The Kids Are All Right and I Love You Phillip Morris) and mainstream. In reviewing my film log and the academic scale I use, I rated more releases an "A" or "A-" in 2010 than I have in many years.
Here then are, in my opinion, the best of the best of 2010:
1. The Social Network (Sony): Engrossing account of the ethical and relational struggles behind the founding of Facebook, which has become the most popular social networking website of our time with over half a billion users, including more than a few GLBT folks. Such success is ironic given that the film reveals the founders' inability to sustain significant relationships, at least at the time. Masterfully directed by David Fincher, brilliantly written by Aaron Sorkin, and impressively acted by Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Timberlake and hot newcomer Andrew Garfield (soon to be seen as Spider-Man in the movie re-boot), among others. A rare, essentially perfect film.
2. Winter's Bone (Roadside Attractions): A bleak but ultimately rewarding drama set in the Ozarks. A 17-year old girl must locate her deadbeat father or else she, her younger siblings and disabled mother will lose their home. Jennifer Lawrence makes a stunning debut in the lead role, and director Debra Granik does a great job finding the humanity in whom viewers might deem some pretty brutal, low-life characters. A great saga of female empowerment, both on and behind the screen.
3. Inception (Warner Bros): One of those unique summer event movies that actually lives up to the hype and makes film lovers say "Wow!" Virtuoso Christopher Nolan followed up his mega-successful Batman sequel The Dark Knight with a bracingly original action-adventure about a team of dream thieves led by Leonardo DiCaprio that engages one's intellect as well as the eye. Does it all make sense? It's hard to say, but I expect repeat viewings will prove rewarding. Gay viewers were especially taken by British actor Tom Hardy, who charms in the film and has publicly admitted having sexual experiences with men in the past. He can steal my dreams any time!
4. Mother (Magnolia Pictures): We all have our mother issues but, as this Hitchcockian suspense-comedy proves, even the most dysfunctional moms can come in handy in a pinch. When a simple-minded man is accused of murder, his overly-possessive mother (she insists her grown son sleep with her, albeit chastely) sets out to find the true killer. The latest from the enormously talented South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho, who last made the tongue-in-cheek monster movie The Host. Kim Hye-ja is great in the title role, and is being honored as Best Actress of 2010 by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for her work in this.
5. Shutter Island (Paramount): The second-best mind f**k of a movie released in 2010 after Inception, and featuring another great turn by Leonardo DiCaprio. An excellent, appropriately creepy adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel about mysterious goings-on at an isolated mental asylum during the 1950's and the psychologically fragile G-Man sent to investigate. Hottie Mark Ruffalo, who also turned in a memorable performance this year in The Kids Are All Right, plays DiCaprio's devoted partner. Directed by Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese with more twists and turns than the wildest roller coaster.
6. Eyes Wide Open (New American Vision): A remarkable Israeli film about the unexpected, intense love affair that develops between two Orthodox Jewish men. Dubbed "Brokeback Talmud" by one wag, it gains extra credit for being respectful in its unavoidably controversial treatment of the Orthodox characters and community. That the film's excellent lead actors don't boast movie-star good looks adds to its credibility. It received a brief theatrical release in Los Angeles and New York but deserves to be seen widely and is now available on home video.
7. The King's Speech (Weinstein Co.): I predict Colin Firth will win this year's Best Actor Academy Award (after losing last year despite his superior performance in the gay-themed A Single Man) for his remarkable, touching work here as Britain's King George VI, who reigned during World War II and won his people's admiration despite a debilitating stammer. The movie is really an insightful exploration of leadership and what effective leadership requires, both in terms of skills and costs. Geoffrey Rush provides great support as a speech therapist whose unusual methods become the source of George's salvation, and Helena Bonham Carter is wonderful as she who would become the Queen Mother.
8. Micmacs (Sony Classics): A delightfully inventive anti-war satire by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, stylish director of such previously acclaimed films as Amélie and A Very Long Engagement. Visually marvelous and funny, it was truly one of the summer's and year's most truly entertaining movies despite being foreign and subtitled, which likely turned many viewers who would otherwise dig it away. Track it down once it's on DVD and watch it; you'll be glad you did.
9. Rabbit Hole (Lionsgate): Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the screenplay, the story follows a married couple (Nicole Kidman and the always welcome Aaron Eckhart) who are grieving the sudden death of their 4-year old son eight months prior. The film is moving and achingly authentic while also unexpectedly funny, and is helmed with great sensitivity by actor-writer-director John Cameron Mitchell of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus infamy. Kidman is a likely Oscar candidate for her powerful performance, and Eckhart could also find himself nominated.
10. Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems): I had several contenders for the final slot in my top ten (see honorable mentions below), but I chose this for its extremely intelligent, unusually literate screenplay by Bert V. Royal... and in a comedy primarily intended for teens! Emma Stone is smashing as a high school student who embraces "The Scarlet Letter" as much more than just assigned reading. Dan Byrd of TV's Cougar Town plays a gay fellow student who develops a Mark Twain-related "fetish" by film's end. The supporting cast also includes gay faves Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson and Lisa Kudrow.
In what was another very good year for the fairly recently re-discovered genre of documentaries, I would like to confer "Honorable Mention" status on a handful of great docs that dealt with GLBT-related subjects: The Other City, about AIDS in Washington DC, which has the highest rate of infection among US cities; Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work; and Stonewall Uprising. Other Honorable Mentions go to I Love You Phillip Morris which, though excellent, deserves it for no other reason than finally getting released in the US after a torturous two-year delay; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with its bisexual avenging angel Lisbeth Salander personified by the awesome Noomi Rapace; and, in a great year for animated films, Disney's wonderful Tangled and Toy Story 3.
Of course, in every bed of roses one finds a few thorns. The five worst movies I endured in 2010 were The Expendables, the dreadful, hyper-violent reunion of 1980's action stars; After.Life, a bizarre horror flick that wastes the usually dependable Christina Ricci and Liam Neeson; The Magician, which follows the exploits of an Australian hit man through his possibly gay videographer/admirer; Please Give, a widely acclaimed dramedy that I found insufferably pretentious despite its great cast; and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which is so incredibly dull and formulaic for a summer action-adventure that not even yummy, shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal could give it life.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.