Saturday 1 January 2011

The Best Films of 2010, 20-11

20. Catfish
However much of this Facebook-related documentary was constructed - and you have to wonder, given the extraordinary twists and turns the filmmakers are obliged to negotiate - it is at the very least brilliantly constructed: a wholly plausible scenario that says much about the way we come to conduct our relationships these days, and which leaves its characters and viewers alike squirming. (Perhaps labelling it a documentary is a categorisation error; perhaps its real antecedents are the docu-fictions The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, with their blundering, unembarrassable leads.) I was prepared to take the film at face value on a first viewing; on a second, it struck me there was definitely something fishy about Nev's (joltingly inserted) description of the family he's befriended online ("They didn't fool me - they just told me things I didn't care to question"), as though it were anticipating the viewer's likely response in the event he or she fell for this story hook, line and sinker. (Ah!, the film can be heard saying: see what we did there?) Still, very little else coming out of the American independent sector this year posed such a challenge to its audience. The question - and it's an increasingly useful one for any viewer or virtual consumer to keep at hand - remains: just how much of this, or any other narrative, are you prepared to swallow?

19. Easy A

18. Raavan

17. Shed Your Tears and Walk Away
A number of this year's outstanding British features seem (admittedly in retrospect) like warnings of what might lie in wait for the most vulnerable among us once the coalition's idea of The Big Society(TM) comes crashing down. (A sidebar: am I alone in seeing something particularly vulgar in that particular policy idea's insistence on bigness - as though it were a spin-off from Steve Wright's terminally naff "Big Show", or worse, an opportunity for the sort of acquisitional boasting once fostered under the Thatcher regime, as so superbly set out here?) Jez Lewis's account of his childhood friends' struggles with drugs, alcohol and poisonous bad luck suggested life in Hebden Bridge was tough enough before the recent wave of cuts - but did so in remarkably sober, humane, unexploitative fashion. The tears follow, surely, but as the filmmaker intuits, you can't walk away from your past, and your mates, so easily - and that's the source of the film's lingering, profound sadness.

16. Vincere

15. Wild Grass

14. Up in the Air
I wrestled with Jason Reitman's generally admired comedy-drama. For some while, I felt a certain resistance toward Clooney's clubbability, Reitman's breeziness, the glib topping of physician-heal-thyself irony that saw a character who jets from place to place laying off workers ending up surplus to requirements himself, both personally and professionally. (As for the talking heads, they fair screamed executive-level self-congratulation: "Hey, we can even turn the credit crunch into boffo box office!") Yet the film clicks when you realise the look on Clooney's face as he peers up at the departures boards that loom over him throughout isn't, as might initially seem, conveying a sense of "Right [rubs hands], where do I go from here?", so much as "Shit, where do I go from here?". That established, the film becomes a melancholy, even haunting account of the knock-on effects of being unable (or unwilling) to settle down; there are real, even harsh truths about the way we live and work rattling around beneath its sharp suits and slick badinage.

13. The Arbor
A spooky-realist haunted house story, and - in its own idiosyncratic way - another warning from history about what might happen should we be forced to return to the 1980s.

12. Of Gods and Men
11. White Material
Two French films that handle similar themes (the terror of encroaching violence, what it is to be a stranger in a strange land) in different yet equally impressive fashions. The first is a model of near-classical directorial restraint in the face of heinous real-life events; the second once more highlights Claire Denis's tendency towards vivid abstraction - even as the script, direction and performances remain wholly clear-eyed about the legacy of colonialism. Aside from all that, it's tense and exciting - and in Isabelle Huppert, gave us the year's most unlikely action heroine.

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