Best Unsung Movies Of 2010

Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris reviews some of the better films that you might have missed this year, with host Michel Martin. The list includes "Mother and Child" starring Annette Benning, Naomi Watts and Samuel-L-Jackson as well as "Machete," an action flick with political undertones, starring Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Robert De Niro.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Next, to another best of list, the best movies of the year that we should have seen but probably didn't.

To help us with this year-end list, we've called on Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris.

Wesley, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. WESLEY MORRIS (Film critic, Boston Globe): Hi, Michel. How are you?

MARTIN: I'm good. I have to be honest, I haven't seen any of these movies.

Mr. MORRIS: It's okay. Youre one of millions of people who didn't manage to see any of these movies.

MARTIN: And is there any through-line among the movies that you say we shouldve seen and didnt? Is there anything that connects them?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, whats interesting is as I was compiling the list I did notice that in at least four of them, they are about people of color in some way. And in the case of one film, I think it really does exemplify how you can get different people of different races in the same movie and not have it be "Crash." I'm one of the people who kind of find that movie a nightmare to sit through.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Well, that's another story for another day. So is this movie, let's talk about that. Is it "Mother and Child?"

Mr. MORRIS: "Mother and Child." Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. So tell us about that. It stars Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. Tell us about the film and why do you think - why is it on your list of one of the best movies we should have seen and didn't?

Mr. MORRIS: Well, I think one of the sort of subtextual reasons is that it tells the story of three women who are in different areas of maternity. One woman had to give her child up for adoption. That woman is played by Annette Bening. The other woman just has no interest in having a child. She is played by Naomi Watts. And there's a third woman who wants to adopt a baby with her husband, played by Kerry Washington. And there's a bit of a twist at the end of this movie.

It was written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, and it's just very smart, some of the best acting I've seen in a movie all year. Annette Bening, who is probably going to win an Oscar for "The Kids Are All Right," I think is probably a little bit better in this film, because she's not afraid to be abrasive and she's not afraid to be a prickly, she's not afraid to be unlikable. And that's, in this day and age, a very brave thing for an actress to be willing to do time and again.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of brave, there's also an interracial relationship in here that would have been very controversial years ago...

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...and I'm wondering if perhaps in a way it still is. Samuel L. Jackson plays a character called Paul.

Mr. MORRIS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And Elizabeth works for him, okay?

Mr. MORRIS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And they actually get involved. And so...

Mr. MORRIS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...I'll just play a short scene from how that whole thing gets started. Here it is.

(Soundbite of movie, "Mother and Child")

Mr. SAMUEL L. JACKSON (Actor): (as Paul) What keeps you here so late?

Ms. NAOMI WATTS (Actor): (as Elizabeth) Snider and Lebrodsky(ph).

Mr. JACKSON: (as Paul) Not easy clients.

Ms. WATTS: (as Elizabeth) They're downright difficult. But they'll be happy with that. How about you? Time for beddy-bye?

Mr. JACKSON: (as Paul) Yes. I guess it is.

Ms. WATTS: (as Elizabeth) Well, I could invite you over for a drink, unless you think that's inappropriate. We'll take your car.

MARTIN: Well, there it is, so...

Mr. MORRIS: I, you know...

MARTIN: And you do have to wonder, well, I dont know. I mean in these days is that the kind of thing that would say to an audience, I dont think so?

Mr. MORRIS: Maybe because I think that, you know, there's two salesmanship problems with this relationship in this film. The principal one is that Samuel L. Jackson, to his own detriment, has angled himself away from being a sexual actor. So that when he is in a position of being just a normal guy with a normal libido, it's kind of alarming. And he is very moving in this movie, by not doing very much. He's surprised by how sexual Naomi Watts' character is, and I, it just, this is very interesting, that relationship. Because A, you couldnt imagine it happening 30 years ago or 40 years ago, and it still seems a little charged today.

MARTIN: Okay. Let's - the next film is "Machete" and it stars Danny Trejo.

Mr. MORRIS: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal and Robert De Niro. I'll play a short clip and then you can tell about and tell us and why you selected it for your list.

(Soundbite of movie, "Machete")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer: They called him Machete.

Mr. DANNY TREJO (Actor): (as Machete): Have you ever killed anyone before? As you know, illegal Americans are being forced out of our country at an alarming rate for the good of both our people. The senator must die.

Unidentified Announcer: He was given an offer he couldnt refuse.

Mr. ROBERT DE NIRO (Actor): (as Senator John McLaughlin) And make no mistake, we are at war. Every time an illegal dances across our border, it is an act of aggression against this sovereign state, and overt act of terrorism.

MARTIN: Now I have to say just from the trailer it sounds pretty terrible. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...tell me why you this is - tell me why the trailer did not perhaps, represent.

Mr. MORRIS: Well, here's the thing, I like Blaxploitation movies. Richard Rodriquez - or sorry, Robert Rodriguez - takes a - basically a Blaxploitation movie and adds like a Chicano seasoning to it. He understands the schlock of the genre but he also understands the political import and he's made it basically an immigration allegory/action film/sort of, you know, soft-core porn thing - comedy.

MARTIN: That's a lot slashes there. Maybe thats' why...

Mr. MORRIS: That's a lot of slashes. And if you get enough slashes then it just becomes something completely unto itself. And it works. It's camp. It works. It's kitsch. It's funny. But it makes a very interesting point about immigration and it tells it from both sides of that problem.

MARTIN: All right. Well, now I'm intrigued. Now the final film that you recommended to us is called "Greenberg" and it stars Ben Stiller as Roger Greenberg and Greta Gerwig as Florence Marr. Now a lot of people, these last couple of days of the holiday season, many people will have seeing Ben Stiller in "Little Fockers" which has, despite getting terrible reviews, is doing very well at the box office. And you are saying that this one actually deserves a look. Tell us - well, I'll play a short clip and you can tell us about it.

(Soundbite of movie, "Greenberg")

Mr. BEN STILLER (Actor): (as Roger Greenberg) The thing about you kids is that you're all kind of insensitive. I'm glad I grew up when I did, your parents were too perfect at parenting - all that baby Mozart and Dan Zanes songs; you're just so sincere and interested in things. There's a confidence in you guys that's horrifying. You're all ADD and carpal tunnel. You wouldn't know Agoraphobia if it bit you in the (beep), and it makes you mean. And then you say things to someone like me who's older and smarter with this light air. I'm freaked out by you kids. I hope I die before I end up meeting one of you in a job interview.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Is this a serious film or is this funny? Was he being serious? Is he being a jerk?

Mr. MORRIS: It's kind of both. I mean it's about a guy with I would say he's probably severely depressed and he moves back to Los Angeles after having ruined a bunch of relationships. He moves into his brother's house for a couple of weeks while his brothers away and takes care of the dog. Finds that he likes this woman who is the nanny basically.

And that's scene there is what I would say is one of the best scenes of any movie I saw last year, where he goes to this party and meets these, you know, his niece's friend and they're all upper-middle-class kids to Los Angeles. And you get the sense from this scene that they know something terrible is going to happen and they just have decided to stop caring. They've decided to stop living their lives. They are just sort of living in this sort of bourgeois squalor. It was one of the first movies I have seen, you know, the first movie for me actually, that made me feel old.

MARTIN: So why do you think it's worth a look?

Mr. MORRIS: I just think it's really smart. And I think the thing it says about this generational shift has not really been captured in a movie before. I mean we've had, it reminded me a lot of "The Graduate," where you had this one generation of adults being mystified by a different generation of adults.

MARTIN: Well, well, youve intrigued us. And if there are people who are still snowed in. These are some things to consider.

Wesley Morris is a film critic for the Boston Globe and he joined us from Boston.

Wesley, thank you so much for joining us and Happy New Year to you.

Mr. MORRIS: Thank you, Michele. Happy New Year to you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. And remember, to tell us more, you can always go to npr.org and find us under the Programs tab. You can also Friend me on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Just look for TELL ME MORE/NPR.

One more thing, we bid good-bye today to producer Zishan Jiwani, who has been a font of ideas and productivity. He's moving on to another love, helping to educate young people. We hope we'll see him again, though.

Im Michel Martin. Youve been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Lets talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of music)

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