5. Winter's Bone
Filled with a chilly and unforgiving atmosphere, Winter's Bone was film noir set in the Ozarks, and right from the beginning, it was close to perfect. Jennifer Lawrence is stunning as Ree Dolly, the seventeen year old daughter of a bail jumping meth cooker who gets caught up in the middle of a deep and disturbing mystery. Also of note is the under appreciated John Hawkes as Teardrop, her uncle who runs hot and cold, good and bad. I loved the dichotomy of the ensemble, particularly Teardrop. This is the life many have chosen to live, and as such, the rules have been written in blood. It's a captivating film set in the ugliest of towns.
4. True Grit
I'm always a fan of the Coen brothers, so Grit was no exception. While Westerns are admittedly not my favorite film genre, the outstanding performances from Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges made this already fun film all the more spectacular. The casting is top notch and each actor is used to their full potential. Plus, true Coen brothers fans will enjoy the random Coen moments that are at this point trademark, which diffuse tension and insert a level of weirdness that is quite edifying. It's a well made movie, and it's an excellent adventure.
3. Black Swan
No stranger to nightmares, Darren Aronofsky has delivered a gorgeous, sick, and dizzying piece of art that begs to be seen and discussed. One part Red Shoes, two parts Repulsion, Swan is a film that operates around my favorite kind of horror, psychological horror. Using just the right amount of special effects and blood, the film had me jumping in my seat, flinching, and in one case, biting down onto my scarf out of shock. Natalie Portman gives a performance that is both innocent and dangerous. Her transformation is utterly painful to watch, and the small cuts and subliminal messages spliced into the film kept me on my toes. The performances and the plot itself teeter on borderline camp, but is stunning enough that we can just enjoy it for what it is. So good, I even saw it twice, just to make sense of this brooding fever dream.
2. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Larger than life masterpiece or elaborate hoax? Either way, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a stunning, goofy, and riveting documentary that also serves as a strong argument about what 'art' is. The ever illusive Banksy hits this film out of the park, and refuses to spare his subject, a fan of street art who wanted to capture the lives of these artists and ended up selling out completely. The film is chock full of fascinating interviews with several street artists, and is narrated with a crass but fun droll, courtesy of Rhys Ifans. I am a fan of Banksy's artwork, so the idea of him making a movie was just brilliant, and I am glad to say he did not disappoint. The film is well worth your price of admission, simply for the stunts alone. It will make you think twice about Disneyworld, or elephants.
As hilarious as it is disturbing, Dogtooth is a warped film that redefines the word 'normal' as well as dissect the modern family. Drawing inspiration from the films of Michael Haneke, and even Pasolini's perverted masterpiece, Salo, director Giorgos Lanthimos examines the everyday lives of a nameless Greek family and their bizarre and often disquieting customs. In the world of Dogtooth, cats are cold blooded predators, zombies are tiny yellow flowers, and the outside world is a dangerous and scary place. The three children, two daughters and a son, live under the unwavering eye of their silent mother and domineering and coolly evil father. When pop culture and movies are introduced to the children, nothing is ever the same.
One thing I truly admire, aside from concept and execution, both of which are spellbinding, is just how Dogtooth came out of nowhere and left such an impression on the lucky number who have seen it. Entering the theater at quarter to ten one night in mid July, I had no clue what to expect, other than sheer weirdness on behalf of the plot. Weirdness is one word to describe what blew through my brain. In short, the fact that I knew so little about the film helped me enjoy it so much more.
Moviegoers with strong stomachs and an eye for weird cinema will enjoy this film almost as much as I did. It made me laugh, it frightened me, and it left me stunned. Those last ten minutes are killer and left me gasping for air. I always gravitate towards off the wall and otherwise strange films, and because of this, Dogtooth is my Number One pick for 2010.