Sunday 2 January 2011

The Best Films of 2010, 10-1

10. Another Year
The multiplicity of responses generated by the characters inhabiting Mike Leigh's latest - are Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen's Tom and Gerri models of aspirational ordinariness, a deeper-rooted smugness, or something else entirely? - suggests the hand of a master dramatist: for me, this played host to many of the director's best (which is to say most honest) scenes and moments since 2000's Topsy-Turvy.

9. La Danse: The Paris-Opera Ballet
Another monumental act of observance from the still-underdistributed documentarist Frederick Wiseman, its camera describing the shape of a building, the infrastructure of an organisation, and the movements of elite dancers in such a way as to render them utterly compelling for even non-balletomanes prone to sniggering at the merest mention of The Nutcracker. Such as myself.

8. City of Life and Death
2006's Kekexili: Mountain Patrol suggested director Lu Chuan was a filmmaker with a rare eye for the immediacies and specifics of place; this follow-up, a stunning account of the Rape of Nanking, confirmed it, parachuting us into the middle of a previously undramatisable, possibly unthinkable hell, and resisting all temptation to reframe these atrocities for wider consumption (ct. this year's Europudding City of War: The Story of John Rabe) in order to insist upon the testimony of those who were there, and saw it all unfold, the bloodshed and the heroic sacrifices, with their own eyes. At the risk of sounding reductive: the Asian Schindler's List.

7. A Town Called Panic
In one 75-minute stroke, this animated Belgian riot made even the best of this year's superior American animation (Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon) seem staid. Watch it once to get carried away on its manic flow of ideas, a second time to catch up with the detail its plotting leaves trailing behind it, and marvel throughout at the magnificent shoutiness of a grumpy farmer named Steven. Random is not the word for it. Joyous may well be.

6. Monsters
a.k.a. "It Came Out of Nowhere". In which tyro British filmmaker Gareth Edwards displayed a commendable faith in both our shared humanity and his own ability to knock out a blockbuster on his own laptop between games of Solitaire. Exactly what we should be going to the multiplex to see: spectacle with soul.

5. The Illusionist
The pinnacle of a golden year for animation - though here, the gold is less dazzling than faded: that of the Edinburgh sun going down on one magician's career, a young girl's innocence, and their shared friendship with a rabbit. In its artistry and emotion alike, a beautifully calibrated work - if you don't emerge from the cinema snuffling at least a little, you have no heart.

4. Precious
I'm going to wager, here and now, that this becomes one of the cinema's great one-hit wonders; that nothing that its makers go onto will ever have quite the same impact - because, if there's one thing fans and detractors of this eminently divisive true-life tale can agree on, it's that those behind the camera scarcely seem to know what they have on their hands here, and at times barely seem to know what they're doing. I'd argue it's these rougher edges that rescue Precious from its own dopier choices, and elevates the film from TV-movie blandness - the contrast with Tyler Perry's December release For Colored Girls, a very much considered post-Precious product, is evident - to the standing of naive art, with all its connotations of kitsch. (A more experienced director would surely have thought twice about all those incest/fried food cutaways, for instance - not least on the grounds of questionable taste. Although both do fuck you up a little.) Director Lee Daniels may be guilty of employing shock tactics, but I can't be certain he thinks they're shock tactics, and what they do so brilliantly is cut through any fug of cynicism that might surround the viewer - the film really does come out fighting for its heroine, because nobody else seems to be. Bulked up on all this empathy, it remains - whether you like it or not - the heavyweight champion of this movie year, but perhaps more likely to go down in screen history as a LaMotta than as a Cassius Clay.

3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
It stands alone, albeit surrounded by ghosts and monkeys, and ghosts of monkeys.

2. The Social Network
A pre-eminent example of what happens when Hollywood gets it right: when it goes to the smartest director, the sharpest screenwriter, the best young acting talents in the business, and doesn't bind their hands or asks them to condescend to their audience. The result: bumper box-office, multiple awards and awards nominations, and a film that speaks to people, no matter that what it says is ambiguous indeed about the benefits of a life lived with one's personal cursor hovering over the refresh button, and the manner in which this comes to affect our relationships.

1. Father of My Children
And, by way of a contrast, a film that has absolutely no worries whatsoever about humankind's continued ability to connect, even under the most tragic of circumstances. A gorgeous movie, and a gorgeous movie about the movies, and the intersection of art and life - if I could marry any film released in the year 2010, this would be the one. And, as subsequent viewings only confirmed, it's a keeper.

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