Reflecting On A Year In Movies



It's that special time of year; the Oscars are tonight! For the first time in my lifetime, it actually promises to be fun, given preview footage of Anne Hathaway and James Franco getting prepared for the gig.

I have always been a movie fan, but this past year and a bit marked a different relationship to the movies. Thanks to newfound duties in creating this website and reviewing for The 405, I have been forced to think more critically about what I watch, why I like certain films, and why others don't work for me.

It's been an interesting exercise, given that my preferred approach to reviewing is to find the positive (hence the title, The Oncoming Hope). I love movies more tenderly perhaps than I love human beings; the flaws add to the attraction; the unpredictability makes our relationship constantly exciting. My expectations are simple, and I have but one requirement: under no circumstances are you allowed to bore me. That is the ultimate sin.

2010-11 has been the year of the independent movie; even studio films adopted filmmaking conventions and pacing more commonly found in the Angelika than in the Cinemark. Independent films also became more accessible than ever before; this is the crosspollination that produced The Kids Are All Right.

2010-11 also brought highly ambitious (but flawed) auteur projects like Inception and Black Swan. While it's no secret that I am harsh on the latter, I do not regret that it exists, or that I spent time watching it (more than once even!). Both films are probably better in concept than in execution, but its a wonderful world where films of this ambition and scale are made and given tentpole placement, no matter their failures of logic or imperfect narratives.

So given the generally acceptable quality of movies this year, the dichotomy has not strictly been between "bad movies" and "good movies," but between "movies that I enjoyed" and "movies that make me glad to be a film fan." The former rarely has distinguishing characteristics, but the latter consists of performances that bring you joy to watch, or a narrative conceit that makes you wish you could be that clever. So after all the thinking, and writing, and arguing, and analyzing, I am left with one very important question. Which movies will I want to watch again two years from now, once the film exists in the dvd universe, divorced of its original hype? Which will be like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, viewed so many times that I can predict the notes in the soundtrack?

In no particular order, here are my personal standouts. There is a common theme uniting them (unintentionally), but I'll leave it to you to figure that out.

True Grit

This one brought me straight back to my childhood; it reminded me not only of the movies I loved as a kid, but also the books I loved. You know what I mean: stories of adventure, courage and pluck, where the danger is all too real, but even a young girl might find the inner strength to face up to her enemies and do what she considers right. All that and it's got a cracking script too.

Winter's Bone

This one shares a few traits with True Grit, it doesn't shy away from the horror of circumstance, but the performance of the lead adds levity and hope that stop the films from transforming into outright bleakness. Winter's Bone is definitely the darker of the two; Ree Dolly's odyssey through meth dealers and crooked policemen was born of harsh necessity, and what she finds along the way is a lot of meanness and brutality. But she doesn't lose sight of herself or her responsibility to her family, and manages to preserve herself in the process.

Easy A:

I've already written extensively about this elsewhere, but it still stands. I've already seen it at least 5 times, and fully expect to see it many, many more times over the next year or two.

Blue Valentine

Michelle Williams is so good in this movie that it hurts. There's no overacting, no big character set-pieces, but you feel like you're right there with her the whole time. It's a remarkably difficult movie to watch, more of a horror movie than many actual horror movies. But somehow, through all the destruction, you're left with a bit of hope; there's always a way to fix the problem, and there's always a way out.


I'd like to thank this movie for proving that romantic comedies can in fact be both charming and hilarious. Just not in Hollywood apparently. There's an gentle wit in this movie, and all the actors look like they're having a great time.


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