Reverse Shot’s Two Cents of 2010

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youwillmeet.jpgHey, That’s Filmmaking Award: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
When a critic working at a major newspaper calls a very much not comedic or farcical or romantic Woody Allen movie like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger “a highbrow romantic farce, without the laughs,” you have to feel that the culture at large is in trouble. Tall Dark Stranger has some chuckles, yet its brisk pace and breezy tone are not employed to create mirth, but rather to help crush it as the film’s group of deluded protagonists all head for similarly miserable ends. That trade rag bobos whine “the movie ends just when the complications start” suggests they continue to be less interested in examining the intents of the film that they actually watched than their own preconceived notions of what movies should and should not do. Dark Stranger isn’t a great film, but it’s resoundingly solid—well made and performed, featuring a focused perspective on how humans behave (one that enters into a complicated dialogue with Whatever Works, should one choose to go there), and several terrific scenes. You know, the stuff that movies are made of. Funny that: Allen’s always been a filmmaker who knows how to actually make movies, and aside from a few obvious whiffs (Anything Else, I’m looking at you) his career batting average is more than respectable. Not that you’d know it from reading his reviews. Each time Clint Eastwood steps up to the plate everyone rolls out the hosannas because he’s still upright, but the Woodman’s only five years younger, and I’d favorably stack his last half-decade of output against Clint’s. In fact, a bold prediction: twenty years hence when we look back on the Woody Allen filmography (who knows, maybe he’ll pull an Oliveira on us and be still going) his 2005-2010 period, with You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger nicely capping its continued grappling with fate and destiny, will look like one of his more fecund and robust. Scoop included, haters. —Jeff Reichert

Most Endangered Species: The Hollywood Actress
It’s bad enough that older actresses are forced to scavenge for decent roles on cable, but when the adorable Reese Witherspoon and the glowing Anne Hathaway (not to mention Jennifer Connelly, Maria Bello, Tina Fey and countless others) are stranded in stink then things are very bad indeed. 2010 spawned even more examples of the gaggingly named bromance (Due Date, Grown Ups), a genre seemingly written by, and designed to celebrate, men whose interests and intellects have stalled in junior high. Meanwhile their female counterparts gamely took on Twitter-ized dialogue, limp beaux, infantile plots and retrograde sexual politics, spending most of their time deflecting vulgar one-liners from obese male sidekicks. (And when the only way to get people talking about your movie is to flash enough skin to land an EW cover story, it’s time to reassess.) Faced with ever-dwindling opportunities for quality employment, younger actresses may have to follow their elders to TV—which, come to think of it, could have its consolations. Have we ever enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow more than when she shook up Glee? —Jeannette Catsoulis

phillipmorrisewan.jpg2010 Leading Man MVP: Ewan McGregor
Some of us have been swooning over sweet-faced Ewan McGregor for well over a decade. While we once were charmed by his impish twinkle, that mischievous grin that endeared us completely to characters who were less than traditionally noble (druggies, thieves, and self-involved glam rockers, for three), now that McGregor has graduated to what, in movie-star terms, some might expect to be his dotage (he’s turning forty this March), he’s making us weaker in the knees than ever. In two movies released in 2010 in the U.S., Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s I Love You Phillip Morris, McGregor reminded us not only of his effortless charisma but also his canny ability to create layers in what on the page are little more than, in the former, Everyman, and in the latter, Mr. Nice Guy. As both title characters—the unnamed “ghost” in Polanski’s film and Jim Carrey’s sweet-as-pie innocent love interest Phillip Morris—he’s both a blank slate and an open book; never to settle for passivity, McGregor zeroes in on their weaknesses (paranoia in Ghost Writer and, conversely, trust, in I Love You Philip Morris) so tightly and self-effacingly that we can’t help but root for his liberation in both. And in the beautiful and ballsy Phillip Morris, a McGregor scene for the ages: standing in the kitchen, basically a lonely, bored housewife, plied with all sorts of riches by his con man lover, he unwraps one brand-name chocolate after another, and reads each piece of foil, printed with a trite homily, with clear-eyed curiosity. Some are met with a goofy grin and rewarded with a prime spot on the fridge; those that displease go in the trash. With that perfectly McGregor-ish mix of satire and earnestness, he makes us want to be dreamers as well. —Michael Koresky

2010 Cameo MVP: Eli Wallach
I still remember seeing 2006’s The Holiday—the one where Cameron Diaz romanced an orange-looking Jude Law while swapping homes with Kate Winslet—and worrying that it would be the last time that we saw that peerless character actor Eli Wallach onscreen. Fortunately, the 86-year-old has subsequently had his own ideas about extending his legacy. Wallach was terrific in two 2010 releases: first as a gnarled financial titan prophesying ruin in the (underrated) Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps and then as an archetypally Polanskian nosy neighbor in The Ghost Writer. Both performances illustrate the difference between an actor merely being cast for his iconic properties and his rising energetically to the occasion. —Adam Nayman

portuguese.jpgBut What About . . . Eugene Green?
Exactly five years ago, ReverseBlog’s robbiefreeling guided me to the “singular, unique, troubling, soothing, very-much-here netherworld” that is Eugene Green’s cinema. The blog post was apropos of a comprehensive 2006 showcase at Anthology Film Archives that featured mesmerizing shorts like Le nom du feu and was crowned by the ambitious Le Pont des Arts, nothing short of a masterpiece. Quietly, Green returned to Anthology this year (born in New York, he's been a French citizen for years) in the form of The Portuguese Nun, a less immediately thrilling but no less sui generis work, and few seemed to care. But Green's style (full of direct address, anally precise diction, and grand old art references) is so anticommercial and frankly weird—despite the recurring attractive actors and prepossessing cinematography—that option-bloated city audiences can't be blamed. Add to the style the plot—a French actress (Leonor Baldaque) wanders around Lisbon, happening on multiple full-length fado performances, while starring in an adaptation of Guilleragues’s Letters of a Portuguese Nun—and it’s not shocking that this charmer went unbuzzed about. But if we still did our “But What About?” section, I’d pitch this. My 2 Cents: find the English-subtitled DVD. —Justin Stewart

Worst Cinematography: The King’s Speech
In what must have been a desperate attempt to avoid being tagged with the dreaded “British cinema of quality” stamp, director Tom Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen devised a visual approach that makes their quaint period piece about King George VI’s overcoming a speech impediment on the eve of World War II seem like it was co-directed by Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. No disorienting technique is spared: overemphatic wide-angle lenses, even distorting fish-eye; huge expanses of empty space with actors pushed “artfully” waaaay to the corner of the frame; dramatic low angles; ghoulish lighting that makes interiors seem cavernous and faces appear cadaverous. As a piece of awards bait, the film is mostly innocuous (even with its odd glossing over of history, especially the royal family’s dubious slow response to Hitler), but its over-baked, over-dramatic overall design speaks to a distrust of its own narrative material—and makes for a fairly hideous couple of hours at the movies to boot. It’s clear now, in this age of aggressively stylized prestige pics, that all the flack that the venerable Merchant Ivory received for years was due more to a lack of imagination on the part of the audience rather than the filmmakers. The King’s Speech’s ghastly pallor and absurdly unmotivated framing (which are so noticeable it'll probably win an Oscar) had me longing for the robustly quiet compositions of The Remains of the Day. —MK

teza.jpgThe “Oh, Right, That Came Out This Year and Thanks for Reminding Me, Armond White” Award: Teza
It wasn’t until I scanned Armond White’s annual, hilarious “Better Than” column that I was reminded that Haile Gerima’s superlative epic Teza squeaked onto screens in 2010, two years after I was lucky enough to see it at the Toronto Film Festival. Following an Ethiopian doctor who returns home from studies in Germany full of hope at the potential of a new Marxist regime, only to have those hopes crushed in the face of what evolves into a military junta, Teza’s fragmented narrative, which jumps between Germany of the sixties and Ethiopia of the seventies and regularly lapses into dreamlike fugues, reminds of Gerima’s classic Harvest: 3000 Years, with its similar disjunctions and attempts to reconcile cinematic mythmaking with traditionally African storytelling. While I don’t know if it’s better than White Material per se (as suggested by Armond), I think it’s at least as good as Denis’s film, and is in some ways more vital as it comes from a filmmaking voice we’ve heard less from of late, and from a continent from which any terrific cinematic issuance should be treasured. Thanks, Armond, for reminding me. The career of Charles Burnett (a fellow student at UCLA) has recently seen a revival; I nominate Gerima to be next in line. —JR

Best Movie Moment: Watching Mariano Llinas’s Historias extraordinarias at Lincoln Center with a bunch of teenagers who had no idea what the fuck they were watching
For the unaware: Historias extraordinarias is a four-hour-plus DV-shot meta-narrative mystery epic from Argentina that follows three characters (inscrutably named X, Z, and H) whose storylines zig and zag, twist and turn, but never intersect. The film relies on narration over dialogue for almost its entire length, and it took some kind of inspired madness to make it (for only $50,000!). You can be sure it would’ve landed high on our list of 2010’s best had it been given more than one screening during NYC’s Latinbeat (hint, hint distributors). It’s a terrific film, but what some poor Spanish teacher in New Jersey thought he or she was doing by sending a few dozen young teenagers into Manhattan on a Friday night to see it is beyond me. The group texted and whispered throughout, and complained during the intermissions (we overheard many on their cell phones: “Mom, no, I swear the movie is still going”). So, why is this a great moment? During the second intermission, after hours of the oddball narrative (featuring mysterious exploding ruins, a lion in a shed, a troubled voyeur potentially unlocking the secrets to a major crime, and much, much more) had unspooled, the kids mostly evaporated. Except one. The boy’s neighbor, a middle-aged nurse from Puerto Rico (who, as she perceptively explained to another patron during the first intermission, was enjoying the film due to how much it reminded her of the telenovelas she watched when she was young—Historias is broken down into easily digestible chapters and is similarly populated with cliffhangers and wildly unexpected plot twists) turned to him and asked, “What are you still doing here? All your friends look like they went home.” The kid responded, “Yeah, that’s okay. I just like watching this.” Maybe some of the kids are all right, and there’s hope for movies yet. —JR

Most Unexpectedly Moving Finale: True Grit
After No Country for Old Men’s apocalyptic intensity and the unsettling spiritual freefall of A Serious Man, it’s tempting to see the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit as comparatively tame and unambitious. Sure, murder and mayhem abound in Joel and Ethan’s Wild West, but it appears contained by a more conventionally satisfying story than the prior films’ increasingly implosive and ambiguous narratives. Yet a rich sadness hums just beneath the surface, and it’s revealed most affectingly in the film’s brief coda. (Spoilers ahead.) Decades have passed since Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) avenged her father’s death with the help of boozy marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges). Now, Mattie, a 40-year-old spinster with an amputated arm (played as an adult by the great Elizabeth Marvel), travels to the Wild West show where Rooster now performs to pay him a visit. Her sojourn unexpectedly ends at a nearby cemetery, where she reminisces in voiceover about Cogburn and her quest for vengeance. Shot in simple, stark compositions—the most striking being the final image of a black-clad Mattie walking away from the camera over a wind-swept field, the horizon line cutting across her defiantly upright figure—these brief scenes quietly shift Mattie’s revenge from hearty triumph to sustaining memory, a moment of heroism that imbues a bitterly hard life with a bit of meaning. True Grit shares No Country and A Serious Man’s terrified vision of a potentially rudderless universe, but this time the reaction is not one of horror. Like its no-nonsense heroine, the film sees the world’s cruelty but accepts it with a steady gaze and a heart not yet devoid of faith. “Time just gets away from us,” Mattie sighs as the plaintive strains of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” surge: a simple and sobering truth. Yet where they might have heard within this sentiment the rumble of a dirge, the Coens instead find the brisk melancholy of a country hymn, carried by the breeze over the long and lonesome plains. —Matt Connolly

Best Comic Book Adaptation: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
What film nerds who stick their nose up at comic book nerds (a phenomenon that is frankly baffling, but this isn’t the time or the place) don’t realize is that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World may have been one of the most cinematic films this year, a tornado of obsessively detailed, aesthetically electrifying youthful energy. While I can’t deny that we have all been burned by limp, lazy comic adaptations in the past, Edgar Wright has taken the spirit of Brian Lee O’Malley’s source material and reimagined it as a complete, original film in its own right, featuring a smart, distinctly contemporary barrage of playful jokes, video game interjections, and smugness-free pop-culture references. So its relationship politics are simplistic, its protagonist an oblivious man child, and style is perhaps more of a concern than substance. So what? These quirks aren’t an accident, but in fact the point; it isn’t just the flashy lights and fast cutting that make Scott Pilgrim so evocative of a generation, but the lighthearted yet uncomfortably truthful reflection of modern romance that anchors it. The film is a far more inventive depiction of the apathy, self-involvement, and emotional retardation of North American twentysomethings than any Joe Swanberg movie, and—I cannot stress this enough—a lot more fun to watch. Anyone who skipped Scott Pilgrim under the assumption that a comic adaptation is incapable of cinematic intelligence or that the potential for video-game reference maxed out with Street Fighter, take the time to reconsider. —Farihah Zaman

dogtooth.jpgBest Ending: Dogtooth
Giorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth didn’t quite make it on our top-ten list, but it was one of the year’s most singular films, like Bruno Dumont meditating on language cognition. That’s more exciting than it sounds: Dogtooth is a mightily disturbing film about, variously, faith, parenting, and social control. It’s intriguingly framed and edited and remarkably acted throughout (with the actors hitting just a few crucial beats), but it’s that ending that sold it. Without spoiling, one of three really sheltered, grown kids finally decides to see what the world outside her house is all about, and takes matters into her own hands, literally. The outcome is ambiguous, yet its implications are not, and the imagery accompanying it has haunted me ever since. What’s most upsetting, finally, about Dogtooth is its simplicity: despite the narrative’s reliance on obscurantism and the vagaries of human connection, this is finally a heartrendingly universal tale of the quest for freedom. By any means necessary. —MK

Worst Ending: Paranormal Activity 2
Note to producers: What made the first film so petrifying was the not knowing. Where did the demon come from? Why did it choose to haunt Katie? How did that crumpled, burned photo get in the attic? Where did Katie go after slaughtering her husband? Well, all those mysteries are solved, and then some, over the course of the well-plotted but disappointingly expository sequel to the 2009 sensation. Paranormal Activity 2, following some well-timed jumps and nicely elongated silences, culminates in such a way that at once answers outstanding questions and leaves things open for another sequel—not to mention punches holes in the first film’s logic (spoilers: if Katie had been possessed to move on to wreak havoc at her sister’s home immediately after leaving hers, her actions caught on surveillance camera, would the first film have ended with a note testifying that no one knows where Katie went?). Sure, this was no fiasco along the lines of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (one of my favorite titles to type), but is this really what the audience wanted? The last thing one should feel when leaving a horror movie is tidiness. Paranormal Activity was hard to shake. Paranormal Activity 2 was a mere shrug. —MK

Most Unexpectedly Luscious: Ne change rien
From the filmmaker who brought us the slums of Lisbon in the massive Colossal Youth comes a luxurious black-and-white look at French chanteuse Jeanne Balibar’s musical career? Maybe this award should have been called the “Whodathunkit,” but a bigger surprise than Ne change rien existing at all is that Pedro Costa’s stark, minimal style fits his subject like a crushed velvet glove. No film this year had as controlled an aesthetic, built around so few elements (heavy chiaroscuro lighting, little camera movement, extended takes) that still felt enveloping, and oddly for Costa, inviting. Whatever you may think about Balibar as a singer, Costa gives her a terrific showcase for her voice and perhaps an even more terrific showcase for his own skill at imagemaking. —JR

unstoppable.jpgPhat Tony Award: Unstoppable
Though I’m surely not a convert to the Church of Tony Scott like my Cinema Scope colleagues Mark Peranson and Christoph Huber—whose 2006 defense of Ridley’s excitable younger brother is the stuff of legend—I had to admit that there was something going on in Unstoppable. Its rapidly encroaching runaway locomotive might have been the year’s best purely visual metaphor: an out-of-control behemoth aimed at troubled blue-collar heroes Denzel Washington and Chris Pine. That they ultimately retaliate by resolving to run the thing down—outpacing their anxieties, as it were—made Unstoppable something more than the sum of its (endlessly) moving parts. And while I’m less certain about Scott’s usage of hyperbolic (yet scarcely exaggerated) TV news coverage as a kind idiot Greek chorus, the brief scenes of a Hooters crowd desperately caught up in the unfolding action on the screen-within-the-screen seemed laced with affection rather than contempt. —AN

The “We Should Have Reviewed This” Award: The Anchorage
Given that nobody around here gets paid a cent for anything, we can only cover so much of the film world at large. Sadly, we didn’t get to say anything about The Anchorage, a nifty feature by Anders Erdström and C. W. Winter that Dennis Lim tipped us off to in his excellent New York Times piece about the new worldwide turn to docu-fictional cinema (or “Heterodox” as New York’s Cinema Eye honors nicely dub this work). The Anchorage shows little more than an elderly woman (Ulla Erdström’s, the filmmaker’s grandmother) living life on a small Swedish island, bathing, shopping, cooking, and generally maintaining her life. What elevates it are repeated shots of a hunter wandering the woods as seen through her home’s massive glass windows that portend the abrupt late-film turn towards a mini-thriller; the filmmakers are clearly playing with notion of things that are and are not worthy of being in movies, while still ensuring we feel empathy, tension and release—the same as if we were watching some factory-produced star vehicle. The slight change in Ulla’s life represented by the final shot has a sadness to it that’s almost unbearable. This a terrific little movie, just ask Michael Cera the next time you run into him—he sat behind me when I caught it at Anthology. —JR

motherandchild2.jpgMost Overlooked Performance: Kerry Washington in Mother and Child
Though occasionally strained in its emotional telegraphing, and marred by a glibness of dialogue, Rodrigo García’s drama, barely noticed upon its release last spring, is a fine, novelistic work of gently crisscrossing lives that deserved far more attention. About the only praise it seems to have drummed up amidst year-end hoopla was for Annette Bening’s performance, and furthermore merely as an addendum to her performance in The Kids Are All Right. Bening’s adequate in the movie (unsurprisingly she overplays the frigid routine once again, although she ultimately locates reservoirs of genuine feeling), but it’s Kerry Washington who helps it achieve something close to transcendence, especially in its final reel. As Lucy, a Los Angeles baker desperate to adopt a child but perhaps not emotionally ready, Washington is a wonder: she inhabits her role with a casual, invisible style, yet there’s a lifetime of need and regret transmitted in every line, even for someone so young. In a film full of full-throttle feelings, few scenes were more gripping than those between Washington and angry potential surrogate mom Leticia (Lisa Gay Hamilton), encounters which rattle the fabric of Lucy’s upwardly mobile life. Washington has been remarkable, even chameleonic, in films for a decade now, ever since her naturalistic debut in 2000’s documentary-like Our Song; it’s time for everyone to start remembering her name. —MK

Best Cameo: Daft Punk (TRON: Legacy)
In the pixellated parallel dimension known as “the Grid,” there is a nightclub. (Of course there is—where else would computer programs let off steam?) This particular one is run by Michael Sheen, channeling Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element (because the makers, after long deliberation, will have insisted that Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element is definitely the performance everyone wanted to see again). But I digress, because eclipsing Sheen are French electro-popsters Daft Punk spinning the wheels, complete with signature très cool cyber-helmets to preserve their anonymity. Bonjour! Cameos always give films an extra touch of class, but in order to get it absolutely right, you need to tick some boxes. Try to make über-nerd elements of your typical audience feel clever for spotting it. Cast the musician(s) who did the soundtrack (no question this is a nod to Peckinpah’s casting of Bob Dylan in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid). Puncture the po-faced tone of your semi-serious narrative with a huge jarring wink at the audience—they love that (Ted Danson in Saving Private Ryan comes to mind). Oh, and don’t make it too subtle, overdo it a bit—say, why not make them change the record for the big fight scene? But what really makes this perfect is the symmetry. Daft Punk’s turgid score for this expensive videogame starring an avatar of Jeff Bridges is a colossal come down for an erstwhile credible music act—and even though we can’t see their faces, they deserve to have their own silly avatars stamped all over it. —Julien Allen

shutter-island-ben-kingsley.jpgMost Effective Way to Torpedo an Already Shaky Climax: word games
[spoilers] I found the latest thrillers from old hands Scorsese and Polanski both thoroughly entertaining and masterfully atmospheric. But as both wore on, their flaws became louder and harder to ignore. Close to the end of Shutter Island, I saw it moving towards the same “Is nothing real?” revelation that concludes Robert Cormier's YA classic, I Am the Cheese. That didn’t thrill me, but when Ben Kingsley spun that chalkboard around to reveal to Leo his name’s anagram trickery, a tiny part of me perished. And The Ghost Writer’s grossly facile revelation about a CIA agent’s controlling of her Brit Prime Minister husband comes in the form of a sentence acronym, a code which Ewan McGregor cracks at the launch party for the PM's memoirs, the original manuscript of which holds the “beginnings” clues. It’s like if Rosemary's Baby had ended right after Rosemary solved the Scrabble anagram. Great films generally don’t climax at book launch parties, and they don’t hinge on glorified Boggle sessions. —JS

Scariest Performance: Harrison Ford in Morning Glory
By this point, Harrison Ford’s patented scowl has gone past ingratiating, past irascible, heck, it’s even gone past pathological. Now, it’s just . . . unsettling. Especially when it’s lassoed for the centerpiece of what’s intended as a good-natured romantic comedy. True, Ford’s terrifying, unhinged death stare isn’t the only element that weighs down Roger Michell’s leaden paean to the idiocy of twenty-first-century media (there’s also the film’s tireless inability to make any sort of cogent point about its chosen milieu), but it certainly doesn’t help the film’s effervescence factor. In Morning Glory, as Dan Rather–inspired anchorman Mike Pomeroy, Ford overplays the cantankerous card to such a degree (teeth gnashing, lip quivering, vocal growling) that during a supposedly whimsical “hunting” scene, I fully expected him to shoot a bloody hole through Rachel McAdams’s perky producer right then and there. This isn’t a case of an actor giving a lightweight film edge, or hampering it with a tonal imbalance—this is a severe miscalculation, both on the part of the filmmakers and the actor, resulting in one of the most awkward experiences I had in a movie this year. Ford was once a witty, even versatile, comic actor (he melts persuasively for Melanie Griffith in Working Girl), but these days he looks like he’d rather be catching young folks in elaborately designed death traps. Makers of Saw VIII, you have your new Jigsaw. —MK

Best Fight Scene: The Jeon Do-yeon vs. Jesus Prison Cage Match in Secret Sunshine
When recently evangelized grieving mother Shin-ae (Jeon) decides to put her Christian money where her mouth is and head to prison to forgive the man who killed her young son, she’s filled with pious energy. When she arrives to find the killer sanguine in the face of his own forgiveness by God (he recently converted as well), her face gradually falls, her eyes well up, and she’s left repeating his phrases, unable to believe that her God would steal away her husband, son, and now her own power to exercise her faith the way she wants. In this short sequence Jeon captures the second or third total collapse of Shin-ae’s worldview in Secret Sunshine all in her face. No punches are exchanged, no blood is drawn, but one poor soul’s left battered on the floor. Standing above it are Jeon and resurrected master Lee Chang-dong, who gave us one of the year’s very best, most empathetic films. —JR

Best Action Sequence: Let Me In
When Cloverfield director Matt Reeves decided to do an English-language overhaul of the kiddie-vampire cult hit Let the Right One In, genre fans everywhere were up in arms. What was the purpose? Was it homage or American arrogance? The ethics involved did indeed seem murky, but in the end the film made barely a dent in the box office anyhow. Flawed, but underrated all the same, Let Me In, despite having a distinctly American feel not found in its predecessor, is essentially a shot-for-shot remake, with one major exception. Casually embedded in the middle of the film is a car crash sequence of immense technical and artistic achievement; a slow motion single-shot from inside the car as Richard Jenkins brutally botches a kill for his vampire love, then reverses and turns over into a snow bank for an impossibly long moment of breathtaking suspension. Noticeably inspired by the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski, the scene is elegant and elegiac, magically creating feelings of actual, physical attenuation, nausea, disorientation, and wonder. It is unnerving and exhilarating, a lovely, perfect moment that makes the bloated Inception, with its ridiculously repeated shot of a van falling for forty minutes, seem like it is trying way too hard. —FZ

Best Shimmy ’n’ Shake: Andrew Garfield in The Social Network
It’s basically a throwaway. Monomaniacal mind ablaze with the ideas that will soon coalesce into Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) enters a droopy “Caribbean night” dance at Harvard’s Jewish fraternity looking for friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Eduardo—decked out in a gaudy Hawaiian print shirt and a beachcomber hat as vertical as his gravity-defying coiffure—spots Mark near the door and begins to move toward him. Rather than stride over, however, Eduardo steps in time to the limp house mix (complete with wikkedy-wikkedy-wa DJ scratches and languid steel drums). He continues to get his groove on as he approaches Mark, splaying his arms in a “who me?” pose while bopping his head and shoulders in time to the music’s stutter-step rhythms. And then there’s the face: wide-eyed and mouth half agape, a priceless look of faux “party time” doofiness. As performed by Garfield, it’s a delightful non sequitur. But given The Social Network’s relentless pace, stormy tone, and torrents of rat-a-tat-tat verbiage, Eduardo’s silent shuffle (captured by director David Fincher in a leisurely pan) feels like some kind of goofy grace note. It’s a poignant reminder that, for all its zeitgeist-y sheen, The Social Network is also about the dissolution of a friendship, one whose specific rhythms—Eduardo prying Mark out of his techno-shell; Mark staring back with a mixture of begrudging affection and barely contained annoyance—are captured in this single image. Eduardo will soon be shooting daggers across a conference table at his former business partner and friend, Hawaiian prints traded in for chilly three-piece suits. In this moment, however, he’s just a tipsy college sophomore, hoping that his buddy will crack a smile. —MC

nutcracker.jpgWorst 3-D: The Nutcracker
The future is now! Or, rather, it’s lacquered on to Andrei Konchalovsky’s testicle-in-mouth-insane crowd-repeller, which was finished way back in 2007 (with a lot of funding from a Russian state bank) but went wisely untouched by distributors, until, that is, its tireless auteur raised enough money to get it rebooted in 3-D. That’s when Freestyle Releasing must have smelled gold in this Tchaikovsky-goes-to-Treblinka folly, a decades-in-gestation dream project for a director who must have been mowing down lines of naysayers for years with as much passion as the film’s Hitler-meets-Rod-Stewart Rat King—played by, naturally, John Turturro—desecrates mountains of children’s toys (its climactic doll holocaust would give Toy Story 3’s tot-scarring precipice-of-hell denouement a run for its money). I’m glad he didn’t give up, though—otherwise we wouldn’t have had this cracked nut for the ages, with one misguided head-slapping decision after another: Nathan Lane as Uncle Albert Einstein (truly), singing about the theory of relativity to the tune of “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”; a rattling, CGI nutcracker puppet that looks like a sub-Benigni Pinocchio and sounds a lot more like creepy British actress Shirley Henderson than the human boy it occasionally transforms into; a Rastafarian toy doll turned teenager whose head is easily yanked off when he’s not grinningly playing his drums; the casting of the director’s wife in twin roles (as the mother and, of course, the Snow Fairy), both of which are dubbed by a groggy-sounding American actress. But the greatest offense of all is the haphazard use of the technology itself: there have been some shoddy post-postproduction 3-D hack jobs (Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland just this year), but this one takes the fruitcake. Not just murky and grim-looking, the film actually has the appearance of alternately sagging and puffing up in indiscriminate places, so in one scene, little Elle Fanning’s face looks misshapen and disproportionate: an eye protruding like a bread bubble on a pizza, a mouth receding into darkness. I can’t say it’s not an appropriate way to watch this mess, though. So, for posterity’s sake: Oh my God, you have to see The Nutcracker . . . in 3-D! —MK

frozen.jpgLeast-Expectedly Effective Horror Scenario: Frozen
The trailer made viewers giggle. It’s unlikely the movie itself would. Like any horror flick worth its salt, Adam Green’s forgotten Frozen is about the unfortunate mutilation of beautiful, healthy young bodies. Yet in this case, rather than simply sit back and watch it happen, helplessly and gleefully (as in, most glaringly, the Saw films, which make you passive viewers to falsely mounted “moral traps” they never escape from), we are invited to participate in a plausible, “what would you do?” scenario. Call it the most disturbing feature-length Mentos commercial ever: after Emma Bell, Shawn Ashmore, and Kevin Zegers trick a ski-lift operator to let them on for one last ride before nightfall, they are left stranded together above the treetops not only overnight but also at the start of a weeklong vacation for which the whole mountain is shutting down. Possible solutions run through viewers’ heads, but the filmmakers have predicted them all in advance. Why don’t you just jump and ski down the mountain? Check. Just grab a wire and shimmy your way to the nearest pole? Gotcha covered. Oh, and did we mention the hungry wolves below? Refreshingly, it’s not a faux-whimsical whirly-gig contraption movie like the Final Destination films, but instead a frighteningly focused, maddeningly sensorial little movie that more effectively casts mother nature as villain than a hundred dumb hurricane movies. —MK

Keeping It in Second Gear Award for Underachievement in Filmmaking: The Duplass Brothers
Cyrus may have been a step forward in budget level and awareness (and, sadly, grosses), but it certainly was a step back from Baghead (itself only a meager advance over their debut) in terms of filmmaking chops, putting the brothers right back where they started, if now possessing of first-look deals and better agents. If you ever thought while watching The Puffy Chair, “Huh, I wonder what this would look like if they spent a few million more dollars on it?” here’s your answer. Cyrus would have been unwatchable had it not been for Marisa Tomei, and I’m personally surprised none of the staff stepped up to offer it into consideration for our 11 Offenses column. Maybe they knew better, and stayed away. —JR

Most Boring British Film: Made in Dagenham
The King’s Speech was a close second, but an even more fish-in-the-barrel topic for an award-angling prestige pic than a royal royally yet wittily triumphing over a major emotional and physical obstacle on the eve of a world war belonged to this sub–late-nineties-Miramax dramedy by the director of, yes, Calendar Girls, a period piece gutsy enough to advocate for equal pay for women in late sixties England. The birds in question, on strike from the Ford automotive plant in Dagenham, have to contend with brooding, unsupportive husbands; their own self-worth; chauvinist corporate heads; and eye-searing yellow frocks. Will Sally Hawkins’s reluctant strike leader overcome her shyness and help rally her friends to action? Will she and her fellow comrades get their financial due? Will she and her husband patch up their marital woes? Will music swell on the soundtrack? Will there be a closing list of credits? Will the lights come back up in the theater? Will Saturday follow Friday? Will the sun rise again in the morning? Will this article end with an em-dash followed by my initials? —MK

tinyfurniture.jpgBest BFFs: Rhys Ifans in Greenberg and Jemima Kirke in Tiny Furniture
Though separated by 20 years, 3,000 miles, and a Y chromosome, the emotionally adrift hipster heroes of Noah Baumbach and Lena Dunham’s seriocomic character studies have in common not only a mutual sense of nameless disaffection but also a vividly drawn compatriot with whom they share it. Well, “share” is a rather mild way to describe the ceaseless stream of misanthropic commentary that Ben Stiller’s Roger Greenberg launches at Ifans’s Ivan Schrank, a longtime friend and former bandmate who regards Roger with a delicate mix of affection and resentment. An aura of faded dreams hanging about his mop-toped head, Ivan sees through Roger’s self-important tirades yet recognizes the disappointment that fuels them. Ifans’s poignantly understated performance lets us know that there is someone worth salvaging under Roger’s layers of toxic self-pity, even as he reveals the damage that this poisonous self-regard can cause (watch his crestfallen expression when Roger forgets the name of Ivan’s young son). “Toxic” also comes to mind when Aura (Dunham) first lays eyes on Kirke’s Charlotte, a dissolute wild child and adolescent playmate whom Aura reconnects with upon moving back to her mother’s SoHo loft post-college. Like the Roger/Ivan relationship in reverse, we wonder what Aura sees in Charlotte, with her wild mane of dirty blonde hair and seemingly endless supply of hot-mess-chic ensembles. The short answer is that she’s a hoot. Kirke gives every line the knowingly slurry spin of someone at once amused and bored by any situation. But Kirke knows just when to reveal Charlotte’s specific brand of caring; rarely would an invitation to take some Ambien and watch Picnic at Hanging Rock sounded so genuinely well-intentioned. And just as Ifans’s nuanced mixture of fondness and exasperation adds further context and shading to Stiller’s performance, Kirke’s gleeful debauchment reveals a refreshing playfulness in the often-contained Dunham. Bringing the best out in others while shining brightly themselves: funny how good friends and good supporting actors have a strangely similar job description. —MC

Most Stacked Deck
In the whimsical, unwatchable romantic comic fantasy When in Rome, Kristen Bell retrieves five coins from a fountain, each of which had been tossed in by a different man. They all fall instantly for her, as though contaminated by a love potion. Then she must choose between them. Here are her options: a talentless, preening artist portrayed by a dutch-boy–haired Will Arnett; a grotesque, self-involved male model embodied by the decidedly un-model-faced Dax Shepard; a fey, Doug Henning-ish magician with an overbite played by Napoleon Dynamite himself; Danny DeVito; and . . . gorgeous, well-to-do, effortlessly charming, six-foot-three former athlete Josh Duhamel. How will it end? How will it end? —MK

Best Montages: The Social Network
The Social Network may or may not be the best film of the year, but at the very least one can’t argue with its craft. Nowhere is this more evident in the film’s early montage in which a young, drunk and spurned Mark Zuckerberg plants the seeds that would lead to the creation of Facebook by starting a website called Facemash in which two photos of girls are placed side-by-side so that viewers can vote on which they found more attractive. Fincher intercuts Zuckerberg’s drunken programming binge (framed as the nerdo equivalent of the beefing-up training sequences from more conventionally masculine films) with an evening at one of the school’s elite social clubs in which hottt girls are literally bused in to drink, smoke, and make out with a pack of rich douchebags in matching ties and blazers. Rich douchebags with whom, the film posits, Zuckerberg desperately wanted to be friends. Fincher’s carefully choreographed, floating camera movements coupled with Trent Reznor’s hypnotically ambient score certainly suggest a level of heightened unreality—is this perhaps just all in Zuckerberg’s head? That there is some ambiguity (and, it should be noted, huge entertainment) in what is usually the hoariest of big studio constructions is a testament to the fact that someone was paying attention to things like, oh, shots and how they go together when the movie was made. Honorable mention for the construction of the gonzo England-set rowing sequence—not quite a montage but evincing plenty of montage-y chops (as per Eisenstein’s definition). —JR

Best Montages, Runner-Up: Vincere
Marco Bellocchio kicked his Mussolini epic Vincere off with a bang—gritty archival footage, huge intertitles, lots of loud, operatic music, chronology shuffling, capital-A acting all chopped into bits and spliced back together in unexpected ways. It’s ingeniously constructed, exhilarating, and perhaps a tad empty, though your face might have melted, preventing you from noticing. Unfortunately, this only lasts for 20 or so minutes before the film descends into an almost von Trier-esque slog through the increasing indignations wrought upon Giovanna Mezzogiorno’s slender frame; and Vincere continues to push Mezzogiorno further and further, as if her face and body must carry the torch for the aesthetic fireworks of the film’s open. She gives one of the year’s best performances, and this winnowing of focus to match her increasing isolation from Il Duce and history at large is somewhat the point of the film (ironically titled “Victory”), but the proceedings still feel a bit thin and draining after a rocket blast of an opening (and perhaps a mite unfair to Mezzogiorno—the act she has to follow is a hard one). Maybe the Italian master could have used a dose of cinematic Viagra? Or perhaps he should have cut his losses and given us the best experimental narrative short of the year. —JR

Most Gratuitous CGI: (tie) Alice in Wonderland and The Social Network
Yes, I know, how could I even mention Fincher’s elegantly crafted amorality drama in the same breath as Burton’s visually vomitous fiasco? But speaking of breath, that digitally enhanced “winter chill air” emanating uselessly from Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield’s mouths was the most unnecessary and cheap-looking effect in the career of a director who usually chooses his CGI battles with aplomb. Sometimes, David, you just have to stop. In its own way, it was as distracting as the worst effect in of Alice in Wonderland, a film full of stunningly bad ones: Johnny Depp’s computer generated little jig near the end, in which his legs spasm in all directions like the tentacles of a tap-dancing octopus while his upper torso and head remain perfectly straightforward. Judging by the reactions of the Mad Hatter’s Wonderland friends, this was supposed to be charming. It wasn’t—just some Disney “imagineer”’s lazy Saturday morning punch-in before brunch. —MK

fatherofmychildren2.jpgBest Love Letter to the Movies: The Father of My Children
Movies find a multitude of ways to comment upon themselves. But after six months of people telling me that Inception wasn't about dreams, but, like, was really about filmmaking, I appreciated Mia Hansen-Løve’s unpretentious ode to the art and business of the moving image all the more. The first half of The Father of My Children is among the most clear-eyed depictions of the independent film realm in recent memory, portraying the wheelings and dealings of producer Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) with an impeccable eye for detail: the megalomaniacal auteurs, the jaded production hands, the constant state of simmering chaos. This is the nuts-and-bolts work of getting a movie produced, and Hansen-Løve is unsentimental when it comes to how Grégoire’s cinephilic ardor can be sharper than his business acumen. Indeed, cinema’s labor intensive and financially draining aspects remain at the forefront of the film once circumstances change and Grégoire’s wife, Sylvia (Chiara Caselli), must try to extricate the production company from its morass of debt. Yet film somehow retains its capacity for wonder within The Father of My Children, as when Grégoire’s daughter Clémence (the beguiling Alice de Lencquesaing), seeking solace and insight, finds both in the darkness of a revival house. Throughout, Hansen-Løve balances these complementary visions of cinema with an emotional acuity that reminds us that the best movies-about-movies don’t just consider the art form, but become examples of its limitless potential. —MC

The Annual Alfred Molina Award for Overacting: Winona Ryder in Black Swan
We actually root for Winona Ryder. We await a valid comeback. As the cast aside prima ballerina Beth, however, Ryder hasn't found it. Whether it's the endlessly clunky dialogue ("Did you suck his cock?" she accuses while tipsily clutching a wine glass), the kooky scenarios ("I'm nothing! I'm nothing!" she screams while stabbing her own face with a nail file), or just a case of miscasting, Ryder just isn’t quite right, and she tries to overcome a bad role fit by seriously overcompensating. Outsized, sub-De Palma trash just isn't her thing, I guess; but damned if she doesn't try to make it work. And it must be considered some sort of feat to be the most over-the-top in a film featuring those performances by Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Mila Kunis. —MK

Best Supporting Player: Anthology Film Archives
As a journal, we try as much as possible to push past the fact that most of our writers live in cities, preferring not to rub our worldwide readership’s noses in the fact that we often get access to more and better movies than those in fly-over country (though this dynamic is shifting dramatically). I bring up New York’s venerable Anthology Film Archives here not for its service to the city in which it’s based, but to film culture as a whole. Always a home for the best of the avant-garde, if it weren’t for their giving week-long runs to “unreleasable” films like Ne change rien, The Portuguese Nun, The Anchorage, and our #7 film of the year, Our Beloved Month of August, we wouldn’t have been able to write about them here (fingers crossed for a week on Historias extraordinarias). Hopefully the many, many of you reading from outside NYC will take our advice and search for these movies, and hopefully Anthology won’t stop doing what theaters are supposed to do: seek out the best films and share them with audiences. —JR

Silliest Animal: The metaphorical deer in A Prophet
Runner-up: Ben Affleck's beard at the end of The Town

A Conversation Between Reverse Shot Editors Over Lunch While Discussing the Year In Film
JR: Well, what else was good about 2010?
MK: I dunno. Not much.
JR: Wait . . . did Ridley Scott make a film this year?
MK: No! That’s something to be thankful for.
[Contemplative munching. Minutes pass.]
MK: (slaps JR’s arm) Robin Hood! He made Robin Hood!
JR: I completely forgot about that. Ah, well.
MK: There’s always 2011.