Friday, March 4, 2011

Top 10 of 2010: Part I

Last Saturday night I convinced the wifey and a friend to go check out Biutiful, the Best Foreign Film-nominee from this year starring Javier Bardem.  It was the last on my list that I really wanted to see before the Oscars on Sunday.  It was a great film, in my opinion--certainly memorable in many respects, mostly because of Bardem's ridiculously good performance and for the gritty texture of the Barcelona underbelly that director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu incorporated into the film.  (FYI--it's really gave my wife a headache for the rest of the night (or did she just make that up for other reasons?  Did I just say that out loud?), so if you don't like watching grown men wearing diapers because they can't control themselves, or seeing red urine, or several dead bodies, or a movie that gives you a general feeling of hopelessness, then I wouldn't recommend it, even though I enjoyed it.)

Anyway, my point in bringing up this movie is this: I spent much of this winter and early spring prognosticating about the Oscars--I read blogs, saw any film I could that was nominated for anything, made my own predictions, etc., etc; but when I came home from a really great Oscar party at a friend's house, after all of the hooplah and hype of the Oscars ended, I didn't sit in my living room thinking about the results of the Oscars--I was still thinking about Biutiful, a film that won zero awards, and I didn't even care.

The Oscars can certainly validate a film, and obviously I think exceptional films deserve recognition.  But when it comes down to it for me, when I think about what films I really like, I don't think about it in terms of awards--I think about it in terms of why it stuck with me, why it was personal to me.  So, in each of the write-ups for my Top-10 of 2010, I tried to write a little about why the film stuck with me, because ultimately, that is what's important.

10.  The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski’s most successful films follow the same, simple equation:  Atmosphere + Suspense.  It’s a winning combination.  Whether it’s the private-investigator thriller set in bleak, depression-era Los Angeles (Chinatown), or a Jewish man hiding out and fighting for his life in Nazi-occupied Poland (The Pianist), or a political-thriller set on a creepy and isolated New England island as in this film, the coupling of these two elements in his films build a beautiful crescendo resulting in an edge-of-your-seat experience.

Polanski: mastering the art of suspense, thrill, and subversion
of the American justice system.
Ewan MacGregor, who for my money is always worth the price of admission, gives a great performance as a cocky writer who gets in a little over his head on a gig to ghost write the memoirs of a recently ousted British Prime Minster (Pierce Brosnan).  Secrets surrounding the PM’s term have been locked up (literally), and MacGregor’s character begins to fear for his safety after he starts to suspect that something’s up. 

Why This One Stuck With Me:
It’s not that the story of political corruption was anything particularly new or groundbreaking, it’s more that the execution here from director Polanski was so tight and flawless that the whole thing was just a thrill-ride. 

(Yep, went through that whole review without making any statutory rape jokes about Polanski.  Ease off the man people! He made Chinatown for goodness sakes!!)

9.  Inception

Written about exhaustively on this blog, I’ve now had seven months to reflect and, recently, give it another watch.  My ultimate boil-it-down take on the film is this: it is a visionary, unique, yet flawed piece of filmmaking.  The entertainment value that Nolan brings to the table is enough to squeeze in here at #9.  The flaws come in the form of too much exposition in the writing and through what I think was horrible miscasting in Ellen Page (she really sticks out like a sore thumb). 

However, on my recent rewatch, I really upped my appreciation for many of Nolan’s shot selections and the general visual feast that the producers put together, not to mention Hans Zimmer’s Oscar-nominated score. 

(Okay, let’s get real though for one second: don’t we all know at least ONE person who thinks they’re really smart (even though they’re not) for liking this movie just because it seems smart to them, and doesn’t that really annoy you?  I can think of 5 people like that, right now.  Is that a mean thing to say?)

Why This One Stuck With Me:

The little things.  The zero-gravity/rotating hallway fight scene is good enough scene to cure many ills in the movie.  The beautiful design elements that made up Cobb/Mal’s dreamworld were pure art.  The inner-dream manipulation of Fisher was great writing by Nolan.  The look on Cobb’s face at the end when he (spoilers!) wakes up from limbo is a great piece of acting from DiCaprio. 

8.  127 Hours

Maybe Danny Boyle should have
directed the Academy Awards, too.
James Franco’s turn in this latest Danny Boyle film is undoubtedly better than his performance as host of the 83rd Academy Awards (seriously though, was he high? Or just nervous?  Both maybe? I’m not sure which was more sad—his lack of enthusiasm or Anne Hathaway’s desperate attempt to make up for it.  Please join my “J-Lake for Host Next Year” campaign.  Thanks.) 

Boyle & Franco do a great job at providing the energy needed to sustain a story set almost entirely in a claustrophobic environment (screenwriter Simon Beaufoy should also be credited for this), while keeping the character and the story tender enough that you care about every minor success and failure that happens to him.

Why This One Stuck With Me:

The various sounds effects, split-screens, frantic editing, camera shots through tubes and in a Nalgene bottle, and a couple of trippy dream-sequences all made for a memorable film that has a harder edge than Slumdog Millionaire without succumbing to as much sappiness, yet does have a message worth telling. 

7.   The King’s Speech

Unfortunately, this fine piece of cinema is already drawing comparisons to Shakespeare in Love, Ordinary People, and Rocky (Best Picture winners that beat out “clearly” superior films), which I find to be a little bit of an overreaction.  This film is still really good in its own right, despite whatever “better” films it may have beat out. 

As I tweeted after I saw it, Colin Firth gave the most dedicated performance of the year, even though it’s not my favorite.  The chemistry between him and Geoffrey Rush was pure gold, and Helena Bonham Carter was certainly worthy of her nomination as a comforting wife to Bertie. 

Why This One Stuck With Me:

I’ve found that in many British movies, especially period pieces, there is a certain cold, standoff-ish type quality to the style of the film, (see: Gosford Park) and perhaps this has as much to do with rigid British subject matter as anything.  However, Speech deals with some of the same material (royalty, family politics) but with a warmer and more inviting approach.  Say what you want about Tom Hooper’s Best Director win, but his first two films have each made my top-10 of the year lists (The Damned United in 2009, which I wrote about here), and I think he’s got a great career ahead of him.

6.  L'Illusioniste (animated)

The art in The Illusionist is simply breathtaking.  
Like in another certain Pixar animated film that came out in 2010 (which just missed my list, by the way), the central character in Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist is a man who begins to feel that his usefulness in society is decreasing considerably.  This gorgeously hand-drawn film follows an aging magician and his stowaway partner (a young girl) through various beautiful locales in England, Scotland and France. 

Chomet’s story touches on several thematic subjects, which is pretty impressive considering its 80-minute runtime, and the fact that there is maybe 2 lines of dialogue in the whole thing.  At its center, as I mentioned, is a man facing the changes and progress of the mid-20th century while trying desperately to hold on to his dignity, while his young friend is very much representative of that younger generation ushering in the change. 

Why This One Stuck With Me:

Because the Chaplin-esque nature of the film had me grinning ear to ear for much of it.   Because in my lifetime I can only hope to see such beautiful animation again.  Because the film’s story may intentionally allude to the demise of 2D animation—just as the magician in this story tries to work hard to provide shiny new things for his lady companion, but can’t quite give her all that she wants, so goes our society’s thirst for the new—whether it be computer-generated animation or 3D technology, or whatever the next new thing will be.

And because, despite this, for my money I find unequaled richness and depth in this most human of mediums. 

Side note: my last point is even further evidenced by the fact that this film played on exactly ONE screen for a measly two weeks in the 4th biggest city in the nation.  So, so sad. 

Check back early next week for the unveiling of my top 5 of the year!


Anonymous said...

Another blogger suggested RDJ for host next year... I thought that was a good suggestion, too.

Phil Dickinson said...

Kim Cattrall's accent in the Ghost Writer should have knocked it out of the top 10.