Michael Caine turns crime fighter or widowed vigilante in "Harry Brown."
Scene from "Exit Through the Gift Shop."
By Marlon Wallace
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on what your sensibilities are, when I write about the best movies of the year, remakes and sequels typically don't make the cut. Normally, I go for films that deal with unique, provocative, or controversial topics. Or else, I go for films that tackle regular topics but in unique, provocative or just plain cool ways.
The problem is that there isn't a market for unique, provocative, or controversial films. So far, 2010 has shown the market is for 3-D cartoons and pretty much 3-D cartoons only. The first couple of months of 2010 was Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, but the spring season was all about Shrek and Toy Story 3.
The major movie theaters have become places where parents take their children to occupy them for an afternoon. The multiplexes and their mainstream fare are no better than Chuck E. Cheese. While Chuck E. Cheese can be fun, the pizza you eat there is not going to win any prizes, except maybe at Nickelodeon's Kids Choice Awards.
Multiplexes can also be a diversion for teens as the Twilight Saga demonstrates, but the question becomes where do adults go for their cinematic entertainment, if movie theaters only cater to the young crowd. I suppose we grown-ups have NetFlix, Redbox and video-on-demand via cable television or Internet, and I suppose they're working.
Last year, I noted how record stores were closing down or how big box stores were reducing the space of their CD shelves, all thanks to Amazon and iTunes. A similar thing is potentially happening with DVDs, both in sales and rentals. On Saturday, April 24th, I was feeling bored, so I decided to swing by Blockbuster Video on Route 10 in Dover to browse and maybe borrow some home movies. Imagine my surprise when I drove there and found it no longer existed.
That one store wasn't alone. The Blockbuster Video stores in north Salisbury closed. The Movie Gallery stores in Delmar and Easton also shut their doors permanently. This after, the Hollywood Video chain filed for bankruptcy. Cable and Internet provide easier, faster and more diverse content, so it makes sense the brick-and-mortar places are disappearing.
The Schwartz Center in Dover ended its film series this June, so from now on feature films will not be shown there. The Rehoboth Beach Film Society cancelled its Arthouse theater. Those were two venues that adults could go to see adult movies. Now, they're gone.
Don't get me wrong. I love NetFlix and video-on-demand, but I'm old school. I feel like movies should be seen in theaters and not just the 3-D ones. Living on Delmarva, the only place now to see adult movies, and I mean dramas, foreign films, documentaries, and indie alternatives, is a hour or so away in either Washington, DC or Philadelphia.
Of all my complaints though, I will say that out of the ten films I list as the best movies of 2010... so far, half of them I did manage to see in a Delmarva theater. Most, however, are titles that never got a chance in rural or suburban America. Yet, it doesn't matter where these movies play, how much money they made, how expensive they weren't or how many explosions they didn't have, these movies ARE the best.
HARRY BROWN - Michael Caine turns crime fighter or widowed vigilante in this British "dark knight" tale minus the cape and mask. He may not be the most agile in his old age, but Caine displays strength and suffering better than most actors. In his first feature film, Daniel Barber directs a darker and more gritty Gran Torino.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP - A Frenchman named Thierry Guetta starts out making a documentary about British and European graffiti artists. He obsesses over one particular graffiti artist named Banksy. After a while, Banksy decides to turn things around, aim the camera at Guetta, and make a documentary on the original documentarian. While it's not mean-spirited, rarely is a movie made where the filmmaker doesn't like the person being filmed.
THE GHOST WRITER - Oscar winner Roman Polanski directs a modern-day Chinatown that comments on the actions of a British prime minister, loosley inspired by Tony Blair. Polanski also perhaps accomplishes what no other filmmaker has accomplished. He made this movie while under arrest for a crime he committed 30 years ago.
EASIER WITH PRACTICE - Brian Geraghty from The Hurt Locker stars in this film adapted from a GQ article by Davy Rothbart about a young writer on a book tour who gets involved with a woman who he has never met and never will meet.
MOTHER AND CHILD - Three women's lives intersect as each question their ability to be mothers in this power and heartbreaking drama. Moving performances from Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington buttress this well-written and well-directed piece.
YOUTH IN REVOLT - Michael Cera from Superbad and Arrested Development does double duty as he plays Nick Twisp and his alter ego Francois Dillinger. Nick vies for the affection of Sheeni, a girl he meets in a very religious mobile home park. The first half of this film is built on wicked one-liners, delivered slyly and always sardonically. Yet, the absurdity does take over in the first, cool comedy of 2010.
THE RUNAWAYS - This is the story of Joan Jett and Cherie Curie who were the two main forces behind the 1970s all-girl rock group called "The Runaways." It's not just another Hollywood music biopic. Executive produced by the real Joan Jett and based on the book by the real Cherie Currie, this film is an eye-opening look into these young girls' lives as they crash into the wild world of rock music and features compelling and bold acting.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON - This animated film starts off with Zombieland-style narration and sensibility, as it tells the story of Hiccup, a young Viking in a Harry Potter-like, dragon-slaying school. This well-written tales shows that people can be hurt and suffer serious scars, but a little understanding from others can go a long way.
CITY ISLAND - Andy Garcia stars as Vince Rizzo, a corrections officer from the Bronx who has secrets that upend his family. Much credit and praise go to Oscar-nominated director and writer Raymond De Felitta, and all the actors for making all the conflicts and confrontations highly entertaining. Yes, they were over-the-top, but managed to inject heartfelt feelings as well as a nice, streaming sense of humor.
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID - Comparisons to the black comedy Welcome to the Dollhouse might not be that far-fetched. Director Thor Freudenthal's movie is mostly slapstick, or a series of embarassments for the main character who reminded me of a young Fred Savage from The Wonder Years even as his character became arrogant and whiny. The film, even in one moment, was like Charlie Brown meets Glee.
SITA SINGS THE BLUES - Nina Paley animates her love life while also giving life to the Ramayana in a way that I'm sure no American has ever seen. The controversy around this movie in terms of copyright and distribution has been hard fought, but this April, the film got an Oscar-qualifying run, and hopefully will get its due come award season.
PEACOCK - Cillian Murphy plays a man whose life is threatened once its learned that a mysterious woman is living in his house. With supporting performances from Ellen Page and Susan Sarandon, this is a quietly thrilling yet curious film that is very well-acted by Murphy. Sadly, it only got a direct-to-DVD release, but I won't hold that against it.