by Brett Parker
2) SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
When most men recall the stories of their lives, they most likely cast themselves as the hero and all those opposed to them and their goals as villains. It’s also probably true that young men of this generation will allow the music, movies, comic books, and video games they cherish to help write the history of their stories. No film has a greater understanding of this than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a sight and sound extravaganza that takes emotional matters of everyday life and heightens them to the level of a breathless comic adventure. As youthful hipster Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) imagines his quest to win the heart of beauty Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as a comic book journey, we lay witness to a sublime live-action video game, a cockeyed love letter to modern hipster culture, and a laugh-a-minute comic masterpiece that doesn’t let up with the laughs for one single second. This film proves that director Edgar Wright is a new-age master of screwball comedy and that pop culture is a worthy tool to unearth the emotional needs of today’s youth. For all its fantastical and hallucinatory elements, what so surprising about Wright’s work is that it’s one of the most accurate portraits of youthful yearnings and emotions in recent memory.
3) THE SOCIAL NETWORK
It’s been generally acknowledged that the Facebook era spawned a public escalation in social narcissism, self-importance, defamation, isolation, and pure nonsense. What makes The Social Network so fascinating is its argument that the very creation of Facebook was rooted in the same kinds of troubling traits. In telling the story of how a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg (brilliantly played by Jesse Eisenberg) created the online phenomenon, with all the backstabbing that allegedly entailed, director David Fincher has found an unlikely fit into his themes regarding the peculiar obsessions of young men and how they clash with a claustrophobic society. While the creation of a web site and the lawsuits that followed it may not sound like the most exciting movie, Fincher employs expert cinematography, editing, musical scoring, and casting to make a seemingly dull story thrive with electricity. By capturing the heat and dizziness of the real life story, Fincher allows us to reflect on the startling truth that the cut-off isolation of an angry nerd may have caused the cut-off isolation of the modern internet age.
4) SHUTTER ISLAND
The ideals of a Martin Scorsese protagonist can take on a wild reality of their own, in constant threat from the morals and formalities of normal society. Shutter Island could very well be Scorsese’s most deranged and unsettling exploration of this theme, and that’s saying something for the guy who made Taxi Driver. For all the things he has presented throughout his legendary career, this is his first plunge into classical macabre (although his Cape Fear remake held tinges of it), and the result is a deliciously startling display of his most burning obsessions. As a Detective (a wickedly riled-up Leonardo DiCaprio) fights through hallucinations to find a missing woman on an island insane asylum, Scorsese crafts a disturbing clashing between the uneasy evolution of modern psychology and post-World War II Trauma and Paranoia, sprinkled with his usual themes of sin and guilt. The story may flirt with the preposterous, yet Scorsese gives it a disturbing resonance with slow-burn creepiness. Any director can evoke things that go bump in the night, but when a filmmaker like Scorsese roots those bumps in the scariest recesses of the human mind, the result is guaranteed to shake you.
5) THE TOWN
Ben Affleck pulled effective drama from the Boston underworld in Gone Baby Gone and he returns to that landscape with The Town, a more exciting follow-up to his last crime endeavor that is an expertly-crafted heist flick with a killer hook and near-flawless execution. Yet what allows the film to resonate strongly is the yearning for a stable family life and purity through love that Affleck makes present within each of his main criminal characters. Affleck casts himself as Doug MacRay, a career thief who falls for Claire (Rebecca Hall), the manager of a bank he recently robbed. Doug lost his mother at a young age and feels Claire can fill a great void in his heart while offering him a better life. Affleck also goes to expert length to show how Doug’s best friend (a pitch-perfect Jeremy Renner) and jailed father (Chris Cooper) also have suffered from a lack of feminine nurturing and family values. It are these observations that gives The Town its strength, for Affleck penetrates deep to find the wounded children within hardened criminal archetypes.
Sofia Coppola once again follows a privileged character facing a great emotional void amidst a lively environment of grand offerings in Somewhere, a film that examines the lifestyle of a Hollywood movie star with the straight-forward attentiveness of a wildlife documentary. Coppola employs her subtle, observant tone to capture the emptiness of an actor named Johnny Marco (a wonderful Stephen Dorff) as he mulls about aimlessly in the famous Chateau Marmont of California until the day his lovely daughter Cleo (a charming Elle Fanning) brightens things up. Through this tale of a Hollywood player and his daughter enjoying the good life, perhaps we are seeing shades of Coppola’s own relationship with her legendary father, Francis Ford Coppola, making this film a sublime love letter to the joys and complexities of their relationship. The film’s messages may not herald brand new revelations-fame may be lacking spiritual fulfillment, life is better with company-but Coppola uses wonderful images, enjoyable pop music, and surprising warmth to bring her emotional tale to life.
7) NOWHERE BOY
Before he became a Beatle, a revolutionary, and a rock legend, John Lennon was once a scared and defenseless Liverpool teenager who felt lost in the world, plagued by self-doubt, and in search of his own identity. Sam Taylor-Wood’s Nowhere Boy examines these early years in Lennon’s life, revealing the personal turmoil and turbulent family life that embedded in him the personality traits that would make him a legend. It isn’t so much interested in his literal path to eventual fame but his emotional path to creative genius, rooted in both contagious joy and unsettling torment. Through the acting revelation that is Aaron Johnson, we see Lennon develop the famous traits- wit, exuberance, irreverence, resourcefulness, and insight- that would catapult him from awkward teenager to vibrant musical artist. As we witness him finding his long-lost mother (Anne Marie-Duff) and forming his first rock band with Paul McCartney (Thomas Sangster), we find ourselves wrapped up in the utter-fascination of seeing one of the great personas in rock history being molded through primal emotions. Taylor-Wood employs an expert tact and power as she allows us to peak into the turmoil, creativity, and exuberance that lied within Lennon’s heart.
8) 127 HOURS
Aron Ralston is a real-life hiker who had his arm trapped under a gigantic boulder while hiking in an isolated canyon in Utah. He was stuck under the boulder for nearly six days, as his resources and chances for survival were quickly running out. The one thing he never ran out of was hope, and it eventually led to a grisly tactic that finally set him free. It’s easy to see how this story could’ve been made into a straight-forward survival tale of economic grittiness, yet Oscar-Winner Danny Boyle heats things up towards a wildly-unique cinematic experience. Boyle decides to tell Ralston’s story with an intense focus to detail, employing his usual tastes for frantic editing, peculiar musical choices, youthful intensity, fantastical visualizations, and existential musings. Boyle keeps things completely rooted in Ralston’s predicament, yet going the extra mile to show the hallucinations and fantasies in his head that both tormented and encouraged him. It’s a surprisingly entertaining experience that employs Boyle’s theme of young people searching for their place in the universe only to discover that human connectedness is the way to go. Of course none of this would be as nearly effective without the wonderful performance from James Franco, who brings an unlikely humor and grace to Ralston’s predicament, making his search for hope a truly unique cinematic triumph.
9) THE FIGHTER
On the surface, The Fighter appears to hold all the trappings of a typical sports-underdog tale, yet director David O. Russell brings such richness to the broken dreams and wildly hopeful spirits of the characters that the film takes on a unique life all its own, filled with lively kicks that’s hard to resist. Russell once again shows us how the peculiarities and eccentricities of a group dynamic can create a fantastical situation with the story of Mickey Ward (a superbly-focused Mark Wahlberg), a quiet young man who was always forced to follow in the footsteps of his troubled, crack-addict brother Dickie (a remarkable Christian Bale) by becoming a boxer. Mickey has reservations about his family’s boxing dreams, but once Dickie is humiliated in an HBO Documentary about Crack Addiction, Mickey sets out on a touching quest to restore the family name through boxing glory. Russell shows great honesty in Mickey’s athletic journey and gives the underdog formula a heartfelt jolt with strong ideas of family loyalty, neighborhood pride, and brotherly love. The tears Dickie sheds for his brother’s success in the film’s final moment makes the entire experience worth it.
10) THE KING’S SPEECH
The King’s Speech does so many things in such an expertly executed manner that it’s easy to miss just how unique it is on the first viewing. In telling the story of how King George VI of Britain (Colin Firth, in top form) overcame a stuttering problem with the help of an unconventional speech therapist named Lionel Logue (a wily and resourceful Geoffrey Rush), director Tom Hooper takes a conventional genre and turns it on its ear. With a fascinating true story in place, Hooper uses visual creativity, wonderfully atmospheric photography, and sharp dialogue to tell one of the most unlikely tales of middle-aged masculine friendship to ever grace the big screen. Yet the film isn’t just a juicy historical account, but has real uplift to spare. For its truly inspiring to know that even Royalty has their human vulnerabilities, that a working-class man can help do great things for great people, and that anyone can overcome any handicap or obstacle standing in their way. Why these may sound like typical messages, Hooper and his actors bring them a heart and freshness that’s impossible to resist.
-Toy Story 3