Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My 2010 Movies

Well, looks like another year has passed us by. It was a good one for me in virtually every way imaginable, and that extends to the movie theater (or DVD player, as was the case more often than not) as well. It was a terrific year for movies, and anyone who tells you otherwise just isn't looking hard enough.

Anyway, here are my favorite movies of 2010, presented chronologically as always.

Shutter Island

Part mystery, part psychological portrait, part human tragedy, Martin Scorsese's best film in many years was the year's first great film, and an unexpected treasure. Review here.

The Ghost Writer

Sad that when a movie comes along that does the sort of thing Hollywood used to do well - that is, tell a cohesive story with style and craft - it is something we have to savor, as it's the exception as opposed to the rule. This is not to take anything away from The Ghost Writer, which is as good as genre film making gets - and there are some very pointed, non-preachy insights into the political process to boot. Review here.


Hye-ja Kim gives one of the year's great performances in Bong Joon-ho's unusual film, which was a real treat after his interesting though highly problematic previous effort The Host. Whereas the manner in which that film tried to balance the serious and the silly was borderline offensive, Bong has found a way to streamline his sensibility much more effectively in the years since The Host. A disturbing tale of the extents a mother will go to protect her child - right or wrong - Mother is a simultaneously twisted and hilarious document of parenthood, permeated by a cruel irony.


Marco Bellocchio's Vincere is a deeply affecting film about a fascinating historical footnote - the plight of Benito Mussolini's first wife (portrayed by Giovanna Mezzogiorno, in a performance that is nothing short of stunning), the hell he put she and his first born child through after he went away to fight in the first World War and met another woman. As he ascended to power, he had their marital documents destroyed and had both her and his son committed to insane asylums, where they both died tragically young - she at the age of 56, their son at the age of 26. The remarkable thing about Vincere is that it puts you through this anguish without being exploitative in the slightest.

The Eclipse

Easily one of last year's most unique films, Connor McPherson's The Eclipse is at once a frightening horror film and intimate human drama; a fascinating exploration of both the horror genre and human loneliness. A lovely, scary, and deeply affecting film that showcases one of Ciaran Hinds' two great performances from the last year.

Wild Grass

Alain Resnais' latest film is a quixotic recapitulation of the French New Wave; an elegy about aging, a simultaneously comic and tragic examination of love and lust, and quite frankly the most inventive aesthetic work I've seen in a long time. In short, it is nothing short of a total fucking masterpiece, and hands down my favorite film of last year.

Life During Wartime

Todd Solondz is now so much more than a bitchy, though perceptive, observer of the faults of our culture, he is one of our great humanitarians - a director who challenges you to empathize with those society teaches us to hate. Considering the extent of the cruelty in our world, this is revolutionary. Review here.

Eccentricities of a Blond-haired Girl

Perhaps the only film you could ever call "delightfully antiquated", Manoel de Oliveira's Eccentricities of a Blond-haired Girl is just about the most sublime 60 minutes imaginable - a recontextualizing of an Eça de Queiros short story written in the 19th century to the modern world, a dramatic conceit that at once makes the past feel immediate and the present feel timeless.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

One of last year's most pleasant surprises, Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger isn't any less cynical than Allen has been for the last, oh, 30 years, but here he plays it in almost a gentle way, which is not to say he softens the punch of the material in any way. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is yet another of Allen's odysseys of infidelity, but what separates You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is he deals with the misery people inflict on one another in an emotionally honest way, acknowledging that your actions have consequences both on your own life and on the lives of those around you. Review here.

Secret Sunshine

Chang-dong Lee's Secret Sunshine is a radically structured melodrama, one that takes such unusual turns throughout its 2 and a half hour run time that you feel emotionally drained as you watch the tale of Shin-ae, a widow who moves to her husband's hometown Milyang in South Korea after his death. For the first 45 minutes, the film plays as a borderline quirky drama/comedy hybrid that you could almost see Indiewood doing (poorly). Then the film takes a sharp, sudden shift, one that would be literally criminal to discuss here as it's so dramatically potent. But suffice to say, it changes the film completely, and it transforms into something deeply tragic and, I think, pretty great. Jeon Do-yeon anchors the film with a sensational performance that is nothing short of haunting.

True Grit

What I would consider the Coen brothers greatest virtues as film makers - their idiosyncratic humor, their insights into the American south, their elevation of American folklore to almost mythic stature, their sense of morality, their reverence of film genre, their genuine considerations of spirituality and faith - are all on display in the brothers' adaptation (not remake) of True Grit. While the film is on one hand a scathing satire of Old West racism and sadism, both as it existed in history and on film - some of the Coens' sharpest gags in years highlight the casually cruel treatment of Native Americans - True Grit is, ultimately, a moving portrait of family, and the manner in which the film's three characters (Hailee Steinfeld's Mattie, Jeff Bridges' Rooster Cogburn, Matt Damon's Labeouf) transform into that family over the course of the film is incredibly powerful. By the end, True Grit becomes a meaningful testament to history and our place in it; the final line, which I dare not reveal here, is at once a simple profound truism. All the performances are great, but it is Hailee Steinfeld who is the true revelation here.

Another Year

You could label Mike Leigh's latest film as "The Abyss", as his latest is quite dark and extremely troubling, yet there is a palpable optimism as well. Of course, this is a Mike Leigh film, so the drama springs out of the narrative in the most unusual ways - as opposed to the central characters providing us with the drama and the supporting characters existing solely to be thoughtful listeners and advice-reciters, the central characters - a married couple played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen - are as stable as a rock; as in love with one another as the day they were married, happy as can be, and just all around good people. It's everyone around them who is fucked up. What is remarkable about Another Year is that it pays homage to the depth of suffering and unhappiness in the world, yet is in no way oppressively glum or downtrodden; like life itself, there is joy and misery and everything in between.

Favorite Male Performances:
Jeff Bridges - True Grit
Jim Broadbent - Another Year
George Clooney - The American
Leonardo DiCaprio - Shutter Island
André Dussollier - Wild Grass
Lars Eidinger - Everyone Else
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Ciaran Hinds - The Eclipse & Life During Wartime
Anthony Hopkins - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Ben Kingsley - Shutter Island
Mark Ruffalo - Shutter Island
Jason Schwartzman - Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Ben Stiller - Greenberg
Justin Timberlake - The Social Network

Favorite Female Performances
Sabine Azéma - Wild Grass
Jeon Do-yeon - Secret Sunshine
Greta Gerwig - Greenberg
Shirley Henderson - Life During Wartime
Iben Hjejle - The Eclipse
Hye-ja Kim - Mother
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Lesley Manville - Another Year
Giovanna Mezzogiorno - Vincere
Birgit Minichmayr - Everyone Else
Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Ruth Sheen - Another Year
Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit
Olivia Williams - The Ghost Writer

Now, bring on 2011! I promise I'm going to be on top of my shit this year, as the paltry amount of output from me this year is literally depressing.


Ed Howard said...

A seemingly great list, Ryan, on which I've sadly seen almost none of them. I even missed Woody's new one this year, though I'm happy to see your praise for it - I was under the impression it got a pretty lackluster reception. So much catching up to do, and this list is a promising place to start.

And here's to a more active 2011 - I always look forward to new posts here.

Ryan Kelly said...

Indeed it did, though You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not without its admirers, some who loved it even more than I did (I wouldn't quite say I loved it, but it's wonderful). And I very intensely disliked Whatever Works, as you may recall, so I really went into YWMATDS with no expectations and came out quite impressed.

And yes, I promise to try to be a closer to real critic this year, as in actually review everything I see, even if it's just a capsule. Thanks for your support, Ed.

Patricia Perry said...


While there are several films on this list I haven't yet seen, I am thrilled to see both "The Ghost Writer" and "Vincere" so highly rated. I think those would be my top 2 for 2010, based on what I've seen so far (and Giovanna Mezzogiorno is NOT getting near enough awards recognition - she was amazing.)

I can't say I completely agree with you on "You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger" - I found it very uneven and the whole Josh Brolin/Frida Pinto romance to be inisipid in the extreme - but mostly I think you are dead on with regard to its emotional honesty. (MINOR SPOILER AHEAD)That scene where Naomi Watts comes home after learning that her boss loves another woman - the way she tears into Brolin and spits out all her misery and despair - felt raw and real. And the opening scene between Gemma Jones and Pauline Collins (as the medium) was so beautifully and delicately acted. Really one of the best things Allen has done in awhile.

LEAVES said...

I've seen 3 of yours and one of them was great! But brief. That should give it away. This is where I will take the time to excitedly yell names until I lose interest: Enter the Void! Dogtooth! Everyone Else! Alamar! Scott Pilgrim! Umm... Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky? Black... Swan...?

I'm still waiting on half of the 2009 films that I wanted to see. This year end business is full of grasping and straws.

Ryan Kelly said...

Pat, here here on Mezzogiorno, who gave a tremendous performance in a remarkable film. The moment that made the performance for me is the sequence when she's watching Chaplin's The Kid - which features what I think is one of the most devastating sequences in any movie - and the profound sadness she expresses purely physically is, I think, really incredible. I agree she's not getting her proper dues, that's easily one of the best performances I saw in any movie last year.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger certainly wasn't perfect, but it really struck a chord with me. Part of that may be the fact that I went into it with next to zero expectations, and found myself not only enjoying it but even moved by it; there is a wisdom and emotional depth to the movie, I think. The scene you cite with Watts is an example of that, and the sequence where Pinto tells her fiance's family and her own that she's calling off the wedding because she met someone else is, I think, the exact thing that has been missing from Allen's more recent output, that is acknowledging the misery that this selfishness can inflict on others. And I love that the film had almost a fairy tale aesthetic; the use of the jazz version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" was inspired, I thought.

Ryan Kelly said...

LEAVES, my guess would be you're referring to Eccentricities of a Blond-haired Girl, which was indeed pretty great, and not hindered by its brief running time in the slightest - it's a very rich film, I think. Which others did you see and what did you think of them?

As for my "omissions"... well, you have to draw the line somewhere. I don't necessary want it to be a list of films I enjoyed from the year, which would be 3 times as long easily. And while I know you're just being the inflammatory but lovable scamp we all know you for, I'll take the bait anyway: I enjoyed Enter the Void quite a bit, but I found it very shallow; death, sex, rebirth, your past all presented as a wild "trip". I think it's more or less the movie Kael accused 2001 of being, that is a movie that uses hallucinatory imagery as a shorthand for cosmic profundity. Ultimately, I thought it was about as substantial as a roller coaster, though I won't deny it was a blast. I feel similarly about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, though I like that movie a hell of a lot more; I just found its take on romance to be largely insipid, which wouldn't have really mattered to me if the film didn't make its quaint coming-of-age narrative such a primary focus. I just... hated Dogtooth, honestly, though maybe I'm revealing my philistine colors with that admission. Everyone Else didn't work for me until the end, which makes me think I may have underrated it, but I didn't honestly feel overly strongly about it other than the performances, which were truly spectacular. I did not outright hate Black Swan, which is just about the nicest thing I can say about it or any other movie Darren Aronofsky has made. Didn't see Alamar, nor did I see Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (I'm only one man!)

And I agree, the end of the year business is largely arbitrary, which is not to say it isn't fun - what I especially don't understand is why bloggers, who are not confined by space limits, feel the need to still limit themselves to only ten films. I just include as many films as I feel strongly about, regardless of the number.

Sam Juliano said...

Ryan, a wonderful list combining the ecclectic with some mainstream fare. I am particularly happy to see VINCERE, SHUTTER ISLAND and ANOTHER YEAR make this high regard, and can't take issue with the creative GHOST WRITER either. Sure there are a few I didn't care much for (LIFE BEFORE WARTIME and the Woodman's latest) but heck, no two bloggers will compose lists that will appeal across the board. Point is, this list is diverse, and the end result of a year of fruitful and memorable film viewing. I also thought Giovanna Mezzogiorno was electrifying, (she gave my favorite performance this past year in any acting category, in fact( and applaud your inclusion of 102 year-old Manoel de Oliveira, albeit I went with ANGELICA, while you included ECCENTRICITIES.

Here's to an even better 2011!

Sam Juliano said...

Looking further through the comments, I aslo thought the love angle in SCOTT PILGRIM was insipid (but I wasn't a fan of the film in any sense) and I concur that the ending of EVERYONE ELSE reversed some turgid movie watching. Likewise, I must say I couldn't agree with you more on the Chaplin THE KID sequence, where Mezzogiorno shined brightest.

Ryan Kelly said...

Sam, it was a terrific year without a doubt! I realize that not only when I make the list of my very favorites, but when I look at all the good movies that didn't "make the cut", based on my subjective criteria. And that's the fun of lists, how personal they are. The point is that it was another extremely rich year, cinematically, and in every other way too. And I sincerely hope the same is true for you, Sam.

See, I DID like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, so I understand the love it gets from its ardent supporters. But really, my feelings are more in line with that of the detractors. It's complicated, because I love Edgar Wright and think he's one of the great stylists out there right now, but I found Scott Pilgrim to be extremely shallow. As for Everyone Else, I'm kind of glad to hear you say that, because basically I found it a chore until the end, which I thought gave what preceded it a kind of retroactive dramatic weight. Still, I didn't feel quite as strongly for it as many did. Loved the performances, though.

Adam Zanzie said...

Three of my favorites--Shutter Island, The Ghost Writer, True Grit--are here. I definitely need to catch Another Year before I make my own list. I don't know if I'll get to see Wild Grass in time, but I'm intrigued that it was your favorite movie of the year; that's a good sign for me, since I've only seen two of Resnais' films, and am undecided on what I think of his work (I admired Night and Fog but wasn't that impressed with Hiroshima Mon Amour).

Was Film: Socialisme list-worthy? I remember you had raved about it during its release. I still don't have any way of seeing it...

One question about True Grit, since it's such a fun movie to talk about. The significance of the final line [spoiler warning] probably means different things to different people. The Charles Portis novel ends with Mattie stating, "Time just gets away from us. This ends my true account of how I avenged Frank Ross's blood over in the Choctaw Nation when snow was on the ground." But what the Coens do, instead, is conclude their film with Mattie stating, "Time just gets away from us," and then they omit the following line.

A wise decision, in my opinion.

Some would probably assume that the Coens only omit the final line of the Portis book because it sounds too legal, and because "time just gets away from us" sounds more fitting as the closing line for a dramatic movie. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that they omitted the last line because the Coens might not be wanting their audience to come away from the movie feeling that vengeance was delivered in the end (Charles Portis uses the word "avenge" in the last line in the book for a specific reason). Again, I say might, because I'm not entirely sure if what we're supposed to gain from True Grit (the book as well as the two films, Hathaway's and the Coens') is cathartic satisfaction from the revenge plot, or an insight into how vengeance has crippled Mattie for life.

In a way, it all comes down to that final line. Certain fans of True Grit like it because they get a kick out of the revenge itself. Other fans like it because of what vengeance does to the characters. All of the fans of this story are apparently divided over the statement it's ultimately trying to make. What is the significance of the final line for you?

Ryan Kelly said...

Adam, for what it's worth, I've seen four of Resnais' films: Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, Private Fears in Public Places, and Wild Grass. I'm not huge on the two early New Wave films, and especially dislike Hiroshima Mon Amour, but very much adore Private Fears in Public Places and am over the moon for Wild Grass, so maybe you'll be like me and prefer his later work. You've just gotta see Wild Grass, dude, there isn't anything like it!

Film Socialisme certainly would have made my list, but I didn't count things that didn't get theatrical distribution, and if I had my favorite movie of the year would have been Certified Copy without a doubt (which is slated for a March release, so I already have my favorite of 2011!).

For me, the last line doesn't have anything to do with any of that! The revenge doesn't really factor into it after the flash forward; it's more about the bond that Mattie and Cogburn had forged with one another. I haven't read the book so I can't comment on the artistry of the change, but the passage you quoted makes it sound like the end of a legal deposition, which would fit in with the character. But I think that, in the Coen's film, which is so much about these specific people occupying this distinctive time and place, the line becomes evocative I think of the humanity that existed in the frontier, and even how we're a part of history, which is always in motion. And then that last image and "Leaning On the Everlasting Arms" comes in on the soundtrack, and I think it's just about perfect. God I love that movie.

JeanRZEJ said...

Wild Grass was one film that totally befuddled me. I was so looking forward to it, and then it was like I got blindsided. There is something about the dynamic between his overbearing creepiness and the ethereal quality of the film that just rattled my brain to an extent that I was completely discombobulated, and then when a dream sequence gets tossed in for no apparent reason... I was lost. And the purse? The purse is the key, it must be, but I'm clueless.

I loved Enter the Void most this year, even though one would have expected that to be the film that rattled my brain into incoherence. Oddly not, in fact. I tried to get what I loved about it down into my latest blog post, and it is long, but it's difficult. I'm not surprised that it rubbed some people the wrong way, though, certainly. I hear echoes of Klaus in The Life Aquatic - 'I hear what you're saying, but I think you misjudge the guy.'

I really want to see Secret Sunshine. Glad to hear you loved it. I'm a big fan of Oasis and Peppermint Candy, but I never heard about any release. I'll make sure to catch it.

Actually, there are a few on your list that I haven't caught up with yet. I know that Mother is available at the library, so perhaps I'll give it a spin. I guess the fewer I have seen means that I have more recommendations, so I thank you for that.

muondo said...

les videos sont magnifiques!et les images aussi!

Ryan Kelly said...

JeanRZEJ, first thank you for reading and commenting, and second let me apologize for my delayed reply.

I understand why Wild Grass had that effect on you - there's something so absolutely bonkers about the picture, but it's a kind of inspired, energetic insanity that I can get on board with. The final chapter is especially nuts.

Though I'm not as enthusiastic for Enter the Void as some are, I do understand the love for it. It really is a blast, and Noe makes the film's narrative - which should be incoherent - completely smooth through a pitch-perfect use of cinematic technique. If I were to make a list of best isolated sequences from the year, the sequence that cuts between the car crash, his early life in Tokyo, his life with his sister, the episode with his friend's mother would be at or near the top. Just masterful. But as I said earlier in the thread, to me it was the cinematic equivalent of a druggy taking mushrooms or dropping acid and trying to convince the world that it was a religious, life changing experience.

Some people who are fans of Lee's earlier films were not huge on Secret Sunshine, which I understand to be a more conventional narrative than his previous films. This was my first (and to date only) of his films, and I really thought it was sensational. When you see it, if you don't blog about it, be sure to swing by here and tell me what you think.

Again, thank you for reading and your thoughtful comment. Much appreciated. Hope to see you around these parts more!

JeanRZEJ said...

'I understand why Wild Grass had that effect on you - there's something so absolutely bonkers about the picture, but it's a kind of inspired, energetic insanity that I can get on board with. The final chapter is especially nuts.'

I'm really surprised that more people weren't offended by the film's trivialization of the protagonist's apparent psychological problems, especially in that final chapter's oddly happy final section where the wife becomes introduced to the situation and summarily shoved aside. I would have felt less confused in Taxi Driver: The Musical, to be honest. It can't help that one of my favorite actresses was playing that French wife, either, but I'm so totally lost in that film. I have no problems with the psychopath being treated so flippantly, but normally I am at some point able to grasp some sort of steadying conceit. The film seems to be highly cinema-conscious, so perhaps the approach to him is the carefree misanthropy that is so pervasive in film - it could even be a Godard homage! And that would explain the distaste. I don't know! I'm clueless! I'm adrift at sea without a life preserver! And I tried swimming straight down and I couldn't even drown properly! Such is my conundrum. Alas, I think it's going to be a Sisyphean situation.

'But as I said earlier in the thread, to me it was the cinematic equivalent of a druggy taking mushrooms or dropping acid and trying to convince the world that it was a religious, life changing experience.'

Ahh, and I wrote 4,000 words explicitly to help people move beyond this sort of conception into an appreciation of the film as a humanistic celebration of life and one man's lamentation of not reaching that potential! It's my attempt at throwing people a life preserver, you see. Or at least letting them drown.

'This was my first (and to date only) of his films, and I really thought it was sensational. When you see it, if you don't blog about it, be sure to swing by here and tell me what you think.'

It doesn't sound like a black comedy, so I doubt I'll be blogging about it, but I'll let you know. I was introduced to Peppermint Candy in a wildly unconventional 'Intro to Film' class, and it's amazing. Even though Lee was originally an author, and you can tell by how intricate his films are, he seems to be known most as someone capable of getting fantastic performances out of his actors. If you get a chance to see Oasis you'll see what I mean - incredible. Of course, you probably already know some of what I mean, because I remember hearing that the lead actress in Secret Sunshine won an acting award at the film festival it premiered at. It's a peculiar combination, though, because writers are often known for constricting actors as opposed to letting them dominate the holy 'word on the page'. An irrelevant digression, yes, but satisfying. Anyway, keep up the good work.

onecrazyblogger said...

I think The Ghost Writer is really an underrated movie! I really enjoyed it!

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Angel charls said...

I can't comment on the artistry of the change, but the passage you quoted makes it sound like the end of a legal deposition, which would fit in with the character
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