>Some Nice Things I’ve Missed #2: From the Year We Make Contact

>This entry includes reviews of some 2010 releases that I’m just now catching up on.

EASY A – It would be easy to write “The movie that made Emma Stone a big fat star,” and leave it at that. You could also invite comparisons to Pretty Woman or The Princess Diaries or Mean Girls or any other film that served as a coming-out party/debutante-ball/patronizing event that women partake in for an actress who later went onto bigger and better things. Except for Mean Girls. Well, maybe Tina Fey as the writer counts on that one.

But while Easy A is the Emma Stone Show from start to finish, this smart, sweet teen comedy has a Murderer’s Row of supporting actors to back it up. From She’s All That to Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Scratch that. Reverse it.), the best teen high school comedies often have strong character actors in the roles of “the adults.” EASY A might be one of the all-time best when it comes to its adult parts — Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Patricia Clarkson, and Fred Armisen all appear, and the movie even lets Malcolm McDowell loosen up and play a funny hard-ass. (McDowell is in it for two scenes, but those two scenes are still better than much of the crap he’s done lately.) Still, the MVP — the Babe Ruth in the above analogy — is Stanley Tucci, as Stone’s dad. He and Clarkson (as the mom) have a warm, winning relationship, and they feel like real parents who are concerned about their daughter but understand teenagers need space. And he is hilarious; like much of the film, his dialogue deserves to be quoted and referenced for a long time to come.

Less impressive, however, are Stone’s co-stars on the teen level. For every Amanda Bynes, there’s a Cam Gigadent taking up space. And while Penn Badgley isn’t nearly as insufferable as Stone’s love interest as he is on Gossip Girl, he doesn’t fully wipe out all his Humphrey-isms, nor is he expected to. The standout, after Stone, is Dan Byrd, who is likeable on Cougar Town, but does impressive, subtle work here. Well, as subtle as you can get in a teen comedy anyway.

While Mean Girls and Easy A enjoyed about the same level of box office success, one hopes that it acquires a similar fan following as Mean Girls did — and that Emma Stone enjoys Julia Roberts-level success, as opposed to shoplifting shenangins. (That’s shenanagins related to shoplifting, not the act of stealing shenangins.)

THE TOWN – While not as powerful as Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck’s first film as a director, The Town is still old-school, basic Hollywood entertainment. Like MICHAEL CLAYTON, it’s a movie you can watch with your lady and not feel bad afterwards. They simply don’t make movies like this anymore, and Affleck shoots action well. Many of the reviews of the film criticize its descent into action-movie-isms in the last 30 minutes, but I found the climax to be thrilling and engaging. I give the story credit for going big for its final set-piece and slowly amping up the intensity of the heists throughout the film. While the film is stacked with consistently good supporting players — Chris Cooper and the late great Pete Posthelwaite among them — and Affleck does solid, minimalist work as an actor, Renner has the showiest role. It’s quite evocative of Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas,” but Renner takes the rage of a Tommy DeVito and contains it in a quietness and a methodical manner.

Disappointing, however, is Jon Hamm, as the FBI Agent opposite , the Pacino to DeNiro in The Town’s Beantown-set variation on Heat. As I’ve mentioned before, I think Hamm is a very, very good actor, but there was far too much of Don Draper in his performance here. It felt like I was watching him play dress-up, but in listening to an interview with Affleck, Hamm came right from Mad Men to working on The Town, so maybe there was some unncessary bleed-over. Bleed-over? Are we just able to make up our own words now? But Hamm has some great moments, and I like him enough of as an actor to give him a pass.

Also, Blake Lively is in this and is kind of boring.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD – From its indie comic source material to its videogame references, to its geek pedigree (director-writer Edgar Wright) to its inventive sense of style and editing, every frame of this film screams “cult following.” Also, the comic book, setting, and lead actor (Michael Cera) are Canadian, and cool people love Canada.

Scott Pilgrim is a bucket and a half (actual way of measuring things) of fun, and it shows just how talented Wright is as a director, because in any other filmmaker’s hands, this film could have easily, easily, easily become insufferable and maddening. His skills with actors and eye for casting shines here, filling every almost every role with a talent who shines. Almost. This blog discussed the great Eisenberg v. Cera debate, and in 2010, that debate was put to rest. Michael Cera is a funny, genial actor…who always manages to play a variation on Michael Cera, and it feels a little off here. Part of that could be because Scott, a twenty-something slacker and videogame fan, is in the same wheelhouse as Shaun, thirty-something slacker and videogame fan, but part of it also has to do with Cera’s inability to deliver more than variations on a theme. Whereas, to continue this digression, Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg as a geek/nerd/genius that is different from the other geek-nerd-geniuses he’s played in the past.

Anyway, back to Scott Pilgrim. The fights are fun, and are staged in fun, visually interesting ways. It’s a film, like Easy A, that I can see myself watching when I want to have something on in the background, but I think it’s ultimately a pretty light piece of work. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that love interest Ramona isn’t completely fleshed out, but there was more material that resonated in Shaun of the Dead when it came to that awkward post-college slacker experience.

So while I look forward to seeing how — again, like Easy A — Scott Pilgrim ages, especially as the references become increasingly dated. But it sure was pretty to look at.

THE AMERICAN – Low-key, minimal, with gorgeous cinematography and assured direction, this might be my favorite film of last year (funny how I don’t actually see my favorite film of the previous year until two-three months into the following one; this is how it was in ’07 and ’09, too). The plot of this film is simple: A man builds a gun. But he builds a gun in such a way that the film evokes two of my favorites, POINT BLANK and THE LIMEY. George Clooney does an excellent job here, very contained and unexpected — the film sets him up very early on as a man who does not mess around, so you’re never sure what he’ll do next. This is a film I’ve been turning around in my mind for days now, and I can’t wait to see it again. Loved it.


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