Screening the best

Jeff Meyers and Corey Hall have been sitting through movies all year so you didn't have to

Dec 29, 2010 at 12:00 am

Corey Hall

Best supporting actor

After about 45 minutes Danny Boyle's audacious 127 Hours is pretty much a one-man affair, with James Franco brilliantly capturing the fear, desperation and courage of trapped hiker Aaron Ralston. But he does have something to work against: that damn boulder, which, by pinning him against the cave wall, literally threatens his life and limb. An implacable, unmoving foe, that wicked hunk of rock is nature's ambivalent fury personified.

Geek love

Once again the multiplexes were crowded with product fresh off the comic book store rack, with titles ranging from mainstream blockbusters (Iron Man 2) to obscure charmers (Red). While Hollywood seems to be finally figuring out how to pull off superhero high jinks, such as the audacious Kick Ass, there was one entry that stood out: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. A hyperkinetic, balls-out and hysterical hipster romp from too-cool director Edgar Wright, it cribbed visual energy from the comic book form and put it into clever, invigorating, whoop-ass action. And, of course, it totally tanked at the box office, so you will tell everyone it's your favorite movie in 10 years.

Let's hear it for the girls

Directing, like most things in Hollywood, remains a stuffy boy's club, choked with macho sweat and cigar smoke. Yet in 2010, Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for The Hurt Locker, and some of the year's most intriguing film's came from female creators. Nicole Holofcener's Please Give was a dark-hearted dramedy about frail, conflicted, whining New Yorkers that mostly managed to engage rather than annoy. Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right was a funny, wise, soulful and utterly accessible exploration of a mature lesbian relationship, which is something of a miracle. Other notables: Lena Dunham's wryly funny Tiny Furniture, Floria Sigismondi's rock-out with The Runaways, and Debra Granik reminding us to stay the hell out of the Ozarks with the bleak and amazing Winter's Bone.

Love stinks

While there were great strides made by women filmmakers this year, movies made for women took huge steps back. Sure, romantic comedies have been on cruise control for decades, but do they have to crash over the median and kill innocent bystanders? The casualty counts from When in Rome, The Bounty Hunter, Killers, Sex in the City 2 and Letters to Juliet were hideous, but they all paled next to the carnage wreaked by the J-Lo pregnancy fiasco The Back-Up Plan, which killed boners at a catastrophic rate.

Party like it's 1999

While legends like Scorsese and Woody Allen faltered a bit in 2010, a certain unofficial fraternity continued to innovate and electrify. The so-called "Class of 1999" delivered in a major way, with powerful films from David Fincher (The Social Network), David O. Russel (The Fighter), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan) and, if you stretch the timeline a tiny bit, Christopher Nolan (Inception). This generation reaffirmed its dominance as creative and box-office power players. The clock is now ticking on their peers, such as Alexander Payne, Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze.

Cream of the crop

127 Hours, Greenberg, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, True Grit, The Social Network, The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, Blue Valentine, The King's Speech, Exit Through the Gift Shop.


Jeff Meyers

A small budget, a sense of place, and some damn fine storytelling

Winter's Bone is this year's The Hurt Locker. Not because it's a war film. It's not. But because it's yet another low -budget, woman-directed drama that should make a splash at the Oscars. Debra Granik's Ozark gothic-noir boasts first-rate performances from Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes, a story that's darkly engrossing, and the kind of attention to detail that gets under your skin.

Don't expect British-made Fish Tank or Irish export Ondine to garner any such attention. The first is a Mike Leigh-style slice of adolescent despair, diving into the limey lower classes as cinéma vérité only can. Both touching and troubling, it won't appeal to many but for cinephiles it's a must. Ondine, on the other hand, is directed by old-hand Neil Jordan (Interview with the Vampire, The Crying Game), mixing his fairy tale fetishes with an Irish seaside working-class drama. Until its ending, the movie casts a powerful spell that's aided by the best performance of Colin Farrell's career.

Truth is more angering than fiction

In 2010, anyway. This year saw the release of many top-notch documentaries, all of which deserve your look-see. The Tillman Story told the story behind Pat Tillman's tragic death while creating a portrait of an unexpected and wholly American hero. Restrepo dropped audiences into the here and now of combat in Afghanistan, while The Inside Job laid out the infuriating path to our current financial crisis. It's the kind of film that leaves you grateful for deeper understanding, and filled with bottomless rage toward those who allowed it to happen (check the mirror for one of the culprits). Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer makes a compelling bookend, showing how Spitzer, a man with feet of clay, represented a real threat to those who systematically pillage our financial system, and why his fall from grace may have been a loss for us all.

Dueling con jobs

Much was made of Joaquin Phoenix's attempt to punk the 200 or so people who actually shelled out $10 to see I'm Not There. The underlying problem with this faux documentary about his meltdown is that, Letterman YouTube video aside, no one really cares about Joaquin Phoenix. Now, if Johnny Depp had tried to pull off something like this, we'd be talking real box office. And probably a lot better movie.

Far fewer people probably care, or even know who Banksy is. Still, the renowned graffiti artist delivered the cheekiest documentary — if it was a documentary — ever put to film. Fake, real, it doesn't really matter. Exit Through the Gift Shop was one of the best movies of the year, tackling art, fame and the commodification of creativity in a spectacularly clever way. Get yourself brainwashed.

Someone, get them a cookie

Mark my words, come Oscar time, Natalie Portman and Christian Bale will be battling over who lost more weight to land their nomination. And both may actually emerge as winners. While Bale acts really, really hard (practically guaranteeing him the statuette) in The Fighter, Portman is so understated in Black Swan she's practically catatonic. Or is it just low blood sugar? Weirdly, both performances work. And as far as year-end Oscar bait goes, you can't say a psychotic ballerina and crackhead ex-fighter don't add a little color to the holiday season.

It's not a movie, it's an investment

French-made Carlos and British-made Red Riding trilogy tested the bladders of those audiences brave enough to endure their five-hour-plus running times. Olivier Assayas' ambitious, international thriller about Venezuelan terrorist Carlos casts a powerful spell that fizzles in its last hours. Red Riding was presented as a cinematic triptych about the utter fucked-upedness of Yorkshire, England, in the '70s and '80s, but was really a television miniseries. Seedy, bleaker-than-bleak, and masterfully acted, the first — 1974 — is the best of the lot. And, thankfully, it stands up as a film unto itself.

Mama kills best

As part of Australia's crime drama mini-movement, Animal Kingdom painted a particularly bleak view of the Land Down Under. And much of the credit goes to Jackie Weaver's chillingly cheerful portrayal of Janine "Smurf" Cody, a sociopathic granny that redefines the Mommy Dearest genre. Put another corpse on the barbie, mate! More obscure but no less notable was Hye-ja Kim's delusional mama in Joon-ho Bong's Mother. In fact, I'd label it the female performance of the year. And I'm sure the other 12 metro Detroiters who saw it would agree.

With a name like M. Night Shyamalan it has to be crap

It was bad enough that the egomaniacal auteur of diminishing expectations turned Nickelodeon's beloved cartoon The Last Airbender into a craptacular trainwreck that even my 8-year-old declared "sucky." Now, he imagines himself a cottage industry of low-budget creep-fests. Any fears I had that the elevator-bound horror Devil would bring in beaucoup box office was dispelled when the trailer announced "From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan" — and the audience burst into spontaneous hoots of derision.

Other movies that made
2010 worth all those hours in the dark:

True Grit, Four Lions, A Prophet, 127 Hours, Let Me In, The Social Network, Toy Story, Shutter Island, Inception, How to Train Your Dragon, North Face, Greenberg, Kick-Ass, Please Give, Cyrus, The Kids Are Alright, Winnebago Man, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Never Let Me Go, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, The King's Speech, I Love You Phillip Morris, Rabbit Hole, Blue Valentine.