This is the paragraph where I try to sum up the year in film, as represented by my Top 10 list. Hmmmmm.
Well, it feels like the 1980s in the beginning, with a humorous and deadly serious look at the fight against communism. And it was a good year for Kentuckians, with George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Ashley Judd all represented, and no rationalizations were needed to get them here. Of course, these are all movies worth seeing again and again, though I may wait a while to get my nerve up for Sweeney.
1. Charlie Wilson's War -- "There's no reason this can't be fun," Philip Seymour Hoffman's CIA operative Gust Avrakotos says to Tom Hanks' Texas congressman Charlie Wilson in one of their first scenes together in Charlie Wilson's War. This movie about a congressman who singlehandedly got funding for Afghanistan soldiers to oppose the Russian Army and trigger the fall of the Soviet union had everything going for it: stars Hanks and Julia Roberts with supporting players Hoffman and Amy Adams. It had Aaron Sorkin writing for them and Mike Nichols, a master of serious comedy for adults, directing. And it delivered on all that promise with a movie that didn't beat you over the head with its message. It just said, here's a true story, and you might notice, it has something to do with what's going on today.
2. The Lives of Others -- The 2006 Oscar Winner for best foreign language film, which was not released in the United States until February this year, is a powerful statement of why arts, literature and free expression are so important. They certainly frighten East German officials in the early 1980s, where Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's brilliant drama is set. There is so much to get caught up in here: the Cold War drama of playwright Georg Dreyman trying to subvert the state while appearing to remain loyal and surveillance specialist Hauptmann Wiesler's struggle with whether to protect him. But underlying it all is the vital importance of free speech, which we so often take for granted.
3. I'm Not Here -- Just when the rocker biopic was becoming a cliche or drifting perilously toward the jukebox musical, Todd Haynes came up with something wild and original. Rather than make a film about Bob Dylan, he made a movie about the myth of Dylan, the various Dylans that people hold in their minds. He cast six actors as Dylans, and even when they drifted close to silliness -- Richard Gere's Billy the Kid -- they still rang true.
4. Michael Clayton -- What do you do when you find out you're working for the bad guys? It's the lonely, personal journey George Clooney takes as the title character in this drama reminiscent of Paul Newman's Oscar-winning performance in 1982's The Verdict. It's a enraging but ultimately exhilarating story of corporate treachery and the redemption of doing the right thing.
5. Ratatouille -- I enjoyed this movie so much, I was stunned to hear how much my kids enjoyed it too. The foodie chatter seemed a bit too adult to appeal to kids. But this is Pixar at its best: developing themes that appeal to mom and dad while creating characters and visuals that delight the kids. Pixar pioneered the computer-animated feature and still, nobody does it better.
6. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street -- I sure hope no one went to this thinking they were going to see a nice little Stevie Sondheim movie. Director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp were the perfect team to bring Sondheim's slasher tale of all-consuming revenge to the big screen. And it did have some nice songs.
7. Bug -- This would have the opposite problem of Sweeney. Based on an acclaimed stage play by Tracy Letts, this movie was marketed as a horror show. So the horror fans who showed up were bored because most of the horror was implied, and the art-house crowd it should have been sold to never found it. The big losers were Kentuckians Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon who turned in fearless performances.
8. A Mighty Heart -- Like Charlie Wilson, this political drama worked because it didn't pummel us with a message. It just told a story, here a heartbreaking one about the vigil for Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal writer who was kidnapped and eventually murdered by terrorists in Pakistan. Angelina Jolie, as Pearl's pregnant wife Mariane, and the cast made this feel heartbreakingly real and tragic.
9. Knocked Up -- Like most of Judd Apatow's movies, his sight-unseen
critics would be surprised how much they find themselves sympathetic to
Apatow's point of view in Knocked Up. It was indisputably raunchy and
politically incorrect, but also one of the most real portrayals of
child-bearing I've ever seen on film, and it made a beautiful statement
about commitment. Oh, it was also hilarious.
10. The Simpsons Movie -- Maybe it wasn't everything it could have been. But good Simpsons is usually better than most anything else on TV. Matt Groening and his crew brought America's favorite animated family to the big screen with a witty, big story that didn't OD on the celeb voices.