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Originally published Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 6:57 PM

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From 'Easy A' to 'You Again': Highs and lows of the movie year

Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald pronounces the annual list of Dubious Achievements in Cinema, from great performances in lost causes to strangest settings for romantic scenes.

Seattle Times movie critic

Here's one last look back at the year in movies, in a tradition begun years ago by my honored Seattle Times predecessor, John Hartl ...

Best performance in a lost cause: Jemaine Clement in "Dinner for Schmucks"; Sigourney Weaver in "You Again"; Richard Jenkins in "Eat Pray Love"; Emilie de Raven in "Remember Me"; Diane Keaton in "Morning Glory."

Best kid performances: George and Frankie McLaren (who interchangeably played the roles of twins) in "Hereafter"; Elle Fanning in "Somewhere"; Martha West in "Creation"; Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit"; and the adorable infants in "Babies." (For the record, the "Harry Potter" cast isn't eligible for this category any more. But they were splendid.)

Best chemistry: Tina Fey and Steve Carell in "Date Night"; Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I"; Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall, "The Town"; Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, "Fair Game"; Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig, "Cairo Time"; Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillard, "Inception"; America Ferrera and Lance Gross, "Our Family Wedding"; Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, "Robin Hood."

Worst chemistry: Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in "The Tourist"; Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler in "The Bounty Hunter"; Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz in "Knight and Day."

Best breakthrough performances: Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"; Mia Wasikowska, "The Kids Are All Right" and "Alice in Wonderland"; Andrew Garfield, "The Social Network" and "Never Let Me Go"; Emma Stone, "Easy A."

Best debut: Katie Jarvis gave one of the year's most indelible performances as a flailing teen in the British drama "Fish Tank" — all the more remarkable considering that she'd never acted before.

Best performance by an animal (real): The cats in "Babies," eyeing the title subjects with relaxed detachment (particularly the very accommodating Mongolian kitty); all those wonderfully handsome horses who played the title character in "Secretariat"; and the elephant who all-too-briefly lights up "Eat Pray Love."

Best performance by an animal (computer-assisted): "I had no idea pigs could swim so stylishly!" enthused a young character in "Nanny McPhee Returns" as she watches a crew of farmhouse pigs performing a synchronized swimming routine. Stylish, indeed.

Worst performance by a fake animal: All those weirdly demented-looking creatures in "Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" — particularly the title character, voiced by Bette Midler as if channeling the Wicked Witch of the West.

Best popcorn movies: "Inception"; "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I"; "Date Night"; "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"; "Easy A"; "Salt"; "Unstoppable"; "The Town"; and "Grease Sing-Along" (though, admittedly, it's hard to sing along with popcorn in your mouth).

Best sequel: "Toy Story 3."


Worst sequels: "Sex and the City 2," "Little Fockers."

Best noggin: Helena Bonham Carter's head, digitally swollen to several times its normal size as the Red Queen in "Alice in Wonderland." Extra points to Bonham Carter for her crisp delivery, to a giant Alice, of the line "Anyone with a head that large is welcome in my court."

Snappiest dialogue: The rat-a-tat banter in "The Social Network," scripted by Aaron Sorkin.

Best villains: Jacki Weaver as the terrifyingly amoral grandmother in "Animal Kingdom"; Ralph Fiennes, still rocking that noseless face, and the wonderfully snarly Bonham Carter in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I." (Bonham Carter, come to think of it, had a pretty great year — and we haven't even mentioned "The King's Speech.")

Best hoofing: Hidden within the otherwise tedious depths of "Step Up 3" was two minutes of magic: Adam G. Sevani and Alyson Stoner happily and hoppily turning into a modern-day Fred and Ginger on a New York sidewalk, to the strains of Astaire crooning "I Won't Dance."

Best evidence that the romantic comedy isn't dead: Um, does "Easy A" count as a rom-com? "Going the Distance," which wasn't too bad? Maybe next year?

Most convincing evidence that the romantic comedy is dead: "Valentine's Day"; "Sex and the City 2"; "Leap Year"; "The Back-Up Plan"; "The Bounty Hunter"; "Life As We Know It."

Slyest scene-stealing: Mary-Louise Parker in "Red"; Evanna Lynch in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I"; Judy Greer in "Love and Other Drugs"; Kieran Culkin in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"; J.B. Smoove and Mark Wahlberg in "Date Night."

Best stunt work by an actor who's good enough to not have to do stunt work: Denzel Washington, racing along the top of that speeding train (yes, according to interviews, he really did it) in "Unstoppable."

Scariest medical trend: Both "Love and Other Drugs" and "Little Fockers" featured a pharmaceutical salesperson posing as a medical professional during patient treatment. Of course, this only happens when the salespeople look like Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Alba, right?

Strangest setting for a romantic interlude: "The Back-Up Plan," in which Jennifer Lopez and Alex O'Loughlin get cozy in what I can only describe as a cheese-aging area. (O'Loughlin's character is a cheesemaker.) A beautifully candlelit cheese-aging area, to be sure, but wouldn't it smell a little funny?

Best performance by an article of clothing: A pair of jeans that brought a family together in "Please Give"; an ever-growing and shrinking assortment of blue frocks for the title character in "Alice in Wonderland"; Angelina Jolie's black ball gown in "The Tourist" (a garment so smashing it distracted us from the silly plot); and a sunglasses lorgnette that was pretty much the only reason to sit through "Sex and the City 2." (Not a good enough reason, I know.)

Most unforgettable death: Well, it was in "Piranha 3D," and it involved a male character, and well, if you didn't see it, I'm certainly not going to try to describe it.

Best depiction of a well-known real person: Fred Ward's Ronald Reagan — right down to the trademark breathy chuckle — in "Farewell."

Saddest goodbye: Many screen greats left us in 2010, but perhaps the one many of us will miss most of all is Leslie Nielsen, who in "Airplane" and the "Naked Gun" movies gave us the gift of laughter, over and over again. And stop calling him Shirley.

Most dramatic physical transformation: Though both made perfect sense for the roles, it was alarming to gaze at the needle-thin physiques of Christian Bale ("The Fighter") and Natalie Portman ("Black Swan").

Best gauntlet-tossing: Anyone think the English-language version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (coming to theaters in December 2011) could possibly be as good as the wonderfully chilly Swedish version seen in theaters this past spring? Though I'm a big fan of director David Fincher ("Zodiac," "The Social Network"), I doubt it.

Oddest coincidence: Funny, wasn't it, that this fall brought two movies that were essentially solo performances by young men trapped by the earth: James Franco, pinned in a canyon's abyss in "127 Hours," and Ryan Reynolds, sealed in an impromptu grave in "Buried."

Most magical moment: Natalie Portman's solo as the black swan near the end of "Black Swan," as art and madness and Tchaikovsky blend for one of the most wildly beautiful dance sequences ever filmed.

Best reason to look forward to January 2011: The arrival of several fine films that are Oscar-eligible for 2010, among them Mike Leigh's "Another Year"; Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere," Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine," and John Wells' "The Company Men."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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