Movie-wise, 2010 was one of my favorites in recent memory, with many standout, thrilling new images appearing in films by old directors I love, new directors discovered that I admire, and directors that I had previously written off stepping up to their respective games (David O. Russell, I am looking at you, sir). Most of all, 2010 has been a year of constantly pleasant surprises for me, watching performers that I had never truly gotten into soar into new and exciting territory, please see Amy Adams and Christian Bale in my favorite scene of The Fighter or Natalie Portman in Black Swan to illuminate this point. Heading into high Oscar season, its always been a favorite custom of mine to dutifully consider the films that have come and gone over the past year, and hand out my own awards.
For me, this is the most wonderful time of the year, it’s the time where critics across the land put everything that’s gone on in the dark into perspective and order it into “Best Of” lists. We go revisit what – and who – we loved, we thoughtfully scrutinize the calls we’ve made throughout the year, the details and textures of the films at hand, and we finally catch up on those indies that fly under the radar and often elude us. Some of us sit around and watch screeners, but most of us are forced to slog it out in the theater and have to actually pay for the privilege of reviewing the latest releases. It’s tough to make sense of it all, and very hard work to provide fair and balanced coverage with these impediments, but with this year-end look back, I try in earnest to reconstruct what I think were the best of what 2010’s contenders had to offer in all of the major awards categories with as little Hollywood bullshit, publicity team spin, or Oscar-season hoo-ha as possible. That is not my world and I don’t care if I am a part of it or not.
My world is academia, feminist activism, cinephilia and cinema, and that is what the following choices reflect for readers and movie-goers who I think are looking for an onscreen experience that is anything but ordinary. The following lists are for those who have an adventurous mind for movies, and for those who feel most gratified cheering for the underdog or the under-appreciated.
To begin my assessment of the year of film 2010, I will offer you up a riddle: whats black and white and blue all over? The answer is, of course, my top three films of the year.
Best Picture/Top Twenty Films
1. Black Swan
2. Blue Valentine
3. White Material
4. Another Year
5. The Fighter
7. Mother and Child
8. Winter’s Bone
10. Please Give
11. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
12. A Prophet
13. I Am Love
16. Fish Tank
17. The Ghost Writer
18. The Social Network
20. Shutter Island
Best Supporting Actress
Best Supporting Actress has always been my favorite category for awards because of how unpredictable it can be. You have hard-working character actresses like Maureen Stapleton (Reds) winning awards and stalwarts like Thelma Ritter and Agnes Moorehead collecting nominations throughout their careers with ease. There are also the daffy young ingenues who sweep in from nowhere, pulling voters heartstrings and tickling their funny bones, only to walk away with top honors (think Geena Davis in The Accidental Tourist or Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny). In this category you frequently find leading ladies demoted to the supporting category as a strategy to take out the weaker competition (Jessica Lange in Tootsie, Marcia Gay Harden in Pollock, and Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind) and young ladies in leading roles being demoted to the “lesser” category because of their age (Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker and Tatum O’Neill in Paper Moon). Age is one factor that is broad in this category, which favors mature dames (Peggy Ashcroft [A Passage to India], Maggie Smith [California Suite] and Judi Dench [Shakespeare in Love) and babes in the woods (Anna Paquin [The Piano], to the impossibly nubile (Dorothy Malone [Written on the Wind], Angelina Jolie [Girl, Interrupted]). It’s a wild, wild category where anything can happen, and where the most surprises actually do happen.
Supporting Actress is also the category where Oscar and I disagree the most. I find the Academy’s slate to often be very uninspired, very buzzy-boring, and very expected (with the notable recent exception of Mo’Nique’s win last year for Precious, that is). This year I expect only two of my own choices to match up with the final five nominees come nominations morning, and coincidentally, I interviewed both of these amazing women earlier in the year as a part of PopMatters’ Essential Performances series: Melissa Leo, who is being touted for The Fighter), and Jacki Weaver, who is being recognized for her stunning work in Animal Kingdom. Leo and Weaver have pretty much wiped the floor with the competition and I have no doubt that one of these brash, blonde, semi-monstrous mamas will go on to eventually take the trophy.
If I were a betting man, I would put money on Leo, simply because she is a well-known American actress with a previous Oscar nomination (for Best Actress in Frozen River) doing career-best, scene-stealing character work in a film that everyone will see and everyone will love, whereas Weaver is in a dark, Aussie indie and plays an outright villain. Leo’s co-star Amy Adams, in a shocking change of pace role that she pulls off flawlessly, is their only major threat but as I see it, both veteran actresses are brilliant and tough industry survivors, and both are due in many ways. So you will hear no complaints from me when one of them eventually ascends to the podium to collect a little gold, bald, naked man.
However, wouldn’t it be lovely in a year where nearly every outlet is bemoaning the dearth of notable roles for women of color – in a year that is being called “The Year of the Actress, no less – for one of the cast members of the misunderstood, overly-vilified For Colored Girls to get some mainstream traction in this race? Tyler Perry is a divisive director and is widely hated by (mostly-male, mostly-white, mostly-older, mostly-straight) film critics, yet his smash successes with audiences proves there is an eager audience out there responding to what he has to say positively, and not giving two shits what some old white dude thinks. Though For Colored Girls has many problems, the women in the film should not be discounted. Phylicia Rashad, better known in certain circles as the iconic Mrs. Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show, impressed me so much with her command of the source material’s poetic language, and the shaded, mysterious delivery of her character Gilda’s lines. Loretta Devine finally gets a role that suits her flair for fusing comedy and drama, while co-stars Kimberly Elise and Thandie Newton, once so great together in Jonathan Demme’s Beloved, again fire on all cylinders in roles that are very different from anything else either had done in the past. Newton’s floozy Tangie is like Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie the Cat, oozing sex in a silk slip, and by way of Harlem, while Elise evokes memories of a volcanic young Cicely Tyson.