New Yorker film critic says Boston films ruled this year
Boston Globe Staff
December 29, 2010

New Yorker magazine film critic David Denby (below) takes note of Boston’s hot films this year and in recent years in his top 10 list on one of the New Yorker’s blogs.

Denby takes us back to Good Will Hunting (1997) and on to Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, The Departed and to this year’s The Town, The Fighter and The Company Men.

“So what is the source of Boston’s appeal?” Denby asks. “All these movies are about white working-class ethnics—Irish Catholics, in particular—who can talk a blue streak, and all of them are about men and women in clans. Families, friends, neighbors.”

With a nod to Mark Wahlberg’s and author Dennis Lehane’s Dorchester ties, and the successes of locals Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Denby wonders aloud whether this trend amounts to a “last united stand in multicultural America.”

Denby declares “In part because the Boston talk has so much salt, “The Fighter” and “Company Men” are among the best movies of the year.”


Posted by David Denby
The New Yorker
December 10, 2010

In recent American movies, Boston—not New York, not Chicago, not Los Angeles, but Boston—has provided the significant setting and a special urban music of slang, oaths, nostalgia, taunts, affection. The cycle of Boston films began, in 1997, with “Good Will Hunting,” which was written by its stars, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who were childhood friends in Cambridge. Dennis Lehane’s soulful Boston thrillers have served as the basis of Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, “Mystic River” (2003) and Affleck’s directing début, “Gone Baby Gone” (2007). The Boston screenwriter William Monahan wrote “The Departed” (2006), in which Mark Wahlberg, from Dorchester, appears in a supporting role as a fast-talking cop; Wahlberg now stars in “The Fighter,” set in Lowell, just to the northwest of Boston, as the real-world boxer and welter-weight champ Mickey Ward.

Earlier this year, Affleck appeared as a Charlestown bank robber in “The Town,” his second film as director, and he plays one of the local executives who get whacked by a downsizing Boston conglomerate in the new “Company Men.” That’s seven major films. Now, you could say that the entire phenomenon is sparked by Bostonian male stars. True, of course, but Affleck, Damon, and Wahlberg wouldn’t get money for these films from the hardnoses of Hollywood finance if the movies weren’t expected to resonate around the rest of the country.

So what is the source of Boston’s appeal? All these movies are about white working-class ethnics—Irish Catholics, in particular—who can talk a blue streak, and all of them are about men and women in clans. Families, friends, neighbors. The clan makes you and it threatens to destroy you, and for the heroes (who are all male—Arise, ye daughters of Hibernia!), the question becomes: Do I leave or do I stay? Do I let the clan define me or must I strike out on my own? And for the rest of us, the question might be: Is this neighborhood and ethnic solidarity not only a celebration, an atmosphere of terrific rough talk and family warmth, but a shudder of anticipation, a last united stand in multicultural America?

In part because the Boston talk has so much salt, “The Fighter” and “Company Men” are among the best movies of the year. The best is, of course, the Fincher-Sorkin “The Social Network,” one of the rare big-studio efforts that ravish the audience with sheer intelligence—in this case an inexhaustible vivacity of observation, temperament, wit. The Winkelvi, indeed! Has there ever been a funnier use of digital technology for sly social commentary? Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” was the niftiest and most beautifully designed thriller of the year. Many critics have written eloquently about Pixar’s “Toy Story 3,” an elegy for the attachments we form to disposable mass-produced objects, and I have little to add. But I want to recommend again “Winter’s Bone,” Debra Granik’s grim but entirely expressive murder mystery, in which a very young woman (Jennifer Lawrence), looking for her missing father, slowly realizes that her entire extended family in the Ozarks backwoods is involved in the methamphetamine trade. Talk about clans! The movie was made by New Yorkers and Hollywood pros, but the atmosphere is as authentic as rotgut cut with turpentine, and the actors seem to have been planted in the earth. Among other independent films, Nicole Holofcener’s “Please Give,” a comedy about property and guilt in Manhattan, remains delightful in memory.

Among the documentaries, Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop” seems to be making itself up as it goes along; every time you think you understand what it’s about, the subject shifts slightly, yet the entire movie hangs together as a devastating commentary on art-world fakery and fashion. The American Army unit joined by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger in “Restrepo,” having established a forward post in an overlook deep in an Afghan valley, just hangs there, vulnerable, bored, caught in a limbo of purpose—a perfect emblem of a war gone astray. Charles Ferguson, working in more conventional form in “Inside Job,” gathered together the essential facts of the economic breakdown and financial malfeasance into brisk units spiced with devastating interviews.

Among the fragmentary pleasures of the year, I would include Helen Mirren’s biting delivery of Shakespeare’s final dramatic verses in “The Tempest,” Kevin Spacey’s satirical bravura as Jack Abramoff in “Casino Jack,” the music-video parodies and Russell Brand’s prancing shenanigans in “Get Him to the Greek,” Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway in bed in “Love and Other Drugs,” and Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in and out of bed in “Blue Valentine.”

The Young Internet Critics of the year Award goes to Paul Brunick, who has written brilliantly about film criticism past and present in Film Comment, and David Phelps, whose writings display a tactile and sensuous appreciation of color, movement, and performance that is astonishingly rare in film criticism.

The big-deal aesthetic disasters include the tiresome, flat, and repetitive “Alice in Wonderland”; the absurdly overelaborate and empty “Inception,” which is like a giant clock that displays its gears and wheels but forgets to tell the time; and “Black Swan,” an example of the higher trash, and a movie perfect, I’m afraid, for young women who never recovered from reading Sylvia Plath. “Black Swan” asks the least appealing question of the year: “Am I good enough—to die?”

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