We start the Top 7. You finish the Top 10.
Now that the 2010 calendars have been put away, it's time to recollect an entire year of film. While the "Best Of" or "Worst Of" lists seem to be popular, I want to talk about something a little bit different - the films that were wrongfully pushed out of their deserved spotlight, and have since stayed there. While some of these movies have already faded onto DVD (or even Instant Netflix), they are all wholly recommended for some curious viewing.
7. I'm Still Here
Recap: Directed by Casey Affleck, brother of Ben, this movie tiptoed between the definition of documentary or narrative film style while people like Jeff Bayer and I had mini-breakdowns concerning how we could even discuss it. Recently “retired” actor Joaquin Phoenix is at the center of the story, as the film’s turn of events that include his departure from acting and his growing interest in a rap career, as captured by Affleck’s intimate camera. While everyone started to take sides on the debate of the film’s reality, Casey Affleck shot I’m Still Here in the foot when he admitted a week or two after the release that it was all a hoax, leaving Phoenix’s extremely dedicated portrayal of a burned out Hollywood screw up stranded, without much of a chance of defending itself as something that has the chance of being praised. Reason: The movie itself is not very solid, but Phoenix's performance takes Sacha Baron Cohen-like steps into the realm of uncertain, not just throwing a labored character up in the air, but his entire career. And with this performance, it's a movie that should be talked about more - the opening weekend "UM WTF?" tweets aren't enough. I'm Still Here is in a way more shocking than the hyped Catfish, and it's more than just a publicity stunt. Sometimes the lack of appreciation for whatever I'm Still Here is feels like it comes from resentment. Do viewers really not like being pranked that much?
Recap: Based on the book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics is a documentary that covers a whole assortment of topics, from why names may be important for careers, why the American crime rate dropped in the 1990’s, whether kids can be bribed to succeed, and more. A large group of famous documentary directors contributed to the project, with names like Morgan Spurlock, Seth Gordon, Eugene Jarecki, and Alex Gibney. Reason: The book was a decent hit on the markets, and every reader of the book that I've talked to had nothing but positive kudos to give it. So why does it feel like nobody, including those who read about the book, even knew about this movie? With its directorial power (and a very familiar name like Morgan Spurlock) and very compelling topics, it's as if Freakonomics could have reached a massive Michael Moore audience, without the controversy. The same multiplex audiences that saw something like Sicko would certainly enjoy Freakonomics, and probably more so.
Recap: Giving nearly every big budget horror movie this year a run for its money, Buried is a near one-man show starring Ryan Reynolds as a U.S contractor trapped in a coffin somewhere in Iraq. The film received a lot of pre-release buzz from its appearances at festivals like "Fantastic Fest," etc. It opened in a very limited number of theaters with an 86% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com. Reason: The phrase "thinking outside of the box" was nearly beaten to death by the reviews for Buried, but rightfully so. The film takes a gimmicky concept (man trapped in coffin, oh no) and turns it into something that does more than just prey on claustrophobia. Ryan Reynolds, Van Wilder himself, carries the movie on his shoulders, only receiving supporting help from voices on a phone (a piece of technology with the best battery life on the planet). The horror in the movie is very real, and exquisitely presents an emotion more traumatizing than fear - that of feeling completely helpless.
Recap: This art film written and directed by Sofia Coppola follows a marquee-topping action star (Stephen Dorff) as he shuffles through Los Angeles while slowly reconnecting with his young daughter (Elle Fanning). Though created by the same person who made Lost in Translation, the hype and interest for this new spatial movie appears non-existent, Top Prize from the Venice Film Festival be damned. It has made $5.7 million so far outside of America. Reason: It looks like Lost in Translation, but this Bill Murray-less movie is hardly given the same attention. While it doesn't have to win everyone over, (a 76% on RT isn't bad) Somewhere provides special performances, cinematography, and editing. Where are the kudos for all of the above? The movie hasn't finished its opening release schedule, but word of mouth doesn't seem to have happened for this one. Though it's an overall fascinating film, Somewhere remains something that has to be discovered.
3. The A-Team
Recap: The 80's action television show was given a big budget reboot this previous June with a cast that featured Liam Neeson, Sharlto Copley (District 9) Bradley Cooper, and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, following a script co-written by Skip Woods (Swordfish). Opening at #3 in the weekend box office, it came out the same week as The Karate Kid. Reason: Director Joe Carnahan was goddamn right when he said "I'm not interested in making the easy breezy 'Cover Girl' version of 'The A-Team'" back in January 2010. This is how all modern action movies should be. The A-Team doesn't screw around with its potential, and it doesn't rot its brain on its sugar high (a la a lot of similar looking movies). It doesn't care about connecting the plot dots so much as it does making said dots explode as brightly as possible, and as often as possible. The casting is great, (Liam Neeson plays another bad-ass), and the action scenes are awesomely ridiculous. Plus, there's a good kick-in-the-face to 3D thrown in the mix. It's the type of fun that The Expendables should have been. One wonders whether if The A-Team hadn't come out the same time as another 80's re-boot, The Karate Kid, maybe it would have been received in a better way. Regardless, the film provides a tankload of grade-"A" multiplex entertainment (pun awesomely intended).
2. Night Catches Us
Recap: Hot off his successful performance in The Hurt Locker, Anthony Mackie stars in this tense drama about ex-Black Panthers trying to survive in an aggressive mid-70’s Philadelphia. First time helmer Tanya Hamilton wrote and directed this film that was given a (very) limited release. Playing only in Chicago at a south side theater, the movie was possibly pushed out of the focus of both critics and general viewers (including myself) when going up against multiple new releases (some of them definite award-hopefuls) in early December. Reason: Night Catches Us is one of the most gripping movie experiences I had in 2010, due to commendable work across the board. Boiling and subsequently starting a fire like Animal Kingdom, the script of Night Catches Us is not to be underestimated, and it's one of those gifts to moviegoers that knows cliches, and how to avoid them. The plot offers a striking perspective into Black Panthers history, and a compelling saga of how hatred is itself timeless. Not for nothing, it's the debut work of a talent who is sure to provide larger-budget African American cinema with material truly more authentic and sincere than others.
1. Animal Kingdom
Recap: Crime comes home in the Australian film Animal Kingdom, a dramatic thriller about a slow imploding family of bank robbers. The film features a menacing performance by Ben Mendelson, a striking brief appearance by Guy Pearce, and even a poignant use of Air Supply. You might have heard about this one because of Jacki Weaver’s occasional nomination for “Best Supporting Actress,” but this “knockout” debut from first time writer/director David Michod deserves more attention than that. Reason: Quentin Tarantino isn't too far off when he puts Animal Kingdom at number three of his "Top 20" list for this year. The energy of this movie is incredible, due to ambitious writing and directing from Michod. All main performances leave bruises on the audience, not just Weaver's. The domestic story itself is fascinating, and the road leading up to its fantastic ending is even more so. Those who enjoyed The Town would especially enjoy something like this, a ferocious thriller that has been nearly de-clawed by "Best Of" lists and even award season nominations.