Damon Smith rounds up his top 10 from 2010
Originality has been a rare commodity on the big screen this year.
It's no surprise that in a summer cluttered with remakes and vacuous action blockbusters, Christopher Nolan's mind-bending thriller Inception stood out from the crowd, asking us to unravel layer upon layer of mystery in a world of fractured dreams.
The rest of the summer was largely forgettable, punctuated by abysmal revamps of A Nightmare On Elm Street and Clash Of The Titans.
Iron Man 2 and Sex And The City 2 were a waste of celluloid while Joe Carnahan's update of The A-Team traded heavily on nostalgia for the TV show.
Thankfully, Will Smith's son Jaden kicked and punched his way into our affections in the new Karate Kid opposite Jackie Chan in heartbreaking form as the sensei haunted by tragedy.
The opening chapters of three potential new blockbuster franchises – Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief, Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time and The Last Airbender – didn't capture the public imagination.
While many people expected Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 to sweep all before it at the box office, 2010 belonged not to the young wizards from Hogwarts but the computer animated wizards at Pixar, who took us to infinity and beyond one last time...
1. TOY STORY 3
For the first time, the year's highest grossing film at the UK box office is also the finest feature of the past 12 months, proving that quality can walk hand-in-hand with mainstream appeal. The animators at Pixar bid a tearful farewell to Woody the cowboy (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the other denizens of Andy's toy chest with a brilliantly paced escape from the seemingly idyllic Sunnyside day care centre and its strawberry-fragranced despot, Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty). Familiar faces like Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack) wisecrack to perfection alongside newcomers including Barbie's buff beau, Ken (Michael Keaton). Director Lee Unkrich doesn't strike a single false note for 108 spellbinding minutes, from the breathless opening sequence aboard a runaway train to a heartbreaking finale that reduces grown men to emotionally drained, gibbering wrecks.
Shot from the perspective of a four-strong team of men within a rattling, battle-scarred tank during the First Lebanon War, Samuel Maoz's bravura depiction of war is a master class in sustained tension. It's a white-knuckle ride from beginning to end as tank commander Assi (Itay Tiran) prepares to lead his men – ammunition loader Hertzl (Oshri Cohen), gun man Shmulik (Yoav Donat) and driver Yigal (Michael Moshonov) - into hostile territory. Tensions flare within the bowels of the grumbling, metallic beast, exacerbated when an Israeli commander (Zohar Strauss) deposits a Syrian captive (Dudu Tassa) with the tank crew to ensure his safe passage through the war zone. Stunning, naturalistic performances leave us gasping for breath, praying desperately for an end to the bloodshed.
3. WINTER'S BONE
Debra Granik's unrelentingly bleak character study deals with a tenacious female protagonist who must risk everything – including her life – to rescue her fractured family from the brink of financial ruin. Twenty-year-old rising star Jennifer Lawrence could become the youngest winner of the Oscar for her tour-de-force lead performance as teenager Ree, who has been left in charge of her younger brother and sister while their wastrel father skips bail. The children will lose the house unless they can track down their no-good old man. So Ree embarks on a harrowing journey of discovery, aided by her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), but some of the locals are determined hinder her progress. Granik eschews sentimentality at every turn, leaving us to wince in horror as Ree's search reaches a nerve-racking climax.
4. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Lisa Cholodenko's bittersweet and touching comedy is blessed with arguably the finest ensemble cast of the year, led by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in dazzling and Oscar-worthy form as lesbian couple Nic and Jules, whose carefully ordered life goes into tailspin when their teenage children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), secretly make contact with their sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo). Bening brilliantly captures the jealousy and insecurities of her mother hen, whose positioned is threatened by a man in the household. Cholodenko's script, co-written by Stuart Blumberg, is razor sharp and her dissection of the tensions between the family members is painfully funny.
5. A SINGLE MAN
Colin Firth richly deserved the Academy Award for his stunning portrayal of a gay professor torn apart by grief in A Single Man. Naturally, he didn't win – sentimentality trumps merit on Oscar night – but his dazzling performance as stammering King George VI in the forthcoming A King's Speech should rectify that glaring error. Here in Tom Ford's directorial debut, he is utterly fearless as 1960s English professor George, who contemplates suicide rather than live another day with the loss of his soul mate (Matthew Goode). Fashion designer Ford recreates the moods of the era with the same meticulous attention to detail that he brings to his menswear collections.
6 PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL 'PUSH' BY SAPPHIRE
Lee Daniels's harrowing account of a 16-year-old girl coming of age in a violent and abusive household in 1980s Harlem is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart, punctuated by scenes of cruelty that make your blood run cold. Yet, no matter how much we want to turn away from the screen in horror, the incredible resolve of teenage heroine Claireece Jones (Gabourey Sidibe), aka "Precious", keeps us willing her on to break the cycle of intimidation, escape the clutches of her vicious mother Mary (Oscar winner Mo'Nique) and better herself with gentle guidance from literacy teacher Ms Rain (Paula Patton).
Yorgos Lanthimos's disturbing portrait of family life is undoubtedly an acquired taste, perhaps too willfully weird for some audiences. The story unfolds in a secluded compound where a middle-aged father (Christos Stergioglou) and mother (Michele Valley) raise their grown-up son (Christos Passalis) and two daughters (Aggeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni) in a bubble of childhood innocence. The adults create a new vocabulary for the offspring, reward good deeds with stickers and even convince the youngsters that cats are man-eating beasties to be avoided at all costs. When father invites work colleague Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou) into the compound to sate his son's burgeoning sexuality, the balance of power shifts with genuinely shocking consequences.
8. MARY & MAX
Writer-director Adam Elliot's extraordinary stop-motion animated comedy chronicles an unlikely long distance friendship that helps two lost souls find hope and even glimmers of happiness. Recounted with biting wit by narrator Barry Humphreys, the film introduces Mary Dinkle (voiced by Toni Collette), an alienated Australian girl whose mother is a kleptomaniac and "puts things up her dress to save on plastic bags." By in an unlikely turn of events, Mary becomes a pen pal to New York malcontent Max Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Even though they live on opposite sides of the world, are generations apart and have seemingly nothing in common, Mary and Max fit.
9. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders's computer animated fantasy explores the deep bond between a misunderstood boy and a supposedly fearsome dragon, based on the book by Cressida Cowell. It's a familiar rites of passage story but the directors enliven the simple narrative with gorgeous visuals, vertiginous flying sequences that are nothing short of breathtaking in 3D, and hysterical comic interludes.
10. THE MILLENNIUM TRILOGY
Swedish actress Noomi Rapace exploded into the public consciousness with her career-defining performance as computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the hard-hitting film versions of Stieg Larsson's best-selling novels. Director Niels Arden Oplev lit the fuse at the beginning of the year with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, dispatching Lisbeth and her partner in crime-fighting, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), on a search for a missing girl. Their investigations continued in The Girl Who Played With Fire, reaching a thrilling and bloody crescendo in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest, both directed by Daniel Alfredson. Hollywood has clearly taken note – David Fincher's English language remake of the first film opens on Boxing Day next year. Pray he doesn't ruin it.