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» Hollywood Chicago Film Feature: The 10 Best Films of 2010, Part Two

by Patrick McDonald, Senior Staff Writer, published on December 30, 2010 - 7:14am

CHICAGO – On the heels of HollywoodChicago.com’s 10 Best Films of 2010 by Brian Tallerico and Top Overlooked Films of 2010 by Matt Fagerholm, I offer the 10 Best Films of 2010, Part Two, by Patrick McDonald.

It’s hard to compare years. Moods, attitudes and experiences dictates so much of how choices are made, interacting with the particular cinema art of the year. But 2010, with a few exceptions, in general didn’t have the excitement of other years. The risks were less risky, the unusual narratives hard to find. The film business is just that, a business, and with so much changing so fast there will continue be more decisions coming from the marketing department and less from the creative one.

However, the 10 Best moves on, and the list is below. Since I begin with a film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Oscars (but not released in Chicago until this year), here are a list of 2010 releases that easily could have filled that 10th place: “Blue Valentine,” “Animal Kingdom,’ “Tangled,” “Cyrus,” “The Next Three Days,” “Secretariat,” “Howl,” “The Ghost Writer,” “Another Year,” “Somewhere,” “Hereafter” and “True Grit.”

On the bus while I give the Chicago Film Tour, I always tell the fellow travelers that the best film ever made is the their personal favorite film of all time. In that spirit, I present the 10 Best Films of 2010, as favored by Patrick McDonald.

10. A Prophet

An amazing document, with so many textures and layers, it probably can be absorbed several times and still communicate its power. Director Jacques Audiard builds the story slowly, about a young Arab man who is imprisoned, but learns to work within the natural rivalries, between the Corsicans and the Muslims. What dawns on the viewer is that the prison becomes a natural metaphor for geopolitics and power, and the conclusion evolves toward the direction the world is naturally going.

The grittiness of dirty incarceration and the machinations of survival are well represented in this absolutely engrossing narrative. The older power base fades away so effectively that the new power hardly acknowledges it. Sound familiar?

HIGHLIGHT: Tahar Rahim’s performance as the young Arab named Malik is a revelation and perfectly frames the complex action.

9. Kites

This is the type of film that I like to call the “movie” of movies. There is so much pleasurable eye candy in this basic Romeo-and-Juliet doomed lovers tale that it feels like 3-D. Anurag Basu, the writer and director, turns up the volume on hip-hop dance, action sequences, strange characters and weird comedy. The lead actors, Bárbara Mori and Hrithik Roshan, are truthfully beautiful, and there is even symbolic use of water as baptismal cleansing.

This is a film that a cinema buff really appreciates –- something that opens the eyes and keeps them wide. With Kites, the strain hurts so good.

HIGHLIGHT: A Quentin Tarantino-esque gun stand-off in a cheap Western town tourist trap. Where’s The Bride?

8. How Do You Know

Writer/Director James L. Brooks still has his signature perspective in overdrive with “How Do You Know,” which is basically a question trying to be answered by each of the main characters. What I loved about this was the adult way it handled the timing of relationships, as in it’s easy to fall in love, harder to do it at the right time. Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson play a love triangle in the most unusual sense. Owen Wilson in particular takes his movie persona and creates a deeper interpretation that plays like real life. Overseeing the proceedings is Jack Nicholson (as Rudd’s father), reveling in showing off his chops by making a morally questionable man palatable.

The same energy and character arcs that made “Terms of Endearment” so pleasurable are present in “How Do You Know,” a film not afraid to use a bus as a symbol for life’s journeys.

HIGHLIGHT: Right in the beginning of the film, there is some advice given to Paul Rudd from “above,” appropriately.

7. Get Low

It’s a quiet film, filled with observations and confessions, culminating in a elderly man’s funeral that he insists happen while he is still alive. Veteran Robert Duvall plays the old coot, based on a true legend from the 1930s. He enlists a small town funeral director (Bill Murray), who acts like a witty Greek chorus throughout the scheme, and later finds redemption himself. The pleasure in this film is watching the veteran actors (including Sissy Spacek) play the nuances of a literary screenplay by director Aaron Schneider. There are some sharp and funny bon mots, especially from Bill Murray, who clearly enjoys creating the character.

As the “1970s” generation of actors start to fade, it’s encouraging to see a film that uses them to maximum purpose, communicating a powerful love and truth.

HIGHLIGHT: Robert Duvall’s machinations in a new-fangled 1930s radio station.

6. Inception

It is a testament to director Christopher Nolan’s credibility that he uses the “Dark Knight” power to produce a true artistic expression. Using all the gadgets of modern filmmaking, Nolan created a kaleidoscope of imaginative imagery, forged through a complex story about levels of dream states. All the young supporting cast (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard) are so earnest, that I hardly noticed that the story was sometimes cumbersome. Leonardo DiCaprio, in his second film of the year that is inside someone’s mind, leads the way in passionately bringing the story to light.

The levels of the dreams become almost unimportant, it is just enough to sit and admire the audacious visuals while observing another step in the evolution of filmmaking.

HIGHLIGHT: Mesmerizing moments like the slow motion plunge of a common vehicle.

5. Alice in Wonderland

The decisions that filmmaker Tim Burton made in re-imagining yet another classic story this time paid off. In this version, the character of Alice doesn’t go to Wonderland as a child, but later as a young adult, just before she is about to be set up in a marriage she doesn’t want. Taught by her father to live by a basic principal (co-opted from Alice’s original author, Lewis Carroll), to think of six impossible things before breakfast, this Alice becomes a savior and a symbol of female empowerment. The visual sense melds perfectly with the surreal story, and even a retrofitted 3-D doesn’t diminish the proceedings. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter is gratefully a background character, and in that way adds spice rather than distracts.

The best films start with the script, and Alice has a doozy, which follows through on the precepts and concepts of Wonderland, and allows Alice to journey exactly where she needs to go, in her own timing, through the looking glass.

HIGHLIGHT: You’ll believe that a girl can ride a dog.

4. Chloe

Somewhat dismissed upon release, this scintillating psychological thriller is a showcase for famed director Atom Egoyan (”The Sweet Hereafter”) and his stellar cast (Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson). This is a cat-and-mouse game, with Seyfried playing a prostitute named Chloe, who may be manipulating time and space in a featureless town to garner the attention of Moore’s indecisive wife character. The characters are all secretive and all alive, gaining more confidence as Chloe seeks to siphon their strength away. Egoyan’s moral universe is always immersive and indulgent, and although Chloe leaves more questions than answers, the mirror that Egoyan holds up reflects the ambiguities of post millennial angst.

There was a particular rhythm that was slightly off-kilter, leading to the conclusion that despite its murkiness, somehow made perfect sense. Another great piece of cinema from Atom Egoyan.

HIGHLIGHT: The butterfly shaped comb.

3. Shutter Island

The great Martin Scorsese proves that he hasn’t lost a step in spinning intrigue, using go-to guy Leonardo DiCaprio in an almost sadistic way. Leo plays Teddy, an investigator assigned to a mysterious mental institution on a remote east coast island. What happens to him seems predestined and collapses upon him until he becomes the hunted. The supporting cast is sublime, starting with Mark Ruffalo as Teddy’s “partner,” down to the ageless Max von Sydow as a mad doctor. There are two characters named Rachel here, played by Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer, and they are both vitally mysterious.

This is monumental cinema from the now-veteran master, constructed with care in the bright light of 24 frames per second. What do you want to do tonight, Marty?

HIGHLIGHT: The addition of intentional errors in editing, mirroring paranoid delusion, which pretty much defines movie storytelling in general.

2. The American

Nothing more than a hitman picture, nothing less than an allegory that defines our very nature, “The American” hits all the notes with a musicality that echoes long after its final percussive coda. George Clooney is a hitman named Jack, in exile in a small town in Italy. He is hoping that this might be his final assignment, given to him by a mysterious facilitator named Pavel (Johan Leysen). Throughout the narrative, Jack meticulously builds a weapon, which is assumed to be the instrument of whatever demise emerges from it. The film can be interpreted as an afterlife weigh station, or a scenic romp through the depressive nature of murderers. Either way, like the weapon, it manufactures itself piece by piece through the direction of Anton Corbijn.

Clooney tends to play these “serious” characters the same, which was distracting throughout the story. But it is the journey that is the focus here, desperate to the end, ready to go to the next realm.

HIGHLIGHT: Weapons of mass illusion.

The Big 1. Black Swan

This was more than just a movie, it was an emotionally felt experience. Director Darren Aronofsky stays on the same themes as his previous film “The Wrestler” – that the specific skills it takes to practice the art (be it ballet or wrestling) may be too much for the physical or psychological human being. Natalie Portman has a career-defining role as a ballet dancer named Nina who lands the part of a lifetime, if only she can hold her life together long enough to execute it. The ballet is Swan Lake, which contains themes of duality that challenges Nina’s sanity and talent.

The way the film builds is its strength, culminating in an operatic climax that viscerally feels the moment. Her triumphs and downfall are shared, perceived right through the nerve endings to the edge of the seat. Transcendent.

HIGHLIGHT: The anticipation and finally, the emergence of the Black Swan.

Source: www.hollywoodchicago.com

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