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The year in film

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At this time of the year, the film world can be counted upon for several traditions.

There are always the Christmas blockbuster releases. There are always smaller films that go into limited release in order to qualify for the Oscars. And everyone starts coming up with their “Best Of” and “Worst Of” lists.

I won't fight tradition - so get ready for a brief retrospective of some of the notable things that happened in the movie business in 2010.

There were a lot of big movies that also were great ones this year. “Toy Story 3,” the highest grossing film of the year, carried on in the franchise's tradition. The Pixar company continues to push the animation envelope at every turn.

“Alice in Wonderland,” in second place at the box office, was directed by the whimsically dark Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp. It was a dizzying visual experience. Burton's take on Lewis Carroll's rather trippy novel was was a little more upfront presenting many of the adult themes than most of the story's other adaptations. Critic Roger Ebert said, “Alice plays better as an adult hallucination, which is how Burton rather brilliantly interprets it.” It wasn't completely animated but was integrated with an amazing amount of computer generated images.

Christopher Nolan's “Inception” was at No. 3 in gross receipts. It's a science fiction, fantasy and action film in which star Leonardo DiCaprio is a corporate spy who gets his job done by entering other people's dreams. The movie is another visual stunner, and although it's somewhat confusing, it's a great film.

Looking at the top 10 grossing movies of 2010, it's interesting to note that four of them are animated features, others use large amounts of CGI and all of them - from “Iron Man 2” to the latest “Harry Potter” to “Clash of the Titans” - lean heavily on fantasy. With so many troubling things going on in “real” life, it makes sense that people are looking for a big dose of escapism.

There also were several great documentaries this year. “Catfish” is probably the best known. There was some controversy, though, when “Catfish” aired at film festivals. Many critics and viewers seem to doubt the veracity of the production and think some of the scenes were staged. It's still a good movie, even though the shocking twist in the third act is not based in the horror genre as the previews led us to believe.

“Waiting for Superman” is at the top of my list of documentaries for 2010. It's a thought-provoking, sometime tear-inducing story about the education system in the United States and the disparity between rich school districts and poorer ones.

Robert Kenner's “Food, Inc.” is a disturbing look at the American food industry. The days of the family farm are over. As the official Web site says, “Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment.” Sad and scary.  

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is about graffiti artist Banksy and has a really weird twist. It also has been questioned as whether or not it's a real documentary. In this case, that only adds to the film's charm and mystique.

There were a lot of great movies that, as happens every year, were under the radar - not commercially successful but highly praised.

“Kick-Ass” is a based on a comic book and is an irreverent romp in the super hero genre. “Mother,” directed by Joon-ho Bong, is a taut and intricate murder mystery that's
packed with some askew psychological elements. Noah Baumbach's “Greenberg” is a funny and poignant character sketch starring Ben Stiller and the always great Jennifer Jason Leigh.  

“Winter's Bone,” directed by Debra Granik, has close connections to the Ozarks. The novel is based on the area and the production was filmed around here. In the Hollywood ethos, the budget was miniscule, but the film looks great and wields a powerful story.
It won both the Grand Jury Prize/Drama and Best Screenplay at the Sundance Film Festival. Star Jennifer Lawrence deserves an Oscar nomination.

“The Kids Are All Right,” starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, is a non-traditional family story and is in turns funny, intense, melancholy, heart-tugging and heartwarming.

Many of the most critically acclaimed films are released to larger markets at year's end and gradually spread to wider areas closer to Oscar time. “Black Swan” is a critic's favorite and is scheduled to open Dec. 17 at The Moxie. Other films that haven't made it to Springfield as of this writing include “Fair Game,” the story of Valerie Plame and the leaking of information about covert uranium sales.

“The King's Speech” garnered the most Golden Globe nominations - seven - and will surely be a heavy duty Oscar contender. “The Fighter,” with Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg, is the life story of boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward and his trainer brother Dick Eklund.

Space doesn't permit listing all personal favorites from 2010, but there were a lot of good films released this year. Many are already available on DVD, and the rest will be coming soon. In the bitter cold of January, curling up with a great movie is a comforting way to spend an evening (or an entire week, if you can.) 
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