A golden year for cinematic excellence

You might not be aware, dear reader, but we are in the midst of a good ol’ knock out of a movie year. Not since 2007 — the year of There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men and Juno — has the silver screen shone so bright.

Yes, there was something magical in the air that year, something tangible that reached out and shook a certain high school junior marooned in the suburban hypocrisy of rural Georgia. It reached out and grabbed me and made me look, not just at the screen, but at myself.

Simply put, the films of that year inspired me. They told the stories I wanted to tell and showed me the way to tell them. This is purely subjective of course, but how can one explain what inspires him? Art simply does or it doesn’t. Quality of craftsmanship doesn’t enter into it.

And now, in 2010, we have another year of films that have made me look beyond myself. Another round of films by filmmakers who tinted the prism through which I view life. I can’t tell you why or how they did this — I don’t have the skills to put it into words. All I can do is tell you what they are and hope you experience them for yourself. Hopefully you are as moved as I was.

The American

Who said Good Night, and Good Luck was gorgeous George’s coup d’état? Bull-pucky. When future cinephiles look back upon Clooney’s career, they will point to The American as his greatest triumph. Best crime drama of the year? Forget that. Make it the decade. Any decade. It makes Ben Affleck’s The Town look like a cutesy Hollywood knockoff of which Martin Scorsese would be proud.

This is a focused, complex character drama that builds rigorously and deliberately toward its stunning and emotionally gripping climax. Clooney plays an assassin whose life of cold-hearted, sinful self-denial has finally caught up with him. When he meets a beautiful Italian prostitute (played by the stunning Violante Placido), his desire for life, beauty and joy that overwhelms him, and he wants out. But, as we all know, it’s never that easy.

Clooney’s performance is transcendent. The best I’ve seen in years. He embodies a man overcome by the basest of emotions, all hidden beneath an exterior as cool, fine and transparent as a thin film of ice on a warm winter’s day. Such complexity hasn’t been seen since Daniel Day-Lewis plied his wares for P.T. Andersen as Daniel Plainview. Give the pretty boy his Oscar. He deserves it.

The Town

Did I just call this a cutesy Hollywood knock off?

Don’t listen to those who compare The Town to The Departed. They have the I.Q. of a rotting eggplant. The Departed should be compared to The Town.

The Town is better, and it’s not even a close contest. Unlike The Departed, which could be set in any city of the globe, The Town is about Boston crime. Beantown. It’s an exposé on urban crime, about how a city shapes and molds those very people whose actions destroy it.

The Town is about a way of life, a culture, and it preaches its message through a well-honed plot of strong-armed robbery. It’s not as solid as The American, its view of life not so crystallized. Too often it wanders into the realm of Hollywood blockbuster, but nonetheless it solidifies Affleck as one of the most interesting directors working today.

He follows up on the debut success of Gone Baby Gone with a film that is superior. In Boston, he has found his muse. I hope he stays there. If does, I expect great things from Affleck, and I think The Town only hints at things to come.


Never seen it? Never heard of it? I don’t blame you, dear reader. I blame the heathen distributors who have railroaded Neil Jordan’s masterpiece.

And what a masterpiece it is, a fantasy about a down-and-out Irish fisherman (Colin Farrell) who one day reels in a young girl whom he believes to be a mermaid. Of course her appearance is met with suspicion, but after the fisherman’s luck begins to change and he is reunited with his young daughter (the beautiful and precocious Alison Barry), he begins to believe in the fantasy. And so does the audience.

Normally I detest fantasy. I have no use for it. But the tenderness with which Jordan treats his subjects draws you in, making you let down your guard and, most importantly, want to believe in the myth. I cannot tell you how rare an experience that is in the world of cynical dramas. Jordan has given us a jewel of film, and we should be thankful.

The Ghost Writer

Let me tell you how good Roman Polanski is. Although The Ghost Writer is one of his weaker films, I still think it is one of the best in one of the strongest years for film in recent memory. Too bad his personal life overshadows the fact that he is one of the greatest cinematic talents of the 20th century.

The Ghost Writer doesn’t mark the return of classic Polanski. Nothing will touch the triumphs of Knife in the Water, The Tenant, or Chinatown; but it is an extremely well-executed thriller with a sparkling cast.

Ewan McGregor enjoys a steady turn as the Ghost, a journalist brought on to complete former Prime Minister Adam Lang’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoirs after the first ghostwriter turns up dead. Inevitably, the Ghost finds himself entwined in a tangled web of lies, deceit and power-lust.

Predictable stuff, but Polanski’s steady and reliable hand guides The Ghost Writer to the No. 4 spot on this list, thumping Scorsese’s mediocre Shutter Island which was released the same weekend. Unlike Scorsese, Polanski does not forget his Modernist roots, remembering that in order to create suspense, one must hold a shot longer than three seconds.* Thrillers are not music videos. Scorsese would do well to remember that. Polanski imbues his film with a stark, barren beauty that is wonderful to behold.

*I am not exaggerating. At one point I actually whipped out my stopwatch. For 15 minutes, Scorsese didn’t hold a shot for more than three seconds.

Easy A

Finally, we arrive at the fluff, the cotton candy if you will. And boy is it sweet. Emma Stone is delectable as Olive Penderghast, an obscure high school student who rises to prominence by becoming the school hussy.

Easy A is easy viewing (pardon the pun), featuring snapdragon, pulp-culture laden dialogue the likes of which haven’t been seen since Juno. Unlike the first four films which leave you somewhere between stunned and introspective, Easy A is a shot of adrenaline that leaves you feeling giddy as soon as the credits roll.

So far 2010 has given us three thrillers, a fantasy/drama and a comedy of superlative quality. Together, I would pit them against the top five of almost any other year. I do so because each of them tells a story from a perspective that is both new and unique — and that’s what makes them special. To me, the characters are real. They speak to me. I care what happens to them.

You know, I thought it was a mistake when the Academy expanded the Best Picture nominees to 10. Now, I’m thinking that might be just about right.

Sam Colen is a junior majoring in economics/mathematics. His column, “O’ Lucky Critic,” runs Fridays.