There is a moment in “The Fighter” when Mark Wahlberg’s character Micky Ward is forced to decide between his friends and his family. And he cannot do it.
His brother Dicky — Christian Bale in a knock-out performance — has returned from prison, an agonizing crack is whack wake-up call, eager to train Micky again. He discovers Micky has promised his girlfriend and new trainer that he would not work with him.
As the two sides erupt around him, Micky forcibly reminds everyone, “I’m the one who’s fighting.” He does not choose one over the other. He does not ignore his obligation to his girlfriend or his brother’s boxing expertise and his desire to help Dicky overcome his cocaine addiction. Instead, he makes a decision that gives “The Fighter” its heart, bringing his friends and dysfunctional family together.
The film is a fresh take on the oh-so-familiar boxing genre. Sure, there’s some of “Rocky’s” optimism and the destructiveness of “Raging Bull.” It is this combination of both, however, that provides an immensely satisfying and unique story — the story of two brothers, “the Pride of Lowell” — and how they found what they needed in each other.
“The Fighter” is one of several films that has garnered critical acclaim and buzz as the awards season kicks off. These movies represent the best of 2010, having broken new ground and reinvigorated old genres, while telling moving stories about people and their relationships. They made it enjoyable to go to the theater — and worth paying the $10 ticket fee. That’s hard to believe as movie ticket prices continue to climb, but high-quality filmmaking was consistent throughout last year. Movies challenged viewers, put them in surreal worlds and psychological states, dreams within dreams. They were smart, but true to human nature at the same time.
To not label “Inception” one of the most innovative films of the year would be a crime, on par with the act of inception itself. It is no wonder support for this picture has resurged as we get closer to the Oscars. It was huge, commercially, critically, and was the rare summer blockbuster that stumped us all: Was Leo dreaming at the end?
Forget the cliffhanger, the plot holes, and all the questions you had for a second; there’s something deeper here. You may not agree, but amid the action and dreamscapes, is a love story. Sasha Stone of AwardsDaily put this in great perspective, arguing the best moments of “Inception” are the scenes between Cobb and Mal. She’s absolutely right. As writer-director Christopher Nolan unravels the story, we slowly come to understand their love and how it will be confronted, that something exists beyond Mal’s icy femme fatale. We see it in her eyes as they engage the camera and stare pleadingly at us. “Inception” asks us what it really means to dream. Are we as viewers as responsible for her fate as Cobb is?
There’s another film, precisely directed, written, and successful on all technical accounts, that also works on multiple levels, and has been sweeping the critics’ awards for the best picture. “The Social Network,” perhaps the most relevant film of the year, is a commentary not only on the origins of the website we check almost as often as we breathe, but also our generation, unlike any movie before it. Yes, we are often misunderstood and frustrated — just think about how irritating it is when Facebook suddenly changes on us. In all seriousness, it is easy to become “wired in” and lose sight of the real things in life.
We see this in Mark’s relationships with Eduardo and with Facebook in the film. Mark’s drive for a high level of success and manic obsession become manifested in the website as his already decrepit social skills further deteriorate and he loses the people that stood by him. First, his girlfriend, then the Winklevosses — the most bad-ass twins ever — and finally his co-founder and best friend Eduardo. What is the price of fame and success? It could not be clearer than Mark’s aloneness at the end of the film and how he has to resort to his own device to make a friend.
If you missed these two, you should kick yourself.
Fortunately, hope is not lost. Their DVDs are now out, and inventive productions have continued to dominate through the Holiday season. In addition to “The Fighter,” “True Grit” (the Coen brothers’ resurrection of the western genre and a touching tale of perseverance and sacrifice), “Black Swan” (has there ever been a more stylistic — or creepy — commentary on the relationship between man and art?), and “The King’s Speech” (though an awards-bait movie, the acting and execution are brilliant) are playing at the Criterion.
If there were a time to make the short walk to Temple Street, now would be it. This three-day weekend, or Tuesday if you want a deal, as you try to find some comfort from the stresses of shopping period, returning to campus, and applying for internships and jobs, I encourage you to get out and see one. These films are among the best of the year, combine great technical filmmaking with powerful storytelling, and you will see them honored, along with earlier releases “Inception” and “The Social Network,” beginning with the Golden Globes this Sunday. And please don’t wait. You won’t want to be stuck watching an abysmal January release.