If there is one element of American culture that seems to reflect our national psyche, it is box office receipts. National voting only takes place once every two years; polling data is often skewed by sample size and question wording. What happens at the movie theater, however, tends to chart America's mood to a T.
And surprisingly, it's been a good year for movies. The biggest and best movies tended to celebrate what's right with Western civilization; the eggs tended to denigrate America and her allies. By and large, Americans rejected elite critics' take on film, turning aside liberal offerings glamorizing gay marriage, ripping American involvement in Iraq, and complaining about the ills of capitalism. Instead, Americans embraced action blockbusters and heroic deeds by men of honor.
Not surprisingly, it's also been a good year for America. Not because the economy healed -- it didn't. Not because America saw a racial unification -- it didn't. It's been a good year because Americans in 2010 celebrated the same values in real life they celebrated on the big screen: courage, work ethic and hard-charging masculinity. If you want to know what's going on in America, watch the culture rather than the news channels.
Here, then, are the best and worst of American cinema in 2010:
Best Picture: "The King's Speech." This magnificent movie justifies the medium. The fascinating and important tale of King George VI -- who had to lead a nation rhetorically while fighting a brutal stammer -- is a tearjerker, a crowd-pleaser and an intelligent homage to Western civilization. If Colin Firth does not take away Best Actor at the Oscars, the awards have lost all meaning. Geoffrey Rush is also tremendous, as usual.
Most Overrated Picture: "Black Swan." Against my better judgment, I saw this Darren Aronofsky ode to yuck this week. As usual, Aronofsky manages to fill the screen with unsympathetic characters doing unsympathetic things, plus his requisite over-the-top sex scene (this time, a lesbian one for added buzz). Aronofsky has made a living from doing movies nobody really wants to watch by attracting groupies who think he is God's gift to grittiness; in Hollywood, the critics call this sort of stuff "profound." Those who are sane call this sort of stuff unwatchable.
-- "Furry Vengeance." Environmentalist garbage masquerading as kiddie fare. No, I didn't see it. But I did sit through the trailer a half-dozen times, which should allow me to file as lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Brendan Fraser for participating in this atrocity.
-- "Burlesque." Cher and Christina Aguilera. Whoever gave the green light for this one must have been very, very drunk.