Inauthenticity can come in a variety of forms. Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, which she and Anne Rosellini adapted from a Daniel Woodrell novel, bends over backward to convince us that its portrait of life in an Ozarks community blighted by poverty, drugs and brutality is the documentary truth. But the picture is as phony as a three-dollar bill.
It’s unlikely that the rest of 2010 will turn up another movie as astonishing as Vincere, by 70-year-old Italian director Marco Bellocchio. It’s a historical drama that covers the rise of Benito Mussolini from his beginnings as a socialist in the days before World War I. But the protagonist isn’t Il Duce; it’s his mistress, Ida Dalser.
The modest Irish picture The Eclipse has slipped below almost everyone’s radar; it’s moving quietly across the country in brief art-house engagements. This contemporary ghost story about loneliness and connection is worthy of attention.
Set in rural Louisiana, Udayan Prasad’s tender, affecting road picture The Yellow Handkerchief combines a coming-of-age narrative with the tale of a man driven to seek the salvation he believes he no longer deserves.
Director Martin Scorsese goes for broke in Shutter Island. The style is a particularly gaudy brand of expressionism. The production design is dominated by dried-blood reds and smeary browns. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is more radically underlit than the old Universal monster pictures from the early 1930s. But the movie is a fiasco.
The Young Victoria, a chronicle of Queen Victoria’s early days on the English throne, avoids all the historical-epic pitfalls. It’s a trim, robust film whose period-piece trappings—sumptuous production and costume design—never threaten to overwhelm the human interaction or muddy the dramatic arc.
The title of Scott Cooper’s debut film, Crazy Heart, comes from a song by the movie’s protagonist, a country singer named Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges). At 57, Bad is an alcoholic and is shut down artistically, but he’s still working the road and hanging on. The song alludes to picking up his crazy heart and giving it one more try.
Spike Jonze’s film of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, substitutes pop psychology for Sendak’s exuberant, anarchic vision of childhood. Sendak’s hero is a boy named Max who’s sent to bed when his high spirits turn the corner into aggressiveness. He finds his room transformed into a jungle inhabited by savage creatures who make him their king.
Set in early 1960s London, An Education is a coming-of-age film about a sharp-witted teenager who falls in love with a man in his thirties. The world he unveils for her is glamorous, cultivated and illicit. It represents an education, but one very different from the Oxford education she had been striving for.
The title of Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia equalizes its two plots: there is one about how Julia Child came to publish Mastering the Art of French Cooking and thereby alter the American palate, and there is one about Julie Powell’s efforts four decades later to cook her way through Child’s cookbook. But in truth these stories aren’t remotely on the same footing.
The sweet and thrilling Pixar animated feature Up is a paean to the possibilities that remain in a life shadowed by loss and disappointment. It’s about resurrecting buried dreams and using the judgment acquired over a lifetime to modify those dreams.
The romantic drama Two Lovers is the perfect small movie. James Gray and his co-writer, Ric Menello, were inspired by Dostoevsky’s short story “White Nights” and especially by the exquisite 1957 movie version by Luchino Visconti.
The entrancing animated feature Coraline, faithfully adapted by Henry Selick from Neil Gaiman’s marvelous children’s novel, is an Alice in Wonderland story. The feisty, sharp-witted Coraline (voiced by today’s busiest child actor, Dakota Fanning) finds an alternate world behind a locked door in her apartment building.
Working at the top of his game as both a filmmaker and an actor’s director, Ron Howard has converted one of the most intriguing media events of the late 1970s—David Frost’s TV interviews with Richard Nixon three years after Nixon resigned as president—into memorable drama.