12 Months of Movies 2010: A-C

At last! My year in review! And when I say a year, I really mean the whole thing: all 90 “official” Australian 2010 releases I saw, and however many festival films I saw in their own special entries. Now, curating it alphabetically means that no entry has a “theme” (until I reach the festivals, of course), but it also means it’s a damn sight easier to search. So here, your definitive guide to my 2010 in films (with perhaps some 2009 refugees to come at the end).

A Prophet (Un Prophete)

One of several “French films I didn’t get the appeal of” that I saw in 2010. This features in several peoples’ top tens. It blew them away – and why, exactly? A man on the make moves from petty criminal to criminal mastermind. He teaches himself how to read, how to speak Corsican, and how to kill. With apparently no recriminations.

It’s an okay film but there’s nothing particularly special about it. The treatment of prison homosexuality was interesting and not as pat as most other movies treat it, but otherwise this is just a solid if unimpressive effort.

A Single Man

Tom Ford’s A Single Man is a beautifully shot interpretation of Christopher Isherwood’s novel, which my father bought for 70c in 1970. The strangest change in the adaptation – apart from the very end – is the suicide theme. By internalising the fatalism of Isherwood’s omnipresent narrator, the very essence of Firth’s George is immeasurably changed. The universe is supposed to be unforgiving and cruel, not George himself. He’s just a man who is supposed to carry on regardless, without giving thought to ending it all.

The striking final pages of the book would have been nigh impossible to translate to the screen, but the overly literal conclusion we are given in its stead is not quite satisfying. But check out those glasses and those suits.

Alice In Wonderland

If you still like Tim Burton in 2010, I can offer you nothing but a shake of my head. Alice in Wonderland is nothing short of an insult, a slap in the face, a “my formula is so stale that even I can’t watch my own shit anymore”. You take Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, dress them up funny and set a camera on them. The results are exactly the same every time and the film is not only aesthetically dull in its quirkiness: it’s unforgivably boring.

The fact that Disney had the hide to put this film up For Your Consideration – and that it actually garnered several Golden Globe nominations – is among the greatest idiocies of 2010.

The American

It’s hard to say what you’re supposed to think of a film like The American. It was the second of four movies that I saw in one day, and it was only the third best (or second worst, depending how you want to look at it). George Clooney takes us on a monosyllabic picturesque journey through a tiny town in Italy, where he semi-wittingly sets the wheels in motion for his own death. Without much intrigue or movement, The American is not so much a study in boredom as an examination of “why?”

Movies should not be made simply because they can be made, and this is in the mode of sixties and seventies “thrillers” in which the thrills were few and far between. Film making may not always be tied in with narrative development and progression, but sometimes – most of the time – it helps. I think that Anton Corbijn crafted a very well made and densely packed film; he simply didn’t make a film that was interesting or particularly worth watching. I expect it to do very well on the student circuit for years to come.

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Strange to think this got a theatrical release, because it really feels like more of a DVD documentary than a cinematic experience. I saw it at a festival and I’m pretty sure it was just a DVD projected onto a screen in a room filled with “alternative” types.

The material covered by the film is interesting and entertaining but the execution thereof is distracting. A documentary about the life of Bill Hicks, the film shines most easily when it simply is clips of Hicks performing his stand up, which is frequently more depressing and abrasive than it is actually hilarious. When it is not showing his stand up, the directorial decision not to show talking heads backfires in an interesting way: they’ve taken family photographs and animated them. The effect is disturbing and gimmicky and one can’t help but feel that Hicks’ story could have been told in a better way – but damned if I know what. An ultimately sad for reasons-beyond-control documentary, American is well worth watching.

Animal Kingdom

Easily the biggest Australian film of 2010, Animal Kingdom is the film that people who hate Australian films went and saw. It’s one of those movies that I liked much more when I was writing about it than when I was watching it. Animal Kingdom works better in retrospect simply because it is too unpredictable during consumption. Simon Michod composed a film that left me struggling to grasp its intent all throughout.

What we do have is a film with a great villain who has deservedly been nominated for multiple awards, even in the US (how long has it been since Americans have paid attention to Australian films produced outside of the George Miller and Baz Luhrmann machines) and one of the best endings of 2010. It’s a subtle work, and one that imprints itself on you. A legitimately good Australian film, and a true rarity on our modern cinemascape.

The A-Team

You know, The A-Team actually wasn’t half bad. That means it was more than half good! Maths! An utterly unnecessary movie (but who decides what makes a movie necessary?), but a fun one nonetheless. Liam “Pay check” Neeson leads a team composed of Bradley “No Talent” Cooper, Sharlto “Fookin’ Prawns!” Copley and Quinton “Loathsome UFC Homophobe” Jackson to victory over the hated CIA.

You see, they’re a team. They’ll get you out of trouble. Absolutely ridiculous and insensitive treatment of the mentally ill surprisingly flies in 2010. Jessica Biel still gets work. Bradley Cooper plays the same character as he did in The Hangover except he manages to restrain himself from saying “faggot”.

It’s impossible to take any of this seriously, and nor should you. It’s the perfect late Saturday night movie, the sort that you shouldn’t feel guilty about giving money to because the surrender of your funds is inevitable. The A-Team is a movie entirely without impact. Not that rare a beast, but one of the more fun examples.

Black Swan

“What happened to my sweet little girl?” “SHE’S GONE!”

The last movie that I saw in 2010 is technically an Australian 2011 release, but that doesn’t make it any less thrilling … or confusing. The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s previous effort, is one of my favourite films, largely because it deals with a certain value of truth. Black Swan takes a different approach entirely, to the point that you can’t be certain at any one point how literally you’re supposed to be taking it.

Natalie Portman gives a suitably splintered performance as a perfectionist ballerina who flushes toilets with her feet because she can. The scary part of this film is not the violence that people can inflict upon others, but rather the damage that one can do to oneself. There were many more wince inducing moments than your average film, and all of them arise from bloodied hands.

This movie will make you squeamish to distract you from the fact that you’ve no idea what’s going on – and you won’t, because it’s damn near impossible to say what literally happens and what is mere hallucination. I’m not sure if Aronofsky is making us work, or if it’s impossible to actually piece together something from it all. Maybe what we see is all we’re going to get.

While Black Swan is certainly great, it frequently strains against expectations. Things that I personally would have loved more of, like Winona Ryder, are fleeting but this is deliberate on Aronofsky’s part. He has to retain a clarity – or obfuscation – of vision such that everything featured serves a purpose for the mindscape that is Nina’s.

I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to call Black Swan the “masterpiece” that others firmly believe it to be, but I’m going to let it gestate. I want to see it again, and then maybe my little princess will reveal herself to me in her entirety. Until I’ve laboured that metaphor, though, consider Black Swan to be a really good movie.

The Blind Side

One of the more irksome films of 2009, The Blind Side was released in Australia to coincide precisely with the awards season. One of the more cynical throwbacks of the last decade, The Blind Side is a stupid and terrible and obvious film about an upwardly mobile white family that comes along and rescues a poor black teenager from the horrors of being a poor black child.

They feed him, they clothe him, they give him a sense of self worth, and he repays them by throwing a football. It’s heart warming, it shows the true value of rich white Christians and the positive effects they can have if they deem fit to expend their resources on the lower classes. Seriously. That is what The Blind Side is about. A horrible and inexplicably award winning performance from Sandra Bullock is compounded by an insult of a best picture nomination. If this is the best you can do with ten best picture nominees, Academy, it’s time to put you out to pasture.

Utterly abysmal formulaic telemovie pap.

Blue Valentine

“You always hurt … the one you love … the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.”

I’ll be horribly honest: I’ve never felt a love so pure or so acrimonious as the one portrayed in Blue Valentine, a movie that seems to resonate with those who have presumably had their hearts shattered to some degree. Without that level of life experience under my belt, I had to take what I could from this film as I would any other. And without that resonance to assist me, this movie doesn’t exactly fall flat, but it doesn’t strictly mean anything.

Derek Cianfrance, rather than sketching in a world for the audience, expects the audience to take the relationship of Gosling and Williams on face value. So we are presented with a couple in two stages run in tandem: their subtle rise to union and their steep descent to ruin. Great performances but a slight film means that Blue Valentine will either work very well for you, or not so much.

It’s a good movie, but I can’t think of it as great.

Chloe

Julianne Moore gets taken for a wild ride by psychotic escort Amanda Seyfried! Liam Neeson watches in horror as his marriage disintegrates! What is real and what is a lie? It’s actually pretty easy to tell. In this Canadian remake of a French film, everything is pretty much as it seems. There’s not a lot of room for interpretation in a film that is utterly predictable almost from the go, to the point that one of my comrades spoiled the big reveal of the final shot seconds before it happened.

Kinda sexy, but also kinda drab and kinda empty, Chloe offers nothing new or memorable to the “psychotic hellbitch” genre beyond Amanda Seyfried’s too tastefully concealed boobs. An excess of nudity ultimately can’t manage to defrost a film as cold as this.

Clash Of The Titans

Criminally boring, Clash of the Titans sticks in my memory as one of the first post-Avatar 3D movies, trailing just behind the differently abysmal Alice in Wonderland. Like The A-Team this is a late Saturday night film but not one that one can derive any enjoyment from.

Consider Clash of the Titans as Liam Neeson and Joseph Fiennes’ Schindler’s List reunion. Think of it in that light. Despair.

You know what’s pretty cool? Greek mythology! What is not cool is squandering it on something that fizzles so completely as this does. When Christopher Columbus, ravager of Harry Potter and appropriator of the Americas, can do a better job of Greek mythology than you, you know you’re an utter disgrace. Nicholas Hoult is more than completely wasted in what amounts to a walk on death, and everyone is despatched in a lacklustre Medusa sequence.

More than this, the special effects are dull and grey. Nothing in the movie is distinct from anything else. There are different degrees of time wasters, and Clash of the Titans is one of the worst. I will claw my two hours back, even if I have to pry it from the special effect addled corpse of Sam Worthington. (DISCLAIMER: NOT A DEATH THREAT)

The Concert

The Concert is the clichéd “odd duck”. Filled with the bizarre racism/“political correctness” still permissible in movies manufactured in languages other than English, a group of Russian bumpkins defy real world logic to put on a show in Paris. There they battle the ghosts of anti-semitism and the filmmakers’ own “comedic” prejudices so that they can overcome the legacy of communism.

The Concert is at heart a stupid film that redeems itself with a predictably explosive and sentimental finale, which it manages to effortlessly combine with its own epilogue. Not a good movie, but a feel good movie.

Crazy Heart

Yesssss, it’s The Wrestler but with country music and without that film’s boundless nihilism. A pleasant Sunday morning spent in the company, an alcoholic Jeff Bridges and single mother Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart is a movie you’ve probably seen before, but it’s understandably well trodden ground.

Bridges’ performance understandably won Best Actor, although I may have given it to Colin Firth instead had I the power. In my mind this movie is orange, the colour of Jeff Bridges in the morning light. It exists in that weird space between old cinema and the modern, the sort of film where it seems that the internet was never introduced. Bridges’ character’s existence is one that real people probably still live to this day, but it’s lonely and alien. It’s Up In The Air, had Up In The Air actually been good (burn!).

Colin Farrell puts in a surprising performance as Bridges’ protege, and the whole movie adds up to something that’s both understated and slightly magical. A fine film indeed.

Next Time! From Date Night to Four Lions!

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3 Responses to 12 Months of Movies 2010: A-C

  1. Wavatar Bill says:

    American: The Bill Hicks Story was the 2nd highest grossing UK theatrical documentary, just behind, and has it’s Australian release now and nationwide US theatrical release in April. It’s also number 19 on RottenTomatoes best reviewed films of the year – and is on countless top 10s of 2010, probably for that animation style, that doesn’t work for some people, yet does for others (it’s all about trust and letting go..).

    One thing that would be missing, watching a DVD or download at home, is the audience around you watching Hicks work his magic as a group, for the first time in 16 years..

  2. Wavatar Richard says:

    An ambitious project to be sure. I’ve certainly not reviewed ALL of the films I saw in 2010, but I did list them with a little score out of 5.

    Still not too sure about ‘Animal Kingdom’, but I think you should definitely gestate on ‘Black Swan’ some more. Maybe even see it again when it gets a proper release.

  3. Wavatar Mark says:

    I can certainly see why you wouldn’t like A Prophet, as it has some (arguable) flaws. I wouldn’t say it “blew me away”, but I did like it a lot. The whole gangster rags-to-riches via corruption of innocence thing is certainly a common trope, but setting the story inside a prison is an interesting juxtaposition of the usual cliche.

    Of the others that I’ve seen, I pretty much agree. When exiting the A-Team, my friend and I basically had the same “Is it ok that I enjoyed this movie as much as I did?” sorta reaction. It’s not a top 10 (or probably even an honorable mention), but I had a lot of fun with it. And I’m really interested in seeing Animal Kingdom… though it doesn’t come out on DVD for a few weeks.

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