Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Top 10 of 2010: Part II

If you missed it, check out my numbers 10-6 below.  Now, before unveiling my top-5, here are ten runners-up that just missed the cut, in no particular order:

Winter’s Bone
Easy A
The Kids Are All Right
Toy Story 3
True Grit
The Fighter
Inside Job

5.  Blue Valentine

So what if I have a man-crush on Gosling?
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give two of the best performances of the year in this relationship drama directed by Derek Cianfrance.  The film starts off with a minor tragedy and from there it doesn’t really let in many glimmers of hope afterward.  It was honestly a little bit grittier than I was expecting, though that doesn’t take away from the film, but I’m not sure it really added anything, either (sure, I’d love to see an abortion performed!).  However, the reason that it works so well is because the director really allowed Gosling and Williams to stretch their acting legs; it was obvious that there was a healthy balance between adhering to the script and giving the actors the freedom to perform their own interpretations of the characters.

Why This One Stuck With Me:

It’s simple: anyone who is married that has seen this would agree that aspects of the relationship in this movie are painfully realistic, and if they don’t then they are lying.  Some things I didn’t identify with personally, but a lot of things I did.  There is a universal nature to the portrayal while keeping it specific enough to tell an entertaining story.

4.  Another Year

I wrote in no uncertain terms how I felt about this movie by Mike Leigh about six weeks ago here, and time has only strengthened my stance that for me this is an unforgettable movie, although I realize that it’s not a film for everyone, unlike, say, The King’s Speech is (and I know that statement sounded douchey but I really don’t mean it that way—one of my biggest movie pet peeves is when someone makes a dismissive statement like “you just didn’t get it,” that kind of thing makes me want to pour a scalding-hot latte in the lap of whoever says it.  All I mean is that I recognize that this particular type of slow moving story without much of a rising and falling action is not really everyone’s cup of tea...it’s not always my cup of tea, either, for that matter.). 

Anyway, as I stated in my review, the film follows a retirement-age couple, Tom & Gerri, and their various friends and family members that come around during the course of a literal year in their lives.  I read something interesting recently about how director Leigh crafts the script for his films: he makes rough outlines for each character in the film, and then spends a great deal of time working with each of the actors he casts in order to write the arc of each character.  Only then is the overall script of the film put together.  I found this to be very intriguing and it explains the amazing detail that each of the characters in his films typically have, and this film is no different. 

Why This One Stuck With Me:

Time plays a bittersweet character in this film.  For some of the characters, such as Mary and Ken, the passing of the year in the film reinforces their feelings of loneliness, their inability to attain the relationship that Tom & Gerri have.  But for some of the other characters, time is good: the birth of a child occurs, a new relationship is formed, brothers are reunited, etc. 

Tom & Gerri are able to push through some of the bad things that happen to them throughout the course of the year because of their love and respect for each other, and because they take the time to enjoy the blessings they have.  Happiness many times is a choice that we all must make in the face of both good and bad in our lives.  No other film this year gave me so much to reflect on inwardly and made me think for such a long time afterward.

3. Exit Through The Gift Shop

The mysterious Banksy.
The most unique and fresh film of the year, undoubtedly.  As I wrote about back in the summer, this follows an odd (see: borderline insane) French man, Guetta, who films everything in his life, and is particularly interested in LA street art.  As this interest turns to obsession, he finds out about Banksy, a famous British street artist and begins to document his work.

But the real fun and interesting part of the story comes when Banksy tells Guetta that he should be making his own art.  Guetta comes up with the moniker “Mr. Brainwash,” and begins selling completely unoriginal art at ridiculous prices just because he has the endorsement of Banksy behind him.  Banksy effectively turns the camera back around on Guetta and begins to document this transformation, and the result is basically a big “screw you” to not only the art community, but also, the public at large who gets duped by Mr. Brainwash’s somewhat worthless art.

Why This One Stuck With Me:

This was the year of the “fakeumentary”: Joaquin Phoenix’s I’m Still Here was admitted to be fake, while there are questions as to the events depicted in Catfish and this film.  For me, however, it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other whether or not this film is “real,” and perhaps even makes it better if it’s not.  I mean, what is the definition of “real” anyway when it comes to documentaries?  It’s not as if no documentary filmmaker has ever manipulated the facts of their subject in order to make a point (*cough* Michael Moore *cough).  And it’s even less of a big deal here than say, a film supporting a particular political viewpoint, because Gift Shop is really, at it’s core, just a commentary on society in general, and that point is made whether it’s completely real, completely fake, or somewhere in between. 

2.  Black Swan

One of the only films in my top-10 that I haven’t written about at some point.  From the first scene, as Nina (Natalie Portman) dances an oddly freaky duet in her dream with the Swan King, I knew that this was going to be unlike anything I had ever seen, and it absolutely was.  Nina is cast as the swan princess in “Swan Lake,” and goes through an unforgettable transformation as she tries to shed her sheltered, over-mothered persona in order to be able to play the role of the sexy and confident black swan. 

Portman’s performance was great, obviously, but the real star of the film for me is director Darren Aronofsky.  I love “director-centric” movies just in general, and Aronofksy’s style is ever-present--he never lets you forget that he is there, controlling every suspenseful, hallucinogenic moment as Nina tries desperately to set herself free from her own restraint.  Adding to the horror elements of the film is the score by Clint Mansell, which, for the most part uses Tchaikovsky’s score from the original ballet.  It is extremely effective. 

Why This One Stuck With Me:

Have you ever seen a ballet-centered horror film?  Kind of hard to forget, really.  On top of this, Aronofsky is one of maybe five modern directors that I would say is responsible for getting me into film, and he is definitely at the top of his game here in a fully-realized piece of cinema.  Black Swan doesn’t have the humanity of The Wrestler, or the visual beauty of The Fountain, or even the visceral grittiness of Requiem for a Dream, though it does have a little of each.  But what it does have is a story that grabs you by the scalp and doesn’t let go; beautiful, dark, and richly-layered cinematography and camera-work; amazing performances by Portman, Hershey, and Kunis; and a few unforgettable moments involving random body parts.

1.  The Social Network

Was there any doubt?

I haven’t been shy at any point about expressing my fanboy-esque love for this film by David Fincher.  When it came out, I wrote a review here proclaiming it as the best movie to come out in some two years, and 3(!) rewatches have only made it better.  Since I’ve already reviewed it extensively here and in a live-tweet session I had a few weeks ago, I’ll spare you more gushing and skip straight to the “why it stuck with me” section.

Why This One Stuck With Me:

Instead of looking at the film from a broad perspective, since most of you have seen it by now, there are several great details that I’ll point out instead:

1.  Acting: When Mark meets with the Winklevoss twins, they ask him about the mp3 software he created (that Microsoft apparently tried to purchase), and he says he uploaded it for free.  The Winklevii ask him why he did this, and he just shrugs his shoulders with a cold blank stare, as if to say, “why not.”  Perfect acting by Eisenberg. Perfect.

2.  Screenplay: During the first scene of the movie, Mark says that he needs to do something to get the attention of the clubs.  He wants to be a part of an exclusive group, which leads to parties, and “a better life.”  At the end of the film, while facebook employees are having a celebration for their 1 millionth user (or was it 10 million? Can’t remember), Mark stays behind at the office after betraying his friend, missing out on a party of the club that he essentially himself created.  Brilliant writing by Mr. Sorkin.

3.  Cinematography: After the breakup scene at the beginning, we follow Mark on the Harvard campus as he goes toward his dorm while the opening credits roll.  The dark and glossy sheen typically used by Fincher is very present during this scene.  His digital camera captures so much detail, as lampposts and moonlight reflect the wet streets and ivy-league cobblestone walkways.  All of this is made appropriately ominous through Trent Reznor’s score in this scene. 

4.  Direction: Of all the many possibilities that I could point out, the one that stands out (and I tweeted about this earlier) for me is the scene in the San Fran nightclub with Mark and Sean.  As Sean is manipulating Mark, the waving beams of light flash across his face—bright hues of red, purple, green, yellow, etc.  Conversely, when the camera shows Mark’s face, softer colors of white, and muted yellows and pinks are reflected (full disclosure--the wifey pointed this out to me the first time we saw it--she is infinitely more perceptive than I am).  

This is just one detail that director Fincher incorporated into the movie, and when you put every little detail together like this, there is no doubt that it is one of the most accomplished works of cinema this year.

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