The Best 'Psych Flicks' of 2010

Article excerpt

"Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion" - decal on coffee mug, Father's Day gift from two of my sons.

As we poise to exit 2010, here's a list of the best films I saw this year that have prominent psychiatric, psychotherapeutic, or broader mental health themes (what I call a "psych flick"). Regarding such lists, Harvard cultural historian Louis Menand, in a 2004 humor piece about "Best" lists in The New Yorker magazine, had this to say:

"Everyone acts superior to lists (so arbitrary and invidious!), but the act is a bluff. The fact of the matter is basic and ineluctable: we need these lists. ... The year would not be complete without them. The first response to the appearance of the ten-best lists is simple gratitude. It is good to know that someone has been paying attention. ... You need, you realize, a list, and in exactly the same way that a drowning sailor needs a life preserver. The people who make these annual lists ... have crossed the great sea of packaged amusement, pathos, and distraction for us, and they have emerged [saying] 'Here; these are the best.' "

Psychodynamic therapists can make a psych flick - or psychflick - out of almost any drama. My perspective is both more specific and broader. I'm always on the lookout for an actor's performance that is authentic, either as a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, or as a patient suffering from a recognizable psychiatric disorder. I look for believable enactments of treatment and therapeutic relationships, as well as realistic gazes at conflicts in families and other close relationships. I seek out psychflicks that focus on children, adolescents, and aging populations, not just on the adults in between.

I include theatrically distributed documentaries because the best ones can educate viewers about mental illness in an entertaining manner, not as a didactic exercise, which nobody wants in a movie. I make no exceptions for foreign language films, which make up 25% of the psychflicks I have catalogued over the years. The most authentic recent dramatizations of psychiatric disorders come from places such as Belgium, Iceland, the Scandinavian countries, and South Korea. Movies spoken in other languages (stated in parentheses here) have English subtitles. The films are listed by category and alphabetically by title within each category. For more in-depth reviews, visit the Movie Review Query Engine at www.MRQE.com.

* Non-Fiction Films. This category includes four documentaries and two docudramas (marked DD).

"The Inheritors" ("Los herederos") - Lyrical, by turns an uplifting and sad film about the long, hard work days put in by kids in rural Mexico. They are good at what they do and teach each other new skills. They are weary by evening: you see fatigue in their faces like that in their parents'. For subsistence farmers, family survival depends on their children's contributions. But how will an unschooled population manage when they inherit the nation? (In Spanish) Grade: A.

"Last Train Home" - We know of the displacement of Chinese workers from rural to urban settings to find jobs, while ties to home remain strong. This film offers a shockingly intimate portrait of 200 million workers jamming onto trains for their annual trip home at the Lunar New Year. Intimacy comes as we follow the camera to view homecoming experiences in a particular family. (In Mandarin) Grade: A.

"Reporter" - New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof at work in the world. ("Nicholas Kristof's Call for Compassion," Reel Life, Clinical Psychiatry News, July 2010, p. 9). Grade: B+.

"Restrepo" - First documentary of the Afghan War. Rugged mountains and tiny villages in the northeast shelter the Taliban. Our troops, way too exposed, get popped. Sound like Vietnam? A person who recently served in Afghanistan says this film is the real deal. Grade: A-.

"The Social Network" - Absorbing DD about Mark Zuckerberg, whose shyness led him to substitute virtual relationships for real ones. …