Hello Hello Hello,
As we all know, I see way too many movies. Besides my usual first thing in the morning film, I went to almost 200 in the theater this year. A few great festivals helped push that number up (IFFB AND NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL especially thanks) Any of my top four films this year couldve been number one most years but Audiard’s Un Prophet was the kind of crime film I have waited years for so it is my number one! I am also sure that “True Grit” will be sublime but I did have the chance to see it before creating this list.
MY TOP TEN FOR 2010
1) A PROPHET (Un prophète) DIR: Jacques Audiard/France
Tahar Rahim’s portrayal as loser turned hardened inmate, Malik El Djebena (Djebena in Arabic literally translates to the word “coward”-Thanks Bassil) goes beyond anything I have seen from an actor in almost a decade. Never has the descent from a passive prisoner to hardened criminal been done with such raw honesty and Bressonian like attention to the smallest detail. It also may include the best piece of gunplay seen since the late 1970s. By the end of this film, you have total empathy for the main character, you understand his fears and his need to survive. Audiard has amazingly followed up his sensational “The That My Heart Skipped” with his masterpiece.
Official Site: http://www.aprophet.ca/
2) POLICE ADJECTIVE (Politist, adjectiv) DIR: Corneliu Porumboiu/Romania
Using almost Bressonian attention to detail this funny and at times dire Romanian crime comedy is as much about the letter in the word as the letter of the law. A detective questions the ethics of his enforcement of a drug law, born of police state of Ceausescu, that will soon be changed once Romania joins the EU. The need for the enforcement of this law as well as the purpose for all law is scrutinized by the same criteria that bears out the shallow nature in the lyrics of a meaningless pop song by the detective and his wife in one very humorous scene. Director Porumboiu has great patience in allowing moments like these to draw your attention with quiet reflections, small gestures and very well placed words meaning so very much.
Official Site: http://www.ifcfilms.com/films/police-adjective
3) DOGTOOTH ( Kynodontas) DIR: Giorgos Lanthimos/Greece
This very dark satire fittingly begins with a tape playing a language lesson in which the sea is an armchair. The parents who recorded this tape are creating a world for their three innocent yet elder captive children, one is which zombies are wild flowers,cats are deadly predators and pussy is a bright light. Such is the reality created in this affluent and guarded home complete with itâ€™s massive garden and giant walls. The children and their mother know their limits which end at the front gate. They are told that the only safe travel out is via the family car which is only used by the father to and from work so the farthest that the family goes is the gate. The only outside visitor to the home is a security guard named Christina from the father’s work who is brought in to satisfy the sexual needs of his teenage son. She completes her duty but Christina is oddly left alone to interact with the daughters and thus planting the seeds of rebellion. Here lies my only problem with the plot as given the stern control of the parents, one would imagine that Christina would never be allowed such access. That said, the outside world is changing the false reality of the home in the form of American film and the burgeoning sexuality of the eldest daughter. The director does a fine job of letting the movements of characters determine the changes in the film, nothing is explained as we await the conclusion which is foreshadowed when the importance of the titled dogtooth is revealed in the middle of the film. A nasty tear at the â€œmodernâ€ capitalist suburban family, one where wealth, violence and fear can only take you so far in securing a future.
Official Site: http://www.dogtooth.gr/
4) MOTHER (Madeo) DIR: Joon-ho Bong/South Korea
Joon-ho Bong has followed up his hit toxic waste turned giant monster masterpiece, The Host with a taut, darkly comic and utterly flawless murder mystery, Mother. The “mother” of the title is Hye Ja (played by popular Korean actress Hye-ja Kim) who smothers her mentally ill son with affection and mostly bad advice. When a young girl in the village is murdered and her body put on display, the police immediately put her son in custody and force a confession from him forcing his mother into the role of investigator. It is here that “Mother” takes it’s place as one of the most unique films of it’s genre, as her relentless effort combined with the thoroughness of the director’s attention to the smallest details of the case create a full view of reason and execution of a crime. The pace of the film, though slow is exactly what is needed to flush out the intentions of the film’s main characters, it’s odd humor more reminiscent of early Chabrol than Hitchcock.
Official Site: http://www.motherfilm.com/
5) BLACK SWAN DIR: Darren Aronofsky/USA
Director Darren Aronofsky, after the misfire of his very ambitious 2007 film, The Fountain, felt the need to simplify his stories and concentrate on his characters. This was mostly effective in “The Wrestler” where he followed an aging star at the end of his career but his reliance on movie cliche did him in, especially in the main character’s relationship with his daughter. “Black Swan” is the correction to the previous film’s mistakes. In fact, “Black Swan” may be the inverse of The Wrestler. The family relationship with Nina, the film’s heroine with her mother (great to see Barbara Hershey again) is exaggerated in a way that adds to the film’s strengths. Her mother is the classic stage mother, trying to compensate for her mistakes by smothering her daughter but here it is brought to an almost 70s horror film frenzy. Aronofsky is known for his extremes but here the story can match his visual style and at times disturbing dialog which is wonderfully heavy. New is the CGI that is used in the film but here it is warranted and adds so much to the scenes of transformation which are quite gorgeous and ghastly. This is also the first time I can say that Portman has acted in a film. She does much with Nina, from her emotions that manifest in her own body through the pain of failure and triumph. We need these excessive films. I’m so happy that Aronofsky had the nerve to give us one.
Official Site: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/blackswan/
6) UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES DIR: Apichatpong Weerasethakul/Thailand
I have been a fan of the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul since seeing his 2006 film “Tropical Malady”. His style is deliberate, ethereal and almost forces the viewer into a different way of looking at film which is not for everyone. This style is in evidence with his newest film, “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, a ghost story of such magnificent grace that moves at a defiantly slow pace which creates a world that you cannot look away from. A farmer who has failing kidneys returns home to be greeted by the ghosts of his wife and son. Like “Tropical Malady” “Uncle Boonmee” has much to do with it’s environment as with all of his films, Weerasethakul uses the surrealist scenery and it’s animal to their fullest most hallucinogenic effect. An engrossing and oddly amusing film that is no less haunting.
Clip from film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk-EoUb0nvg
7) VALHALLA RISING DIR: Nicolas Winding Refn/Denmark/England
Somewhere between early non-commercial Werner Herzog and Stalker era Tarkovsky lies Nicolas Winding Refn’s uneven yet brilliant acid trip of a mini Norse saga, “Valhalla Rising”. “One-Eye” the mute warrior prisoner of a Norse lord gains his freedom only to be lured in by hypocritical holy warriors in search of Jerusalem. In tow is a young boy who was equally enslaved by the Norsemen who follows One Eye to the holy land but a demon mist takes them to North America were our crusaders find a different race of pagans. Refn like in his earlier gem, “Bronson” is not light handed with his symbolism, he literally beats and cuts you in half with it. That said, one must admire Refn’s extremely unflappable commitment to his central character’s savior-like journey, one that is filled with ghastly violence, psychedelic visions and rarely seen animalistic ferocity.
Official Site: http://www.ipsofactofilms.com/films/valhalla_rising.html
8) BLUE VALENTINE DIR: Derek Cianfrance/USA
It seems to come out about every few years, that perfect romance/torment film that seem to occupies my mind for months after screening. 2000 gave us "In The Mood For Love , 2003 was “All The Real Girls” and now this devastatingly beautiful piece of romantic torment, that seems to take a page from of one of all time my favorite films, Jacques Rivette’s L’ Amour Fou. Like Rivette’s film you get an almost voyeuristic sensation looking into this couple whose marriage is dissolving before you very own eyes. L’ Amour Fou’s length shows you the couple within stages with a linear narrative, here the time is truncated so that you are in this tight period of time with only flashbacks to understand their better days. The best work I have seen out of both Gosling and Williams in their career matched with almost invasive cinematography gives you the kind of mad personal film about love we all need to see
Official Site: http://www.bluevalentinemovie.com/
9) MARWENCOL DIR: Jeff Malmberg/USA
Back in 2004, director Jessica Yu delivered her impressive documentary on the life’s work of Henry Darger, a janitor who sequestered himself in his apartment to create In The Realms Of The Unreal, a novel of over 11,000 pages that created every aspect of a world that he needed to make to escape his own life. One immediately draws a connection to “Marwencol”, directed by Jeff Malmberg. “Marwencol” is the story of Mark Hogancamp, a man who is beaten almost to death by five men outside of a bar which resulted in massive brain damage. Now on disability, Hogancamp works one day a week at a diner but spends the bulk of his time creating the small Belgian town of Marwencol during world war two, a town where he can play out his internal struggle about his past through the story of the models he creates. Like “In The Realms Of The Unreal”, Malmberg uses the story Hogancamp creates to drive the narrative but it is not a gimmick, it is the internal dialog of the film’s central figure and it is done with genuine sensitivity and respect. It is never condescending or contrived, revealing Hogancamp’s back story with his own words through the actions of his alter ego. Unique, daring work.
Official Site: http://www.marwencol.com/
10) 45365 DIR: Turner Ross/USA
I was lucky enough to have Turner Ross at my screening to shed some insight into this gorgeous view of nine months in the life of Sidney, Ohio. Culminated from over 500 hours of footage and edited with a craftsman’s touch, “45365” gives you a rare glimpse into the characteristics of many of the town’s residents. The filmmakers, brothers Bill and Turner Ross grew up in this town and even after a lengthy stay away from it, are still given access to the bland and at times very personal moments in this small midwestern town. The film’s visuals which range from poorly lit backseats to some of the lovliest images I have seen in a documentary in quite a while. You hear names repeated but the goal here is not a person by person analysis but a in depth portrait of the town as a whole. Their are moments that seem to stray into mockery but they are always matched by the residents genuine emotions and language. An astonishing debut from the Ross brothers.
Official Site: http://www.45365movie.com/
SUPPLEMENTAL LIST (almost top ten)
THE SOCIAL NETWORK DIR: David Fincher/USA
Fincher did a superb job with his film Zodiac a few years back, turning a truly bizarre non-fiction story with it’s interweaving characters into a solid narrative that does not talk down to it’s audience. With “The Social Network” Fincher continues that tradition of converting potentially overwrought non-fiction narratives to truly entertaining film that is never “dumbed down” and has the added bonus of some truly funny moments and a rapid fire style that works to segue each scene fluidly. We know, the story, a twisted genius who cannot meet women uses his powers for evil to gain the status he always wanted, a status that is centered around crushing all who locked him out with their secret handshakes. The problem is that most of the pain caused by his actions is levied on his only friend, which is seen through the film’s device of two separate litigations that are happening right before our evil genius’ eyes. This is an effective tool that Fincher uses, as we see the real intentions of all around him clearly and constantly throughout the film. When “The Social Network” is complete you see a world where everyone wins but it’s over who that determines who they really are.
AIR DOLL DIR: Hirokazu Koreeda/JAPAN
Hirokazu Koreeda has previously explored Japanese culture and attitudes though his use of oddly created mechanisms. In his 1998 film “After Life” “death” is examined by the recently departed in a small community center where one relives (and videotapes) a great memory to carry with them for the great beyond. Here Koreeda brings to life an inflatable sex doll to examine the current view of human culture in this period of instant gratification as opposed to thorough meaningful connection. Nozomi (another brilliant performance by Doona Bae, the lead singer in Linda Linda Linda) is named by her owner in honor of his ex-girlfriend who does wants the sexual satisfaction of a relationship without any of the daily routine. Nozomi eventually comes to life and takes a job at a video store where she unintentionally affects those around her though basic comments that she utters benevolently that question their sense of self. The pace of the film works well to achieve it’s goal but the humor is off from time to time. Still, a clever method in examining what we have become in these days of fast downloads.
Official Site: http://www.kuuki-ningyo.com/
HOUSE OF THE DEVIL DIR: Ti West/USA
A creepy, suspense- building homage to 80s horror films, “House of The Devil” is one of the better examples of this new wave of horror films that is substitutes actual suspense and genuine horror for mindless gore. The basic 80s plot has Samantha, a pretty yet shy college student (aren’t they all?) in desperate need of money for a down payment on a new apartment which will give her peace away from her sexually active roommate. She agrees to take a one night babysitting gig with the odd factor of there being no baby on premises, the babysitting is a ploy by the owners to get Samantha to take care of an sickly elderly woman . The owners of the home played to pitch perfect creepy perfection by Tom Noonan (Manhunter, What Happended Was) and Mary Woronov (Rock N’ Roll High School, Eating Raoul) and it was a joy to see them again as was Dee Wallace (Cujo, Wolfen) as the real estate agent. The pace of “House of The Devil” is quite slow early on which makes the payoff so much stronger. This film is by no means a satire of 80s horror, it is truly an appreciation of the better terror films of that era. It uses the traditional story structure of the films of that time to it’s advantage, setting up the usual plot tricks with new ideas for their results. Extra thanks to Ti West as well for the mindless dance sequence involving a long lost song by The Fixx.
Official Site: http://www.houseofthedevilmovie.com/
BUNNY AND THE BULL DIR: Paul King/UK
Paul King, director of The Mighty Boosh takes his style and humor to the big screen with this very imaginative and at times quite funny and sad road movie. When Stephen Turbull runs out of vegetarian food packets he must confront the outside world, one that he has been hiding from since a disastrous European road trip with his best friend Bunny. As he tears through his endless catalog of memorabilia, Stephen is reminded of this trip and all it’s mistakes, especially the one he makes with transplanted Spanish waitress Eloise, played with real flair by Veronica Echegui. Director King brings his surrealist humor, landscapes and even the odd scene or two with Noel and Julian who really push the film over with their hilarious cameos. All of this funny aside, Bunny and The Bull is a drama masquerading as a comedy which is much of the film’s uniqueness. Like Boosh, it is funny, charming and sweet but with a story that takes you somewhere.
WHITE MATERIAL DIR: Claire Denis/France
Claire Denis returns to Africa for the first time since Beau Travail, with the examination of Maria Vial, the ex-wife of a plantation owner who works against all reason to keep her colonial plantation open during the first days of civil war. Isabelle Huppert as she has done so many times before gives a strong performance as she carries the weight of all going on around her through her fierce determination to deliver her last coffee harvest. The evils of the colonial plantation are seen through the actions of her only son, a layabout who lashes out after he is attacked by rebels. His rage turns into empathy as joins with rebels by helping them reclaim the fruits of their exploitation. Claire Denis spent a good part of her childhood in Africa and her feelings about French occupation of the land she so clearly loves comes through here. A taut character study wrapped around the darkness of colonialism.
REDISCOVERED GEMS (older rarely seen films I recently found that I now love)
THE BOY FRIEND DIR: KEN RUSSEL/ENGLAND
For those who ever wondered about the possibilities of the merger between a musical written in the 1950s by Sandy Wilson, the surrealistic talents of Ken Russell at the height of his talents and what seems to be the ghost of a Busby Berkeley you have The Boy Friend! Twiggy is completely mesmerizing as Polly Browne, a stage manager/ understudy who is rushed into the lead of a fading musical the day of the show. To make matters worse, she is infatuated with the male lead and a fabulous Hollywood director is in the guest box watching the entire proceedings. Russell wonderfully allows the stage production to roll along, creeky stage and all while creating wonderfully intoxicating fantasy sequences of the cast and Hollwyood director. My favorite involving a giant record player that would’ve made Mr. Berkeley glow with pride. Catchy, songs and a cast of British New Wave regulars fill out the cast brilliantly. Lastly, great respect to the late David Watkin who lensed the film. David was the DP on many of Richard Lester’s best work as well as Russell’s masterpiece The Devils. Never released in the US on DVD, this one makes it’s rounds on TCM every now and then. Do keep an eye out, The Boy Friend will take you away to a magical time in the pictures. Check out the Original trailer here: http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/index.jsp?cid=34440
BREATHLESS (1983) DIR: Jim McBride/USA
Should I be concerned that I enjoyed this version of A Bout De Souffle more than original which itself was an homage to films like Gun Crazy which McBride smartly put in this film as well? It’s a glitzy, neon covered Streets of Fire era remake of the Godard film but with a couple of notable improvements I feel. Gere, who at the time still had some concept of acting is as large an egomaniac as the Belmondo character but at least he is not a total bore. As Belmondo’s character drew inspiration from American gangster films, Gere’s Jesse reads The Silver Surfer, who is righteous and looking for love, this adds a likable asset to his persona and you get the sense that his love for the stunning Monica is genuine if not totally psychopathic . The leads in this version are flipped with Gere as the American and Valerie Kaprisky as the French love interest but sadly her range is that of Miss Seberg’s at the same age and she cannot handle the the more emotional scenes which sometimes fall flat. What is left is a film with great music, style (though a bit outdated) and irresistable energy as you watch two young people who for what ever reason are totally drawn to each other. I think that was the idea of Gun Crazy/A Bout De Souffle, don’t you?
Original trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YbMWDNw3LU
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP DIR: Banksy/USA
Much is being made here of Banksy’s creation here as to whether or not it’s a hoax. We know now that someone named Thierry Guetta held an art show in Los Angeles with a ton of bad art and many many misinformed people bought into this debacle of satirical pop art. Though not credited, we know that this is a Bansky creation just like so many other “hip” jabs in the ribs he has given us before. The goal of this film then is not an examination of street art culture but a poke at the fools who have bought into it’s poor excuse of urban cool as an examination of the value of art. When it’s all said and done I found it all tedious. Elitist white culture supporting elitist non-talents like Shepard Fairy is really not entertaining and I found the whole exercise about as innovative as any Christopher Guest pap mixed 90 minutes of Groucho grabbing Margaret Dumont’s ass. What is the value of art? We have known the answer to this since JM Basquiat threw down amateurish kiddie paintings in the 80s and moronic rich white folks without any talent were amazed that a black man could paint. The value of art is whatever flavor of the month that get’s packaged though the underground current of the few bourgeois people who are “really talking” about something that never mattered in the first place.