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Emory’s Film Studies Faculty Pick Best Movies of 2010

Best Movies for 2010 Highlighted by Emory’s Film Studies Experts
The cinephiles in Emory University’s Department of Film and Media Studies have weighed in on the best movies of 2010 – some of them top-of-mind blockbusters and others you’ll want to hunt down and put in your Netflix queue. Expert faculty members and movie raters include film studies chair Matthew H. Bernstein, William Brown, Kevin Cryderman, Eddy Von Mueller, Michele Schreiber and James Steffen.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Walt Disney’s 1951 version is part of our cultural DNA. Tim Burton’s updated version has the advantage of 21st century computer imaging technology. Cuteness is diminished and weirdness amplified as the voices and distorted features of real actors are merged with animated bodies. Helen Bonham Carter steals the show as the Red Queen, a hydrocephalic monster with decapitation on her mind. The wonderful weirdness of Burton’s vision falters in the action-movie-inspired final act. This version does succeed on one very important level — it illustrates Lewis Carroll’s unsurpassed literary imagination with brilliantly inventive virtual characters unlike anything else we’ve seen on the big screen. (WB)

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
Shortlisted for the 2011 Oscars in the documentary category, “Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film” follows Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant obsessed with documenting street artists as they work in the middle of the night. In meta-cinematic fashion, “Exit” explores the blurry line between huckster charlatan marketing hype and the so-called ‘authentic real thing’ of artistic greatness. But that description obscures just how wildly entertaining the film is. It’s a must-see for moviegoers looking for something interesting besides the latest round of superheroes, aliens, wizards, vampires and talking animals. (KC)

INSIDE JOB is not a formally innovative documentary in the manner of Errol Morris, but it’s something even more vital: tough-minded journalism. Director Charles Ferguson does an excellent job of explaining the machinations behind the global economic crisis in a way that laymen can understand. He also looks at the pervasive culture of corruption that allowed it to happen, from the mini-industry of Wall Street hookers to the cozy relationship between too many academic economists and the institutions they purport to analyze. It was great fun watching the interview subjects squirm before the camera as Ferguson grilled them pitilessly, but you leave the film a little sad knowing that almost nothing has changed. (JS)

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Astutely co-written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko and expertly acted by Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, this film is the best adult dramedy in years. It offers a glimpse into a marriage that neither spouse realizes is fraying at the edges until a series of events forces them to reevaluate themselves and each other. The fact that the central couple are women matters only insofar as it doesn’t matter. Jules and Nic’s relationship dynamics are universal: the adherence to preordained family roles, the tension that lies just beneath the surface of their day-to-day interactions, and how an outsider throws their staid chemistry out of whack. This is not to minimize the film’s achievement in being one of the first mainstream movies to show a same-sex relationship that does not end tragically. Rather, it demonstrates that the filmmakers have enough respect for the intelligence of its audience to know that love, commitment and family do (and should) trump all. (MS)

RESTREPO
Airline pilots often describe flying as hours of boredom interrupted by moments of terror. This description clearly works for life on the frontlines in the war in Afghanistan. Restrepo shows us, in classic verite style, the boredom of camp life punctuated by the horror and desperation of live combat. Shot over a year by an embedded film crew in a remote Afghani valley, journalist Sebastian Junger (with co-director Tim Hetherington) had the courage to stay on location as shooting progressed. He clearly empathizes with the troops and has stated his support for this war. But the film reveals an Afghani populace that seems unimpressed with our presence. Soldiers glibly promise all the benefits of modernity while the Afghani’s seem interested only in what we can give them immediately. “Restrepo” depicts nation building at the point of attack. You leave admiring the soldiers but wondering about the mission. (WB)

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels is a vertiginous mash-up of aesthetic sensibilities. Despite outward appearances, the film will actually appeal much more broadly than its putative ideal spectators: Canada-loving (it is actually set, not just filmed, in Toronto), bass-playing, nerd hipsters well-versed in anime, video games and comic books. Scott (Michael Cera) must battle seven ‘evil exes’ to win the heart of Ramona Flowers. The quirky film is both funny and sweet, punctuating its whip-smart dialogue with well-timed cuts and stunning, not-meant-to-be-realistic visuals. Coordinated by famed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, there’s also some great music by the likes of Beck and two Canadian indie rockers, Broken Social Scene and Metric. (KC)

EL SECRETO DE SUS OJOS/THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
This Argentine film was a surprise win for best foreign language film at last year’s Oscars but wasn’t widely released in the U.S. until 2010. Moving back and forth between present-day and 1970s Argentina, it is one part murder mystery, one part love story, and one part snapshot of a country in the midst of significant socio-political and cultural change. It follows Benjamín (Ricardo Darin), a retired legal counselor-turned-writer who revisits a brutal rape case that he investigated 30 years ago. However, director Juan José Campanella takes this basic framework only as a starting point for this complex, tapestry-like contemplation of the nature of love, commitment, loyalty, morality, ethics and memory that is woven into the fabric of a thrilling plot-driven whodunit. Watch it now before Hollywood remakes it (planned for a 2012 release). (MS)

THE SOCIAL NETWORK
Everything you’ve heard about it is true. Aaron Sorkin’s witty, lightning quick, flashback-laden script combines with David Fincher’s precise pacing and head-on direct visual style to create an unforgettable portrait of friendships and alliances that end in betrayal and isolation. The performances, from expert “dweeb” Jesse Eisenberg (as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg) to heartthrobs Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer, and singer Justin Timberlake (as Napster meister/con man Sean Parker), are pitch-perfect. A “Citizen Kane” for the new millennium, “The Social Network,” historical inaccuracies aside, is great filmmaking, and the movie to beat come awards time. (MHB)

TANGLED
In family films, as in families, familiarity sometimes breeds contempt, and while another mass merchandised animated musical, about a princess, no less (and in 3-D!) may be impossible to overlook, it’s also easy to underestimate. “Tangled,” Disney’s new digital rendition of Rapunzel, is a standout success, with solid songs, eye-popping set pieces, the most heroic horse since “Seabiscuit,” and an indelibly awful antagonist. By far the studio’s best CGI animation to date, “Tangled” also comes off as less calculated than some of their recent films, managing to muster plenty of old-school charm and anachronistic wit, without seeming to try too hard at either. (EVM)

TRUE GRIT
Remakes are always risky, especially when the film getting the treatment is as well-known as Henry Hathaway’s 1969 coming-of-age/revenge drama. But even though Joel and Ethan Coen have dished up just as many misses as hits this millennium, their “Grit” shows them absolutely at the top of their form, in part because the boys play the material so straight. This finely tooled, beautifully shot film has the Coen’s sense of texture and timing (and occasional punctuating acts of savagery), without a hint of the duo’s trademark snark. That earnestness winds up being one of “True Grit’s” greatest strengths, alongside its superb cast — it’s a toss-up what’s more impressive: that Jeff Bridges performs his boozy take on U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn without riffing on either John Wayne or Jeff Lebowski, or that so much of his considerable thunder gets stolen by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, playing his sharp-tongued teenaged taskmaster. (EVM)

WINTER’S BONE
This second feature by director Debra Granik offers a bare-bones, no-holds-barred portrait of an America that is just barely holding on for life. The central character is 17-year-old Ree (newcomer Jennifer Lawrence), who has become the primary caretaker of her two younger siblings. Her mother has suffered a breakdown, and her drug dealing father has put up the crumbling family home as collateral for his bail. To save the house, Ree sets out to find her father – a quest challenged by each of the unsavory characters to whom she must turn for help. The film’s beauty lies in Lawrence’s exquisitely drawn performance. Her journey is revealed through her face, which shows her perpetual oscillation between hope and dismay, naïveté and maturity, and vulnerability and strength. “Winter’s Bone” is the kind of contemplative, character-driven film that makes the American independent cinema great, and revives one’s belief that this tradition is still vibrant. (MS)

“The King’s Speech” had not yet opened in Atlanta, but the buzz is extremely strong on it. See you at the movies!

2 comments Add your comment

ronald

December 23rd, 2010
10:27 am

The fact that Inception isn’t on the list is another indicator that this is clownish. How many critic’s proclaimed Inception best film of the year? I watched it twice and both times people just sat around in pleasured disbelief after the film ended. It was very moving.

Traci M

December 23rd, 2010
11:30 am

I’ve seen a lot of movies this year and Winter’s Bone gets my vote for Best Picture. The story is gripping, raw, and real. The actors look like they themselves have been living the brutal, drug-laden life of the characters they portray. The cinematography just pulls you in. The acting is superb. Jennifer Lawrence should be nominated for an Oscar. At one moment she is older and wiser than her years, in the next, you realize the weight of the world is on the shoulders only a young child. John Hawkes is just as compelling as Ree’s uncle, who fights not to get sucked in to a losing battle, then fights equally hard as to save his niece. You must see this movie.