Fri 31 Dec 2010
The Best Films of the Year:
— If this were a list of favorite films, Edgar Wright’s latest would be much higher. Still, this adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels is an amazing technical achievement, combining excellent cinematography, editing, production design and sheer fun. Wright’s ability to blend O’Malley’s work with his own unique perspective on pop culture made for one of the best entertainment experiences on film in 2010.
— Here, Ben Affleck shows that “Gone Baby Gone” wasn’t a directorial fluke, and although this is another visit to Beantown, I don’t hear anyone knocking Scorsese because he tends to stay in the five boroughs. (Now, I’m not equating the two people, just the criticism.) In any case, “The Town” is a well-crafted genre film with excellent performances, especially from its lovely ladies, Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively. If you like tales about cops and robbers, this shouldn’t be left off of your 2010 list.
— Thankfully winning its appeal to the MPAA to reduce the film’s rating from the dreaded NC-17 to a R (it always helps to have Harvey Weinstein in your corner), “Blue Valentine” tells perhaps the most honest portrayal of a relationship in 2010. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver award-caliber performances and the parallel storytelling of their rise and fall strengthens the film’s ability to resonate with anyone who’s ever endured the joy and agony of being in love.
— Part of a trilogy of films created for British television, “Red Riding 1974″ is the finest crafted of the three, and builds the foundation for the events that will follow in the final two installments. What sets this apart from its follow-ups is the sure-handed directing of Julian Jarrold and the superb performances of Andrew Garfield and Rebecca Hall. The 16mm film stock is a beautiful touch, adding a grain to the already dour and depressing tone (all three films were shot on different stock; 16mm, 35 mm, digital). Sadly, the DVD/online presentation cleans it all up so if this somehow makes it to a big screen near you again, check if it’s on real film and then you’ll be able to see Jarrold’s vision as it was truly intended.
— A small film only the more independent leaning cinephiles may have even heard of, it once again shows that certain directors are worth keeping track of to make sure you don’t miss something in their canon. Writer/director Neil Jordan keeps cranking out original and finely tuned stories, this time centered on an Irish fisherman (Colin Farrell) who one day catches a beautiful woman (Alicja Bachleda) in his nets. The story lyrically and sumptuously plays with the notion that she is a selkie (quasi-mermaid) and while it’s one of Farrell’s finest roles, Bachleda and Allison Barry (playing Farrell’s daughter) give equally beautiful performances.
— The beauty of “Never Let Me Go” is that it’s subtle sci-fi, layered in British atmosphere, and bound by a tragic love triangle (all set to a beautiful score by Rachel Portman). Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley (and the three actors who play their younger selves) transport us to an alternate reality that is dealing with some heavy ethical issues thanks to a breakthrough in medicine. The science of it all isn’t what’s important, as the focus is on these three people and their interactions with one another, but the truth of their existence plays into their decisions and mind-states. Some are saying that their actions aren’t believable because we would act differently but stop and think about the impositions we all endure as part of the “greater good”; it will make judging these characters much harder to do.
— Oddly one of the more polarizing films of 2010, there are those who were blown away by the complexity of writer/director Christopher Nolan’s effort while others found it to be pretentious, using that complexity as a sign that it’s all smoke and mirrors, built upon the skeletons of other science fiction films. There’s truth in both perspectives but what makes “Inception” one of the year’s best is how Nolan and his team were able to combine all the different elements into a story structure that kept people guessing as to its meaning. Is it all a dream? Whose dream is it? What’s the significance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s wedding ring? Will Nolan ever stop working with Michael Caine? All of these questions (and more) arise and when added into the excellent production design, cinematography and acting performances, you end up with cinema worth seeing – even if you don’t end up worshipping at the Nolan altar as a result.
— Most likely a film that almost no one in America had ever heard of, at least unless they’re paying attention to critics’ societies and early awards show nominations, “Animal Kingdom” is one of the best Australian films in recent years and is well worth tracking down on DVD (whenever it eventually comes to Region 1). It’s built around a family of criminals, deliciously led by Jacki Weaver’s attention grabbing performance as their matriarch. The Melbourne police are looking to shut them down and we’re given a look inside via the youngest member of the family, recently thrown into this den of drug-dealers and murderers as a result of his mother overdosing, after spending so many years trying to shelter him from them. It’s a tremendous ensemble on display and had this been directed by a big U.S. director with an “A-list” cast, it would certainly be a front runner for the critics and big wigs who love that kind of thing … only, what makes the film work is that this isn’t some cookie cutter Oscar-bait; it’s simply an excellent story with great performances that’s sure to be the most overlooked film of 2010.
— Thanks to its success with critics, “Winter’s Bone” is finally getting some recognition and will hopefully find a greater audience in the home market. Centered on a teenage girl (Jennifer Lawrence in a stunning performance) who must track down the whereabouts of her meth-cooking father who’s jumped bail and put their house up as collateral, this must be a nightmare for the rural Missouri tourism board. The characters are frightening, by measure of the cast’s performance, let alone the sense that people like these actually exist, all lying in wait in the shadows of the Ozark mountains. This isn’t something you put on if you want some light escapism but is a must see for anyone who considers themselves a film buff and enjoys naturalistic and powerful acting.
— Not just because it’s a film from across the pond, writer/director Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” shares a lot in common with Neil Jordan’s “Ondine”. Both were overlooked by the American mass market but the track record of both auteurs makes any film they make worth a look and each delivered stand outs in what is a relatively weak 2010. Leigh’s picture centers on a stable and loving couple (Jim Broadbent & Ruth Sheen) who are surrounded by friends and family in a state of flux. Lesley Manville gives the supporting actress performance of the year, as a woman who finds herself grasping at opportunities to change her life around but never actually grabbing them. This is the finest ensemble performance of the year (barely beating out the excellent combination of actors in “44 Inch Chest“) and another film that shouldn’t go unnoticed simply because it didn’t get a bunch of TV advertising and didn’t star some hot, young Hollywood star. This is about real life and the manner in which it can pass us by if we’re not paying attention.
The Worst Films of the Year:
— I wrote an 80 word review, because that’s how many minutes the film tortured me with. After some careful consideration and deep introspection, I can now condense my feelings into 2 words: “This sucks”. Any film that has me so bored I’m counting Megan Fox’s screen time is one to avoid. Also, don’t be fooled by the fact that this got a 1.5 out of 5, that rating would have plummeted further had there been any more celluloid to endure before the sweet, sweet release that accompanied the end credits and a quick exit from the theater that had been holding me prisoner.
— Oh, Australia. I love you so. Your tasty beer (only fools drink Foster’s, they’re proud to export it), your friendly citizens with that amazing accent, and your cuddly marsupials have long held me in sway. Ever since seeing “BMX Bandits” as a child, I’ve loved the Aussie charm that exudes from your film culture; the personality of the country seems to inexplicably latch onto the reels of celluloid that make a trip across the Pacific. Sadly, all of this is absent in “Bran Nue Dae”. A musical with undertones of the Aboriginal push for social equality, it instead feels like they’re mocking Australia’s first residents. The music is an awful mix of honky tonk country and some bastardized version of Broadway. Boiling it all down, this film makes me feel like loving Australia is wrong. Damn you, “Bran Nue Dae”. Damn you.
— If you think being bored out of your mind is worth your time, then by all means see “Somewhere”. Otherwise, fans of writer/director Sofia Coppola are best off watching her previous works (though I’d say you should continue to avoid “Marie Antoinette“). Coppola even managed to make scenes of hot, young twins wearing matching outfits and pole dancing a chore to sit through. Now how in the hell do you do that? Ugh.
— Had this just been a home video that Joaquin Phoenix and “Director”/BFF/Brother-in-law Casey Affleck had made for themselves, I could see the entertainment value. There’s even a part of me that admires the pair for keeping the fact that this “documentary” was a hoax under wraps for so long, with Phoenix doing a good job of maintaining the illusion of an actor who’d quit the biz for almost two years. However, as evident by their very quick admission of the falsity to most of it, which was clear to the viewer upon finally watching it, these two chuckleheads just wanted to play a prank. But the film doesn’t work if it’s fake and the notion that a few people fell for the joke and plunked down real dollars for this untrue story left me highly perturbed. Couldn’t they at least have made the thing worthy of some laughs? Answer: No, they could not. Avoid unless you have a masochistic streak a few miles long.
— I’d watch every other film on the Worst List from this year, and the last two, before surrendering to another round of this. Simply put, writer/director Gaspar Noe’s film is quite possibly the most pretentious work ever put to celluloid. I’d also like to remind anyone who suffers from epilepsy that seeing this film quite possibly could kill you … there are more strobe light sections and effects than every Pokemon episode put together. While I’ve seen this hailed by a select few (even the great Edgar Wright put this on his top films list of the year), I think people are just responding to the fact that Noe crosses so many boundaries in his films … the problem is that he rarely manages to justify doing so. “Enter the Void” is simply a collection of taboo elements and directorial arrogance all lumped together in one long, long, long, very long, excruciatingly long, presentation that finally answers the question: “What’s the worst film you might ever see?”
The Most Underrated/Overlooked
Films of the Year:
— Using a screenplay by the same blokes who wrote “Sexy Beast” and employing Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane, and Joanne Whaley – what isn’t there to like about this? The simple answer is nothing. Yes, it’s got more bad words in it than a Boston flick written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but that’s part of the charm, as each actor delivers the most acidic verbage and phrasing in a way that would make Shakespeare proud. It’s like taking a master class in acting (without it seeming like Oscar-bait) and is definitely a must see for true cinemaniacs.
— This small film came and went with barely any fanfare, despite writer/director Andrea Arnold’s acclaim for her previous work, “Red Road”. While the sum of “Fish Tank” may not be quite as accomplished, there are elements that stand apart from many of 2010′s films. In the lead role, Katie Jarvis (who had never acted before) delivers one of the year’s best performances, as a teenage girl from a very dysfunctional single mother home looking for a direction in life. It meanders a bit in the middle but the emotional journey Jarvis’ character undergoes is impressive and Arnold’s script definitely doesn’t bow to the pressures a major studio would have imposed.
— Comic book movies are en vogue. For the last few years, they’ve mostly been fluff with good special effects that made ridiculous sums of money. With the success of Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise, even jaded critics began to see the potential of the genre. And now, “Kick-Ass” may be the best executed adaptation to date (don’t whine “Dark Knight” fans, those movies aren’t based on actual comic book arcs). It maintains the tone and message of writer Mark Millar’s work, via great production design, costuming, and casting (most notably with Chloe Moretz’s take on the character of Hit-Girl). Whereas “Scott Pilgrim” is more pure fun and shows off Edgar Wright’s directorial prowess, this feels like the comic was lifted straight from the book and onto the screen – which is no small feat.
— Like “District 9“, this sci-fi film was able to take a very low budget (in this case a reported $15,000 dollars, yes fifteen thousand) and create realistic special effects that were far more impressive than pretty much every 100 million dollar blockbuster. What’s more impressive is that director Gareth Edwards and his actors (Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy) were able to craft a personal and intimate relationship on-screen, using this extraordinary sci-fi setting as the backdrop – not the focus. Some were disappointed that this isn’t a “monster” film full of action and over-handed effects but this couldn’t have been more up my alley and I recommend it to anyone who fancies themselves not only a fan of the genre but also being able to discuss a film’s events and meaning afterwards. This barely missed making the top 10 of the year and surely ranks in the top 5 of my favorites of 2010.
— If ever there was a film that was overlooked and underrated in 2010, it would be “Wild Target”. Starring the always enjoyable Bill Nighy as a professional assassin, the story adds the unimaginably beautiful Emily Blunt, Harry Potter’s favorite ginger, Rupert Grint, and a a number of other brilliant supporting players. The entire project is bathed in a glorious whimsy and this was a very welcome break to the flood of serious dramas that typically happens late in the year. If you’re a fan of Nighy or Blunt (and you should be), this is definitely something not to be missed.