Sunday, February 13, 2011

Films of 2010 (5-1)

The Grammys are tonight. Lady Gaga just arrived in an egg. I will not be watching, though I hope the Black Keys or Arcade Fire get the "best alternative album", whatever the hell that is. I think in the 60's the Grammys and the Oscars were both revered awards, but sometime during the disco era, they headed down different paths. The Oscars remained high-brow, awarding the best films and actors, regardless of their box-office returns or critical acclaim, while the Grammys were little more than a rehashing of the Billboard Top 40. You sold a million albums? Pick up your Grammy at table 2. If the Oscars worked this way, Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston would sweep every year. Thank god the Academy still realizes that the general public are morons. I can't think of a better day to honor the year in film than the day the Black Eye Peas take home 9 Grammys. Here's my Top 5.

5. The Social Network
After being less than enthralled with Fincher's Facebook opus the first go-round, e I gave it another try and saw what I had been missing. Namely, Reznor's impeccable score and Fincher's steady tone and direction. The performances are solid and Sorkin's script is sharp, but with lines coming fast and furious, those which fall flat, fall hard. It's to Sorkin's and Fincher's credit that things move fast enough that the awkward lines are quickly covered by others before they can derail a scene, but it highlights the dangers in writing a script about smart people doing smart things. You try to outsmart yourself.

4. Winter's Bone

I was floored by this film the first time I saw it back in April, and it has lingered on my mind every since. Never has a country landscape seemed so foreboding and terrifying this side of a horror movie. The performances are uniformly excellent, from John Hawkes (Oscar-nominated) as Teardrop to Jennifer Lawrence as Ree (also Oscar-nominated). The lengths Ree goes to protect her family from certain peril are courageous, and made all the more so when you consider she is 17. A dark horse for Best Picture.

3. Exit Through the Gift Shop
An exhilarating documentary that manages to subvert the very genre and raise more questions than it answers. Packaged as a street art expose', Exit Through the Gift Shop takes a page from Orson Welles' F for Fake and asks questions of art and artistic "voice" to the viewer. Once the stakes and players are introduced, the direction and subjects continue to shift like a gyroscope, trading places scene by scene, until by the end, most are so tossed around and disheveled that they assume the entire thing is fake. I don't think things are quite so black and white, but as a film, it's brilliant.

2. The King's Speech
I had very little interest in seeing The King's Speech right up until the moment I started watching it. Even then I was ready to give up on it the moment something rubbed me the wrong way or played into the stereotypes I had queued up in my head. A period piece about a British King finding his voice on the eve of the Great War? It sounded like a lost Jane Austen novel, and with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush sharing the spotlight, I expected something that would feel like a play and bore me to no end. Well wasn't I surprised and delighted to be completely wrong. Not only is it inspirational and heart-warming (and perhaps the worst R-rating in the history of film), but Firth and Rush are fantastic, and Top Hooper's direction couldn't be further than the static stage camera I was expecting. Hooper gets the camera extremely close to his subjects, and surrounds them with elaborate wallpaper and set pieces to give many shots a surreal, dream-line quality. He has my vote for Best Director, if I had a vote to cast.

1. The Fighter
The Fighter was my favorite film of 2010. It may come as some surprise, but for me, it's a lot like the characters that exist within it. It's not as flashy as Inception or The Social Network, and it may not have Oscar-bait performances like The King's Speech or Black Swan, but it does all the little things right, and by the end of it all, is the only one left standing. That's not to knock the performances or direction in the slightest. David O Russell did some amazing work here, especially with his blow-for-blow fight re-enactments, that were even filmed on VHS so as to seem more authentic. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are both incredible talents operating at a high-level throughout this film, forcing Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams to raise their game to meet them, which they do admirably. But more than just a solid amalgam of talent, The Fighter has what most films spend their entire running time trying to get to: a final scene that you are invested in. For viewers that watched Mickey Ward get beat up in the ring and by his family for most of his life, his final fight is about as cathartic a moment as you'll see at the cinema. And once the dust settles from the award circuit and subsequent media hemmorrhage, that's realy all that matters.

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