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January 2011

Mysterious Skin Flick

Kaboom (2010)

Marianne Williams/IFC Films

It’s been widely asserted that “Kaboom” is a return to form for beloved New Queer helmer Gregg Araki after the one-two punch of his dark, emotionally ravaging “Mysterious Skin” and the lighthearted stoner midnight-movie romp “Smiley Face.” If so, one wishes the filmmaker had stayed away from his old self. Part sex romp and part mysterious fare centered on a cult, the film consists of two sides that are so incongruent they might as well belong to different movies.

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Love and Other Drags

No Strings Attached (2011)

Dale Robinette/Paramount Pictures

There’s an art to making candy-coated big-budget entertainment, and Ivan Reitman has mastered it. Doubters need only hold the consistently funny, unrelentingly sweet “No Strings Attached” up against such immediate predecessors as last year’s abominable “Valentine’s Day” to recognize the imprint of a quality director on even the most mainstream of fare.

One would be hard-pressed to expect much from an Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman vehicle centered on a gimmicky friends-with-benefits exploration. But Mr. Reitman maintains a buoyant tone throughout, capturing millennial life in Los Angeles with squeaky clean affection for the sunny city’s perfectly manicured delights. Elizabeth Meriwether’s screenplay is attuned to the ways well-to-do young people communicate and fall in love in a fast-paced, tech-obsessed world, filling the movie with moments that are essentially recognizable even while heightened to reflect a particular brand of Hollywood weirdness.

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The Science of Swede

The Green Hornet (2011)

Jaimie Trueblood/Columbia Pictures

The odd-couple combination of Michel Gondry and a Seth Rogen-inhabited superhero plays out about as one would expect in “The Green Hornet,” a 19-year long-gestating project finally come to fruition. Elements of Mr. Gondry’s trademark minimalist whimsy combine with Mr. Rogen’s frat-boy exhortations and a whole lot of unchecked, off-the-wall action in a potpourri that never quite works, but always keeps on moving.

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Serving a Run-On Sentence

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (2010)

Film Movement

The renaissance in Romanian cinema continues with “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,” a small release that kicks off the 2011 film calendar. First-time filmmaker Florin Serban’s gritty prison drama — shot on a hand-held camera largely in close-up — offers a paired-down, intense character-driven experience that propels its viewer into the suffocating world of life in juvenile detention.

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Another Year We Make Contact

Simon Mein/Sony Pictures Classics

The 2010 movie year played out in predictable fashion, with a lot of noteworthy gems submerged beneath the usual Hollywood garbage and the occasional big studio success story sprinkled in for good measure. For adventurous moviegoers, those willing to break free from the bonds of mass-marketed, 3-D-centric product, the year offered its share of rewards, with a strong crop of documentaries and some characteristically fine work from well-established directors leading the pack.

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The Age of Innocence Lost

Magnolia Pictures

Full disclosure: Due to a professional detour, I saw fewer films in 2010 than in any of the previous 14 years. No self-respecting critic or dedicated movie buff would stand for that, and to change it is a top priority for the new year. But for this annual list-making exercise, it means there are a couple more sentimental favorites in place of critically defensible choices.

Musically, the oversaturating trifecta of Lady Gaga, Eminem and Justin Bieber effectively drove me to the thriving scenes in Japan and South Korea. Unadulterated pop music is making a comeback on a global scale, but folks in Asia craft it exceptionally enough to truly transcend any language barrier.

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From Inception to Worth

Karine Arlot/IFC Films

Shock horror, a top-10-films-of-2010 list that omits both "Avatar" and "Inception," and I make absolutely no apologies for doing so. Personally speaking, I had to be thoroughly coerced into even going to see "Avatar" in the first place. My instincts were sadly correct and I only resisted walking out because I thought James Cameron couldn't possibly make as much of a hash of the final act as he did the rest of the movie. I was sadly misguided in my assumptions. Now "Inception" was far more successful, and I'm a big fan of both Christopher Nolan and Leonardo DiCaprio. My main complaint with "Inception" lies in the fact that the premise is far stronger than the execution. While many critics will invariably place these two pictures in their top 10, there's no room for them in mine. So onto my personal favorites from the past 12 months ...

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Dream Country

Carlos-edgar-ramirez-badih abou-chakra-alejandro-arroyo
IFC Films

My favorite film of the year is on this list. My second and third favorites were too experimental to attract any wide distribution, but that's life. Mainstream distributors prefer event movies, and event movies are more to do with drug delivery and a repeat of whatever pleasant sensations seemed to work last time rather than anything more sophisticated, but that's life as well. The porn industry has done alright for itself with that business model for centuries, and with about as much need for critics, too.

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C.G.I. and Rental Stores, They Were Expendable

Karen Ballard/Lionsgate

The big story in film in Britain in 2010 was the closure by the coalition government of the UK Film Council, the centralized funding body for British films with the caveat that the productions had to be aimed at the people in the region where it was filmed. The resulting movies tended to appeal to no one at all, although there were several glorious exceptions, this year's "Tamara Drewe" among them. The responsibilities are instead being shifted to the British Film Institute, which runs the BFI London Film Festival and an Imax, manages the BFI National Archive, publishes books on cinema and releases DVDs of various classic or neglected films. These responsibilities are so new and vague, the BFI hasn't yet bothered to update its website. And since the government has already developed a history of backtracking on its cultural cuts (eg. the furor over Bookstart, a charity providing free books to underprivileged kids), it's still uncertain what is going to happen.

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