This is the first of a series counting down the year’s best films up for Oscar’s Best Picture. Since the Academy now chooses ten Best Pictures, top ten lists are going to be more indicative of the differences between critics, the box office and what the industry settles on as the ten best of the year.¬† This isn’t a personal top ten, which Ryan and I will be doing some time in December, but a focus on those ten films that we here at Awards Daily believe belong in the top ten of the 2010.
Shutter Island illustrates what Scorsese does best – collaborating with a good screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, who adapted the story from a Dennis Lehane novel, and a skilled ensemble of actors, starting with its lead, Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a man who has lost his mind and must try to find it before the film comes to an end. DiCaprio’s better performance is in Shutter Island, playing off of a director with whom he has always had a strong connection. Scorsese allows him to go deep. He went there in The Aviator, and he went there in Shutter Island. Like Hitchcock, Scorsese seems to delight in taking DiCaprio into that realm, his boyish looks distorted here, along with our own expectations of who he might be. Shutter Island is one of the best films of 2010.
The ensemble work in the film is worthy of a SAG nod, along with DiCaprio in lead, for the memorable performances by Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Mark Ruffalo and Patricia Clarkson. Mainly, though, it’s Leo’s show. This is Black Swan of another kind – a sharp focal point of Leo’s face as we try to figure out who and what he’s playing at. The end of the film gives you the answer, and it flips the whole thing around like a camera mirror. It is then necessary to replay the film to see it from a completely different perspective.
Freed up after having finally won the Oscar for The Departed, Scorsese focuses more on telling the story than on his trademark camera — his own experience watching and learning from more obscure horror films informs his work here, and has there been any image more terrifying all year than the one with the crazy woman at the insane asylum looking back at us, questioning our sanity at the same time. We don’t know what exactly we’re seeing as we make it through Scorsese’s film because it is a perspective movie. We are dealing with an unreliable narrator. We don’t know this until the end but once we do know it, the film reveals itself fully. And we can absolutely confirm that with Shutter Island, what you’re seeing is a matter of interpretation.
Shutter Island is a film worthy of a Best Picture nomination – but also Director, Actor, art direction, sound, editing, cinematography, costume and score. The one thing it seems to lack is buzz, that temporary fever that often drives a film through regardless — it’s usually a temporary but passionate fling that often sputters out too soon. It is the more difficult task to look at the year and reward those films that really will have lasting impact. Shutter Island will be one of those, not just because it is a stand-alone great, but because it is part of the Scorsese genre. This is true, by the way, of Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter. One must take into account a director’s entire career when looking at their newest films to both find where they fit in their canon, but to see where they have come from, how they’ve evolved, and where they are going next. Scorsese continues to grow as a director, a professor of film, and as a force of nature in American film.
There wasn’t, as it turned out, a better time to release the movie. It was probably the right decision to push it to 2010 from 2009 – it never would have been able to compete next to Avatar. It is also right for 2010, as it $100 million plus box office proves. It is right because we are in a more reflective mood right now, not just for our eventual Oscar movies but in general.
As the new administration has settled in, and (although I should probably not say this as it will start a firestorm) the liberals who expected Obama to, as Bill Maher said, make it rain twenties, come to terms with the real shitpile left over by the last administration, we are all coming to terms with what a mess we’re in right now. There are two ways the Oscar race has dealt with this – they either turn darker, or they turn to fantasy. We don’t have our Avatar this year. We have mostly straight up reality. Shutter Island captures the mood perfectly, along with Inception, The Social Network, Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, and perhaps that crazy concoction, Black Swan.¬† We are living through a confusing time. Somehow, in all of that, the Oscar race will take the temperature of the now and record it for all time.