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December 2010

A Woman, a Gun and Some Noodling Around

True Grit (2010)

Lorey Sebastian/Paramount Pictures

In “True Grit,” the Coen brothers play it straight. The masters of caustic pastiche and razor-sharp observational cinema return to the western, but not with the tension of “Blood Simple” or the existential weirdness of “No Country for Old Men.” Instead, their adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel (and not, it must be stressed, the 1969 Academy Award-winning John Wayne vehicle) is largely a return to the genre’s classical form.

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You Better Watch Out; Santa Claus Is Contemning the Town

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Oscilloscope Laboratories

Every so often a film comes along that so completely engrosses, bewilders and charms that it is guaranteed cult classic status; and Jelmari Helander's fiendish Finnish fable about the true nature of Santa is one such gem.

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For Whom the Belle Tolls

Hemingway's Garden of Eden (2010)

Susan Allnutt/Roadside Attractions

A soft-core, Jazz Age skin flick masquerading as high art, “Garden of Eden” nonetheless could well be a faithful adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s posthumously published novel. Maybe the icon really did write characters as obtuse and superficial as these, and maybe the man who wrote “The Old Man and the Sea,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” actually produced a narrative so fully comprised of superficial psychobabble.

Controversies over the editing of the work and the usual luxuries of page-to-screen adapters make it impossible to know exactly what Papa intended. Yet, no matter the pedigree, the movie director John Irvin has given us is a cornball, slide-show assemblage of luxurious images, beautiful women in various states of undress and some childhood-in-African flashbacks ripped from the pages of the worst boilerplate fiction.

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Venice Plays Itself

The Tourist (2010)

Peter Mountain/Columbia Pictures

These are tough times for froth. When half of mainstream cinema is pastiche already and most of the rest wants its childhood back, what does deliberate frivolity even look like? "The Tourist" has a go at finding out, no thought in its pretty head beyond the visual pleasure of packing two pocket-rockets of screen presence off to Europe and having them stand in front of exotic buildings. Purged of every molecule of guile, it leaves the audience in a mild state of free fall, waiting for Hollywood snark that never arrives.

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Pirouetting Out of Control

Black Swan (2010)

Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” arrives in theaters amid a torrent of hype, a swirl of anticipation spurred by the glamorous sex appeal of high-end ballet, sapphic copulation and Grand Guignol melodrama. But what really makes the picture tick is its insight into the performer’s soul, the striving for perfection, the quest for complete immersion in a part that spurs the proverbial blurred line between the real and the imagined.

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Low Blow the Underclass to Kingdom Come

The Fighter (2010)

JoJo Whilden/Paramount Pictures

“The Fighter” isn’t this year’s “The Wrestler.” Think of it rather as the American riff on the “Animal Kingdom” milieu. Hardly anyone could possibly find this true story of Lowell, Mass., boxer Micky Ward (here played by Mark Wahlberg) inspirational because it so seeps with the same disdain for the underclass found in that Australian coming-of-age crime saga.

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A Digitized Shadow of Science Fiction

TRON: Legacy (2010)

Disney Enterprises

"TRON: Legacy," a movie that has been in the works since the mid-'90s, is finally here. It wears its reported budget of more than $200 million very much on its sleeve, with amazing costumes, lighting and C.G.I. work combining to create a believable — and pleasingly three-dimensional — computer-focused world. But all the money in its budget was unable to buy the filmmakers a single original idea. On reflection, that's perhaps what "TRON: Legacy" is meant to be: the first major studio mash-up movie.

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