Film Feature: The 10 Best Films of 2010, Part Two

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CHICAGO – On the heels of’s 10 Best Films of 2010 by Brian Tallerico and Top Overlooked Films of 2010 by Matt Fagerholm, I offer the 10 Best Films of 2010, Part Two, by Patrick McDonald.

It’s hard to compare years. Moods, attitudes and experiences dictates so much of how choices are made, interacting with the particular cinema art of the year. But 2010, with a few exceptions, in general didn’t have the excitement of other years. The risks were less risky, the unusual narratives hard to find. The film business is just that, a business, and with so much changing so fast there will continue be more decisions coming from the marketing department and less from the creative one.

However, the 10 Best moves on, and the list is below. Since I begin with a film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Oscars (but not released in Chicago until this year), here are a list of 2010 releases that easily could have filled that 10th place: “Blue Valentine,” “Animal Kingdom,’ “Tangled,” “Cyrus,” “The Next Three Days,” “Secretariat,” “Howl,” “The Ghost Writer,” “Another Year,” “Somewhere,” “Hereafter” and “True Grit.”

On the bus while I give the Chicago Film Tour , I always tell the fellow travelers that the best film ever made is the their personal favorite film of all time. In that spirit, I present the 10 Best Films of 2010, as favored by Patrick McDonald.

Star10. A Prophet

Prescient: Tahar Rahim as Malik in ‘A Prophet’
Prescient: Tahar Rahim as Malik in ‘A Prophet’
Photo credit: Roger Arpajou for © Sony Pictures Classic

An amazing document, with so many textures and layers, it probably can be absorbed several times and still communicate its power. Director Jacques Audiard builds the story slowly, about a young Arab man who is imprisoned, but learns to work within the natural rivalries, between the Corsicans and the Muslims. What dawns on the viewer is that the prison becomes a natural metaphor for geopolitics and power, and the conclusion evolves toward the direction the world is naturally going.

The grittiness of dirty incarceration and the machinations of survival are well represented in this absolutely engrossing narrative. The older power base fades away so effectively that the new power hardly acknowledges it. Sound familiar?

HIGHLIGHT: Tahar Rahim’s performance as the young Arab named Malik is a revelation and perfectly frames the complex action.

Star9. Kites

Star Crossed: Bárbara Mori & Hrithik Roshan in ‘Kites’
Photo credit: © Icon Film Distribution

This is the type of film that I like to call the “movie” of movies. There is so much pleasurable eye candy in this basic Romeo-and-Juliet doomed lovers tale that it feels like 3-D. Anurag Basu, the writer and director, turns up the volume on hip-hop dance, action sequences, strange characters and weird comedy. The lead actors, Bárbara Mori and Hrithik Roshan, are truthfully beautiful, and there is even symbolic use of water as baptismal cleansing.

This is a film that a cinema buff really appreciates –- something that opens the eyes and keeps them wide. With Kites, the strain hurts so good.

HIGHLIGHT: A Quentin Tarantino-esque gun stand-off in a cheap Western town tourist trap. Where’s The Bride?

Star8. How Do You Know

It’s a Secret: Reese Witherspoon & Paul Rudd in ‘How Do You Know’
Photo credit: © Columbia Pictures

Writer/Director James L. Brooks still has his signature perspective in overdrive with “How Do You Know,” which is basically a question trying to be answered by each of the main characters. What I loved about this was the adult way it handled the timing of relationships, as in it’s easy to fall in love, harder to do it at the right time. Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson play a love triangle in the most unusual sense. Owen Wilson in particular takes his movie persona and creates a deeper interpretation that plays like real life. Overseeing the proceedings is Jack Nicholson (as Rudd’s father), reveling in showing off his chops by making a morally questionable man palatable.

The same energy and character arcs that made “Terms of Endearment” so pleasurable are present in “How Do You Know,” a film not afraid to use a bus as a symbol for life’s journeys.

HIGHLIGHT: Right in the beginning of the film, there is some advice given to Paul Rudd from “above,” appropriately.

Star7. Get Low

High Low: Robert Duvall, Lucas Black & Bill Murray in ‘Get Low’
Photo credit: Sam Emerson for © Sony Pictures Classic

It’s a quiet film, filled with observations and confessions, culminating in a elderly man’s funeral that he insists happen while he is still alive. Veteran Robert Duvall plays the old coot, based on a true legend from the 1930s. He enlists a small town funeral director (Bill Murray), who acts like a witty Greek chorus throughout the scheme, and later finds redemption himself. The pleasure in this film is watching the veteran actors (including Sissy Spacek) play the nuances of a literary screenplay by director Aaron Schneider. There are some sharp and funny bon mots, especially from Bill Murray, who clearly enjoys creating the character.

As the “1970s” generation of actors start to fade, it’s encouraging to see a film that uses them to maximum purpose, communicating a powerful love and truth.

HIGHLIGHT: Robert Duvall’s machinations in a new-fangled 1930s radio station.

Star6. Inception

Dreamers: Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Inception’
Photo credit: Stephen Vaughn for © Warner Bros. Pictures

It is a testament to director Christopher Nolan’s credibility that he uses the “Dark Knight” power to produce a true artistic expression. Using all the gadgets of modern filmmaking, Nolan created a kaleidoscope of imaginative imagery, forged through a complex story about levels of dream states. All the young supporting cast (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard) are so earnest, that I hardly noticed that the story was sometimes cumbersome. Leonardo DiCaprio, in his second film of the year that is inside someone’s mind, leads the way in passionately bringing the story to light.

The levels of the dreams become almost unimportant, it is just enough to sit and admire the audacious visuals while observing another step in the evolution of filmmaking.

HIGHLIGHT: Mesmerizing moments like the slow motion plunge of a common vehicle.

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