Saturday, November 27, 2010

10 Reasons To Be Thankful in '10

So many film bloggers put their own spins on the idea of giving thanks this week. Keeping things short and simple, here is a list of films released in the U.S. in 2010 that I value even more highly than my grades would indicate, and for which I personally thank the producers, distributors, directors, writers, crews, and casts. Not necessarily my favorites of the year, and even less close to being the "best." Just films about which I feel compelled to say, I like this even more than you might imagine I do. In alphabetical order:

Burlesque - Because it radiates equal joy in its showcasing of real talent, its exposure of its own semi-competence, and its unrepentant fondness for the ersatz. At the level of form and technique, it's like a middling but exuberant karaoke performer you totally cheer for, whatever the magnitude of its failings—a sort of a film equivalent of Cameron Diaz's "Don't Know What To Do with Myself" coup in My Best Friend's Wedding, endearing in almost all of the ways it's off. Yet it often achieves real showmanship. I had a great time.

Cairo Time - Because what I liked on sight, the modest revelation of fully grasped characters and the subtle tilting away from generic expectations, has continued to linger three months later. Contra my review, I'm thinking it was a touchstone of the August multiplex, at least for me. If you read the script, you might respond to it in terms of big turning points and filler sequences. The film as produced, however, makes no such distinctions. As un-self-consciously as it plays, you can still see how fully its makers have thought through all of their choices.

City Island - Not unlike Burlesque in its unabashed bearhug of sitcommy situations and mechanistic writing. The movie generates a huge, contagious affection for its characters, whose familial vibe is utterly convincing. Makes Andy Garcia four times as likable as he's ever been, but the whole ensemble shows to advantage, from Julianna Margulies (whom almost everyone seems to admire) to Emily Mortimer (whom I found quite fetching, though I guess a lot of folks didn't). The movie is very sweet, which is harder to nail than you'd think, given how many films aspire to that quality and to little else.

Conviction - I'm with everybody who valued the acting highly while finding the narrative too compressed and the emphases misplaced. The first part bears repeating and expanding, though: Swank and Rockwell win a shared Laura Linney Award for conveying deep sibling connections. Scenes like the one where Minnie Driver forces her friend to confront an undesirable truth in front of her kids captured a certain kind of awkward, adult moment that we don't see in enough movies, or between enough women in Hollywood movies.

Easy A - It's not just that Emma Stone is so talented and funny, but that the film seems genuinely excited for its female lead to be so funny, and to give her a star-is-born vehicle on those exact terms. Hollywood is rarely so sanguine about women being so hysterical, especially new stars, and in ways that imply the actress's sophistication as well as her charm. She's beautiful in a non-cookie-cutter way, yet her looks take even more of a backseat to personality, quickness, and wit than Silverstone's and Lohan's did in Clueless and Mean Girls. Bravo.

Fish Tank - A second full screening might elevate an already high grade, but I'm just thrilled to have a filmmaker working comfortably across downmarket realism, stylistic adventurousness, and poetic conceits, regardless of whether the moments or the blend always click perfectly. Breakout female first-timers often face even bigger sophomore-slump problems than men, but Arnold seems more exciting than ever.

For Colored Girls - When the movie works, it really works, as when Anika Noni Rose and Janet Jackson hold the screen for close-ups of several uninterrupted minutes, hitting home-runs with very tricky speeches. The haunting image of the digital clock has outlived its degrading juxtaposition to the opera cutaways. The cast is so nice to spend time with; they all deserve more and better work than they usually find. The ambition to adapt this story, no matter how often or badly it's flubbed in the execution, remains inspiring to me.

The Ghost Writer - Stumping for this movie since early winter means I was with it when it was seeming unceremoniously ignored and am still with it now that it's on the cusp of seeming overpraised. I think it distills so well what acute, precise, tonally complex direction can do for a script that could easily have been a dumb throwaway. Not only is every actor good in it (Cattrall aside), but it raises the possibility that everyone in it is, in general, better than you've given them credit for being (uh, Cattrall aside).

Mother - Another movie I've hardly stinted on praising—it featured in my Top 100 Films of the 00s—but that I revisit in my mind more often than I do a lot of the other films that I graded similarly, or higher. Currently my favorite example of that herky-jerky storytelling mode in Korean cinema, sometimes too broad and sometimes just right, that makes a cumulative impression in excess of its uneven parts. And boy does that ending land it. So many cinematic character studies are afraid of being stylistically florid; I love that Mother takes such confidence, even at times too much confidence, that bold strokes can sometimes acquaint you with an enigmatic person as well as finely etched details do.

October Country - A documentary almost nobody caught, about an upstate New York family that has seen marital discord, generational conflict, poverty, and early pregnancy pass across generations, but in a way where chronicling misery is not the point. At its best, the film captures a sense of how difficult lives are actually lived, from the perspective of those who are living them, rather than a more outwardly editorial position. Desi, the preternaturally spunky pre-teen girl, is a real "find," the kind of character you never forget, even though she's hardly the center of the film or its only indelible figure.

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8 Comments:

Blogger MD said...

I've only seen The Ghost Writer and Cairo Time from this lot, but I did really enjoy both of them. I'm probably one of the people that overpraises The Ghost Writer, I think. I've been forcing everyone I know to go see it. The rest of them either haven't opened here or went straight to DVD, so I'll try to search them out.

I've seen a lot of people complaining about the quality of movies this year, but I've seen a lot of good things and at least a few which I think were better. You've even convinced me to go see City Island, which I was iffy about. I'm glad these movies got a chance to shine here, even if they weren't your favourites.

12:49 AM, November 27, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

Have seen eight of the ten, and am indeed thankful for all of them to varying degrees -- it's particularly eerie how you climbed into my head to express my precise level of affection for Burlesque.

Plus, I haven't even seen For Colored Girls yet, but you know I'm already thankful for it, and you know why.

That makes nine, so I can make a round list of ten with a reason to be thankful that trounces all the others combined: you. This post is actually a pretty perfect summation of what makes you such a joyous, open viewer and writer, and I honestly don't know what I'd do without this site.

1:35 AM, November 27, 2010  
Blogger GlenH said...

Hooray for Fish Tank! It was my favourite film of this year right up until I saw Uncle Boonmee. I feel that the horse is better integrated than a lot of people give it credit for - it's as vital a piece of the plot as it is a metaphor and the fact that it doesn't mirror Mia's path breaks the cliche for me.

2:23 AM, November 27, 2010  
Anonymous evanderholy said...

Embarrassed to say that I've only seen "The Ghost Writer" of this bunch. But as I've said before in comments, I really enjoyed it and also felt it was underrated.

Isn't it funny though how everything and everyone that is underrated seems to eventually get overrated and the same people that felt the need to defend the movie/director/actor/whatever then end up in the curious position of having to point out the flaws of said movie/director/actor/whatever?

My parents happened to watch "City Island" on pay-per-view the other week and really liked it. I cynically assumed it was a mediocre straight-to-video release until I kept reading positive reviews of it. Your positive review here proves that you will have a friend eating crow with you this week.

Like most I was nervous about "Conviction" but after all the positive reviews for the acting (if not quite as much for the movie) I know I'll have to see it (especially now that you've bestowed the Laura Linney Award for Conveying Deep Sibling Connections).

"Easy A" was another one I was a little scared off by that I'll now have to catch on video. Literally every review I seemed to read implied that the movie itself was only passable, but that Emma Stone gave such a star performance that she completely elevated the material. Almost nothing is more fun than watching the birth of a star and it seems "Easy A" provides just that. She stole scenes in both "Superbad" and "Zombieland" and I totally agree that "she's beautiful in a non-cookie-cutter way". Looking forward to her future roles.

Also looking forward to your thoughts on all the award season films!

5:07 AM, November 27, 2010  
Anonymous Paolo said...

3/10/ I'm lame.

And the thing is, Emma Stone right now is more beautiful than Silverstone and Lohan. But instead I notice her line reads and her emotional output more. And the screenwriter who came up with her character's name as Olive is a genuis, because of the anagram.

And generally, 2010 looks like a recovery from the slumps of 2008 and 2009 caused by the writer's strike.

10:25 AM, November 27, 2010  
Blogger Tim said...

Six of ten, and I'm seeing Burlesque pretty soon (today, even, maybe). And though I'm not at all as enthusiastic about Conviction as you are, I'm right there with you on Cairo Time, Ghost Writer, and even For Colored Girls.

But especially Fish Tank, which remains my favorite non-doc film of the year, and has over the months gone from "what a great British-realist piece" to "I adore every piece of this movie with the whole of my body, down to the sound design."

A damn nice post to have as the year winds to a close.

11:32 AM, November 27, 2010  
Blogger dinasztie said...

Oh, City Island is my Best Picture. I hope it gets recognised after all with noms for the movie, screenplay, Garcia, my dear Julianna Margulies (L) and Mortimer. Like Little Miss Sunshine Would you give them noms too?

Also, as you've seen both Bening and Portman, who do you think will/should win of the two of them?

1:20 AM, November 28, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really wanted to hug the witch aunt from October County. I can see why her brother has had enough of her and acts like an asshole all the time, but her life just seemed so painful to me, she needs so desperately to deny to herself she took every possible wrong decision throughout her entire life and now is a lonely older lady pretending to be a witch.

8:54 AM, December 28, 2010  

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