Posted: 01/02/2011


Elaine Hegwood Bowen’s 2010 picks

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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There were many great films in 2010, and I’m throwing my favorites into the mix. I must say, however, that I wish for the new year that not every darn film is committed to 3D. Some just aren’t worth it, and to have kids’ movies in 3D puts a strain on parents’ budgets, while the kids are screaming to see a particular movie. Here’s to great movie watching in 2011.

Avatar Avatar was a sweeping, vivid film, with great picture and sound, combined with masterful cinematography, art direction and visual effects that just blew me away.

Whether one agrees that Avatar was the story of the reluctant hero Jake, who embarks on a journey of redemption and discovery as he leads a heroic battle to save a civilization that might not need saving. Or whether one feels that maybe it’s the story of a people who need salvation from an army contingent that’s fixated on finding a valuable natural mineral that’s growing in their forest. Or then again whether you think it’s an old fashioned love story, with Jake falling for the native girl and forsaking the U.S. military—Avatar was a history-making visual masterpiece that brings the natives, the technology and the BIG machines to life.

While I believe that some of the dialogue at the start of the film could be straight out of any urban, inner city. Everyone is so cool, “hey bro,” and the fact that the Na’vi people all have long cornrows leads one to wonder whether Avatar could yet again be the story of “the man” coming to infringe upon the natives, sort of what gentrification has done throughout disenfranchised neighborhoods throughout Chicago and other U.S. cities.

But the Na’vi people didn’t need a “tarzan” or government military convoy to assist them. They had been thriving on the Tree of Souls, mating, subduing flying animals, and wearing beautiful tribal headdresses and necklaces for years. This, coupled with the fact that the mother of the land was played by veteran actress CCH Pounder, and the beautiful Zoë Saldana as her daughter, makes an urban spin on this record-breaking movie all the more plausible. Nevertheless, whatever spin is put on Avatar, it was fantastic!

Death at a Funeral Death at a Funeral starring Tracy Morgan, Loretta Divine, Chris Rock, Ron Glass, Zoe Saldana and a host of other comedians and actors was so darn funny that it didn’t matter that it was an exact remake of the British version of a devoted father’s funeral that opens itself up to a bold surprise!
The story goes that a patriarch dies and the funeral is held at his home, where he lived with his grieving widow and oldest son and his wife. The younger son, played by Martin Lawrence, is an accomplished writer, and the oldest son, played by Chris Rock, works in finance but always had aspirations to become a writer. There’s a bit of sibling rivalry going on, but that is thrown to the wind when it is discovered that their late father was on the “down low” and had a lover who was small in size. He is also Caucasian, and the deceased man is Black, so I don’t know what was the biggest grievance: the lover’s gender, size or ethnicity.
Rock plays Aaron and Martin plays Ryan; Peter Dinklage plays Frank, the father’s undercover lover, and he has a blackmail scheme of his own to carry out. This is the same role that Dinklage played in the British version.
There’s one slapstick scene after another, for what has been described as a sad, sad family, merely trying to bury their father.

The King’s Speech The King’s Speech is such a great entertaining as well as educational movie about the British Monarchy. Colin Firth plays King George VI, after his brother King Edward VIII, played by Guy Pearce, abdicates his place at the throne after their father’s (King George V, played by Michael Gambon) death. His brother was madly in love with an American woman named Wallis Simpson, who had been twice divorced, and the royals were having nothing to do with this. Edward’s love for Wallis was stronger than his desire to rule, so he stepped down and King George VI reluctantly stepped up to the plate. But King George VI had more problems than just being naïve; he also had a speech impediment, which I believed could be traced to his father’s heavy hand and his brother’s dominance over him. After much animated and covert lessons and coaching by Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, who wasn’t even a certified speech therapist, King George VI is ready for the most important speech of his life, as Great Britain went to war with Germany. The King’s Speech will have you laughing and near tears at the same time, as he conquers his speech impediment, while forging a great friendship with Logue, who also serves as a great mental health therapist. I loved this movie, right at the brink of the end of the year.

True Grit True Grit is another great movie on which I eagerly awaited. I remembered as a teen, watching my father enjoying this movie and all the other westerns in the world. I remember watching him lost in the television, mesmerized by the entire cowboy, shoot-’em-up action. True Grit is a remake of the 1969 western that starred John Wayne, but now stars Jeff Bridges in the lead role of drunken, unkempt U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. The 2010 version of True Grit is very good; I really liked the newcomer, 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Mattie Ross, a young girl who avenges her father’s murder with fierce commitment. She is out for blood, as she seeks to capture the man, Tom Chaney, played by Josh Brolin, who killed her father and bring him to justice. Along the way she cuts a deal with Cogburn and another lawman from Texas, Sheriff LaBoeulf played by Matt Damon, who is also looking for the same man.
Now, all three must work together to get the man at the end; and while the three may work together, the men view Ross as a stubborn distraction, from whom they would rather be separated. But she has money and her father’s gun to boot.
Ross is an intelligent, quick thinking young lady who performs with great confidence and conviction. In the end Chaney does meet a kind of justice that is agreeable to all involved.

Waiting on Superman Waiting on Superman was such a good movie, and then such a sad, heartstring-pulling movie at the same time. Waiting for Superman follows five students throughout the nation, who are striving to achieve more academically and allow themselves to be involved in lotteries for admission in the premier schools near their homes.
Anthony from D.C. will just break your heart, as he and his grandmother try to gain admission to a boarding school called The Seed.
Daisy is from Los Angeles, and she always wanted to be a veterinarian—well since she began reading. She’s also trying to get into a better school, with her parents by her side all the way.
Then there’s Bianca, who is in kindergarten and lives right across the street from the Catholic school that she attends. She has to sit out graduation, because her single mom has fallen behind on the tuition. It’s so draining, watching that scene.
Francisco is from the Bronx and Emily is an 8th grader from the Silicon Valley who is trying to go to another school, rather than the neighborhood school where she knows she won’t be prepared well for college.
David Guggenheim, the Academy award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth, brings this documentary that has been criticized by some in the educational arena. Geoffrey Canada, head of the Harlem Children’s Zone, is the primary interviewee in Waiting for Superman. Canada has been successful in his school and community based organizations that serve as a safety net for the students enrolled in his institution.
The movie simply highlights the need for better schools across the board across the country; instead of charter schools and magnet schools where only a smidgen of students can gain admittance.
Waiting for Superman is a good eye-opener, although it may be one-sided. And it might not do much in the long run, and many children may just have to continue waiting for that elusive hero who will open doors to better education for all. But the movie is worth seeing.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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