Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: My Year in Movies (part 2: Drama/Thriller)

The 2010 list continues with a mixed bag of films, some of which are serious contenders for Oscar hardware...whether they deserve it or not. Rating is on a 5-star scale.


Greenberg ***
Social Network ***1/2
127 Hours ***
The Kids are Alright **1/2
Winter's Bone ****1/2
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo **1/2

Uneven and at times flat, Noah Baumach's Greenberg is still his and Ben Stiller's best work in years. While some of the dramatic moments don't quite work, there's enough levity in Baumbach's script that we can overlook the more excessive misanthropic elements in the title character. Rhys Ifans is particularly strong as Greenberg's old friend from better days.

It's hard to go wrong with a movie scripted by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher. Once upon a time I would have said Sorkin was my favorite writer and Fincher my favorite director, so putting them together should have resulted in my favorite film, right? Not exactly. Social Network is a good film, but it lacks one important element: drama. Much of the film plays out like a dramatized documentary...a sort of "this happened, then this, then this, and then this" narrative. It's interesting in terms of learning how Facebook came to be, but it ultimately fails at giving us genuine insight into the characters, or in explaining what Facebook tells us about ourselves. Sorkin's script, while entertaining with his usual pitter-patter back-and-forth, doesn't get beneath the surface.

127 Hours is another Oscar contender, but it's also another 'good but overrated film.' One of the big issues in a movie like this is how to keep things interesting when most of the action takes place in one location. And not just one location, but the same spot in that location---a small rock that pins James Franco's character inside a crevasse. I think director Danny Boyle might've out-thunk himself on this one. The build-up to the crucial accident is brilliant, as are the initial efforts to deal with the crisis. The last 1/3 of the movie, however, sees Boyle pulling every film-making trick out of the bag to remove that feeling of isolation. There's a dream sequence, there are flashbacks, there's a mirage---all of which are manipulative and, more importantly, just not necessary. The drama works just fine without these gimmicks.

But the award for most overrated film of the year goes to....The Kids Are All Right. By most accounts, this movie will garner three acting nominations for Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. I don't get it. This isn't a bad film, but it's pretty damn average. A child of a lesbian couple seeks out the sperm donor and dramedy hi-jinks ensue. Oh my! Replace the three leads with lesser known actors and put this movie on Lifetime and nobody would know the difference. Bening is over-the-top shrill, Julianne Moore is fine---for Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo does his SAME EXACT SHTICK as he does in every movie. Ruffalo is becoming the Michael Rappaport of acting...good at what they do, but incapable of doing anything else.

Winter's Bone is the best film of 2010...that I've seen. With a minuscule budget of just $2 million, it's nice to be reminded that creating great movies doesn't require great piles of money. Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes give two of the year's finest performances, but the entire supporting cast is brilliant. Director Debra Granik manages to focus on a peculiar subset of American culture---backwoods Ozark meth cookers---without ever trivializing them or becoming condescending. This ain't a tale about simple hillbillies. Winter's Bone also features one of my favorite scenes of 2010...the scene in which John Hawkes is pulled over in a traffic stop by the local sheriff. Tense stuff. I love movies where the characters surprise you with their actions...but yet their actions make complete sense. That's rare...and wonderful. There's plenty of it to be had in Winter's Bone.

The first of three movies in the VERY popular Steig Larson series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is stunningly average. THIS is what all the hype is about? THIS is what they're doing an American remake of? Huh? Look, I know people like this movie and the books because of the main female character, ably played by Noomi Rapace here. I get it. She's edgy, she's strong, she's weird. Fine. But the plot into which she's dropped is so pedestrian and so cliche that it wastes much of what makes her interesting. The pacing is very slow in the film's first half, and the mystery unfolds in the second half much like a bad P.I. television show from the 1980s. Bottom line? This is a "slightly" above-average mystery tale.


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