2010 in Movies: Breakthroughs

One of the most rewarding aspects of watching movies is seeing the emergence of new talent.  Here are some pleasant surprises from the past year.

With just her second feature, Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) has emerged as an important filmmaker to watch.  She presented an unflinching look at the Ozark meth dealer subculture without ever resorting to stereotype.  Granik hit a home run with every artistic choice, from the locations to the spare soundtrack to the pacing to the casting.  I’ll be watching for her next film.

20-year-old Jennifer Lawrence is in every scene of Winter’s Bone.  With a minimum of dialogue, she creates a lead character of rarely seen determination.

14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld plays the main character in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, a girl of unrelenting resolve and moxie.  Without her performance, the movie could not have been the success that it is, and she has no problem standing up to the likes of Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin and Matt Damon.

The Swedish actress Noomi Rapace was new to us Americans when she originated the very original character of damaged, angry, master hacker Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Although Rooney Mara will play Lisbeth in the upcoming David Fincher versions, I’m sure that Noomi Rapace will fetch some Hollywood offers.

Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Jonah Hill (Cyrus) showed us that their acting ranges are far wider than previously evident.

Mia Wasilova had a very good year in The Kids Are All Right and Alice in Wonderland.  I’m looking forward to see her work in 2011, starting with Restless.

Screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe tried a novel approach in Going the Distance that respected the audience – creating characters like the ones we know in real life, who talk and act like real people do.  And, instead of an implausible set-up, the conflict was the real problem of a bi-coastal romance.  He wound up writing the year’s best rom com.

Edgar Ramirez carries the 5 1/2 hours of Carlos.  I’m sure we’ll see the Venezuelan star soon in a Hollywood vehicle.

Ajami was co-written and co-directed by Scandar Copti, a Jaffa-born Palestinian, and Yaron Shoni, an Israeli Jew.   After seeing the film, I was surprised to learn that it has no trained actors – all of the roles are played by real-life residents who improvised their lines to follow the story line.  Ajami is a unique project, but I hope that Copti and Shoni continue their collaboration.

Touching Home is a little movie with a big performance by Ed Harris  The film was written and directed by and stars the Miller twins, Logan and Noah, who tell the story of their own alcoholic father.  The authenticity of the writing and Harris’ performance make this an exceptionally realistic depiction of alcoholism. The Miller twins made the most of their debut, and I look forward to what they do next.

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