Movie Catch-Up of 2010, Part 1

Since I’ve been on a movie kick lately, I wanted to get some thoughts out there about them before they became so stale you didn’t even remember the movies happened. Problem is, they got a little too long so I’m breaking it up into two parts, with a special bonus PopRox coming Thursday:

tough to believe there was no room for true grit at the golden globes

tough to believe there was no room for true grit at the golden globes

TRUE GRIT: My old man is a John Wayne guy, I’m not. It’s not for his lack of trying — under the cloak of what he termed “required viewing,” I grew up being forced to watch at least a dozen John Wayne movies. The original True Grit was one of them, along with stuff like The Searchers, The Cowboys, The Quiet Man, or whatever black-and-white BS was on TV that weekend (for the record, I know The Cowboys wasn’t in black and white, but to me it might as well have been). I just could never get into his movies, and had no desire to. That doesn’t mean I don’t mind some updating — especially when it involves one of my favorite filmmaking teams (the Coen Brothers) and three great actors (Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, this year’s recipient of the Most Likely to Get an Oscar Nom Even Though He’s Only on Screen for 15 Minutes Award). So I took my dad to see it, fully expecting him to say some version of “It’s not as good as the original” or “Jeff Bridges isn’t as good as The Duke” or “I still don’t understand why John Wayne was never elected president and then be allowed to take over the world.” Nope. Instead, he couldn’t get over how much he liked it even though he didn’t expect to, how cool he thought Jeff Bridges was and how much he liked the girl who played Mattie. My dad is the exact crowd the Coens had to win over to make their version of True Grit successful, and they did it. Now True Grit is the first Coen Brothers movie to make more than $100 million — and it’s not a coincidence. It’s not the Coens’ best movie and it’s barely in their top 5. That’s not a damnation of the movie, it’s a credit to the Coens because True Grit is pretty good. Just one question — since when does it snow so much in Arkansas? Every scene at night in this movie had snow in it. It was so annoying that I looked it up, and Fort Smith, Ark., the region where the movie supposedly took place, gets 7.1 inches of snow in a yearA YEAR. So to make it snow every night for like a week straight of movie time doesn’t seem very realistic. Granted, it was only flurries the whole time, but still. GRADE: B+

yes, you can start to take ben affleck seriously. it's ok.

yes, you can start to take ben affleck seriously. it's ok.

THE TOWN: Your opinion on this movie comes down to one question — can you take Ben Affleck serious yet? Encore has been running Good Will Hunting the last couple months, a movie I’d probably put in my top 20 of all time, and I consider it one of the four or five most perfect movies ever made. I’ve been pretty lucky to pick it up right around two different spots on a consistent basis during these recent these Encore viewings: 1. Right before Chuckie (Affleck) interviews as Will, one of the funniest movie scenes ever in a dramatic movie and 2. The scene where Skylar meets Will’s friends for the first time at the dive bar and Chuckie tells the story about his uncle. If you know either of these scenes, it would be tough to consider Affleck a dramatic actor. And that’s just considering a 13-year-old movie — it’s not even taking into account his intentionally charming, comedic roles in things like Jersey Girl, Jay and Silent Bob (twice) and a couple hosting gigs on SNL. Then there are the unintentionally funny roles in Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Gigli and Reindeer Games that make it nearly impossible to take him serious. The recent dramatic roles he’s had that aren’t terrible — Hollywoodland, State of Play — went over like a fart in church on the cultural landscape, so people still are getting used to him in dramas — including me. But The Town is where that can all change. For the first time, I looked at Affleck and didn’t jokingly say, “Ben Who-fleck?” or “Harry, I love you!!!” or “Lemme tell ya something — YOU’RE SUSPECT!!!” Instead, I just enjoyed Affleck as the character he was playing, and even better, enjoyed him as the director and writer of one of the best movies of the year. GRADE: A-

PLEASE GIVE: I’m not holding out much hope for the movies of 2010. I finally started narrowing down my list of top 20 movies of 2010 for the Orange Street Oscars and realized that I only had about six or seven movies I really, truly liked and deserved a spot in any kind of top 20. In other years, where I watched 70 or 80 movies a year, it wasn’t a problem finding the 10 or 20 best. Now that I’m down to being able to watch about 30 or 40 movies, if that, I have to rely on reviews and word-of-mouth so that I don’t end up wasting my time watching a crappy movie. Even that’s been pretty hit-and-miss this year, because I’m not a complete fan of many of the best-reviewed movies of the year. So it was both rewarding and fulfilling after watching Please Give the other night for my wife to turn to me and say, “We finally watched a good movie.” And we did! It’s finally a movie from 2010 I feel comfortable recommending to anyone that likes well-written, well-acted movies. Catherine Keener continues her streak of about 8 bajillion movies in a row where she’s completely awesome and Rebecca Hall continues the argument for “compilation awards” where Oscar voters can take into account all roles for an actor over a year (she was also great in a supporting role in The Town as Who-fleck’s girlfriend). That argument started with Kevin Spacey in 1995 and keeps roaring on, she actually had a good argument in 2008 when she was dang good in Vicky Christina Barcelona and Frost/Nixon. I’m also wondering if Amanda Peet is a complete bee-yatch in real life because other than Whole Nine Yards, mean roles seem to be the only things she does well. GRADE: A-

it wouldn't bother me that much if mila kunis doesn't get an oscar nomination.

it wouldn't bother me if kunis doesn't get an oscar nomination.

BLACK SWAN: This movie is the exact reason I could never be a movie reviewer. It’s such an emotionally draining experience and an almost torturous way to spend two hours that I want to fight the movie in the back alley behind the theater. Seriously. I want to fight Black Swan. Not any of the people in it, and not some swan painted black, just the movie. I don’t want to fight it because it’s a bad movie — far from it. It’s a fantastic movie, an original piece of storytelling with brilliant performances (Barbara Hershey in particular) that made me intensely care about a subject like ballet dancing that I have never cared about before and more than likely, will never care about again. Actually, it’s only kinda original (more in a moment). But I want to fight it for making me hold my head in my hands for about 90 minutes straight, cringing about 50 times and uncontrollably saying a partially audible “Oh no,” to myself another 25 times. I came out of the theater feeling good for seeing the movie — but sick to my stomach for experiencingit. Which is probably a good thing, since you only truly experience about 10 percent of the movies that hit theaters these days. Maybe it’s because I have a 2-year-old daughter who took her first dance classes last fall, or maybe it’s because my creepiest moment of the movie year was seeing an 85-pound Natalie Portman slightly smile when a dress fitter told her she lost weight. I’m not sure what it was. I just know my head was spinning and I spent the post-movie half-hour gathering my thoughts to make sure I understood the movie enough to have an educated conversation about it. All of that would be fine — if the movie wasn’t just an almost scene-by-scene copy of The Wrestler. I picked up on that about a half-hour in, but thought I was imagining things just because of the Darren Aronofsky link. But it only got worse, and the (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) ambiguous final scene that included a possibly fatal leap clinched it for me. (OK, COME BACK NOW.) Later, I still thought I was being prejudiced about it, looking for something that wasn’t there. So I asked my wife, who immediately screamed, “OH MY GOD YES!!!” without even knowing Aronofsky directed both. They’re both stories about personal destruction in niche activities (pro wrestling and ballet dancing), they both have intricate, almost damning attention to detail about the lives of people in those professions to the point where it’s stereotyping them and they’re both so real they’re scary. Natalie Portman is in the Mickey Rourke role, Mila Kunis is the Marisa Tomei clone, Barbara Hershey (currently my Oscar pick for best supporting actress) is the Evan Rachel Wood character — it’s uncanny. If the similarities weren’t close enough, can you believe The Wrestler is 109 minutes and Black Swan is 108??? Aronofsky said a while back that Black Swan is kind of a companion piece to The Wrestler, well no s— Sherlock! He probably only said that pre-emptively to make sure people like me don’t cut him downfor duplicating a successful movie. If Hugh Jackman jumps off the ledge of a Japanese mountain at the end of the next Wolverine, I’m officially calling Shenanigans. Black Swan is still a good movie, I’m just not sure how good. Maybe I’ll realize it after I stop having nightmares about my daughter going through arthritic ankle surgery when she’s 18. GRADE: B. I think.

Coming tomorrow: DVD reviews of “The Kids Are All Right,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” The Other Guys” and “The American.”

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