Critic, New York City
Another Year // The most emotionally stimulating movie of the year lacked a single stuttering king or tech genius. Under the guise of an everyday depiction of a couple’s ordinary year, Mike Leigh — masterful chronicler of the hopes, dreams and foibles of the British working class — has made a film rife with deep insight into the human soul and a keen eye for evoking the drama in the mundane. In a cinematic year full of noisy technological distractions, it’s quiet, timeless grace stands out.
The Last Play at Shea // Though it’s centered on Billy Joel’s final performances at the old Shea Stadium, this documentary is more than just a concert film. Paralleling Joel’s story with that of the perennially overshadowed New York Mets and the blue collar, working class borough of Queens the team calls home, the film gets to the heart of sports fandom, evoking the strong, spiritual tug that attaches us to our teams.
The King’s Speech // A portrait of a monarch battling his deep-rooted sense of inadequacy, Tom Hooper’s King’s Speech strips the pomp and circumstance out of the royal life. In so doing, the film brilliantly reclaims George VI from the history books, transforming a powerful figurehead into a classic underdog and the story of a king grappling with his burdensome duties into a relatable depiction of a man triumphing over serious obstacles. Of course, it helps to sport actors as terrific as Colin Firth (as George), Geoffrey Rush (as speech therapist Lionel Logue) and Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth).
127 Hours // Danny Boyle makes you feel every bit of the agony suffered by hiker Aron Ralston (James Franco), as he spends days submerged in a steep canyon somewhere in the Utah desert, trapped beneath an enormous boulder. You thirst as he thirsts, starve as he starves and disappear into his headspace along with him. The filmmaker ably finds his way into a difficult story, transitioning from the sweeping, energized feel of its early scenes to the suffocating, hallucinatory torment of Ralston’s inner ordeal.
City Island // An ensemble comedy about a boisterous Bronx Italian family sounds like a recipe for disaster, or, at best, My Big Fat Italian Wedding. Thanks to his terrific cast (headlined by Andy Garcia and Julianna Marguiles), spurred by an overarching, appealing warmth and a sharp comic sensibility, filmmaker Raymond De Felitta ably navigates such treacherous terrain, crafting a film that blends broad ethnic humor and a healthy dose of nostalgia into one of the year’s richest cinematic experiences.
Columnist and Critic, Somewhere in Indiana
Please Give // Nicole Holofcener’s light and clever rumination on privilege, materialism, generational division, and white liberal guilt was probably the year’s biggest surprise for me. It’s insightful while unpretentious, and as intelligent as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Holofcener here creates some of the most thoroughly envisioned characters of the year, achieving what Greenberg and Tiny Furniture didn’t in focusing on occasionally despicable people with whom she empathizes and finds humor in rather than condescends.
True Grit // What’s the most unexpected thing the Coens can do after making a thematically heavy trilogy of annually released films that are, essentially, all about nihilism? Make one of the most accessible and purely entertaining films of their career, as it turns out. Using convention without preoccupying itself with meta-referencing while still harnessing that signature touch which makes their movies so uniquely their own, as far as audiences are concerned True Grit is nearly the perfect Coen brothers film to an almost miraculous degree. I’ve loved all of their work since No Country, but it’s a relief and a surprise to see an example of genuine, solid Hollywood entertainment as the furthest thing one could get from selling out.
The Social Network // Following a promotional campaign that hammered the film’s aura of greatness into our brains, the surface simplicity of The Social Network is quite deceiving. The irony of the advertising campaign is that the film itself is about the complex construction of greatness and genius, a meditation on the process by which one acquires and owns the American dream. Instead of being a film about the difference of the Millennial generation, The Social Network focuses on the politics at play behind the scenes of the history books and the dominant narratives that have followed invention through every generation.
Exit Through the Gift Shop // In a year where the question of a documentary’s veracity has posed as depth (I’m looking at you I’m Still Here), Exit Through the Gift Shop uses the is-it-or-isn’t-it documentary platform to actually say something about ownership and credibility in 21st century art. But the movie itself is great even without its surrounding questions of authenticity. The long lost son of Orson Welles’s F for Fake, Gift Shop is as brilliant as it is hilarious.
Dogtooth // This movie is not for everyone, but if you thought Michael Haneke’s work needs more pitch-black comedy, then this Greek wonder was made specifically for you. I like to reserve my top spot for something truly original that challenged me as a viewer, something really unique that I’ve never seen onscreen before, and this homeschooling-horrorshow/poststructuralist farce gave me things that I’ve been scratching my head over ever since. As far as I’m concerned, filmmaking this innovative is all too rare.
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