10 Reasons To Be Thankful in '10
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 failingsa 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 praisingit featured in my Top 100 Films of the 00sbut 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.
Labels: Movies of 2010