If the movie year had ended last week, instead of just the first six months of the year, what movies would be the big contenders for awards?
It has, after all, been a fairly dreadful year for movies -- or at least for studio movies. Indeed, this has-been year seems to complete this part of the cycle in which the studios give up all pretense of making serious films. For the foreseeable future, studio movies exist solely to churn audiences and popcorn through the multiplexes -- with week after week of movies like Leap Year, Jonah Hex and The Last Airbender.
But look beneath the surface -- in the arthouse theaters and the video-on-demand channels -- and you'll find the films that might just fill out the best-picture category when we get to the end of December. Even then, that particular top-10 -- the best-picture category -- looks to be pretty slim.
Unsurprisingly, the independent world is where most of the best films have come from. And remember -- by this time last year, two of 2009's best -- Up and The Hurt Locker -- were already in theaters.
As I put this group together, I sorted out and set aside a handful of titles: A Prophet, Ajami and The Secret in Their Eyes, which may end up on lists, but which were all foreign-language film Oscar nominees for 2009. On the other hand, I'm including two trilogies of films that actually first appeared as TV miniseries in other countries.
So here's a quick rundown of the 10 best movies of 2010 -- so far.
10. When You're Strange: Directed by Tom DiCillo, this documentary about The Doors was both a straightforward telling of one group's meteoric rise and precipitous decline in the face of massive fame. It featured lots of unseen, behind-the-scenes footage and told the story without either mythologizing or demonizing an important and influential rock band.
9. Exit Through the Gift Shop: Is this the documentary by street-artist Banksy? The documentary about him? Or the phony doc he made as an artwork to replace the real doc? Who knows? But this seemingly nonfiction film -- about a street-art chronicler who manufactured himself as a street artist -- is one of the year's most surprising and entertaining.
8. Greenberg: Not everyone's cup of tea, to be sure -- but this misanthropic and low-key comedy from Noah Baumbach had something going on that was not to be missed. This was an uncompromising film about an unlikable and annoying guy, whose humanity still came through in a grating and subtle performance by Ben Stiller, as a guy who has a better answer for everything in life.
7. The Eclipse: Playwright Conor McPherson wrote and directed this beguiling and unexpected Irish ghost story about a widower who volunteers at a local literary festival in a small Irish town and gets involved with a beautiful author. Filled with haunting romance and jump-out-of-your-seat scares, as well as a very funny performance by Aidan Quinn -- and a truly gorgeous one by Ciaran Hinds.