Andrew Osborne’s Best of 2010: Movies

So, my frequent cinema companion (and award season co-blogger) Amy (a.k.a. exiled Screengrab commenter “Iris Steensma”) just posted her Top Ten films of 2010 below, and I posted my combined picks with fellow Exiler Scott Von Doviak yesterday at Nerve

…but for my complete list and other thoughts on this pretty decent cinematic year, scroll on!

WILD CARDS: (potentially list-worthy movies unseen by moi in 2010):  The Illusionist, Tron, I Love You Philip Morris, Marwencol, Somewhere

And now, for the best of what I did see…


I usually hate children of privilege who get everything they want (indie fame, professional mentorship by powerful show biz admirers like Judd Apatow, etc.) while most struggling young filmmakers are paying their dues in the data entry and food service industries.  So consider it high praise when I say recent college grad Lena Dunham is the real deal, a distinctive comic auteur fully deserving of her opportunities and accolades.  Furniture finds a distaff Graduate named Aura (Dunham) returning home from a Midwestern liberal-arts college to grapple with twentysomething alienation in the condo/studio of her cuter, more ambitious sister and their successful artsy mother (played by the filmmaker’s actual kinfolk, Grace Dunham and Laurie Simmons, respectively). In most such films, a schlubby guy comes of age through the unlikely ministrations of a conveniently available (and way too beautiful) dream girl, but the gender roles in Tiny Furniture are swapped, while expectations and genre clichés are constantly upended by the clever script and crackerjack ensemble cast (including the sensational Jemima Kirke who — like Dunham — I hope to see a lot more of in the future).


I didn’t need the 3D glasses — seriously, Hollywood, I really, really didn’t need them — to fully immerse myself in the final cinematic adventure of Woody, Buzz and the rest of the beloved who’s who (or maybe what’s what?) of toys from distant childhood memories and 15 years of Pixar’s flagship franchise.  I am neither joking nor stoned when I say the climactic scene of TS3’s desperate characters joining tiny plastic hands in the face of oblivion was far more harrowing (and life-affirming) to me than James Franco’s character chopping off his flesh & blood hand in 127 Hours.  More than “just” a kids’ film, I’m guessing this animated masterpiece (yes, I said it) will resonate with its target audience well into adulthood as they eventually face the bittersweet nostalgia of putting aside their own childish things.


In my circle, there were no mild reactions to Inception.  My wife and in-laws flat-out hated the endless gun fights, droning sonic boom soundtrack and twisted Comic Book Guy logic of the film’s insanely overcomplicated plot.  But, while I’ll admit the Act 3 assault on Ice Station Zebra dragged a bit, writer/director Christopher Nolan nevertheless managed the increasingly rare feat of successfully navigating a brainy, (relatively) original idea through the meat grinder of Hollywood’s cinema-industrial complex.  In an era of slick but instantly forgettable assembly line “blockbusters,” Inception’s inventive nesting egg chronology, instantly iconic “tilting room” fight choreography, offbeat ensemble and spinning top fade-out made it one 2010 celluloid dream that didn’t fade as soon as the lights came up.


It’s not just my native Bean-townie bias:  after all, I was happy to call bullshit on the bad accents and overpraised melodrahmah of disappointing “Boston noir” potboilers like Mystic River and The Departed.  But as he proved in Gone, Baby, Gone, Ben Affleck has a knack for combining the underdog goofball charm, incestuous tribal loyalties and no-nonsense (sometimes vicious) pragmatism of his New England lowlife characters with specific, lived-in locations, sharp dialogue and wicked pissah set pieces.  After all, who needs CGI when you’ve got scary nun masks, the twisty streets of Charlestown and the simmering menace of Jeremy Renner, Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite as the world’s scariest florist?  (Plus, I have to admit to a weird sense of pride at the film’s assertion that my town has the world’s best bank robbers…in your face, New York!)


Watching a taut-faced, oft-flummoxed Joan Rivers babbling her way through awkward banter with daughter Melissa for the TV Guide Channel’s red carpet coverage (as cable listings scrolled around them), it was easy to write off the “Can we talk?” comedienne as a befuddled has-been joke.  But Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern’s behind-the-Botox documentary restores the original D-List gal to her rightful place in the comedy pantheon, revealing the tough cookie survivor as a vulnerable, whip-smart show biz pioneer with funnier, edgier material than Kathy Griffin & Sarah Silverman combined.


The “Facebook Movie” was perhaps a wee bit overpraised by critics due to its au courant subject matter.  The Social Network didn’t re-invent the cinematic wheel, as some overzealous critics have claimed, nor was it as revolutionary as Mark Zuckerberg’s time-wasting website (or the interweb itself).  Instead, David Fincher’s biopic was simply another 2010 specimen of that endangered species known as quality mainstream filmmaking, with relatable themes about the schism between success and happiness, a rat-a-tat clever script by Aaron Sorkin and spot-on performances by Armie Hammer and (especially) Jesse Eisenberg as two distinct species of hyper-articulate, empathy deficient Harvard weasels.


Sure, there’s twisty wordplay, startling violence and a creepy old guy in a bear suit — but as Deadwood, Dead Man and the literary worlds of Larry McMurtry and True Grit author Charles Portis assure us, the Old West really was just weird like that.  So, the Coen Brothers are actually playing it relatively straight in their latest brainy, bravura masterpiece, allowing tenderness and heroism to grow naturally in the hard soil of opportunism and vengeance, freed from the doomed fatalism and dark irony of the brothers’ previous (quasi-)Western, No Country For Old Men.  Bonus points for a trifecta of memorable performances from newly minted “It” Girl Hailee Steinfeld as teen firebrand Mattie Ross, Matt Damon (showing his chops and having a ball in a great character part as a cocky Texas Ranger) and the Dude himself, abiding as always in the role of a besotted, one-eyed U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn.


I never understood the cult fervor associated with Jonathan Richman until I finally saw the guy play live and found myself converted into a true believer by the end of the first song. Likewise, I never understood the reverence some people have for Bill Hicks, who (in the recordings I’d heard) always sounded more like a hectoring (though sensible) Bill Maher-esque political provocateur than a laugh-out-loud comedy genius. But thanks to Paul Thomas and Matt Harlock’s inventive, warts-and-all tribute, I now have a far greater appreciation for the man and his material (as well as a real sense of regret that Hicks, who died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the age of thirty-two, wasn’t around to bring his acerbic sensibility to bear on the Bush years, America’s recent foreign-policy misadventures and the rise of the Tea Party movement). Using inventive digital techniques, Harlock and Thomas bring Hicks’ story of hard-won fame and drug-fueled infamy to life. Oh, yeah, and the jokes (culled from years of club and TV appearances) are pretty damn funny, too.


Like a distaff Woody Allen, Nicole Holofcener chronicles the neurotic unhappiness of those her cinematic soul mate Whit Stillman termed the urban haute bourgeoise:  educated, well-off white people who know they’ve got nothing to complain about but can’t help kvetching anyway.  Please Give’s protagonist (frequent Holofcener muse Catherine Keener) tries to assuage her “survivor’s guilt” over the world’s economic injustices through charity that doesn’t always begin at home, eventually coming into conflict with an unrepentantly bitter old lady (Ann Guilbert) whose mere presence rebukes the selfishness of the people who stand to profit (in various ways) from her death — while simultaneously serving as an equally stark warning against the perils of self-abnegation.


And finally, rounding out the list (and 2010’s impressive roster of New England films) is David O. Russell’s local hero biopic starring Dorchester homeboy Mark Wahlberg as a Lowell pugilist struggling to escape an overbearing mother (Melissa Leo) and the long, gaunt shadow of an older brother (Christian Bale, erasing all memories of his on-set Terminator freakout) who brushed against the bright sun of fame (in the form of a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard) before going all Icarus in a crack-fueled earthward spiral.  Despite some cartoonish moments and near-miss accents, the knockabout pace and performances (including a coven of fearsome townie chicks led by Gone Baby Gone’s Jill Quigg) contribute to a vivid, lived-in depiction of the strong, sometimes strangling bonds of home and family. 

Honorable Mention:  The Fighter, Cyrus, Strange Powers, And Everything Is Going Fine, Mars, Greenberg, Green Zone, Splice, Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, Get Low, Life During Wartime, Nowhere Boy, 127 Hours, Bear City, A Town Called Panic

Other Memorable Moments of 2010:  A Town Called Panic’s sensible Horse, Jonah Hill’s electronica performance in Cyrus, the pipe sex in Tiny Furniture, And Everything Is Going Fine’s peek into Spalding Gray’s final days, the surprisingly suspenseful spacewalk scene in Mars, Greta Gerwig singing “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” in Greenberg, the gratifying (if too brief) return of Sheryl Lee in Winter’s Bone, Annette Bening’s mockery of composting in The Kids Are All Right, Bill Murray’s stellar character work in Get Low, P.Diddy in on the joke and Jamie Foxx so not in I’m Still Here, the “watersports” scene in Bear City, It’s Kind of A Funny Story’s big “Under Pressure” production number and Jeremy Renner’s badass final sip of soda in The Town.

Most Overrated:  Black Swan

The go-to guy for overrated “edge,” Darren Aronofsky somehow managed to dazzle critics once again with his humorless brand of simplistic, thuddingly obvious symbolism and Cinemax-style soft-core “eroticism”.  Sure, there were some nice visuals and lyrical sequences (like Natalie Portman’s ultimate onstage transformation into the titular waterfowl), but most of the dialogue would get laughed out of a Danielle Steel novel and the insights into obsession and female sexuality barely rival the B-movie cheese of Single White Female.

Most Overrhated:  Sex and the City 2

In a nutshell, I believe the savage attacks on this silly (and often quite funny) summer meringue were merely delayed vitriol from all the critics who were rooting against the first SATC film but had to back down when that one became a runaway smash — but for my full defense of the movie, click here!

Worst Film I Saw:  When You’re Strange

If you thought there was nothing more to say about Doors front man Jim Morrison…well, you’d be right, at least based on the evidence of this boring rehash of a documentary Tom DiCillo.  If anything, When You’re Strange somehow managed to actually lower my already low opinion of its subject by presenting the (yawn) Lizard King as the rock ‘n roll equivalent of George W. Bush — a quasi-charismatic frat boy type with delusions of grandeur and the depth of a sheet of paper.  And bonus points to Johnny Depp’s achingly self-important narration, which I can only hope was meant as an elaborate, I’m Still Here style goof.

Worst Film I Didn’t See:  Anything with Katherine Heigl

I mean, seriously — enough already with her.


1 Response to “Andrew Osborne’s Best of 2010: Movies”

  1. 1 Two Quick Thoughts On Girls « Screengrab In Exile Trackback on April 17, 2012 at 9:56 am

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