Dec 11, 2013
2010: Best of the Big Screen
Posted on Dec 30, 2010
4. “Nowhere Boy”: Before he was a Beatle, John Lennon was just an ordinarily feckless teenager—but with an asterisk that makes all the difference. For he was being raised by a stern and seemingly unyielding aunt, beautifully played in this movie by Kristin Scott Thomas, though his careless, carefree mother (Anne-Marie Duff) lives just a few blocks away. She is thought to be an unfit mom, though Lennon (Aaron Johnson) doesn’t quite see it that way. She offers him what adult fun is available to him—and, not incidentally, provides him with his first stringed instrument (a banjo), which leads to a guitar, garage bands, songwriting and eventually the means to rewrite pop music history. The two women provide the formative tension this life—and this movie—requires. The director, Sam Taylor-Wood, totally avoids portentous foreshadowing in this odd and curiously charming film, in which Lennon eventually embraces the discipline his aunt exemplifies without totally rejecting his mother’s cheerful good nature. “Nowhere Boy” is that rare thing—a biopic that refuses to get carried away with itself or its subject. It is a beautifully poised little film, and, one might dare to hope, a model for telling lives that other moviemakers might aspire to follow.
5. “Mother and Child”: I don’t know, this may be only the best Annette Bening movie of the year (I found “The Kids Are All Right” unbearably smug), but I suspect (or hope) that it’s more than that. It recounts the lives of a mother who gives up an unwanted baby for adoption and the adult life of that child (Naomi Watts) as a chilly, emotionally detached lawyer who eventually must confront the same childbearing decision her mother did. The two never meet in later life, but the writer-director, Rodrigo Garcia, maintains an admirable tough-minded stance in recounting this emotionally complicated story, which includes the slow, but plausible, warming of Bening’s character and a parallel failure of her daughter to find a fully humane path in life. He does arrange an ending that could be described as hopeful in a pinch but does not damage the overall tone of the movie. This is essentially a reserved, even cold film, which, of course, doomed it commercially, but sets it apart from the mainstream of domestic dramas. Its uncompromised sobriety extends to all its actors and makes it a movie well worth seeking out—difficult as that task may be.
6. “Red”: It’s the not totally disagreeable custom of 10 Besting for the writer to climb down off his high critical horse and confess to liking some totally silly—but not totally stupid—lowbrow movie. This year the winner in that category—there’s no competition, really—is this film, in which, for reasons I don’t completely recall, Bruce Willis, a retired CIA agent, must reassemble his old team of assassins to ward off an attack on him by mysteriously motivated killers from the agency. His team includes the wonderfully daft John Malkovich, a genteel Helen Mirren, an expert with assault weapons, and the always sly and agreeable Morgan Freeman, with Mary-Louise Parker as the innocent along for the ride. It’s a marvelously energetic ride, marked by director Robert Schwentke’s relentlessly paced direction and an endlessly amusing string of tense incidents and smart wisecracks from the writers, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber. “Red” unashamedly embraces action-comedy conventions, twists them amusingly, and never once acts snooty about them. These guys are out for a good time, and that’s what they delightfully provide us.
And there you have it. A half dozen will have to do. If I’d felt like stretching a point, I might have cited “City Island.” And I liked one, but not all, of the Stieg Larsson adaptations from Sweden. “Hereafter” was an intelligent and romantic movie about a topic—the afterlife—that people couldn’t seem to accept as a subject appropriate for Clint Eastwood. And “The Ghost Writer” was intelligent entertainment. That said, somehow it seems more useful to fire off a couple of warning shots about movies that are currently in release. For example, “Somewhere,” which received some rather good reviews but is all L.A. anomie—languid, feckless and faux artless. That stands in contrast to “Black Swan,” which is pretentiously artful, about a young ballerina eventually willing to die trying to dance a perfect “Swan Lake.” Natalie Portman plays the dancer with great intensity and Vincent Cassel, of all people, turns up as her choreographer and would-be lover—and a mere shadow of Mesrine.
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