Stephen Simon’s Favorite Films of 2010
by Stephen Simon
I am honored and proud to be a voting member of The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences that nominates and then votes each year for the Oscars. I have said often, however, that I have absolutely no idea how to judge a “Best” film or actor or screenplay or anything else. To attempt to do so seems akin to going into the Louvre and picking out the “best” painting. So the Van Gogh is “better’ than the Renoir or Gauguin or any other painting?
In addition, movie politics (as compared to Washington politics) always play a role in the selection of Oscar nominees and winners. “Best” very often means “most personally popular” or even “least personally unpopular”. In addition, some voters think that commercial success is a sufficient reward in and of itself for a film (Avatar in 2009) and steer more toward lesser-known fare (The Hurt Locker in 2009), so, for them, it’s more like “Best least-known film".
Anyway, my point is that I hope we get to a time when the Academy changes “Best” to “Favorite” so as to more accurately define the process.
My favorite films list is indeed just that: films that I particularly enjoyed, not ones that I necessarily believe that the Academy will embrace. In addition, I'm not a big fan of dark, depressing films. I know, however, that my aversion to them puts me in a distinct minority (what else is new?) with many filmgoers, a good portion of my Academy brethren, and even members of my own family who consider me a major "mush pot". So, please add your own list, dark, light, and everything in between, and let's have fun with this!
That being said, I look forward to your responses and to seeing a list of your favorite films of 2010. Here are mine:
1) The King’s Speech. My absolute favorite film of 2010. Brilliantly acted, written, directed, produced, photographed, and designed, The King’s Speech is an Old Hollywood movie-movie at its very best: intensely human, poignant, heroic, and fiercely funny, with character development that has become all but a lost art in recent years. Lastly, I’m not sure I remember a year in which the Acting Oscar seems so assured as it is this year for Colin Firth in his role as King George VI.
2) Hereafter. Clint Eastwood’s direction seems to get better, deeper, and more emotionally vulnerable with each film and Hereafter just may be my favorite of all his films to date. The film itself is a fascinating and engrossing exploration of two stories that ultimately intertwine: the effect that a near-death experience has on a television personality (lovely and talented French actress Cecile de France) and how a psychic (Matt Damon) runs away from and then ultimately re-embraces his gift. Having produced two films that deal with the subject matter of life after life (Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come), I was deeply moved by everything about Hereafter, a truly haunting and beautiful film.
3) Inception. Writer-director Christopher Nolan has created one of the most imaginative, complex, intricate, and original films of this or any other year. Inception is an experience that is almost impossible to describe. I’ve seen it 3 times now and each time I see something in the film that I hadn’t noticed before. Only Avatar and The Matrix series of films come to mind when trying to find a comparable film world that illuminates new horizons of consciousness. Inception is brilliant in every aspect, with an unforgettable last shot that will provoke conversations for years to come.
4) The Social Network. A totally entertaining, “are-you-kidding-me” account of Mark Zuckerberg’s creation (with a LOT of help from his “friends”) of Internet phenomenon Facebook. It’s almost surreal to note that Facebook, now with over 500 million subscribers and an estimated value of more than $25 billion, only began as recently as 2003 when Zuckerberg and his business partner and best friend Eduardo Saverin were attending Harvard.
In a year that didn’t include Colin Firth’s brilliant performance in The King’s Speech, Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Mark Zuckerberg would almost certainly earn him his first Oscar. The Social Network chronicles the meteoric and controversial success of Facebook which shattered friendships, led to lawsuits and bitter confrontations, and is a classic American success story, framed perfectly by the scandal-ridden first decade of this new century.
5) The Company Men. Beautifully and sensitively written, acted, and directed, The Company Men is an important and timely film for anyone who has been fired from his or her job and descended into fear and guilt. Expertly and compassionately written and directed by John Wells (prolific executive producer and writer of such television landmarks as ER and The West Wing), the film follows three men (Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones) who are fired from what they considered safe career jobs after the economy went south in late 2008. The movie delves into the psyche and home life of each man as they cope with the shock, shame, anger, and desperation that anyone who has been fired feels to their depth of soul.
Having been fired several times myself, I was deeply touched by each man's experience as he struggled to regain his self-respect and dignity. The Company Men illuminates the same playing field that Up In The Air did in 2009 but where that film focused on the people doing the firing, The Company Men focuses on the people who were indeed fired, and is full of love, compassion, and ultimately redemption. If you've been fired, or know someone who has (which covers almost everyone everywhere, yes?), The Company Men (which opens nationwide on January 21 after a short Academy qualifying run in December) will resonate deeply and also give you hope that tomorrow is indeed another day.
6. Secretariat is an inspiring story of faith, love, trust, redemption, and hope. Secretariat is also this year’s version of The Blind Side in that it is touching, poignant, uplifting, life-enhancing, and based on a true story about a determined and powerful woman. Secretariat focuses on Penny Chenery Tweedy's relationship with her father and a very special horse that became perhaps the greatest race horse ever.
It’s also the kind of film that the Old Hollywood used to make with regularity, the New Hollywood makes only occasionally, and the Academy usually overlooks because of its unabashed sentimentality. So grab your kids, your parents, your grandparents, and anyone else you can find, and go see Secretariat, a film that the whole family will enjoy.
7. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Never has a film been more appropriately titled. Joan Rivers‘ sheer courage and honesty is simply heroic. At 77, Ms. Rivers has been entertaining and outraging audiences for over 40 years which in and of itself speaks volumes about her talent, appeal, and perseverance. In an industry as fickle as show business, that kind of longevity happens only rarely and, when it does, it means the entertainer in question has equal doses of talent and determination. (Content warning: the language is as salty and profane as you can imagine!)
Rivers is so vulnerably honest and forthcoming about herself that it’s almost impossible not to walk away from the film with a deep sense of respect and affection for her. Near the end of the film, Rivers is walking off stage after a performance and simply says: “Look, I’m a performer. That’s all I am and all I ever want to be.” Personally, I hope she lives to be 100 and does a show that day. If she does, and I’m still ambulatory myself, I wouldn’t miss it.
8) Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The devastating (and continuing) financial crisis that first exploded in 2008 is one of the seminal events of the last several decades. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the second film on my favorites list that focuses on the effect that crisis continues to have on people's lives. While The Company Men revolves around those who were fired, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps focuses on how the Gordon Gekko character that Michael Douglas made famous in the original 1987 Wall Street film has "evolved" after spending 8 years in jail, leaving his family in ruins. What makes the Gekko character so relevant and even more disturbing now is the eerie similarity to Bernard Madoff, a real-life Gekko on steroids, so to speak, now serving a life sentence for his crimes. In this fascinating sequel, we see how many lives were devastated by creatures such as the fictional Gekko and the real Madoff. In another chilling similarity to Madoff, Gekko's son has committed suicide and his daughter (Carey Mulligan) won't speak to him.
The film plays out as Gekko uses his daughter's fiancé (Shia La Beouf) to get back in his daughter's life. Michael Douglas is, of course, brilliant as always in one of his signature roles and his performance feels particularly poignant because of the courageous battle he is now waging against throat cancer. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is an engrossing drama, played out against a compelling real life crisis that we all are still facing every day.
9. City Island is a totally charming, funny, and down-to-earth comedy about the consequences of the deceptions that families often use when they are afraid to tell each the truth. As the film plays out, and the deceptions (none of which are illegal or immoral) become harder and harder to conceal, each member of the family learns the truth of the brilliant ad line for the film: "Truth is stranger than family."
How great is that? Who of us doesn't have a family we consider strange in at least some way? In City Island, a wonderful cast led by Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies (star of the brilliant CBS series The Good Wife), show us how absurd we are when we tie our lives, our loved ones, and ourselves into emotional pretzels when the truth always does "set us free". City Island is an absolute gem.
10) Disney's wonderful Tangled hearkens back to the classic Disney days when they made magical movies like The Little Mermaid, which had the same feel of love and fun of Tangled.
Putting a new musical and comic spin on the Rapunzel story, Tangled is a wondrous mixture of fun, adventure, romance, heroes and heroines, a charismatic horse whom you won't soon forget, and sensational music. Special mention goes to the amazing Alan Menken who wrote the score.
Mr. Menken has been nominated for a mind-boggling 18 Oscars, won 8 of the gold statues, and also wrote the scores for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, and Aladdin. Tangled is a wonderful family film.
So that's my list for 2010. What's yours? Please join our community and join the conversation!
Stephen Simon is the author of the new book Bringing Back The Old Hollywood. More info at www.TheOldHollywood.com. He also cofounded www.spiritualcinemacircle.com, produced such films as Somewhere in Time and What Dreams May Come, and both produced and directed Indigo and Conversations with God.