Friday, January 14, 2011

Top Movies of 2010

Morning Glory Screenwriter Aline McKenna has made a career writing kitschy, girly comedies. Nothing wrong with that, but Morning Glory is much better than that. With my own experience working on a live news TV show I can tell you it perfectly captures the madness and frustration of production. Rachel McAdams is as always, very likable and sympathetic as she faces the difficult anchors played by Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, a cruel and uncaring boss in Jeff Goldblum, and a staff all wanting to contribute to the show and her headache. It’s as good as the zany American comedy can these days and easily recommended.

Iron Man 2 I wasn’t a big fan of the first Iron Man. I thought the action was sparse and un-involving, both Terrance Howard and Jeff Bridges were miscast, and I about as comfortable watching U.S. soldiers being killed by road side bombs planted by the Taliban as I am watching Sarah Palin’s Alaska. The sequel knocks it out of the park. Bridges’ character is gone while the infinitely more likeable Don Cheadle replaces Howard. The action is bigger without overstaying its welcome, but by far it’s the casting of Sam Rockwell as a villain that works for me. Giving the bad guys their own smart ass is a perfect counter to Downey Jr. Easily the best blockbuster of the summer.

I’m Still Here Joaquin Pheonix and his brother-in-law Casey Affleck played one dirty, scandalous prank on the world. This realistic and heavy approach to the mocumentary chronicles the sudden and shocking transformation of Pheonix from mega star to prime time embarrassment (the infamous Letterman interview is just one such instance). The brilliance of the joke is just how believable Pheonix is as a rambling, self-absorbed brat and how to heart the public took this change. Never before has the falsity on screen been so personal. Andy Kaufman would be proud.

The Town
You see, a funny thing happened in 2006. Ben Affleck co-starred in a little murder mystery called Hollywoodland. The film was just OK, but Affleck was great, playing against type. Then in 2007 Affleck directed his brother Casey in his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, which is the best noir film since Soderberg’s The Limey. Affleck wanted to show he was still a relevant talent as both a actor and filmmaker with The Town he’s done both. While the plot is simple, even predictable at times, excellent casting, square jawed conviction, and direction from the films star that never indulges (save that one scene of him working out) and we have a smart, brilliantly executed romanticized caper. This was also one of the best date movies of the year: The guys will love the macho “My Town!” attitude and screeching gunfights and the ladies will get lost in the romance teetering between honest love and back handed betrayal. With all the post Christmas sales going on, this is one worth owning.

The Social Network Without restating everything good you’ve already heard about the film, this is one’s going to echo in the Millennial culture forever. It’s not just about the birth of the most popular networking site ever. It’s about incredible power youth possesses. It’s about young men following what appears to be the most effortless path to success in business history. It’s about the unknowing betrayal of all your life’s work to have a social life. If you still haven’t seen the film and your age is between 15 and 28, you need to see this film.

127 Hours
What became an infamous story in the news and later a best selling book is now stylized retelling in Danny Boyle’s latest film. James Franco gives a believable performance as real life adventure seeker Aron Ralston who in 2003 had his hand crushed under a rock in the Utah canyons for five days and survived. A common rule of the chamber piece film is never break the atmosphere with a small cast and rarely if at all showing us the outside world in order to put us in the same uncomfortable position as Ralston. Boyle, perhaps unsurprisingly breaks this rule with his usual energy giving us a warming yet still unflinching movie about one man’s perseverance. The emotional ride we expect from Boyle is in full force here, showing just how big a small movie can be.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Here’s the skinny on why this film is so famous, yet you haven’t seen it: The late Steig Larsson was a Sweedish muckraker (I.e. scandal exposing journalist). In under a year, he hammered out three books known as the Mellenium Trilogy. The story while fiction is based on fact, looking deep within the seedy underbelly of seemingly innocent and cleanly Sweden. Dragon Tattoo is the first entry and introduces our prevailing heroes Lisbeth, the emotionally disturbed punk computer hacker of the title and Michael, a journalist pending jail time and is essentially Larsson himself. Together the uncover a mind-bending mystery in Northern Sweden. Less political than the sequels, Dragon Tattoo is a mesmerizing whodunit and more accessible than you might think. It’s not an action film, nor pretentious European drama. It’s also very difficult watch as the film forces you through the inhumanity the Swedish government would rather keep to themselves. Still, it’s worth it to experience the one of the most successful films in Europe’s history.

The Kids Are Alright Gay couples are still pretty taboo for the mainstream. The kids are alright gives us a unashamed, but tasteful look into a picturesque family with two moms. We see both the kids and the parents exploring their sexuality, the awkwardness of juggling social life with family, and best of all, on target drama that never delves into shouting, abuse, or overwrought conflicts. This is about as approachable and rewarding a soap can get: never too dry or moody and never too cheeky. Arguably the most pleasant adult oriented film all year.

Catfish The brilliance of Catfish’s marketing ploy was through relying on age old word-of-mouth and our underlying desire to see the big secret ending for ourselves. Is it a real documentary? Is it fake as hell? Don’t go into the film trying to dissect it’s production. Instead experience the film as it presents itself: a young man starts a relationship with a woman strictly through face book, texting, and the occasional phone call. Perhaps more than The Social Network, Catfish captures the distance our technology driven lifestyle promotes and then even better realizes our need for someone no matter the hurdles involved. See this movie, see it with your friends, loved ones and pass the good word on.

Greenberg No other film this year resonated with me more than Ben Stiller’s dramatic turn in Noah Baumbach’s masterpiece character study. Stiller’s character Roger Greenberg is an asshole. He’ self-righteous, bad to his friends, socially conservative, and oblivious to why things never go his way. I defy you to not see someone you know or even a part of yourself in Greenberg. He’s everything we hope not to be when we’re midway through our lives. Because of this, for every wicked, cruel thing that he says or does we sympathize with him. The character is so well developed and real it literally scared. An exceptional tribute to the depth of humanity.

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