Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 At The Movies: Altered Perceptions

On average, I make it to the theater about 9 or 10 times a year. I watch many more films through rental, but I still enjoy the theater experience for the most part. On my old blog, I always included an end-of-year list of what I saw in the theaters. It's not a's every movie I saw there, since I see so few. I'm discerning about what I go to see though, so they are all decent films. Here was 2010 at the movies:

The Book of Eli

An apocalyptic tale directed by the Hughes Brothers (From Hell) starring Denzel Washington. Very stylized violence, as you'd expect from this directing pair, and Washington does a lot with a spare role. The story did seem a bit thin at times, but I enjoyed the atmosphere, as well as Gary Oldman in the role of villain. One early fight scene was filmed strictly in silhouette under a bridge. The desert setting and the blazing guns helped to heat up a mid-January showing.

The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Alice Sebold novel, about a girl who is raped and murdered, and her experiences in the hereafter. There was less of the vision of Heaven than I'd hoped for in the movie, but Jackson depicted them with sharp imagination. They were the movie's highlights. It was tough for the reality-based segments to match up, but the actors performed gamely. I didn't read the book, and I don't like comparing books to movies anyway...but I thought it was worth a drive.

Shutter Island

Another film dealing with altered perceptions, Scorsese's Shutter Island marked another high point for the director. He's been on a roll the past decade. This one concerns Leo DiCaprio as a cop, traveling to an offshore asylum to investigate the disappearance of a patient. All is not as it appears, however. I suspected the denouement early on in the movie, but I enjoyed the unspooling of the narrative nonetheless. Many of Scorsese's films play like homages to the directors of his youth, this one maybe moreso than others. Mark Ruffalo has an underappreciated supporting role.

Kick Ass

Based on a Mark Millar graphic novel, this story was about a regular kid who decides to youtube his heroic impulse and becomes a viral celebrity. He adopts a super identity and ineptly attempts to fight crime...until he joins forces with a younger girl who really has the chops to beat up bad guys. Nicolas Cage plays the girl's father, and is himself a crime fighter in the Batman mold. Hit Girl, played by Chloe Moretz, is a foul-mouthed heroine who appears very innocent and normal in her more mild-mannered guise. The film was directed with kinetic and edgy joy by Matthew Vaughn, the guy who was originally named to direct the first X-Men film. Here, we get a glimpse of how he might've handled that one.


Christopher Nolan's project between Batman films. This one was a mind bender, a film that played with time and space to the point where hotel hallways spun like giant lottery ball barrels. This conceit really becomes the centerpiece of the film, while many of the characters go undeveloped. This was a flaw, but not enough to spoil the experience for me. My brain enjoyed the puzzle, and the effects were dazzling. Special kudos to the score, composed by Hans Zimmer. It was a perfect match for the visual brawn of the movie.

The American

After the requisite summer blockbuster, it was time to go small again. Despite the title, this movie took place in Italy and had a very European sensibility. George Clooney plays an assassin trying to get away from his chosen career, only to be drawn back in for one more job. Breathtaking shots of the Italian countryside alternate with life in a small Italian town as Clooney tries to blend in. The movie has the feel of an old novel, with spare dialogue and long stretches of quiet while the action plays out patiently. Directed by Anton Corbijn, who used to be a renown photographer (much of it for the band U2). A very satisfying story.

The Social Network

David Fincher, who made one of my favorite movies (Fight Club), checks in with this film about the origins of Facebook. Written by Aaron Sorkin, of West Wing and Sports Night fame, the dialogue is typically his, with the first 10 minutes or so being delivered so fast by the actors they barely have time to catch their breath. A more complete review is below. This one may get nominated for an Oscar, though I'm not sure it's up to that caliber. But Oscar seems to have become less exclusive these past couple years. Very much worth seeing though.

127 Hours

Danny Boyle is another director I pay attention to, and this is his film about the true story of Aron Ralston, a hiker who forgets to tell someone where he's going for the weekend. As a result, he loses his arm. Doyle turns a potentially very claustrophobic subject into something far more expansive and engrossing. We learn how even the smallest of decisions can have a huge impact. The camera minutely examines the small stage of Ralston's prison, from the ants who crawl over his body, to the urine he has to drink out of his water bottle just to stay alive. Boyle is responsible for another of my favorite films, Trainspotting. He's another director who's been on a roll lately. I hope it continues.

True Grit

Rounded out the year on the last day with this western from the Coen brothers. The Coens and I have often had a love/hate relationship over the years. Films of theirs I love include Miller's Crossing, The Hudsucker Proxy, and A Serious Man. The hate list includes Fargo, No Country for Old Men and Fargo. Yeah, I really didn't like Fargo. This one is a gem, however. They follow the book closely and keep much of its poetic language. There's real heartbreak and lovely western vistas shot by veteran DP Roger Deakins, who's worked with the Coens often. It was a packed house when I went to see a matinee. It may be the Coens most popular film after all is said and done, and it outshines the original by a country mile. Sorry, Duke.

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