2010: the year we made a few movies worth remembering.
The greatest contribution movie awards season can give us is retrospective, and not just the clap-at-obituaries kind; nominations and broadcasts are often an opportunity to remember what was truly good. In a year such as 2010 that was truly horrible for film, this residual gift really is necessary in order to salvage the last twelve months of cinema.
Top 10 lists are also an opportunity for expedient reflection, and if you mash together the kajillions of them, I think you get as close as you can towards a popular critical sentiment of the year. Metacritic does a nice job of culling the results and giving us ballparks of ballparks; no matter what your perspective is on the ranking and scoring, fractionizing and decimalizing of film, these lists are helpful and, most important to remember, disposable.
Another subsequent value of these lists is a ruthless filtering of all the sludge of the multiplexes—3D everything, IMAX yadda yadda, superhero kaboom—so that we can attempt to find the signal in the noise wash.
Here are a few frequencies I picked up. I claim this list as nothing close to comprehensive, objective, or rhythmic. The best a cinematic community can do is determine which films will persevere, resonate, continue to generate conversation, and age well or be overwhelmingly of their times; below, I’ve identified six that I think will do that as the gaudy corpus of film in 2010 is left behind.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The consensus this year accurately identifies falsehood as a predominate theme of 2010’s filmography. Duplicity, illusion, facade, and subterfuge all informed a bulk of the year’s movies in turn, but Banksy’s directorial debut serves up all of that in a manner so much fresher than its contemporaries. The documentary format is particularly prone to corruption—it’s an easy target because documentaries claim veracity more than other genres, a claim easily criticized, refuted, and made fun. At least some of Thierry Guetta’s story has to be true—the verisimilitude of his obsession and oddity is too extensive, and the first third truly does document the street art movement in invigorating fashion—but when it branches off into something fantastical, pathetic, and incoherent (a point which is debatable), truth becomes secondary and the film exists as a big gonzo question posed better than any aesthetics professor could phrase it. Like a nesting doll begun in the center, all members involved continue to find that they are not out of the container of its thought, but that it has just grown. A film as befuddling, frustrating, and fun as any in recent memory.
Histrionic in performance, preposterous in conceit, dazzling in imagery—the same descriptions I would apply to Stanley Kubrick’s one foray into pure generic horror, The Shining, I would without hesitation attribute to Shutter Island, a referent-heavy B movie baton passing that both Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have been itching to execute. Marty takes much from Kubrick’s playbook, including some needle drop soundtrack work identical to The Shining, and Leo cracks up (or reveals pre-existing cracks) like Jack did when he was trapped somewhere due to inclement weather, too. The bombast is remarkablly genuine, and the gimmick of “gotta watch it again” remarkably compelling, unlike other twist-for-twist’s-sake movies of late.
Unlike other films that offer noir’s components with interpretive plastic surgery, this is noir at its most broken-down and ugly, skeletal in construction and completely unvarnished in performance. Winter’s Bone nails its namesake by having a total mastery of temperature, chiefly the bitter cold of the Ozarks, but also the animalistic steam of violence, threadbare family warmth, and a literal and figural clammy grasp of death. It is difficult to make myth of modern America, and dangerous to do so of the poverty-stricken, but Winter’s Bone manages to do so through force of will and absence of opining that is truly a marvel. Debra Granick could carve out a Hollywood consulting career stripping the pretension and pity off of other movies, but I think this directing thing is going to work out for her. (I can only dream of two female directing Oscars in two years.)
This may backfire on me, but I claim to be able to talk anyone out of disliking this movie. Inception doesn’t allow for shallow interpretation or shallow criticism, and its convolutions are purposeful, informed, and perhaps best of all, thrilling. While I’m not interested in cataloging every criticism aimed at Inception, I can say this—by no means can a movie be detrimentally “talky” and have so much action, and be this clock-like in construction and have missing gear teeth. Nolan applies with reverence the language of myriad action film sub-genres, from metaphysical sci-fi kung-fu to mod Sinatra heist to 80s brainless shoot-’em-ups, and in doing so, tacitly explains the nature of film as our shared dream lexicon—have you ever thought what your dreams would be like if film and television did not exist?
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
This year was unstoppably Scott Pilgrim for me, from the conclusion of the graphic novel series that occupied my funemployed summer, to the faithful and frustrating beat ‘em up video game, to a soundtrack that played like musical fan fiction. And the movie didn’t disappoint. Distilled to the books’ most necessary components, as diluvial with candy and color as a sick roller coaster rider, and deserving of every synonym for fun of which one can conceive, Scott Pilgrim was destined to be a failure—too short, too OCD, too childish for today’s audiences, who demand bloated and brooding superhero movies (I’m looking The Dark Knight squarely in its coal-mascara’ed eyes). Like the superlative arcade experiences of Gen Y’s plugged-in past, this movie will continue to gobble my figurative quarters for years to come.
The only thing sadder and more despicable that the titular character of this Noah Baumbach outing is that these films come too sparsely for Ben Stiller to defend his increasingly indefensible filmography. Luckily, it’s enjoyably uncomfortable to watch the former unfold, even if the latter could make one grind his or her teeth to Tic Tacs. Films featuring an unlikeable character unleashed are only effective when the humanity that character tramples glints a little, and Greta Gerwig does; she plays like The Apartment’s Shirley MacClane, but without even an elevator to tell her where to go, miserable as an ASPCA commercial but without dispute the film’s heart. Rhys Ifans’s Ivan serves a dual role of backstory extractor and punching bag, and both are performed without mawkish manipulation. Stiller’s Greenberg, through the bad choices and impulses, embodies a frightening eventuality of Generation X’s ”fuck it” attitude, playing a guy who’s furious the rest of the limping world won’t give up, too. A film to be read and not felt or fallen into, Greenberg pays off the viewer who can sensitively detach from its reality—a skill at which Greenberg is so terrifically inept.