Top Overlooked Film Awards of 2010 | Sarah Boslaugh

There’s a danger in getting too close to your material, particularly when making a film about a con man.

Ten film awards that aren’t given but should be:
Best example of a director getting conned by the subject of his film: George Hickenlooper, director of Casino Jack. There’s a danger in getting too close to your material, particularly when making a film about a con man. I have no doubt Jack Abramoff would like to be remembered as he is portrayed in Hickenlooper’s film: as a sincere and misunderstood fellow who unfairly took the fall for all those evil Congressmen. For the real story on the sneering snob who negotiated favorable treatment for sweatshops in Saipan and stole millions from American Indian tribes while referring to them as morons and monkeys, see Alex Gibney’s documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money.
Worst dialogue preparation: Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. Whose idea was it to have this gifted young actress rush through her lines, particularly the last words of each statement she makes? It might be some misguided attempt at authenticity, highlighting the unusual speech patterns of the period, but instead it creates the impression that the she is desperate to spit out the lines before she forgets them. Note: I didn’t see Robin Hood, which was thus ineligible for this reward, but judging by reports from my fellow reviewers, Russell Crowe might have been a close contender for this honor.
Most shamelessly manipulative documentary: Waiting for “Superman” by Davis Guggenheim. There’s nothing like cute kids in peril to punch the audience’s buttons and make them inclined to believe anything you say, regarding the causes of that peril. Waiting for “Superman’” exploits this natural tendency to empathize while seeking refuge in broad generalities and cherry-picked facts, avoiding looking closely at uncomfortable questions such as why, on average, charter schools perform worse than public schools. Note: Thomas Balmes’ Babies is a worthy runner-up in this category.
Best use of a non-traditional camera: The micro-budget Tiny Furniture, directed by Lena Dunham and shot by Jody Lee Lipes. The film looks like a million bucks despite a budget much more modest (the director has not disclosed the exact figure), thanks in large part to Lipes’ skilled use of the Canon EOS 7D, a high definition SLR still/video camera.
Best performance likely to be overlooked: Dale Dickey as Merab in Winter’s Bone. Merab is easily the most frightening character in a film filled with terrors, but Dickey makes her a complex person who has the gift of empathy and a strong sense of justice, as well as a capacity for violence and intimidation. Unfortunately, the role is too small to attract Oscar’s notice, and Dickey’s ability to work effectively as a member of an ensemble cast also works against her achieving individual recognition.
Most enjoyable fake documentary: Exit Through the Gift Shop, directed by the British graffiti artist Banksy. Fake docs are becoming a popular genre, and the real test of any film is not whether it is false or true (most films are a mix of both) but whether the finished product is worth your time. By that standard, Exit Through the Gift Shop leaves its nearest competitors, I’m Not There and Catfish, in its wake.
Best use of a small cast: The Disappearance of Alice Creed, directed by J (no period) Blakeson. It might be economic necessity or it might be a marketing ploy, but several films this year have focused on the interactions of a few individuals in a limited physical environment. Dreaming up such a scenario is not difficult; the hard part is to make a film which succeeds on its own merits, rather than as a kind of parlor trick or gives the impression of a stage play that somehow happened to be performed before a camera. The clear winner in this category is the taut thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed, which feels completely natural despite using only three cast members.
Most successful film based on an absolutely loopy premise: Splice, directed by Vincenzo Natali. To get very far with this film, you have to believe not only that human-animal cloning is possible, but also that the results of such an experiment could successfully be concealed. But if you’re willing to go with it, Splice is a highly entertaining film—with strong performances by Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody—which raises issues about the conduct of science and the boundaries between species.
Best multi-part foreign release: The film/TV versions of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, directed by Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Daniel Alfredson (The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). How often does American television produce anything you’d be willing to pay to see in a movie theater? Not often, but fortunately this is not the case in other countries, as can be seen not only by the second and third Girl movies (originally produced for Swedish TV), but also by other contenders in this division, including Carlos (a mini-series for French TV) and Red Riding (a three-part series for British TV).
Best remake: Let Me In, directed by Matt Reeves. While I prefer the 2008 Swedish original Let the Right One In (directed by Tomas Alfredson), Let Me In is also a good film which doesn’t deserve the critical hate piled on it. Reeves chose to bring out the horror elements of the story, but never lost the essential focus on the relationship between the two young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz, who are both excellent. Richard Jenkins adds depth in a role which was basically a throwaway in the original film, and Let Me In’s script adds a much stronger element of social and religious criticism, including an early shot of Ronald Reagan on television, declaring that, “there is evil in the world” but that “America is good.”
| Sarah Boslaugh

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