by Critic-at-Large Jeff Koch

Editor’s Note: It was a rich year in powerful films that crossed several genres. A few of them were on the b10 radar months ago, and you’ll find links to Jeff’s original reviews below. As I ponder Jeff’s take on each of these contenders, I’m struck by the fact that in nearly every case the movie garners it’s energy and dramatic pull from enticing ACTING, and not from over-the-top budgets and productions.

Will 2010 go down in film history as a shift away from movies as sensory overload and instead mark an increased appreciation for depth and emotional significance? Let’s be frank–probably not, but it was a nice temporary breather from the intensity of the year of Avatar.

Each film title below links to its IMDB entry for full filmography details. Be sure to add your own 2 cents in the comments!

– BK

Black Swan

Score: 8.0/10

Natalie Portman sets the screen on fire as Nina Sayers, the virginal and sheltered ballerina who must learn to embrace her darker impulses to find the appropriate energy to play both the white swan and the black swan in a production of Swan Lake. The audience is dragged into her torment and slow slide into madness as she gradually begins to crack, which is perfectly reflected on the screen. Though not a horror movie, you might not find a movie this year with more frightening images than Black Swan. The movie is almost uncomfortable to watch, and the blurring of the lines of reality can be a bit too ambiguous at times, especially during the climactic final scene. But you won’t be able to take your eyes off Portman.

The Fighter

Score: 8.5/10

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good sports movie, and The Fighter is an expertly crafted one. It perfectly hits all the beats and is more than capable of eliciting both tears and joy. What pushes the movie into Oscar stratosphere is the sheer force of the acting. Mark Wahlberg brought this project to life, and stayed in boxing shape for over 5 years waiting for the movie to be made. As Micky Ward, he is the soul of the movie, finding a character who struggles for control of his own life and destiny against those who only want the best for him but most often only end up providing the worst. But you’ll be unable to take your eyes of Christian Bale, who transforms himself into Micky’s crack-addicted trainer/older half-brother, Dicky Ecklund. He is both terrifying and hilarious, and you’ll understand why his family is unable to resist him even as he destroys everything around him.

Inception

Score: 9.0/10

Dizzying without bewildering, everything comes together in Inception just right. It finds the right balance of heart and brain, spectacle and character. See here for my original, in depth review.

The Kids Are All Right

Score: 8.0/10

Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko cuts to the bruised and bruising heart of family in The Kid’s Are All Right. All the actors give excellent performances, showing that family is our first and last line of defense, and the one thing we can always depend on, like it or not. Annette Bening stands out as the controlling matriarch watching as her family slowly slips from her grasp and confronting her powerlessness to do anything about it (her Joni Mitchell scene will have you squirming, then laughing, then laughing uncomfortably, then squirming again). The ending is a bit messy, unresolved, and a tad unsatisfying: not unlike a real family, I suppose.

The King’s Speech

Score: 9.0/10

In a year full of outstanding performances and wonderful ensembles, no two actors may have been better individually nor had better on-screen chemistry than Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech. Both are perfect in their respective roles: Firth as King George VI, showing a proud, honorable man weighed down by the expectations of a nation and his family and crippled by a speech impediment; and Rush as Lionel Logue, the Speech Therapist who helped to unlock the man behind the crown and allow the King to find his voice. The pacing of the movie is a bit stilted, and the emotional payoff can sometimes feel too little. But the rousing speech that closes the movie (and helped ease and comfort a frightened nation as it headed into World War II) is a symphony of the two men (and actors) at their finest, both brilliant in their own right, but together much greater than the sum of the parts.

127 Hours

Score: 9.0/10

James Franco gives a career-defining performance, finding the life and heart in a character who can literally not move for over 5 days. Real energy is created from stasis, and no movie does more with sounds and silences. Rather than making it simply a tale of survival, Franco and director Danny Boyle make it a movie of self-discovery, as they dig deep into the past and psyche of Aron Ralston, who not only finds the will to live, but the courage to change his life in the process. When the unimaginable happens, and he finally literally cuts himself free (by cutting off his own arm), you understand that he has also freed himself from his past and created a new life for himself.

The Social Network

Score: 9.5/10

No movie better captures the zeitgeist while also holding it up to a harsh light of scrutiny. No movie also seamlessly blends acting, writing, directing as this one. Nor was any other movie simply more enjoyable to watch. See my original review and see the movie if you haven’t already. My pick for Best Picture of 2010.

Toy Story 3

Score: 9.0/10

PIxar continues their magical run of near-perfect movies with the latest Toy Story installment. Woody and the gang, facing their growing insignificance in college-bound Andy’s life and a possible relegation to the attic (or worse), interact with each other and cope with grief and pain in subtle and real ways not seen in most any movie, let alone a “Kid’s” movie. The themes are dark, the answers ambiguous and uneasy, and the stakes high as can be. If this movie–regardless of your age–doesn’t move you to tears in the final scene, then you’re probably already dead inside.

True Grit

Score: 8.5/10

This movie will surprise you with its heart and with its humor. It honestly might be one of the funniest movies of the year. The 3 leads (Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who almost steals the movie from the 2 veteran actors) all give outstanding individual performances, but the chemistry and interplay between the three is what truly sets the movie apart. When all three share the screen together, just watch out. The film provides a coda that is at once too much and not enough, ending the movie on a slightly lesser note. But the ride until that point is so much fun, you probably won’t care too much.

Winter’s Bone

Score: 7.0/10

Some movies are sparse and allow viewers to fill in the spaces and the silences with meaning and profundity. Winter’s Bone is not one of those movies. The atmosphere is appropriately created, but the movie lacks any real depth, attempting to create meaning through mood alone, a shortcut that will surely fail. The film is buoyed by two fine performances (Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes), but not enough to prevent it from being the least worthy Oscar competitor.

Summary Ratings/Rankings:

The Social Network 9.5

127 Hours 9.0

Inception 9.0

The King’s Speech 9.0

Toy Story 3 9.0

The Fighter 8.5

True Grit 8.5

Black Swan 8.0

The Kids Are All Right 8.0

Winter’s Bone 7.0

What do YOU say, readers? What’s your call for Best Picture of 2010, and why?

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About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of bensten.wordpress.com.

2 responses »

  1. Jeff says:

    It’s funny how expectation plays a role in your enjoyment of a movie. I saw ‘True Grit’, ‘Black Swan’, and ‘The King’s Speech’ on the same day. ‘True Grit’ was the one I had the least expectation for and probably enjoyed it the most because of how surprised I was. I had the highest expectations for ‘The King’s Speech’, and I think those expectations didn’t allow me to fully engage in the movie, though I still obviously loved it.

  2. Cathy says:

    Thanks for the great reviews, Jeff! We have yet to see a lot of these movies. We loved The King’s Speech. I didn’t like True Grit as much as others- I just didn’t buy into their characters or the relationships between them. I had high expectations before going based on other people’s reviews. Ahh well, we still laughed and had a good time.

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