We’re still in the midst of holiday whatnot, so I don’t have much time to put together something in depth about the continuing moral decay of modern wine criticism–so here’s some shit about movies, a topic on which I’m by no means an expert.
I don’t see as many movies as I should. When I lived in Culver City right by two good movie theaters–one a nice new first-run theater and the other a discount/foreign theater–I saw films way more often. A lazy Sunday and I’d walk over and some times go see a couple. Now that I live in Downtown LA and my only first-run option is the LA Live monstrosity across town which is somewhat inconvenient and expensive, I just didn’t see as many in 2010 as I did in 2009.
But it’s the end of the year and thanks to a little resourcefulness and some luck, here are my favorites in a vaguely particular order.
(There are some glaring omissions here, most notably The Social Network, Inception and The King’s Speech, which I have yet to see. Scott Pilgrim Versus The World is sitting in my mailbox from Netflix and The Kids are Alright I just wasn’t interested in.)
1. True Grit. Fantastic. A fairly straight-up Western beautifully shot and artfully written. A fable-istic story in a genre that welcomes that structure, it’s perhaps the Coen Brothers least cynical film ever. The performances are stellar and the respective characters’ developments are organic, giving an authenticity and heart to the odd relationship between Cogburn, Mattie and Le Boeuf. Matt Damon in particular is great, portraying what can only be called an earnest proto-douchebag for the Old West. It’s also beautifully shot, the language is artful and elegant, and the film is hilariously funny in many parts.
2. Greenberg. Inexplicably missing from the Golden Globes this year, which given the stretches they had to make to fill out the Musical/Comedy category was surprising. It’s an achingly awkward film and cuts pretty close to the bone in reminding us how near we all might be to falling into a pit of cynical solitude. Ben Stiller rocks and Rhys Ifans is heartbreaking as his only remaining friend, but Greta Gerwig cements the film with her funny and accurate portrayal of aimless quarter-life ennui.
3. The Fighter. At first look it’s the strength of the performances from all four leads (Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo) that seems to carry this film, but as you watch more closely it’s the obsessive attention to detail in recreating the environment of fin-de-siecle Lowell, Massachusetts–right down to the perfect white trash chic of Ward’s sisters–and the very real fight scenes which elevate The Fighter from well-acted character study to truly great film.
4. 127 Hours. A small film, to be sure, but a good one. The opening sequence is a beautiful little operetta love letter to the Utah desert and the rest of it, from the moment he is trapped until he frees himself, is neither tedious nor overly congratulatory. A static story like this one virtually requires filmic artifice to move it along and Boyle’s particular methodology is rewarding and only slightly distracting in parts.
5. The Book of Eli. This well-shot post-Apocalyptic fable transcended the basic corny conceit of its story thanks to well-drawn characters, great action sequences, humor and heart. Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman are great as classic hero/villain archetypes and Mila Kunis is excellent in a role I hoped would push her into action/comedy leading lady territory–but any gains that may have been made in the regard will probably be dragged down by Black Swan, despite her excellent performance in that film too.
Youth in Revolt: Charming and quirkily funny even if it gets a little oppressively smug in parts. Great performances from both Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday and a hilarious supporting cast throughout (Zack Galifiniakis, Justin Long, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Mary Kay Place, M. Emmet Walsh) sell the film.
Blood Into Wine: An informative and funny documentary about the development of the Arizona wine industry, focusing on rock-star-turned-vigneron Maynard James Keenan and his wine making business partner Eric Glomski.
Machete: A funny sexy gore-fest that’s indescribably entertaining and at times scarily topical and prescient.
Shutter Island. A spooky little thriller that I’ll need to rewatch to determine whether it’s just the you-could-see-it-coming straightforward mindfuck I think it is or if it’s a little more elaborate endeavor. A rewarding couple of hours and another 2010 cut-and-dry genre flick that enjoyed.
In a year without a lot of great movies, there was an impressive number of very good small-scale genre films–a trend which I find encouraging. I’m hoping we’re going to see more small-to-mid budget movies in the $5M-$40M range getting wider release and less generic $100M crap (which 2010 also had: Yogi Bear, How Do You Know).