best film:  Inception from Christopher Nolan

  • There are many ways to attempt to tackle Christopher Nolan’s Inception. It is one of the boldest films of the 21st century. Nolan pushes the conceptual and visual boundaries—he disorients, then reracks and compiles often through his greatest weapon: parallel editing.
  • Hans Zimmer’s hammering score helps open the film—throwing down the gauntlet early (along with the breathtaking visuals of Saito’s (Ken Watanabe) place) for this elaborate work of cinema. Zimmer will mirror Nolan’s intricate narrative by marrying this score to Edith Piaf ‘s “Non, Je ne regrette rien” – pure genius .
  • Inception is undoubtedly auteur cinema. The creation of an alternative (often more pleasing) reality, the questioning of the basis of that reality, the protagonist haunted by guilt and a past love is all set up in Nolan’s Memento a decade before Inception. Nolan will again be bravely manipulating time through editing.
  • A consistently handsome, clean mise-en-scene—posh hotels, slicked back hair, the Savile Row wardrobe.

in the first ten minutes of Inception, Nolan surpasses the beauty of his previous efforts

Nolan is assembling, organizing, orchestrating the various levels of the reality and dreams

it is a test to keep up with the gymnastics of the story– but remember to pause and appreciate awe-inspiring visuals


  • A Bordwell-like study of the threads of the narrative would be exciting to examine—but in broad strokes, there are really two parts to the film. There is the marvelous opening hour exposition. Leonardo DiCaprio (Cobb) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Arthur) take turns introducing Elliot Page (formerly Ellen at the time of the film’s release as Ariadne) to the complex world Nolan has built (both in story, and perfectly matched, yet audacious, visuals). Ariadne is the audience’s vehicle. There’s some great banter from Tom Hardy’s Eames (he’s a scene-stealer, even in a cast this loaded) and portions of the deception will remind you of The Sting (1973). Around the 85-minute mark (roughly when the van’s start to twirl and drop in slow motion and Cillian Murphy’s Robert Fischer’s subconscious starts fighting back) the dream within the dream within the dream parallel editing of Nolan’s takes hold. The van is falling, JGL is scaling walls in a rotating hallway, a clever James Bond-like action film (Nolan’s favorite is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with the snow- 1969) is taking place. This portion of the film really lasts for the remainder of the film’s 148-minute running time. This part is basically all of what comprises Dunkirk (and too little a part of comprises Tenet). With all due respect to Nolan the storyteller, it is this parallel editing bravado that makes him one of the greatest auteurs of his generation. And it is this section of Inception, the brilliant compiling, that recalls the works of say Griffith’s Intolerance or Aronofsky’s final section of Requiem For a Dream.

A few Kurosawa or Bad Day at Black Rock frames of the staggered characters in the open street but Nolan does not hold for long enough—and frankly, despite some jaw-droppers (again, Saito’s masterfully illuminated place to open the film is a highlight) brilliant compositions are not Inception’s greatest strength.

  • Nolan brilliantly ends with the spinning totem— becoming one of the most indelible images of 2010s cinema.


most underrated: Before The Souvenir (2019) became her sort of coming out party (at least with critics), Joanna Hogg made the equally terrif ArchipelagoPerhaps the critical success of Hogg’s more recent work will help Archipelago on the consensus list but for now TSPDT has it at #45 for 2010- making it it the single most underrated film of 2010. Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere deserves a better fate than the #37 TSPDT ranking as well.



So the title is a series of islands (I do not think it is wrong to bring up L’Avventura here and the setting as character) and these characters are continually shot by Hogg alone, in their bedroom at night in isolation —it is a brilliant metaphor. Their failure to connect wallops you and the only real pleasure seems to be in the interludes on art. They are all damaged- looking out their own window—alone even when they are together.


  • An announcement of a burgeoning auteur- Joanna Hogg- it is her second film after 2007’s Unrelated
  • Archipelago is much prettier than the crassly shot debut—much more attractive in its photography and decidedly more poised in its compositions
  • It opens with an artist (Christopher Baker) and a painting recreating life- a landscape and a discussion on abstraction and understatement in art. It is both Hogg speaking to us directly about her work and setting the ground formally for what is about to unfold. Hogg would bounce us off the artist here in the film — discussions on art as brilliant formal invention.
  • Like Unrelated we get one-sided conversations of broken relationships on the phone, and we overhear awful family blow-up fights in other rooms or on the phone
  • Depth of field in doorways, a bikes in the arrangement in the alleys—like Ozu, alleys and hallways
  • Frequent collaborator Tom Hiddleston (he was in Unrelated as well) with his Art Garfunkel hair here and agreeable soft-spoken demeanor.
  • Set on holiday, small talk, glances, painful silences and eavesdropping on discussions— this is not expressionism but realism and it is not for people not interested in cinema as an art. We literally wait for the mom here to finish brushing her teeth.
  • Ozu is a clear influence—family drama, mise-en-scene focus—there is a great shot as the characters use the house phone, there is shadow from the window’s natural light—and the camera shoots them through two open doors – perfect
  • There are plenty of throwaway scenes that keep this from being Columbus from Kogonada—two people talking about shellfish in an ugly bland kitchen. Hogg is  putting us in this world–realism.
  • Hogg often sets the frame beautifully though. In another composition the camera is perfectly placed between chairs at the restaurant
  • Life is a mess, art is perfect
  • The sister- Lydia Leonard the actress- that character is a nightmare. In one of the film’s most difficult scenes she’s complaining at the restaurant and sends her stuff back
  • The tilted trees in the landscape—really stunning
  • Long pauses, realism – the guy who tells the maid how to pluck the pheasant is not an actor
  • No score, birds
  • Peter Bradshaw in “The Guardian” gets Hogg-  “works with a series of static “tableau” camera positions. There is no musical soundtrack, just the ambient sound of birdsong or distant aeroplane buzz, only really apparent when it cuts out into silence for the next scene” 
  • Philip French in the Observer- “As with the Japanese master Ozu, Hogg never moves her camera, each shot being carefully composed and long held. There are no close-ups until near the end, at which point there’s also a single camera movement when one character comes down the stairs and startles us by rushing across a room to open a letter of farewell.”
  • Rohmer is an influence, it also reminded me of Woody’s severely underrated 1978 film Interiors–  Hsiao-Hsien Hou as well- Hogg is sharply observant and like HHH is an Ozu acolyte- she has a static camera, no close-ups, long takes, some improvisation




  • Golden Lion in Venice winner
  • A tone poem—I wish the visuals were a little stronger (would make for a for sure must-see top five of the year quality film) but still- more European or art-house in atmosphere and total lack of care for a plot—all of her work is like this
  • Malaise and ennui—Antonioni
  • Car is a constant metaphor—it breaks down—then he leaves it for the powerful finale
  • Phoenix score- they have worked with Coppola—there is not much there till the “love is like a sunset” ending
  • The opposite of Lynne Ramsay—Coppola’s characters are not post-trauma zombies, they are sleepwalking (literally falls asleep as part of the form) and lost in their insulated world. Dorff says “I’m not even a person” to his ex-wife.
  • Great film form all over the place from Coppola- the twin strippers, he’s constantly looking at the found and surrounded by pills and beer. This doesn’t make for narrative but that’s not the goal—unlike some of her best work (Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette) or like Antonioni’s similarly themed work (L’Eclisse) it doesn’t make for great visuals either. Another reoccurrence is Dorff falling asleep with strippers dancing and in a girl’s lap. Meets Benicio Del Toro in the elevator. Massage from a guy. He has no idea what day of the week it is. It is both sad and funny.
  • Duration and repetition as tools
  • We need more of the gorgeous zoom of the father/daughter laying by the pool and less Nintendo Wii playing to make this a masterpiece
  • Exactly half way through the film the ex-wife says “she’s yours” about daughter- great form
  • Elle Fanning plays the daughter- she cooks, they get a song sung to them on the couch, Dorff’s brother and her uncle is a good guy learning about her—there’s growth here, the underwater tea party—this is life and it’s unsentimentally realized by Coppola in the day to day
  • Again, it is not beautiful (Marie Antoinette) and Coppola is no great writer of dialouge- she’s about capturing tone and form—closer to Jarmusch—repetition but not a Jarmuschian fish out of water premise- she has her world’s are well established, insulated, and often affluent to the point of constriction.
  • Repetition of his clothes, flannel, white t, glances from and to women
  • meditation on isolation and celebrity that has to be seen in the context of Sofia’s brilliant oeuvre. These are hermetically-sealed worlds- Virgin SuicidesThe Beguiled— privilege- Bling Ring, Marie Antoinette
  • Opens with a metaphor that annoyed some but I loved it- Stephen Dorff is literally driving his Ferrari in circles on a road to nowhere then spends the bulk of the film in his hotel California hell


most overrated: The most overrated film of 2010 is Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified CopyThere is nothing wrong with the film- there are just far more deserving options for the #4 slot of 2010- which is where this film currently resides on the TSPDT consensus list.


trends and notables:

  • With Inception, The Social Network, and Black Swan– 2010 is very strong year at the top- David Fincher, Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky are very gifted directors and a strong argument could be made that they all made their single greatest film in 2010.

The Social Network– Fincher’s largest achievement in the film is the mise-en-scene- specifically the lighting. It is just very rare in cinema’s history that a director can make his movies so distinct (and beautiful) just by looking at any splice from any film.  Look at the scene with the twins in the tank as an example—look at the color of the water.

From the first glorious (maybe the best single shot in the film) frame know you’re watching something special. Fincher paints the mise-en-scene so well with his trademark lighting scheme .You almost don’t notice the triumph of lighting the first time watching because of Sorkin’s dialogue and the talented young cast. You’re on your heels with the rapid fire arguments- apparently the opening dialogue scene was shot in 99 takes—you hear these stories often with Fincher and you see it in the results—such a perfectionist.

from Black Swan– of course the influence of Bergman’s Persona is draped all over this film (which will lead to comparisons with Mulholland Drive as well) – the identity of the two women being confused in a surrealistic nightmare.

a simple, yet elegant frame from Aronofsky’s masterpiece

  • Just a notch underneath Fincher, Nolan and Aronofsky from 2010 is the story of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Weerasethakul has made many short films throughout his career, but with 2006’s Syndromes and a Century and 2010’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives- this period of back to back films does seem to be his career peak (at least thus far).

The opening of Uncle Boonmee is as strong as anything in 2010 (which puts it up there with the decade) or Weerasethakul. A beautiful short story of an animal tied to a tree post dusk- natural lighting, silhouette work, it is tame vs. wild, it tells the story of Weerasethakul’s work and it feels surreal—it’s also a break because normally Weerasethakul’s openings are banal and slow (on purpose to juxtapose with his urban vs. wild chapter or divisions).

The dusk sequences through the trees at night in medium-long of the woman princess in the carriage are spectacular. The ethereal greens, the waterfall- old self in reflection.

  • The third Toy Story and Harry Potter lead the way for 2010 box office films
  • 2010 is also notable for being Denis Villeneuve’s first archiveable film (Incendies).  Villeneuve would rank as one of the finest directors working by the end of the decade. Derek Cianfrance would make an even louder splash with his first archiveable film (Blue Valentine).

arresting imagery from Villeneuve

  • There are a trio of very talented actresses who got their start in the archives 2010. Greta Gerwig is in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, Jennifer Lawrence is a mini revelation in Winter’s Bone, and Rooney Mara gets her start in The Social Network in a pivotal role.


gems I want to spotlight:   Mike Mills is a patient director who knows how to create  (along with his actors) a deep character- so enjoy his 2010 film Beginners if you have not seen it yet. Animal Kingdom is a very worthwhile crime film from Australia that has a slew of brilliant actors (watch out for Ben Mendelsohn especially).  Lastly, though it was pushed off my top 10 of the year- Richard Ayoade’s Submarine is still a little known film that more cinephiles should see and appreciate.

  • Ayoade’s debut is splendid—so much cinematic energy packed into 97minutes
  • The two lead characters- Oliver (Craig Roberts) and Jordana (Yasmin Paige) are represented by colors—red and blue respectively and it’s fascinating to watch this laid out in Ayode’s mise-en-scene and décor—he even fades to red (when falling in love) and blue in sections
  • Ayoade is clearly a cinephile- there is a lot of Wes Anderson here, The Graduate,  Harold and Maude—plenty of Truffaut – Salinger in the text
  • New Wave influence in general—Melville’s Le Samourai poster in Oliver’s room, the parents (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor) going to see a Rohmer film
  • Most of the film is expressionistic, the camerawork, editing flourishes—but I think there’s a decent treatise here on the effect of marriage issues on a child
  • Wes—Chapter breaks, school uniforms, letter writing, “hand job”
  • Freeze frames and iris in and out from Truffaut—a triple-edit like Varda’s Cleo when Oliver hangs up the phone — the suicidal thought black comedy stuff Harold and Maude – mistakes Jordana for woman in hooded sweatshirt from Roeg’s Don’t Look Now
  • Stream of consciousness editing—hilarious gags of “I tried smoking a pipe, flipping a coin, listening exclusively to French crooners”
  • Had a little problem with his super 8 movie within a movie here- so the Olivier character is also making a movie about first love? And he uses cute touches like freeze frames? It’s too much
  • Overall the film’s first 20-30 minutes during the spring or romance section of the film is the highlight—the cinematic energy here is front-loaded in the film and it fizzles a little—Ayoade throws the kitchen sink out there.

a dozen critics say they can’t wait to see what Ayoade does next



best performance maleJesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) may edge out Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception) for the best performance of the year – but DiCaprio also has stellar work in Shutter Island to add to his 2010 resume. Either way, it is an excellent year here for acting both on the male and female side. DiCaprio’s work as the steady hand at the helm (sort of acting as a Nolan surrogate maneuvering it all) gets better with each repeat viewing. Andrew Garfield is not far behind either Eisenberg or Dicaprio. Garfield gets the big final scene in The Social Network though Eisenberg probably has the slightly better achievement overall.  Garfield’s little dance over to him at the Jewish party and then saying “I’m buying” with those eyes—he is a remarkably sympathetic character—and then he tears your heart out at the ambush at the end. Ryan Gosling‘s prodigious decade gets off to a hot start with Blue Valentine- a searing marriage drama. Ewan McGregor drives Polanski’s The Ghost Writer (and his work in Mike Mills’ Beginners from 2010 helps, too).  Fincher’s direction and Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue are so brilliant- there may even be enough meat on the bone to give both Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer a half mention each for The Social Network.


best performance female: Natalie Portman’s work in Black Swan surpasses Leo and Eisenberg.  Portman is magnificent- it is one of the best performances of the 2010s decade. Her Nina is vulnerable and fragile, childlike, uptight, rigid and cold at times in a very cutthroat world. Portman has multiple moments of genius throughout the film. When she falls on stage the look on her face after she gets off stage is an amazing display of acting—this is complete devastation. The final shot – the camera just resting on her face- is another such moment. There are great performances out there but few actresses get this moment in a masterpiece. If it were not for Portman standing on her head in a masterpiece, 2010 would be the year of Michelle Williams. Williams crushes it in Blue Valentine (75% of why she is here) but also does superior work with Kelly Reichardt again in Meek’s Cutoff and for a few key scenes in Shutter Island. Marion Cotillard gives the best per-minute-on-screen performance in the best film of the year (Inception) as a modified femme fatale. Hailee Steinfeld gets the final mention for this category in 2010 for her work in The Coen Brothers’ True Grit. The entire cast equips themselves so well here- but Steinfeld, as the “headstrong” Mattie Ross, actually gives the best performance in the film.


The last 25 minutes of Black Swan are devastating cinema—the camerawork and music are paied together- this is virtuoso filmmaking at its finest- the music crescendo and acting when she realizes what has happened in the final moments.

Michelle Williams had a sensational 2010. From Blue Valentine here with the somber color palatte used by Derek Cianfrance.

to Williams’ second time working with Kelly Reichardt in Meek’s Cutoff

to a brief, but pivotal role in Scorsese’s Shutter Island (with some gorgeous production design work from frequent collaborator Dante Ferretti here)



top 10

  1. Inception
  2. The Social Network
  3. Black Swan
  4. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
  5. The Ghost Writer
  6. The King’s Speech
  7. Blue Valentine
  8. Mysteries of Lisbon
  9. Archipelago
  10. Somewhere



the final shot from The Ghost Writer and Polanski-  the equivalent of the “Forget it, Jake, It’s Chinatown” shot of the hit and run and pages of the unpublished book sweeping away- a fantastic finish.

For their fifteen film the Coen Brothers chose to adapt the work of Charles Portis (author of True Grit) in their first outright western (certainly No Country For Old Men is a western in many ways). It is also a remake of the successful 1969 Henry Hathaway John Wayne vehicle (in his Oscar-winning role). Both films are very worthy of study. You can see what intrigued the Coen Brothers about the source material. They love the colloquial vernacular. “I admire your sand”. The wordplay and dialogue throughout is an absolute pleasure. The epilogue (here above)-bringing the older Mattie back for a voice-over- is also filled with some of the best shots of 2010—the gravestone on the hill.

The opening shot of the 2010 Coen’s brother film is one of the greatest single shots in the brothers’ oeuvre. This is their 10th collaboration with the masterful Roger Deakins (it is one of his best single shots too for that matter) and the light at the end of the tunnel shot here with Mattie Ross’ Papa dead on the front porch is staggering. Deakins help make 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James and the opening shot here in True Grit would be at home in that 2007 masterpiece. The shot is accompanied by the voice-over work of the older Mattie Ross (Elizabeth Marvel). It is a very strong one-minute opening.

Even if it did not deserve to win best picture, Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech remains one of the strongest cinematic efforts in 2010

Hooper’s film features some extraordinary close-up work (it opens on a close up to set the visual form) but it has plenty to offer throughout

there are more egregiously underrated films- but the consensus has this film as the 24th best of 2010 and the evidence just does not support this

the great Terence Davies (not putting Hooper quite in that class but still) would be proud of these arrangements

a stunner of a low-angle Wellesian shot of Mark Ruffalo, DiCaprio and John Carroll Lynch from Shutter Island- sumptuously shot by Scorsese and DP Robert Richardson

Raúl Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon is also a 2010 film that is essential viewing for any cinemphile

Ruiz loads the film with stylistic flourishes and great detail despite the heavyweight 270+ minute running time

From Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Again, Edgar Wright’s films begin and end with their editing- the transitions are just so thought out– but this hipster anthem also has Wright’s single greatest cinematic painting (to date)- here.

The Fighter marks a small bit of a comeback for David O. Russell- the artistic success of this film (and its a triumph for him, Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams) will help springboard Russell’s strong start to the 2010s decade.

The Illusionist (the 2010 animated film- not the 2006 magician film) from Sylvain Chomet was based on an unpublished work from the great Jacques Tati.

an inspired composition from Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men

Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats proves he is no one-hit wonder after 2009’s I Killed My Mother in 2009



Archives, Directors, and Grades

127 Hours – Boyle R
13 Assassins – Miike R
Animal Kingdom-Michôd R
Another Year – Leigh R/HR
Archipelago – Hogg HR/MS
Beginners- Mills R/HR
Black Swan – Aronofsky MP
Blue Valentine – Cianfrance MS
Carlos – Assayas R
Certified Copy- Kiarostami R/HR
Cyrus- Duplass R
Easy Money – Espinosa R
Green Zone- Greengrass R
Greenberg- Baumbach R
Heartbeats- Dolan R
How To Train Your Dragon – Sanders, DeBlois R
Incendies- Villeneuve R
Inception – Nolan MP
Let Me In- Reeves R
Meek’s Cutoff- Reichardt R/HR
Mysteries of Lisbon – Ruiz HR/MS
Of Gods and Men- Beauvois R/HR
Please Give- Holofcener R
Poetry – Chang-dong Lee R
Rabbit Hole- Mitchell R
Red White & Blue- Rumley R
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – E. Wright HR
Shutter Island – Scorsese HR
Somewhere – S. Coppola HR/MS
Submarine – Ayoade HR
The Fighter- D. Russell HR
The Ghost Writer – Polanski MS
The Illusionist – Chomet R/HR
The Kids Are All Right- Cholodenko R
The King’s Speech- Hooper MS
The Social Network – Fincher MP
The Town – Affleck R
The Trip – Winterbottom R
Toy Story 3 – Unkrich R
True Grit – Coen HR/MS
Tuesday After Christmas – Muntean R
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Weerasethakul MS
Unstoppable –  T. Scott HR
Winter’s Bone – Granik R/HR



*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives