If you needed evidence that "Best of..." lists were exercises in subjectivity, look no further than this year's "Best of..." lists from Cinescene reviewers. Only one movie showed up the majority of lists submitted (Curious? see "...and the favorite is..."), and even that film showed up on more than one list of overpraised films of 2010. So what does that say about 2010 as a year for movies? In my opinion, it means that overall it was a pretty good year for movies. While a general consensus on more than two or three movies was absent, many films that showed up on one person's list also appeared on another's "honorable mentions," meaning a wide variety of films offered compelling reasons to go to the movies.

To the left are links to the lists of our regular contributors, as well as write-ups of the one film to show up on more than half of the lists submitted. Work through them in whatever order you prefer, but be sure to peruse them all...you might find another entry on your own "Best..." list that you had forgotten about or never heard of.

Winter's Bone

Director Debra Granik's quiet backwoods thriller, based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell is both a critical darling and the film which showed up on the most lists submitted this year. Below is just a sampling of the praise people had for the film, its director, and breakout star Jennifer Laurence said about it:


As cold and tough as its title, a brilliant evocation of a hard time in a very hard place. -- Jim Beaver

In Ree, Granik has created one of the strongest female characters in recent memory. -- Howard Schumann

What really caught me about this film was the sheer desperation that these characters live with day in and day out. -- Devin Rambo

Laurence becomes an instant star and Granik a bankable director in this best Amerindie film of the year. -- Chris Knipp

Granik is good with the details of backwoods life. -- Chris Dashiell

Takes us every step of the way, plunging us into the icy winter waters of its world and daring us to grab hold onto what we may find there. -- Alex Ellerman


While no other single film came anywhere close to matching the nearly universal appeal of Winter's Bone (or even appear on a majority of lists), three scored well enough with contributors to earn mention:

Black Swan
A Prophet
Kick-Ass

Be sure to look for those three as you browse the other submissions.

Two That Stuck With Me

I only saw 18 2010 releases this year. A handful of them grabbed me. Two really knocked my socks off.

Winter's Bone is as cold and tough as its title, a brilliant evocation of ahard time in a very hard place. I'm very proud of my friend John Hawkes, and Jennifer Lawrence is going to search hard for a role as good as this that gives her blazing talent this kind of opportunity to shine.

The Fighter is a pretty good movie, but as an acting showcase, it's
masterful. Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Amy Adams mop up the floor with most contending performances this year.

I liked The King's Speech, Temple Grandin, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Catfish, and Inception a lot. But it's Winter's Bone and The Fighter I will remember as the cream of 2010.

©2011 Jim Beaver
CineScene

A Film Snob's Favorites of 2010

This year I offer a shorter and less elaborate version of my year-end favorites, appropriate for a generally low-key year at the movies. I think it’s only an odd coincidence that my top two favorites, and two of the darkest films you’ll ever see, both feature the word “White” in the title. But it’s no accident that two films by the same director appear on my list (a first for me). As far as I’m concerned, Claire Denis operates on a higher level than most filmmakers today, much as a great musician occupies a different realm than a merely good one.

1. White Material (Claire Denis.)
The tragedy of post-colonial Africa, in the throes of violent upheaval, refracted through the lens of a tragic flaw, that of a French plantation overseer (Isabelle Huppert, magnificent) who refuses to accept that her world is going to be taken away from her. The story starts at the end, then steps back in time, then back again— the shifting time sequence matching the restlessly moving camera. As always with Denis, we are required to find our bearings in the midst of events and relationships that only gradually reveal themselves. Sorrow and a relentless sense of doom permeate the film, personified by a rebel army, mainly teens and children, rampaging through the countryside. The government soldiers, meanwhile, are just as brutally amoral in their push to crush the rebellion. The title is a dismissive phrase used by both sides in the war to indicate whatever Europeans are left in their way, the painful legacy of the “white man” in Africa remaining as a remnant, a murky force of dissolution. Dramatizing this reality in miniature, the hubris of Huppert’s character, her refusal to accept the inevitable, draws everything around her into darkness. This is the one incontestable masterwork of the year.

2. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke).
The Austrian director brings his accomplished technique and intensely focused vision to the story of a series of mysterious crimes occurring in an early 20th century rural German village. Gradually we get to know various families—most memorably that of the strict village pastor, who punishes two of his children with whippings and makes them wear a white ribbon as a symbol of purity. The central theme is found in the relationships of parents and children, the way authoritarian values sow the seeds of hatred and destruction in the hearts of a new generation. We are surely meant to look ahead to the Germany of two decades later under Hitler, but the film’s insight applies to any society in which control over the minds and bodies of children precludes any real love and respect. The high-contrast black-and-white photography makes the allegory seem even more stark and vivid. Is the mystery solved? Haneke always allows for uncertainty and ambiguity, but the alert viewer can guess the outlines of the truth.

3.A Prophet (Jacques Audiard).
Beneath the epic structure of this sensational crime film is concealed a sad critique of race and class in France, in a culture where marginal people can only feel their own power through criminal acts. We follow a shy young Arab (Tahar Rahim), in prison for assaulting a cop, as he is recruited and corrupted by a Corsican mob boss. The picture is divided into sections, titled after different characters or events, and it becomes like a complex, finely detailed novel about prison life and the psychology of crime. A touch of magic realism lends an unobtrusive shadow of meaning. Absorbing with its multiple characters and plot lines, the film offers one of the most clear-eyed portraits of power you’re likely to find. We learn how violence, with its inexorable logic, presents the most opportunities to the man who has no ties.

4. 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis).
Lionel (Alex Descas), a handsome middle-aged black man, works as a train conductor in Paris and lives with his college student daughter Josephine (Mati Diop). They love each other deeply and live in quiet contentment, even though Lionel knows that someday his daughter must leave. In a nearby flat lives an old flame of Lionel’s, and upstairs is a restless and dissatisfied young man who is in love with Josephine. The film quietly observes, and allows this little world to reveal itself in what we see, and also in the in-between spaces where we don’t see. Whether it’s the train moving along the tracks at night, people eating together, or the face of someone thinking, everything looks almost as if lit from within. This inner glow is matched by the tenderness of the characters, who speak more with their glances than with words. The stuff that matters is happening underneath the surface, and that, you may realize, is how it is in life.

5. Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives
(Apichatpong Weerasethakul).
When it comes to this Thai director’s films, everyone can agree: they are like no others. This one is about death, and how we come closest to a true awareness of it through myth and dreams. A middle-aged man, gentle and melancholy, is dying from a kidney disease. He returns to the remote forest home of his youth, accompanied by his sister-in-law and cousin, who take care of him. In the evening he encounters the ghost of his wife, and then a monkey spirit who is the reincarnation of his lost son. Two long sequences, one at the beginning and a mythic tale in the middle, depict the mysterious unity of human and animal life in the fabric of nature. Just as in dreams, the impossible is presented as matter-of-fact, and the effect is humorous, sad, and sublime. 

6. Inside Job (Charles Ferguson.)
With a documentary, besides the craft and skill involved, one must sometimes consider an additional element: its importance. Inside Job is the kind of movie you come out of wishing that everyone could see it. Ferguson takes a disciplined, highly accessible and complete approach to the story of how the financial industry broke the world economy with reckless greed and fraud. It spells out the 30-year history leading up to disaster, starting with Reagan and ending in the present day, covering each branch of the industry—the banks, the investment firms, the rating services, and even the economists who justified it all from their cushy posts at prestigious universities. It’s an infuriating story, but it’s also a relief to see a film, for once, that tells it straight and doesn’t spare anyone.

7. The Social Network (David Fincher).
Hollywood’s best effort of the year has the courage to feature an unlikable and pathetic main character, Facebook inventor Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), in a satire that portrays the cutthroat world of big business as something very much like the petty hurts and rivalries of college. After last year’s disappointing Benjamin Button movie, Fincher is back in form here, tightly orchestrating a complex plot within a 2-hour running time, with excellent editing, photography, and a sense of detail and craftsmanship that never fails to compel. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is fast, witty, and yet believable. A lot of the movie is taken up with people talking, but it’s never boring.

8. Last Train Home (Lixin Fan).
Taking three years to shoot and involving unusual access to a single Chinese peasant family, the Chinese-Canadian director’s first film explores the plight of hundreds of millions of migrant workers who live in crowded cities, laboring in factories that produce so much of the goods consumed in the West. They only make one annual trip home to their rural villages, during the Chinese New Year, an event that strains the transit system as huge numbers of travelers struggle to get tickets and find a place on the incredibly overcrowded trains. The story of one couple visiting their children in the countryside reveals, with striking intimacy, the injustice of the economic system that causes unimaginable stress for millions of families like them.

9. Winter's Bone (Debra Granik).
In the backwoods of Missouri a group of dirt-poor families have turned to making meth in order to get by or get out; it’s a place of silent angry men, hard women, and few possessions, most of which look damaged or used up. 17-year-old Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) goes in search of her father, who has jumped bail, The way leads her through a maze of friends, relatives, petty criminals, and really dangerous people. Granik is good with the details of backwoods life. The themes of family abuse, hidden crimes, and deadly secrets seem almost titanic, although in a restrained and muted style, which builds gradually to feelings of dread and horror.

10. The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey).
This animated Irish film attains something rare in the genre: spirituality and profundity. A boy living in the remote medieval town of Kells becomes apprentice to a manuscript illuminator and goes on a quest to help create a wonderful book, and with the unexpected help of a girl-wolf spirit, gains a transcendent vision. Hand-drawn, with only a little help from computers during the faster action scenes, the picture features an almost abstract juxtaposition of shapes and colors that seems like painting in motion. The influence of medieval art forms is evident, sometimes playful, sometimes serious, always brilliantly vibrant and surprising. Also surprising is the mature and unflinching depiction of the darker forces in life.

Best TV:
Carlos (Olivier Assayas).
The boundary between film and TV is getting increasingly blurred. Carlos has, in fact, been aired in theaters, but it was only available (so far) on cable in my neck of the woods. If casually switching to a show, in the belief that I would have to go to bed well before it ended, but finding myself unable to tear myself from the screen through all six and a half hours, is a measure of anything, Carlos is one of the best films of the year. It follows the notorious terrorist over about two decades of his life, with the amazing centerpiece being the raid on the 1975 OPEC meeting in Vienna. All the excitement, cruelty, idealism, self-deception, murky sexual politics, and twisted power games of an era are laid out for us without overt comment. The editing and pace, the photography and production design, are all first rate, but a great deal of credit for the film’s success goes to Edgar Ramirez, mesmerizing in the title role.

Other favorite performances: Kim Hye-ja (Mother); Tilda Swinton (I Am Love); Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right); Jeff Bridges (True Grit); Colin Firth (The King’s Speech).

No B-sides or digs at inferior product this year, I’m afraid. It’s best to focus on the good. Nor do I have the time to put together my usual long list of departed figures, but I would like to say farewell to a few people:

Kathryn Grayson, Peter Graves, Fess Parker, Robert Culp, June Havoc, John Forsythe, Lynn Redgrave, Lena Horne, Dennis Hopper, Patricia Neal, Abbey Lincoln, Kevin McCarthy, Gloria Stuart, Arthur Penn, Tony Curtis, Jill Clayburgh, Dino De Laurentiis, Irvin Kershner, Leslie Nielsen, Mario Monicelli, Blake Edwards, Anne Francis, Pete Postlethwaite, Peter Yates, Hideko Takamine, and Susannah York.

©2011 Chris Dashiell
CineScene

What I Thought About What I Saw-2010

2010 has been another great year in movies. Among the top three films on this year's list, any one could have taken the top spot. But #1 is so visionary, so refreshingly original, that I believe it is the best film of 2010.

#10: Kick-Ass Violent, vulgar, clever, and careful, Kick-Ass is an audacious and original take on the superhero genre. You won't see another film like it this year.

#9: The Killer Inside Me It takes great big stones to make a lurid, pulpy novel into a lurid, pulpy movie with world-class production values. It takes even bigger stones to film its story in all its horror and expect an audience to stick with its antihero. The Killer Inside Me gambles big and rakes in all the chips, delivering a compelling and disturbing story while establishing Casey Affleck as one of the most interesting young actors working in American film today.

#8: The Secret of Kelis bIn this animated feature, young Brendan is a monk in an abbey/fortress in medieval Ireland. Torn between the abbot who's driven to ready for the next Viking attack and the illuminator who unleashes his genius, Brendan finds a magical ally deep in the woods. The Secret of Kelis reflects its milieu with a daring 2-D animation style that reflects the illuminated manuscripts in which Brendan finds his inspiration and his calling. This film is beautiful and imaginative and delightful. See it even if you don't have kids.

#7: The Other Guys It's hard to make a big budget action-comedy that's actually funny. The Other Guys, however, is funny all the way through to the end credits and it delivers on the big action set pieces and it works in a Yojimbo joke. How many wide-release comedies can you name that work in a Yojimbo joke? Look for clever supporting work from Michael Keaton, Eva Mendez, and Ron Riggle.

#6: Shutter Island I define a gadget movie as a film that's as much a puzzle as anything else, and Shutter Island is a terrific gadget movie. This challenging and puzzling film features a deeply compelling and disturbing premise, and it comes through on it. Scorsese orchestrates, shepherding knockout performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo in a film that's as gothic, creepy, compelling, and horrifying as anything I've seen this year. I need to see it again, and soon.

#5: True Grit True Grit is a no-nonsense, three act western featuring outstanding work from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, Josh Brolin, and especially young Hailee Steinfeld, as the heroine Mattie Ross. The film is full of little moments that define and develop its characters and its world, and we get the sense of a picture whose every detail was carefully designed and executed. This is as professional as the professional western gets. John Huston would be proud.

#4: The American George Clooney plays Alain Delon playing a very bad man in hiding from some other very bad men in a film that feels more like a late '50s – early '60s French or Italian production than a modern American one. I like Goerge Clooney. I like Alain Delon. I like French and Italian movies from the late '50s and early '60s. And I can't stop thinking about the sense of world-weariness, fear, isolation, and dread that comes through in nearly every scene of this criminally underappreciated film.

#3: Black Swan I challenge you to name a Darren Aronofsky film that doesn't rank among the best releases of its year. Black Swan, the latest in a line of Aronofsky masterpieces, will baffle you and scare you and challenge you and elevate you. It's filmmaking about high art that is, itself, high art – a film about a dancer in 'Swan Lake' that is, itself, a production of 'Swan Lake.' The film enraptured me in the moment, and I think about the sound and imagery of its emotional climax several times a day. I suspect it will become as much a part of my touchstones of great filmmaking as the sand Kyuko Kishida's body in Woman in the Dunes or Hugh Jackman in the bubble in Aronofsky's The Fountain. You must see this film.

#2: Winter's Bone Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) sprang from the same soil as Mattie Ross, and I think Mattie would see her as one of her own. When Ree sets out to find her father in the moral and economic wasteland of meth-corrupted Arkansas, she's in territory as strange and dangerous as the Indian country Mattie penetrates to find her fugitive. While Mattie had help, however, Ree is alone. She alone must find her father, dead or alive, so to save the pathetic home in which she's raising her younger siblings. She alone must brave the suspicion, the fear, the hostility she meets within her own family. She must do it all, and Winter's Bone takes us every step of the way, plunging us into the icy winter waters of its world and daring us to grab hold onto what we may find there. Winter's Bone is a perfectly executed, utterly horrifying film. You must see it.

#1: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Inventive, audacious, and infectiously fun, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the best film of 2010. The picture crosses from reality to fantasy and back again with delight and energy, immersing us in the mind of its hero so completely that we cease to care about the objectively real and happily ride along with him while he, well, while he works himself out.

Granted, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World isn't the first film to explore boundaries between fantasy and reality; neither is it the first to exist almost entirely in the head of its protagonist. The film recalls Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep, which gave us a man-child protagonist whose fantasy world so thoroughly informs his connection with the real world that we cannot understand one without the other. While Gondry's man-child seems cloying and stunted, however, director Edgar Wright here gives us a man-teen so bursting with geeky enthusiasm, so ready to take the step into actual adulthood, that we root for him instead of just wait for him to grow up.

Scott Pilgrim does this by evoking the Big Three of nerd culture: comic books, video games, and alt-indie rock. It doesn't do it by just throwing references out there and hoping for a few lightbulbs to come on. It does it by borrowing graphic references from comic books, co-opting the look and feel of video games from their 16-bit arcade heyday to their modern, hyperrealistic incarnations, and overwhelming the audience both with music and with unique visual depictions of music. Scott Pilgrim doesn't just reference this culture or remind you of this culture: it immerses you in this culture. As A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times, "There are some movies about youth that just make you feel old, even if you aren't. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ... has the opposite effect."

Bravo, Mr. Wright. I can't wait to see what you do next.

©2011 Alexander Ellerman
CineScene

Best Films of 2010--English and Foreign

English

127 Hours (Danny Boyle 2010). An extreme outdoor experience in which a canyoneer must amputate a limb to escape death when trapped in a remote Utah slot canyon. An impossible subject, handled with panache and imagination by Boyle and the mercurial James Franco.

Animal Kingdom (David Michôd 2010). An Australian gangster family has a total meltdown under concerted pressure of the police. Michôd excels at blending rich character delineation with action for a story worthy of Greek tragedy.

The Fighter (David O. Russell 2010). The sweet fighter played by Mark Wahlberg must succeed in spite of the coaching "help" of Christian Bale's skeletal loser crackhead brother and Melissa Leo's matriarch in this successful experiment in non-stop intensity by the maverick director David O. Russell.

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold 2009). A girl in an Essex council estate deals with the dangerous charms of her irresponsible single mom's handsome lover in this superb film that turns the English kitchen sink vérité style into something more natural and beautiful.

The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski 2010). An old master at work, a classic-style thriller without special effects but fully supplied with excitement, suspense, and memorable scenes. Superficially conventional -- except that everything is perfect.

Greenberg (Noah Baumbach 2010). Baumbach gives Ben Stiller a chance to turn from pop comedy to ironic character study in playing a self-centered loser negotiating the outer shores of Hollywood, with distinctive, specific results.

Life During Wartime(Todd Solodnz 2010). A sui generis writer-director at the top of his game in every aspect returns to previous characters years later, with a series of scenes that are both disturbing and hilarious.

The Social Network (David Fincher 2020). Fierce battles among brilliant and ambitious young men at Harvard over cyberworld creations that turn them into billionaires are reshaped through the distinctively smart, acid, fast-moving pen of Aaron Sorkin and the deft directorial skills of David Fincher with three of the best young actors today in what turns out to be the smartest and most timely American film of the year.

Somewhere (Sofia Coppola 2010). Coppola has assimilated her Antonioni well in this elegant study of anomie focused on a young movie star (Stephen Dorff) adrift at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, atop Sunset Boulevard, and, for a while, in Milan with his young daughter (Elle Fanning).

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich 2010). The Pixar formulas can be manipulative and sentimental but for excitement and fluid action this animated film about the end of childhood cannot be beat, and it touches on themes of great significance.

Winter's Bone (Debra Granik 2010) Jennifer Laurence becomes an instant star and Granik a bankable director in this best Amerindie film of the year about a young woman fighting her tight, outside-the-law Ozark community to save her family's property; the film is dense with atmosphere and flavorful dialogue.

Foreign

Carlos (Olivier Assayas 2010). A miniseries in which the superb Édgar Ramírez totally embodies the ballsy Seventies terrorist and political assassin Ilich Ramírez Sánchez AKA "Carlos" who kidnapped the entire leadership of OPEC and spoke Spanish, English, French, and Arabic. The film flows from the Middle East to various parts of Europe and Assayas and Ramírez never falter for a minute.

Eyes Wide Open(Haim Tabakman 2009). A bold Israeli feature about an Orthodox butcher and husband and father who falls in love with a handsome young man, with dire consequences. The young lover, a Yeshiva dropout, is played by matinee idol Ran Danker. You might want to see this together with Kevin Asch's Holy Rollers, about young American orthodox Jews in the Nineties who become drug mules, starring an actor more noted for another movie this year, Jesse Eisenberg, who plays Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. See how different he can be.

The Father of My Children (Le père de mes enfants, Mia Hansen-Løve 2009). Hansen-Løve moves to the forefront of young French directors with this touching and mature study (based on the tragic life of great independent film producer Humbert Balsam) of an overtaxed man and his loving family, before and after his suicide.

Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont 2009). Provocateur Dumont turns from provincial oafs to a young woman whose desire for sainthood leads her into terrorism; the result is poetic and strange.

Mademoiselle Chambon (Stéphane Brizé 2009). A classic, old-fashioned, restrained and pitch-perfect "brief encounter" story of two people who fall in love in the French provinces but cannot be together, with the great Vincent Lindon as the working-class man who is shyly attracted to his child's lonely schoolteacher.

Making Plans for Léne (Non, ma fille, tu n'iras pas danser, Christophe Honoré 2009). Honoré turns from jeunesse dorée flirtations and tragedies to family meltdown and creates great roles for Chiara Mastroianni and a lot of other good actors in a story that shifts between city and country.

A Prophet (Un prophète, Jacques Audiard 2009). With malleable newcomer Taher Rahim and the wonderful Niels Arestrop as a young Arab-French prisoner and the Corsican gang leader who becomes his cruel protector, Audiard depicts the making of a crime leader, a strange apprenticeship and role-reversal that happens over a five-year period in a big French prison. Complex and absorbing, this utterly transcends genre.

Welcome (Philippe Lioret 2009) Vincent Lindon again, this time in Dardenne brothers territory, with a swimming coach trying to help a young illegal who wants to swim from France to England to meet his sweetheart. A subtle film that creeps up on you.

©2011 Chris Knipp
CineScene

2010's Best and Worst

Here are my picks for the best movies of 2010 in no particular order:

Winter's Bone, a low budget drama by talented newcomer Debra Granik about the dark world of meth in the Ozarks.

Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese's Gothic tribute to Hitchcock. Shutter Island seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle because of an early February release.

Mother, an offbeat work by Korean director Joon-ho Bong, director of The Host.

White Material director Claire Denis and actress Isabelle Huppert team up in this sensitive work about the aftermath of colonialism in Africa.

A Prophet by Jacques Audiard is a riveting exploration of the world of French prisons and a young man trapped in the system with little hope of a better life.

Among the holiday releases, True Grit is a new take on the 1969 Oscar classic with Jeff Bridges in the John Wayne role and a notable performance by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld.

Another late year standout is Darren Aronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan because, among its other attributes, it's so over-the-top and very stylish to look at.

The King's Speech should be mentioned for its excellence in a "Masterpiece Theatre" kind of way. Colin Firth, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Geoffrey Rush all turn in fine performances in this historical drama about George's VI speech difficulties and ascendance to the throne.

Top documentaries were Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea's Henri-Georges Clouzot's 'Inferno' and Tchavdar Georgiev and Amanda Pope's The Desert of Forbidden Art. The Clouzot documentary is a detailed look at Inferno, his 1964 lost film which might have been a masterpiece. The Desert of Forbidden Art tells the story of Russian collector Igor Savitsky who made huge personal sacrifices in remote Uzbekistan to save modern works the Soviets deemed politically incorrect.

The Social Network deserves mention for Aaron Sorkin's crisp screenplay and talented ensemble cast featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake. The Fighter is a bit too predictable but features standout performances by Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Honorable mentions go to the French biopic Gainsbourg and Paul Greengrass' Iraq war drama Green Zone.

Films with lofty ambitions which failed because of an overdose of pretention were Christopher Nolan's Inception and I Am Love with Tilda Swinton. Both were hugely overrated with Inception attaining instant cult status. I Am Love received major kudos based largely on Swinton's linguistic achievement. She performs in both Italian and Russian. The film's reviewers erred when they compared I Am Love to Luchino Visconti's The Leopard No way says this Visconti fan.

Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void tried way too hard to be the ultimate head
trip. Noah Baumbach's Greenberg and Todd Solondz Life During Wartime attempted to explore 21st-century angst. Both have huge
aspirations but nonetheless rank among the year's biggest disappointments.

Cyrus is one of the blackest and most disturbing comedies of recent years. Recent divorce' John C. Reilly thinks he's found the woman of his dreams (Marisa Tomei) until he discovers her close (perhaps too close) relationship with her son, Jonah Hill. It is frankly surprising this film ever got made, but it may offer rewards to someone with an offbeat sense of humor. Kudos to the cast and directors Jay and Mark Duplass for Cyrus.

Probably the worst film of the year was Sex and the City 2 which, at best, may become 'a bad movie we love,' though at 146 minutes, may turn off even hardcore fashionistas.

©2011 Elizabeth Manny
CineScene

9 from 10

This is a Best of 2010 list from a critic who has not yet seen Another Year, Film Socialisme, Everyone Else, Mao's Last Dance, Never Let Me Go, the Red Riding films, Animal Kingdom, Eichmann, City Island, Get Low, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Made in Dagenheim, No One Knows About Persian Cats, Enter the Void, Carlos, Hereafter, Marwencol, Inside Job, or Life During Wartime. I am embarrassed at how few new foreign language films I saw this year, and similarly am embarrassed that so few are on my list. So it goes.

But first, some of the subsidiary categories.

A very short list of honorable mentions: Howl, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Kids Are All Right, Tiny Furniture.

Acting awards -- For Best Actor, Ryan Gosling,Blue Valentine; for Best Actress, Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right; for Best Supporting Actor, Christian Bale, The Fighter. for Best Supporting Actress I'll call it a tie between Melissa Leo in The Fighter and Sarah Steele in Please Give.

The worst? I seldom look at movies if I think they're going to be really bad. (Yeah, there are exceptions, late Joan Crawford, etc. I don't usually look at *new* movies if I think they are going to be really bad.) But three films deserve special recognition. Waiting for "Superman" is offensive, simpleminded, misleading propaganda, dishonest and very harmful. Inception proves that technical proficiency and imagination in the service of a bad idea creates, well, a worse idea. I hope Ellen Page recovers.The Living Wake was the flat-out worst new film. It played for exactly one week in New York, and would never have opened at all, but a) Jesse Eisenberg was in it and b) was kind enough to introduce a screening. But it's unspeakably bad.

That brings us to the Top 9 of 2010. I am really truly not being perverse in just listing nine films. For the second year running, nine is really all I wanted to list. If I may I would like to take this opportunity to offer an amendment and declare that Drag Me To Hell was one of the top 10 pictures of 2009. But at that time, nine it was; and at this time, nine it is, and here they are:

Black Swan I understand the many objections, but to me it's a dazzling visual and imaginative achievement.

Blue Valentine The best new movie this year, and it's also better than anything I saw released last year, and maybe the year before that. Brilliant, subversive, utterly heartbreaking; sneaky how it gets you; two unforgettably great performances at the core.

Exit Through the Gift Shop And I just called Blue Valentine subversive . . . well . . . a con job this is, but it's an honest con job, witty and provocative.

The Ghost Writer This grew on me over the course of the year; again, it's mostly because of how it looks, and just the immense craft, subtlety, clarity, and tact inherent in the filmmaking.

Kick-Ass It's refreshing when a thoroughly commercial film does precisely what it sets out to do, does it very well, and adds a few extra dollops of humor and sex, just to show it wants to be friendly. The perfect little teen action film has a perfect little starring performance from Aaron Johnson.

Shutter Island A gorgeous,searing fever dream from a great artist. No, of course the "plot" doesn't make "sense," of course it's all over the top. (A little less thinking, a little more feeling, I'm just quoting Mama.) With a brilliant performance by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Social Network I think what I can't get over is the sheer velocity of this film. The second thing I can't get over is how sweet dorky little Jesse projected himself into Mark the cold suffering bastard. But he did, with phenomenal results. Engaging, troubling, funny, very entertaining, and superbly creative.

True Grit Holiday family fun from the Coen Bros.? Well, yes; you could even say "wholesome," The Coens get more interesting with every new film. This is homage and social criticism and pure accessible entertainment, all in one, and superbly crafted.

White Material Beautiful, uncompromising, dark, painstaking.

And so, as Ethel Barrymore used to say, that's all there is, there isn't any more.

©2011 Les Phillips
CineScene

The Best...and the Rest

I used to try and rank my best list in order, but really, what's the difference between the fifth best film of the year and the second best, when you're giving them all high recommendations to begin with? So I'm going to start with my pick for the year's best film and present the rest in the order in which I saw them.

I should note that I feel like my list is incomplete. I haven't yet seen some of the most highly-praised films of 2010 due to a limited viewing schedule and the fact that a great deal of my viewing time this past year was taken up with viewing the entire series of "Lost" from beginning to end. So by way of a non-cinema honorable mention, I would suggest that TV series. It's as cinematic and ambitious as any TV show has ever attempted to be.

So having gotten the disclaimers out of the way, the best film of the year.

Black Swan. I wasn't surprised that the year's best film would come from Darren Aronofsky. I was surprised that a film about a ballet dancer which dwells so heavily on the rigorous demands of the artistic process would end up being the scariest horror film I saw all year. If athletes who have spent everything they have on the field of play are said to have "left it all on the field," then it could also be said that Natalie Portman left it all on the screen. In a year in which the acting profession set the bar very high indeed, Portman's wounded soul stands out most brightly.

Kick-Ass. Action films come and go; they're like the cinematic equivalent of a Quarter Pounder and fries. The fact that this one prompted such extreme reactions is indicative of why it makes my list of the best films of the year. I found it bitingly funny at the same time I found it exceptionally brutal, and the glee with which it presented a foul-mouthed twelve-year-old girl as one of the most ruthless practitioners of its brutality is a measure of how little director Matthew Vaughn cared about who might get offended.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I encountered the film before I was aware that the book on which it is based is one of the literary sensations of the year. Having now read the book, I think this is a rare case where watching the film is a greater experience than reading the book because you don't have to absorb its highly-engaging mystery by slogging through Stieg Larsson's pedestrian prose, and because reading the book doesn't afford the pleasures of watching Noomi Rapace bring Larsson's one-of-a-kind heroine to life.

Toy Story 3. There is a scene in this film that I actually found shocking. It happens late in the film, and it presents a situation where these beloved characters are directly confronted with death in a far more stark and disturbing manner than in the many other situations of peril we've seen through the series. That's when I knew that the film had something serious and heartfelt to say about endings, and the end of the film bookends it with a statement on new beginnings and (dare I say it) the so-called Circle of Life. I think this film affects you a little differently if you're a parent. You understand why children walk out of this film squealing with glee, and why their parents follow them out with moist eyes.

The American. George Clooney channels Alain Delon in a film that was undermined by its own marketing campaign, which suggested a shoot-em-up action film, but which delivered a riveting character study instead.

The Red Riding trilogy. Presented as three distinct films by three different directors, it's really one long, dark film that uses the true history of the Yorkshire Ripper as a jumping-off point to dive under the surface of the corruption and darkness of the Yorkshire police force and its various corrupting influences. The series looks squarely in the face of the worst impulses that human nature has to offer, which makes it all the more powerful when someone rises above it with a rare act of kindness.

A Prophet. This long film creates an ecosystem where we watch the levers of power ebb and flow among the inhabitants of a French prison. The ascendancy of the film's central character, a teenage Arab who may have been wrongfully convicted, reminded me a little bit of Michael Corleone's arc - it's a portrait of how power is taken through corruption and brutality when you don't really have many other choices available.

Winter's Bone. What really caught me about this film was the sheer desperation that these characters live with day in and day out. The people in the film who have turned to crime in order to reach for a better life don't look to me like they've really gotten much benefit from it, and there are no traces here of what you might call the outside world, despite the fact that the setting is smack in the middle of the United States.

The overpraised:

The King's Speech. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed this film a great deal, and the performances are delightful. But I could say that about a lot of films I don't end up putting on my list of the best films of the year. I wonder if the subject matter isn't elevating this in some people's estimation to something greater than what it actually is.

The Kids Are All Right. I liked it OK, but I just must not be seeing what everyone else seems to be here.

What you may have missed:

OSS 117: Lost in Rio. The second installment in this series of goofy spy satires based on the long-running series of French novels may not be everyone's cup of tea, but they make me howl. Best watched with a group of good friends of like mind, preferably while downing your libation of choice.

©2011 Devin Rambo
CineScene

20 Favorites of 2010

1. Black Swan - a film about a ballet dancer who strives for perfection, is such a riveting and unsettling experience that, regardless of some psychological incongruities, it is hard not to succumb to its visceral power or fully admire the beauty of its direction or the brilliance of its acting. Darren Aronofsky is a director of great audacity and Black Swan, though it will not leave us with sugarplum fairies dancing in our heads, is a powerful experience that sweeps us up and leaves us limp.

2. Hereafter - Octogenarian Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter is an understated but deeply moving meditation on death and how it affects those left behind. It is not a documentary, nor a European art film. It is a Hollywood product through and through but one with a difference. Refusing to cater to an audience that thrives on chaos and gore, Hereafter is a quiet and slow-paced film that treats every character with respect. The film is emotional, yet it is honest emotion that carefully avoids melodrama and sentimentality and Eastwood allows us to share the pain of those who have lost a loved one.

3. The King’s Speech - Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unlicensed speech therapist from Australia, who uses unorthodox methods proves extremely valuable in his attempt to help King George VI of England overcome a serious stammer in Tom Hooper’s highly entertaining The King’s Speech. Based on a true story, the film, written by veteran screenwriter David Seidler, breaks no new grounds stylistically but has a substantial core of truth that overcomes the limitations of its genre and makes it not only an engaging experience that is full of wit, but also one that is quite moving.

4. Somewhere - Winner of the 2010 Golden Lion in Venice, Somewhere is film of observation and nuance without a conventional plot, a unique character study about the emptiness of the life of a Hollywood celebrity. It is a work with a core of conviction and authenticity, mirroring Coppola’s own experience of growing up in a celebrity household. Though the pace is slow, it is a compelling and moving experience, one that is filled with the joy of discovery

5. Dogtooth - Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth is a provocative and disturbing film about the effect on a middle-class suburban family when the father takes total control of the lives of the three adult children, restricting their access to the outside world. In their early to middle twenties, the three unnamed children, a boy and his two sisters (Christos Passalis, Aggeliki Papoulia, and Mary Tsoni) walk, talk, and act like zombies. They are wooden, undeveloped emotionally, and are constantly fed lies by their parents. While what Lanthimos is trying to say is unclear and every scene can have multiple meanings, Dogtooth is a jarring experience that you are not likely to soon forget.

6. Around a Small Mountain - Feeling like a swan song, 82-year old French auteur Jacques Rivette’s Around a Small Mountain is a charming and utterly captivating lament for the passing of time. At 84 minutes long, the shortest Rivette film to date, it evokes nostalgia for a bygone era of small traveling shows and circuses, shows that relied on an intimate connection between performers and audience. Set in the Languedoc region of Southern France, the mountain in the original title is the Pic Saint Loup, but it can also be said to reflect the mountain that one woman must climb to be liberated from the stranglehold of memories that have run her life.

7. Ajami - Ajami makes clear the human cost of decades of political and military strife between Jews and Arabs. Set in the neighborhood of Ajami in Jaffa, Israel, there is a seemingly impassible divide between Jews, Christian, and Muslims whose daily life offers no escape from the realities of poverty, violence, and oppression. Shot on location using mostly non-professional actors including neighborhood recruits, Ajami captures the look and feel of a community in disarray with remarkable detail and raw urgency.

8. Winter’s Bone - Based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone depicts how young Ree Dolly’s (Jennifer Lawrence) life is changed when the local sheriff informs her that her dad, Jessup, on the run after being arrested, has put the family’s house up as bond and that, unless he is found and convinced to turn himself in, Ree’s family will lose their house. Insisting to the sheriff that she will find him, the young girl begins a search among friends, family members, distant relatives, and the community of small-time crooks, dope dealers, and kingpins that dominate the male-dominated rural society. In Ree, Granik has created one of the strongest female characters in recent memory.

9. Incendies - Adapted from the play “Scorched” by Wajdi Mouawad, Dennis Vlilleneuve’s Incendies is a film of searing emotional intensity, graphically depicting the brutality of war and the physical and emotional toll that it can bring to a country and its people. It is a family drama, an abiding mystery, and a visceral cry against the insanity of war. Despite the traumatic violence it shows, Incendies is a powerful, disturbing, and lyrical film, ending on a note of forgiveness and reconciliation and bringing us to a place of transcendence.

10. Fish Tank - Andrea Arnold’s compellingly honest Fish Tank isthe story of a fifteen year-old girl’s struggle for self respect after having grown up in the London projects. Overflowing with life, the film works on many levels – as a look into squalid economic and social conditions in small town Britain, as a warning to those who act impulsively and without self-control, and as a coming-of-age story that allows us to experience a genuine sense of character growth.

11. Rabbit Hole - Based on a script by David Lindsay-Abaire from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole depicts the grief of a young couple, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Howie (Aaron Eckhart) after their four-year old son Danny is killed by a teenage driver when he runs into the street chasing his dog. Although the director keeps emotions under control, perhaps more than is necessary, Rabbit Hole is an affecting look at two deeply wounded individuals fighting a long and difficult battle to stay afloat and begin life anew.

12. Greenberg - In Noah Baumbach’s dark comedy Greenberg, Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller), an angry, unpleasant individual, has come to Los Angeles from New York to babysit his brother’s (Chris Messina) suburban house. He is helped with the shopping by Florence (Greta Gerbig), a 25-year old assistant to Philip and an aspiring singer. Florence tells Roger that she has just ended a relationship and admits that she is vulnerable but they are drawn to each other out of a mutual need for affection and support. Set in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Greenberg confronts us with people and situations that cause us to pull away, yet it challenges us to go beyond revulsion and empathize for no reason other than that we share a common humanity.

13. Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives - Set in the dense Nabua region of Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a film about myths and memories and images that evoke the thin line between the world of reality and the world of spirit. Winner of the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival, it is not a film that can be approached in the normal way we view films - looking for a coherent narrative, and then following a plot until its resolution. Inspired by the book, A Man Who Can Recall Past Lives, Uncle Boonmee is like a dream that is real when you are dreaming but illogical when you wake up, a series of images, some dark, some beautiful, but most that can be experienced but not explained.

14. Dear Prudence (unreleased) - Prudence Friedmann is alone. Her sister is on her own. Her father is working in Canada and she is left to cope with the sudden death of her mother. Set in Paris in the 1980s, Rebecca Zlotowski’s sensitive Dear Prudence is an impressionistic story of a sad and lonely adolescent who begins to lose her bearings as a result of her inability to grieve her mother’s loss. In a beautifully nuanced performance by Lea Seydoux as Prudence, this personal film manages to avoid the self-conscious clichés of adolescent angst, creating a believable three-dimensional human being, a sixteen-year-old in pain trying to navigate in an emotional no-man’s land.

15. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - Michael Cera is Scott Pilgrim, an unemployed 22-year-old who plays bass guitar in a rock band known as the Sex Bob-omb in Edgar Wright’s zany comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Scott is a scrawny kid who looks and acts like sixteen, yet he is a kung fu master with super powers who seems unusually adept at breaking the hearts of good looking women. The filmdelivers high energy entertainment, connecting with its audience through smart dialogue, heaping spoonfuls of fantasy, and tons of technical wizardry.

16. Exit Through the Gift Shop - Ostensibly directed by the mysterious British graffiti artist Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop describes the attempts by Los Angeles store owner Thierry Guetta to capture on film the world of street artists, previously hidden from public view. Banksy is shown hooded, in shadows, and with his voice distorted. Exit Through the Gift Shop may be the real deal or it may be a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the gullibility of the public and the crass commercialism of the art world, but only Banksy really knows.

17. The Ghost Writer - Instead of using fast cuts and other modern cinematic gimmicks, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer relies on an involving story that deeply immerses us in the experience, a tribute to his immense skill as a director. Based on the novel Ghost written by Robert Harris, the film is about an unnamed author (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to complete the memoirs of former British Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) after the previous ghost writer was found dead, his body washed up on a beach in New England.

18. Waste Land - In Lucy Walker’s inspiring documentary, Waste Land, we are taken inside the squalid landfill known as Jardim Gramacho on the outskirts of Rio to see the largest garbage dump in the world where 7,000 tons of Rio’s trash is deposited every day. The film is seen through the eyes of the “pickers” who live and work in this squalid environment. Through his efforts, Muniz has demonstrated that the power of art is available to all people regardless of their circumstances.

19. The Strange Case of Angelica - In the middle of a rainy night, Isaac (Ricardo Trepa), a Sephardic Jewish photographer is summoned by wealthy hotel owners to take photos of their daughter, Angelica (Pilar López de Ayala), who has died suddenly. Isaac is captured by her presence and magically sees her open her eyes and smile at him through the lens of his camera. Manoel de Oliviera’s The Strange Case of Angelica is the work of a master who challenges us to see the “absolutely unbroken continuity” between life and death. The film is atmospheric, moody, and spiritually informed, filled with the truth of life.

20.  Armadillo - Janus Metz’ powerful documentary, Armadillo, depicts the bravery and camaraderie and also the addictive high of several Danish soldiers, seemingly just out of their teens, that comes from their participation in the war in Afghanistan. Regardless of your point of view about the war, it is clear that the bond formed by the men and their unquestioning support of the mission is powerful. We owe Metz a debt of gratitude for showing us the mindless, sadistic, and dehumanizing behavior that war can induce in one of the most visceral and frightening documentaries about combat ever made.

Honorable Mention

Please Give
The Sleeping Beauty
Poetry
True Grit
Howl
Eat Pray Love
The Last Train Home
Babies
The Secret in Their Eyes

Overlooked:

Hereafter
The Sleeping Beauty
Armadillo
Dear Prudence


Overrated:

127 Hours
The Social Network
Another Year
Shutter Island
Mao’s Last Dancer
Never Let Me Go
Invictus
I Am Love

©2011 Howard Schumann
CineScene

 

 

 

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