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Thursday 8 December 2016

magic of the movies

Published 01/01/2011 | 05:00

As early as June of last year, some commentators were bemoaning the fact that 2010 was a disappointing year for film. It's certainly true that this wasn't a vintage year like 2007, for instance, and the summer months in particular saw a bleak haul in terms of blockbusters.

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But, as the selection below suggests, things weren't that bad. The standard picked up considerably in the second half of the year, as Pixar brilliantly revived their most popular franchise with Toy Story 3; Ben Affleck continued his impressive rise as a director with the heist thriller The Town; and Werneg Herzog and Nicolas Cage joined forces to produce the wonderfully eccentric cop drama Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

There were some good foreign films, most notably Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men, a couple of impressive Irish documentaries, of which more shortly, and then there was the Oscar-bound behemoth, David Fincher's The Social Network.

There were some great performances too, and here's my selection of the film-makers and actors who excelled in 2010.

Best Film

John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic novel The Road may have been overlooked at the 2010 Oscars, but was easily one of the best films of the year.

So was Debra Granik's Winter's Bone, a gritty and unforgettable low-budget independent film about the travails of a backwoods Arkansas family. Even more accomplished, though, was David Fincher's The Social Network, a brilliantly plotted drama about the founder of Facebook that dared to place a deeply unsympathetic character at the centre of a Hollywood film.

Best Director

David Fincher would again be a candidate, as would Tim Burton for his delightful adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Ben Affleck handled his action scenes in The Town extremely well, and veteran English director Mike Leigh was back to his best with the slow-moving comic drama Another Year. Fashion designer Tom Ford brought his innate visual flair to bear on his impressive feature debut, A Single Man.

But I really liked the way Jason Reitman handled the look and feel of Up in the Air, a film about a man (George Clooney) who travels America firing people that really caught the spirit of the times.

Best Screenplay

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's screenplay for Up in the Air had a kind of witty briskness, and Nicole Holofcener's script for the comic drama Please Give cleverly laid bare the dark motives of middle class charity.

Lisa Cholodenko tackled the delicate subject of children raised in same -sex relationships with considerable skill in The Kids are All Right.

But it's impossible to look beyond Aaron Sorkin's sparkling screenplay for The Social Network. With a fiendishly clever plot line that plunged back and forth in time, Sorkin's script conveyed a huge amount of complex information and still found time to pepper a dark story with jokes.

Best Actor

Jeff Bridges (inset) was a very popular Best Actor Academy Award winner at the 2010 Oscars for his memorable and revealing portrait of a drunken has-been country singer in Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart.

Colin Firth was also nominated, and deservedly so, for his sensitive portrayal of a gay college professor in 1960s California in A Single Man.

Johnny Deep did a lovely job in Alice in Wonderland as a doomed and tragic Mad Hatter, and I really liked Mark Ruffalo's understated performance in The Kids are All Right. Leonardo DiCaprio was very good in Inception, and arguably even better in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island.

I think, though that Jesse Eisenberg would win my best actor vote for his daringly withdrawn performance as an unpleasant and almost sociopathic internet billionaire in The Social Network.

Best Actress

Catherine Keener was really good as a bleeding heart New York liberal in Please Give, and although Mia Wasikowska risked being obliterated by special effects in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, she did a particularly fine job in the title role.

Twenty-year-old Kentucky actress Jennifer Lawrence was a revelation in Winter's Bone, playing a teenage daughter who tries to hold her dirt-poor family together after the mysterious disappearance of her father.

She's bound to get an Oscar nomination this year, but so will Annette Bening, who gets my vote for her flawless portrayal of a fundamentally good-hearted lesbian control freak in The Kids are All Right.

Best Supporting Actor

Pop idol Justin Timberlake did a surprisingly good job of playing an odious internet guru in The Social Network, and character actor Oliver Platt was as compelling as ever as a wandering husband in Please Give.

Paul Giamatti was excellent as the untrustworthy advisor of an ageing Leo Tolstoy in Michael Hoffman's The Last Station, and Sam Shepard was all too convincing as the taciturn father of an American military family in Jim Sheridan's underrated Brothers.

Even though Oliver Stone's Wall Street 2 was a bit of a mess, Michael Douglas skillfully brought financial bogeyman Gordon Gekko back to life, and would be my choice for best supporting actor in 2010.

Best Supporting Actress

Vera Farmiga has impressed in small roles in films like The Departed and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and she was deservedly nominated for an Oscar this year for Up in the Air, in which she played a travelling businesswoman with a suitcase full of secrets.

Helena Bonham Carter brought a nightmarish pantomime quality to her portrayal of the demented Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, and Julianne Moore was very good as the vulnerable half of a lesbian couple in The Kids are All Right. But Helen Mirren blasted aside all opposition with a terrific performance as Leo Tolstoy's endlessly histrionic wife Sophia in The Last Station.

Best Irish Film

While by no means perfect, Brendan Muldowney's feature debut Savage showed real signs of visual flair, even if its revenge plot ran out of steam in the end.

Alicia Duffy was another Irish feature debutant this year with the recently released All Good Children, a very nicely-filmed dark drama set amongst the crumbling chateaux of rural France. But it was Irish documentary makers who excelled in 2010. Risteard O'Domhnaill went behind the scenes of the Rossport pipeline protests in his riveting The Pipe, while there was an altogether gentler feel to Ken Wardrop's His & Hers, a warmly humorous tribute to Irish womanhood and my Irish film of the year.

Worst Film

Scottish actor Gerard Butler may get away with a limited acting range in action films like 300, but he would be well advised to steer clear of romantic comedy.

The Bounty Hunter, in which he starred with Jennifer Aniston, was one of the most unpleasant and charmless films I've seen in a long time. Among the big budget flops in 2010 were the shambolic and unfinished- looking superhero movie Jonah Hex, and M Night Shyamalan's almost impenetrable fantasy The Last Airbender.

Anyone who sat through the unbearably smug Julia Roberts' vehicle Eat Pray Love won't be keen to repeat the experience any time soon.

And Ireland got the full-on Hollywood schmaltz treatment in Leap Year, a ghastly romp in which a sophisticated New York woman comes to the Emerald Isle and is seduced by a winking chancer who would not have looked out of place in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

pwhitington@independent.ie

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