2010 in Cinema, as seen by Adam Cook 12/27/2010
The ten best films of the year, presented in numerical order...
1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand, Germany, France, Spain, UK)
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Apichatpong’s Palme D’or winning masterpiece isn’t just the best film of 2010 but like each of his last three features stands among the best cinema has to offer in this young century, which laden as it is with syndromes, is blessed by these works which offer us the serene and the strange in equal and copious measure. Whether Boonmee is his best I know not but it at least matches its siblings in warmth, beauty and power.
2. Film socialisme (France, Switzerland)
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Those who ushered in the French New Wave have begun to depart us but those who remain soldier on, not the least of whom is the foremost forefather Jean-Luc Godard. With Film socialisme, we find the auteur on a streak that rivals his 60s run in value and in the ambition to explore the furthest regions of the medium’s capabilities. In particular, Film socialisme reveals a youthful artist expanding digital language like few working today (exception numero uno: Michael Mann). Here Godard is surprisingly vulnerable, matching his intellect with desperate emotion.
3. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Romania)
Directed by Andrei Ujica
A masterful work in documentary form in which Ujica only uses stock footage (with no narration whatsoever), editing together a biography Ceausescu created for himself through his public appearances, which reveal truths that can be found behind any leader of such stature. Throughout the unexpectedly breezy three-hour running time, we become more than acquainted with his contradictions and fallacies.
4. Carlos (France, Germany)
Directed by Olivier Assayas
Appropriately researched but also pleasantly deft, Assayas’ ambitious 5+ hour historiographical exercise is rather modest in scope and even comical when all is said and done. While neither a convenient biopic nor an audience gratifying exploration of politics, Carlos pairs up well with The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu in analyzing a man caught in the machine (and caught in over his head).
5. Karamay (China)
Directed by Xu Xin
Karamay is a film that reveals horror of startling proportion and is nothing less than an act of cinematic heroism on the part of Xu Xin, who penetrates the previously clouded tragedy that stole the lives of over 300 people, most of whom were school children.
6. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (USA, UK, Canada)
Directed by Edgar Wright
Unapologetically fun and more thoughtful than anyone expected, Edgar Wright’s crowning achievement to date is a formal marvel not to be taken lightly. Scott Pilgrim is an impressively singular articulation of 21st century alienation and liberation, meticulously composed in hyper-montage.
7. Aurora (Romania, Switzerland, Germany France)
Directed by Cristi Puiu
Romanian New Wave pioneer Cristi Puiu’s follow-up to the brilliant film The Death of Mr. Lazerescu is just as interesting even if it’s not as perfect. Puiu impresses as both the auteur and the lead character whose dark eyes ask us to follow him and we abide, willfully yet cautiously.
8. The Social Network (USA)
Directed by David Fincher
Scott Pilgrim may be American-produced but it is helmed by a Brit which makes The Social Network the strongest through-and-through American film of the year. The film suspiciously begins as Adventureland (a much better film!) did last year with dialogue entering prior to the image followed by a shot-reverse shot sequence in which Jesse Eisenberg is dumped. The Social Network could be construed as a 21st century re-imagining of The Godfather in which family is all-but-obsolete and loyalty is even more fickle than Coppola ever articulated.
9. Shutter Island (USA)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Shutter Island may have been initially conceived by Scorsese in large part as homage but it would be a disservice to attribute this great film simply as tribute when, like The Departed before it, it is created by a master craftsman willing to reinvent the wheel again and again. Scorsese investigates how we treat the horrors of the past, which, in turn, informs our future.
10. White Material (France)
Directed by Claire Denis
The three French filmmakers on this list are among the greatest working today but Claire Denis may have the added distinction of being the best female filmmaker in the world (although I’ve yet to see Meek’s Cutoff which could be a worthy argument for Kelly Reichardt). From the stunning opening to the oblique conclusion, White Material is emotionally intriguing and features a superb leading performance from Isabelle Huppert.
It goes without saying that there are quite a few more than ten films that bear mentioning from any given year, and there are a handful of strong works I can't omit entirely. Hong Sang-soo's Hahaha is infectiously endearing thanks to its warm humour and most importantly a strong sense of humanity. The two great, albeit very different, animated films of the year can't be missed: Toy Story 3 and The Illusionist. Jia Zhangke's doc on Shanghai, I Wish I Knew, which of its many qualities impresses most by proving that actress Zhao Tao can generate as much pathos in mid-shot as others can only do in close-up. 2010 also featured The Ghost Writer, which is one of Roman Polankski's best films. While not among the very best of the year like the aforementioned films, I reserve two special mentions. The first is for I'm Still Here, a ballsy and intelligent experiment and the second is for L.A. Zombie, which can be accurately described as either "gay zombie porn" or a beautiful and moving portrait of the lost and forgotten.
To highlight just a few of the year's best performances, Edgar Ramirez was solid in the title role of Carlos, Jeff Bridges is too much fun in True Grit, and Natalie Portman is just as playful as her director in Black Swan. As previously mentioned, Zhao Tao is magnetic in her role as the primary figure in I Wish I Knew. Two young French actresses gave powerful performances: Lea Seydoux in Dear Prudence and especially Alice de Lencquesaing in Father of my Children whom also stole the show in 2008's Summer Hours. Christian Bale is exceptional in The Fighter, and proves once again that he can single-handedly better the films he appears in. The best performance of the year has to be Joquain Pheonix in I'm Still Here, who feigned a persona for a year, risking his reputation and his dignity to unveil the absurdity of public perception. His character may be a farce but the real Joquain Phoenix is a complex, enigmatic man and behind the beard and sunglasses lies truth. Between this and his collaborations with James Gray, Phoenix has asserted himself as the leading American actor of his time.
While none of the great film scores of the year play all that well autonomously from their motion pictures, they work where it matters most. Among the best were Tindersticks' score for White Material, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' for The Social Network, and Nigel Godrich's for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (which has the most to do with its respective film's strengths).
Worst of the year...
No end of year piece is complete without dishing out some hate along with the love. A quick list of the five films I hated the most from 2010:
1. Robin Hood (in which its overrated director undermines any and all of the redeeming qualities of its beloved subject)
2. The Man From Nowhere (vapid)
3. A Film Unfinished (lazy and offensive)
4. Of Gods & Men (devoid of the spirituality it desparately wants to portray)
5. The Town (amoral and silly...also I'm still unsure this was even "directed")
On the horizon...
2011 is stacked up to be a great year in American cinema...Reichardt, Malick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Mottola, Van Sant, Nichols...