(To be sure, a few haven’t opened in Houston – yet – but trust me, they’ve opened in theaters somewhere in this great land of ours.)
These are, of course, purely arbitrary and totally subjective choices. And I’ll freely admit that, a decade or so hence, I might look back on the following lineup and want to make additions or deletions. At this point in time, however, I can honestly state these are the 2010 releases that impressed me most. And best.
Inception. Christopher Nolan’s eye-popping, brain-teasing dazzler is an oxymoronic marvel -- a profound popcorn flick. At once intellectually stimulating, emotionally stirring and technically astounding, it is the sort of ambitious and audacious masterwork that results only when a true visionary somehow manages to earn carte blanche to dream big and spend large within the Hollywood commercial mainstream.
Get Low. With meticulously variegated measures of sly humor, homespun grace and affecting poignancy, this beautifully crafted and robustly entertaining dramedy casts a well-nigh irresistible spell while spinning a Depression Era folk tale from the Tennessee backwoods. Robert Duvall gives one of his finest performances – yes, even by Robert Duvall standards – as he compellingly underplays the larger-than-life lead role of Felix Bush, a notorious hermit who rejoins society only to plan his own funeral party. And he’s backed by uniformly excellent supporting players -- including Bill Murray, in an Oscar-worthy turn as a small-town funeral home director who wants to make Felix’s dream come true.
The Secret in Their Eyes. And speaking of Oscar-worthiness: Juan José Campanella’s gripping drama of obsession, retribution and redemption – winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film – is the year’s smartest and most exciting crime drama, meaning that this Argentine import easily could enthrall both passionate admirers of Dostoyevsky and faithful viewers of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. No kidding.
The Social Network. There will be those who’ll tell you that the lion’s share of the credit for this fleet, flashy and fiercely funny drama about the founding of Facebook should be given to director David Fincher. And then there’ll be those who will insist that the ruthlessly clever and relentlessly insightful script by Aaron Sorkin could have been directed by almost anyone, even Uwe Boll, and an instant-classic would have been the result. Such arguments are altogether appropriate for a movie that takes more than a few pages from Rashomon while seeking elusive truths. But take this to the bank: Everyone on either side of the cameras is at the top of his or her game here. Which is why it’s so easy – and yes, so much fun – to connect to this Network.
Love and Other Drugs. Maybe you were not impressed by the sincerity and sensuality of this smart, sexy and sensationally well-acted comedy-drama about two self-absorbed libertines – superbly played by Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal – who find themselves, much to their wary amazement, increasingly bound by a love that transcends any physical or emotional impediment. But, frankly, I would not want to spend a lot of time with you, much less share a drink with you. And I strongly suspect that if you knew I found myself moist-eyed while sitting through the closing credits, you’d feel the very same way about me.
The Fighter. I wish there were some way I could avoid the obvious wordplay, but: It’s a knockout. Seriously. And yet, while there’s no way to dispute that Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo are bona fide Oscar contenders, attention should also be paid to Mark Wahlberg, playing a up-and-coming boxer who must somehow embrace and transcend his humble, hardscrabble origins.
Tiny Furniture. Winner of the top Narrative Feature prize at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival, Tiny Furniture is a sharply observed and precisely detailed indie dramedy that should strike a responsive chord in anyone who remembers – or is experiencing – that post-college period in life when you’re impatiently eager to invent yourself, yet reflexively hesitant to get started. Written and directed by newcomer Lena Dunham, who also plays the lead role, it is intimate and semi-autobiographical – and yet, at the same time, easily accessible because of its universal verities. Check it out for yourself during its Jan. 7-9 Houston premiere at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
The Company Men. Time Magazine critic Richard Corliss suggested – only half-jokingly – that some movie critics fervently embraced this edgy yet compassionate drama about proud men laid low by corporate downsizing “perhaps because they belong to a job sector that's also suffered severe downsizing in the past few years.” And hell, yeah, I’ll cop to that – up to a point. (Remember: You’re reading something by someone who hasn’t been a full-time film critic since The Houston Post closed in 1995.) But Company Men – which opened in New York and Los Angeles for Oscar consideration in late 2010, but won’t make it to Houston until later this month – also earns a place of honor on this list because it’s one of the very few contemporary movies that directly addresses – intelligently, insightfully and, though it may sound odd to describe it thusly, entertainingly – the way we live now. This is a movie by, about, and for grown-ups. And it showcases career-highpoint performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck, Chris Copper and Kevin Costner.
Monsters. If John Cassavetes had ever made a sci-fi thriller about ginormous extraterrestrial invaders, it probably would have looked and sounded a lot like Gareth Edwards’ impudently offbeat indie. In the not-so-distant future, two plucky protagonists must journey through what is essentially a war zone – a no-human’s-land between Mexico and Texas – where the worst sort of illegal aliens are dominant.
True Grit. A funny thing happened on my way to Joel and Ethan Coen’s darkly idiosyncratic yet unabashedly crowd-pleasing adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel: I took a second look at the 1969 film version – the one directed by Henry Hathaway, showcasing John Wayne’s Oscar-winning performance – and found it was much, much better (and more faithful to Portis’ book) than I remembered it. So please don’t mistake me for some revisionist whippersnapper when I say that the Coen’s remake is not merely a considerable improvement – it is, hands down, the best Western to reach the megaplexes since Clint Eastwood unleashed his Oscar-winning Unforgiven.
Runners-up: The King’s Speech, Solitary Man, The Kids are All Right, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Toy Story 3, Kick-Ass, Unstoppable, Winter’s Bone, Casino Jack, Fair Game.