-human matriarch) are beyond praise.
2. Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer and Inside Job
It’s a documentary draw! Alex Gibney’s show-offy (in a good way) Client 9 suggests that what happened to Spitzer was nothing less than a bloodless coup—that its roots lay not only in his fevered psyche but in enemies he made while policing Wall Street for the kind of crimes portrayed in … Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, which traces the Ayn Rand–ian crusade to deregulate the financial industry, leading banks to reward risk (however insane) and to the global economic collapse of 2008. It’s the horror double bill of the decade, with a chilling finish: The bad guys devastated millions of lives, got away clean with their staggering fortunes intact, and are still writing the laws.
3. Please Give
Nicole Holofcener’s great comedy starring her favorite alter ego, Catherine Keener, is typically amorphous and typically cutting—a portrait of guilt and shame in an age of uneasy affluence.
4. Toy Story 3
Yes, it’s a goofy comedy with terrific cliffhangers. But this sequel, one of the summits of Pixar’s art, is also a story of aging, impermanence, and death in which toys have spiritual properties and to discard them carelessly is to dishonor the childhood that shaped us. Also, we should recycle stuff, no?
5. Another Year
And another Mike Leigh gem, a four-season (but autumnal in spirit) portrait of a snug, large-spirited couple, Tom and Gerri (the marvelous Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), and the lonely single people drawn to their hearth—especially the too-forward, too-tremulous, too-tippling, too-everything Mary of Lesley Manville.
6. Mother and Child
It’s easy to see why Rodrigo García’s film was overlooked: It’s too damn painful. But it has the best female performance of the year (by Annette Bening as a mother who gave up a child for adoption at age 14) and the most tantalizing structure: all echoes, crosscurrents, and profound variations on the theme of mothers and daughters, absent or too present.
In the story of Mussolini’s secret first wife (jettisoned for the sake of political expediency), the great Marco Bellocchio burlesques Il Duce while sweeping you up in the excitement of his rise. The movie—the title means “win”—is an opera on the theme of intoxication: of sexual conquest, military conquest, and, most of all, cinema. The parade of Fascism passes on, and we, along with the volcanically beautiful Giovanna Mezzogiorno, watch Mussolini’s ascent from afar, as a country, Italy, slips into a kind of delirium—a lie perpetrated by a lunatic.
8. Exit Through the Gift Shop
The subterranean graffiti artist Banksy’s doc tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a somewhat pathetic graffiti-artist groupie who becomes an L.A. art-world sensation (“Mr. Brainwash”) with sub-sub-Warholian ripoffs. If Banksy—as seems likely—had to manufacture Mr. Brainwash to drive home the faddishness and philistinism of the art world, the satire is too rich to make me cry foul. It’s a prank of genius—and he can vandalize our movie screens anytime.
Jeff Malmberg’s endlessly suggestive doc is a monument to the bizarre relationship between the unconscious and pop culture. The subject is a Kingston, New York, showroom designer, Mark Hogancamp, who was beaten into a coma outside a bar and spends most of his life hovering over a fictional, one-sixth-scale Belgian WWII-era town in his yard, in which military and Barbie dolls (in astonishingly vivid poses) enact the ongoing struggles of his psyche. How mysterious the mind of man …
10. Despicable Me
Like that heartless Ayn Rand–ian capitalist Scrooge before him, the dastardly supervillain Gru, voiced by Steve Carell, is forcibly introduced to his social conscience—in this case by a trio of incorrigible orphan girls. Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud’s animated film is anarchic and heartwarming—but mostly, hilariously, anarchic.