If you’re off of work today celebrating … whatever it is we celebrate on Columbus Day, and you’re thinking you might want to check out a flick, but wondering if there’s anything good, well, here are the five best movies currently in release. Watch one. Take a date.
The Social Network: Mark Zuckerberg, at least the one depicted in The Social Network, would probably appreciate The Social Network. It would satisfy his every desire to be depicted as a monstrously successful asshole, an insecure egotist, even if it’s not exactly true. Then again, Facebook isn’t true, either. It’s the embodiment of what we want ourselves to be; it’s the best picture of a bad bunch; it’s our life, reduced to an online highlight reel. That’s what The Social Network is for the origins story of Facebook: A well articulated, fast-paced, and, paradoxically, a humanely soulless highlight reel of the rise of Mark Zuckerberg. It’s nothing less than brilliant.
The Town: If Ben Affleck is at long last figuring out how to marry dualities as an actor, he’s only just beginning to do so as a director, and as a result, The Town is only moderately successful. Affleck’s love for his hometown of Boston is tangible. He thrives on the color and life of it all and is determined to capture its many fragmented angles on the screen for all to see. Yet Affleck’s problem is that his devotion for location can overwhelm his stated goal of telling a story. His film is set in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, purported to be a breeding ground of crime, and the film opens with ominous title cards about how the area has more bank robbers than anywhere else and how the career is practically handed down from father to son. Yet he closes with a card proclaiming that most of the residents of Charlestown are the kind of “good people found most anywhere.” Did he really think that a two-hour thriller would make viewers think that everyone in that section of Boston is a hardened thug? The disclaimer feels like a mea culpa, as if Affleck was too worried about some hypothetical, virulent strain of extremism that he had to make sure that Boston remained holy in the eyes of the audience. The Town is at its best when it focuses not merely on the city but on the people trying to survive there, yet the ending is just one of many moments when Affleck loses control and cares more about the buildings than the men and women who populate them. With just a bit more restraint, he would have nailed it.
Easy A: Easy A is a 21st century teen comedy, and maybe the first really good one at that. It doesn’t borrow the archetypes of those ’80s standard bearers — there’s no expositional scene establishing where the various cliques are seated at the lunch table. It presents high school for what I expect it must be now: an amorphous body of singular cliques — teenagers too busy self-identifying to align with anyone else, except in such a way as to self-identify. And so they selfishly align with Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone), a self-proclaimed nobody who is not really a nobody. You know she’s not because, when she lies to her best friend about losing her virginity, everyone in the school knows it by the end of the day. And they know it because possessing that information — and exaggerating it — is their way of valuing their own self-worth, which no one cares about because their only concern is with themselves.
Waiting for “Superman”: Davis Guggenheim does for education what he did for the environment in An Inconvenient Truth, which is to neatly package statistics and studies in easy-to-appreciate animations and bar graphs. Building off his 1999 documentary The First Year, Guggenheim takes five statistics and turns them into real students. We follow these five kids as they basically struggle to get a decent education, fighting against the very system that proclaims to want to leave none of them behind. Meanwhile, Guggenheim deftly delivers crushing body blow after body blow to the busted system. The most heinous part of the whole situation is the total and overwhelming awareness of all the parties involved. Yes, we know the system is completely fucked, and we are flushing most of your children to save a rare and fortunate few, but what are we gonna do?
Buried: There are inevitably two critical questions to be asked about Rodrigo Cortes’ Buried: 1) Can a film whose entire set consists of the interior of a wooden box possibly sustain itself? And 2) Does Ryan Reynolds have the acting chops to effectively carry such a film, when he is literally the only actor you will see for the entire 90 minutes? Of all the gimmicks that I’ve encountered in my movie-watching history, this is one of the most intriguing. The trailers for Buried were varied in quality, designed to try to draw people into seeing it by either not showing much, or through simple misdirection. Now that I’ve finally seen the finished product, I can say that Buried is an overall success, not to mention one of the most intense viewing experiences I’ve ever sat through.