Alice in Wonderland: After the supremely disappointing duo of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd, I was pleasantly surprised by Alice. Mia Wasikowska is one of the least affected young actresses working today, and her performance grounded a film that is essentially one long, whimsical acid trip. I loved how strong this Alice was–this girl would never drown in her own tears. And while Depp’s warring accents were distracting, Stephen Fry as the Chesire Cat makes the whole thing worth it (not to mention Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar).
Black Swan: I was a bit underwhelmed by this movie, I have to admit, and I think the problem is Portman. The story was engaging, sure, and the costumes and effects were compellingly creepy, but her performance didn’t feel like it went beyond the surface, for all that training and drastic weight loss. While I was watching, I found myself rooting for Nina, but I can’t say her story stayed with me once it was over. The best movies of this genre will haunt you–this one was ultimately a lot of beautifully executed but forgettable parlor tricks.
Blue Valentine: Such a distressing little film this is. It feels so private that I almost wish I’d watched it at home rather than in a theater. Gosling and Williams live up to the hype surrounding their performances, as each are by turns charming and horrible to one another. My one complaint is overuse of Indie Shaky Cam cinematography, but otherwise a wonderful little snapshot of everyday dysfunction. Essentially a big middle finger to every romantic movie that led you to believe the fairy tale.
Exit Through the Gift Shop: The main buzz around this film was the possibility that it’s all a hoax staged by Banksy, its director and erstwhile subject. But it’s such a fantastic story that I don’t actually care either way. However it was cobbled together, Exit has more than its fair share of memorable characters, and makes some fascinating comments on the nature of creative inspiration, art and fame in the post-Warhol landscape.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1: I really, really wish this had been one film. But the studios like their money, so here we are. HP7, Part the First didn’t actually drag as much as I thought it would, and Yates got the gloomy tone of the book just right. Ultimately, I feel the same way about this one as I do about all the Harry Potter movies–enjoyable while I’m watching them, but I rarely if ever see them twice. As a compulsive re-watcher of movies I love, that’s pretty faint praise. Also: we know Daniel Radcliffe can be charming, so why is he as charismatic as a wet paper bag in this role?
Inception: I recently re-watched this after being blown away by it when I saw it in the theater, and I think it holds up over time. Yes, it’s full of plot holes and an internal logic that isn’t so much a labyrinth as a big, knotted string, but I don’t care. It’s grandly ambitious, and somehow manages to marry Nolan’s off-beat obsessions with a sort of old-school Hollywood glamour. Nothing about this movie is subtle–not the themes, not the performances, not the score. But it’s a big movie in the best possible way–emotionally resonant, complex, and most importantly, entertaining.
The Kids Are All Right: If this film weren’t about a lesbian couple, would it be up for an Oscar? Well, possibly. Because it hits all those nice emotional notes that the Academy likes–and everyone in the movie is fantastic. Somehow Cholondenko managed to make a fairly conventional family comedy/drama where the family in question felt authentic. And I think it was an important movie, for crossing over into the mainstream and demonstrating how unfailingly normal gay families are. Annette Benning will probably win for best actress, and I think I’m fine with that, though I think there are other nominess (Jennifer Lawrence, for one), who are somewhat more deserving.
The King’s Speech: This movie is Oscar-bait, sure, but Oscar-bait of the highest possible caliber. I could watch Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush parry back and forth all day long. And Helena Bonham-Carter was a delight as the Queen Mum. She gave life to someone I’d only ever conceived of as an incredibly old woman. Just a lovely, kind-hearted film that did exactly what it set out to do.
The Social Network: Wow, I just realized how many great films came out this year. Not all of them were game-changing, but nearly every best-picture nominee was at the very least full of great performances and compelling stories. No Avatars here! And as for Facebook: The Movie, this was another perfectly constructed film. It wasn’t what everyone wanted for a movie about this site, but rather than floundering around from one issue to another, Sorkin picked an angle–an appealingly human one–and stuck with it. It’s clever and funny and nuanced. For me, the film brought me back to a time when the site was a sort of post-adolescent elitist haven, and it’s shocking to realize how drastically the site has changed over the years.
Winter’s Bone: Absolutely lives up to the hype. Jennifer Lawrence is quiet and striking in her seriousness. A movie where the world in which the characters live is fully formed (something that I think is rarer than we’ll admit). I don’t have much to say about this film other than that it is wonderful, and horrifying, and sad for reasons you could never anticipate when you first begin watching.