Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top 30 Films of 2010

Otherwise titled, Tristan's 2010 Films Awards, Part 3.

I'm going to run some commentary as I go along so I'll keep the upfront talk to a minimum, but just to reiterate, 2010 was a pretty darn good year.  Hell, I could probably have stretched it to 40 with the likes of Please Give, Inception, True Grit, Easy A, Restrepo, How To Train Your Dragon, and even the totally bizarre Wild Grass.  But instead you get 30, which is a totally arbitrary number, though it does allow me to give shout outs to a few other films that I couldn't fit into the rest of the nominations, but are still worth a look.  But since this is has accidentally turned into the Old Country Buffet of awards lists, I'm going to be forced to make my cinematic ruminations similarly indigestible.  So be warned, little actual insight ahead.

Shall we proceed?

30. Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (Isabel Coixet)
Maybe it's not a good way to start a list with a film that I would call a mild disappointment, but I've been impressed with both Coixet and Rinko Kikuchi before and given the premise, I thought this tale of a Tokyo assassin has a lot of potential.  Turns out it was just good, enough to land a spot in my top 30, but then again, barely.  It's lovely to look at, and I can't fault the performances, but until the very end, it's a bit lethargic.

 29. Alamar (Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio)
Here's another gorgeous film to behold (look at that frame above, and if this suffers from anything, it's from being too fleeting.  It's a tranquil blend of documentary and fiction, and an insightful look into a culture that from a city-dweller's perspective seems full of simple pleasures.

28. Let Me In (Matt Reeves)
Egads, a remake!  And of the most sacred of all vampire movies no less. Sorry purists, I liked this one better, maybe not a lot better, because Let The Right One In was good too, but it is soooooo not even in the top 20 best vampire flicks ever.  And yes, I do hate puppies.

27. Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong)
Some truly impressive, heavy Korean drama, the kind that cycles through 360 degrees of emotions in its nearly two and a half hour running time.  It's anchored by not one, but two terrific performances, and though future generations of film buffs will debate what year it actually garnered a release, it's down in my book as 2010.

26. Night Catches Us (Tanya Hamilton)
One of the better surprises of last year for me was this underrated gem from first time director Tanya Hamilton.  Sure, it helps that we get the always dependable Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington, and a killer score by The Roots, but even the direction feels surprisingly assured for someone right out of the gate.  Looking forward to seeing more from her.

25. Micmacs (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
It's no Amelie, but it probably rivals that as Jeunet's most fun film, which is to say it's never too bogged down by weirdness not to be simply enjoyable.  The main character lacks the spark of most Jeunet regulars, but the supporting crew is top-notch and a true delight to observe.

24. 127 Hours (Danny Boyle)
Funny that I still can't decide how whether I love this film or just really like it.  I do love Boyle's kinetic direction and A.R. Rahman's soaring score, but it's also the kind of film that without these elements I would otherwise want nothing to do with (see Castway).  Rest assured, any obstacles to the grueling human survival story are more than overcome here, and I really have no complaints to lodge whatsoever, but I also know that there are several other Boyle films I prefer to this one, including the far more uneven, if no less ambitious, Sunshine.

23. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold)
Another great surprise, and one that I kept putting off all year because I wasn't sure I'd like it.  Wrong.  It seems to particularly hit its stride when dealing with the problems of love in all the wrong places, and Michael Fassbinder gives a terrific performance alongside amateur Katie Jarvis.

22. Around a Small Mountain (Jacques Rivette)
Alright, I cheat.  I saw this film back in 2009 at the New York Film Festival and even included it on my yearly awards last year.  But it didn't get a theatrical release until 2010, so in an effort to course correct, I'm considering eligible once again.  It also may very well end up being Jacques Rivette's final film, so how could I not include it twice?

21. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance)
A bit of a downer, this one is, but thanks to two fantastic performances at the center, a beautiful downer through and through.  The flashback sequences and the central scenes in the sleazy motel with a "Future Room" were highlights.

20. Red Riding: 1974 (Julian Jarrod)
The start of murder mysteries are always so much more fascinating than the conclusions, aren't they?  That's why this first chapter in this saga of investigative journalism and police procedurals is the best of the bunch.  It also stars Andrew Garfield, Sean Bean, and a bloody fantastic Rebecca Hall.  Worthy a look?  Absolutely.

19. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
A superbly taught prison film that probably demands I justify why it's not higher on my list.  Well, I personally consider it a victory for prison films, a genre which I have very little interest in, that I could love something as much as I did this.  Tahar Rahim is a force to be reckoned with, and his transformation over the course of the film is surely one of the best performances of last year.

18. Animal Kingdom (David Michod)
One of the best written films of last year is this terrific Aussie crime drama of a family on its slow and steady way out.  A handful of great performances across the ensemble bring each character into the picture and wisely not all at once.  It's fantastic storytelling, and totally deserving of the supporting actress nod for Jacki Weaver, playing the menacing matriarch of the clan.

17. The Social Network (David Fincher)
Count me in the Social Network should have won camp, although I don't really hold a grudge against The King's Speech, which was perfectly enjoyable Oscar bait.  Here's a film that's certainly not without a few flaws, but it's timely as hell, and ambitious to boot.  The writing is sharp, if sometimes too clever, but thanks to Fincher's totalitarian hand in it all, everyone is playing to their strengths.  I'm eager to rewatch it, and I can see it gaining in my ranks even more, but suffice it to say, I'm impressed.  Fincher and I haven't always agreed in the past, but I'd call this a great success.

16. White Material (Claire Denis)
Claire Denis is probably the finest female director working today, and while I don't always love her films (though some, some I love unconditionally), I always leave them feeling totally familiar with her very regional approach to filmmaking.  Here she returns to Africa, the continent of two of her greatest successes, Beau Travail and Chocolat (no, not that one) and with the incomparable Isabelle Huppert at the front, she creates her finest film since Friday Night.  Beautiful and brutal at the same time.

15. Terribly Happy (Henrik Ruben Genz)
Best described as a Danish Hot Fuzz with the stakes upped considerably (Miles, I think you get credit for that), this was still one of the most entertaining movies I saw last year, and probably one of the best written.  Great performances - wish I could have singled some out - and I really loved the ending.  And with this one being instant-watchable, there's no excuse to miss it.

14. Winter's Bone (Debra Granik)
Given how much I hated Frozen River, I worried that I would be in for more of the same with Winter's Bone.  Couldn't have been more wrong.  As Ree Dolly, Jennifer Lawrence gives a tremendous performance, and she's tenacious enough to make a compelling protagonist out of.  The assist from John Hawkes only makes things better.

13. Vincere (Marco Bellocchio)
It's good to see the Italian movie industry on the rebound after a long and mostly unremarkable period following the passing of Fellini and the heyday of Giallo.  Marco Bellocchio's Vincere is a great feat of directing and a bold look into a side of Mussolini's life most are not familiar with.

12. The American (Anton Corbijn)
Here's one you probably have heard of, though that unfortunately doesn't mean this fantastic old-school, art house action film had been seen enough.  If you're wondering why, my description above should clear things up for you.  The American was just insanely good on a level I never expected of it, while Clooney doesn't have to do anything but carry himself like the classic movie star he is, I for one could use a little more of that in movies these days.  Unfortunately, he's one of the few who can pull that off.

11. Tangled (Nathan Greno and Byron Howard)
OK, here's one you've definitely heard of, and also the highest ranked film on the list not to show up in my previous nominations.  Tangled was exactly what I was looking for after finally having grown disenchanted with the unstoppable reign of Pixar.  Here's a film aiming specifically to recapture the glory of Disney's 90s era and damn near almost achieving it.  That's fucking impressive, and if it's still no Beauty and the Beast, it does so much right that I feel comfortable calling it a return to form.  The music was merely good, but the voice-work was fantastic and the art direction was stunning.  See above.

Which leaves us right on the doorstep of the top 10.  Drumroll, please.

10. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
Speaking of return to forms, here is Roman Polanski, at nearly 80 years old, turning out a most assured and masterful thriller that only just falls short of his masterpieces of ages past.  It helps that it goes out on such a memorable note - the final shot is picture, and jesus does it stick with you - but I knew right from when I saw it in March of '10 that it would remain one of my favorites of the year.  Plus, Olivia Williams gets to be awesome, and that alone will win me over every time.

9. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
Carlos the Jackal gets an epic 6-hour feature film (or depending on your viewing platform, miniseries) from the multi-talented European art-house extraordinaire Olivier Assayas.  It's a monumental undertaking and easily one of the great cinematic achievements of the year, which makes it seem almost unfair to stack it up against these other measly two-hour features.  But my awe at the ambition of the project aside, I think it looks good right here in spot number 9.

8. Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek)
Here's one where I won't spoil any surprises, because part of my love for this film was from how off-guard the turn in its premise got me (I haven't read the book, though now I know I must).  What I will say is that this is an overwhelming tragedy, and on a list with quite a few of those already, it handily trumps them all.  It's also got a trio of terrific performances from Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Kiera Knightly (who we can all stop hating now, right? because she's awesome), and some gloriously gloomy visuals.  Must see melancholia.

7. Ondine (Neil Jordan)
My, my, what a beautiful movie.  More than just turning his career around midway through last decade, Colin Farrell has actually grown into one of the finest working actors we have, and that he can take time so make such a stunning modern day fairy tale as Ondine is testament that he's finally got things figured out.  In fact, this could very well have made my top three except the script kind of fumbles the third act, but not nearly enough for me to turn against it.

6. Mother (Boon Jong-ho)
Here's the other film that appeared on my awards last year, garnering a similarly respectable placement.  Actually, considering that it's former inclusion probably influenced my ranking slightly, Mother would be totally deserving of a place in the top 5, and it was agonizing to decide between these.  There's really nothing I would change about this thriller, which from all I can tell is flawless from top to bottom, all stemming, of course, from Kim Hye-ja's phenomenal performance.  It's also a great entry point to Korean cinema, and just happens to be one of the best I've seen so far as well.

5. Another Year (Mike Leigh)
The film from last year that proved most impossible for me to shake, and it just steadily rose in my rankings the more I contemplated it that it settled all the way here at number 5.  Another Year is really just a continuation of Mike Leigh's career long probing of the UK working class, but it rings so true and delivers a brutal punch in the gut that could only ever happen from realizing how human these characters are.

4. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)
Bluebeard is important because it forced me to challenge the preconceived notion that I hated Catherine Breillat and her approach to filmmaking.  Granted, this bears little resemblance to the odious Fat Girl, but I still put this off for some time for fear of repeating past mistakes.  But instead, she's gives us an exquisite fairy tale (a recurring genre for me this year, like, really really recurring), executed with a minimalist touch that no one save Robert Bresson could have done better.  Quite and enchanting, it's everything I love in a movie, including its ability to confound my expectations.

3. Enter The Void (Gaspar Noe) 
The stuff of dreams and nightmares.  If you dig Gaspar Noe and his self-indulgent cinematic explorations (as I tend to), this may trend more toward dream, but for those not on board, it's going to be an interminable few hours.  At least the visuals are gasp-inducing, and even if I thought they were empty (which, nope, I don't) then they would still elevate the entire film to the level of something, well, something on the far left field of cinema.

2. The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet)
Here's a recurring theme across every list of Tristan's favorites: I love animation.  Love it.  More than my unborn children (one of which who will almost certainly be named Nausicaa).  And what a coincidence, I also love Jacques Tati, the late, great master of French comedy.  So ever since I got word that Sylvain Chomet, of Triplets of Belleville fame, was adapting an unfilmed script of Tati's, I knew I would be there opening night.  It turned out to not quite be opening night, but I was there sure enough, and to use the most obvious term, it felt magical.  There's so much love and affection behind these characters, and such breathtaking animation surrounding them, not to mention that it made for the perfect love letter to one of the greatest directors of all time.  And even with a heart-breaking turn of events at the end, it's still never less than enchanting, and without doubt one of my favorites of the year.

1. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)
"It was perfect."

Much like Inglourious Basterds last year, Black Swan attempts off the bold feat of ending the film on a singular line that doubles as a self-appraisal.  And like Inglourious Basterds, against all odds, this somehow works.  No, the film isn't perfect, or not in the seamless sense that most will take it.  There are rough edges, a few inconsistencies, and a few lines of dialogue that just don't ring true, but whatever, perfection in that sense can often translate to boring, and I like my films a little rough around the edges.

I also like them, from time to time, to be batshit insane and not give a tinker's damn about the overrated concept of subtlety.  Black Swan is so committed to its indulgences that I can't help but stand in awe of Darren Aronofsky for pulling it all off, and that goes especially for the spectacular climax, the year's most superbly orchestrated scene by miles and miles.  Throw in a career defining performance by Natalie Portman and you've got what's sure to be one of my favorite pictures of the decade, let alone year. 

Thanks for dropping by everyone!  Looking forward to the year ahead, with a few great films already under my belt and some promising ones on the nearby horizon in Tree of Life and Melancholia.

And I don't know exactly how soon this is happening, but I have an exciting side-project along with a cinematic wiz-kid friend of mine that I can't wait to unleash on you all.  In due time though.


Monday, April 25, 2011

2010 Film Awards: Part 2

Welcome to the flashy and star-whorey portion of the program.  Yes, it's time for the acting awards, where I'll count down the 10 best performances of the year in each category, always wearing my biases shamelessly.  Watch as I consistently opt to recognize the young and pretty people, like Jacki Weaver, Barry Pepper, and that guy who plays Filch in the Harry Potter movies (his name is actually David Bradley, and he's awesome).  What you should know is that is was a phenomenal year for actresses.  One of the best ever, possibly, and everyone in my top eight would have been a deserving winner in any other year.  The rest of the categories, I was less enthusiastic overall, but that shouldn't demean the nominees one bit, and certainly not the superb batch of winners.  This will all be followed by tea and refreshments, or at the very least, the countdown for Best Director.

Here's a teaser for you.  I hate ties, but in the case of one category below, I saw no other option.  It wouldn't have been possible for me to decide one way or another.  I also may have cheated by ranking one actor according to not one performance, but three.  The alternative was nominating him three separate times and Ryan Gosling and his shaky #10 spot would so not have approved of that.

Speaking of teasers, here's a few for the Top 30.
1. Out of the 30 films, 6 will have received no prior nominations at my awards.
2. The highest of these clocks in at #11.
3. That being said, the films with the most nominations aren't necessarily clustered at the top.  Several films in the top 10 have only 2 other nominations.
4. 6 films out of 30 were directed by women.
5. 9 films are Oscar nominees.

That's something for you to sip on while we move onto tonight's main event.

Best Supporting Actress
This is the odd year where Lead Actress is commanding most of my attention.  The truth is that Supporting Actress is usually my favorite category.  This nice mix of the young and up-and-coming ladies with a few seasoned vets shows why.  They range from scene-stealers with limited roles to glamor icons doing far more with a glance than any dialogue they're given.  Topping the list are two women who I've been dying to award for a while now, with the winner in particular giving one of the best performances of her career.  And runners up?  Sure, I can think of a few.  How about Mia Wasilkowska for The Kids Are Alright and Barbara Hershey for Black Swan?  Speaking of which.

10. Mila Kunis in Black Swan

9. Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom

8. Blake Lively in The Town

7. Marion Cotillard in Inception

6. Kristen Scott-Thomas in Nowhere Boy

5. Rooney Mara in The Social Network

4. Kiera Knightly in Never Let Me Go

3. Alison Barry in Ondine

2. Rebecca Hall in Red Riding: 1974

1. Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer

Best Supporting Actor
Here's a usually fun category that's looking quite serious this year despite a couple of oddball turns mixed in for good measure.  2010 was a terrible year for comedy, so there's very little of that, but it sure was a great year for character actors to rise to the occasion.  Out of the 10 actors listed here, only one of them has much mainstream acceptance, the rest are by varying degrees obscure, foreign, forgotten, or from the magic land of TV.  And once again, I couldn't be happier with my winner.  A great performance from a truly under-appreciated actor.  Runner up: the guys in Micmacs and also Armie Hammer.  Wish I had room for him.

10. Stephen Rea in Ondine

9. Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom

8. Kieran Culkin in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

7. Niels Arestrup in A Prophet

6. Barry Pepper in True Grit

5. Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

4. David Bradley in Another Year

3. Vincent Cassel in Black Swan

2. Peter Wight in Another Year

1. John Hawkes in Winter's Bone

Best Lead Actor
Gentleman, I can't think of a single thing you all have in common, except that I somehow still preferred you all to James Franco despite liking 127 Hours a lot.  That is definitely the big head-scratcher omission here, although I did still find room for one of the Academy's nominees.  Oh, and this would be the category were I cheated and combined three performances into one slot.  And a very respectable spot that is.  Runner up: James Franco.

10. Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine

9. Michael Fassbender in Fish Tank

8. Jim Broadbent in Another Year

7. Jessie Eisenberg in The Social Network

6. Song Kang-ho in Secret Sunshine

5. Anthony Mackie in Night Catches Us

4. Tahar Rahim in A Prophet

3. Colin Farrell in Ondine

2. Andrew Garfield in The Social Network/Never Let Me Go/Red Riding 1974

1. Edgar Ramirez in Carlos

Best Lead Actress
What a year for actresses, huh?  Even the Academy put together its best lineup since 1996 and that's with the inclusion of the so-so Bening.  Hell, I found room for three of those ladies here, a handful of terrific foreign performances, and even a surprisingly great turn in a genre series nearing its end.  Oh, and there's clearly something amazing happening in Korean film right now, so I kinda couldn't help but notice that.  My top 3 all would be winners in any just world, and yes, one of them technically already is, but we all know that my awards carry just a little more prestige than the Oscars.  As for the winner, I probably should have seen it coming, since this is not the first time this director has lead his leads to all-time list.  Runner's up: Ruth Sheen in Another Year, Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole

10. Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

9. Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine

8. Isabelle Huppert in White Material

7. Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone

6. Giovanna Mezzogiorno in Vincere

5. Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go

4. Jeon Do-yeon in Secret Sunshine

3. Natalie Portman in Black Swan

2. Kim Hye-ja in Mother

1. Lesley Manville in Another Year

Best Director
The best indicator yet of what my Top 30 list is going to look like, below are the 10 directors responsible for some of the greatest cinematic feats of last year.  All have excelled in very different ways, from animation to working class realism, from minimalism to, well, maximalism.  And all capped off with two singular visions that find the respective directors at the absolute peak of their powers.  That's why there's a tie here for first place.  Not only could I not choose between them, but I would never expect either director to create something so remarkable ever again.  That's not an expression of doubt, since I was never expecting something so extraordinary in the first place.  In light of that, I thought it only fair to declare a tie.  Runners Up: Claire Denis for White Material and Neil Jordan for Ondine.

10. Sylvain Chomet for The Illusionist

9. Danny Boyle for 127 Hours

8. Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer

7. Catherine Breillat for Bluebeard

6. Bong Joon-ho for Mother

5. Marco Bellocchio for Vincere

4. Olivier Assayas for Carlos

3. Mike Leigh for Another Year

1. Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
1. Gaspar Noe for Enter the Void

And that should tide you over until tomorrow night, when the grand spectacle of the Top 30 is unleashed on the world.  Thanks for watching.