Friday, January 28, 2011

Yet Another Top 10 Movie List for 2010

Your humble critic (L), with Scott Huffines (R) at the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony (where Atomic TV received the honorary Analog Anachronism Award in the category "Best Dead Medium: Public Access TV")

2010 will go down for me as the year I cut back on movie watching and bulked up on reading - all part of my DIY approach to dealing with my increasingly annoying ADHD. I don't go out to theaters to see new movies nearly as much as I used to, anyway - blame it on NetFlix and cable TV's surfeit of movie options, from On Demand to my tried-and-true channel trifecta of Turner Classic Movies, IFC, and Sundance (not to mention Indie, Retro, and Flix!) factor in the fact that I'm a Cineplex-hating film snob who refuses to go anywhere but The Charles, The Senator, or The Landmark - but after seeing all the end-of-year Top 10 Lists on the newsstands and on the Internet, I checked my film log (yes, I'm the type of nerd who keeps a film log!)(and yes, it helps me keep on top of the attention deficit!) and this is what I came up with. Plus another 10 or so, making this the Lane Bryant of extra large Top 10 Lists - basically a Top Twenty with love handles taking up the 21st and 22nd slots. These are in no particular order after the first five or six titles...

(David Fincher, US, 2010)

"Flawless," I recall saying after seeing this at the Landmark Theater last January. Much as I love Fincher's cult classic Fight Club, I believe his latest goes one better and makes a mainstream movie that sets a new bar for measuring his critical and commercial success. The timing couldn't have been better; in a year in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman was Time's "Person of the Year," The Social Network really was the movie of the year - I mean, who isn't on Facebook (OK, except Dave Cawley, King of Old School Social Networking at The Club Charles, Reaction & Soul Night)?

And Aaron (The West Wing) Sorkin's script is true to Ben Mezrich's best-seller The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, which sacrificed nitpicking facts-we-may-never-know for the overall feeling/motivation of the players involved; I know, because seeing the movie inspired me to read Mezrich's book immediately afterwards. Perpetually young-looking Jesse Eisenberg (Roger Dodger) has never been better in what I'm sure will be a career-defining role. Breakout performances as well from Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker and Andrew Garfield (Red Riding Trilogy) as Zuckerman's erstwhile college buddy Eduardo Saverin. And how about Fincher turning actor Armie Hammer into onscreen twins (yes, Hammer plays both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss!) - still wondering how he did that.

(Juan Jose Campanella, Argentina, 2009; released in US 2010)

When I saw this at the beginning of the year, I remember telling my girlfriend, "I think we've just seen the best movie of the year!" This was before we saw The Social Contract. (OK, admittedly Amy liked the UK film Harry Brown better because all women love Michael Caine - and Colin Firth and Viggo, too, for that matter - and who can argue with that?) I would only qualify it now by calling it the best foreign film I saw all year. (It already won the 2010 Academy Award for "Best Foreign Film" and was the highest-grossing film in Argentina and Spain.)

It tells the story of a retired legal counselor who writes a novel hoping to find closure for one of his past unresolved homicide cases and for his unreciprocated love with his superior - both of which still haunt him decades later. But what made director Juan Jose Campanella (a regular director on House, Law And Order, 30 Rock)'s film particulary noteworthy was the way the film juxtaposed the rise of fascism during the 1970s Junta years, with its rapist-murderer villain's return to favor in the wake of right-wing nationalistic fervor. Also, it makes great use of Argentina's passion for soccer in unraveling the mystery (using names of players for Racing Club de Avellaneda), not to mention a subplot in which newlyweds meet each day at lunch for an "afternoon delight" - that involves watching The Three Stooges!

Any rape-murder-and-repression film that references the Junta of Joy known as "Larry, Moe & Curly" gets my vote of confidence!

The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Emilio Kauderer and Federico Jusid is worth picking up, as well.

(Tom Hooper, UK, 2010)

Detractors may call it this year's tea-and-crumpets import for Masterpiece Theatre-doting old ladies, but there's no arguing with the cast (anchored by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush), clever script, and Tom (The Damned United, John Adams) Hooper's assured direction. A winner all-around. (And I like tea and crumpets!) (Actually, tea and digestive biscuits are even better!)

(Christian Carion, France, 2009; released in US 2010)

The French intelligence service alerts the U.S. about a Soviet spy operation during the height of the Cold War, which sets off an unfortunate chain of events. Based on true events. Notable for winningly utilizing two auteurs-behind-the-camera as actors-in-front-of-it: France's Guillame Canet (Tell No One) and Serbia's Emir Kusturica (Underground). Plus the Brit rock band Queen plays a significant role in getting Kusturica's Russian mole to betray his country for the West's decadent rock and roll - you can't make this stuff up, I swear it's true!

(Roman Polanski, France-Germany-UK, 2010)

Everyone seems to have forgotten this classy little international Polanski thriller - starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrell, and Timothy Hutton - but me. That is, me and the juries at the Berlin Film Festival (where Polanski won a Silver Bear) and the European Film Awards (where the film won just about everything) - but stateside, there's been barely a pip said about it. A ghostwriter (McEwan) hired to complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister (Brosnan, who's an obvious stand-in for Tony "I Kiss George W. Bush's Ass" Blair) uncovers secrets that put his own life in jeopardy. The first movie I've seen in which a car GPS helps solve the mystery. Go GPS!

(Lee Unkrich, US, 2010)

Funniest movie of the year! I saw it in 3-D at the Landmark Theater, but its story has the depth of creative vision to stand up just as well in 2-D. Basically a melding of two narrative arcs about "Empty nesters" (i.e., the toys when they lose their boy to college) and a "great prison escape" arc in which the prison is a daycare center where toys are abused by hyperactive toddlers. Thrice proves more than nice in TS3 under the assured direction of Lee Unkrich (who co-directed Toy Story 2, not to mention Finding Nemo, and Monsters, Inc. ).

(Sharon Maynon and Erez Tadmor, Israel, 2010)

2nd funniest movie of the year! To paraphrase the Asian gangsta guy in The Hangover, "They funny 'cause they fat!" (Low blow!) Actually, the characters in this Israeli comedy aren't only big-boned but big-hearted, as well (insert obligatory "Awwwwl!" here). Seriously, this is a film heavy with goodness about Livin' Large in a world obsessed with body image. (Amy and I liked it so much, we went out for pizza and beer afterwards!)

Read my Rehoboth Beach Film Festival review of A Matter of Size here.

(Debra Granik, US, 2010)

An undaunted Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her missing drug-dealer dad while trying to keep her mentally ill mom and crumbling family intact. Call director Debra Granik's adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's novel what you will - an Ozark Opus, a Methamphetamine Melodrama, or A Hillbilly Noir Whodunnit...all I know is that in a year of great performances by female actors, Jennifer Lawrence's "Ree" vies with Noomi Rapace's "Lisbeth Salander" (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) for Toughest Onscreen Chick honors (maybe the Academy should call this the "Joan Jett Award"). This is a breakout performance by Lawrence, who made her big screen bow in The Burning Plain (2008) by director-screenwriter Guillarmo Arriago (Amores Perros, Babel, 21 Grams). And I really liked seeing John Hawkes (Deadwood, Lost) as Ree's Uncle "Teardrop," not having seen him in any films since starring in Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know.

The killer folk mountain music soundtrack is worth picking up as well, featuring local Ozark musicians that Daniel Woodrell recommended to Granik - folks like Marideth Sisco, Blackberry Winter, White River Music Company, Linda Stoffel, Lee Ann Sours, Billy Ward, Dirt Road Delight, and Bo Brown & Dennis Crider - as well as an original song by actor John Hawkes ("Bred & Buttered") and an original song and incidental music score by Dickon Hinchliffe (formerly of the British rock band Tindersticks).

Director Debra Granik has local connections, having grown up in the D.C. suburbs. Winter's Bone is her second film and continues her award-winning ways, winning Best Picture at the 2010 Sundance Festival and having just been nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its Best Picture of 2010. Her 2004 debut Down to the Bone (a tale of drug addiction) won Sundance's Dramatic Directing Award and she also won Best Short at Sundance for 1998's Snake Feed.

(Ethan and Joel Coen, US, 2010)

I really liked the Coen brothers return to form after A Serious Man (which I hated!) with their remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie (for which the "Old Hollywood Guard" threw Duke a better-late-than-never bone as Best Actor). It's nothing jaw-droppingly great, but it's thoroughly enjoyable and as US Marsall Rooster Cognurn, Jeff Bridges outshines Wayne, though his hard-drinking cantakerous coot is a character Bridges has essayed before - he could basically phone in a part like this. And Matt Damon as the righteous Texas Ranger La Boeuf is hilarious. All the characters speak with formal diction which, as the New Yorker's David Denby concludes, is probably "the Coen's little joke that the formal talk merely decorates the savage moral incoherence of the old West."

But the real star here is Hailee Steinfeld, whose performance as Mattie Ross is one of the year's other breakout performances, one on par with Jennifer Lawrence's in Winter's Bone. She's reason enough to see the film. But while nothing here is cinematically earth shattering, it's a very enjoyable way to spend two hours (though I can't wait for the "new" Senator Theater, where I saw the film, to get those seats with the slippery cup holders fixed!). I agree with Denby's assessment of True Grit: "Nothing very startling happens, but the Coens have a sure hand, and Bridges, in the old John Wayne role, plays a man, not a myth; you can sense Rooster's stink and his nasty intelligence, too."

(Joon-ho Bong, South Korea, 2010)

Another masterpiece from an Asian auteur to be reckoned with. Food, sex, birth defects, and murder all figure in the mix in this hot pot of a Korean mystery-drama from Joon-ho Bong (The Host, Memories of a Murder, Barking Dogs Never Bite) that defies viewers' expectations (what you see isn't necessarily what you get) and showcases the acting chops of Hye-ja Kim, whose performance garnered Best Actress wins from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and Asian Film Awards. Kim plays an indigent middle-aged woman who becomes her retarded son's only champion when he is charged with the bizarre murder of a young girl. In this, the year of controversy over the Asian "Tiger Mother" approach to child-rearing, Mother goes Amy Chua one better. Or as my girlfriend Amy summed up this film when we left the theater: "Didn't I tell you all Asian mothers are crazy?"

(David Michod, Australia, 2010)

Released stateside October 13, I missed this Aussie dysfunctional gangsta family drama (not to be confused with 1932's RKO production The Animal Kingdom starring Leslie Howard, Myrna Loy, and Ann Harding) when it played at Baltimore's Charles Theatre, but managed to catch it at the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival last November. It tells the story of a 17-year-old boy J (aka Josh, played by James Frecheville) who, after his mother's death, is taken in by the Codys - an explosive criminal family headed by matriarch Janine "Mama Smurf" Cody (Jacki Weaver) and her boys Barry (Joel Edgerton), Darren (Luke Ford), and sociopath Andrew "Pope" Cody (Ben Mendlesohn). J is a waffler, a mellow fellow in a hot-headed, hard-living world where only the strong survive. Guy Pearce (who, in a busy year, also put on his best posh accent to portray Colin Firth's bro the Duke of Windsor in The King's Speech) is the detective who thinks he can save J. Michod's feature debut was loosely based on the 1988 Walsh Street killings, in which two police officers were shot by members of Melborne's infamous criminal Pettingill Family.

Animal Kingdom won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival, and has earned critical acclaim such as few other Australian films have in recent years. But my favorite part in this relentlessly tense and ominous, edge-of-your-seat film was the instructional hygiene bathroom scene wherein Barry's advise to Josh - "Your hands go anywhere near your arse or your cock, you wash ‘em after...make sure you use soap and work up a good lather!" - served as comic relief and elicited a titter of nervous laughter from the four gay guys sitting in the row in front of us, one of whom who added, "Got that right!"

(Nobuhiko Obayashi, Japan, 1977, rereleased theatrically 2010)

The re-release of this 1977 film was the cult film event of the year, even though I saw it with only a handful of devotees when it played ye olde Senator Theater. This convention- and genre-defying film also defies description, so I won't even attempt to do so. Trust me, you've never seen anything like it. Insane in the membrane, yes - but also fun beyond belief! Good times.

(Jean-Francois RIchet, France, 2008; released in US August 2010)

As notorious '60s and '70s French gangster Jacques Mesrine, Vincent Cassal grabs and kicks a ton of ass in the first installment of Jean-Francois Richet's two-part biopic (Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 is the sequel) .

Read my Rehoboth Beach Film Festival review of Mesrine: Killer Instinct here.

(Sam Taylor-Wood, UK, 2009; released in US 2010)

Like The Social Network being released the year Mark Zuckerman was named Time's "Person of the Year," Nowhere Boy's timing was rather fortuitous as well - it opened at The Charles Theater the week of what would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday (October 9, 1940). Nitpickers and purists argued over its historical accuracy, but the point of this film was understanding the broad emotional evolution of John Lennon during his alternately vulnerable and angry formative years. It inspired me to finally tackle reading Bob Spitz' mammoth 992-page tome The Beatles: The Biography.

Read my Nowhere Boy review here.

15. Os & 1s
(Eugene Kotlyarenko, US, 2010)

This was my favorite film at the 2010 Maryland Film Festival, but it remains unreleased. It kinda reminded me of that Aqua Teen Hunger Force computer virus episode in which pop-up windows kept opening up until they completely covered the screen - a great visual concept to deliver its message about communication and social networking in the digital age. Or, as MFF programmer J. Scott Braid described it:
"0s & 1s is a comedy that tells a simple story in a wholly new and visually compelling way. Recognizing that our lives are increasingly centered around computers and the language of computer use, 0s & 1s uses our familiarity with that language as a platform for telling a story....The entire movie appears on our screen as though on a laptop running on a fictional operating system. The screen bursts with chat bubbles, system-warning windows, MP3 applications, email messages, web browsers, and anything else you can think of that might pop-up on your laptop monitor." (J. Scott Braid)

In a word: brilliant.

Yet, as filmmaker Eugene Kotlyarenko said afterwards when asked how he came up with the idea for his film, he was surprised no one had thought of it before. The Internet and Social Networking and all the little apps-driven devices and portals into modern Telecommunication - why hadn't someone done a film about how it impacts and drives the lives of today's young people. Other people have parodied aspects of the Internet, like Crossroads' hilarious "Facebook in Real Life," but this is the first film I can think of that covers it all. And the medium truly is the message, as well as the true star here, as pretty much all the characters are jerks.

Kotlyarenko's first feature-length film tells the story of an LA poser separated from his beloved computer, who "is forced to use the operating system known as real-life interaction, only to discover a generation of users and losers worse off than he." As Scott Braid concluded, "It is an approach to filmmaking that is totally fresh, and provides a real treat for the eyes."

I agree. Watch the Os and 1s trailer to see what we mean.

The most amazing thing about this film? In a room filled with the very people representing the youth demographic depicted onscreen, no one turned on their electronic devives! Not one iPhone flicked on. Not one Droid. Not one Blackberry. And no one texted or got news updates. This is a first for me at the Charles Theater!

(Daniel Barber, UK, 2009; released in Us in May 2010)

Michael Caine is old but still cool. Therefore he appeals to all of us who feel old but still cool. Plus his titular Harry Brown character kills young, drug-addled, hip-hop-listening thugs with too many bad tats and piercings and not enough manners who are rude to their elders. We like that, as well. (Actually, we love it!) In a nutshell: the British Death Wish, only with better acting and accents.

Segregated at the end, I've put six 2010 docs that rocked in a banner year for the genre....

(Charles Ferguson, US, 2010)

Charles Ferguson's fair-and-balanced examination of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown and near Capitalism Apocalypse was the best - and most timely - documentary of 2010. Just as Ferguson's previous documentary, No End in Sight, was the best doc of 2007 - and the best analysis of the misbegotten Iraq War to date. See it back-to-back with Alex Gibney's Client 9 and Casino Jack and the United States of Money (and throw in Gibney's Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story for good measure) and you get the Big Picture about who really runs the country (into the ground, periodically). These docs, taken collectively, round up The Usual Suspects: the Robber Barons of unregulated Free Market Capitalism and the lobbyists and pols who carry water for them. As they said on the X-Files, the Truth is out there. We just need to stop watching sports and reality TV and stare it in the face.

(Alex Gibney, US, 2010)

I really wanted to see this when it came out because I'm a fan of both Eliot Spitzer (and his new CNN show Parker Spitzer - which I tend to watch more than MSNBC for news now) and director Alex Gibney.

"Parker Spitzer": Co-hosts Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker

OK, the so the former New York Governor and State's Attorney turned political-talk-show-host had sex with prostitutes - and Clinton got a blowjob in the Oral Office - big fucking deal, right? Who cares? That's just a matter between him and his family. Forgotten is how Spitzer predicted the 2008 Wall Street meltdown and tried to correct its unregulated excesses when, as "the Sheriff of Wall Street," he prosecuted crimes by some of America's largest financial insitutions and most powerful executives. Who's laughing now? Not the American public. Not dispossessed homeowners. Not wiped workers whose 401Ks were wiped out by the stock market crash. Long after his tawdry tart sold her stories to the tabloids, Spitzer's insights to a problem that won't go away are still valuable, while the scandal sheets have returned to the next Page 3 Girl or disgraced politico. But in America, sex and politics are a toxic cocktail, whereas in Europe this mixture is elixir - and might actually get you elected! Ah well, New York's loss is CNN's gain.

Client 9 was one of three new films directed by the prolific Alex Gibney that this year (the others were Casino Jack and the United States of Money and his sumo wrestling segment in Freakonomics). (He's also currently working on docs about Ken Kesey, Lance Armstrong, and Al Qaeda - read more about Gibney's busy year in Jon Anderson's excellent New York Times profile "Not Afraid To Follow the Money.") And this one may be his best yet, though it's doubtful that its sophisticated subject matter - I'm talking Wall Street derivatives (a concept even more complicated than NFL quarterback ratings) and sub-prime mortgages, and not the sex! - will translate into box office success. But as Gibney himself has said, he thinks documentaries today are not only better made, but have taken over the truth-telling function our increasingly polarized free press (e.g., Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left) has largely abandoned. He doesn't care about box office; he cares about spreading the word, which is why he founded Jigsaw Productions in 1982 to produce just these sort of films. My hero!

(Alex Gibney, US, 2010)

I'm sure Kevin Spacey is great (as usual) in his Hollywood biopic Casino Jack, but trust me, Truth is always stranger than Fiction - so save your money and rent the real deal instead. I missed this when in played at this year's Maryland Film Festival (fool that I am!), but luckily caught in on the rebound at this fall's Rehoboth Beach Film Festival - which was appropos, because Gibney's doc has a very Rehobo Connection!

Abramoff, through his cohort (and erstwhile staffer for former Speaker of the House and Dancing with the Stars contestant Tom DeLay) Mike Scanlon - who is still a part-time Rehoboth Beach lifeguard - used the city to establish a fake corporation (American Independent Council) in which to filter money.

Seems that beachcomber David Grosh, a former lifeguard (Rehobo's 1997 Lifeguard of the Year, in fact!), was paid $2,500 by his friend Scanlon to head a phony "research organization" in Rehoboth, but it only functioned to funnel large sums from Indian tribes back to Mr. Abramoff and his law firm. A few shots of Rehoboth Beach are used and a few interviews with the incredulous Lifeguard CEO Grosh ("I asked him what do I have to do and he said, 'Nothing'!") are conducted there, as well. No wonder Gibney sported his Rehoboth Beach Lifeguard t-shirt at the Maryland Film Festival!

Alex Gibney, in Rehoboth Beach lifeguard t-shirt, at the Maryland Film Festival

Of course, the other great part of Gibney's Casino Jack documentary is seeing clips from one-time Hollywood writer-producer Abramoff's Cold War proxy action film, Red Scorpion (1988), which starred Dolph Lundgren as a Soviet KGB agent sent to Africa to assassinate an anti-Communist revolutionary leader, who was based on Abramoff's real-life warlord pal Jonas Savimbi, notorious leader of Angola's UNITA rebel group. (Watch the Red Scorpion trailer.)

Oh, and there's also a Baltimore Connection to Abramoff because, post-prison term, he got a rehab marketing gig selling pizza - instead of political access - at Tov Pizza in Northwest Baltimore (see "Disgraced Lobbyist Jack Abramoff Working in Baltimore Pizza Shop," Huffington Post, June 23, 2010). From slimey to cheesy, Jack's making progress!

(Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, US, 2010)

Directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing have some major gravitas in my book, having previously helmed the Oscar-nominated The Boys of Baraka (2005) and the frightening Christian brainwashing doc Jesus Camp (2007). They don't shy away from tough issues, and no topic of debate is tougher than abortion. Well, maybe Oasis vs. Blur. Or Beatles vs. Stones. Boxers vs. Briefs?

Read my long-winded review of 12th and Delaware in my "2010 Maryland Film Festival Wrap-up" blog posting. Or not.

(Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist, US, 2010)

After seeing this on ESPN's "30 for 30" sports documentary series in June 2010, I immediately went on Amazon and ordered it. It's the best doc on Colombia's once-glorious soccer team, as well as the best doc I've seen on Pablo Escobar. The film illustrates that nothing in Colombia was safe from the reach of the drug gangs in general and Pablo Escobar in particular.

30 from 30 website description:
"While rival drug cartels warred in the streets and the country’s murder rate climbed to highest in the world, the Colombian national soccer team set out to blaze a new image for their country. What followed was a mysteriously rapid rise to glory, as the team catapulted out of decades of obscurity to become one of the best teams in the world. Central to this success were two men named Escobar: Andrés, the captain and poster child of the National Team, and Pablo, the infamous drug baron who pioneered the phenomenon known in the underworld as “Narco-soccer.” But just when Colombia was expected to win the 1994 World Cup and transform its international image, the shocking murder of Andres Escobar dashed the hopes of a nation.

Through the glory and the tragedy, The Two Escobars daringly investigates the secret marriage of crime and sport, and uncovers the surprising connections between the murders of Andres and Pablo."

(Matt Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom, UK, 2009; aired on Sundance Channel 2010)

Though based on Naomi Klein's best-selling book The Shock Doctrine - which argues that America's "free market" policies (pioneered by economist Milton Friedman) have come to dominate the world through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries - Klein has since disavowed Michael Winterbottom's film version due to creative differences (she wanted more interviews, less polemic), which is a shame because I liked what I saw when it aired briefly on the Sundance Channel. The film alternates scenes of Naomi Klein talking at seminars with choice historical footage of 50's shock treatment, military coups in South America, the fall of the USSR, Iraq and Afghanistan, New Orleans after Katrina. Now it looks like it may never seen the light of day in an officially sanctioned released. Oh well, at least I've still got the book! Together, the book and movie have made me a believer in ALL the conspiracy theories. Now I can finally feel comfortable at Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse!

Naomi Klein

Watch The Shock Doctrine trailer.

Read Christopher Campbell's "Sundance Review: The Shock Doctrine."

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home