Combustible Celluloid

What Happened to Me in the Dark: 2010

The Year in Film

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Most pundits will probably complain about how 2010 was a bad movie year, and perhaps compared to 2007 or 2009, it was. There weren't as many good movies. But I awarded four stars to nine movies this year, and that's nothing to complain about. And, more so than in most years, I saw a great deal of passion up there on the screen. Still, there was less consensus this year, and I'm not exactly on the same page with my colleagues, especially regarding my top two choices. But though consensus can mean a lot, it can also mean very little. I was re-watching The Night of the Hunter the other night, and it occurred to me that this movie, now considered one of the greatest American films ever made, was barely mentioned on any top ten lists of 1955. (The consensus that year favored Marty.) So maybe you'll say that my choices are "wrong," but my answer is this: only time will tell.

1. Hereafter
Clint Eastwood's new movie is the equivalent of his best recent works, yet it received many negative marks, mostly coming to the conclusion that it started with a bang and ended with a whimper. It takes a great deal of surrender to enjoy this movie. You have to surrender to the fact that tough guy Eastwood has made his gentlest, most spiritual movie, and you have to surrender to the way the plot threads weave together. It's not about coincidence so much as it is about connections.
2. Somewhere
At least Eastwood gets a break once in a while. Poor Sofia Coppola seems doomed to be misunderstood until the end of time. So be it, as long as she gets to keep making movies like this beautifully observant, tenderly felt portrait of a man in pain (never mind that he's a successful Hollywood actor). Some of the negative reviews of this one were just absurd. One critic negatively compared it to the works of the French New Wave! Another complained that there wasn't enough dialogue! A third said "nothing happens"! Forget all that and remember that this is the kind of personal, daring filmmaking that made us fall in love with movies in the first place.
3. The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski is 77 now, just a little older than Hitchcock was when he made his last film, Family Plot, in 1976. I think it's pretty clear that Polanski is more vicious at this age than old Hitch was. This movie may not have the world's most airtight plot, but Polanski sharpens it with his off-kilter, paranoid mood, and his attention to unsettling little details.
4. Vincere
Biopics usually don't make my year-end list because, regardless of whose life they're based on, they tend to follow the same formula. Marco Bellocchio -- who, at age 71, is another senior citizen -- disregards formula and instead focuses on passionate, powerful imagery to illustrate the torn, shattered love affair between Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi) and illegitimate lover Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno).
5. White Material
Claire Denis is one of the finest filmmakers in the world right now, and this is arguably her most straightforward narrative. It even has a full-fledged movie star (Isabelle Huppert) in the lead role, whereas Denis has shied away from big stars before. It's the third in her series of films about Colonial Africa, where Denis was raised, and though it's her most pessimistic film, it's gloriously poetic, and deeply felt in a visual sense. She genuinely uses the rocky, dusty spaces around her as part of the film's fabric.
6. Black Swan
It's The Red Shoes crossed with Brian De Palma, or the Raging Bull of ballet films; it's a work of bravery and lunacy, a full-bore assault on the emotions and the senses. It's grittily realistic, but also nightmarishly bizarre, similar in style to director Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, but closer in spirit to his Requiem for a Dream. I've already heard many critics resisting the messy power of this movie, preferring instead the more neatly packaged, timid, award-friendly releases. But this is the movie people will be talking about ten years from now.
7. True Grit
This may not have the weight of No Country for Old Men, but Joel and Ethan Coen's second Western is a sturdier, simpler genre film, pure bread-and-butter. It's a pretty old "laid-back-meets-uptight" character matchup, made even older by the fact that it's a remake of a 41 year-old John Wayne movie, but Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld -- as well as Matt Damon -- find new edges and layers to their characters. The Coens' chilly landscape and stylish dialogue come together for a most satisfying mix.
8. The Social Network
One of my colleagues brought up that David Fincher is an auteur of the cold and soulless, and he was perfect to direct the Facebook movie. I, myself, recommended it to certain friends because "it's for people who hate Facebook." What I love about this movie, though, is its strange clash between the pop dialogue of Aaron Sorkin, the chilly direction of Fincher, and a slightly sympathetic, but mostly awful lead character brilliantly played by Jesse Eisenberg (as well as many other factors). The rubbing together of these mismatched bits and pieces creates the film's drama.
9. I Am Love
It's rare that I include a new filmmaker, or a filmmaker unknown to me, on my year-end top ten list, but this movie makes me want to know more about Luca Guadagnino. This is an unusual story of a failed marriage, told from the point of view of an adulterer (Tilda Swinton); it's such a physical and emotional experience, rather than a narrative one, that you begin to understand how the stirrings of the soul could trump simple spoken vows. This was one of the year's most sumptuous, erotic films, truly reveling in the art of what movies can do.
10. Boxing Gym
The Fighter isn't anything unusual but this new documentary by the 80 year-old Frederick Wiseman deserves to be ranked with the great boxing pictures of all time; it even taught me the entire theory behind the speed bag. It's plotless, has no interviews or talking heads, and yet it creates a community of people from all walks of life, bonded by the simple thrill of training their bodies. It even offers, in the face of universal despair, some small measure of hope. It's the culmination of a 40-year career.

Runners Up (in alphabetical order):
Alamar (Pedro González-Rubio)
Another Year (Mike Leigh)
The Book of Eli (Allen Hughes/Albert Hughes)
Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Manoel de Oliveira)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy)
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold)
The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko)
Machete (Robert Rodriguez)
Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg)
Mother (Bong Joon-ho)
Splice (Vincenzo Natali)
Survival of the Dead (George A. Romero)
Winter's Bone (Debra Granik)


Note: these are the performances I listed on my SFFCC ballot.

Best Actor
1. Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
2. Jeff Bridges, True Grit
3. Ryan Reynolds, Buried
4. James Franco, 127 Hours
5. Stephen Dorff, Somewhere

Best Actress
1. Natalie Portman, Black Swan
2. Tilda Swinton, I Am Love
3. Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs
4. Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
5. Julianne Moore, The Kids Are All Right

Best Supporting Actor
1. Bill Murray, Get Low
2. John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
3. John Malkovich, Secretariat
4. Matt Damon, True Grit
5. Andrew Garfield, The Social Network

Best Supporting Actress
1. Juliette Lewis, Conviction
2. Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
3. Elle Fanning, Somewhere
4. Allison Janney, Life During Wartime
5. Helena Bonham-Carter, Alice in Wonderland

"B" Movies
While 127 Hours, The Fighter and The King's Speech win all the awards, this year featured a bumper crop of excellent lower-class films, genre films and "B" movies, very few of which will be featured on any lists or given any awards. Here's my ten best.

1. Survival of the Dead
2. The Book of Eli
3. Machete
4. Splice
5. Piranha 3D
6. Buried
7. Let Me In
8. My Soul to Take
9. The Warrior's Way
10. Hot Tub Time Machine

1. Boxing Gym
2. Marwencol
3. Exit Through the Gift Shop
4. Inside Job
5. October Country
6. 9500 Liberty
7. Waking Sleeping Beauty
8. Big River Man
9. Winnebago Man
10. Last Train Home

The Year's Worst (ABC order):
Thankfully, I did not have to sit through things like Shrek Forever After, Little Fockers, Sex and the City 2, that notorious new version of The Nutcracker, or anything by Tyler Perry this year. But I did sit through these:

The Back-Up Plan
Case 39
Clash of the Titans
Cop Out
Dinner for Schmucks
Edge of Darkness
The Expendables
Extraordinary Measures
Grown Ups
How Do You Know
Jonah Hex
The Last Airbender
Leap Year
Life As We Know It
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Robin Hood
The Tourist
Vampires Suck
The Virginity Hit
When in Rome

December 23, 2010

Movies Unlimtied