Dec 19 2010
1. The Social Network – The story of a socially-retarded Harvard teen-aged geek who screws over his best friend and a pair of very large, wealthy, well-connected blue-blooded twin brothers to create Facebook and become the world’s youngest billionaire is an epic tale that derives much of its power from the fact that it is basically true. Brilliant acting and pacing, with a script that is remarkably fair and leaves you with the impression that Mark Zuckerberg may be a poster boy for Asperger’s Syndrome but he is also the only guy in the room who could have pulled it off. The Citizen Kane of the “friend me” generation.
2. Never Let Me Go – I must confess that until a couple of weeks ago I had not heard of this brilliantly understated adaptation of Kanzuo Ishiguro’s (Remains of the Day) dystopian novel about three friends—two girls and boy–who grow up together and become romantically involved in what seems to be an idyllic English boarding school. What we, and they, gradually learn is that they are DNA-created clones whose destiny is to become vital organ donors for the citizens of a country that has convinced itself that they are not human but mere spare parts. I found it both chilling and emotionally wrenching.
3. Greenberg – Ben Stiller as a 40-something slacker who begins to realize that he is no longer young and that most of his troubles just might stem from his own immaturity and self-absorption. Like many Gen Xers wedged between the all-consuming narcissism of their boomer parents and the scary self-confidence of Gen Yers (think Mark Zuckerberg), his character is still avoiding responsibility and waiting for the big break that will never come. With the aid of a dose of healthy confrontation from his only remaining friend, an inexplicable—even to him—attraction to a ditzy but good-hearted 25-year-old blonde (played wonderfully by an actress named Greta Gerwig), and a sick dog, he begins making baby steps toward maturity. The dialogue and performances are precisely on target. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, who did The Squid and the Whale.
4. Life During Wartime – Todd Solendz’ follow-up to Happiness (1998), his dark and unforgettable masterpiece of family dysfunction on an epic scale. Many of the same characters are back although some are played by different actors but if they have spent any time in therapy it hasn’t helped. Solendz’s movies make you uncomfortable not simply because they deal with such happy subjects as pedophilia and sexual humiliation but also because you never sure whether what you’re seeing is meant to be very black humor or some sort of warped Greek tragedy. Paul Reubens, Pee Wee Herman to his fans, makes a very un-Pee Wee-like appearance as an unhappy ghost and Ally Sheedy scorches the screen with a brief turn as the prickly sister who is miserable because she “gave up her poetry” to write screenplays and now lives in a beach house in Malibu with her boy friend “Keanu.”
5. Please Give – A very New York-film about liberal guilt and waiting for the old lady next door to die so you can buy her place and knock down the wall and expand your condo. The incredible actress Elizabeth Keener plays an unhappy for no particular reason antiques dealer who with her husband buys stuff from the heirs of people who have just died (who seldom know how much its worth and just want to get rid of it quickly anyway) and resells it for a profit. Subtle and beautifully done.
6. City Island – A second-string NY Times reviewer who had apparently never heard of Moliere doomed this one with a snippy review (inspiring about 400 nasty comments on the Times web site) but I thought Andy Garcia was hysterical as a corrections officer who lives with his wife and two kids in the curiously dislocated New England fishing village at the top of the Bronx called City Island. One week he brings home a studly young prisoner on furlough ostensibly to help him build a shed in the backyard. The awfully well-behaved con is his son by a premarital relationship and although he tells the kid he doesn’t quite get around to telling his perfect wife, played by Julianna Marguiles. She is already suspicious of him sneaking out to “poker games” a couple of nights a week when, in fact, he’s taking acting lessons. Things really go farcical when she spots Andy with a pretty girl who is scene partner from acting class and decides to get even by putting some moves on the sweaty young dude in the backyard who knows what she doesn’t. Everything works out in the end, of course, and you don’t even need to know about the daughter who has dropped out of college and earning money as a pole dancer or the teenage son who likes to watch fat women eat doughnuts on the Internet. I never liked Andy Garcia in anything before this but his “audition” for Martin Scorsese is fall-down funny and I would pay money to watch Julianna Marguiles lick stamps for an hour.
7. Rabbit Hole – Familiar premise of couple torn apart by the death of a child but superb writing by David Lindsay-Abaire (who wrote the play on which it is based) and excellent performances by Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckart, Miles Teller and especially Dianne Wiest, as the Nicole character’s mother make this a memorable effort. Especially touching and well-handled is Nicole’s need to seek out and befriend the suffering teenager who couldn’t stop fast enough when her son chased his dog into the street.
8. The Kids Are All Right – Annette Benning will probably get an Oscar for her portrayal of the butch half of a lesbian couple (the other half played by Julianne Moore) who each have a child from the same sperm donor. The fun begins when the kids, now grown, and each an exact copy of their different mothers decide to track down the sperm donor, played by Mark Ruffalo, and he begins to form “fatherly” attachments to the kids. Not to mention a sexual attraction to one of the lesbian mothers. Not really a comedy although it’s listed in that category but it is educational: I don’t think I knew before that lesbians like male porn movies. I love the little Australian girl with the Polish name who plays the daughter. Somebody might want to tell Julianne Moore that maybe it’s time to start not taking her clothes off in movies.
9. Winter’s Bone – This year’s Indie darling is set among the new generation of mountain folk of the Ozarks who apparently have all traded in their elders’ moonshine stills for meth labs and are happily cooking up cheap drugs for middle Americans who enjoy being stupid and having their teeth fall out. Ree Dolly (yep, that’s the character’s name—played with enormous conviction by a young actress named Jennifer Lawrence), is a teenager with a heap of troubles. See, Pa’s gone missing and mommy ain’t regular and so the responsibility for taking care of her siblings—a girl about nine and a boy about 12—has fallen upon poor Ree. If she can’t find Pa and get him to make the back payments, or prove he’s dead and collect the insurance money, the county’s going to seize the family farm and they’ll be homeless. Her only ally is her drug-addled and not very reliable uncle, played by John Hawke, (the guy who played the shopkeeper who was sweet on Trixie the Whore in Deadwood). Turns out, Pa had been seen talking to the law and the other dealers know exactly where his remains are but are understandably not anxious for them to be found. Finally, though, the hardy women folk take pity on poor Ree and solve her problem. My problem with the film is that this is a culture I know a lot about (everybody in it looks like one of my uncles or first cousins) so the little wrong details annoyed me. For example, when she’s showing her brother how to skin a squirrel she does it all wrong and, anyway, a 12-year-boy in that culture would have skinned dozens of squirrels by that age. And the mountain mommas I know wouldn’t have taken Ree out on a nighttime boat ride so she could fish daddy up from under the big log and saw off his hands with a chainsaw to prove that he was dead. They would have sawed them off themselves and left them in a nice plastic bag on her porch. Mountain people are very neighborly that way.