December 24 Prompt – What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead? (Author: Kate Inglis)
I was in Stamford, Connecticut, which is strange under any circumstance. I had just been contracted to review movies, as many as I possibly could, in exchange for payment. At the time, I had only one other client, an unfortunate Egyptian academic who refused to pay me more than $8 per hour for highly skilled work. (As in eight hundred cents per sixty minutes, the amount I was paid at the last coffee shop I worked at. Before tips.) I was in a beggars-can’t-be-choosers mindset, which is a euphemism for desperate.
But when it sunk in that somebody was offering to pay me (much more than $8 per hour) to watch movies and then to write whatever I wanted to about them, I knew not only that everything was going to be okay, but that it was going to be awesome.
I didn’t see many movies in 2010 prior to September, but since then I’ve seen a lot.
My Favorite Movies of 2010
1. Winter’s Bone directed by Debra Granik
Winter’s Bone is a shocking movie, which is mostly very quiet, except for the moments when it’s completely horrifying. It’s also by far the best movie of 2010; no other movie comes close. The acting in Winter’s Bone is so realistic that you forget you’re watching a (fictional) movie. This is true for all of the actors, but especially for Jennifer Lawrence, the young actress who plays Ree Dolly, the main character. The action takes place in the Ozarks and shows the desperate plight of the contemporary rural poor without succumbing to hillbilly stereotypes. This is a world where families have known each other for generations and provide their own brand of social services. They also dole out their own punishments. Unlike most movies, Winter’s Bone has both an engrossing plot and fully developed characters. It’s also one of the few movies in existence to feature a living and breathing heroine who is not searching for romance.
2. The King’s Speech directed by Tom Hooper
That a movie about a dead man’s stammer could be so exhilarating is testament to the fact that, in the right hands, virtually any subject can be elevated to great art. Colin Firth has been one of my favorites ever since the mid-90s, when he starred in a certain BBC/A&E adaptation of a certain novel. Here, he plays King George VI, the current queen’s father, who had a terrible stammer–a serious disability for a politician in the Age of Radio. So his loving, no-nonsense wife (Helena Bonham Carter) hires Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unqualified Australian living on the brink of poverty, to be her husband’s speech therapist.
Does this sound boring? It’s not. And that is why this movie is so brilliant. The narrow focus on the king’s stammer (different than a stutter) and his relationship with his speech therapist coalesces to bring an entire era to life. The acting could not be better.
3. True Grit directed by the Coen brothers
The Coens rank among my all-time favorite directors, especially when their movies revolve around working class heroes like Llewelyn Moss, The Dude and H.I. and Ed McDunnough. Critics have accused the Coens of misanthropy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that they never condescend to their characters; and nowhere is that more apparent than in True Grit, which ranks among their best. They closely adapted the script from the 1968 novel, retaining the hilariously formal dialogue. Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon are both fantastic, but the real standout here is Hailee Steinfeld, the young actress who plays Mattie Ross, a vengeance-bent teenager. Her unmuddled intentions, stomach for violence and purity of heart put her in the same heroine class as none other than Marge Gunderson. Also, the scenery is breathtaking.
4. Howl directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Not a lot of people liked Howl–possibly because it doesn’t have a plot–and I wasn’t expecting to either. But to my surprise, it transfixed me. I could have watched it all over again immediately after seeing it. Some parts feel like a documentary—every bit of dialogue is taken from court transcripts and taped interviews with Allen Ginsberg, who is brilliantly portrayed by James Franco. Fabulous animations interpreting the poem are spliced with a reenactment of Ginsberg’s groundbreaking recital and interviews with an unseen questioner. Franco is an exceptionally good actor and disappears into the character; we feel as if we are watching interviews with Ginsberg himself. Ultimately, the movie is most like a museum exhibition devoted to an epic poem and young Ginsberg’s search for love. The best parts are the animated sequences, which bring the poem “Howl” to life in a way that Franco, with all his talents, could never have done.
5. Inside Job directed by Charles Ferguson
If people can make a lot of money by doing terrible things, knowing that they will not suffer any consequences, they will do it. If you felt like you weren’t smart enough to understand the 2008 financial crisis, Inside Job will change that—and all without math, acronyms or confusing charts. It’s probably the most compelling and infuriating documentary that exists, depicting the degeneracy of the financial industry and the politicians who, since Ronald Reagan, have continued to prop it up. All at the expense of the American tax payer.
6. Let Me In directed by Matt Reeves
Let Me In, a remake of the critically acclaimed 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, features a compelling story, terrific young actors and elegant direction. We see things mostly from a kid’s-eye-view. There are grown-ups in their perennially snowy town, but as in Peanuts, their voices are heard and their faces rarely seen. This world belongs to Owen, a boy, and Abby, a vampire masquerading as a girl. Their relationship is sincere, gentle and based on shared loneliness and learning to accept even the most terrifying things about another person.
7. Down Terrace directed by Ben Wheatley
If there were a manual on How to be a Low-Level Gangster in Suburban England, Down Terrace would be the chapter on “What Not To Do.” And it would be a very funny chapter, albeit one written by a sociopath. The story concerns a pivotal week in the life of a dysfunctional crime family in an unnamed town. The emotionally fragile Karl (Robin Hill) has just been let out of his prison to find that his ex-girlfriend (Kerry Peacock, his wife in real life) is pregnant. Meanwhile, his father, Bill (Robert Hill, his actual dad), has become convinced that somebody in the organization has been snitching to the cops. Over the next several days, Bill becomes increasingly more paranoid, resulting in numerous brutal and darkly humorous killings.
8. Never Let Me Go directed by Mark Romanek
Love triangles and human clones aren’t original film subjects, but they are combined with such understated elegance in this tearjerker of a movie that it seems like a completely original story. Never Let Me Go is set in an England that resembles the real one in every way, except that people rarely die, thanks to donations from young human clones who have been created specifically for the purpose.
This movie is worth seeing, not for its plot, but for the lovely aesthetics and the excellent acting of its three stars, especially Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield, who both played somewhat generic Americans in big budget movies this fall (Wall Street and The Social Network, respectively).
9. The American directed by Anton Corbijn
While not a lot happens in this movie, every shot is as perfectly composed as a museum-quality photograph. This makes sense. The director is Anton Corbijn, the Dutch photographer best known for his groundbreaking work with U2 and Depeche Mode.
George Clooney plays Jack, an assassin-for-hire, who for unknown reasons has become the target of some Swedish assassins. This sounds exciting, but if you’re picturing thrilling car chases and gunfights, you’ve got another thing coming. There are moments of action, but they are few and far between. There is also very little dialogue. Mostly, Jack hides out in a medieval Italian village and builds a sniper rifle from scratch for a mysterious woman. The movie is understated and gorgeous.
10. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole directed by Zack Snyder
Don’t let the title fool you. This movie is as exciting as it is entertaining and a children’s movie that all but the most unimaginative adults will enjoy. Its dark tone and many scary moments may be a bit of a challenge for the six-and-under set, but the lush animation and stunning 3-D ensure that this movie is destined to become a children’s classic. The story is exciting, sometimes scary, occasionally very funny and imminently familiar to anyone familiar with Narnia or Lord of the Rings.