The year in entertainment

Our critics run down the best of movies, music, theater, dining and pop culture in 2010

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

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BEST OF THE BEST | The comedy ‘I Love You, Phillip Morris,’ left, was the year’s most entertaining film, while ‘Winter’s Bone’ was buoyed by a great performance by Jennifer Lawrence, below left.

1. I Love You, Phillip Morris. The best comedy of the year is this unlikely love story, told with open-hearted directness, about a gay conman (Jim Carrey), his boyfriend (Ewan McGregor) and their escapades in Texas during the 1990s. Think a gay version of Bonnie & Clyde with some hot sex and hysterical jokes. Only don’t. Whatever, just see it.

2. Winter’s Bone. A girl in the Ozarks must track down her meth-dealing dad or lose her home. Without sentimentality or cloying music, it tells a tale with such visual acuity and simplicity it gobsmacks you with its beauty. Hard watching, sometimes, and excellently acted by newcomer Jennifer Lawrence and veteran Dale Dickey.

3. The Social Network. David Fincher makes Aaron Sorkin’s complex screenplay about the founding of Facebook into the off-handed, slyly FX’d movie equivalent of a page turner, with terrific pacing, pantingly good acting by Jesse Eisenberg and Armie Hammer and a story of great relevance and psychological depth.

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Winter’s-Bone

4. The King’s Speech. Hard to imagine speech lessons being cinematic, but director Tom Hooper does just that in this entrancing historical drama about King George VI (Colin Firth, who may win the Oscar denied him last year for A Single Man) as the stuttering monarch and Geoffrey Rush magnificent as a linguistic coach. We are quite amused.

5. True Grit. After the dreadful detours of Burn After Reading and A Serious Man, the Coens are back in stride with this poetic Western — not a revisionist conceit, but a straightforward character study of revenge, exceptionally well played by Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, who should win the Oscar.

6. The Ghost Writer. Roman Polanski finished the editing on this film while under house arrest, which just goes to show Polanski in the worst of circumstances is better than most directors at their best. The best film from the first half of the year, it’s a cagey political thriller than keeps you guessing.

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Scott Pilgrim versus the World,’ below, was better than its box office would indicate.

7. Scott Pilgrim versus the World. Michael Cera’s charms are wearing thin, but he squeezed out the last drips in this quirky fantasy-romance that creates its own internal world of logic. Among the best elements: Kieran Culkin as Cera’s predatory gay roommate.

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SURPRISE, SURPRISE | ‘The Kids Are All Right,’ above, proved to be a hit commercially and critically.

8. The Kids Are All Right. Although the story wandered down a path strewn with clichés, director Lisa Cholodenko still managed to spin it with unique and authentic moments as lesbian spouses Julianne Moore and Annette Bening contend with infidelity and a man in their lives (Mark Ruffalo, rascally and loveable) for the first time. Gay cinema has rarely been as clever and mainstream-compatible as this.

9. Life During Wartime. Todd Solondz’s uncomfortably dark but oddly funny follow-up to his art-house hit Happiness, centered on three sisters and their perversely dysfunctional family, was the most cringe-inducing comedy ever that lacked a bathroom scene or Woody Allen playing a romantic scene with a teenager.

10 . My Name Is Khan and Un Prophete (tie). Hard to chose between these largely foreign-language entries: Khan, one of the best Bollywood films ever with unexpected emotional resonance, and Un Prophete, a French-Muslim version of The Godfather that was a true epic.

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The South American gay film ‘Undertow,  just missed the top 10

Runners-up: Kick-Ass, Megamind, The Secret in their Eyes, Black Swan, Undertow.

Best performances of the year —
Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech; Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network; Jeff Bridges, True Grit; Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter; Tommy Lee Jones, Company Men; James Franco, 127 Hours; Robert Duvall, Get Low.

Actress: Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone; Natalie Portman, Black Swan.

Supporting actor: Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech; Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right;
Armie Hammer, The Social Network; Christian Bale, The Fighter; Lucas Black, Get Low.

Supporting actress: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit; Dale Dickey, Winter’s Bone; Barbara Hershey and Mila Kunis, Black Swan; Melissa Leo, The Fighter.

Best non-fiction films: Inside Job; Catfish.

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‘Knight and Day,’ above, was the year’s worst movie.

10 worst films of the year: Unstoppable; Shutter Island; Splice; Love and Other Drugs; The Book of Eli; Edge of Darkness; Skyline; Alice in Wonderland; How Do You Know; Knight and Day.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Queer clips

‘True Grit,’ ‘Rabbit Hole’

The Coen Brothers have always had a peculiar relationship with Texas, maybe because the sense of Wild West recklessness is still cultivated by urbanites. It’s a complex feeling, though: A lone Ranger (sans mask) named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) endures a share of mockery in True Grit, but it’s forgiveable — the movie is just so damn entertaining.

I barely noticed a contraction in the dialogue until the waning minutes of the film, which imbues the tale with a poetic majesty without being stilted. Yet the Coens keep everything in the realm of the real; this isn’t some commonplace revenge fantasy but a devil-in-the-details character study of a girl (Hailee Steinfeld, who’s remarkable) and a wizened marshal-for-hire (Jeff Bridges, better even than his Oscar performance in last year’s Crazy Heart). It avoids predictable, touchy-feely sentimentality while still being emotionally stirring.

Less stirring is Rabbit Hole — perhaps because it tries too hard. A couple (Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart) work through their grief over the death of their child in wildly different ways. It’s a prickly story about yuppies in denial where so many of the characters seem to want to be hated — or at least misunderstood. Grief is hard to portray in small doses (everyone deals with loss uniquely), and to try to make a movie of nothing but is too great a task for director John Cameron Mitchell. Kidman’s OK, but the standout is Miles Teller as a regretful teen. He and Steinfeld should make a movie together.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

True Grit: Five stars; Rabbit Hole: Two stars

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens