I try to see as much as humanly possible of the films released in the U.S. each year before posting my Favorite & Least Favorite lists. Inevitably, there are always a handful of films I just can’t get to in time so I reserve the right to add them to this list as I see them.
In the meantime, with the Oscars just hours away, I will post what I have so far. For anyone who knows me at all, you know that I have a serious love/hate relationship with Oscar and the Hollywood film industry in general. There is the fact that many of my favorite films each year receive little-to-no Oscar attention while what I consider more mediocre fare ends up praised. Then there are those films I actually think of as being downright bad that receive Oscar’s top honor (BRAVEHEART, GLADIATOR, CRASH) that just makes my heart sink even lower.
But all this said, the truth of the matter is that it’s not Oscar’s fault. It’s mine. Like so may of us, I grew up with a notion of Hollywood and the Academy Awards that was built largely on naivete. And a personal desire. As I got older and actually started working in the industry, I quickly became aware that the Oscars were not really a celebration of film as art, but film as industry. It was a self-congratulatory party. Assuming or wishing it were something more is what I do with it in my head. Oscar itself has never pretended to be anything more than an evening of entertainment. What’s changed isn’t Oscar, but me. I want an awards show that recognizes true artistry in filmmaking and awards those who further the art form; those who take the greatest risks and offer us experiences unfamiliar. And yes, once in a while, a film of that caliber receives recognition, if only as a small nod.
Perhaps the reason for my disillusionment has to do with growing up in an era of 70’s filmmaking when films like THE GODFATHER both I & II would walk away with Best Picture Oscars. When THE FRENCH CONNECTION was the action film of the day. When horror films like THE EXORCIST or comedies like ANNIE HALL were recognized. The “product” Hollywood was putting out there was extraordinary for its time or any other. But since the boom of Wall Street (the industry, not the film), Hollywood has attracted many less interested in film as art, but film as successful business enterprise. And thankfully, there have been years when non-Hollywood indie films have swept the Oscars and that has fueled my optimism.
I suppose what always gets under my skin is that I would rather be watching an awards ceremony at Cannes or Berlin than the Oscars. I want to see and hear the speeches that these filmmakers are supposed to be given an opportunity to make. And if you’re a big enough star, you’ll get to make that speech. If you’re not, you will undoubtably be cut off in mid-sentence or, worse, relegated to a completely different night of celebration that takes place weeks in advance of the Oscars and is mentioned in a 60 second summarization by one of the evening’s hosts. But we are not privy to the details, speeches or lifetime achievement award receipts of these “less important” individuals. And why is this? Time. Time is of the essence. But what brings the whole affair down for me is that we will regretfully cut off someone’s speech, their moment to shine, their moment to express joy and gratitude, to instead make room for a bloated interpretive dance number honoring the ten Best Picture nominees or, worse, costume design. I guess I’m just the guy who is there to hear the speeches, to connect with the artists who have sacrificed and struggled and realized their dreams. That’s more important to me than Hugh Jackman showing off that he’s a great song and dance man. Save it for the Tony’s where it’s more appropriate (nothing against Mr. Jackman, mind you. I’m a fan, but everything in its place).
All this is to say that there are moments of Oscar that I love. And moments that feed directly into my most sensitive nerve regarding attitudes toward film and filmmakers that has grown increasingly further away from my perception and desire as to how I choose to engage in the medium. So I suppose my growth and the industry’s growth have not been on the same path for quite some time. And I must keep in mind, even when I was young and had dreams in my eyes of a universe where truly great films were recognized by the masses, films like the musical OLIVER! were awarded Best Picture Oscars over other films from the same year like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, FACES, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS, none of which were even nominated for best picture!
Throw in other films from that same year like THE LION IN WINTER, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, ROMEO AND JULIET, THE PRODUCERS, or even FUNNY GIRL. The Oscars were rarely a celebration of film as art, but film as entertainment with a nod toward artistry. Perhaps it’s a happy blending of the two. But as Mike Leigh (whose ANOTHER YEAR is among my faves of 2010) pointed out, Hollywood is just one place that makes movies on a planet where all different kinds of films are made with very differing approaches to how it can and is done. It’s something easy to forget when Oscar is seen as our grandest celebration of film. It is a very limited viewfinder that the world of film is seen and interpreted through. And so I shall try and enjoy what it IS, instead of what it is NOT. That is my mission for today. A New Year’s resolution of a sort.
On that note, here are the films from 2010 that have so far impressed me or left me cold. Everything is listed alphabetically:
BEST OF THE YEAR (SO FAR…)
127 HOURS (2010) *** ½
ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010) *** ½
ANOTHER YEAR (2010) *** ¾
BIUTIFUL (2010) *** ½
BLACK SWAN (2010) *** ½
BLUE VALENTINE (2010) *** ½
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (2010) *** ½
FISH TANK (2009-released in US 2010) *** ½
HIDEAWAY, THE (LE REFUGE – 2009-released in US 2010) *** ½
I AM LOVE (2010) ****
KICK –ASS (2010) *** ½
KING’S SPEECH, THE (2010) *** ½
RABBIT HOLE (2010) *** ½
RED RIDING TRILOGY (2009-released in US 2010) ****
SOMEWHERE (2010) *** ½
TANGLED (2010) *** ½
TOY STORY 3 (2010) *** ½
VALHALLA RISING (2009-released in US 2010) *** ½
WINTER’S BONE (2010) *** ½
CAIRO TIME (2009-released in US 2010) *** ¼
CYRUS (2010) *** ¼
GET LOW (2010) *** ¼
GHOST WRITER (2010) *** ¼
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 (2010) *** ¼
MESRINE PART 1: KILLER INSTINCT (2010) *** ¼
MESRINE PART 2: PUBLIC ENEMY #1 (2010) *** ¼
NEVER LET ME GO (2010) *** ¼
SOCIAL NETWORK, THE (2010) *** ¼
TEMPLE GRANDIN (TV – 2010) *** ¼
TILLMAN STORY, THE (2010) *** ¼
TRUE GRIT (2010) *** ¼
LIKED BUT DIDN’T LOVE
AMERICAN, THE (2010) ***
DESPICABLE ME (2010) ***
FIGHTER, THE (2010) ***
HEREAFTER (2010) ***
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON (2010) ***
HOWL (2010) ***
INCEPTION (2010) ***
MADE IN DAGENHAM (2010) ***
MONSTERS (2010) ***
[REC] 2 (2010) ***
TOWN, THE (2010) ***
BEST OLDER FILMS SEEN FOR FIRST TIME IN 2010:
BALLAST (2008) *** ½
BIGGER THAN LIFE (1956) *** ½
CHRISTMAS TALE, A (2008) ****
CLASH BY NIGHT (1952) *** ½
CLOSE UP (1990) ****
CRIME WAVE (1954) *** ½
DAMNED UNITED (2008) ****
HUMAN DESIRE (1954) ****
IN THE LOOP (2009) *** ½
LOLA MONTES (1955) ****
MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (1937) ****
METROPOLIS (Metoroporisu – 2001) *** ½
MOTHER (2009) *** ½
NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940) ****
PONYO (2008) *** ½
PORT OF CALL (1948) *** ½
PROPHET, A (2009) ****
REVANCHE (2008) *** ½
SECRET IN THEIR EYES, THE (2009) *** ½
SERAPHINE (2008) *** ½
SON, THE (aka LE FILS – 2002) *** ½
STONE TAPES, THE (1972) *** ½
SUMMER HOURS (2008) *** ½
TELL THEM ANYTHING YOU WANT: MAURICE SENDAK (2009) *** ½
TOKYO SONATA (2008) ****
WORST OF THE YEAR
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010) **
CENTURIAN (2010) **
LEGION (2010) *
WOLFMAN, THE (2010) **
BRIGHTON ROCK (2010) **
KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, THE (2010) ** ½
RED (2010) ** ¼
SHUTTER ISLAND (2010) ** ¼
I won’t comment on all of the above-mentioned films, but I will on a few. I AM LOVE was my favorite. Its Visconti-like stylization, melodrama and imagery just knocked me out. A thoroughly satisfying film that openly adores its Italian cinema roots.
Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR shows once again Mr. Leigh’s deep desire to create an environment in which rich, complex characters grow and thrive and reflect the beautiful, sad and joyous riches that make up the human animal.
BLACK SWAN showed us that darkness and experimentation still has a place in popular filmmaking and that sometimes taking a risk pays off handsomely.
SOMEWHERE was another offering by one of America’s few auteur young talents that insists on pushing the envelope and looking into places few dare to gaze. And she does it with her own unapologetic sensibility. Certainly a tool she harvested from both her father’s greatest artistic insights as well as his artistic missteps.
VALHALLA RISING, a visual poem embracing both the violence and beauty of the Viking era as if the viewer him/herself were on a religious quest not unlike the film’s characters.
RED RIDING TRILOGY, released theatrically here in the States early in 2010, offers three back-to-back films which are among the most powerful, dark, unsettling and viscerally effective films I’ve seen in ages.
BIUTIFUL, another masterfully bleak and beautiful film by Alejandro González Iñárritu who continues to make films that move me with their stirring images and deeply pained characters. I even loved BABEL when so many others derided it. There’s something about the world of this filmmaker that squirms deep under my skin and stays there.
And while I know I’m not alone here, I am in a minority not thinking that THE FIGHTER was a masterpiece. A solid film with terrific perfs, the script just wasn’t unique enough or daring enough to win my heart. And while Christian Bale’s performance was truly astounding, the time spent focusing on it took away, in my opinion, from time the storytellers should have spent developing our main character’s relationships (particularly with Amy Adams), which were sorely underdeveloped. On top of that, I sensed the filmmaker slightly mocking the world of his characters as if he were standing somewhere slightly above it. That, again in my opinion, will always keep an audience from truly entering the world of the film.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Well, thankfully there are more than enough people out there who agree with me on this one despite the outpouring of love and attention this film has garnered. I’ve always been a fan of director Cholodenko, but this time she teamed up with a commercial comedy writer and it shows. KIDS plays out like a Nancy Meyers’ film about lesbians. On top of that, I felt the film added to America’s confusion and misconception regarding whether or not homosexuality is a choice versus something you’re born with. The level of lust with which Julianne Moore’s character is attracted to Mark Ruffalo was incredibly unrealistic to me given the character’s set up and foundation. I found it socially unfortunate but, even worse, poor storytelling. When asked in a Q&A I attended as to why she decided to have this lesbian character so lustfully sleep repeatedly with a man, Cholodenko replied that she didn’t believe the film could be made otherwise. I certainly hope she’s wrong.
I also am personally tired of straight men being portrayed as incapable of moral, social or sexual boundaries. When it comes to matters of the penis, according to films like this, we men are nothing more than infants with no self-control whatsoever. Thank god Mark Ruffalo managed to bring a humanity to that character despite ultimately being relegated to the role of fall guy and defacto villain.
And SHUTTER ISLAND made me yearn for Scorsese to return to low-budget filmmaking once again.
But I was thrilled to see Patricia Clarkson in a romantic leading role in CAIRO TIME. A sweet film that also showcases the charming talents of Alexander Siddig, a wonderful and underutilized actor.
And TOY STORY 3 which maintains the notion that no one cares more about script than the folks at Pixar.
There can be no doubt that good films found their way onto American screens in 2010 whether they originated from within or outside our borders. But remember, there are hundreds of incredible, life-affirming, artistically challenging films that have never reached these shores outside of a festival screening, if that. There is a whole world of filmmaking that, compared to much of what you’ll see at the Oscars, could be considered the works of master chefs creating meals for those who yearn to taste something new, something unusual, unfamiliar, something offering an experience that can only be created through great love and understanding. Something many of us will never taste. Unless we seek it out.