A Year of Best Pictures according to The Zeitgeist — Shrek not included.
To be frank, the Best Picture nominees at the Oscars this year are impressive and offer nothing dire to gripe about. But of course, as with every self-important film critic and pop culture writer, opinions differ on which film deserves to be best. I write a list not for a list’s sake, but to throw up a few more suggestions just for the fun of it since the offbeat and guilty-pleasure movies are often missed at the Oscars.
Was 2010 a good year at the cinemas? It was, and it isn’t. According to movies rating website Metacritic.com, just “30 films met or exceeded the 81 Metascore threshold that indicates ‘universal acclaim’ from critics” compared to 37 films back in 2009. This measure indicates there are fewer critically-acclaimed movies (arbitrary, we emphasise) but it doesn’t mean the rest stinks (only 3 films dropped below 20 Metascore).
Yes, there are lesser superhero movies (the average Iron Man 2 comes to mind) and summer blockbusters last year. And potential franchises that could guarantee sequels and more box office takings didn’t exactly debut to exponential heights (Jonah Hex, Robin Hood, Tron Legacy). But thank god for every dud like Prince of Persia or Sex and the City 2, there is a delightful picture such as Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter to save the world.
And may Shrek Forever After live happily ever after and rest in peace.
And here are the best pictures according to the zeitgeist, and a few more.
The Social Network
The movie definitely speaks to the zeitgeist, or the spirit of our times. Who would have thought of making a movie out of something as intangible as the Internet, to be more specific a social network? David Fincher’s direction and Aaron Sorkin’s lightning-paced script made it possible, transforming the movie into a courtroom drama that revealed the inner psyche of its founder Mark Zuckerberg. Essentially, we’re looking at the story of a genius who made billions from helping people get connected but failed at his own personal relationships. It’s a cautionary tale that speaks to today’s generation on the perils of greed, corporate skull drudgery and tangible disconnections between humans in an increasingly connected parallel world.
How did Hereafter not make it to the Best Picture list still perplex me considering its pedigree (directed by Oscars fixture Clint Eastwood) and well-loved multiple narrative thread (think Best Picture winner Crash). Perhaps the uncomfortable subject of spiritual afterlife polarises the Academy but in retrospect, Eastwood has objectively treated the topic delicately, coaxing nuanced performances out of leads like Matt Damon. Audiences are not given answers on the possibility of an afterlife, but how to deal with death, grief and the strength to move on.
Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 completes a lifetime journey of adventure, fun and nostalgia for most moviegoers. Its form may be built on pixels and movement digitally rendered but the characters (or should I say toys) and the story are what made this movie a true classic in the making. You laugh at Woody’s escape sequence, cry at Bear’s plight and embrace every part of the movie for its emotional pull and central theme of friendship. It’s a brilliant finish to a trilogy, an introspection of our childhood, and a gentle reminder to hug our action figurine and teddy bear one last time.
Once in a blue moon, a visionary director comes along and creates a whole new world of imagination and concept – at least on celluloid. There’s George Lucas and his Empire, James Cameron and his Na’vi people and Peter Jackson and his hobbits. And then we have Christopher Nolan and his dreamscape architecture that roll up skyscrapers and collapses bridges. Inception demonstrates Nolan’s brilliant mind in blurring the line between reality and dreams, perception versus reality, consciousness and unconsciousness, and even limbo in between. We are left to wonder what else can we discover if we were to perform an inception into Nolan’s mad-scientist mind.
The King’s Speech
It’s not easy to make a British period film especially on the monarchy but somehow, Tom Hooper manages to not only make a period piece, but have everyone enjoying every damn moment of it. Thanks to stellar performances from a bona fide British theatre cast (and that Australian interloper called Geoffrey Rush), our spirits are lifted by the king overcoming his stutter and leading the country into anxious times of war with Germany. Plus the bromance between the King and his speech therapist is a joy to behold.
The absurd movie has gotten several prominent American film critics and their knickers into a twist over its profane language and grotesque violence. But that’s the point! It’s supposed to be a colourful riot and tongue-in-cheek movie that pokes fun at celebritydom, voyeurism, spandex superhero costume amongst other irrelevant stuff. Kick-Ass is so clever and self-aware, reeking of Tarantino all over. For the critics (A.O. Scott of New York Times and the eminent Roger Ebert) who couldn’t stomach it, I suggest they take their twisted knickers and turn them into superhero costumes. Come on, let loose a little.
Easily missed because of its unconventional nature (boys will not pay to watch girls in leather performing like hell’s angels), the Runaways offers a close look on how the machinery churns out the first all-girl rock band and its climb to success and eventual decline. Both Kristin Stewart and Dakota Fanning bring out the raw energy and sexual charge hardly seen in their prior careers. This is a hardcore chick flick with drugs, guitars and an edge.
It’s a typical high-school coming-of-age story but Emma Stone single-handedly owned the summer movie and made the one-liners and zingers palatable and well, funny. The redhead radiates and reminds us that a star is born. Having followed her religiously from The House Bunny to Zombieland, I write with biased glee and unreserved affection that Easy A warrants a spot on the list. Oh, have I not mentioned I’m in love with Emma Stone?
The Fighter works like every boxing movie: brassy, energetic and in-your-face. Amidst the rumble and tumble in the ring, the conflicts of an individual fighting and breaking free from a dysfunctional family reels one to invest into his story. As much as it was about boxing and becoming champion, the audience is intrigued to know what happens to the fighter. A compelling piece of work.
How far would one go for his or her art? The question of perfectionism of one’s craft consumes every consummate artist and Natalie Portman portrays the tension between perception and perfection in tipping fashion in Black Swan. We are thrown into the rarefied and exalted world of ballet that celebrates the physical (female) body, defies laws of gravity and embraces the grace of even a gentle gesture or tiptoe. We become spectators of the objectified female image, how it breaks free from its entrapment and transforms physically and sexually in relation to its art. And then we are reminded of the derision and madness when the lights go up in the cinemas.
And a few more good pictures…
Blue Valentine The trajectory of a short-lived marriage from its sweet origins to its eventual decline takes away any hope from a singleton (like me) on the possibility of love. Heart-wrenching and heart breaking, the movie works as a bittersweet tale but it has also failed many moviegoers with its affecting premise. I do not believe in love anymore.
Scott Pilgrim vs the World All hail the king of super nerd cool and awkward conversations Michael Cera, star of the indie-spirited movie infused with rock and roll roots, geek humour and video games eccentricities. The movie is so fun like an underrated PlayStation game you can’t get enough of!
The Kids are All Right The movie proves that all relationships and families never mind same-gender or single-parent are the same: they all have their own fault lines. And they work hard to make them all right. The character-driven dramedy feels like a TV movie/miniseries sometimes and that’s the beauty of it – it’s intimate, heartfelt and real.
Alice in Wonderland Finally, a movie that works in 3D in a year-of-rubbish-movies-that-pretend-to-be-magical-in-3D (think The Last Airbender). The gorgeous sets, art direction and eye-popping visuals make the movie feel so alive and wonderful! Doesn’t it make you feel like having tea with the Mad Hatter?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I Some lament it’s simply a transitional movie but I think it tells us something deeper — Harry, Hermione and Ron have come a long way and their friendship is put to test in dark times with questions of insecurities and jealousy, issues that are relevant to teenagers. We feel for the trio, and we are reminded of their bravery, courage and true friendship. The movie doesn’t soar with action and wades gently in anticipation of something greater.