Conversation: Best Unsung Films of 2010

BY Jeffrey Brown  December 22, 2010 at 2:42 PM EST

Best Unsung Films of 2010

What were the best movies that didn’t make the multiplex?

I talked to critic Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post about her picks for the best films you might have missed in 2010:

 
A transcript is after the jump.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, before we get to our, sort of, under-sung movies of the year, how about an overall look? Was it overall a good year for movies for you? You feeling good about the job of film critic this year?

ANN HORNADAY: You know, I am, and it sort of always happens at this time of year, when we are called upon to do the 10 best list. And you look back, and generally — and this has happened the last few years — I always have a lot to choose from, you know? And there is always wonderful films that I don’t end up including. So that’s a pretty good sign that all in all it’s been pretty consistently great year. I mean, we have, I think, a homerun of a movie in The Social Network. You know, my only complaint is that for the last several years the studios really back load the year, and they tend to kind of push out all their best stuff at the end of the year, which makes it kind of hard. It would just be nice we had a more steady sprinkling throughout the months. But no, we have The Social Network, we have 127 Hours, The King’s Speech has been terrific. So yeah, all in all I think it was a strong year.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you see any larger trends or perhaps categories that you found especially interesting this year?

ANN HORNADAY: The one sort of category that I’m always keeping my eye on is the adult drama, you know. And I think maybe you and I’ve even talked about that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yeah

ANN HORNADAY: And when I say that I mean movies like — I would put The Ghost Writer in that category. I mean, that was a really suburb, sort of political journalistic thriller, came out late winter or early spring. That’s the kind of solid, straight ahead, grown-up movie made for grownups that really the studios almost never— it’s not that they don’t make them anymore, it’s just that it’s hard for them to make economic sense just because it doesn’t have that you built in teenage audience. So again, though—

JEFFREY BROWN: You are not seeing more of those, right?

ANN HORNADAY: No.

JEFFREY BROWN: You are just noticing when they come.

ANN HORNADAY: No, I’m just happy when they do come. Yeah, and I would say The Ghost Writer’s in that category. I guess I would put King’s Speech in that category, although that’s a period film. You know, that’s a little bit, maybe, of an easier sell in terms being in a genre. But no, I’m always encouraged when I see a few of those every year.

JEFFREY BROWN: Alright. So, now we’re focusing our end of the year look on Art Beat at overlooked works. In this case, films that we might have missed or not heard enough about that you want to call our attention to. What do you got?

ANN HORNADAY: The first one is one of those ones that opened I think in January, so it seems like ancient history now, but it’s a little British movie that I actually saw at the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years ago called Fish Tank, and it’s by this British director named Andrea Arnold. It’s sort of in that British realist tradition, you know, which is very gritty and naturalistic, but it’s about a woman living with her two daughters in a kind of a housing project in working-class England, and it’s a sort of coming of age story about her daughter, who’s played by a girl named Katie Jarvis, who was sort discovered by the filmmaker and she’s not a professional actress. Kristin Wearing, who is a British actor I’m a big fan of, plays the mom and it’s just a really closely observed domestic drama about the relationship between these strong willed women. So it’s a just a really, really fully realized, beautifully acted, beautiful conceived film.

JEFFREY BROWN: Was it released ever here or?

ANN HORNADAY: Yes, it was. In art houses. You know, it had that kind of art house release, and I would believe that it’s on DVD now, so I’m hoping that people maybe can catch up with it on DVD.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ok, Fish Tank. What else?

ANN HORNADAY: I don’t know if this would count as something that was overlooked, but Get Low was a little period drama with Robert Duvall and Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek that came out. And I think that Duvall will probably get his share of actor award nominations, and maybe even an Oscar nomination, which I think should bring it back up to people’s consciousness. But people might want to just sort of mark that down. I don’t think it’s on DVD yet, but put it down on your list to catch up with if you haven’t already. It’s a depression-era story. I don’t know if it’s a true story, but it’s a real-life legendary story about a man who planned his own funeral so that he could hear what people said about him. And Duvall plays that guy and he’s just a— it’s a just classic sort of old codger role, really well written. Bill Murray plays the funeral director that he works with to pull this thing off. And directorial debut by Aaron Schneider. Really well done, just a terrific story, and another great performance from Duvall.

JEFFREY BROWN: Want to give me another?

ANN HORNADAY: Ok. Every summer it seems like there is an indie movie that is sort of the sleeper hit of the summer, and I think this summer that was probably The Kids Are Alright, which is a terrific sort of domestic comedy-drama with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. But I would say, really for my money, another one that was equally rewarding was called Please Give by Nicole Holofcener, who is just a terrific writer-director. I’m a huge fan of her work. This starred Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt and it’s about a Manhattan—

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s about Manhattan real estate, right?

ANN HORNADAY: Kind of all about Manhattan and real estate, and you know, sort of acquisitiveness, and guilt, and liberal guilt, and it’s so funny. Oliver Platt, he really provides the best comic relief in the movie. But you know it really has a lot to say, I think, about our present state of affairs where people are really ambivalent you know, about stuff and all the things that we want and that we can’t have, or that we want and do have and feel guilt about. She just has a real control of that whole bittersweet tone, you know, which is so difficult to pull off.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you see, in terms of these smaller films, especially the art house type films— What’s the state of play with film art houses in around the country? Are there more venues? Are there less? You and I are both in Washington. We have some access to these things.

ANN HORNADAY: We sure do. No, I mean I think, again it’s sort of in a steady state. When I get emails from people who read my work on the web, they’re disappointed if they don’t have an art house in their community. But again, you know, I just think it’s hard for some of these enterprises to make economic sense, because with the business model being what it is, the studios want these movies to make a lot of money on those first couple of weekends when the viewing pattern for the core audience is really over time. I mean, because the audience is adults with busy lives, so they may not be able to go opening weekend. They might need to plan, they might need to get a sitter, you know. And then by that time, generally with the release pattern what it is, the movie’s gone. So I definitely think that somebody has kind of figure that out. And they have been playing around more with releasing things sort of contemporaneously with putting them on video on demand, so that might be a model in terms of sort of meeting the filmgoers where there are, so that if they can’t make it to the theater, they can at least catch up with it on video on demand. I mean, I think that’s sort of still an open question. To sort of segue, there were some wonderful nonfiction films this year, and they had a couple of my favorites. One was Budrus, about a civil disobedience action in a Palestinian village. It was really a terrific movie that kind of gives you this inkling of hope for that embattled region, that nonviolence has place in the civil discourse there. Another great documentary called Marwencol, about a young man recovering from an almost fatal brain injury by creating an alternative World War II world. And Boxing Gym, the Frederick Wiseman movie. Just a film of people working out in a boxing gym, which I just found mesmerizing. Watching people sort of do their workouts and kind of get into the zone. And it’s the perfect thing to see before you go see The Fighter with Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg is getting a lot more publicity. But those are all you know little tiny art house films that we got to see.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, alright. So I wrote down the suggestions. That makes it Fish Tank, Get Low, Please Give. And then Budrus, Marwencol and Boxing Gym.

ANN HORNADAY: Yeah.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ok, that’s six for people to watch. And before I let you go, I was kidding you before we came on here about Black Swan, which you liked and I didn’t, but that’s the fun of this, right?

ANN HORNADAY: That is the fun of this, and I totally understand why somebody— it is by no— I would never say it’s everybody’s cup of tea. By no means. But I appreciated the ambition of it, and the kind of bent vision, but I can completely understand if not’s your idea of fun. Better luck next time.

JEFFREY BROWN: Alright let the viewer decide for him or herself.

ANN HORNADAY: Indeed, indeed.

JEFFREY BROWN: Alright. Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, nice to talk to you.

ANN HORNADAY: Thank you, Jeff.