AFI AWARDS 2010 – American Film Institute

AFI Awards

Honoring a year of excellence.




is a breathtaking, pulse-pounding journey into the mind of a man lost and alone. James Franco’s bravura performance drives this gripping true story of a young adventurer whose will to live in the most unsettling of circumstances proves a triumph of sacrifice. That a fast-paced, expansive film is found at the bottom of a claustrophobic crevice is a tribute to director Danny Boyle’s inventive mind and cements his stature as one of the world’s most exciting filmmakers. 127 HOURS will echo for years like cries from a red rock canyon, reminding of the power of cinema to set us free. Read the AFI Catalog entry


leaps and soars in a haunting dance as timeless as Tchaikovsky. Director Darren Aronofsky’s fever-dream blurs the fine line that separates high art from high insanity, and his prima ballerina Natalie Portman captures the beauty and the pain of a dancer’s commitment in a transformative performance. Lifted to even greater heights by virtuoso visuals from cinematographer Matthew Libatique, BLACK SWAN embodies both a spellbinding portrait of an artist striving for perfection and a horror film about the monster in the mirror. Read the AFI Catalog entry


packs a punch with such power that it smashes through the boxing genre and into a higher class. This true American tale is celebrated by director David O. Russell as an exploration of competitive dysfunction, while championing the fighter in each of the film’s characters. Mark Wahlberg stands tall and proud as the significant heart of a film filled with knockout performances from Melissa Leo, Amy Adams and Christian Bale’s Dicky, “The Pride of Lowell,” who spars with inner demons, but finds the will to be in his brother’s corner when it counts. Read the AFI Catalog entry


is the most rare of movie miracles — an art film that succeeds as blockbuster entertainment. This achievement is born from the gifts of writer/director Christopher Nolan, who displays such a love for filmmaking that audiences cannot help but be enveloped by his rapture. Leonardo DiCaprio proves once again to be America’s leading man, guiding us through a mind-bending movie-within-a-movie, within-a-movie, within-a-movie — and cinematographer Wally Pfister’s dazzling images create an indelible dream that demands to be relived again and again. Read the AFI Catalog entry


embraces “My Generation” and “Generation Y” in one big group hug. Director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko delivers a fresh, funny and vibrant film that not only keenly observes a family in modern day, but also asks its characters to consider the timeless meaning of a promise made. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson act and live as one in this brilliant indie gem that sparkles with studio-sized talent. Read the AFI Catalog entry


captures the zeitgeist of 2010, a world defined by the difference between “friending” and being a friend. A whip-smart screenplay by Aaron Sorkin unfolds at a pace as lightning-quick as the creation of the society-changing technology it chronicles. David Fincher’s beautifully realized direction syncs all the talents and tools at his fingertips to provide a penetrating look at the dark undercurrents of monumental success and the discontent it can ensnare in its web. Jesse Eisenberg’s deeply resonant performance as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg updates his status to America’s fastest rising star. Read the AFI Catalog entry


carries all the essential tools of the great American heist movie and breaks into the classics of the genre with its own unique authenticity. Smart, sassy and tough entertainment, the film confirms the arrival of Ben Affleck as a director of distinction, a storyteller whose deft touch gives action, character and performance equal weight. Outstanding performances by Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm inhabit the film’s deeply rooted, rich atmosphere of Charlestown, Massachusetts, where we learn from a new generation that crime does pay, if your heart is true. Read the AFI Catalog entry


is a landmark film in America’s cultural legacy. An exclamation point to a story that has spanned fifteen years, this instant classic marshals all the forces of American film — character, story and computer wizardry — as Woody, Buzz and all of our friends grapple with mortality when Andy comes of age. Creator John Lasseter, director Lee Unkrich and the wizards of Pixar give the world the gift of a film both hilarious and heartbreaking, and one that ensures generations will be united to infinity and beyond. Read the AFI Catalog entry


gallops into the Western canon with guns blazing. This spitfire poem by Joel and Ethan Coen springs from the pages of Charles Portis’s novel, but their own mastery of language — the diction and delivery of each line — makes this a classic uniquely theirs. Cinematographer Roger Deakins paints a landscape in awe-inspiring images, providing a proper panorama for Rooster Cogburn, who is brought to life for a new generation by America’s favorite son, Jeff Bridges. Standing toe to toe with him is Hailee Steinfeld, who proves her mettle as one of the bright new faces of American film. Read the AFI Catalog entry


is a chilling portrayal of the search for truth buried deep beneath the bitter reality of rural poverty in America. Haunting in its authenticity, director and co-writer Debra Granik’s film is part Ozarks gothic, part Shakespearean tragedy, and all American independent filmmaking. Jennifer Lawrence creates one of America’s strongest female protagonists of the year with a wondrous debut performance as a woman on a relentless quest to provide a future for her family. Read the AFI Catalog entry



still rocks. Creator Tina Fey rewards the TV addict in all of us by doling out what we crave most — laughter. With writing that’s consistently sharp and endlessly inventive, 30 ROCK is rapid-fire entertainment led by an acting ensemble both familiar and fantastic. Alec Baldwin, with each passing year, etches the name “Jack Donaghy” more indelibly into the pantheon of classic American sitcoms.


dares to say “cancer” out loud, treating terminal illness as one of life’s revelations. Creator Darlene Hunt brings light and laughter to the darkest of subjects, and Laura Linney inspires as a woman both anguished and liberated by life’s cruel turn, insisting on living — and dying — on her own terms.


is a sweeping, cinematic recreation of Prohibition-era Atlantic City that harnesses the power of profanity and poetry to retell the tale of America’s past. Creator Terence Winter’s lush mob drama is inhabited by ghosts both historical and fictional, led by Steve Buscemi’s cock-of-the-boardwalk Nucky Thompson, who adds a decidedly eccentric signature to the year’s most dazzling production.


continues to raise hell in its deadly third year. Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul are television’s dynamic duo of dysfunction, driven to the edge in a world contaminated in all corners. Creator Vince Gilligan continues to mix a combustible moral cocktail that ignites the characters’ struggles each week, and demands us to embrace who they really are, even if that’s less than good.


is a musical miracle — singing loud and proud that it’s cool to be a “glee.” Creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan choreograph the most structurally ambitious show on television, and the extraordinary cast never misses a step. This star-packed year mashed appearances by Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow and Carol Burnett with musical classics like SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, uniting viewers across generations in the shared experience of what it is to struggle, embrace and thrive in the daily challenge of being ourselves.


fourth and finest year saw the wheels come off Don Draper’s formerly golden life, and Jon Hamm rose to new heights in depicting Don’s depths. Creator Matt Weiner is a master of the medium, and our empathy for his characters in a world mad with change is a tribute to the rich, emotional detail of each word, each glance — beautifully realized in the performances of a stellar ensemble cast.


reframes the portrait of America with so much love and laughter that it hangs in our home with familial pride. Week after week, creators Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd light the fuse for this dynamite acting ensemble, and their stories intersect in such a sophisticated manner that each episode is fresh, funny and filled with love only a family could forgive.


is storytelling on a scale worthy of “The Greatest Generation.” Epic in size and intimately personal, this grueling ten-part mini-series from executive producers Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman recreates the history and the horror of World War II’s Pacific theatre through the eyes of three United States Marines. With America fighting two wars in 2010, THE PACIFIC landed on airwaves with a powerful question, “What are you willing to sacrifice for your country?”


opens a door into the mind of an autistic visionary. Director Mick Jackson encourages a story to emerge that is at once unsentimental and emotionally resonant, and Claire Danes’s triumphant performance speaks to the great American story that is Temple Grandin — from “challenged” to “champion.”


feeds our hunger for a new take on a classic genre. Zombies have long breathed life into the horror of human nature in an extreme state, but here writer/director/executive producer Frank Darabont smashes the boundaries of terror on television. THE WALKING DEAD also understands the power of silence, as a slowly turning doorknob may reveal our deepest fear — the loss of our own humanity.



proudly pronounces itself a classic with an eloquence worthy of Great Britain’s royal family. Director Tom Hooper and writer David Seidler tell a deeply emotional tale that achieves the uncommon — empathy for a king. Colin Firth’s brilliant turn as King George VI, whose heavy head wears the crown, is matched in heart by the performances of Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. Rich in detail and regal in manner, THE KING’S SPEECH is a triumph — both for a king whose personal fears must play on a global stage and for all to embrace that our greatest test is yet to come.


is a call-to-arms for all who believe in a greater America. Director Davis Guggenheim voices the conscience of a country, using the documentary form to shine a bright light on the dark realities of the American public school system. To see the challenge ahead in young faces — the boys and girls who are often lost in statistics — is heartbreaking, anger-inducing, and yet inspires as to the possibilities. In the end, the simple truth is that when America looks for a solution, the answer will not come from the sky, but from you and me.

*AFI SPECIAL AWARDS are given to outstanding achievements in the moving image that do not fit into AFI’s criteria for the other honorees.



The ongoing heroic work in film preservation took on a renewed air of international cooperation in 2010 with the repatriation of 75 American silent films from the New Zealand Film Archive through the efforts of the National Film Preservation Foundation and an additional gift of 10 films from Gosfilmofond, the Russian state film archive, to the Library of Congress. These films were previously feared to be among the nearly 80% of American movies from the silent era that were deliberately discarded or lost due to decomposition and neglect.

This moment is significant not only for the global generosity shown by countries who have properly cared for these films, but it also reminds us of the power and reach of American film, even in its earliest days. These movies traveled the world to find an audience in theatres, and now return home to be preserved and distributed digitally through the five major American film archives: the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, George Eastman House, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Modern Art and the UCLA Film & Television Archive.


The prime-time/late night world righted itself in 2010 when THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO returned to late night and Conan O’Brien took his talents to TBS, where he launched a new show, CONAN.

The journey to this happy ending was far from happy, and in fact, has left the patina of THE TONIGHT SHOW with a tarnish in 2010. O’Brien, on the other hand, appears to have escaped what had become a public relations circus by touring the country in a sold-out comedy/music extravaganza and then returning to late night as a basic-cable maverick — looking to the future with his head (and hair) held high.


“News” and “entertainment” have long seen a blurring of the lines since the “Fairness Doctrine” was established in 1949, but in 2010, the two were often presented and seemingly accepted by the greater public as one.

Underscored in a year of American midterm elections, the year’s “anything goes” attitude took a match to the paper-thin wall between politics and popular culture, best illustrated by the following events:

August 28 – Fox News commentator Glenn Beck held a rally in Washington, DC under the banner “Restoring Honor,” and in response, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held a rally on October 30 called “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.” Though more theatre than television, the medium inspired hundreds of thousands of people to march on the nation’s capitol.

September 24 – Stephen Colbert testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee in character on the topic of immigration.

November 14 – Sarah Palin’s ALASKA premiered on cable television. Packaged as a show that will bring “the wonder and majesty of Alaska to all Americans,” it has also created an entirely new template for political campaigning.

November 23 – After nine weeks of consistently scoring poorly among the judges, Bristol Palin performed in the finals of DANCING WITH THE STARS. Week after week, the public vote launched Palin into the next round.


After holding its breath for 69 days, the world let out a collective cheer as the last of 33 trapped Chilean miners came above ground. A cave-in on August 5th left the men 2,300 feet below ground with dim hope for survival. During their ordeal, cameras went underground to show what life was like for these trapped folk heroes, and the wall-to-wall coverage of their final rescue illustrated the power of television to bring the world together as one — reality television for all the right reasons.