Sunday, January 02, 2011

December 2010

At last—another year of devoted film fanaticism is behind me! And so is another year of blogging about the wonderful and wretched movies I treated/subjected myself to. "Only" nine features seen this month, a rather light month, to be sure, mostly because of the winter break. But it seems to be better-than-average, gradewise—I picked 'em good in December.

So let's delve into last month's treasure chest and then do a modest appraisal of the best (and worst) of what 2010 brought our way. Special thanks to Joan, my constant moviegoing companion, for treating to so many of the first-run offerings—I wouldn't have nearly as much fun seeing them without you!

RED (2010)—I gave this comic-book adaptation little more than a passing consideration for viewing, but it seemed to appeal to Joan. So after talking about it for some weeks, we finally did catch a screening of it rather a long time after its debut. I find Bruce Willis to be a solid and dependable performer; of the flicks I've seen him in (Pulp Fiction, Die Hard, The Sixth Sense), I have always enjoyed him, and I have cherished memories of his TV series, Moonlighting. So while Willis is generally the draw, it is co-star Helen Mirren whom I am far more likely to remember in this actioner, playing a longtime agent/assassin who totes a bulky machine gun and kicks more ass than Willis does. I don't usually go for these CIA/double-crossing type yarns, but this was generally entertaining and made memorable by Mirren, so delicious and sexy (even at age 65!). This was also the second movie of 2010 to feature the inimitable Richard Dreyfuss in a small but pivotal cameo role (the other being Piranha 3D).

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010)—Poor Russell Crowe. His wife has been arrested for murdering her own boss, and it's up to Russ to bust her out of jail and prove her innocence against all costs. Don't you just hate it when that happens? The wife, played by the sultry Elizabeth Banks, is far more interesting and likable than Crowe's character, for the simple reason that Crowe turns in a one-note performance: he's sour and cranky through the whole picture. Even though you're always on his side and wanting to root for him, you're also wishing he could have been played by somebody with at least an ounce of charisma. He doesn't ruin the movie, but he's a definite detriment to it.

UNSTOPPABLE (2010)—As with Red, I had not given this action-adventure any more serious viewing consideration than I had given the last Tony Scott-directed movie featuring Denzel Washington and a runaway train (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three). But I kept hearing positive comments from friends and reviewers alike, so one day when there was absolutely nothing else to see, I bought a ticket. I was glad I did! I was completely absorbed and entertained—that old cliché about an "edge-of-your-seat" movie experience is an adequate description of this often thrilling ride. Denzel and Chris Pine (the latest James T. Kirk) are out to stop a runaway freight train that's carrying some dangerous chemicals—and might just blow everybody up wherever and whenever it derails. Oddly cast but more than capable Rosario Dawson plays the concerned yardmaster who tries to help the pair while clashing with her boss. It's a real corker, and probably the 2010 movie I most regret not having dragged Joan to see.

WINTER'S BONE (2010)—Here's the first of a trio of very bleak offerings I saw in a row toward the end of the month. Though released months earlier, I caught this indie film on DVD. It's a harrowing tale of 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), who is living in virtual poverty with two young siblings and a mentally vacant mother. Her dad, arrested for cooking up meth, has used their home to get sprung on bail; now he's missing. So it's up to Ree to find her dad, dead or alive, in order to retain possession of their ramshackle house—a dangerous task that must be accomplished when she's not teaching her brother and sister how to hunt for and skin squirrels for their supper. The film is about the pluck and determination of this young woman to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, and there's a menacing chill in the air as Ree stares down a rogue's gallery of creepy, violent townspeople who have no desire to help her and every reason to shut her up—permanently. Often difficult to watch, the film is impossible not to admire and even cherish.

BLUE VALENTINE (2010)—The bleakness continues with a low-budget drama that traces a couple (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) morphing from innocent lovers to warring spouses over the course of six years. They marry, have a kid, and then start to annoy each other with their personality deficiencies. But the real star of the movie is the editing: this is one of those pictures that has no interest in telling a story in the traditional linear format. Instead, we ping-pong back and forth through time, from the early months of the relationship to its death throes, without much of a glimpse of what happens in between—it's up to the viewer to connect the dots. It's an emotional rollercoaster ride as we shunt back and forth between the warm-and-fuzzy beginnings and the often brutal and disgusting denouement, including one scary and unforgettable scene in which Gosling appears at his wife's job drunk and acts like a bellowing SOB. Like the previous film, it's loaded with great acting, but it's a downer, without even the hint of hopefulness that Winter's Bone offers.

ANOTHER YEAR (2010)—The ostensible stars of this Mike Leigh film are Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as married couple who are actually happy (!), but the real protagonist is Sheen's single workmate, the increasingly miserable Mary. And it is Lesley Manville, as the beleaguered Mary, who carries the picture, solidly and rivetingly, on her shoulders. There are other characters who pass through their lives over the course of one year, but everybody in the movie serves as someone for Mary to react to, either longingly or despicably. Like Leigh's previous movie, Happy-Go-Lucky, one actress becomes the entire reason to see the movie, and Manville (ex-wife of Gary Oldman) turns in one of the year's most shattering performances. Maybe even the best.

TRUE GRIT (2010)—John Wayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 adaptation of Charles Portis's beloved novel, so Jeff Bridges has his work cut out for him trying to outdo the Duke, and directors Ethan and Joel Coen attempt to give the familiar story their own sensibilities. It all works surprisingly well. Bridges gives us a unique take on Cogburn—hoarser, hairier, dirtier and rougher around the edges. As with the first movie, the characters all speak Portis's quaint dialogue that eschews virtually all contractions and thus sounding like Barbara Eden's Jeannie ("I do not," "I will not," "I cannot," etc.—have these hicks been reading Shakespeare?); Matt Damon takes over for Glen Campbell and relative newcomer Hailee Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross with even more grace and defiance that Kim Darby did. There are a few more "gritty" elements that the earlier film ignored about the novel that the Coens do not, including the unexpectedly downer ending. For me, the best things about the remake are Bridges and Steinfeld. See it for them.

THE KING'S SPEECH (2010)—When you're next in line for the British throne, it helps to be able to sound kingly. Albert "Bertie" George (Colin Firth) certainly doesn't. He suffers from a stammer that makes it impossible to read a five-minute speech in less than half an hour, so his wife enlists the help of a therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who uses unconventional methods to help him overcome his difficulties. It's a difficult journey, given some of Bertie's hangups and personal history (to say nothing of his teasing brother). But Firth and Rush gradually earn each other's trust and forge a friendship that goes a long way to minimizing that speech defect. Their uneasy but ever-strengthening relationship, much of it viewed in their therapy sessions, makes The King's Speech a great piece of fact-based British storytelling.

KISS ME, STUPID (1964)—My list of favorite films is littered by titles directed by Billy Wilder, including The Fortune Cookie, Stalag 17, The Apartment and One, Two, Three, and I'm always eager to expand that list. Several weeks' worth of filming had to be scrapped when costar Peter Sellers suffered a heart attack; he was replaced by Ray Walston, whom I happen to like a lot, and who does a very admirable job opposite Dean Martin in this hilarious tale of songwriting, prostitution and mistaken identity. Blasted by critics as smutty and immoral upon its first release, it has slowly found an audience over the years, and I'm happy to report that it was one of the single most enjoyable "oldies" I saw all year. It's great fun and features a couple of great female performances (by Kim Novak and Felicia Farr) as the romantic counterparts to Walston and Martin (who mocks his boozy persona to great comic effect in this).


• Red (8)
• The Next Three Days (7)
• Unstoppable (9)
• Winter's Bone (9)
• Blue Valentine (8)
• Another Year (8)
• True Grit (9)
• The King's Speech (9)
• Kiss Me, Stupid (10)

2010 RECAP

Total number of movies I saw in 2010:


Best movies of 2010:

• How to Train Your Dragon
• The Greatest
• Please Give
• City Island
• Kick-Ass
• Toy Story 3
• The Kids are All Right
• Flipped
• The Disappearance of Alice Creed
• Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
• Tangled
• Easy A
• The King's Speech
• Winter's Bone
• True Grit
• Unstoppable

Best older movies I saw this year:

• Forbidden Games
• This Happy Breed
• The Sound of Music
• The Card
• Kiss Me, Stupid
• SherryBaby
• King Rat
• The Green Man
• The Third Secret
• Judgment in Nuremburg

Worst movies of 2010:

• The Other Guys
• When in Rome
• Greenberg
• The Runaways
• Life During Wartime

Movies I can scratch off my "Most Want to See" list

• Chinatown
• How Green Was My Valley
• I’m All Right, Jack
• The Third Man
• How to Steal a Million*

*Interestingly, this was the only one of these I genuinely loved.

Of the 14 movies I blogged a year ago that I was most excited about seeing in 2010, the only ones I actually saw were:

• Shutter Island
• She's Out of My League
• Kick-Ass
• Toy Story 3
• Inception
• Piranha 3D
• Tangled

Th-th-th-that's all, folks!