Thursday, March 10, 2011

2010 Kraemer Movie Awards Part II — The Best #25-21

I'll admit straight-up that I didn't love 2010 in movies quite as much as I did 2009. This became apparent contrasting my outline of this list with the winners of last year's Kraemer Movie Awards, where movies ranked as low as The Brothers Bloom at #21 and Up in the Air at #20 would have been easy top ten contenders had they come out a year later. But compiling my favorites was tricky nonetheless; there may have been fewer movies I fell in love with but there was still no shortage of ones I liked. I was forced to exclude several fine films, including one Best Picture nominee I enjoyed (and I'm not talking about The Kids Are All Right, which I excluded with glee). But the Oscars have already had their say. Now it's my turn, baby.

But first, slight change in format this year: I've been so busy that I haven't had time to sit down and write up the entirety of the top 25 and I kept putting it off, so instead of doing this in one go this is gonna be a six-day event, each entry revealing five more films and the finale selecting best performances, directors, screenplays, moments, and so on. "Six days?! And we thought the Oscars ran long!" *ba-dum ching* On with the show!



I wanted to hate The Karate Kid. Remaking my favorite cinematic underdog story of all time — let alone one so inextricably linked with the 80s — seemed like pure fucking blasphemy. I walked into the theater sour, negative, and ready to tear it to pieces. Then it won me over completely. Sure, it should have been called The Kung Fu Kid, Jackie Chan's Mr. Han is no Mr. Miyagi, "jacket on, jacket off" is no "wax on, wax off," and the lack of "You're the Best" and that final crane kick assure that it will never be as iconic as the original, but what it does well it does almost shockingly well. The cinematography and tourism porn of China are gorgeous and the fight choreography is just awesome. The villains receive an absurd but entertaining facelift from the original's high school bullies to little demonic Yakuza-esque ninjas. The movie is 140 minutes long and I never even checked my watch. What can I say? I'm a sucker for the underdog arc.


The dual disappointment (and baffling acclaim in certain corners of the internet) of The Expendables and Piranha 3D left me thinking that this summer would yield little pure, pulpy B-movie pleasure, but it took just one badass Mexican federale to show me the error of my ways. Completely living up to the promise of the Grindhouse trailer from a few years back, Machete is a joyous, unrelenting festival of death and blood and gore and female nudity and goofily badass one-liners. The cast in and of itself is an absurd, hilarious mixture ranging from Steven Seagal to Lindsay Lohan to Jessica Alba to Robert De Niro (who I will never understand how they secured the services of), but it's Danny Trejo himself who dominates as the title character, doing for Mexploitation what Michael Jai White's Black Dynamite did for blaxploitation. It's the role he was born to play. I doubt we'll ever see the already-named sequel Machete Kills, but if I'm wrong I'll be first in line.


Whatever Winter's Bone may lack in narrative complexity or memorable dialogue it makes up for by oozing atmosphere and mood. The Ozark Mountain setting that director Debra Granik establishes, terrifyingly poor and infected by meth culture, may be the most bleak, haunting, and disquieting cinematic locale of 2010, a place that feels inescapably American yet wholly alien all at once. Jennifer Lawrence earns her Best Actress nomination as Ree Dolly, a tough teenager struggling to support her younger siblings and find her missing father before they lose their house, but I'd still say the movie is stolen by John Hawkes as her uncle Teardrop. He radiates an unreal menace that made it startling to realize I've never seen him play a character like this before. Redneck noir may be a tiny and obscure subgenre, but in this film it's found a new champion.


The Illusionist makes me weep for the semi-death of traditional 2D animation. Don't misunderstand; I love Pixar same as any respectable movie nerd, but a film this gorgeous and this warm and this atmospheric reminds one of how much that largely forgotten medium has left to give. The tale of an underemployed French magician and the young housemaid who is enchanted by his art and follows him to Edinburgh where they develop an easy father-daughter rapport, The Illusionist is a minimalist film played out in pantomime with literally about ten lines of dialogue. But the plot is secondary; what really matters is how astoundingly pretty it looks and how much its 1950s European settings leap off the screen to absorb you in the moment, making something as simple as a tiny village girl walking into a big city clothing store for the first time breathtaking. It's a beautiful and poignant film that truly deserves to be called art.


In depicting the Bush administration's exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame, Fair Game serves many masters, functioning as a sort of political thriller, the domestic story of a marriage in turmoil, and most effectively as one final burst of Bush-era outrage. Yes, this is very much a movie to watch for the express purpose of making yourself angry at stuff that happened nearly a decade ago all over again, which may be counterproductive when there's so much stuff to be angry about today in 2011, but it excels at depicting the most depressing era in contemporary American political history and Naomi Watts is excellent as Plame. Sean Penn also does a good job as Plame's husband Joe Wilson, but I still kind of wish someone else had done the part, because when Penn starts going off on Bush it becomes hard to see the character rather than the actor. But that's one small blemish on what's probably the best pure political film of 2010.

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