No. 213 | February 11, 2011
Our theme this week
Top English-language films of 2010
The Hepples are unusual creatures to build a movie around. They’re a genuinely happy couple. In a Mike Leigh movie, though, we should expect a fair share of misery, and the friends of Tom and Gerri (cute) are there to provide it. Mary has the worst of it. A coworker of Gerri’s, she takes comfort in the warm, cheerful support she finds in her visits to the Hepple home (not to mention, she has an unrequited crush on the son). But in the four seasons that the movie spans, life gets ever more difficult for the lonely woman fighting age and a fondness for the bottle. The ensemble cast is stellar, with Jim Broadbent and Ruth Shore as the embodiment of marital bliss, and Lesley Manville as the parasitic friend. Another Year is a well-observed look at people we all can recognize, some who have the knack for rolling with whatever life throws them, and some who do not.
Sofia Coppola knows a thing about movie stars, and about being the daughter of a famous man. She also knows something about making movies. Somewhere is a meditation on celebrity, with Stephen Dorff in a strong performance as Johnny Marco, the pampered star. Elle Fanning is a revelation as Cleo, his daughter, who comes for a visit and changes his life. The film is a character study, a quiet peek behind the curtain. One simple shot of Marco sitting in a make-up chair, his head encased in a mold, goes on for a minute or two. Nothing happens, and that’s the point. Somewhere isn’t interested in the glamor of the movie business, or even its dark side, but in its utter emptiness. Altogether, a very assured work, and in parts, simply brilliant.
Inside Job is a heist film of the most epic proportions. The grand prize isn’t just thousands, or millions, but billions—and even trillions!—of dollars, the greatest transfer of wealth in history. The lucky winners in this real-life drama are the very top earners in society. The losers: the rest of us. A documentary on the causes, events, and aftermath of the financial crisis of a few years ago, the film paints a devastating portrait of the rigged game that is Wall Street, where the superrich get even richer, aided and abetted by their co-conspirators, our elected leaders in Washington (where both parties share the blame) and leaders in academia, all bought and paid for. Though it’s a sordid tale, Inside Job is actually not a strident film. It’s rather measured and sober. If you think terms like “collateralized debt obligation” and “credit default swap” are too complicated to get your mind around, you’ll find them explained in simple, understandable language. The world still hasn’t gotten to its feet after the financial shock of 2008, but the real scandal is not what led to the crisis, but that those who were most responsible got away with it—and thrived.
One of the standout films of the year, Black Swan tells the tale of a ballerina whose life and role merge in strange and tragic ways. Natalie Portman is Nina, a dancer whose talent and technique is perfectly suited for the role of the White Swan. She lacks, however, the passion and daring needed to dance the Black Swan. She must dance both. The film follows her journey from white to black, from innocence to experience, from naïf to artist. The major obstacle is her overbearing mother (a fearsome Barbara Hershey). Encouraging her development is the dance director (Vincent Cassel, an impressive impresario) and her rival for the role (Mila Kunis, delicious). The film is a mix of reality and fantasy and paints an unforgettable portrait of an artist coming of age.
(Black Swan at MAD: review)
In our bright and shiny new millennium the word “friend” no longer means what it used to. More than anything else, online social networking is the reason for that change, and The Social Network is an account of the founding of Facebook, the biggest and most successful of the networking sites. Not coincidentally, the film portrays friends whose relationships do not survive the launch of the new enterprise, however the word might be defined. Jesse Eisenberg plays whiz-kid founder Mark Zuckerberg, and though it may be a stretch to say an Oscar-nominated performance hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves, his work does drive the story with an energy and ferocity that makes the whole thing click. Zuckerberg’s main foes are the Winklevoss twins, crew mates from old money who are unbeatable racing backward on the Charles. Andrew Garfield plays Zuckerberg’s friend (that word again) Eduardo Saverin, who lacks the same vision, gets screwed, and ends up on the other side of a lawsuit. Justin Timberlake joins the story midway, in a pitch-perfect performance as entrepreneurial glamor boy Sean Parker. Director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin combine their exceptional talents to craft a compelling tale that grabs you in the first scene and never lets you go. (Not bad for a film in which the most violent act is a computer being slammed on a desk.) The Social Network is a defining story of our time, and the best movie of the year.
(The Social Network at MAD: review)
BEST OF 2010 SUMMARY
The easiest way to see the Top 15 write-ups in a single view is to click the “Best of 2010” tag below. But for a list of my movie picks, sans comments, here you go:
A handful of other movies worth a mention: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (best surprise of the year and best-ever gamer flick), Machete (unadulterated fun), Exit Through the Gift Shop (the utterly watchable art of street art), Inception (an infuriating film yet one fascinating to read about), True Grit (not extraordinary but the best of the Coens in recent years).
A handful of performances worth a mention (in films not covered this week): Jeremy Renner (The Town), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Michael Douglas (Solitary Man), Diane Lane (Secretariat), Eli Wallach (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps).
Coming next week: a brief look at foreign-language films.