BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky, 2010)
BLACK SWAN merges the sexual hysteria of Roman Polanski’s REPULSION with the ballet drama of Powell and Pressburger’s THE RED SHOES and throws in a generous dollop of Cronenberg-like body horror for good measure. Director Darren Aronofsky’s lurid mixture of high and low art makes for an often intoxicating film about creative risk and personal development. Natalie Portman’s performance thrills with how she manifests her ballerina’s psychosis, swinging from delicate technical precision and emotional repression to bold, forceful expressions.
CARLOS (Olivier Assayas, 2010)
Although five and a half hours long, Olivier Assayas’s CARLOS is a brisk and absorbing study of the infamous Venezuelan terrorist known as The Jackal. A magnificent setpiece recreating the 1975 raid on OPEC headquarters in Vienna and Edgar Ramirez’s magnetic lead performance are among the treasures in a biopic stocked with plenty to unpack regarding global and personal politics and how their tides shift.
CATFISH (Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, 2010)
Whether CATFISH is or is not a documentary--I don’t think it matters--it stands as a compelling look at the thrills and pitfalls of living in the social media age. The film follows its subject, one of the directors’ brothers, as online communications lead to emotional investment with a family hundreds of miles away and romance with one of the daughters. As doubt creeps in about the truth of the situation, the filmmakers make a surprise visit to find out who they’re talking to. The answers they find have a lot to say about what we’re seeking when we reach out to make connections over the internet.
EVERYONE ELSE (ALLE ANDEREN) (Maren Ade, 2009)
The exquisitely made EVERYONE ELSE is a painfully observed exploration of a relationship and each person’s culpability when it frays. In watching how people interact when they are alone, especially two who want to break away from the pack, the film is astonishingly keen in its intimate insights. As the couple, Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger do an extraordinary job of conveying the small ways people test and hurt the ones they love.
THE FIGHTER (David O. Russell, 2010)
In THE FIGHTER director David O. Russell tells the true story of underdog welterweight boxer Mickey Ward as part dysfunctional family comedy and part inspirational sports movie. A stellar supporting cast featuring Melissa Leo, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams often swipes scenes from Mark Wahlberg’s understated main character. Humming with humor and working class determination, THE FIGHTER finds that the most important sparring matches often occur outside the ring.
THE GHOST WRITER (Roman Polanski, 2010)
Co-writer/director Roman Polanski fashions THE GHOST WRITER as a '70s-styled potboiler bubbling with paranoia and conspiracy. This isn't CHINATOWN level work from Polanski, but THE GHOST WRITER still succeeds as an above-average thriller that dabbles in the political and the personal. A ghost writer's purpose is to tell someone else's story in that person's voice. As co-writer and director Polanski gets to speak for himself through the film, but for all of it's mirroring of real life circumstances, THE GHOST WRITER'S shrouded revelations are ever transitory.
GOING THE DISTANCE (Nanette Burstein, 2010)
GOING THE DISTANCE is a consistently funny romantic comedy, which is rare enough. It also possesses the wisdom to explore the natural challenges in Drew Barrymore and Justin Long’s bicoastal romance rather than contriving conflicts. Although the set-up is familiar, the film’s warmth, vulnerability, emotional truth, and raunchiness distinguish it from the pack of so-called love stories.
GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach, 2010)
Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s dramedy GREENBERG is a deeply felt observation of flawed individuals trying to cope with life’s problems. Ben Stiller does some of his finest cinematic work as the prickly and self-sabotaging title character. The performance requires looking beyond the surface to see a wounded soul who believes he can only feel better by making others miserable. Greta Gerwig matches Stiller’s performance with a turn that shows how awkward and unguarded optimism can survive among disappointment and sadness.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT overdoes it in laying out its themes in the final act, but nevertheless, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg have crafted a funny and generous film about family ties. Although gay spouses anchor the film, it illuminates the universal strains that come with coupledom and parenting rather than speaking to anything specific to sexual orientation. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT finds gentle laughs among and enormous sympathy for the trials of family.
MOTHER (MADEO) (Bong Joon-ho, 2009)
MOTHER co-writer and director Bong Joon-ho assembles an expertly constructed thriller with a surprisingly deep well of emotion and ribbons of humor. Kim Hye-ja’s remarkable performance speaks to the fierce devotion and love that a parent can exhibit when protecting a child.
PLEASE GIVE (Nicole Holofcener, 2010)
Writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s PLEASE GIVE humorously grapples with the problems of the fortunate, particularly those burdened with white liberal guilt. PLEASE GIVE shares a comedic sensibility with Woody Allen’s films while taking a female perspective on ordinary family problems, fear of mortality, self-image issues, and the illusion of control one has in life.
SHUTTER ISLAND (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
SHUTTER ISLAND is Martin Scorsese’s sublime version of a 1950s Hollywood thriller. It’s a treat to see one of the all-time greats having fun with a genre film. Scorsese utilizes the overheated tone and vivid colors produced in Robert Richardson’s cinematography to ratchet up the suspense unlike few can.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher, 2010)
THE SOCIAL NETWORK is as elegant and brilliant as a well-written line of code. Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's fictionalized account of Facebook’s founding dives into some of today’s big questions brought about by technological advancements and boasts a complex and masterful lead performance from Jesse Eisenberg. The script provides the foundation for a hugely entertaining drama that has a fair share of big laugh lines. Fincher’s smooth direction guides us through complicated legal proceedings and a social world not nearly as neatly organized as a social media tree.
SOMEWHERE (Sofia Coppola, 2010)
Although SOMEWHERE throbs with dissatisfaction and longing for purpose, writer-director Sofia Coppola’s film reveals itself as a dryly funny meditation on being adrift in Hollywood. Coppola sympathizes with a movie star’s burdens while observing the inherent absurdity of the profession. Elle Fanning shines as the daughter who helps routine-stuck father Stephen Dorff emerge from his privileged and suffocating cocoon.
WILD GRASS (LES HERBES FOLLES) (Alain Resnais, 2009)
When WILD GRASS was released, French director Alain Resnais was 87 years old and 48 years removed from when his classic LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD debuted, yet his ability to confound hasn’t dimmed. In this puckish and unpredictable romantic comedy-drama-mystery, meaning is elusive as ever, but WILD GRASS is a delight from beginning to end, especially the inscrutable ending.
WINTER’S BONE (Debra Granik, 2010)
Co-writer/director Debra Granik captures an outstanding sense of place yet never condescends in the Ozarks noir WINTER’S BONE. Jennifer Lawrence gives a terrific lead performance as a teenager who embarks on a harrowing journey in search of her no-good father so as to save the family’s house.