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TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In this, our next-to-the-last show of 2010, we're going to look back on the year in film and pop. Our rock critic, Ken Tucker, will be here with his 10 best list later in the show. Up first, our film critic, David Edelstein.

David, good to have you back on the show. So let's get right to it. I'm going to ask you to read your 10 best list. Do you want to start with number 10 and work your way to the top film of the year?

DAVID EDELSTEIN: Sure, except as usual, Terry, I don't have 10, I have 12. The reason I have 12 is because I just kept adding things and didn't - as I saw them - and didn't want to take other things out. I thought why punish things that I love just because I saw something that I also loved.

GROSS: The answer would be because 10 means 10. But go ahead. We'll let you take that liberty.

EDELSTEIN: Well, let me start then working backwards. I'll start with "Blue Valentine," which of course is this psychodrama with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Then I have "Despicable Me," that wonderful Scrooge-like super-villain animated movie. Then a documentary a lot of people don't know called "Marwencol."

Then Banksy's documentary, the nefarious, infamous graffiti artist's documentary, "Exit Through the Gift Shop," which may or may not be a prank but is great in any case.

Then an Italian movie I think is a masterpiece called "Vincere." It means win in Italian, and it's about Mussolini and his bride, his first wife. Then the film "Mother and Child," Rodrigo Garcia's film with Annette Bening and Naomi Watts.

Mike Leigh's film "Another Year" comes in the next place, and that opens very late this month. "Toy Story 3," of course. I think that's a movie that many of us agree on.

"Please Give," Nicole Holofcener's great comedy, starring Catherine Keener. I have a tie between two documentaries that touch on the global financial crisis in very different ways - "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" and "Inside Job."

Finally, my best film of the year is "Winter's Bone," Deborah Granik's harshly beautiful adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's Ozark noir novel.

GROSS: So how did a little independent film like "Winter's Bone" end up topping your list?

EDELSTEIN: Well, it's funny. I've been reading Daniel Woodrell's books for several years. He wrote the book "Woe to Live On," which became the Ang Lee film "Ride with the Devil," and it was about William Quantrill and the massacres done by Confederate soldiers in 1863 in the South.

And ever since then I thought: Wow, you know, this guy sort of does what Cormac McCarthy does, you know, without a lot of the fuss and the pseudo-Biblical language.

And "Winter's Bone" is really his greatest novel, and when I went to see the movie, I thought: Deborah Granik, you know, not just got it right, but she deepened it.

This is a film that could so easily be this dreary, depressing, regional-realistic kind of movie, and instead she pushes it to the point where it achieves kind of a mythical intensity. I think it's a gorgeous, beautiful movie. And I don't understand why - there are a lot of people who say, oh, it's so depressing. I thought it was an absolutely exhilarating movie, managing to be so hopeful in the midst of such horror.

GROSS: So you are out of step with your own New York Film Critics Circle, which selected "The Social Network" as the top film of the year, as did the L.A. film critics. So I'm not saying it does belong on the 10 best list, but tell us why it's not on yours.

EDELSTEIN: Yeah, I was sitting in this New York Film Critics Circle meeting, and it was on ballot after ballot after ballot, and I was getting this sinking feeling, because I really wanted "Winter's Bone" to win.

And it's going to win all the big critics' prizes, and it might win the Oscar. You know, it's going head to head with "The King's Speech," I think.

And I don't dislike "The Social Network." I actually do like it. But I also think it's an enormously glib and cynical film about the impulses underlying our new way of life, while at the same time I think it also appeals to this pervasive, 21st-century fantasy of wanting to be a billionaire.

It's a good business saga, but I'm mystified by how many people seem to think it's this groundbreaking movie about a turning point in American culture.

GROSS: You know, it's funny. The only two real commercial films in your top 10 or 12 are "Despicable Me" and "Toy Story 3," both animated films. Most of the films are either documentaries or independent films on your list.

EDELSTEIN: Yeah, and it's funny too, and I - by the way, I like being entertained as much as the next person. I just can't get worked up over any mainstream film this year with the exception of "Toy Story 3" and Despicable Me," though I think "Winter's Bone" had every potential to cross over.

The thing I want to say about "Toy Story 3," though, is people were in tears, we know. I don't know about you, I was crying. You know, people around me were crying. Although it is, you know, a great comedy, underneath it, it really is a story about death, about getting old, about losing your usefulness.

And it has this weird, almost - I don't want to sound too pretentious, I already do, but this almost Buddhist quality about investing these toys with spiritual properties, and you know, our deepest childhood feelings, and then what it means to cast them away or forget about them.

"Toy Story" is very into sort of resurrecting those feelings that we had, you know, when our world was just kind of coming together and that we've either repressed or we've suppressed. So it's not just shallow escapism. You can talk about "Toy Story 3" probably more than you can talk about a lot of the art films on my list.

GROSS: Were there any performers or directors who you feel came into their own this year, either first-time directors or actors or people who'd been around before, it wasn't until this year that you really saw what they could do?

Jim Carrey plays a gay con man in a film that's out now called "I Love You, Philip Morris," and it's interesting to me because if you watch, follow Jim Carrey over the years, he's always struck me as the kind of least psychologically filled-in of modern clowns.

There's something very desperate about him, as if he stopped doing his shtick on camera, that he would dissolve in front of your eyes. And playing a gay character, playing a closeted gay character, that desperation takes on astonishing emotional resonance.

When he's forced to live in a homophobic culture and to kind of parody normality, there's all this subterfuge and compartmentalization. They become second nature. And it turns out to be a perfect vehicle for his peculiar persona. I don't think the movie is quite a success, but the performance cuts very, very deep. I think it's probably the best male performance of the year.

And I know he's, you know, doesn't have a chance at winning an Academy Award or a critics' award this year, because Colin Firth is winning everything, and we know that Colin Firth gave the best performance of last year in "A Single Man," for which he was pushed aside for Jeff Bridges, and now he's going to win everything for "King's Speech," in which he's wonderful, but I think it's a little bit more gimmicky a performance than his extraordinary turn in "A Single Man."

The other performances, well, Annette Bening just continues to shock me with this kind of thing that she does that nobody else does. She plays people playing people. She plays people who in life are performing, who are putting on this mask and playing these roles and then kind of specializes in showing you how the mask is constantly dissolving and then being put back on and then dissolving.

And she's amazing in "Mother and Child," Rodrigo Garcia's movie that is on my 10 best list, that was an utter flop. She's going to win all the awards for "The Kids are Alright," in which she's wonderful too. So that's an amazing performance.

Patricia Clarkson in "Cairo Time." Patricia Clarkson is a great clown. Who knew she could give a performance as a woman having a kind of quiet epiphany on a trip to Egypt in which she's mostly alone?

Amy Adams in "The Fighter" is wonderful. Kirsten Dunst is completely surprising in "All Good Things." She gives a really mature and scarily good performance.

GROSS: So David, we've talked about some of your favorite films of the year. What are some of your least favorites, some of the films that you think are the worst of the year?

EDELSTEIN: Well, there have been some extraordinarily bad films this year. On our screens right now you can subject yourself, or preferably someone you loathe, to "Tron: Legacy," which looks like disco night at the jai-alai fronton, and I'm convinced has given me a brain tumor.

"The Nutcracker in 3D" oh. It's "The Nutcracker" stripped of dance and turned into this allegory of fascism. And some of the music, the Tchaikovsky music, is given lyrics. Like "Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairies" has two songs with that tune, and I'm telling you, there are few things less suited to having lyrics than...

(Singing) It is not a tune that you can sing very well, in a way that works with any sort of word duh-duh-duh...

(Speaking) That's about how good Nathan Lane sounds in the movie singing. Even if it were well-done, which it isn't, it would still be a terrible movie.

GROSS: Do you have any good suggestions for movies to see over the holidays?

EDELSTEIN: Everybody is asking me: Why would Joel and Ethan Coen remake "True Grit"? Wasn't it good enough the first time? How can anybody top John Wayne?

And it's true that John Wayne was a terrific Rooster Cogburn, but evidently the Coens had some connection with the book by Charles Portis that the Henry Hathaway film didn't quite touch.

It's written in this sort of quasi-Biblical dialect that is very perverse, and because it's full of all this ghoulish imagery and killing and cynicism and nihilism, and obviously that's the Coens' bread and butter, and they've made an extraordinarily beautiful-looking film, very austere, but with these gonzo, over-the-top performances.

It's like Jeff Bridges is no rival to John Wayne, but he's hilarious, even though you can barely understand what he's saying because he's often so drunk that he can barely get the words out.

And I've seen the movie twice. I was very disappointed the first time. The second time I was actually very charmed by it. So I think if you lower your expectations, you'll have a great time.

GROSS: As usual, there is a couple of films on your best of list that haven't opened nationally yet. So most of our listeners won't have had a chance to see these films. So you should tell us a little bit about "Blue Valentine."

EDELSTEIN: Well, "Blue Valentine" is an extraordinarily intimate psychodrama. It stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. And it's in two parts. It flashes back and forth between their kind of nutty courtship and their tortured dissolution.

It's all handheld camera, in very close to the actors, and you might come out hating it, or you might be just utterly enthralled at how intimate its portrait of a, you know, gradually dissolving relationship.

It's already well-known because it was slapped with NC-17 rating by the MPAA, which Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company appealed and appealed and appealed, and he finally got an R.

And when you see the movie, it's nothing. It's a sex act, but it's not even completed, and compared to the things that the MPAA gives PG-13 to, these splattery movies in which people are incinerated in front of your eyes, you just can't believe that a little bit of sex is going to make them say, oh no, no, no, kids can't possibly see it.

The other film is "Another Year," and anybody who knows Mike Leigh knows the way he works, giving actors their parts and sending them out into the world and having them collect all kinds of data.

And this is about a particular couple, played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, who are these kind of Earth mother and Earth father to a group of very, very lonely people who converge and complain.

And it's another one of these movies that at times makes you want to jump off a bridge but, you know, most of the time want to rescue somebody who's about to jump off a bridge and give them a big hug. So I couldn't recommend it more.

GROSS: Well, David, I hope you get to see some great movies in 2011.

EDELSTEIN: I know I will, because there are about 600 movies that open every year, and the odds are one of them's going to be good.

GROSS: And you'll keep going till you find it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

EDELSTEIN: I'm tireless.

GROSS: All right. Well, I wish you happy holidays.

EDELSTEIN: Thank you so much, Terry. It's always a pleasure.

GROSS: Always a pleasure, and thanks so much for talking with us.

David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. You can see his complete best of the year list, along with links to his reviews of those films on the list, on our website, freshair.npr.org.

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