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Film Journal 2010

by filmcapsule
Here’s a list of the movies I’ve seen in 2010, complete with my thoughts or reviews (where available). I’ve noticed other people make similar lists and it seems like a nice tool to keep track of one’s film watching and to organize ideas. I hope the blurbs and reviews make it a little more interesting for others to read. Comments are welcome. ————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————- Comments (from the films’ message boards): Shutter Island: The film looks great and the performances are terrific, but in the end it feel flat for me. In the Loop: Hilarious, especially Tom Hollander as Foster. The gravity of the… Read more

Here’s a list of the movies I’ve seen in 2010, complete with my thoughts or reviews (where available). I’ve noticed other people make similar lists and it seems like a nice tool to keep track of one’s film watching and to organize ideas. I hope the blurbs and reviews make it a little more interesting for others to read. Comments are welcome.
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Comments (from the films’ message boards):

Shutter Island: The film looks great and the performances are terrific, but in the end it feel flat for me.

In the Loop: Hilarious, especially Tom Hollander as Foster. The gravity of the situation is only hinted at in passing, and sort of shrugged away, which fits perfectly with the tone.

Coraline: Some interesting dark and trippy touches to the animation, but despite that it felt tired. I guess I’m just sick of the extremely distracted and inattentive parent and the precocious young girl stock characters.

Hunger: A harrowing story economically and emotionally told by McQueen. The (stunning) long scene of dialogue works perfectly against so many others featuring little or no talking at all, proving that McQueen can use both styles well and knows when each is most effective. The disembodied words of Margaret Thatcher was a nice way to introduce the political into a film more concerned with the psychical.

The Ghost Writer: Read my full review.

Days of Heaven: Of course, the cinematography is beautiful, especially during the fire scene. I was also struck by how short some of Malik’s “scenes” are. He’ll convey a key piece of information with one or two shots or a line of dialogue, for example when Abby dances for The Farmer before they’re married. These touches really add up.

Pickpocket: I noticed the open doors too, Rebecca. I also noticed that Michel often enters a static shot of a location. Perhaps Bresson is emphasizing that Michel is a drifter, always coming in or out but never belonging anywhere. When he’s in prison, he can no longer physically drift, but is still adrift spiritually. The theft scenes are understated, but lively and exciting: the only time Michel feels anything, really.

Syndromes and a Century: Perhaps Apichatpong’s most beautiful, touching work, and a great synthesis of his cinema. It’s clear that he feels such love for these characters and for their locations. Many of his films feature bifurcations or divisions, but in Syndromes the two halves are rife with riffs on each other’s images and themes.

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee: I think this a ghost film. Nabua’s past is palpable, melding with the present in every visual and aural detail: the pictures on the walls, the rotating fan, windows, nature. The physical spaces, which feel incredibly real, are laden with memories and ghosts. Like Uncle Boonmee, they return with each reincarnation, and are inseparable with the place. / Read my full review.

Three Times: I agree with Xavier, this movie doesn’t seem to be about love. In fact, the stories become increasingly less romantic and the relationship more shallow. There were some great touches (shot architecture in the first part, the use of extra-diegetic music in the second, subtle and complex storytelling in the third), but I didn’t find the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Tropical Malady: This movie left me stunned. I love Syndromes and Century, too, and while it may be more tightly-constructed and intellectually deep, Tropical Malady made an emotional impact. The second half features some of the most stunning filmmaking I’ve seen in a long time; I was riveted. Shooting in the jungle (sometimes in the dark), Weerasethakul has documented some intense spiritual connection I couldn’t begin to describe.

Broken Embraces: A curious study of cinematic obsession, that works largely because of Penelope Cruz’s unique appeal… when she’s on screen. There are some great images, as there often are in Almodovar’s work, like that of a blind man caressing a pixelated image on a screen, but it lacks an emotional resonance because we don’t get very attached to the characters.

Stalker: A labyrinthine film about disillusionment and the fear of self-reflection. Though often ugly and erudite (for good reason), Stalker is interesting and striking both in its images and abundance of good ideas. Some scenes seem to be about mood more than ideas (the Writer walking the “morose” hallway), while others are the opposite (the debate before a nap in the fields). The effect is a little ragged, but it fits.

Mobile Men: Watch / Info

Blissfully Yours: While not Apichatong’s most fully-realized film, this is an admirable effort, tranquilly observing the quiet moments of life, even amid raging hormones. It’s graceful and gentle, content to simply watch its well-drawn characters relax. At times, it seems the characters are being judged for their inability to connect in meaningful ways or for empty sexual impulses, but the “drama” of the film is so slight and fragile that it resists this narrow interpretation. / Read my full review.

Mysterious Object at Noon: This is a celebration of everyday people, their homes, stories, and imaginations. It’s also a creative look into the creative process which seeks to demystify film making, but which does so while advancing singular visual and narrative styles. Basically, it’s auterism at its most humble. / Read my full review. / Watch

Ugetsu: I really like Lopate’s idea that Mizoguchi’s “formalism and humanism are part of a single unified expression.” So often, his fluid, floating camera synthesizes and mirrors his characters’ emotions. I was also amazed that the ghost story fits so perfectly. It isn’t stylistically or thematically incongruous with the rest of the film, and in fact helps illuminate the theme of the transience of life throughout the film.

Pierrot le fou: There are so many ideas in this film, but not all of them worked for me (the confessionals). Maybe Godard was trying to match his irreverent style with the emotional aloofness of the characters, but it’s not always as coherent as the party scene, for example. I’m still new at Godard, but it seems like falling for Karina is key to loving his work, and I haven’t. Beautiful, colorful widescreen cinematography, though.

Worldly Desires: Three films are being shot in Worldly Desires, and at every turn more and more is said about how these levels of cinema relate. One dominates sonically, one dominates visually, but in the end it’s Apichatpong who takes over with a litany of nature scenes. This film looks fantastic.

Sherlock Holmes: Entertaining enough, but it’s strange that this movie almost completely did away with the mystery-solving that made Holmes stories so fun to begin with. Robert Downy Jr. and Jude Law where enjoyable, though.

The Thin Red Line: A challenging war film (it’s easy to see why it was less appreciated than Saving Private Ryan upon its release) that strips both its characters and viewers of any easy binarism through which to understand war. The strength of Malick’s mise en scene creates an emotional intensity rarely seen in a war film, and is, remarkably, true even of scenes without fighting.

Meshes of the Afternoon: An intriguing and immensely detailed surrealistic portrait of one woman’s mind. I’m sure I don’t understand all of the feminist theory that is often used to analyze this film, but its mood and the ingenuity with which it’s created is very accessible. It creates a disorienting effect by taking the “rules” of film semantics and inverting them: unexplained POV shots, discontinuous motion through locations, etc.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: An inspired, nutty collaboration. It’s interesting viewing McDonagh in the tradition of Herzog protagonists undone by nature and ambition, or iguanas and vice. Speaking of iguanas, while often unreal things (CGI) are used to create a “real” effect, Herzog uses real things to suggest the unreal. His willingness to linger a few beats longer shows sympathy for characters and subverts the film’s “Law & Order” exterior.

Late Spring: Beautiful, touching and intimate. I love that Ozu shows just as much respect and reverence for inanimate objects as for his characters. Locations and objects are given onscreen time and allowed to “react” to the events (a magazine falling over, a clock striking). Chishu Ryu is just adorable and drew me in from his first scene. However, like Setsuko Hara, his smiley exterior belies complex acting and real emotion.

Duck Amuck: A wholly successful and entertaining loony toon complete with a rather weighty postmodern examination of film and identity. Like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the film uses the world of cartoons — who can only exist because of a creator — to question conceptions of art, the worlds we create, and those we don’t. / Read my full review.

La soufrière: Another example of Herzog’s obsession with the power and volatility of nature. The fact that the “inevitable disaster” doesn’t occur almost proves Herzog’s point. Nature is a powerful and unpredictable force: even its malevolence is unreliable. I like how the shots of him shouting and exaggeratedly pointing and gesturing, set against music, paint him as a silent movie hero.

F for Fake: The story of Elmyre and Irving is incredible, and I like the way it’s told in Welles’s “new type of film”, particularly the editing. He loses that story a bit with the theme of magic that bookends the film, but his meditation on art and truth is sincere and effective and always interesting. Sometimes greater truths are felt among lies. I’m afraid the vulgar term for this is “art”.

Whatever Works: Succumbs to all the pitfalls that the great Allen films avoid: stilted dialogue, one-dimensional characters, bland performances and lazy, boring camerawork. Worst of all, it’s not even funny. All the people in this movie are one-note talking points and nothing they do or say is believable. Talking to an audience that nobody else sees is mildly interesting, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

Branded to Kill / Playtime: Read my full review.

35 Shots of Rum: This homage to Ozu takes the feeling and mood of the Japanese master, but brings its own style. Denis’s use of “ellipses” to tell a simple family story allows you to glean all the emotional information needed about the characters. Time passing in this film doesn’t feel like a gap of information, but a selection of all the right moments.

Happy Together: Wong Kar-wai is a poet with his camera, using light, color, speed and texture to create emotions. This film has a great pace and unfolds naturally, but the main relationship never really drew me in (though Tony Leung is great). The addition of a third main character compliments the theme of loneliness, and how men deal with it.

Frantic: A taut thriller in which Polanski puts Harrison Ford into situations that he tries to buy his way out of. Apart from the score, the movie works really well. I particularly like the scene where his wife disappears. There and elsewhere, Polanski puts us in the position of characters, who can’t quite hear or understand what’s going on.

Hiroshima, mon amour: A beautiful exploration of personal and universal memory. The woman mentions the horror of forgetting (love and the bomb), and Resnais plays with this idea throughout. I really like how the past and present collide, both in the language of the characters and the purely cinematic way the film is cut. The story is decentralized; either of the woman’s love stories can be taken as the present.

Yi Yi: All of the many characters and storylines that exist in Yi Yi’s central family are so true and believable. I find I can relate to everyone: father, mother, daughter, and especially the little boy, innocently and tentatively discovering life as his relatives struggle with all its problems. Yang frequently films his characters from outside of windows, emphasizing how the city and the world gently encroach on family life.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is beautiful and engaging, unfortunately more so than Bauby’s story. Despite a few flashbacks and flights of fancy, I never felt like I understood Bauby or his transformation. His situation is certainly compelling, but he and the other characters are too thinly drawn to make an emotional impact.

Elephant: This is a film is about observing. It’s about confronting life and all that it contains square in the face, not sweeping it under the rug. There can never be a satisfactory explanation for an event as horrible as a school shooting, but while we shouldn’t look for an explanation, we should strive for more attention, understanding and empathy, everywhere in life. / Read my full review.

Antichrist: This was my first von Trier experience, and I was surprised to see that I was neither incredibly offended, nor blown away. The prologue is beautiful, and there are some really strong sequences and imagery. I liked the acorns falling on the tin roof and even the contentious talking fox. The end was, honestly, sorta fun, but I think what came before is too superficially psychological to really earn the chaos.

Get Him to the Greek: Barely strings together as a story. Things happen just because they need to, not because they make any sense. However, Russell Brand does a good job with horrible material and I have to admit that I laughed at dumb things like Jonah Hill making silly noises. /
Read my full review.

Last Days: Van Sant reaches a profound level of truth simply by observing characters in potentially banal situations and refraining from making obvious judgments. The results here are not nearly as powerful as in Elephant, but more interesting than in Gerry. Michael Pitt is fantastic in an almost wordless role. About halfway through, I was worried the film would make the mistake of not giving the audience any music to understand Blake or his appeal. I’m glad that wasn’t the case.

Metropolis: I just saw the “complete” version and was surprised how good the film looks. From the beginning, the images and magnificent sets and props feel very modern. The first half is fascinating, and—like truly great sci-fi (2001, Solaris)—addresses grand questions about humanity and identity, via great symbols like the clock and robot. I was bored by the film’s action conclusion. While it’s great that this new footage has been saved and seen, most of it is unnecessary in the film. It adds more complications to the action and the subplot of the Thin Man, which ultimately proves superfluous. The mentions of Hel, however, add great depth to the characters of Rodwang and Fredersen, and Freder’s fever-dream sequence is striking.

Splice: I couldn’t help thinking how great this would have been if Cronenberg had directed it! He would have had a field day with all the gooey science, gender-bending and “body image” issues, but Natali didn’t know what to do with it. Hey, I’m fine with not diving into bioethics, but at least give me some thrills along the way.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: This reminded me of Flight of the Conchords. I liked the music, the concept, the acting, and especially the bleakness of it. The one thing that didn’t work for me was most of the comedy. “-You’re driving a spork into your leg. -So I am. Hilarious.” No, not really.

The Road: Having read the book, I think that Hillcoat got the look right. Occasionally his development of the kid is strong as well. However, more
often than not he plays scenes for the wrong effect or emotion: too grotesque, saccharine or brooding. He also uses dialogue as a crutch to explain
his characters.

The Secret in Their Eyes: An engaging thriller concealing a tale of romance and deep emotion. The film handles its tricky twin story well, taking the time to fit its many pieces into place. In the end, it revels itself as a web of men enslaved by the past and burdened by memories they can’t shake and as a film that’s far more than the sum of its parts. / Read my full review.

The Girlfriend Experience: Not just simple, but scant. With projects like these, simple is just fine, and while a conventionally structured story isn’t necessary, a compelling vision is. The concept of business personae is interesting, but unfortunately, Soderbergh isn’t able to achieve much depth and the film comes across as little more than a sketch. / Read my full review.

Winter’s Bone: Winter’s Bore. I didn’t see the powerful, complex character and performance others did. Rhee is a motherly figure for her siblings (holding their chins to deliver life lessons) from the start and then has nowhere to go. She just wanders from trailer to trailer trying hard to look “strong”. It seems that to be a local extra you had to have chubby cheeks, high cheekbones, a lazy eye or a beard down to your chest.

Lady Vengeance: I found this juvenile, sadistic and hurtful. What felt fresh in Oldboy here feels hallow and transparent as visual trickery rather than a true style. Lee Yeong-ae is solid but Park does little to help her, leaving her to deliver speeches to the camera or stand and silently emote. Park’s “exploration” of revenge is asinine and nauseating.

Winnebago Man: Only so-so as a documentary, but it definitely put a smile on my face. The director is in the film too much and doesn’t seem to know the right questions to pursue. That said, the Winnebago Man himself is interesting and I think overall the film was entertaining.

Inception: A fun riddle, but there’s not much at the center of the maze. Nolan creates a very detailed world, but unfortunately needs tons of expository dialogue to do so. Page and Gordon-Levitt don’t have much to do but ask and answer questions. The Shutter Island-like emotional story falls a little flat, but the visual style is really polished and mature. Nice ending as well.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: This feels like a made-for-TV movie. The direction and pacing are very pedestrian and it plays out like a by-the-numbers murder mystery (think The Bone Collector). I’ll give them credit for trying to tie the action to a theme (misogyny), but the connection is rather shallow. Maybe if the bad guys were more than stern looking portraits, their evil would feel less cartoonish and more scary and real.

The Rules of the Game: Not only sharp, funny, and biting, but beautiful and touching as well. Renoir masterfully juggles various characters and plots, always knowing when to cut to each and allowing all to develop both individually and as a part of a class. The echoes between the two classes are insightful and never overstated. What he does visually (the staccato feel of the hunt scene and the grace of his deep focus) is magnificent.

Salt:A fun spy thriller. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but it moves quickly and effectively and has a few nice set pieces and patently ridiculous conceits. It’s probably not as good as the Bourne movies, especially the first one, but it’s in the same vein. Jolie makes a convincing action heroine.

My Winnipeg: Frenzied, fast and fun. I love Maddin’s use of different film textures to capture personal memories and exorcise Winnipeg’s ghosts. The silent film interlude about the seance was particularly striking. Maddin’s narration is beautifully written and captures the spirit not only of his city but of anyone’s home town. Quickly flashing title cards nicely emulates the way thoughts can flit half-formed through one’s mind.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: The wonderful technicolor world is perfectly poised between fantasy and reality and, similarly, the film’s tone never tips too far into ridiculousness or sentimentality. Livesey was so fun; the comedy really works for me, but I was happy to see it morph into a genuinely touching portrait of a man, his pride and stubbornness, his love, and his unique friendship. Quite a treat.

A Matter of Life and Death: Again The Archers demonstrate a lot of emotional subtly. I’m struck by Powell’s grace with the camera. He’s never flashy, but his handling of some scenes (the ping-pong scene, for example) is breathtaking in its economy and visual accuracy. Although I was never bored, I was less enthralled by the final trail. Petty nationalistic grudges, as Frank notes, are beside the point. Livesey is the man, though.

Black Narcissus: Kerr is amazing against the backdrop of a foreign world, vibrant and strange. The scene where she confronts a fellow nun – her gaze darting across the table, onto the Bible, and up to the other nun (just as she realizes her own desire for Deen) – is stunning. A few characters (or actresses) go a little too broad, but these are minor qualms with a beautiful film. How about that finale? Almost Hitchcockian.

The Town: It was fun playing Boston-landmark-spotting, but other than that it felt pretty hollow. Affleck is a competent director, and he handles some scenes (the Renner shootout at the end) nicely, though nothing pops the way it should. It’s like he hits all the notes but somehow still sounds off-key. I didn’t hate the film and I wasn’t totally bored, but everything felt calculated and remote, rather than alive.

Tetsuo, the Iron Man: Very crazy, kinky stuff, but Tsukamoto presents it with such vitality that it’s hard to resist. Set to some hard-pounding proto-techno, the film pulses and speeds along. It’s a short feature, but even still it lingers slightly too long. While this is not a film for the faint of heart, if yours is made of scrap metal, check it out. / Read my full review.

The Social Network: A film about ambition, about the allure and consequences of greatness. It’s also the most brash, cocksure, volatile, propulsive, and above all, the most fun, movie of the year. Mark Zuckerberg, Interested in: friendship, acceptance, excellence, world domination. / Read my full review.

Dancer in the Dark: I like von Trier’s premise here, and there are a lot of strong scenes. The hand-held camerawork and quick editing was probably meant to lend the film naturalism, but it only drew me out of the film and made the performances feel stilted. He pushes the pain too hard on the viewer (especially at the end), to the detriment of whatever power there was in the first act. The musical numbers are nicely handled.

The Ten: A huge misfire. I heard they spent only a week on the screenplay, and it shows. You don’t need a big budget, but some more thought would have helped. I did like the prison setting for the “covet thy neighbor’s wife” segment, but there aren’t enough clever setups to go around here. Omnibus films rarely coalesce, and this one doesn’t either. The Rudd sequences don’t add anything and each segment hammers only one joke.

Night Moves: A really great character study bolstered by a strong performance from Hackman. I got a surprisingly detailed understanding of Moseby. His relationship with his wife, which would have felt dashed off in other films, felt believable. The mystery isn’t as enthralling, but it affords interesting side characters and situations for Moseby to react to. I loved how tight it was: no time for extraneous set-up.

Sullivan’s Travels: A great idea that fails in the execution. McCrea is far too earnest and naive to carry the comedy or the sentiment. There is some good dialogue and an interesting third act, but the plotting and pacing is stiff and jagged. None of Sullivan’s attempts to reach the bottom have any hope of succeeding, and while that may be the point, it makes for a dull first two acts. He should have made O Brother, Where Art Thou. / Read my full review.

The Red Shoes: An amazing experience, stunning in every way. I love much of the Archer’s work, but this film has it all: the visual beauty of Matter of Life and Death, the perfectly realized characters of Col. Blimp and the acting of Black Narcissus. From the first scene, Powell fills the film with life, never more apparent than in the shop-stopping ballet, as pure an expression of cinema as I’ve seen.

Age of Consent: Powell still shines, but his material disappoints him. The central relationship lacks real depth, and the story often loses focus. A mid-film interlude involving the painter’s friend is particularly distracting. Age of Consent can’t live up to the grace of The Red Shoes, but for fans of Powell’s or Mirren’s, it’s worth a look. / Read my full review.

Zelig: Like its title character, Zelig is a shape-sifting chameleon, and just when you think it’s taken its true form, it changes again. The surprise is mostly a good thing, but the film can be so hard to pin down that its many different elements never coalesce into much more than smoke and mirrors. / Read my full review.

The Stranger: Probably Welles’ most facile work, yet it’s not without its pleasures. As an actor, he’s magnetic as always, and manages to infuse the rather banal proceedings with a sinister force. If only he had been able to make it a little darker. / Read my full review.

127 Hours: Boyle’s films are at their best when they’re visceral and kinetic, bursting with nervous energy, and hiker Aron Ralston’s story is just the right pitch. After all, there’s nothing subtle about self-inflected amputation. While he experiments with a nice variety of paces, Boyle struggles with the subtler moments. When those work, it’s thanks to Franco’s rich performance. / Read my full review.

Enter the Void: Gasper Noé wages all out war on the senses, intelligence and good taste. Shock value cinema of the worst kind. Noé shows us brutal scenes of violence, squalor and depravity, then repeats them over and over. It would be laughable if it weren’t so excruciating to watch. / Read my full review.

Kings and Queen: Like the best Woody Allen films, Kings and Queen boldly endeavors to blend tragedy and comedy, and always foregrounds moments of emotional truth. Arnaud Desplechin explores creative ways to track his story, skillfully varying rhythms and imbuing his characters with depth and subtly. Mathieu Almeric is great. / Read my full review.

True Grit: This isn’t the dark Western the Coens have in them. Instead, True Grit radiates an unexpected warmth, finding absurdity, comedy and heart among its snow-covered plains. Bridges and Damon are fun. Some may question the Coen Brothers’ decisions, but, as always, its nearly impossible to find fault in their execution. / Read my full review.

TRON: Legacy: The sequel loses the campy fun of the original. Some effects are good, but the world of The Grid is bland and even boring. Daft Punk goes a long way to making this palatable. How horrendous is Michael Sheen in this?? / Read my full review.

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