"Any critic who could, with a straight face, populate a ten-best list either primarily or exclusively with American films released in one of the worst years in recent memory for homegrown filmmaking at all levels either wasn't watching enough movies or watching movies well enough," argue Reverse Shot editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert. They've polled their major contributors, and lo, they're "pleased as punch with the results (four female directors! seven different countries! two are-they-or-aren't-they docs, neither of them Catfish or Exit Through the Gift Shop!) — these are the kinds of films that we keep trudging to theaters to find."
Andrew Tracy on the film that wound up on top, Pedro González-Rubio's Alamar: "The ascetic rigor, the honing and refining of style that has typified so many of the great masters of the last two decades (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami, Béla Tarr, Jia Zhangke), has come to be complemented by another mode of cinematic resistance that opens up rather than whittles down; whose very ingenuousness is its affront to film-business-as-usual; whose artistry resides less in the ever greater delineation of a singular artistic sensibility than in the delicate channeling of the forces and elements at hand.... In a cinema world where hard-and-fast distinctions (New Waves, schools, and the like) condition both creation and reception, Alamar testifies to the endless pliability, the innate and uncontrived complexity of the medium itself — its indefatigable constancy even as its very matter changes."
Cheryl Eddy introduces the San Francisco Bay Guardian's cover package, the "annual Year in Film issue [which] takes a look at some of 2010's more notable trends, starring films you liked (The Kids Are All Right) and hated (I'm Still Here) — and films you wanted to see but forgot about and are now rushing to put on your Netflix queue (Splice)." Vincenzo Natali's Splice is one of three films Michelle Devereaux chooses to focus on; the other two are Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. She detects a "new breed of female-centered 'body horror' [that] challenges certain well-worn horror tropes, whether intentionally or not, along with the subject-object relationship of women in movies in general. And while female body horror is certainly nothing new (vaginas with teeth, anyone?) these movies do offer a refreshing new spin."
"We're all media scavengers now, but archival sounds and images remain a tantalizing lure for both the documentary profile and its surrealistic double, the found footage film," writes Max Goldberg. "The first repackages capsules of the past while the second hijacks them — different economies of exchange, to be sure, though perhaps less starkly contrasted to those accustomed to hyperlinking their way through the dustbin." Among the films considered: Tamra Davis's Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, Stephen Kijak's Stones in Exile, Jay Rosenblatt's The Darkness of Day and Andrei Ujica's The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu. "Johan Grimonprez's inventive Double Take slips into the realms of the unreal by characterizing the Cold War as a literally Hitchcockian play of ciphers, while Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished submits an oft-cited, little-understood Nazi propaganda film to ontological deliberation. Adam Curtis introduces his most recent raid of the archive, It Felt Like a Kiss, with print titles that speak for all these projects: 'When a nation is powerful it tells the world confident stories about the future / The stories can be enchanting or frightening / But they make sense of the world / But when that power begins to ebb the stories fall apart / And all that is left are fragments which haunt you like half-forgotten dreams.'"
"This was a year in which the usual grousing undercurrent about arbitrary ratings-board standards started to seep overground." A brief history from Dennis Harvey. "The Social Network may be 'the Facebook movie,' but Catfish is perhaps the best reflection of social networking that any film has yet to offer," suggests Louis Peitzman. Also: Kimberly Chun on this year's batch of sperm-donor comedies — and of course, all the critics' lists.
"The Coen brothers' True Grit, my personal favorite and perhaps the most emblematic movie of 2010, cruises along for 90 or so minutes in wonderfully efficient, crowd-pleasing form," writes Sean Burns, defending his top ten in the Philadelphia Weekly. "But then that final midnight-ride reel leads somewhere much deeper and stranger than expected. There's a haunting sense of mystery that retroactively enriches everything that's come before, and I look forward to delving deeper in repeat viewings." PW's Matt Prigge in his #1: Dogtooth is "a blood-freezing assault on the idea that living a cloistered existence and pointedly pretending that anything you disagree with doesn't exist or is evil — think of the parents as two Glenn Becks — but it's also a darkly comic premise that's often hilariously exploited."
"Why can't a movie like Nicole Holofcener's Please Give — so seemingly modest in scale, about characters so deceptively unattractive — be the best movie of the year?" asks Paul Matwychuk. "Who's to say this story about a Manhattan furniture dealer and her husband, each going through their own (very different) ethical crises, doesn't have as much to say about class and success and betrayal in 21st-century North America as the much more highly touted The Social Network? Why is a tortuously conceived but ultimately empty thriller like Inception lauded for its 'intelligence' while the subtle, layered, compactly scripted character exchanges of Please Give are treated so dismissively? I can't figure it out; I just know that no film from this year left me feeling more challenged, entertained, or... well... grateful than Please Give."
"I prefer to think of this always-daunting yearly assignment as a polyamorous love letter, sent out to trusted companions and dangerous crushes alike," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "Here (in touchy-feely, hierarchy-resisting alphabetical order) are some mash notes to the 2010 movies to which, at the end, for a few moments, my only response was 'wow.'"
Ryland Walker Knight arranges some of the best viewing he got in this year in preferential order. Another Top 5 at Ioncinema: Mario Balarezo del Caz on the "Best in Spanish Cinema." At Cinematical, Peter Hall lists the "Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of 2010." This year's edition of Fimoculus's list of lists is up and running.
Iain Blair introduces a slide show at Salon: "We asked film industry — including Rabbit Hole director John Cameron Mitchell, Social Network producer Scott Rudin and Biutiful director Alejandro González Iñárritu — what moments and movies they couldn't forget, from Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass to Tilda Swinton in I Am Love to (of course) that little Facebook movie."
Just the other day, we were poring over Time Out London's list of "22 films to look out for in 2011" and Wildgrounds's collection of its "Most Anticipated Asian Films of 2011." Now, at IFC.com, Anthony Kaufman considers "ten films we believe could top the best-of lists 12 months from now." And the Boston Phoenix's Peter Keough previews the coming season.
IN OTHER NEWS
Up to now, Jamie Stuart has primarily been known for his innovative short films and the festival reports he turns into uniquely subjective video essays. I've been a fan for years and it looks like he may have finally hit pay dirt. This past weekend, he ventured out into the blizzard that all but buried New York City and shot Idiot with a Tripod and, after a full day of editing, he posted the finished short at his Mutiny Company site and notified a few friends. Within hours, the link was ricocheting from Twitter to blogs and beyond.
Then, the Roger Ebert effect kicked in: "This film deserves to win the Academy Award for best live-action short subject," the critic announced on his blog. "Any professional will tell you the talent exhibited here is extraordinary." And he posted a quick email interview with Jamie. Suddenly, the short is a story and it's been picked up by the New York Observer, Gothamist, Movieline, Eugene Hernandez, even the Wall Street Journal. Congrats, Jamie. This has been a long time coming.
Update: And now, Jamie's on the Today Show. Update, 1/1: "Queens Man Shoots 'Oscar-Worthy' Blizzard Film" is the headline for WPIX. Update, 1/3: Today, a nice report from the UK's ITV on Jamie and the film. Update, 1/4: Jamie's now created an official page for the film. Plus, the coverage goes international: Italy, France, Germany and Spain.
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