You know what's cooler than a million dollars? A billion dollars.
That line from The Social Network, delivered by entrepreneur Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) to Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), captures 2010 at the movies.
The Social Network and Inception, the films that best embody the year's mood, are about computer cowboys riding roughshod on and through the dreams of others, reconfiguring the landscape of private and public. Both films suggest that there's something even cooler than a billion bucks: Not caring about the money at all.
In a year when five of the Top 10 box-office films are sequels - Toy Story 3; Iron Man 2; Twilight: Eclipse; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1; and Shrek Forever After - The Social Network and Inception are originals. One is a speculative history of a technology transforming the present, the other a speculative science fiction about how technology might reconfigure the future.
For its acute screenplay, sharp performances and crisp direction, David Fincher's The Social Network made my Top 10 list. But much as I admire the imagination and art of Christopher Nolan's Inception, it did not. There are two reasons: I had to watch it twice in order to fully comprehend its labyrinthine narrative and, both times, it engaged the brain but not the heart.
Putting away childish things. Half the films that made my list are about "the kids" about to leave or having just left home: The Kids Are All Right, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Toy Story 3, Waiting for "Superman," and Winter's Bone.
A so-called nontraditional family experiences a most traditional identity crisis in Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right. Lesbian moms (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) become anxious when their daughter and son (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) seek out their bio-dad.
Edgar Wright's playful Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a visually dazzling portrait of a teenager in love, shows how the simultaneity of social networking, the structure of computer-game quests, and the language of tweeting are redefining modern romance - and moviemaking.
With a career-making performance from Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone, Debra Granik's powerful odyssey, follows a teenage girl in her desperate search for the missing father who can help save the family home.
What's up, doc? In 2010, one could make a Top 10 list just of documentaries. Two of the best, Restrepo and The Tillman Story, about fatal recon missions in Afghanistan, didn't make the cut. The two that did are Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, a cracking chronicle of the inequities of the 2008 financial collapse reframed as a heist movie, and Davis Guggenheim's Waiting for "Superman," a heartbreaking account of the inequities of America's educational system.
Animation nation. The many excellent animated films this year included Tangled and How to Train Your Dragon. But the best by many miles were the computer-generated Toy Story 3, about the family ties between toys and the kids who own them; and the hand-painted My Dog Tulip, about the family ties between British writer J.D. Ackerley and his German shepherd.
Bio-rhythms. Three of my favorite films are biopics, stories of real-life figures. All of them boast brilliant performances. The Social Network looks at the contentious battle for custody of Facebook waged among Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg), Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer).
David O. Russell's The Fighter is about the contentious battle between boxer half-brothers Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), who fight for titles and their mother's love. Melissa Leo is scorchingly fine as Mom, likewise Amy Adams as Micky's girl.
Tom Hooper's The King's Speech chronicles the collaborative battle of King George VI (Colin Firth) and his speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to conquer the royal stammer. Helena Bonham Carter makes a drolly supportive Queen Elizabeth.
Most pervasive theme: Talking 'Bout Your Generation. The millennials, those teens and twentysomethings making the passage into adulthood in the new millennium, are well-represented in the films of 2010, a year that reflects a generational shift in stories and actors.
Consider Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton's update of the Lewis Carroll classic, reframed as the story of a nonconformist teen blazing her own path. Or the latest Harry Potter, in which the teen heroes leave Hogwarts to save it, as the heroine of Winter's Bone leaves the family place in order to save it from foreclosure. Or Twilight: Eclipse, yet another tale of a teen defying parental expectations.
Apart from The Kids Are All Right, Fair Game, For Colored Girls, and Eat Pray Love, there weren't many mature women in the films of 2010. Nor were there many mature men: If Due Date, Greenberg, Grown Ups, and The Social Network are any indication, males tended to be overgrown boys.
There were, however, a lot of valiant adolescent girls: Kristen Stewart in Twilight: Eclipse and The Runaways, Wasikowska in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right, Lawrence in Winter's Bone, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, and Chloe Moretz in Let Me In and Kick-Ass.
The stars realign. As these actors' stars rose, those of their elders were in eclipse. Old faithfuls Harrison Ford (Extraordinary Measures, Morning Glory) and Russell Crowe (Robin Hood, The Next Three Days), didn't find audiences. Among the over-50 set, it was Denzel Washington (The Book of Eli, Unstoppable) who commanded box-office respect.
The ascendance of the Three Ds - Depp (Alice in Wonderland), DiCaprio (Shutter Island and Inception), and Downey Jr. (Iron Man 2, Due Date) is further evidence of a generational shift.
The post-nuclear family. The family arrangements in The Kids Are All Right, The Back-up Plan, Splice, and The Switch all suggested that what brings the American family together is not the turkey but the baster.
The year's best line: "The Internet's not written in pencil, Mark. It's written in ink!" (The Social Network.)
The year's funniest lines: "He punched the highlights out of her hair!" (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and "I will not be upstaged by some chick with mutant lungs!" (Burlesque).
Come back, Ben. Comeback of the year goes to Ben Affleck. A terrific performance in, and direction of, The Town. And an even-better performance in The Company Men. Gigli is forgiven.
Best performances, female: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right); Natalie Portman (Black Swan); Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole); Kimberly Elise and Kerry Washington (For Colored Girls); Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone); Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech); Melissa Leo and Amy Adams (The Fighter); Emma Stone (Easy A); Greta Gerwig (Greenberg); and Vanessa Redgrave (Letters to Juliet).
Best performances, male: Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter); Michael Douglas (Solitary Man); Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network); James Franco (127 Hours); Anthony Mackie (Night Catches Us); Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech); Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones (Company Men).
So long to: actors Jill Clayburgh, Tony Curtis, Dennis Hopper, Lena Horne, Patricia Neal, Leslie Nielsen, and Jean Simmons; and filmmakers Dede Allen, Claude Chabrol, Dino De Laurentiis, Irvin Kershner, Suzy Menke, Arthur Penn, and Eric Rohmer.