With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this columnist could get nasty and list the biggest turkeys of the year. Or he could get in the spirit of the holiday and give thanks for movies, actors, actresses, screenwriters and directors who have made going to the theater in 2010 as pleasurable as a second helping of stuffing smothered in gravy. So let's take the latter route, shall we?
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this columnist could get nasty and list the biggest turkeys of the year. Or he could get in the spirit of the holiday and give thanks for movies, actors, actresses, screenwriters and directors who have made going to the theater in 2010 as pleasurable as a second helping of stuffing smothered in gravy.
So let's take the latter route, shall we? Traveling on the high road, instead of the low road and I'll be in Scotland afore ye. Sorry, I'm having a "Loch Lomond" flashback. For brevity's sake, we'll deal in pairs, as in two drumsticks.
TWO FILMS TO BE THANKFUL FOR (SO FAR): "The Social Network" and "Inception."
The former follows Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) on his journey from Harvard geek to billionaire geek as he starts Facebook, gets sued and alienates nearly everyone around him. The film works as a fascinating character study of anti-social behavior (oh, the irony), giving viewers the opportunity to debate who is the film's biggest (naughty body part).
The latter provides the year's visual masterpiece. It's like "Avatar" with a brain, albeit a demented one. Warning: If you didn't see this movie on a big screen, the experience won't be as mind-blowing. Confession: If you didn't understand all the dream-stealing stuff, join the club.
TWO PERFORMANCES BY ACTRESSES TO BE THANKFUL FOR (SO FAR): Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone" and Noomi Rapace in the "Girl" trilogy.
You want down-and-dirty realism? You can't get any more real or down and dirty than Lawrence's turn as an Ozark Mountain teen looking for her drug-dealing father so that her family doesn't lose their home. During the search, she confronts some of the scariest people you'd never want to meet and somehow keeps her wits about her.
On the subject of people you'd be better off avoiding, especially if you've ticked her off, we submit Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of Steig Larsson's gruesome threesome. Rapace's Lisbeth is a one-woman wrecking crew with a back story ideal for creating a person with an ax to grind and then plant firmly in the middle of your forehead. The best of three films, by the way, is the first: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
Another winning pair: Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, who play lesbian parents dealing with daddy issues in "The Kids Are All Right."
TWO PERFORMANCES BY ACTORS TO BE THANKFUL FOR (SO FAR): Michael Douglas in "Solitary Man" and James Franco in "127 Hours."
Douglas has played jerks before -- Gordon Gekko, for example -- but he truly gets lowdown as a used-car dealer who gives used-car dealers a bad name, if that's possible. His road to redemption comes filled with land mines and steps on nearly every one. Douglas clearly has an affinity for unsympathetic roles.
Franco gets the camera nearly all to himself in the real-life story of a man who gets his arm caught in a boulder in the desert and has to take drastic measures to free himself. Insert tasteless pun here. Franco proves he's just not another pretty face in this tale of extreme extraction.
TWO DIRECTORS TO BE THANKFUL FOR (SO FAR): Ben Affleck for "The Town" and Roman Polanski for "The Ghost Writer."
As a shameless Bay State "homer," I can't help but praise the work of Bay Stater Ben Affleck in his latest film "The Town," especially since the movie takes place in the cozy confines of Charlestown. While the movie isn't as riveting as his directorial debut "Gone Baby Gone," Affleck shows he can helm an action flick with some wicked, awesome powah.
Polanski adds another little gem to a career loaded with jewels in "The Ghost Writer," a film about a scribe who gets more than he bargained for when he agrees to pen the memoir of a British prime minister. The film doesn't paint too many people -- or countries -- in a flattering light here. You may dislike Polanski for his sordid past behavior (and I'm not going to defend him), but there's no denying the man is one of cinema's greatest directors.
TWO SCREENWRITERS TO BE THANKFUL FOR (SO FAR): Michael Arndt for "Toy Story 3" and Aaron Sorkin for "The Social Network."
All moviedom should be thankful for Pixar. The studio has yet to make a dud, and it continues its winning streak with "Toy Story 3." Usually, sequels come off as just inferior retreads while threequels only dilute the product further. Pixar keeps this story fresh, however, by placing the toys out of their element and adding a new cast of characters. Arndt's script combines humor and heart with an abundance of wit.
Sorkin, meanwhile, takes Ben Mezrich's nonfiction book "The Accidental Billionaires" and demonstrates economically and emotionally that greed isn't necessarily good. The opening scene where Zuckerberg gets dumped is worth the price of admission alone.
TWO GUILTY PLEASURES TO BE THANKFUL FOR (SO FAR): "Kick-Ass" and "Jackass 3-D."
Both films are exceedingly violent and offensive -- and hysterically funny if you have a deranged sense of humor. That's a big "if," too, so if you're looking for a sophisticated comedy, these aren't the movies you're looking for.
Other pleasures: Jacki Weaver as the grandmother from hell in "Animal Kingdom," Vincent Cassel as the gangster with gumption in the "Mesrine" movies, Tilda Swinton as an aristocrat with an adulterous bent in "I Am Love" and a slew of documentaries, including "Restrepo," "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," "Inside Job," "Waiting for 'Superman"' and "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer."
And the majority of the Oscar favorites haven't even arrived yet.
FEEDBACK: Regarding last month's column on famous movie quotes, S.G.L. offered two quotes that weren't mentioned: "It's alive!" from "Frankenstein" and "When you're slapped, you'll take it and like it" from "The Maltese Falcon." Thanks, S.G.L.
It's now time for TRIVIA.
Last month's tester: What actress made an auspicious film debut in a movie that received four Oscar nominations? In the same year, she appeared in another movie in which an actress won an Oscar and 12 years later appeared in another movie in which an actor won an Oscar. Named the two actresses, the actor and the films.
Answer: Jo Van Fleet, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1955 in "East of Eden." The same year she appeared in "The Rose Tattoo," which won Anna Magnani the Best Actress Oscar. In 1967, Van Fleet appeared in "Cool Hand Luke," which won George Kennedy a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
No one answered the question correctly.
This month's tester: Good at being bad, this actress was nominated twice for an Oscar and appeared in a famous musical. Clue: In one of her last films, two of her co-stars were nominated for Oscars. Name the actress, the musical, the film and the co-stars.
The first reader to answer the trivia question correctly will receive a package of Fruits & Passion products including Cranberry Love eau de toilette and shower gel. For more information about the gift, go to www.fruits-passion.com.
Trivia enthusiasts can call me at 508-626-4409 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make sure you leave your name, address and number on my message machine or e-mail so I can contact you if you answered the question correctly. The address is needed so winners can be mailed their prize. Callers should spell out their names slowly and clearly so their names will be spelled correctly in the column. Only one guess per household, please.
Answers will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Good luck!