For me, the big story of the movie of 2010 was the animated films and the documentaries — we had more great films in both categories than ever before. So I was delighted to see Roger Ebert’s list of the year’s best documentaries. The films he selected demonstrate the astonishing range of modes, moods, topics, and voices working in documentaries today. There is the devastating autopsy of the financial crisis (“Inside Job”) and the mind-bending examination of street art that explores art, commerce, and the gullibility of the celebrity culture in form and content. There is a movie about a serial killer and a movie about a literally colorful guy who waves his jacket at tourists on Chicago’s river boats (I loved that one). And I was delighted to see Roger’s comments on the new film from Errol Morris. It was the review of Errol Morris’ “Gates of Heaven” and “Vernon, Florida” on the Ebert and Siskel show that first got me interested in documentaries, and I have been very grateful to them ever since.
Thanks to Dan Kois of New York Magazine’s culture blog for including me in the round-up of the movies that made critics miserable in 2010.
Jean Kerr, who was married to the legendary New York Times drama critic Walter Kerr, once wrote about attending opening nights with her husband. She said that a critic will watch a terrible play and ask himself why it is bad but the spouse, who has no professional interest in that question will just ask herself why she was born. I think of that often when I watch movies so staggeringly bad that I can feel brain cells melt. I do ask myself why it is bad but sometimes I also ask myself why I was born.
Fortunately, a critic does have the relief of saving others from the train wrecks and, in pieces like the one assembled by Kois, the fun of finding words to express the excruciating pain of the experience and the satisfaction of assigning blame where it belongs.
Read it to see which movie a critic called “Camp’s ‘Gotterdammerung,'” which critic’s darling is deemed “a blend of a TV commercial and an acting class,” which movie is “pompous, interminable hash” and which is “Everything That’s Wrong With Self-Serious Indie Films, Ego-Tripping Star Vehicles, Disease-of-the-Week Oscar Bait, and Movies in Which Characters Are Haunted by Their Stupid Mysterious Past That We’ll Have to Revisit Through a Series of Tediously Oblique Flashbacks Until We Finally Say, ‘Okay, It Was a Car Crash! We Get It Already!'” One movie was given “bonus demerits from the cringing cowardice of its feel-good finale.” One critic was inspired to give his thoughts in iambic pentameter:
Dinner for Schmucks,” To note: One tends to want to like Paul Rudd.
Laughing out loud as I read the selections of the other critics (even though I actually liked some of the movies they named) made up for a lot of long, long nights in the theater and got me ready for another year.
This weekend we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King and every family should take time to talk about this great American leader and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. There are outstanding films for all ages.
Every family should watch the magnificent movie Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King, and should study the history of the Montgomery bus boycott that changed the world. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. It is important to note that he was not asking for complete desegregation; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. And this website has assembled teaching materials, including the modest reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging. Families should also read They Walked To Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Paul Winfield has the lead in King, a brilliant and meticulously researched NBC miniseries co-starring Cecily Tyson that covers King’s entire career.
The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, makes clear that the boycott was a reminder to black and white women of their rights and opportunities — and risk of change.
Citizen King is a PBS documentary with archival footage of Dr. King and his colleagues. Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream has his famous speech in full, still one of the most powerful moments in the history of oratory and one of the most meaningful moments in the history of freedom.