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Eugene Weekly : Feature : 2.24.11

Top Movies of 2010

Jason Blair & Molly Templeton roll credits on years best

 

JASONS TOP MOVIES OF 2010

For the past five years, roughly coinciding with the Oscars, Eugene Weekly has provided dual lists of the years most intriguing films. Not by accident, we arrange them side-by-side in the printed version, without regard to overlap or differences of opinion. This year, something unexpected happened: Molly and I largely agreed. That our lists for 2010 so closely resemble one another is, I suspect, further evidence of the creeping conservatism in film weve been witnessing these past several years. Simply put, when theres this much agreement, I have to wonder if a narrowing of choices ‹ and ultimately of quality ‹ is at work.

This is my fifth and final annual film list for the Weekly. Its been nothing short of a pleasure appearing in these pages, distracting, provoking and in some cases even infuriating you. It was never very complicated: I tried to evaluate the emotional and intellectual qualities of a film and, if space permitted, its technical aspects. The intention was always to start a debate. And yet I fear there is less to debate in films today than there has been in many years.û

Although neither of us could know it at the time, something went slack in Hollywood when Molly and I assumed these roles in 2006. The industry had just suffered its worst box office decline in twenty years; while it took a few years to suss out, Im of the belief that during the five years since, the shift to remakes, sequels and comic book adaptations are the result of the disaster that was 2005. Only time will tell, of course, but heres hoping that movies rediscover their mojo ‹ and that you, interested filmgoers, are there to see it happen.



1. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

The film that risked more than any other in 2010 is Exit through the Gift Shop. It purports to tell the story of filmmaker Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who, after gaining access to an underground network of street artists, has his film hijacked by the most revered street artist in the world ¨ Banksy, a grossly talented Englishman known for stenciling the West Bank wall. Dismissed by Banksy, who assembles the footage into what will eventually become Exit, Guetta surprises everyone by becoming a street artist himself, achieving both notoriety and great sums of money. Part art documentary, part guerilla film experience ‹ and pure hoax, according to some ‹ Exit is an unforgettable film about identity and integrity in an art form designed to be temporary. (7/15/10)



2. THE FIGHTER

The best non-documentary offering this year, The Fighter has everything you ask for from a film. The performances are already legendary, with each actor physically remaking him or herself ‹ witness the emaciated, wild-eyed Christian Bale ‹ to a level of near-disguise, all under the watchful eye and masterful direction of David O. Russell (Three Kings). But its the women who carry The Fighter, from Amy Adams in a career-defining role as sassy Charlene to Melissa Leo in a career-highlighting turn as Alice, the evil matriarch of a middling boxing family. The Fighter is a sports film about everything that matters ‹ love, community and the family ties that shackle us ‹ as well as the pain of coming in second when youre good enough to be first. The film has more pulse in its first ten minutes than the entire slate of most film festivals. (1/6/11)



3. ANOTHER YEAR

A tale of growing up and starting over well into maturity, Another Year is the story of Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and Tom (Jim Broadbent) and the misfit friends they attract. While Tom and Gerris chemistry is undeniable, their stability evolves into something complex and extraordinary when pals Mary (Lesley Manville) and Ken (Peter Wight) seem headed for nervous breakdowns. A deceptively simple film about the limits of sympathy and the importance of being ordinary, Another Year is a lasting gift from writer/director Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky) in which very little seems to change ‹ primarily because Mary and Ken live in fear of what change might feel like. So whisper-light it takes a second viewing to fully appreciate. (2/3/11)



4. WINTERS BONE

Winters Bone is the bleak but heroic story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a teenager raising her younger siblings in the Ozarks. Steady beyond her years, Ree has one week to track down her father, a fugitive whose disappearance puts the family homestead in jeopardy. The incredible story, a masterpiece of country noir filmmaking based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, turns on Rees ability to convince her fathers brother Teardrop (John Hawkes) to take up a case he knows is hopeless. The further they push into Rees fathers criminal world, the more dangerous and violent their situation becomes. A film about family, both distant and immediate, and the responsibilities that come with it. Both Lawrence and Hawkes are nominated for an Oscar, as is the film and screenplay. (8/5/10)



5. ANIMAL KINGDOM

Animal Kingdom is the story of the Cody Brothers, three handsome but ruthless Australian gangsters and their quietly malevolent mother, Smurf (Jacki Weaver). While the film hints at their former prestige, the Codys are under siege by a squad of renegade cops. Into this maelstrom moves J, a Cody nephew recently orphaned by his mothers drug overdose. But J, instead of being ingratiated into the gang, can only watch his uncles descent; even worse, once he is approached by a detective (Guy Pearce), Js status goes from nuisance to liability to expendable. But is J cleverer than he looks? Like last years Gomorrah, this a gangster film about the pettiness and desperation of a crime syndicate past its prime. Tense, elegant, paranoid and shocking, Kingdom begins at the end and never looks back. A caged animal of a film. (9/9/10)



6. MOTHER

When we first encounter Do-joon (Won Bin), hes playing outside his mothers apothecary shop. Inside, his unnamed mother watches him closely, her hands dicing herbs with a firm, practiced motion. Her perspective is focused and tunnel-like ‹ the entrance to her store is a long, narrow hall ‹ suggesting an unnatural closeness between her and her son. Sure enough, Do-joon is nicked by a passing car, a hit-and-run that sets in motion a series of events that are as dazzling as they are unpredictable. Moving from incest to recovered memories to the plight of the mentally disadvantaged, Mother finally settles into a murder mystery with elements of revenge and a touch of the surreal. The film is gentle, even sweet despite the difficulty of its material; its also frequently hilarious. Its like watching a Haruki Murakamki novel projected through the lens of Alfred Hitchcock. (5/6/10



7. I AM LOVE

A patriarchs birthday dinner is the starting point for this subtle family drama, which stars Tilda Swinton in her most potent and feminine role in years. When the family empire is handed down, one son is pulled in and the other pushed away, while their mother Emma (Swinton) catches the eye of a suitor outside the family. Set at the turn of the millennium in Milan, I Am Love is a lush, convincing portrait of a wealthy family who, in varying ways, discover that money cant keep them happy. A story of heartbreak and betrayal, but ultimately about following your desire even when everything you have must be sacrificed for it. Delicate, patient and thrilling, I Am Love is about choosing to be happy ‹ about choosing to live rather than merely choosing life. (7/15/10)



8. INSIDE JOB

From Charles Ferguson, the man behind the Iraq documentary No End in Sight, comes Inside Job, the directors screed on the global financial crisis. Along with a fleet of credentialed experts, Ferguson argues that the collapse was not only expensive ‹ it doubled the U.S. national debt ‹ but unavoidable, due largely to the reckless investment tactics of our swollen financial sector. If at times Inside Job feels like bullying the bullies, so does it explain just how, why and because of whom the financial markets collapsed. Narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job is a complex story of fraud and corruption committed by the very companies meant to protect us, raising the question: Just whose interests are being safeguarded here? Inside Job reveals a level of organized scheming that is baffling in scope. (11/11/10)



9. INCEPTION

From its thrill-ride opening sequence to its soaring final act, Inception is a rare commodity in movies today, a work of great reach and ambition that actually gets it right. A blockbuster as visceral as it is intellectual, Inception was rewritten over and over by writer/director Chris Nolan (The Dark Knight) to emphasize the emotional journey of Dom Cobb (Leo DiCaprio), a man who attempts the impossible ‹ the planting of an idea into another mans subconscious ‹ in order to be reunited with his family. Inception is this generations The Matrix, a game-changer combining a superb visual design with a darkly original story. Even if it strains credibility at times, it also stretches our sense of what todays films can do. (7/22/10)



10. THE SOCIAL NETWORK

A film that envelops you despite a deeply unsympathetic hero, the social network is the story of an outsider who became the worlds most befriended person. While at Harvard, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) creates a Facebook prototype to impress a girl who spurned him, only to find himself a defendant in two lawsuits alleging he stole the idea and defrauded his best friend. While the depositions plod somewhat ‹ at one point, even the protagonists are asleep at the lawyers tables ‹ director David Fincher reveals Zuckerberg at his shrewd, impolite and insecure best. Working from a stellar script by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, Charlie Wilsons War), Fincher makes computer coding seem urgent, sexy and trangressive, even if the film leans too heavily on the Trent Reznor soundtrack. Then again, what a soundtrack. (10/7/10)



Jason's Other 10

A cross between Scenes from a Marriage and Drugstore Cowboy, Blue Valentine cuts between the early stages of a relationship and its tragic final weekend, during which Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give the performances of their careers. How to Train Your Dragon is the story of Hiccup, a puny, overlooked blacksmiths attendant, and his struggle for acceptance in a Viking village under attack from colorful dragons. The Kids are Alright (8/5/10) is another triumph for director Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon), although Julianne Moore and Annette Bening steal the show, as does Mark Ruffalo as the sperm donor to the two moms. A tidy but totally satisfying period drama, The Kings Speech (1/13/11) gives us three of the best performances of the year, including Colin Firths terrific throat-clucking turn as a beleaguered king-in-waiting.

Rabbit Hole is a film about a couples loss of their only son that somehow manages to explore despair without being consumed by it. From Sebastian Junger, who wrote A Perfect Storm, comes Restrepo, a stirring documentary about an army battalions deployment into the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, aka øthe deadliest place on Earth."

Lavishly hand-drawn and proudly two-dimensional, The Secret of Kells (6/3/10) is an animated feature that draws heavily on Celtic mythology to tell the story of Brendan, a sheltered boy in a time of great turmoil for his village. The best film about post-collegiate malaise since The Graduate, Tiny Furniture (1/20/11) is Lena Dunhams smart debut feature, a dark comedy starring her actual sister and mother. The Town (9/23/10) is a tense and brooding Boston crime drama, one that firmly establishes Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone) as a director of great promise. The Coen Brothers take the high road with their adaptation of True Grit (12/30/10), a straightforward, intelligent and often hilarious tale of revenge that renders the John Wayne version unwatchable.

 

 

MOLLYS TOP MOVIES OF 2010

If 2010 wasnt a particularly great year for movies, it was a fantastic year for individual performances. Plenty of good-but-not-great films were lifted by their stars: The triple threat of Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush punched up the steady, by-the-book The Kings Speech. Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall and Bill Murray did the same for the enjoyable but unsatisfying Get Low. Young Hailee Steinfeld held her own against Jeff Bridges (and, to a lesser but no less entertaining degree, Matt Damon) in True Grit. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling threw themselves fully into Blue Valentine, which would have been far stronger if the growth of its central relationship had been half as convincing as its dissolution. Of course, more outstanding performances crop up in the years best films, from Jennifer Lawrences breakout role in Winters Bone to Tilda Swintons impeccable work in I Am Love, which should have earned her an Oscar nod ‹ the trouble being, there were more great roles than available nominations, particularly (and surprisingly) for women.

On a different note, this year BRING's change to EWs film section. With the end of the 2010 movie season, Jason Blair is hanging up his film critic hat. This is his grand finale, but Ill let him tell you more about that. For my part, Im handing the film editor reins over to Rick Levin, but sticking around as one of EWs critics. Writing about film for the Weekly is a privilege and a delight ‹ and this annual list is a highlight of the job, even (maybe especially) in a year when finding 20 films to revisit felt surprisingly difficult.



1. Winters Bone

Nothing stayed with me through this year like the steely gaze of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence). Circumstances force Ree to get closer to some of her prickly kin, who may know where her father has got to; if she cant find him or prove to the law that hes dead, she, her two little siblings and her nearly catatonic mother stand to lose their house and land. Director Debra Granik, working from Daniel Woodrells chilly, evocative novel, carefully and slowly builds complicated relationships among the families were born to, the choices we make and the ways we hope to change. In the cold, grim Ozarks, Rees future plays out before her in the form of the women she faces while looking for her dad. Tough, worn, fierce and close-knit, the extended Dolly family is a comfort and a trap, as likely to snap shut on one of its own as to offer help or comfort. Rees coming-of-age has the resonance of a myth, a tale about facing the place you come from and seeing it for what it is, for good or ill. Theres little triumph in the end of Winters Bone, but there is certainty and knowledge, all of it plain on Rees pale face. (8/5/10)



2. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Ostensibly the story of video-camera-obsessed Frenchman Thierry Guetta, who becomes fixated on filming the work of the worlds best street artists, Exit is either just that or nothing of the sort. Either way, its fascinating. When Thierry hears of Banksy, he thinks the British genius is the one man he must film. Some time after the two meet, they swap tasks: Banksy declares the film Thierry is (sort of) working on unwatchable and takes over the project, transforming it into the movie were watching. Thierry in turn reinvents himself as a street artist. Of sorts. But can you really take any of this seriously? Is øMister Brainwash," the artist Thierry becomes, just another Banksy creation? The brilliance of Banksys documentary/experiment/prank/whatever-the-fuck-it-is is that its purely enjoyable either way, half exhilarating street art history and half peculiar narrative about either the self-invention of a would-be culture factory or Banksys remarkable ability to piece together sly, smart, subversive art from just about anything. (7/15/10)

 

3. The Social Network

Precise, cool, masculine and expertly cast, the social network may not be the exact story of the founding of Facebook, but the story it does tell ‹ about a brusque, awkward, arrogant young man who forged the means of a million connections while disconnecting from his own friends and life ‹ reflects the way were still figuring out precisely what role the internet plays in our lives, personally and culturally. David Finchers film is, as always, impossibly neatly wrought, from the structure of Aaron Sorkins script to the impressive dual role of Armie Hammer, who plays both Winklevoss twins. Fincher, Sorkin, star Jesse Eisenberg and renaissance man Justin Timberlake have been getting plenty of credit, but too often overlooked is the importance of Andrew Garfield, whose boyish, open face makes his Eduardo Saverin the movies sympathetic heart. (10/7/10)

 

4. How to Train Your Dragon

Dreamworks animated dragon flick was the years unexpected delight, a tear-jerking boy-and-his-dog movie that doesnt actually have a dog. Instead, it has a dragon: Toothless, a fearsome øNight Fury" who looks like a sort of dog-kitty-turtle-lizard hybrid with a wildly expressive, flat little face. Nothing about Dragons plot is surprising, but along the way the film cleverly and sublty plays with plenty of the eye-rolling stereotypes audiences have come to expect from mainstream animation. Girls dont just need rescuing. Relationships have more than one note. The clash between humans and dragons isnt just a cheesy misunderstanding that one troublemaking kid can fix. Playful, smart, heartfelt and joyous, Dragon is a keeper. (Reviewed on EW! A Blog)

 

 

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Edgar Wrights Scott Pilgrim is the video game movie to beat all video game movies ‹ though its (smartly) adapted from a comic book. Overwhelming, giddy, colorful and slightly over the top, Scott Pilgrim might just be a movie for a very specific subset of a generation: those of us who grew up watching hyper-idealistic teen movies and playing Commodores and Nintendos, becoming fluent in the language of extra lives, magic swords, social dynamics and overwrought quests. Yeah, its a love story, kinda, but its more about learning to take at least an iota of responsibility for yourself (and kicking a bit of ass in the process) in order to be worthy of the one you love. You have to grow up someday, but you dont have to ditch the Nintendo. (8/19/10)

 

6. Another Year

Mike Leighs quietly satisfying, thoughtful Another Year spends a year in the life of an older married couple, Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), around whom a gaggle of unhappy, unsatisfied singles rotates. Central among them, and to the film, is Mary (Lesley Manville), who never met a glass of wine she didnt like and who is perpetually unable to see how much she gets in her own way ‹ though to be fair, her friends arent so much helping her as keeping her company while she trips herself up. Its difficult to describe Another Year without making it sound reductive or moralistic: Own your shit and grow up happy! Change comes from within! But Leighs film is far kinder than that, a character study that considers but doesnt attempt to answer the complicated question of why some people are so much happier than others. (2/3/11)

 

7. Inside Job

Though I could do without the heartstring-tugging score, Charles Fergusons Inside Job is an effective, furious takedown of those responsible for the 2008 financial crisis. Ferguson deftly distills complex explanations into bite-sized chunks of information, refusing to accept that what happened is too complicated for us ordinary folks to understand. While many key figures declined to be interviewed for the film, plenty of prevaricating, infuriating men offer non-answers to Fergusons questions, and the film is often structured so that the evidence comes before the interview, meaning were left watching people deny or evade truths Fergusons already uncovered. Its enough to make you want to keep your savings in your mattress. (11/11/10)

 

8. Inception

Its big. Its flashy. The score makes that blaring BWWWAAAH noise way too often. But the way Christopher Nolan deftly plays with dream logic ‹ making it film logic, with roles assigned and parts carefully worked out, the trick being that you have to believe, or it doesnt work at all ‹ûgives Inception a hell of a kick. (Breakout roles for Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt dont hurt, either.) The elaborate effects and set pieces are immersive, massive, dream-scaled, but in the end, Inception asks the same thing of its audience as its dreamworld does of its characters: that we decide for ourselves whats real, and what really happened. (7/22/10)

 

9. Tiny Furniture

It would be so easy to dislike Aurora (Lena Dunham), the twentysomething main character of Tiny Furniture. But I dont. Figuring out why I have a strange affection for both writer-director Dunhams inward-focused film and her mopey, aimless alter ego is part of the movies appeal. Maybe its Dunhams utter lack of vanity or self-protectiveness that makes Tiny Furniture work. Maybe its that there are so few honest, non-man-obsessed stories about young women struggling as they grow up into themselves. Auroras situation is inherently privileged; she has the luxury of wallowing, of wasting time and her mothers money trying to find herself. Her awareness of this is nearly invisible, but its there, somehow, in Auroras uncertainty, and in the way her comfortable life shapes, and is at odds with, the identity shes desperate to find.û (1/20/11)

 

10. Dogtooth

This dark horse from Greece makes Mother look downright normal. Somewhere in the countryside, hidden behind fences and hedges, a peculiar family lives. Three siblings are under the thumb of their father, who gives them a daily vocabulary lesson that includes the wrong meanings for words. He teaches the family to bark like dogs to scare off øman-eating" cats; he BRING's in a security guard to have sex with the son. Why? Who knows? Why do the parents reward their children, who are at least in their late teens, with stickers, or keep them from any mention of the outside world? What is the point of their isolated, misshapen existence? Why is Giorgos Lanthimos film, with its white walls, sterile lighting and casual violence, so effective at getting under my skin? Will it have the same effect on you? (Dogtooth didnt play in Eugene but is available on DVD.)

 

 

Molly's Other 10

Watch the quietly forceful Australian crime-family drama Animal Kingdom (9/9/10) back-to-back with David O. Russells clich¹d but powerful The Fighter (1/6/11) for a double feature in matriarchal dominance: Both Melissa Leo in The Fighter and Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom give intense, unforgettable performances as carefully controlling mothers with questionable ways of looking out for their own. The same is true of Kim Hye-ja in Bong Joon-hos Mother (5/6/10), in which the mother of a slow-minded young man goes to great lengths to prove her son didnt commit a murder. Another controlling parent is central in Darren Aronofskys melodramatic Black Swan (12/23/10), as Barbara Hershey pushes and pulls at Natalie Portmans unstable ballerina. Tilda Swinton is a very different kind of mother in I Am Love (7/15/10), a rich , lush Italian film about a wealthy, elegant woman whose life is reshaped by newfound passions. Though Ewan McGregor is the star of Roman Polanskis flawed but intelligent thriller The Ghost Writer, the oft-underused Olivia Williams shines as the wife of a former British prime minister (a smug Pierce Brosnan). In Nicole Holofceners funny, sharp, underrated Please Give (7/29/10), Catherine Keener plays a woman whos constantly trying to find ways to make up for the fact that she feels guilty about liking her comfortable New York life. You wont find any women at all in Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetheringtons documentary Restrepo, a quietly unforgettable take on the indelible effects of war on those who fight. While I didnt
care as much for Toy Story 3 as many people did, 2010 was nevertheless a superb year for animation, including the beautiful, mythic Irish tale The Secret of Kells (6/3/10), which begs to be seen on the big screen, where its intricate animation ‹ inspired by the illuminated manuscript at the center of its story ‹ can be fully appreciated. On the other end of the animation spectrum is the whimsical, peculiar A Town Called Panic (4/15/10), which follows its own breathless logic as it relates the adventures of three plastic figures who accidentally find themselves in the possession of far too many bricks.