Who likes lists? I like lists. I can rarely stop at just one. So when looking back at a year's worth of movie-watching, I prefer to take a leisurely walk through all the films I saw - not just the ones released in the calendar year - and make a few different lists (ordered and unordered). So here's my Top 10, a few other choice items from the year gone by and then a whole slew of other notable non-2010 movies I ran across during the past 12 months. By the way, you can hover the mouse over individual photos in the above mosaic to see unobstructed views of each.
Favourite Films of 2010
10) Waste Land
Far more than a simple document of artist Vic Muniz and his garbage sculptures-turned-photographs and far more than a close-up look at the world's most massive garbage dump, Lucy Walker's "Waste Land" shows the beauty behind the many different things (and people) we too easily dispose.
9) Easy A
The biggest and happiest surprise of the year for me. Sure I expected Emma Stone to easily transition into lead roles, but did not expect her to completely own her character - a young woman far more clever than most around her (except maybe her parents), but still trying to figure things out. A few cliches and stereotypes are present among the rest of the fully realized characters, but overall this is a funny, warm and very sharp film. And my love for Patricia Clarkson continues unabated.
For the most part, the easiest "sell" of the year to people that hadn't seen it since it only required a three word pitch: "Sentient killer tire". If additional convincing was necessary, you could reference the meta aspects of the film, the Greek chorus and the sheer ridiculousness of what the film does with its concept. All I needed was the three word pitch to get me in the door and I got what I came for - but also received so very much more. One of the funniest, most surprising and smartest films of the year.
A 30-minute monologue by a teacher to her classroom full of inattentive teenagers kicks off Tetsuya Nakashima's cynical exploitation film. It details her child's death at the hands of two of the students and her initial stab at vengeance. By the end of Yuko's full plan (the initial half hour is a perfect short film, but there are further confessions to follow), it doesn't appear that any of the kids have learned anything. There aren't any winners in this universe, but there's no shortage of blame being tossed about with parents, teachers and the entire education system receiving their fare share. As depressing as that sounds, its incredibly slick presentation and unrelenting pace make it never less than completely involving. Is the film trying to make a case for proper education of young people or is it simply looking to entertain via shock and titillation? I confess that I don't really care as I was completely engaged.
Most of the negative comments directed towards Christopher Nolan's latest film were typically based around what it wasn't: "The dream sequences don't look like dreams", "It's not as emotional as it should be", "It's not as good as Paprika", etc. All true perhaps, but it also doesn't have as much Julie Andrews twirling around in the Alps as "The Sound Of Music" does - so what's their point? "Inception", for me anyway, was an exceptionally fun and thrilling heist movie that layered it's story with enough depth to always keep you focused and also happened to provide a final climactic sequence that lasted for about half an hour.
5) Toy Story 3
It's too easy to include Pixar in these end of year lists - their consistency is startling. I could very well have simply copied exactly what I said in last year's list about "Up" and it would have applied for the final chapter in their Toy Story trilogy. One of the keys is that the films focus on character, story and an adventure-filled arc and so it goes with this third entry. New characters are brought forth as strong as any in Pixar's stable while all the old characters become nearer and dearer and make it all too easy to give in to the emotions towards the end of the film.
4) Scott Pilgrim vs The World
If you've ever been curious what a video game inside a comic book inside a movie feels like and you want to have a hugely entertaining time, Edgar Wright has the perfect Combo for you. A completely satisfying, candy-coated experience.
3) The Social Network
How good a filmmaker is Fincher? He made computer programming look exciting. Beyond all the technical merits of the film (and there are many including a perfectly matched score), lies a story that examines not only our need to belong and communicate, but how we need to prove our worth to others. No matter how many people say "I don't care what others think...", it's rarely true.
2) Cold Fish
You may never walk into a fish store ever again...A meek store owner by the name of Shamoto with a cold wife and hateful daughter meets a fellow tropical fish vendor who is everything he's not. His new friend Murata is dynamic, happy, successful and one of the worst serial killers in his nation's history. He also has plans for Shamoto. Director Sion Sono is one of the most interesting filmmakers currently working because of his no holds barred approach to relentlessly moving his story and characters forward. He can make the absurd seem all too real and the utterly grotesque seem funny. This is fearless filmmaking.
1) The Illusionist
A match made in heaven - Chomet's use of subtlety, humour and full-fledged characters was done wonderfully well in The Triplets Of Belleville with nary a word of dialog, so who better to write his next project than famed French director (and personal fave) Jacques Tati? Apparently no one. Using an old unproduced "script" by Tati, Chomet has created possibly the definitive definition of the word bittersweet. An old style magician is pushed far afield to find appreciative audiences for his act and in the furthest reaches of the Scottish isles encounters a young girl who not only believes in him, but in his magic as well. She accompanies him back to the big city and blossoms into a young lady as she slowly loses her childhood innocence. A paean to old fashioned entertainment and ways of life, it's also a reflection of how people need to be able to adapt with change and manage to incorporate it into their lives. An unending stream of comic inventiveness fills the film while every frame is steeped in detail and rendered in such ravishing fashion that it made me giddy. A good thing too since there is a strong sense of sadness that permeates the story. No mixed emotions about the film though - an unreserved gushing recommendation.
Honorable mentions: Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage, A Small Act, Marwencol, I Am Love, Exit Through The Gift Shop, Bluebeard, Tangled, Submarine, Crying Out, The Crazies, Shutter Island, Machete Maidens Unleashed!
Favourite Performances of 2010
- Female: Emma Stone (Easy A); Takako Matsu (Confessions); Tilda Swinton (I Am Love); Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone)
- Male: Craig Roberts (Submarine); John Hawkes (Winter's Bone); Patrick Fabian (The Last Exorcism)
- On-screen Couple: Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) and Yukio Murata (Denden) from Cold Fish are not your typical married couple by any stretch, but they sure are memorable. Honourable mention to Arthur and Eames (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy) from Inception as I'm not the first to recommend a buddy picture starring the two of them should be on a studio's future slate.
Favourite First Time Viewings of Older Films in 2010
- The Headless Woman - I finally discovered Lucrecia Martel this year and in short order watched this, "La Cienega" and "The Holy Girl". Her ability to lay out the disparity of classes in South America without ever having to actually say it is remarkable.
- Dogville - Hey, I'm just as surprised as you are that von Trier's 3 hour stark play held my attention as strongly as it did. But it did.
- In July - Fatih Akin is known for his heavier dramas ("The Edge Of Heaven" and "Head-On'), but he has a fine comedic sense as well. Last year's "Soul Kitchen" showed his ability at broad and bawdy humour while this mismatched couple on a road trip gem shows a lighter touch.
- The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford - A film I put off for quite awhile due to its length and, from everything I'd heard, slowness. It's a favourite over at RowThree though, so I finally tasked myself with a viewing. It's slow-paced for sure, but was never once boring. Beautifully filmed and I don't know if Casey Affleck will ever be better.
- Love Exposure - Sion Sono was a revelation to me this year. "Cold Fish", "Strange Circus" and "Noriko's Dinner Table" (a companion film to "Suicide Club") were all bold and very striking, but his 4 hour examination of love, sex, death, religion and, well, just about everything else, was absolutely wonderful - though I suppose it wouldn't quite match everyone's definition of that word. 240 minutes have never flown by so fast.
- Sita Sings The Blues - An animated (in several different styles) re-telling of the Ramayana via 1920's jazz vocals, a young modern day woman who has received a long distance Dear John letter and three shadow puppet narrators. I can't really do it justice. You can actually watch the entire film for free here. If you do (and you really should), then go out and buy it or donate to the project.
- The Return Of Captain Invincible - I've been meaning to get around to posting about a few of the Oz-ploitation films I watched this year after finally catching up with the documentary on the genre "Not Quite Hollywood". A mixed bag of films to be sure, but of all the ones I saw this was the most consistently funny and inventive (certainly helped by having Alan Arkin in the cast) while it embraces its silliness.
- Funeral Parade Of Roses - "Behind the masks, people suffer loneliness". A fractured, non-linear set of events manages to create a complete picture of not only the central character, but also a community of people, a lifestyle and even an entire artistic movement. Complete with cinematography to knock you for a loop. Thank you region-free DVD player. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow: here.
- Lust For A Vampire - Lurid. Heaving bosoms. Lurid heaving bosoms. Heaving lurid bosoms. Bosoms that heave luridly. I think I've made my point.
- Never Take Candy From A Stranger - One of my favourite DVD sets of the year was the "Icons Of Suspense Collection" from Hammer Studios and this was the stand out of the set for me (without a single dud in the bunch) - I can't even imagine this film being produced today, let alone 50 odd years ago.
- Fanny And Alexander - I had seen the 3 hour version and liked it well enough, but it didn't reasonate with me. My friend Marc convinced me, though, to push through a viewing of the full length 5 hour version. After whining and putting it off for quite some time, I finally did it - and I fell head over heels for the damn thing. I don't know if it was the deeper characters, more time spent in the amazing family house, more focus on the ghosts or if I was just simply in a bad mood the first time around (you know, the kind of mood where you don't enjoy masterpieces...), but this time it was glorious.
- The Room - OK, I was curious...When I stumbled across Tommy Wiseau's "The Room" on DVD I couldn't resist giving it a spin. Could the stories of its sheer stinkiness really be true? Though watching it alone at home is likely not the best way to experience Wiseau's oeuvre, it certainly was an experience I won't forget. Initially I just thought "Yeah, it's bad, but it's just boring", but that quickly morphed to "Well, this is pretty rotten I guess..." which (by the time of the second, uh, love scene) segued into "Oh geezus...". I'm not one for watching bad movies just because they're bad, but this was a whole other kind of bad.
- Congorama - Yet another reminder that I must dig deeper into Quebec cinema. There are some astoundingly good films that come from my home province - and this would be one of them.
- Floating Clouds - The delicately beautiful Hideko Takamine - one of Japan's great actresses - recently passed away. Of course I haven't seen anywhere close to the entirety of her 177 films (starting when she was 5 and spanning 50 years), but I can't imagine she was any better than in this Naruse classic. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow: here.
- The Man From Laramie - I went on a short Anthony Mann bender earlier this year and watched several of his Noirs and a few James Stewart Westerns. Not a bad one in the group and nary an inch of film that wasn't carefully framed and photographed. This was probably my favourite of the lot.
- Only Yesterday - Though less fantastical than most of the Studio Ghibli offerings, Isao Takahata's follow-up to "Grave Of The Fireflies" is filled with just as much wonder and gorgeous animation. It tells the story of Taeko, a mid-20s office worker who is somewhat spinning her wheels in her life and decides to take a vacation out to the country to visit some relatives. This decision causes numerous flashbacks to her days as a 10 year old 5th grader coping with a different set of struggles - boys, older sisters, unsupportive parents and the news that menstruation awaits her (that last item is one of the rumoured reasons why Disney - owners of the North American rights - have not released the film in Region 1). Thank you once again region-free DVD player. My review at J-Film Pow-Wow: here.
- Red Beard - For some reason I had put off seeing this Kurosawa classic - possibly due to what I thought was a weak sounding story, but more likely due to its 3 hour running time. A big screen showing at the Cinematheque couldn't be passed up and it turns out the dammed thing is magnificent. If it didn't quite nudge "Ran" out of my top Kurosawa spot, it wasn't for lack of trying.
- The Water Magician - The second annual Shinsedai Film Festival run by my good friend Chris MaGee was from all accounts a tremendous success this year - not least because of the rare screening of this wonderful silent feature complete with live music score. I babbled about it previously here.
- Mad Monkey Kung Fu - How do you get yourself out of a deep funk? You watch an old Shaw Brothers classic like "Mad Monkey Kung Fu". I have proof it works.
- Martin - Who knew George Romero could build real characters and craft subtle scenes? Oh, all of you who had previously seen "Martin"? Well, count me in that group now.
- Bride Of Chucky / Seed Of Chucky - Thanks again to Dennis Cozzalio (Quiz master par excellance and top notch Horror Dad) for flogging the greatness of these fourth and fifth installments to the Chucky saga. Those who worry about an excess of camp or that there can't possibly be anything new to bring to the Child's Play films are wrong, wrong, wrong. Hugely entertaining films both with sparkling performances from Jennifer Tilly.
- Quartermaster And The Pit - Oh Hammer Studios...Can you do no wrong?
- Gangster No. 1 - Spiffy and brutal British gangster pic.
- Modern Times - About time I got around to seeing this.
- The Gleaners And I - Art is never far from Varda – film, photography, painting, restoring old discarded items – and she lives her life in constant pursuit of it. This 2000 documentary about people who "glean" refuse and leftovers (sometimes simply to stay alive, but also for other purposes) is yet another example of her ability to bring forth humane and intelligent views on society, art and the world in which we live.
- Pushover - Perfect little compact Noir from the second Columbia Film Noir classics set that has Fred MacMurray digging himself deeper and deeper and deeper...On top of that, it was Kim Novak's first major film.
Favourite Repeat Viewing of 2010
- School Of Rock - I'm not sure why so many people didn't like Richard Linklater's 2003 "School Of Rock" - I suppose if you don't like Jack Black, you're pretty much out of luck in this case, but it felt like the hatred for it ran deeper. No matter, I really enjoyed it and have come back to it several times over the last few years. This year I showed it to my 10 year-old son and it was one of my favourite film experiences of the year. Not just because of the belly laughs he had regularly through the running time or the fact that he couldn't wait to watch it again and bring over some of his friends to see it (with me joining him again) or because it awakened a deeper interest in certain "classic rock" bands that are part of my own youth, but primarily because we talked about it at length...We talked about film techniques, improv, single takes, audio overdubs, the history of rock, editing choices and even music rights (the extra feature of Jack Black's plea to Led Zeppelin to grant permission to use "The Immigrant Song" is perfect). Maybe it just happened to fall at the right time and he was getting curious about a lot of this stuff anyway, but the film has now moved into a cherished little section of my memories.