Los Angeles magazine, March 2010
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Avatar Looming over everything else, and for all its bombast and megalomania, James Cameron’s film has courage and passion to equal the year’s most extraordinary vision.
Kathryn Bigelow They’re my alternative Oscars, and I’ll cheat if I want to: Cameron’s achievement seems as much that of a producer (the old-school Selznick sort), and it’s too soon in the career of Precious’s Lee Daniels to know if he’s carrying his actors or they’re carrying him. So I remain torn between the risk taking of Soderbergh, with two impressive yet distinct efforts, and Bigelow, whose recognition history would demand—she’d be the first woman to win—even if her daring, integrity, and talent didn’t.
The Hurt Locker
The Girlfriend Experience
Abbie Cornish More than any performance this year, Cornish’s—as the muse of John Keats—raises an already estimable film to another level.
Jeff Bridges The incarnation of a country-music legend miles past his prime and one drink short of redemption, this role caps 40 years of first-rate work by the generation’s most underrated American film actor.
Mo’Nique The slam dunk of not only this year but as far back as can be easily remembered. After 90 minutes of monstrousness as the protagonist’s mother, Mo’Nique steamrolls everything that’s come before with a final scene that subverts, if never absolves, your loathing for her that you thought was unshakable. No one who sees this movie will vote for anyone else.
Christian McKay With due acknowledgment of Christoph Waltz’s suave SS officer in Inglourious Basterds, who ultimately becomes more screwy than scary, McKay’s is the most jaw-droppingly persuasive biographical portrait—far deeper than a mere impersonation—since Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles.
Me and Orson Welles
Summer Hours It’s not that Americans won’t make movies like this, it’s that they can’t. Wired into American films—even by the exalted (Scorsese, Spielberg, Eastwood)—is a yearning for archetypes. As written by French director Olivier Assayas, this film is a swath in the lives of a family whose members defy reduction as they respond to a matriarch’s death; it feels no compulsion to tie up the loose ends that even death can’t. Runner-up: Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, the archetypal at its boldest and most vivid.
In the Loop This satire about political and military machinations to get countries into a war no one can explain—written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, director Armando Iannucci, and Tony Roche—is the only funny thing about Iraq in seven years. Watch it after The Hurt Locker, easing yourself from the claustrophobic and unbearable into the absurd (and unbearable).
Public Enemies Dante Spinotti’s camera renders John Dillinger’s ’30s at once authentic and stylized, particularly in the chiaroscuro of gunfire at midnight.
Avatar A renegade impulse wants to cite The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus’s whimsical surrealism or District 9’s South African shantytown on the galaxy’s edge. But the world of Avatar is such a complete creation from the ground up, indelible in its lyricism, that it can’t be denied.
Nine Or maybe I mean Public Enemies. Either way Colleen Atwood, who dressed both, has become the go-to woman for directors from Rob Marshall to Michael Mann to Tim Burton when they want clothes that look both sumptuous and lived in or, in the case of this film, based on Federico Fellini’s 8½, dreamed in.
The Hurt Locker Relentless and unforgiving like a bomb timed to explode in the desert, from editing power duo Chris Innis and Bob Murawski.
Star Trek From racket to whispers, a soundtrack for a popcorn picture as character driven as it is supersonic.
2012 The best case for this is its three-minute trailer, which, unburdened by the movie’s “plotting” and acting that futilely tries its best, is utterly terrifying—a tour, more harrowing than you could possibly want, of civilization’s id.
Up The animation and wit of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox are something to behold, but the populist finally opts for this one’s heart, andits first 15 minutes.
Illustration by jody hewgill