As the year sinks slowly in the west, I realize that for me the movie year pretty much is over. When I turn in this week’s reviews, the only thing left for me to review this year is Little Fockers. (Assuming Justin Souther isn’t knocked down by a bus, I have no intention of sitting through Gulliver’s Travels.) So far as I know at this point, there’s nothing opening locally on Dec. 31 and the next new movie we’re slated for is Season of the Witch on Jan. 7. (How depressing is that?) What’s mostly left for me this year is shuffling things around for my Ten Best list. I think I may need the time this year, which has been a peculiar one in a number of ways.
One of the strangest things about 2010 is that it didn’t start in the usual manner, which is to say we didn’t begin with the usual dead of winter crapfests. Two of the year’s best films of the year—Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer—came out in February and March respectively. (I expect at least one reader to challenge one of those titles.)That’s unusual—and I suspect it’s played havoc with their chances for awards and best of lists, owing to them not being on the tip of everyone’s brain. (Don’t kid yourself, critics and Oscar voters are both subject to memory loss, the allure of the new and the stigma attached to movies that appear in the winter.) Usually, all we can hope for in terms of good movies early in the year in the provinces are the limited release art film titles that finally filter down to us.
It wasn’t until January, for instance, that we finally got to see Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces. And since the distributor didn’t think it worth their while to send out a screener or set up a screening of it, it didn’t make my Ten Best list. It would have, but it’s considered a 2009 film and is out of bounds for inclusion this year. (Oddly, The Secret in Their Eyes, which only played in New York City and Los Angeles—and which snagged the Best Foreign Language Oscar for 2009—does qualify for consideration this year. because its 2009 release was so limited.) This has happened time and time again. The Hours (2002) missed my list for exactly the same reason. It’s almost a given that something like this happens.
What’s unusual in 2010 is that there’s not all that much of note that won’t have made it to the hinterlands by Christmas Day. Once True Grit, The King’s Speech and I Love You, Phillip Morris open, that’s about it. The goodie bag is all but empty. Oh, there are a few things yet to show up. We have yet to be graced with Nigel Cole’s Made in Dagenham, Mike Leigh’s Another Year, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful, John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole, Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture, Derek Cinafrance’s Blue Valentine and Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. I’ve seen the first four and will have seen the last three before finalizing my Ten Best list. I was not blown away by the ones I saw, though one will be on my honorable mention list. I am skeptical that the last three are going to change anything.
People who have been following the award season releases may be surprised to see one obvious omission among the titles—Julie Taymor’s The Tempest. Well, the big city reviews were generally so blistering and audience response so tepid that Touchstone pulled it from contender status. It was not only removed from a list of potential critic screenings in Atlanta, it was suggested that the film may never play as far out as Atlanta. Last I knew there were no plans to release it there, which means there are certainly no plans to book it into Asheville.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I am seriously bummed by this development. Julie Taymor’s Titus (1999) is nothing short of a masterpiece, and I’d say the same for her Beatles movie Across the Universe (2007). I’m less thrilled by her Frida (2002), though my problems with it are almost entirely script-based, which lists no less than four writers and that number swells to five if we believe Edward Norton’s claims of having improved the screenplay. This left Taymor wrestling with an unwieldy, lumbering script. Visually, the film is brilliant and there are moments of directorial panache that are pure Taymor. As a result—and based on the trailer—I want to see for myself just exactly what Taymor did or did not accomplish here. It’s looking like we may not know till the DVD and that’s saddening.
In a perverse way, I also regret that Andrei Konchalovsky’s The Nutcracker in 3D didn’t make it town and probably isn’t going to. You may remember Konchalovsky. He was briefly famous for Runaway Train in 1985 and momentarily kind of a joke for Tango & Cash in 1989. So what did her serve up here? Well, it appears to be a mostly Tchaikovsky-free version of The Nutcracker rethought as a nghtmarish child’s garden of a Holocaust story—complete with stuffed animals being shoveled into furnaces. OK. To date, it has garnered 28 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes—all of which seem to be locked in a struggle to outdo each other in denouncing how awful and wrong-headed the movie is. All this and Nathan Lane as Albert Einstein and a reported $90 million budget, too. Now, come on, you mean to tell me you aren’t just a little curious?
And so the year winds down as the movies attempt to bring it to a close in a blaze of glory. Have they? Well, that’s kind of up to you. I’m still tussling with what belongs on my Ten Best list and where. For that matter, I’m still working out how I feel about the year in film overall. That, too, is unusual. What does it portend? Well, I’m working that out, too. I reckon I’ll know by the first Xpress of 2011, at which point I’ll let you know.