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December 22, 2010 - Rick Chatenever
When it comes to picking the best movies of the year, timing is everything.
Following the Golden Globe nominations last week, we’re now in the thick of awards season. Lists from this or that group, guild or critic arrive daily. It’s all leading up to the mother of all movie awards, the Oscars, whose nominations won’t be announced until Jan. 25. For now, awards season is like each of the contenders’15 minutes of fame.
Except … who makes the list depends on the deadline of who’s making the list. Thanks to the ongoing FirstLight screenings in the MACC’s Castle Theater, we got to come in from the rain last Sunday for the premiere double bill of “The King’s Speech” and “Black Swan.” Without this early look, these two leaders in the Golden Globes field wouldn’t have made the cut.
But other likely contenders — the Coen brothers’ “True Grit,” “Rabbit Hole” with Nicole Kidman or “Blue Valentine” with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling — arrived too late for consideration.
Since late arrivals from the previous year’s Oscar race don’t make this year’s list, some of the very best movies don’t make any list at all.
In contrast, late-year release dates coupled with voters’ short memory spans work in favor of “Burlesque,” “The Tourist” or “Love and Other Drugs,” all surprise Golden Globe nominees. True, they’re entertaining and fun … but award contenders?
Probably not, but a good gambit for getting folks like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie to show up on the red carpet for the Globes hoopla, which, after all, is as much a party as it is a ceremony.
I decided long ago that the list should be of personal favorites. There’s just too much pressure and responsibility in picking the year’s “best” anything. But I’ve also learned that we in the film-reviewing profession tend to be thin-skinned and to run in packs. There’s nothing worse than liking something no one else does, or worse, missing something on everyone else’s list.
Consequently, you get prestige movies that were destined to be nominees before production even started, like “127 Hours,” even if no one knows why exactly; or “Black Swan,” even if no one knows why exactly — much less, has a clue what’s going on a lot of the time.
In making my list, I realized that a lot of movies I enjoyed this year were about family, even as ? or maybe because ? they were rewriting the definition of what that word means.
Awards season is a briefer and briefer time on the calendar when the humans reclaim the big screen from the ’bots, the zombies and the CGI wizards. It’s when we all get to celebrate cinema’s best efforts of the year to portray this glorious mess called life that we share with those larger-than-life patterns of light dancing across the screen.
Here’s the list:
“The Social Network” — It’s not zombies or space aliens but a new life form called Facebook that poses the greatest change to life as we know it in this brilliant snapshot of current history starring Jesse Eisenberg, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher.
“The Kids Are All Right” — The modern American family has two moms, one sperm donor and two very smart teenagers in this insightful, compassionate, beautifully written comedy with Oscar-worthy performances from all involved, beginning with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore.
“The King’s Speech” — Can the king of England find his voice as Herr Hitler in nearby Germany positions himself to rule the world? Unforgettable performances from Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, plus a great story, produce lots of laughter amidst the grave matters at hand. A great movie, period.
“The Fighter” — It looks like a sweaty, bloody boxing movie, but it’s really about brothers and families and the real stuff outside the ring. Wonderfully acted by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, beautifully written and directed, full of flawed, juicy characters to love.
“Stone” — Headed straight to video despite amazing performances by Edward Norton, Robert DeNiro, Mila Jovovich and Frances Conroy, this chess match between a cunning convict and a powerful parole officer manages to be biblical and sensual, wise and ambiguous, all at the same time.
“Despicable Me” — My favorite animated film of the year feature’s Steve Carell’s eccentric, hawk-billed villain trying his best to live up to the title, but succumbing instead to becoming the father of three orphan daughters.
“Inception” — Leonardo DiCaprio navigates the landscape and architecture of dreams in this unique screen voyage that makes the subconscious visual, brilliantly conceived and cinematically orchestrated by Christopher Noland.
“The Ghost Writer” — Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan help director Roman Polanski regain his footing as a suspense mater in this taut drama revolving around the memoir of a barely disguised former British prime minister.
“Get Low” — Robert Duvall, Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek spin a great yarn in this Depression era comedy-drama about an eccentric hermit planning his own funeral.
“Hereafter” — Following a spectacular tsunami sequence filmed on Lahaina’s Front Street and finished in the special effect department, Clint Eastwood meditates on death’s hold on the living in this haunting drama featuring a superbly understated performance by Matt Damon.
“Alice in Wonderland” — Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton weren't given their due by critics in this wonderful reimagining that finds any number of new things to love in Lewis Carrol's classic.
“Date Night” — Tina Fey and Steve Carell do dumb comedy. Except when they do it, it’s not dumb.
“Get Him to the Greek” — Russell Brand keeps pushing the limits of bad-boy behavior, Jonah Hill keeps doing chubby chic; together they raise the bar for arrested-development comedy in this raunchy, madcap odyssey to get a dissipated rock star to a concert in time to save his career.
“The Other Guys” — Will Ferrell is spot-on as a milquetoast NYPD detective, but it’s Mark Wahlberg as his hotheaded partner who gets the best laughs in Adam McKay’s rewrite of the mismatched-buddy-cop formula.
“The American” — The year’s slowest, most haunting action film features George Clooney as an assassin on the lam in an Italian hilltown trying to hide from his fate in Anton Corbijn’s cinematic meditation on loneliness.
“Easy A” — Emma Stone finally gets her name above the title in this clever high-school comedy update on “The Scarlet Letter,” with Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as the parents everyone in the audience wishes they had.
“The Town” — Ben Affleck graduates to the ranks of accomplished directors, while still managing to register the best acting performance of his career in this gritty, blue-collar Boston heist thriller.
“Paranormal Activity 2” — Supposedly filmed with security cameras in a suburban home, this thriller rediscovers the thrill of being genuinely scared by nothing but fear itself, especially after your creature comforts turn against you.
“127 Hours” — Multitalented James Franco and director Danny Boyle make a hiker trapped in a Utah crevasse unbelievably cinematic and compelling in this unique portrait of humans’ will to survive.
“Black Swan” — The exquisite beauty of ballet hides a dark underside of insecurity, terror and possibly evil itself in this over-the-top melodrama of an innocent ballerina in way over her head, directed by Derren Aronofsky, starring Natalie Portman.
• Merry Christmas! Contact Rick Chatenever at
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