a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Best movie picks

Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfield in "True Grit."  (Lorey Sebastian/Paramount Pictures)

It would appear that my selections for the five best 2010 movies involved directors who put an incredible new spin on tried and true storylines.

1. "True Grit"

Call me a sucker for a good Western adventure film. Consider me an even bigger fan of the Coen brothers. Ethan and Joel Coen have veered away from producing cutting-edge movies to give their audience a look at how they can deliver a traditional story as good or better than what has been typical of Hollywood. The brilliant camera angles in this adaption of the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles Portis, combined with a quirky and tender script, were so spellbinding that it's easy to forget in the dark this movie has been done before starring John Wayne. Fresh off of his starring role in 2009's praised "Crazy Heart" Jeff Bridges has once again proven he could embody the character of a washed up drunk in his role as Rooster Cogburn, the federal marshal a young girl hired to avenge the murder of her father. Matt Damon delivered a great performance, too, and was nearly unrecognizable as a bumbling Texas bounty hunter. Actress Hailee Steinfield should get an Oscar nomination for having pulled off so convincingly the 14-year-old character of Mattie Ross, who accompanied Cogburn on the quest to capture or slay her father's killer. This movie became a classic out of the gate.

2.  "Winter's Bone"

Director Debra Granik delivered this story about hillbillies so convincingly that I walked away from this bizarre movie thinking she must have grown up poor and in the same Appalachian hills that encircle my hometown in southwestern Pennsylvania. It wasn't until several minutes into the movie that I realized lead actress Jennifer Lawrence in her role as Ree Dolly was playing the older sister of two young children searching for their father rather than the child bride of a much-old redneck who had walked out of their lives. This movie delivered a startling new twist on the traditional story of a damsel in distress faced with losing her homestead to a local sheriff armed a foreclosure notice. Dolly came up in a culture of violent people in the Ozarks, bullies and killers who operated crystal meth labs, and her hero didn't wear white clothes and ride into her life on a white horse. No. Those folks solved their problems with whispers and retaliation.

3. "Black Swan"

This movie has been showing up on every best movie list leading into the Jan. 25 Oscar nominations. It showed up here because of its raw creativity. Director Darren Aronofsky certainly put a wicked, new spin on a star being born, or better yet, having gone through one of the strangest metamorphosis every recorded on film. Natalie Portman starred as Nina Sayers, a crazy good-girl ballerina with what appeared to have been a Morgellons itch while out to prove to her director she could become the blackest swan ever on stage. This movie left me spinning as if somehow I had been on same stage with her as she developed those tragic dark feathers.

4. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Actress Noomi Rapace delivered an incredible performance as a young, bisexual Goth computer hacker with just the right talents to help an older disgraced male journalist solve the 40-year disappearance or murder of the beloved niece of a filthy rich dude. This thriller involving a serial killer who might even creep out Hannibal Lecter was based on the best-selling novel by Stieg Larsson. It spawned a movie with a seemingly never ending number of twists and turns that somehow were stitched together cohesively by director Niels Arden Opley.

5. "Alice in Wonderland"

Actress Helena Bonham Carter, if you could imagine, upstaged the outrageous Johnny Depp in this story of a grown up Alice who returned to Wonderland to save it from the evil grips of the Red Queen. Bonham - as that royal highness without a heart and an over-sized forehead - rested her feet on a pig and stole Tweedledee and Tweedledum in a story for all audiences. Hey. I am not one who made a habit of going to see children's movies, but this one by Director Tim Burton really was truly magical.

Honorable mentions:

Everyone has been raving about "The Social Network," which exposed the story that made Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg a billionaire. I, too, loved the movie, and have enjoyed an off-and-on love affair with Zuckerberg's social networking website. "I Love You Phillip Morris" - the late-bloomer starring Jim Carrey - also stood out in the pack of movies released last year. Carrey portrayed Steven Russell in a unbelievably true story about a guy who decided to tell the truth to his wife that he was gay after surviving a terrible car crash. It seemed that was the only time the guy ever told the truth in his life.

Every great story typically has involved main characters who were still likable despite their shortcomings. That's why these two movies didn't make the list, above. It's nearly impossible to walk away from a theater liking Zuckerberg in a movie that depicted him screwing over his friends to make money. Meanwhile, Russell ended up serving life in prison for being a liar, scam-artist and thief who simply hurt too many people who loved him. That character was just too incorrigible to like even a little bit.

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