Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Best of 2010

The Social Network is the best movie of the year. 

     Not that I would ever make so definitive a statement, but the critics have spoken, and as a whole, they have chosen Fincher's "facebook movie" as the champion of 2010. Metacritic.com has collected about 85 top ten lists so far, and The Social Network graces three quarters of them, while making it up to first place on 21 lists. The love bestowed on TSN is no great surprise; the general populace would undoubtably vote Toy Story 3 or Inception as their favorite, but Mark Zuckerberg, in real life and in film, is the undisputed man of the year (sorry Julian Assange). The rest of the top 10 metacritic compilation features predictable awards favorites Black SwanToy StoryInception, The Kids are all Right, and The King's Speech, but it does have a few that seemed to come out of left field. The number two (with seven top places) is Winter's Bone, a drama about poverty in the Ozarks, which went largely unnoticed by audiences in its summer release.  And while Polanski was making headlines for his arrest in Switzerland, his latest thriller, The Ghost Writer, quietly slipped into place as the 6th best movie of the year. For foreign success stories, we have Carlos, a 5 1/2 hour French miniseries about terrorist Carlos the Jackal, and Un prophète which actually came out in 2009, ranked 8 and 10 respectively.

Of course, general consensus can only say so much. For truly puzzling choices, I decided that I would have to see what the good people at "The New Yorker" were up to. It was almost comforting to see The Inception and Black Swan on lovable curmudgeon David Denby's worst film list, but alas, no such luck for The Social Network, which made the cut for all three resident critics, and was number one for Denby. It goes along with his idea that the theme of 2010 is "the year of Boston"--a good point given the success and/or quality of The TownThe Fighter, and The Company Men. I like Richard Brody's summary of 2010 a little better though. For him, we're in a "new golden age." While some may mourn the loss of the Hollywood studio system, Brody claims that it has merely changed: " now the system is something of a blunderer that often flings itself into follies or even crushes inspiration under it's weight, but sometimes gets carried away, for reasons good and bad, and hands surprising control of vast resources to artists who make stunningly audacious and personal use of them." I might not agree that any Hollywood film is "stunningly audacious," and some in the business may disagree with Brody's later point that it's easier than ever for an independent director to get his movie made and seen, but I like his optimism. In this past year, great directors like Nolan, Fincher, the Coens, Scorcese, Aronofsky, and Danny Boyle have made the films they wanted to make, and the endless reliance on tiresome 3D, useless remakes, and summer blockbuster loudness do little to diminish their accomplishments. In case you were wondering what Anthony Lane thinks of 2010, he seems to think that it's 2009, which is when seven of his top ten picks came out.

But enough about other people's opinions. I've had my busiest year yet at the theaters--I've seen 39 2010 movies (foreign leftovers like A Prophet or I am Love are not getting counted)--and this gives me the right to make some judgements of my own. The only problem is that 39 turned out to be not nearly enough. Still missing are Winters Bone127 HoursBlack SwanThe King's SpeechTrue GritSomewhereBlue ValentineThe FighterShutter IslandGreenberg, etc... And when I realized that I elected not to see Jackass 3D when the one and only John Waters had it as one of his favorites, describing "Steve-O chugging down a a glass of sweat collected from the ass-crack of an obese man and then vomiting at you in 3D" as "the purest moment of raw cinema anarchy this year," I chastised myself for my poor viewing decisions. To make matters worse, I'll have to wait another two months until most of those movies make their way across the atlantic. Oh well. Life moves on, and lists must get made. Here is my year in new movies:

1. Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives- The only movie that I love that has ever gently lulled me to sleep with it's surreal, pastoral imagery. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I went in and out of various states of awakeness for a good 15 minutes. But then a sex scene between a woman and a cat fish put the fear of Buddha back into me. I've heard that Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (I swear, I had that memorised) has other films as strange, rich, and beautiful as this masterpiece, but Uncle Boonmee was a revelation to me.

2. The Social Network- In 200 years, long after Citizen Kane has been turned into dust (or pulp), mutant cave dwellers will tap into their collective electronic brain-cloud to watch The Social Network. Not only will they gain insight into one of the most important developments in technology and communication of our time, but they will experience pleasure for the first time as their desensitized silicon neurons find a way to transmit the wonders of Aaron Sorkin's witty script, Jesse Eisenberg's iconic performance, Trent Reznor's chilling score, and David Fincher's precise direction.

3. Exit Through the Gift Shop- The definitive street art documentary, and a clever look at the absurdities of the art world. Its principle subject, Thierry Guetta, is crazy enough that some Werner Herzog narration wouldn't have seemed out of place. Actually, Exit through the Gift Shop replaces Grizzly Man as the most surprising and original documentary (prankumentary?) I've seen.

4. Inception- Nolan may play it a little too straight for all his narrative trickiness, but no film this year, other than Enter the Void, comes close in ambition and sheer awesomeness.

5. Poetry- This Korean film about a grandmother learning to write poetry is indeed poetic, but definitely not as unassuming as I had assumed. It starts off  sweet and simple, but gets more challenging and unusual as it goes along.

6. Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Gods and Men)- French director Xavier Beauvois' tale of Gallic monks weathering rising violence in Algeria.  It's a profound study of the power--and the limits--of brotherhood, faith, and duty.

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World- Heart, humor, and visual splendor in Edgar Wright's heavily stylized, videogame-esque comic book movie.

8. The Ghost Writer- Polanski's political thriller is smart, gripping, tense, and very satisfying.

9. Enter the Void- Gaspard Noé's psychadelic trip is dumb, gripping, drawn out, and crazy amazing.

10. The Kids are All Right- It's like toy story 3-- laughter, tears, and a kids going off to college story. I guess the "toy" here would be the dildo that the son finds in his lesbian moms's drawer. Jokes aside, this is a movie that made me feel very close to its relatable, yet complicated characters.

11. Tamara Drewe- Pitch-perfect black comedy from Stephen Frears. Frears has major competition from fellow countryman Mike Leigh and his pitch perfect drama, Another Year, but the funnier of the two films gets my vote (partly because it's so under appreciated).

12. Ovsyanki (Silent Souls)
13. Another Year
14. Biutiful- I must be the only one who didn't find this oppressively depressing. Javier Bardem's excellent performance made it graceful and poignant instead of deliberately bleak.
15. The Town- I had my qualms with Affleck's sentimental look at criminal bankrobbers, but I can't argue with how much I enjoyed it.
16. Toy Story 3
17. Four Lions
18. Inside Job
19. Machete
20. Vénus noire (Black Venus)

21. City Island
22. Get Him to The Greek

23. La princesse de Montpensier
24. Simon Werner a disparu- The best teenage drama I've seen (granted, I don't know if I've seen many). The ending is a bit of  let down, but the build up is as superb as the original Sonic Youth score.
25. Outrage
26. Unstoppable
27. Harry Potter
28. Basquiat
29. Cyrus
30. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger- Inessential but harmless Woody Allen. After this is when things start getting iffy. Some are movies that I liked in part (The Last Exorcism, Paranormal Activity 2, even if I gave it a negative review) but just weren't that good. Burial and Kick-Ass are the only two movies this year that were well-made, but that I had some sort of active dislike for, mostly because they pretended to be better than they actually were. Of course, both were fairly well received, so maybe it's just that other people wrongly perceived them to be better than they actually were. 
31. Buried
32. Kick-ass
33. The Last Exorcism
34. Paranormal Activity 2
35. L'Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie
36. Ces amours là

37. The Tourist
38. Twilight Eclipse
39. Jonah Hex- I guess being dead last is an honor too. These last three were the only movies that I saw while fully aware of their terrible reputation, and they did not disappoint.


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