In 2010, movies took back seat to television

By Milan Paurich

And to think the year began with such promise.

Things got off to such a bang-up start with goodies such as “Greenberg,” “Vincere” and “The Ghost Writer,” that for a moment I thought 2010 might go down as one of the all-time greats. Even the dog days of summer produced its share of keepers (“The Kids Are All Right,” “Inception,” “I Am Love”) amid the usual tent-pole sludge.

But all that changed upon entering what’s generally regarded as the happiest time of year for film fans — fall’s awards season kick-off. This year, however, quality movies took an extended hike and didn’t return until the holidays.

2010 wasn’t the first year that cable television (“Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” ”Boardwalk Empire,” “The Pacific,” “Louie,” “Rubicon,” “Justified,” “The Walking Dead,” “Eastbound and Down,” “Men of a Certain Age,” “Bored to Death,” “In Treatment”) seemed appreciably better, week after week, than the movies.

It’s just the first time in recent memory when the disparity between quality tube fare and virtually all major studio releases felt so depressingly pronounced. As terrific as “The Social Network” and “Inception” were — and they’re the only studio films on my top-10 list — I’d gladly trade either (or both) for Season 4 of “Mad Men.”

The 10 Best:

  1. “The Kids Are All Right” (Lisa Cholodenko); “Please Give” (Nicole Holofcener); “Somewhere” (Sofia Coppola). Though 2010 was hardly a banner year for movies, it was a fantastic year for female directors (see above). It’s starting to look like Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar win last year for “The Hurt Locker” was less of a fluke than a bellwether.

  2. “Carlos” (Olivier Assayas): Edgar Ramirez gave the performance of the year in this 51/2-hour epic about notorious Venezuelan revolutionary/terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (aka “Carlos the Jackal”). The chameleonic Assayas (“Summer Hours,” “Les Destinees”) just might be the greatest working director in films today.

  3. “The Social Network” (David Fincher): Who could have guessed that a movie about the creation of Facebook would turn out to be the best studio release of 2010? Time magazine for starters. They recently named Facebook major domo Mark Zuckerberg their “Person of the Year.”

  4. “Greenberg” (Noah Baumbach): Ben Stiller gave his bravest performance to date in this extraordinarily nuanced, emotionally acute dramedy that, tragically, almost nobody saw.

  5. “Vincere” (Marco Bellocchio): I’ve run hot and cold on veteran Italian director Bellocchio for more decades than I care to remember, but his Mussolini-as-a-young-man biopic was the most accessible — and possibly finest — film of his career.

  6. “The Ghost Writer” (Roman Polanski): This crackerjack thriller about a Tony Blair-like British politician and his unwitting ghost writer was as effortlessly elegant and rigorously crafted as vintage Hitchcock.

  7. “Inception” (Christopher Nolan): Turn on, tune in, drop out: the grooviest head trip since ”2001: A Space Odyssey.”

  8. “I Am Love” (Luca Guadagnino): Luchino Visconti may be long gone —and Bernardo Bertolucci hasn’t made a movie in years — but Guadagnino’s rapturously beautiful, intoxicatingly sensual art-house smash recalled both Italian maestros in peak form.

  1. “Another Year” (Mike Leigh): Another year; another Leigh masterpiece. The British director’s most satisfying film since 1999’s “Topsy Turvy” told the story of a year in the life of a family and its maddeningly needy best friend (the brilliant Lesley Manville).

  2. “Tiny Furniture” (Lena Dunham): The malaise of post-collegiate life rarely has been captured with as much insight, honesty and humor as it was in this remarkable first effort by 24-year-old Dunham (who also stars).

Runners-up, (in no particular order): “Blue Valentine;” “Fish Tank;” “Winter’s Bone;” “Shutter Island;” “White Material;” “Hadewijch;” “Mother and Child;” “Nowhere Boy;” “The Tillman Story;” “Wild Grass;” “True Grit;” “Mother;” “A Prophet;” “127 Hours;” “Let It Rain;” “Raging Sun,” “Raging Sky;” “Life During Wartime;” “Enter the Void;” “Black Swan;” “Secret Sunshine;” “Rabbit Hole;” “Biutiful;” “Hereafter;” “Last Train Home;” “The Red Riding Trilogy.”

The 10 Worst:

  1. “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”: In a year rife with unwanted and profoundly unnecessary 3-D sequels (including “Saw 3-D,” “Resident Evil: Afterlife” and “Step Up 3-D”), “C&D” really took the cake. Or is that the “Kitty” litter?

  2. “The Expendables”: This sickeningly, nihilistically violent offal was also the worst action flick of the year. I’m just grateful it wasn’t in 3-D.

  3. “The Last Airbender”: A bad idea (a live-action version of an obscure cartoon series) atrociously executed, M. Night Shyamalan’s howlingly inept debacle also proved the grand folly of retro-fitting flat movies into 3-D just to make a few extra bucks.

  4. “Grown-Ups”: Adam Sandler’s worst film since “The Water Boy” was also his biggest commercial hit in more than a decade. I guess P.T. Barnum was right.

  5. “For Colored Girls”: For Movie Critics Who Have Considered Suicide/After Seeing Enuf Tyler Perry movies.

  6. “Killers”: Katherine Heigl reunited with her “Ugly Truth” director, Robert Luketic, for another 10-worst-list-worthy rom-com. Some people never learn.

  7. “Cop Out”: Where have you gone, Kevin Smith? A (Sundance) Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo-woo-woo.

  8. “The A-Team”: We’ve seen lots of terrible movies based on old TV shows in recent years, but few were as eminently disposable — and instantly forgettable — as this deserving summer flop. And to think that “A” director Joe Carnahan (“Narc,” “Smokin’ Aces”) once evinced so much promise.

  9. “Mao’s Last Dancer”: Aussie New Wave veteran Bruce Beresford has directed as many clunkers (the 1985 Richard Gere Biblical howler “King David” among them) as he has classics (“Tender Mercies,” “Driving Miss Daisy”). This indigestible slice of politically correct Velveeta just might be the worst Beresford of the bunch.

  10. “Little Fockers”: The profligate waste of A-list talent (Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Owen Wilson) on moldy Viagra and projectile-vomiting jokes helped make this third “Fockers” go-round the most depressing (and desperate) studio comedy of the year.