Sunday, January 2, 2011

The #2-#10 Films of 2010

No other film this year is so comfortable in its skin as Mike Leigh's "Another Year," mainly due to the lived-in performances of Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as a happily married couple, he a geologist and she a counselor, around whom swirl others - their son Peter, their friend Mary (the award-worthy Lesley Manville) - at various levels of happiness. "Another Year" is a film of rare honesty and insight in which - when I'm asked "What happens?" - no more and no less than life happens.

No film this year better captured the zeitgeist of modern American life - or the modern American family - than Lisa Cholodenko's razor-sharp "The Kids Are All Right," with Oscar-caliber performances by both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore and a sexy supporting turn by Mark Ruffalo that maintained their level. One of the best scenes of the movie year to me was Moore finally getting Ruffalo's belt undone, gaining access to fruit that had long been forbidden, and shouting, "Well, hello!"

"The King's Speech" is a classic example of a film that perhaps shouldn't win Best Picture at the Oscars but probably should at the SAG awards. Geoffrey Rush has never been better, and Helena Bonham Carter is delightful, but Colin Firth's performance as the stuttering George VI is quite simply star-making. The movie doesn't advance the art of cinema, but it's a joy to watch, and boasts a sharp script worthy of the work of its three stars.

Let us pray that when we think of Vincent Cassel's work in 2010, we will remember not the preening choreographer constantly beseeching Natalie Portman to release her inner black swan, but his astonishing, terrifying turn as the famous French gangster Jacques Mesrine (who makes Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas" look like a cream puff) in the two-part "Mesrine," the most pure-fun movie of the year. It's the kind of kinetic mod bliss-out we kept hoping each new Godard would be.

Until I see it again - and I will - I'll remember most the colors of Tanya Hamilton's dazzling debut "Night Catches Us." Life happens in color, but rarely have colors come alive on film as vividly as here, creating tableaux of breathaking beauty and a movie of tremendous lifeforce even (or perhaps especially) in its moments of silence.

The Oscar nominee "A Prophet" is like a modern "Godfather," in which a young Arab prisoner in France (Malik El Djebena)comes under the wing of the aging Italian inmate (Niels Arestrup) who effectively runs the prison on the inside. Wholly engrossing throughout, the movie courses expertly from remorseless violence to indomitable, reckless happiness, lifted by the sly charm of El Djebena.

It's a shame "Rabbit Hole" got lost in the year-end shuffle. I certainly never thought John Cameron Mitchell - the director responsible for the abortion that was "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" - could be capable of such a quietly observant small gem, with career-best work from Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart and an insistence on acknowledging the messy complexity of human emotions even in seemingly black-and-white situations.

The first 90 minutes of "Somewhere" are the second best film of 2010. Director Sofia Coppola didn't quite trust her material enough to leave certain things unsaid, and that takes it down a level. But it's still a movie to love, the kind you feel nostalgic for even while you're watching it - that's the way I felt about "Almost Famous" - and the kind you feel defensive about even as you recognize its (in this case) single flaw.

The terrific crowd pleaser "The Town" marks Ben Affleck's arrival as a director richly deserving of major projects. It's a fast-paced, exciting entertainment, but it's also a study of a neighborhood in Boston, as brought out through Affleck and Jeremy Renner's bank robbers and Rebecca Hall as the teller who doesn't realize until too late that her new boyfriend is the man who held her up. Between this and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Hall may be the most interesting young actress around.

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