The Social Network – Don’t confuse it with a documentary about Facebook. It’s not. It’s a crackling good drama about how brilliant people can be tempted to make bad choices. Aaron Sorkin’s script and a breakout performance by Jesse Eisenberg make this the film of the year.
Toy Story 3 – It was a real risk for Pixar to go back to the well a third time, and for some it was one time too many. Yet the last twenty minutes is as powerful a statement on film about friendship, facing eternity, and the end of childhood as seen on screen this year. Grown people were not ashamed to admit it made them cry.
Inception – Christopher Nolan’s “dream within a dream within a dream” story was mind-boggling, thrilling, and beautifully executed. You had to pay careful attention, but the rewards were worth it.
The King’s Speech – This is the sort of “well made” historical drama the British do so well, but it helps to have a great cast, headed up by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Not only did this have more British actors than this side of a Harry Potter film, many of them (Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall) are in the Potter series.
The Town – Ben Affleck’s Charlestown-set crime drama may have been taken for granted. Of course it was good. It was by the guy who did “Gone Baby Gone.” It was a gritty and beautifully staged film with memorable scenes like a car chase in Boston’s North End and the climactic heist at Fenway Park. This is in the pantheon of great Boston movies.
The Fighter – The pantheon of great Lowell movies may not have much competition, but the story of how Micky Ward had to overcome his family before overcoming his boxing opponents was riveting. Mark Wahlberg is another local guy made good and though it’s his film he has no problem with Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo getting the showier roles. Both Wahlberg and Ward turn out to be class acts.
Black Swan – Natalie Portman gives her all in this psychological thriller of a ballerina losing her grip on reality. By film’s end we’re not sure what’s real and what isn’t, and whether it might not all be taking place in her head. Who knew ballet could be so scary?
The Kids Are All Right – The arthouse hit of the summer boasted some fine performances, from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as the settled lesbian couple with teen children to Mark Ruffalo as the “donor” who suddenly is brought into their lives. By turns funny, sad, and bittersweet, this was a movie that recognized that adults often lead messy lives.
Waste Land – Listening to my colleagues go on and on about some of the most pretentious and unwatchable documentaries this year, it was a pleasure to discover this gem. Artist Vik Muniz returns to Brazil to create art with people at the bottom of the social ladder – the trash pickers at a landfill outside of Rio. What they create, and what it does for the people involved, is a tribute to the power of art.
Despicable Me – An unexpected surprise, an animated gem not from Pixar or DreamWorks. The world’s most evil villain needs three young children to carry out his plans, with delightful results. Witty and clever, it was truly a movie for all ages. Also, I want a minion.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.