dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

Animal Theater 2010

A personalized retrospective of film Everyone’s been looking back or looking forward, and, well, the peer pressure is simply unbearable. So here’s a quirkier contribution to the making-of-lists – better late than never – as one year has enfolded into another.

Special Note: Although I was able to view a decent selection of movies this past year while sitting in the domestic confines of my living room on Richmond’s North Side, although I did have the peculiar experience of seeing two movies while sitting at 38,000 feet (The Road and A Serious Man on the flight to South Africa in June), only five times in 2010 can I recall sitting in the dark with strangers, facing a rectangular piece of matte white vinyl and taking into my cultural life whatever the theater had to deliver, for good or bad.

Without further ado, then, the list: The Top Five (The Only Five!) Films I Saw in a Theater in 2010, Ranked According to Progressive or Regressive Contribution to the Animal Kingdom.

5. The Book of Eli. OK, sure, rats can’t be picky eaters in a dystopian world. But at the intersection of where the human social order lies in harsh disrepair and the Good Book’s contents are obsessively prized while being entirely forgotten, Denzel Washington’s Eli offers to share a small piece of a killed cat with a rat. Eli says to the rat: “You hungry? You know you gotta come get it – don’t play hard to get.” Nice. For his part, the rat (not quoted in the film, but quoted here for this piece) aptly responds: “No thanks, I'll wait till your flesh decomposes, you son of a...” Which is very close to what came out of my mouth as the film gave us its big reveal.

4. Inception. This past September, Leonardo DiCaprio was said to have procured a Sulcata tortoise, the largest species of tortoise native to mainland habitats. According to no reliable sources, later in the fall DiCaprio attempted to explain the cerebral concept of “a dream within a dream” to his new reptile companion over a bottomless bowl of vegetables. The tortoise, like most of us, rather enjoyed the discussion but soon found himself longing for a Growing Pains re-run. Then he woke up, startled.

3. The Social Network. It stated the obvious: the Internet-age human being is still an eternally social creature. It issued a 21st-century corollary to the obvious: we will forge our social identity as identities – and out of mathematical formulas and binary code if we have to (let’s see an untrained chimp do that!). Meanwhile, it showcased that new-old breed: the Winklevosses. And at the end of the day, it revealed the uglier side of entrepreneurialism: a man will readily accuse another man of animal cruelty if it helps him get ahead.

2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. If you appreciate the uber-cutesy play on the word “sequel,” you are in prime position to ignore all sorts of things and to allow yourself the maximum enjoyment from not three but six singing and dancing chipmunks. Double the evolutionary pleasure – if you ask my three children under 9 or Wendie Malick’s Principal Rubin, not 9, who admitted she was moved to get a tattoo after a Chipmunks concert. Not only do these precocious masters-of-stockpiling belt it and shake it, they also rise to the top of high school culture, saving the arts program while they’re at it. True, they evidence a disturbing propensity to trust untrustworthy adults like Ian Hawke (David Cross). On the other hand, males (the Chipmunks) are honestly apologizing and reconciling with females (the Chipettes), and in any era this seems a step in a forward direction.

1. Invictus. For two reasons. Because each of Africa’s so-called Big Five – the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard – can be found in South Africa, the nation which this past year hosted the continent’s first World Cup, the most magnanimous sporting spectacle on the planet. And because, as Nelson Mandela demonstrated, the spiritual power of moral conviction in a person’s soul is something not even a lion can dream of.