(Last year, Precious made it to Number 22 of my Top 25; a second viewing a couple weeks before the Oscars had me rooting for it to sweep. Since then, it's joined my private pantheon of Greatest Movies of All Time.)
I regret not having room for Letters to Juliet, Shutter Island or Rabbit Hole, but this list reflects my feelings as of this last week. In the years, months, weeks to come, it may completely change, but for now, it's an interesting time capsule. Without further ado, 25-11 of my Top 25 of the Year.
25. The American
A beautiful, meditative, quiet film. George Clooney always finds a new way to break my heart, but this movie's finale may be his most effective. Good on Anton Corbijn, who made his feature debut with the equally moving Control in 2007, for evoking a long dormant form of filmmaking.
24. 127 Hours
Cathartic and claustrophobic, devastating and uplifting. A.R. Rahman's score impressed me, but of course it was James Franco who really delivered, anchoring the film with his transformation from smug to survival.
23. The Last Exorcism
Those final images still haunt me. See it for the career-making (in a perfect world) performances by Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell. See it for the eerie storytelling. See it for scares not induced by sudden shocks or an intrusive score. A welcome addition to the horror genre, and to my favorite sub-genre.
22. Toy Story 3
(Number Twenty-Four on 25 Most Anticipated)
Ok, so they tease you with ruminations of mortality before a deus ex machina. But it's still an impressively mature study of maturation, letting go, moving on, giving to the next generation. If that doesn't sell you on it, maybe a little Michael Keaton as Ken will.
(Number Fourteen on 25 Most Anticipated)
Breathtaking action sequences, certainly. Maybe few characters are fleshed-out in the script, but I rarely noticed during the runtime. Ellen Page is underrated, Tom Hardy steals most of the show, Marion Cotillard gets the most developed female role in Nolan's canon and nails it. It helps that she has a striking, haunting beauty, of course. Hans Zimmer's score was a high point of a the year.
20. How to Train Your Dragon
It just moved me in unexpected ways. Certainly, the boy and his dragon story is magical, but I see this as a film about the relationship between father and son. First and foremost. The dragon is really a MacGuffin.
19. The Karate Kid
No, no I did not expect to love this as much as I do (I know Andrew K is befuddled). What can I say, though? Jaden Smith has a promising career ahead of him. Jackie Chan won me back. James Horner still delivers like the old-school epic composers. Oooh, that finale at the tournament was suspenseful, too!
(Number One on 25 Most Anticipated)
Guilty pleasure alert! Am I saying that Burlesque is a better movie than Inception and Toy Story 3? Well...as strange as it sounds, I think Burlesque boasts some of the better-developed, most three-dimensional characters of the year. The dialogue may not clue you in to it, but any movie that recognizes that people aren't evil because they have different interests is all right by me. Cher and Tucci: that's a combo that bears repeating.
17. The Ghost Writer
(Number Twenty-Two on 25 Most Anticipated)
Pulp without irony! Refreshing! The cast wisely plays it straight, especially the strong turn by Pierce Brosnan, but writer-director Polanski, writer Robert Harris and composer Alexandre Desplat all clue you in. Of course it's over the top; it's a paperback thriller that refuses to apologize for being so awesome.
16. Piranha 3D
Great fun! Takes advantage of the 3D trend while spoofing it. Christopher Lloyd, a nude underwater ballet, and gore galore.
15. Winter's Bone
It's a casual thriller, in that the tale is suspenseful, but delivered in a non-sensational, this-is-how-it-is fashion. Jennifer Lawrence's engaging lead performance is already doing wonders for her. John Hawkes and Dale Dickey do not disappoint as her protector and antagonist, respectively, though Dickey especially is unforgettable, layering her character with surprising sympathy. Oh, yes, and the score and the cinematography and Debra Granik is a great director.
14. The Kids Are All Right
Lisa Cholodenko's study of a modern American family. There may be two moms, but they go through all the same trials and tribulations as any normal family. We've all been reading about The Bening's performance, and deservedly so, but the ensemble as a whole enchants: Ruffalo, Wasikowska, Hutcherson and especially Moore. Funny and relatable.
13. The Runaways
(Number Fifteen on 25 Most Anticipated)
Flawed, yes, but there is beauty in its imperfection. It's a dirty little punk boasting an arty sensibility and a stunning visual palette courtesy cinematographer Benoit Debie. The absence of Michael Shannon's name in this year's awards conversation is a travesty: is there a more magnetic and intimidating performance this year?
12. Blue Valentine
Love turns to resentment in this tragic yet strong debut from Derek Cianfrance, who worked with Williams and Gosling for years before filming began. The dedication shows. It hurts to watch, but I don't regret a moment of it. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are painfully real in their portrait of both an enthusiastic courtship and a crumbling marriage. Painfully. There are some sexy moments that play real (did he really...?), some bitter moments that ring too true. It's a downer emotionally, but as far as what it means for cinema, I couldn't be happier.
11. Get Low
I'm a huge fan of Robert Duvall, and if I ruled the world, he would have won his first two Oscars (Melvyn Douglas? Really?). Here, he gives what I consider his crowning achievement, career-best work that climaxes in an emotional final monologue. It's a slow burn, a comfortable mystery and character piece. Sissy Spacek broke my heart; Bill Murray gives more layers than you realize. Just perfectly-executed.
Tomorrow, my full Top Ten of '10, in alphabetical order. Because if it was ranked, there's no suspense at the Hollmann Awards.