In 2010: They’re the tops

Just what the world needs right, someone else’s top 10 lists? Time Magazine has done the mother of all lists – but I’ve concentrated only on my topics: films, books and plays. They inform me, challenge me and leave me asking questions – that’s why they made my top 10.

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Films

In no particular order – my top ten films of 2010. Note that these are films that I’ve seen this year, not necessarily films released in 2010.

1: The Social Network. Whether it’s an accurate characterization of Mark Zuckerberg and/or the rise of Facebook or not, it’s one well done film. Acting, script, direction – nice.

2: Secrets in Their Eyes. A whodunit and whydunit set in contemporary Argentina with flashbacks to the 70s military regime. The charismatic performances and rich atmosphere made this a winner in my book (and the Academy’s).

3: Despicable Me. Half of this movie had me rolling, then the back half turned sappy. But it was my first time ever sitting with my 3D specs, so it wins for that and those minions.

4: Cairo Time. Some have compared this to watching paint dry (that was Unforgiven in my book). Those who are in my camp, and adore this film about finding unexpected love in a foreign land, have a more nuanced level of appreciation. You know who you are.

5: Greenberg. Ben Stiller surprises me. Just when I think he’s going to turn in another one of those cookie cutter neurotic guys he does in his sleep, he comes up with a fully realized portrait of a misanthropic man in trouble. It’s not an easy film to watch, but it’s well done.

6: Agora. What’s not to like: Egypt, the library of Alexandria – managed by a woman astronomer, pagans, and books (well scrolls, since it’s 4 AD). It’s an epic tale of tolerance preceding destruction and oppression. Beautiful cinematography and finely-shaded performances led by Rachel Weisz as Hypatia.

7: The King’s Speech. Performances are terrific, film is good. A Masterpiece Theater-y look at the ascendance of King George VI. I’ve been rooting for Colin Firth since I first saw him in 1988 in A Month in the Country in a defunct Upper East Side cinema. He was stammering in that performance too. I think it’s his time.

8: Inception. Watched it twice to finally put the pieces together. Is it an action film, a caper, a con or a dream? Leave reason at the door and let the movie envelope you. Getting lost in it is half the fun, assuming you believe you’ll wake up.

9: Of Gods and Men. Beautiful, moving, tragic. A group of Cistercian monks living peacefully in the Algerian mountains amid their Muslim neighbors question their calling and their lives when Islamic terrorists invade their world. Superb cast and script based on actual events of the mid 90s.

10: The September Issue. Never would have thought I would like this, but it’s a good documentary about putting Vogue’s biggest issue to bed. It de-glamorizes the process and even makes Anna Wintour seem human. She may be one giant ego herself, but she’s juggling thousands of creatives, both vets and tenderfeet.

BOOKS

In no particular order, here are my top ten books of 2010. Again, note that these are books that I’ve read this year, not necessarily books published this year.

1 & 2: I covered K2: Life and Death on the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs and Game Change by Tom Heileman and Mark Halperin in a previous post, Adventures in Nonfiction. We know how they turn out, but what a ride to get there!

3: One of two novels that I read this year is The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. A wonderful debut focusing on the personalities who work at a struggling English-language newspaper in Rome. Rachman has a great sense of humor and a keen eye for observation, and constructs a history like a literary Rubik’s Cube – connections, wrong turns and misses. The conclusion is inevitable but the journey is well worth the ride.

4: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Loved it. I’m glad that I chose to read this book shortly before the release of Bourdain’s semi-sequel to it. It’s fun to read him as a bad-ass, narrow-minded chef versus the experienced, world traveler he becomes. Bourdain’s sharp-edged tongue is mostly gone, but gramps still loves food and culture in the context of his bigger world.

5: The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare by Doug Stewart. A great piece of historical fiction about young William-Henry Ireland and the complex relationship he had with his Shakespeare-obsessed father. W-H’s Shakespeare forgeries bring him the highs and lows of fame, but will they bring him his father’s approval? It’s worth the read to find out.

6: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. Another book that’s been written about to death – I resisted reading it (it was on the ghastly Oprah reading list!) but it was so wonderful. A gifted man who truly goes to enormous lengths to make a small, turbulent part of the world a better place.

7: Open by Andre Agassi. Weird choice, right? But Open is a frank, irreverent and sometimes funny autobiography of the dysfunctional making of Agassi’s tennis legacy. Agassi’s utter dislike of the game causes extreme meltdowns that ultimately help him discover the player and the man that he wants to be.

8: The Looming Towers by Lawrence Wright. If you were reading Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban before 9/11 as I was, then reading The Looming Towers was inevitable. It took me a while to work up to it, but it’s a brilliant account of the events that led up to that world-changing Tuesday.

9: Dogtown by Elyssa East. This historical book was a gift from a friend – a Gloucester, MA native. Dogtown is a woodland area on Cape Ann which has always been a place of ghost stories and mysteries, especially after a brutal murder in 1984. Ms East alternates chapters of history and the horror to depict the many facets of Dogtown.

10: If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino. My man – Calvino’s 1979 nonlinear novel houses shifting structures, a succession of tales, and different points of view. It probes the nature of change and chance, and the dependence of fiction on reality. This novel forces the reader to let go of sequential thinking, and encourages one to question everything. Timeless, and perfect for the curious!

Plays

In no particular order, here are my 2010 top ten plays.

1: The Collection & A Kind of Alaska by Harold Pinter ~ Wonderful production by the Atlantic Theater Company of two very different Pinter plays. First rate performances and direction made this duo my number one pick for best theater of 2010.

2: The Great Game: Afghanistan by various writers. Three separate, thrilling and provocative plays depicting the history of Afghanistan from 1842 to the present day. Seeing the trilogy made this wonderful, moving theater performed by an extremely nimble and talented troupe of 14 actors.

3: Mistakes Were Made by Craig Wright. It’s an event, especially it you have any interest or knowledge of the world of theater. Warped and deranged, it’s the eternal quest for the spotlight and stardom. Michael Shannon turns in an amazing, exhaustive performance of an agent with too many balls in the air.

4: The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersson. Fairy tales are weird. And the Kneehigh Theatre’s take on The Red Shoes is a study in Grand Guignol-styled weirdness. Visually stunning, an exceptional cast, and great music made this a memorable night about those who dance a different dance.

5: Venus in Fur by David Ives. Newcomer Nina Arianda blew me away in this shifting power struggle based on the 1870 novel Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. “Basically it’s S&M porn,” says her character, Vanda, in this kinky ride. It was fun to watch the upper hand switch at any given moment.

6: Restoration by Claudia Shear. In a season filled with deranged, warped, warring and bloody characters, having Claudia Shear back in NYC in a heartwarming play about restoring Michelangelo’s David, and co-starring Jonathan Cake was fine by me. Shear’s E.M. Foster-ish turn was aided by a beautiful production and a fine cast.

7: Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies. A four-hander about a photojournalist who is emotionally and physically scarred on the front lines of the Iraq war. Laura Linney and Brian d’Arcy James gave brilliant performances as a couple staying together but growing apart.

8: Penelope by Enda Walsh. A play I’m still mulling over, NYT’s Ben Brantley summed it up: “[Penelope] dares to suggest what it might have been like had Samuel Beckett, instead of James Joyce, decided to reinvent Homer’s Odyssey.” Four men at the bottom of a swimming pool waiting for 20 years…

9: Creditors by August Strindberg. Three characters dance a deadly pas de deux. Jealously, mistrust, revenge, done so well – in a glorious production led by three pros and directed by Alan Rickman. Call me biased.

10: Red by John Logan. A two-hander with Alfred Molina starring as artist Rothko in a multilayered struggle between an artist and his protégé, and an artist and his creations. As it should be – stunning lighting effects, superb performances and a tight production.

What do you think? What would you add or delete?

2 Responses to “In 2010: They’re the tops”

  1. lg Says:

    Great lists and graphics.

    For films, I could not agree more with your assessment of “Cairo Time.” I think it was my favorite film of 2010. As for others, I would add “City Island” — not a “big” movie, but great overall cast performances, particularly those of Andy Garcia and Julianne Margolies — and “Fair Game.”

  2. janet g Says:

    Fair Game came in at my number 12.

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