films of the year, pt.1

December 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m going to split this list into two posts, because it’s reaching unwieldy proportions. This first part is about two unlisted films, and then numbers 5-3 on my list of films of the year. I’ll conclude the list tomorrow.

Now that I’ve got my podcast list out of the way, it’s time to turn to one of the more typical topics for these lists – films of the year. I’m going to say straight away that I don’t get to the cinema that often, and I can’t promise a top 10, but I have a top 5 and some comments to make about the other films that I watched this year. Because of the way that films have various different release dates depending on where you are, and depending on whether you can make it to film festivals or not, a handful of these may usually be thought of as films that came out in 2009. I don’t live in London and can’t usually make it to films on limited release, so as far as I am concerned anything that was on wide release in the UK in 2010 can be included here. The order of these films, as in most of my lists, is fairly arbitrary – the ones I’ve actually numbered are all great, I liked them a lot, and they’re worth seeing. Although, I’d make sure you’re prepared for the film at number two. Leave some time after it to have a think and read/watch/do something cheerful and happy before you go to sleep. The films that I’ve written about, and haven’t numbered? Well, we’ll come to that now.

Oh, and these reviews contain spoilers. In case you care about that.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Inception

I’m afraid I can’t include this in my actual list – it’s certainly not one of my favourites of the year, and I don’t think it can possibly be one of the best films when considered objectively, either. It’s beautiful, and the way it was filmed, and the ideas behind it, are exciting. I love how they’ve thought out the concept of dream architects, and the different layers of the unconscious (it’s bullshit, but quite fun, elegant bullshit). But I tend not to like thrillers, especially not thrillers that have massive, stupid, gaping plot-holes (see the image that I’ve inserted below – once you’ve read it, you can never go back), and certainly not when their deepest concerns are with money and big business.

oh, plot holes.
The film is not about Cobb’s relationship with his kids, or his dead wife. It’s about him making some money for somebody else, which is, because of some tired film conventions, the key to him getting back to his kids. It’s a film full of characters that have boring, lacklustre convictions and motives, devoid of compassion or any believable reason to lack it. It’s about stupid, overblown plot machinations that the writers haven’t even had the grace to fit to their own internal logic. It’s capitalist to its core, and it’s stupider than it should be because of it.

Also, it’s too long. But the actors are mostly quite good, even though almost all of their parts are humourless and underwritten. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, especially, can do better than this. But he’s committed, which makes a lot of difference. it’s not quite unbearable.

At least it’s well made.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 1

oh, remus.

A lot of people have been talking about how the book really should have just been made into one film, because it doesn’t feel like there’s enough material here to hold it together. I don’t quite agree – I think that there was a lot of good material in this film, and I’m glad it had time to breathe. I loved the camping scenes, I loved them travelling around a darkened, empty vision of sad, rural Britain. I especially loved the scene in which Harry and Hermione dance to Nick Cave’s otherworldly, booming voice; nothing is alright or fixed because of it, but it’s kind of important anyway. But it does feel weirdly uneven; the film also contains a stupid, shambling heist in the Ministry of Magic, an unnerving scene in which lots of different characters polyjuice themselves into looking like Harry and feel disgusted with their borrowed bodies, and a ridiculous opening in which Voldemort and his followers sit around a massive table, and drain the scene of any menace it could have had.

I like the Harry Potter books, and I know these scenes are mostly based on what J.K. Rowling has written. I often like films that veer wildly between totally different tones, too, but somehow these just don’t work. It’s because the film is kind of trying to be a children’s film, still, despite everything. But it also wants to be grown up and smart and sad. J.K. Rowling’s book, I believe, does manage this, but the film just… doesn’t. One of the most terrifying parts of the book, when Bathilda Bagshot is revealed to be a possessed, rotting corpse, just doesn’t work onscreen – the whole sequence is a bit limp. What is scary when being read at 4am, when the reader has space to imagine everything exactly, intimately, is not what is scary in a film. The film is at its best when it shows the characters struggling with what has to be done, when it is not trying to be funny and becoming an atonal exaggeration in the process; the filmmakers are not, it seems, as adept at weaving together vastly different moods as J.K. Rowling. They don’t give the viewers enough imaginative space to allow the scenes to exist alongside one another.

I imagine the next film will be more of the same, but I’ll still go along and cry stupidly when Remus dies. And there’s enough good stuff here – the beautiful animated retelling of the fable of the deathly hallows, the shots of the forest, inside the tent, the radio – that I’m excited about seeing more.

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5. A Single Man

So in America this film came out last year, but it only got a wider release here in about February. I actually only saw it last month at the Magdalen Film Society, but I’m glad I finally got around to it – it’s beautiful. It’s such a quiet, non-verbal film – so much of the story is shown in the way Colin Firth moves, the way he arranges his things. I thought Nicholas Hoult was quite a weird casting choice, and it almost didn’t work, but his scenes are with a great mix of uneasiness and just utter, utter sadness and despair, which feels right. I just wish looking at him hadn’t jarred me out of the film quite so much. Julianne Moore is pretty great, but mostly as a foil to Colin’s George, as she is ridiculous and strange and he is… not. Not quite. Not any more.

My favourite parts of the film might be his memories – all tinted, faded, bright colours, all movement, all glimpse and then nothing. And oh my god, the conversation he has on the phone – it makes me want to curl up and wait until I can stop thinking about it. It’s just too painful to bear.

4. Toy Story 3

"we're number 4 in the list! how wonderful!"

I saw this in 3D. What a waste of money that is – I wear glasses already and resent having to perch another, clunkier pair on my stumpy little nose as well, and after a few minutes I couldn’t even tell that it was 3D anyway. However.

This is the first children’s film in ages that really shook me up, really made me forget the kind of conventions that the writers and filmmakers were working within. The scene where they all hold hands in the incinerator tore at me, and I really felt like the characters were in danger. I genuinely thought, for a horrified minute, that it might all go wrong – that they might be destroyed, together. They held hands and just stared at this insurmountable obstacle, the fire before them – and it wasn’t what I’d expected. It wasn’t anything I was prepared for. My problem with a lot of books for younger readers, a lot of films for younger viewers, is that the danger often doesn’t ever seem real. The plots never have convincing points at which everything could fail, and everything could go wrong. But this film got it right. It could have failed them, and they could have been destroyed. But somehow they were saved. It felt miraculous, precarious; it didn’t come across as some kind of big, blustering filmic destiny. And that’s right. That’s how it should always feel.

3. The Social Network

I haven’t seen, as far as I know, anything else that Aaron Sorkin has ever written or been heavily involved in, so I wasn’t particularly aware of his writing style before seeing this. It works really well, and manages to be full of incredible one-liners without seeming too mannered, too much. Jesse Eisenberg says his fast, sharp lines like he’s trying to be dead-eyed, like he’s trying not to care. Except that he does care, about some things, but he’s not sure how or why or what to do about it. He puts in an incredible, awkward, complete performance around the smart phrases that he wrings out, and that’s why the film’s great; because there’s so much beneath the script, and nothing is neglected. It’s easy to sound smart and dickish; it’s harder to get beneath that. Andrew Garfield is wonderful, too, at being cocky and wounded and struggling to deal with what’s happening around him, and his loss of control. I’m not sure about Justin Timberlake, which is a shame since this is a film that so heavily relies on its actors’ performances, but I think he just about pulls it off.

It’s possibly a bit too long for a film that’s really about some guys suing another guy, but it’s never really boring, and it rarely ever feels like it’s even about that. Because it’s about relationships (but not in a naff, stupid, ‘let’s look at the facebook-generation’ way), it’s about young people and capitalism now, and it’s about being smart and curious and not understanding what the people around you care about, and why. Before I saw it, before I was told that I needed to see it, I thought it would be boring. I’m so glad that I was wrong. Inception’s plot requires this big, capitalist MacGuffin for the plot to be able to hang together even tenuously, and its arbitrariness shows. But here the hyper-capitalist reality that the characters exist in is important, as it is both the film’s frame and the root of many (but not all, or even most) of the divisions between them. It’s critical, it’s funny, and it’s important, too.

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