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Saturday, Sep. 20, 2014

Roller coaster year produces a few gems

Thursday, December 23, 2010

(Photo)
Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield star in "Never Let Me Go".
By CAINE GARDNER

Film Critic

Man, talk about an up and down year. While 2010 has seen its share of amazing films, it's been marked by sub-par box office performers, more reboots and an overall sense of underwhelming.

But as with any landscape, if you know where to look, there's beauty to be found and treasure to discover. So sit back, get out your pen and paper and take some notes. If you haven't seen the films and performances that have made my 2010 Best Of list, that's your homework for the New Year.

You'll find some films you've not heard much about high on my list and one in particular that so far is the darling of the awards circuit. I felt it was a little too well loved this year and it was left off. Can we say "The Social Network?"

The list is simple -- I will include my Top 10 films of the year, plus the top performances you need to check out.

So without further ado...

10. Toy Story 3

It's Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Pixar. What more could you ask for? The film is typical Pixar magic with characters we've all come to love and root for.

In the most mature story to date, the toys struggle to accept their roles in Andy's life, but in the end find a new life in a new home. To describe Toy Story 3 as a kiddie flick would be to do it an injustice.

9. Tangled

With all the praise I poured on "Toy Story 3," it might be surprising to find "Tangled" slated above the Pixar flick. What moved it into the No. 9 spot was its sense of freshness.

Clever dialog, wonderful songs and killer performances are what sets this animated film apart from the rest. Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore are stellar. The film's song "I See the Light" is getting rave reviews, but for my money the rendition of "I've Got a Dream" is where it's at.

It's something special when you can sit with kids that run the gamut of ages and you're all busting a gut.

8. The King's Speech

Powered by top-notch performances from Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech" is a moving film that shows even the most powerful can be crippled by affliction.

Firth is outstanding as a stammering King George VI and showcases the struggles the heir in waiting had to deal with as his father dies and his brother rejects the crown.

7. Inception

Thanks to Christopher Nolan, Leo Dicaprio and Joseph Gordon Levitt, we're all still trying to pick up the pieces and looking for our own totem.

"Inception" was on the year's high-concept films that actually achieves what it was shooting for. A great script, an intriguing concept and great acting left us wanting more and going back for second to satisfy our appetite.

6. Winter's Bone

Another little heard of film that packs a punch, Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes deliver powerful performances in a film about a girl trying to find her father's body before the bank comes and takes the family's home away.

Director Debra Granik and cinematographer Michael McDonough capture family and the poor Ozark area from which they come. It's messy, dirty and disorganized, but Lawrence's Ree Dolly is a powerfully determined 17-year-old whose quest takes her to the depths of darkness that surround her father's death.

5. The Fighter

The story of real-life boxing half-brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, "The Fighter" will bring comparisons to "Rocky," but stands on its own two feet.

Much like "Rocky," this film centers on the underdog boxer who becomes the champ all the while dodging the pitfalls that surround his life. One of those pitfalls is his crack-addicted brother Dicky and his controlling mother/manager.

A stellar cast and wonderful story is why "The Fighter" is a knockout.

4. Black Swan

Who thought Natalie Portman could be so naughty? In "Swan," Portman gives a performance that in simply amazing. She's done some nice work in the past, but this is by far the best performance of her career.

Portman plays Nina, who become the prima ballerina for "Swan Lake," but as the show nears, her life begins to splinter and it's hard to tell reality from fantasy.

Director Darren Aronofsky hits another one out of the park. Aronofsky might not have the box office draw like some directors, but his films are fresh, inventive and thought provoking.

3. 127 Hours

At the end of "127 Hours," James Franco is listed by himself in the credits and for good reason. Franco delivers one of the best performances of 2010 and the movie hinges on whether we accept him and his situation.

A true renaissance man, Franco isn't afraid to take chances and that's what "127 Hours" is -- a chance. Will people sit through 1.5 hours of a man trapped between rocks, knowing in the end he's going to cut his arm off?

It might not break any records at the box office, but "127 Hours" is the kind of movie you'll kick yourself for not seeing in the theater.

2. Blue Valentine

Absolutely raw, "Blue Valentine" is a punch to the gut tale of how two people grow apart even when they have the best intentions. The movie follows Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) throughout different stages of their life and marriage, never glossing over the bad parts.

The duo has a child to which Dean is equal part playmate and father, while Cindy ambitiously pursues a nursing career, creating tension. Also Dean has gone from a charming fresh-eyed young man to a disillusioned man in his 30s stuck in a rut and content to play out his life right where he is.

In addition to receiving critics' raves, "Blue Valentine" is more notorious for gaining an NC-17 rating before the Weinstein Company successfully appealed the MPAA and had it reverted to an R-rating.

Gosling and Williams give Oscar-worthy performances and the film has an ending that is heartbreakingly real and should leave most with tears welling in the eyes.

1. Never Let Me Go

When I first watched "Never Let Me Go," I instantly started it over and watched it for a second time. I don't do that often, but this film moved me and actually brought me to tears after the first viewing.

A powerful mish-mash of genres, the film takes us down a road in an alternate history, where people are cloned and their fate is to become "donors," a person whose vital organs are harvested, or "carers," those who support and comfort the donors.

The premise is one of the most unique this year and amazing performances from Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield leave on almost unable to move when the credits begin to roll.

Definitely not the feel-good hit of the year, "Never Let Me Go" is a brave film that explores the capabilities of humanity and the depth to which a society will go to survive.

One could use a cascade of adjectives to describe this movie. Powerful, hypnotic, gripping all apply, but the single word that encompasses all that "Never Let Me Go" has to offer would be mesmerizing.