Annual #6 - The Dragon And His Wrath
1946 - 2011
Welcome to 2011, everyone. I trust you all had a wonderful and relaxing holiday season and are fully reinvigorated, ready to take on the new year and whatever it may bring. Yeah, neither am I really, but I guess we don’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter. But before 2011 builds up too much steam, let’s take yet another look back at 2010.
Like a lot of you, I’ve spent the last few weeks checking out best-of lists from other critics and reactions to the year in general have been all over the map. Some think 2010 was quite a good year at the movies while others found it frustratingly weak. What’s interesting is that despite this disparity, we’re seeing a lot of the same movies showing up on these lists. So either The Social Network is a masterpiece for the ages or merely the best of a bad lot. In cases where there isn’t a general consensus, opinion is split into love-it or hate-it camps. When something as innocuous as Tron: Legacy becomes a divisive issue among its target audience, you know it’s been a pretty interesting year at the movies. I’m not saying it’s good, but it’s definitely interesting.
Personally, I spent most of the year on the outside looking in. I didn’t connect with very many movies in 2010. There were movies I enjoyed and admired but very few of them made any lasting impression. It was rare for a movie to linger in my memory for more than a day or two after I saw it, whether I liked it or not. This made it hard to engage in the conversation about these pictures, either pro or con. At a certain point, I felt like I was at a party that I’d only been invited to out of obligation, not because anyone really wanted me there or thought I’d have a good time.
Consequently, I am less passionate about the movies on this year’s list than I have been in a long, long time. This is not to take anything away from these movies. I thoroughly enjoyed them all, especially those in the top five. But I’m not certain how these will stack up in five or ten years’ time. The face of cinema is changing, for better and worse. Originality is in short supply out there, so some of us latch on to anything that feels fresh and new like a life preserver. But it’s not enough to praise innovative style and technique. The movies I loved in 2010 all feature characters I cared about, stories I engaged with, and immersed me in times and places that felt entirely true. Anybody can make a moving picture but it takes real artistry to tell a story. With that, here are my ten favorite stories of 2010. And, as is always the case with my top ten lists, this one goes to eleven.
11. Cemetery Junction
I am not going to make the case that this is a great film. At best, it’s a solid, if admittedly by-the-numbers, coming-of-age dramedy. But I’m including it at number 11 for a couple of reasons. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant made a heartfelt, sharply written film that marvelously captures the spirit of working class Britain in the early 70s. It’s funny, touching, and deserved better than to be dumped straight to video in the US. There were certainly better movies in 2010 but not many that flew so far beneath the radar.
10. Winnebago Man
2010 may be remembered as the year filmmakers became interested in how the internet actually works and affects our lives. Ben Steinbauer’s documentary quest to track down Jack Rebney, an unwilling viral video celebrity thanks to his profane outtakes from an industrial video made in the 80s, made the biggest impact on me. It’s funny, fascinating and offers a true outsider’s perspective on a phenomenon we’ve already begun to take for granted.
Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster is overlong, needlessly repetitive and just a little bit too self-satisfied with how smart and ambiguous it thinks it is. It’s also the most ambitious major studio film to come along in many a year, visually dazzling and genuinely exciting. Any summer movie that leaves its audience asking questions more complex than “Who wants ice cream?” is OK in my book.
8. Red Riding Trilogy
Three films, three connected stories set in three different years, helmed by three different directors. It could have been a disjointed mess but instead, it’s a complex, gripping saga that gets better and more involving as it goes along. I’d planned to watch these over the course of a few days but I tore through all three in one night, consumed with a need to know what happens next.
7. The King's Speech
Before I saw this, I’d already begun to hear complaints that it was overrated. Yeah, apart from having a truly interesting story, an extraordinarily well-written script by David Seidler, assured direction by Tom Hooper, and an amazing collection of top-tier actors led by a career-best performance from Colin Firth, this doesn’t really have much going for it.
6. Toy Story 3
Pixar has more than earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt but even so, I feared this might be one trip back to the toy box too many. Never mind. Director Lee Unkrich and his team came up with the best Toy Story to date, a fitting conclusion to the saga with an emotional climax that sneaks up on you no matter how hard you try to fight it.
5. The Illusionist
Who would have thought that more than 25 years after his death, we’d have a new Jacques Tati film? Working from an unproduced screenplay by Tati, Sylvain Chomet brings him back to life in animated form, surrounded by some of the most distinctively designed characters you’ll ever encounter. One of the quietest animated movies you’ll ever see, and possibly one of the saddest, this is a remarkable accomplishment bridging two generations of filmmakers.
4. True Grit
Joel and Ethan Coen’s most accessible movie since…well, ever…and a welcome reminder that remakes are not inherently bad ideas. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper deliver rich, genuinely amusing performances while Hailee Steinfeld more than keeps pace with her older, more experienced costars. A wonderfully entertaining throwback to a time when westerns were fun.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet packs more detail into each of his movies than most other filmmakers put into their entire career. In a lot of ways, Micmacs is just a lark for Jeunet, a repository for his boundless imagination. But his mind is so fertile and his spirit so warm and infectious that even a minor effort like this comes across as something truly special.
2. Winter's Bone
Part character study, part mystery and thoroughly engrossing, director Debra Granik takes us on a trip deep into the Ozarks that radiates authenticity at every turn. Jennifer Lawrence seems to be a shoo-in for a Best Actress nomination at this year’s Oscars but I hope the Academy doesn’t overlook John Hawkes for Best Supporting Actor. He gives the performance of the year, as far as I’m concerned.
1. Exit Through The Gift Shop
I’ve written about this a couple times now and I remain more convinced of its brilliance than ever. Banksy has created a dazzling piece of through-the-looking-glass cinema, challenging our preconceived ideas of documentary filmmaking, art and celebrity. A lot of established filmmakers did good work this year but it was all fairly safe and well within their comfort zones. It was thrilling and entirely appropriate to see a mysterious outsider come in with complete disregard for the conventional rules of filmmaking and create something entirely new and eye-opening. This is one movie we’ll be talking about for a long, long time.
2010 AT THE HELL PLAZA OCTOPLEX
It wouldn’t be a JET Annual without taking another few whacks at the dead horses littering the Hell Plaza Octoplex. As usual, I’m quite sure that I avoided seeing the worst of the worst. One look at the trailer was enough to tell me that I wouldn’t be wasting my time on Sex And The City 2 or Killers and I suspect only the most indulgent parents were forced to endure Tooth Fairy and Marmaduke. Still, I did see a few stinkers this year. Here are three of the worst.
Clash Of The Titans
I was far too kind to this in my original review. This is a soulless, charmless retread made almost unwatchable by a 3D conversion seemingly crafted by an army of crosseyed monkeys.
This idiotic adaptation of the DC Comics western barely even qualifies as a movie. It’s more like an abandoned project that was never meant to see the light of day.
A Nightmare On Elm Street
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make a Freddy Krueger movie I won’t enjoy on some level? Up until now, I’d have thought it was impossible. So I guess on some Bizarro world level, this actually qualifies as a virtuoso display of filmmaking. Bravo.
OK, that’ll do it for 2010. The Electric Theatre will be back for more in 2011 and, fingers crossed, we should have some exciting changes in store sooner or later (hopefully sooner but I ain’t making any promises). Until next time, I hope the new year treats you right.