TOP TEN LIST
Animal Kingdom dir. David Michôd.
[SPC, August 15th]
It begins with a banal static shot of a mother & son watching a game show, all zoned out like couch potatoes. A few seconds later paramedics arrive. Surprise, you've been staring at a dead woman! This is but the first of many chilling upheavals (and, uh, dead bodies). Her orphaned son "J" is soon picked up by his estranged Grandma (Jacki Weaver in an Oscar worthy performances) and dropped right into her lion's den; his uncles are all crooks. Animal Kingdom circles around introducing this testosterone-heavy crime family and then it makes like a boa constrictor. It may be the family that's getting squeezed but you have to remind yourself to breathe. It's the year's best crime drama and a major arrival for first timer writer/director David Michôd.
The Fighter dir. David O. Russell
[Paramount, Dec 17th]
Springing as it does from the extremely tired sports bio, this movie is a real miracle. It's tough to single out a favorite moment or element because it's "squirrely" humanity keeps popping into frame even within standard tropes and traditional scenes. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo and Christian Bale are a perfect exhaustive mother and son but Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams quieter work as Mickey and Charlene resonates, too. David O. Russell is the movie's MVP. He's not brawling or slugging it out as many directors do. Like Mickey he's picking his punches... "Head. Body. Head. Body". He's an even craftier boxer. You never know where the next punch is landing "Head. Body. Funnybone. Heart".
The rest is in alpha order.
"No rankings?" you scream in disbelief and protest? See, it's like this. It's late at night and I'm way tired and I kept changing the order and I finally gave up. But I gotta announce my personal Best Picture nominees. You don't wanna know medals already, do you? (Don't answer that.) We've just begun our annual awardage.
Black Swan dir. Darren Aronofsky
[Fox Searchlight, Dec 5th]
"It's so pink. Pretttttty" Nina (Natalie Portman) says peering down at a grapefruit. What is it with Aronofsky and grapefruit? (See also: Requiem for a Dream). Nina is in some ways a silly girl, terrified of her own shadow, grossed out by sex, at odds with her body, still living in her mother's apartment. Black Swan is silly and girlie itself, in love with its most histrionic moments, its mad crushes, and always eager to peer over but then retreat from the precipice [Spoiler] until the actual adult moment arrives when Nina dances the Black Swan. So what to make of artistic triumph being a literal fall if not, perhaps, a literal death? [/Spoiler] It's odd that Aronofsky's fifth feature feels so juvenile after his most adult (The Wrestler) but he's clearly having a ball. Nina's not the only one seeing reflections. This is Aronofsky's own funhouse hall of mirrors.
Blue Valentine dir. Derek Cianfrance
[Weinstein Co., Dec 29th]
Hundreds of stories announce their resolution straightaway and use the 'How did we get here?' hook as they circle back to kick off the story. Blue Valentine doesn't do this exactly, but you can soon compare and contrast the start and finish line. The film shows us the courtship and the breakup of Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) simultaneously on linear tracks. Cindy and Dean are out of sync even in their happiest moments but the actors are brilliantly in sync. The genius of the telling is not, I think, in how it starts or how it ends but in all the tiny details that point you towards that vacuum in the middle. Notice the gap. As for the film's own middle? Perfection. Shortly after we've seen that Cindy don't wanna dance with Dean no more ("You and Me") she happily dances for him ("You Always Hurt The Ones You Love"). The songs are in the wrong order.
The Kids Are All Right dir. Lisa Cholodenko
[Focus, July 30th]
This dramedy is so effervescent that its easy to miss the depth and the detail as you're laughing. Though it's light on its feet, Kids is grounded in multi-dimensional characters, smart specific dialogue and structural beauty, too. It takes place in that wonderfully vital summer between adolescence and adulthood and so does the movie, toggling between the two as Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) cope with growing up and their moms (Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) cope with marital trouble and Paul, the new man in all their lives (an exceptional Mark Ruffalo). Paul himself is caught between adolescence and adulthood albeit in a different way. The family expands and constricts and expands and constricts as all families do, experimenting with their own dynamics as life rolls on. Paul may be an interloper but then, so are we. We're just happy to have shared our summer with them.
I Am Love dir. Luca Guadagnino
[Magnolia, June 18th]
In I Am Love, a ravishingly operatic melodrama, Tilda Swinton, that prized jewel of the movies plays Emma, the prized jewel of a wealthy Italian family. The storytelling is in the images and oh, what images. (I Am Cinema would be an appropriate alternate title.) In fact, the film might reveal itself more readily without the subtitles. The secret key to its divisive ending (if you ask me, she's not being punished as some angry readings go) is to notice that it's not just her husband who wants her locked up. Even her beloved servant cocoons her with curtains, shutting out the world. Her son, too. She's never to be lost or shared or stolen or even changed. Whenever Emma escapes, there's sudden rushes of feeling, sunlight, flavor, curiousity, beauty.
The Social Network dir. David Fincher
[Columbia, October 1st]
Not many movies feel like new classics while you're watching them. And as early as the first scene, too. Most need time to settle. Not so with The Social Network which just speeds through, all synapses firing with rich performances (Jesse's best) inspired direction (Fincher's best) and handsome production values (many people's best?), until... "wait, it's over?" When that ending comes (spoilers: Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook, got sued, is a gajillionaire) you want to click "refresh" yourself. Project that bad boy again! Here's why I know it's a new classic: second viewing, ending comes "wait, it's over? Refresh!"; third viewing, ending comes "wait, it's over? Refresh!"; Fourth viewing, ending comes "wait, it's over? Refresh!"