2011 Academy Award Dream Ballot

The fun part; what I would have nominated. Keep in mind, I am paying no attention to what was actually submitted this year. If it came out in the States in 2010, it qualifies for consideration, regardless of whether or not it was in competition.Some categories I am not doing due to not having seen enough or not being able to judge with any capacity what might have been the ‘best’ in those fields (best being arbitrary of course)

Best Picture:
Animal Kingdom
Another Year
Black Swan
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Fish Tank
I Am Love
Last Train Home
The Social Network
Toy Story 3

Best Director:
Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan
Andrea Arnold – Fish Tank
David Fincher – The Social Network
Georgos Lanthimos – Dogtooth
Mike Leigh – Another Year

Best Actor:
Jim Broadbent – Another Year
Lars Eidinger – Everyone Else
Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network
Colin Firth – The King’s Speech
Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine

Best Actress: (this category is more packed than any other this year. Hence the absence of Portman and so many other incredible performances)
Isabelle Huppert – White Material
Jeon Do-yeon – Secret Sunshine
Catherine Keener – Please Give
Birgit Minichmayr – Everyone Else
Tilda Swinton – I Am Love

Best Supporting Actor:
Niles Arestrup – A Prophet
Christian Bale – The Fighter
Andrew Garfield – Never Let Me Go
John Hawkes – Winter’s Bone
Ben Mendelsohn – Animal Kingdom

Best Supporting Actress:
Dale Dickey – Winter’s Bone
Rebecca Hall – Please Give
Lesley Manville – Another Year
Hailee Steinfeld  – True Grit
Kiersten Waring – Fish Tank

Best Original Screenplay:
Another Year
Everyone Else
Fish Tank

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Never Let Me Go
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
White Material

Best Original Score:
The Ghost Writer
I Am Love
The Social Network
White Material

Best Art Direction:
Everyone Else
The Ghost Writer
The King’s Speech
Shutter Island
Winter’s Bone

Best Cinematography:
Black Swan
Enter the Void
Fish Tank
The Social Network
White Material

Best Costume Design:
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky
I Am Love
The King’s Speech
The Runaways
True Grit

Best Editing:
Another Year
Black Swan
Blue Valentine
I Am Love
The Social Network

Best Visual Effects:
Enter the Void
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World


Oscar Predictions 2011

For the record, this year is harder than most. I won’t even tell you how long it took to come up with these. I’m not very happy with them, but it’s hard to feel confident with all the back and forth going around this year. I only put what I want to win for the categories in which I saw the majority of the nominees. In the case of the Sound categories, I don’t feel like I know enough to pick what I want wih accuracy. That being said, if there is one thing I want to happen tomorrow, it is a win for Dogtooth. Considering the reaction it had to screenings for the Academy though, to say it is impossible is an understatement. Coming up…my long overdue Dream Ballot.

2011 Academy Award Predictions:

Best Actor:
Think: Colin Firth – The King’s Speech
Want: Colin Firth – The King’s Speech

Best Actress:
Think: Natalie Portman – Black Swan
Want: Natalie Portman – Black Swan

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Think: The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin
Want: The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin

Best Animated Film:
Think: Toy Story 3
Want: Toy Story 3

Best Animated Short:
Madagascar: A Journey Diary

Best Art Direction:
Think: The King’s Speech
Want: The King’s Speech

Best Cinematography:
Think: Roger Deakins  – True Grit
Want: Roger Deakins – True Grit

Best Costume Design:
Think: Jenny Beavan, The King’s Speech
Want: Antonella Cannarozzi, I Am Love

Best Director:
Think: David Fincher – The Social Network
Want: Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan

Best Documentary:
Think: Inside Job
Want: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Best Documentary Short:
Think: Poster Girl

Best Editing:
Think: Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall – The Social Network
Want: Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan

Best Foreign Language Film:
Think: In a Better World

Best Live-Action Short:
Think: Wish 143

Best Makeup:
Think: The Wolfman

Best Original Score:
Think: Alexandre Desplat – The King’s Speech
Want: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Social Network (by a hair. It’s hard to pass up the Inception score and the brilliance of Johnny Marr’s guitar)

Best Original Screenplay:
Think: David Seidler – The King’s Speech
Want: Mike Leigh – Another Year

Best Original Song:
Think: “We Belong Together” – Randy Newman – Toy Story 3
Want: “We Belong Together” – Randy Newman – Toy Story 3

Best Picture:
Think: The King’s Speech
Want: The Social Network

Best Sound Editing:
Think: Inception

Best Sound Mixing:
Think: Inception

Best Supporting Actor:
Think: Christian Bale – The Fighter
Want: John Hawkes – Winter’s Bone

Best Supporting Actress:
Think: Melissa Leo – The Fighter
Want: Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit

Best Visual Effects:
Think: Inception
Want: Inception

Film Review: Two-Faced Woman (1941)

Originally posted to Criterion Cast on February 25th, 2011

“Garbo Laughs”: one of the most famous movie taglines of all time. In 1939, MGM paired up screen legend Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas and director Ernst Lubitsch for the comedy Ninotchka. It would be Garbo’s first attempt in the genre after a career of playing smoldering temptresses and tragic figures in romance films. Ninotchka’s success impelled MGM to place her in another comedy in what was perhaps an attempt at shaping a new era of her career. The result is Two-Faced Woman, a weak and ill-advised screwball comedy recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive Collection. Critically it sank; furthermore, the film’s failure prompted Garbo to leave acting forever. Her career may have survived the transition to sound, unlike so many others, but it would not survive an attempted transition into something she was not; a comedienne.

Two–Faced Woman is an attempt at the screwball comedy complete with a contrast in rural and urban life, a bickering couple, disguises, misunderstandings and an unearned happy ending. The story concerns magazine editor Larry (Melvyn Douglas) who meets ski instructor Karin (Greta Garbo) on vacation. He falls for her immediately but she is uninterested. Soon, after being snowed in at a cabin together, they are married. Karin lives to ski and abhors the urban lifestyle. Larry misleads Karin into thinking they will spend their life at the lodge and he soon announces his trip back to New York. They argue for a while and he ends up leaving without her. Weeks pass and Larry has not visited Karin. She decides go to New York to surprise him. Once there, she sees him flirting with playwright Griselda Vaughn (Constance Bennett). She decides to play a trick on Larry in order to test his loyalty to her. She makes up an imaginary twin sister named Katherine, a sophisticated “indoor” loving, man hungry socialite. It does not take long for Larry to figure out that Katherine is really Karin and the rest of the film has each spouse playing a trick on the other.

One of the main problems with the film is that there is no reason to be invested in Larry and Karin as a couple. Their early scenes together show no signs of romance between the two. It then skips to them being married without the audience being able to see any transition in their feelings for each other. They know nothing about each other. After a few minutes of bliss, they begin arguing because neither wants to live where the other resides. Their arguing continues and repeats. He spends his time flirting with other women and neglecting his new bride. Finally, when he finds out about her deceit, he plays hurtful tricks on her even though her motives are out of desperation and not malice. These two clearly should not be together in the first place and Douglas’ character is a cad and outright unlikable. To see someone like Garbo going this far to win someone like Douglas’ Larry is almost embarrassing. Are we supposed to root for them? I certainly did not.

Douglas and Garbo are lacking in chemistry. There is no connection between them and the audience is never really allowed to buy them as a couple in the first place. Garbo’s performance is probably the most interesting aspect of the film, but not for the right reasons. She is woefully miscast and it is a very difficult performance to assess overall. There are times she is not even making eye contact with Douglas when she should be. There are other times where her heart does not seem to be in it. In other instances when she tries something out, it fails. In another scene she might try something out and it works. There are times when she seems to be going through the motions. She just does not know what to do with this role and by far the most engaging aspect of the film is trying to figure out if Garbo completely flounders in the role or has achieved a bizarre and unlikely level of success that nobody.

Cukor is always dependable for a sleek production and he does what he can. Regardless, he is unable to get a consistent performance from Garbo, who he also directed in 1936’s Camille. He does give us a charming treat with a sequence in the middle of the film which has Garbo’s Karin inadvertently inventing a new dance; this easily serves as the film’s highlight. The film’s only actively positive component is Constance Bennett who deserves better material as Grizelda. She contributes little to the story but she is excellent and amusing here as the hopeful man stealer; it helps that she gets the film’s best dialogue.

Two-Faced Woman is topped off with a ludicrous finale which has Larry endlessly falling down skiing mountains for five minutes. This is followed by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it unearned reconciliation between the two spouses. That this is the way the film resolves its conflicts should be evidence enough that it has no idea how to function as a screwball comedy. With uninvolving characters and an even less involving romance at its center, Two-Faced Woman wants to be mischievous fun but makes missteps at every turn. This DVD should only be seen by Garbo enthusiasts and those who are interested in seeing her attempt to navigate through the realm of comedy.

Top 20 Films to See Jan-April 2011

This is my personal list of the 20 films being released in the US from January through April of 2011 that interest me most. The rest of the films I’m interested in are listed in alphabetical order at the end.

20. Caves of Forgotten Dreams

19. Orgasm, Inc

18. The Woodsmans

17. Cold Weather

16. 13 Assassins

15. Sucker Punch

14. Cracks

13. Old Cats

12. Incendies

11. Your Highness

10. Heartbeats

9. I Saw the Devil

8. Uncle Boonmee who can Recall his Past Lives

7. The Housemaid (seen it)

6. Dream Home

5. Certified Copy

4. Meek’s Cutoff

3. Hanna

2. Jane Eyre

1. Poetry

The rest:
The Adjustment Bureau
American Grindhouse
Atlas Shrugged: Part 1
Battle: Los Angeles
Black Death
Cedar Rapids
Desert Flower
The Double Hour
The Green Hornet
In a Better World
Into Eternity
The Last Lions
The Music Never Stopped
Of Gods and Men
Peep World
Putty Hill
Red Riding Hood
Red State
The Rite
The Roommate/Beastly in an epic bad movie double feature
Scream 4
Seconds Apart
The Sky Turns
When We Leave
Win Win
Winter in Wartime

Film Review: The Housemaid (Im, 2011)

Im Sang-soo’s remake of the essential 1960 Korean classic The Housemaid is one of the more highly anticipated films to come from South Korea in recent years. For many decades, Korean cinema had been weighed down with the trauma of division, the government’s control of the film industry and the extreme censorship laws, virtually invalidating film as a mode of free expression. That Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid made it through was a stroke of luck due to a transitional change of regime. This very simplified context should make it clear why hype surrounded how the New Korean Cinema was going to interpret a rare and iconic example of pre-1990’s Korean film. The “remake” can barely be called that; it is more of a re-imagining. The decision to start from scratch and only use the basic premise (family hires a housemaid; disaster ensues) is inspired. Unfortunately Im Sang-soo’s take on the story is only intermittently successful and is ultimately undone by its simplistic and monotonous depiction of the elite.

A commentary on the emerging middle class, Kim’s 1960 film was a morality tale with a literal wink in its eye. The basic plot was this: a middle class couple hires a woman to become their housemaid in the midst of fixing up their dream house and raising their two children. The woman turns out to be a disturbed individual who sets out to seduce the husband and destroy their family in any way she can. Im Sang-soo (who also wrote the “remake”), discards all of this. It goes without saying that South Korea has changed since 1960; interpreting the premise to make it relevant to their modern day socioeconomic environment was, in theory, the right way to go with this material.

The new synopsis is as follows: Eun-yi (Secret Sunshine’s Jeon Do-yeon) is hired by a very wealthy family as a housemaid for the very young and very pregnant Hae-Ra (Seo Woo) and her husband Joon (Lee Jung-jae). They already have one child named Nami. Eun-yi is awkward, wide-eyed and overwhelmed by the undertaking her job entails. She is hired by “Miss Cho” (Yoon Yeo-jeong), the other housemaid who has been there for decades. One night Hoon seduces Eun-yi, who hesitantly but willfully submits to his lure. “Miss Cho” discovers the pair’s dalliance and even realizes that Eun-yi is pregnant before anybody else (including Eun-yi!). “Miss Cho” tells Hae-ra’s mother (Park Ji-young), who then plots with Hae-ra to get rid of the housemaid whose pregnancy could potentially cause ruin to their family.

Im Sang-soo, not unknown to controversy with his previous films, decided to take on the elite with his latest. As the writer/director himself has stated, he wanted to address the established upper class that has emerged in South Korea, who are extremely wealthy and yield a considerable amount of power (from the director’s perspective). Eun-yi’s experience with the wealthy represents the circumstances and motivations behind the decisions the elite supposedly make. Everything that Hae-ra, Joon and Hae-ra’s mother do in the film is out of greed, jealousy or an effort to save face. It is certainly meant to be a scathing attack on the deluded morals of the privileged. Unfortunately, Im’s critique is greatly diluted by characters that are one-note caricatures. The Housemaid is filled with characters that fail to be interesting or engaging and whose one-note selfishness comes off makes them seem like the stock villains of a soap opera. Hae-ra repeatedly cries offense from being cheated on with “the woman who washes my underwear”. Joon never gets enough screen time to marinate with the audience and is mostly present in sex scenes. The character of Hae-ra’s mother is the hardest to take seriously. From her wardrobe to the performance, it all comes off as hammy and hard to take seriously. In addition to all of this, Eun-yi is not all that absorbing; we feel and care about her but not as much as we should. Jeon Do-yeon does manage to do a lot with the material and puts in a worthy performance. She makes her a victim who actively makes decisions that seem desirable at the time, but ultimately have tragic consequences. Still, a one-dimensional group of wealthy, villainous characters and a sympathetic but only mildly stimulating protagonist does not amount to much, making it difficult to take any deeper meaning about class from the film.

The Housemaid may fall short of its goals but is still entertaining and sexy to boot. There are several specific reasons that the film is worth seeing. The first is the production design by Han Ah Reum. A 2,300 square-foot set was created for the film, the largest in Korean film history. The effort pays off; the entire house is gorgeous with its sleek design elements and modern grandeur. The cinematography by Lee Hyung-deok ideally compliments the production design with its long shots that incorporate large segments of the space, depicting it as intimidating and shallow, but stunning nonetheless. The most important reason to see The Housemaid is the film’s one multi-dimensional character; “Miss Cho”. “Miss Cho” knows more than any other character in the film. She has an arc that begins with her betrayal of Eun-yi and her loyalty to Hae-ra’s mother. She is resentful but loyal to her employees and has hardened by existing through her service to them. “Miss Cho” changes by the film’s end and seeing her navigate through her changing role in the various situations she encounters is by far the most developed material the film has to offer.

Lastly, The Housemaid is book-ended with scenes that stand out from what takes place in between. The first is the suicide of a random woman in the area where Eun-yi works. It is notable because it foreshadows an event that happens later in the film, it acknowledges the very real suicide problem in South Korea and it starts the film off with a very different tone in relation to what comes after. The scene is shot hand-held and directly contradicts the glossy look of the film once we enter the world of the wealthy. The last scene is also very different in tone and is far and away the best scene in the film. Without giving it away, it captures a moment in such a bizarre way that evokes the very present denial of the people involved, and suggests the ability of one character to see through the transparency of the family’s desperate attempts to pretend that nothing has happened. Cryptic, I know. It is important though to give the scene some context without being spoiler ridden, as it is the highlight of the film.

Im Sang-soo made an inspired choice to reinterpret Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid for the present day. Starting from scratch allowed him to critique the upper class, and the abuses of power that come with the rich, through the eyes of one unfortunate housemaid. Unfortunately, the attack is flimsy and weakly executed. While it manages to be a fun erotic thriller, most of its characters fail to rise above basic characterization. The subversions and deranged qualities of the original are absent and would have been welcome under new contexts. The Housemaid is worth seeing as it makes for an entertaining and harmless experience but do not expect anything more than a decent film, for you might be disappointed.


Monthly Round-Up: January 2011

These new monthly round-ups are just so I can post all the films I see in any given month. My priority has always been to watch films rather than seeing less so I can review more. If anyone wants to know what I thought of any particular film, feel free to ask. The ones in bold were the highlights of the month. Just because they aren’t in bold, does not mean I didn’t like them. There are many films not on bold I sincerely loved.

Movies I Have Seen in 2011:

  1. Hot Tub Time Machine (2010, Pink)
  2. Everyone Else (2010, Ade)
  3. The King’s Speech (2010, Hooper)
  4. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010, Helander)
  5. Secret Sunshine (2010, Lee)
  6. Get Low (2010, Schneider)
  7. Blue Valentine (2010 Cianfrance)
  8. Spiral (2007, Green/Moore)
  9. Surf Nazis Must Die (1987, George)
    10.  Smash His Camera (2010, Gast)
    11.  Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust (2004, Ankar)
    12.  Tombstone (1993, Cosmatos, but really Kurt Russell)

13.  Mr. Skeffington (1944, Sherman)
14.  Howards End (1992, Ivory)
15.  Merci Pour le Chocloat (2000, Chabrol)
16.  The Maid (2009, Silva)
17.  The Hospital (1971, Hiller)
18.  Keane (2004, Kerrigan)
19.  The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985, Allen)
20.  Barking Dog Never Bite (2000, Bong)
21.  The Last of Sheila (1973, Ross)
22.  Chuck and Buck (2000, Arteta)
23.  True Romance (1993, Scott)
24.  Irma Vep (1996, Assayas)
25.  All That Jazz (1979, Fosse)
26.  The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926, Reiniger)
27.  American Grindhouse (2010, Drenner)
28.  Umberto D (1952, De Sica)
29.  Fanny and Alexander (1982, Bergman)
30.  The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Kieslowski)
31.  Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962, Varda)
32.  The Stranger (1946, Welles)
33.  The Housemaid (1960, Kim)
34.  Temple Grandin (2010, Jackson)
35.  High School Musical (2006, Ortega) (with Rifftrax)
36.  Donkey Skin (1970, Demy)
37.  The Silence (1963, Bergman)
38.  Viridiana (1962, Bunuel)
39.  Forbidden Games (1952, Clement)
40.  The Fire Within (1962, Malle)
41.  Walkabout (1971, Roeg)
42.  Late Spring (1949, Ozu)
43.  GasLand (2010, Fox)

Top 30 Films of 2010 (#15-1)

My final 2010 Film Post! Finally! My goal was to have these up by the end of January. I just barely made it. For my introduction to this list, you can go to the Top 30 Films of 2010 (#30-16) post. Again, keep in mind films such as Inside Job, The Illusionist, The Way Back, Made in Dagenham, Another Year, Tiny Furniture and plenty others were not taken into consideration because I have not seen them. Also, a list of the films seen this year will be at the end of the post so that anyone interested can see all the work that was taken into consideration.

15. The Kids Are All Right
The very definition of a Sundance hit, Lisa Cholodenko’s film is a delight that manages to address issues of family and marriage with sincerity without being overly heavy. Bening and Moore have pitch-perfect chemistry and their marriage never feels anything but authentic. Some have criticized the film for the way it treats the Ruffalo character at the end. Despite feeling terrible for Ruffalo’s Paul, having Jules and Nic resolve their issues does not represent a definitive lack of sympathy towards Paul on the part of the film. The film discards him because that’s how Jules and Nic decide to handle the situation. We may not agree with it, but it’s ultimately their story and not Paul’s. Seriously though; poor Paul.

14. Inception
An essential film going experience of 2010, Inception is fully engrossing from start to finish. It manages to entertain and engage like few other films do. This is a film I definitely had issues with, (characters that solely function as archetypes, lack of complex characterization, not as much depth as others think, etc) but these complaints are all balanced out and more than made up for through the triumph of structural storytelling that Nolan displays and the complexity of the world he creates. Inception redefines what the blockbuster can be. It is made for repeat viewings and more than holds up from them. Nolan is one of the best working storytellers in English language filmmaking.

13. Blue Valentine
Derek Cianfrance’s hard work paid off with Blue Valentine, the story of a relationship shown in two time periods; the blossoming romance and the hopelessness of their marriage years later. Not having the middle of the story filled in for the audience smartly engages us in assessing where Dean and Cindy are in their lives as opposed to where they were. Forgetting the why and concentrating on what it is we are being shown, makes for a devastating portrait of what time and circumstance can do to a relationship, and is championed by its two captivating lead performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

12. Never Let Me Go
This film about the inevitability of death largely split audiences, with some being profoundly moved, and others being left coldly unaffected. Count me in with the profoundly moved crowd. Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name, Never Let Me Go takes a sci-fi concept and turns it into a somber and muted drama. Kathy, Tommy and Ruth almost blindly drift towards their fate just as we drift towards ours. Mark Romanek has created a beautiful and understated visual aesthetic and captures stunning performances from Mulligan, Garfield and Knightley. This is a film that I feel will slowly gain more appreciation as years go on.

11. Four Lions
An outrageously funny comedy from the UK, Four Lions is a satire on bumbling Jihadi Islamic terrorists from England. A film that could have miscalculated every step of the way ended up hitting all the right notes. Chris Morris keeps the film loose without ever having it lose its focus and even manages to be oddly touching. Filled with hilarious performances and offensive but never misguided moments, Four Lions is the best comedy of the year and more than worth seeking out.

10. Everyone Else
This exhaustive look at the slowly changing dynamic between a couple is insightful and fascinating. Led by two remarkable performances (Lars Eidinger and Birgit Minichmayr) that function as two halves of a whole, this is easily one of the best films to ever closely examine a relationship. It has complex and frustrating characters that slowly change and affect the behavior of the other. The result is a unique and layered film that has two of the most complex characters from a film this past year.

9. The Social Network
The result of all the right elements coming together perfectly, The Social Network is a stinging piece of filmmaking marked by Fincher’s clean and even cold precision, Sorkin’s biting wit and cynicism and Eisenberg’s insecure, arrogant interpretation of a genius. This is a film brimming with confidence and perfectly paced. What started as an overstatement of the film’s relevance has now backtracked to being an understatement. I do think the film has some of the relevance critics at first claimed. The film to define a generation? No. A film with a lot to say both about its characters and the broad societal implications of their actions? Absolutely.

8. Fish Tank
From here on out, these numbers are essentially arbitrary. This could easily be in my Top 3. A beautifully photographed, raw portrait of a teenage girl, rooted in the British social realism films from the early 60’s. Katie Jarvis is magnetic and a natural performer, supported by equally admirable work from Michael Fassbender and Kierston Wareing. Unpredictable and poignant, this coming of age drama proudly defies yet at times embraces cliche. An unforgettable sophomore effort by Andrea Arnold.

7. Toy Story 3
As I’ve said many times, it was surreal to get a third installment of this franchise which I grew up with. A particularly meaningful end to a story which continues to address the themes that Pixar explores so well. A film that manages to pay tribute to its characters and provide a satisfying and bittersweet end to its story. Most importantly, it does what Pixar does best; it satisfies both the children’s demographic as well as the adults. Pixar continues to set a nearly impossible standard for what the children’s film can be.

6. Animal Kingdom
The crime thriller of the year, this Australian achievement has surprises at every turn. Its characters are distinct and layered from the get go. The family dynamic is thrilling to observe. The performances make up the best ensemble of the year. It tells a familiar story with unprecedented depth and insight. It completely took me by surprise and captivates from the first frame to the last.

5. Greenberg
Noah Baumbach is a treasure who is so acutely aware of how he sees the world and is able to, whether you love it or hate it, place that vision onto the screen with exact precision. Ben Stiller in a career best performance inhabits Roger’s misanthropy with ease. If everyone had liked the film, it wouldn’t have been a success. My admittedly overlong 3,000 word review tended to ramble a lot but the point of it was that it’s the film I connected to the most this year on a personal level and I took a different approach to writing that review. The film fully inhabits Roger’s perspective and is not afraid to sink into the way he sees the world. Greta Gerwig and Rhys Ifans provide excellent support.

4. I Am Love
I Am Love wears its emotions on its sleeves and it has the depth and complexity to back up its dressed up visual aesthetic. The tone aligns itself with Emma’s (Swinton) emotional state. Emma starts out being nearly invisible in a film that feel cold and empty. As she allows herself to experience physical and emotional love for the first time in her life, the film itself opens up and becomes a dramatic and invigorating experience that throws itself into melodrama without drowning in it. Tilda Swinton, who developed and produced the project with writer/director Ludo Guadagnino, continues to prove that she is the pinnacle of film acting.

3. Dogtooth
At once hilarious and unsettling, Dogtooth examines the family unit at its most absurdly twisted and deformed. Yorgos Lathimos; remember that name. Revealing its plot at just the right moments, this Greek film is a work of true originality, likely to elicit all sorts of reactions and emotions from its viewers. It may be number 3 on this list of favorite films of 2010, but if I had to pick a film that I’d call the “best” of the year, it would be this one. The performances have gone unfairly unacknowledged; they are tricky characters to play and their success is essential to why the film itself works. Photographed in amusingly off kilter ways along with just the right unglamorous cinematography, Dogtooth is a complete vision and a masterpiece. It also is unmatched in its use of film reference. I now have new connotations to both Jaws and Rocky.

2. Last Train Home
A documentary that will stick with you long after it ends, Last Train Home uses the tale of one family to represent China’s push and pull between the rural roots it comes from and the industrial present it accommodates. This cinema verite follows one couple as they take part in the world’s largest annual migration; the Spring Festival when millions travel home to see their families only once a year. On the other side of this is Qin, their daughter drifting towards rebellion and against the very values her parents (who she barely knows) tried to hard to instill in her. The result is tragic and surprising, even difficult to watch. It captures the unimaginable chaos within the Spring Festival migration. Even more interesting is the way the climax of the film seems spawned by the very presence of the camera which clearly suffocates certain family members after a while. That the climactic exchange of the film theoretically might not have happened without the camera’s presence, makes for excellent fodder for meaningful discussion about the nature of the documentary. While one family certainly cannot and should not be representative of the complex economical situation of a country, Last Train Home is incomparably moving and affecting.

1. Black Swan
Steeped in high drama and dipping into absurdity, Black Swan still manages to justify how seriously it takes itself. It is an experience, carefully executed and filled with particular repetition and gradual all-consuming menace. Darren Aronofsky knows exactly what he is doing and is unashamed in pouring blatant metaphor down our throats. Stunning in every regard with a powerhouse central performance by Portman, Black Swan is as dramatic as the ballet, and is a sight to behold. Like Inception, it is a bona fide experience at the movies and one that will leave you breathless.

Complete List of 2010 Films Seen:
127 Hours
A Prophet (2010)
After.life (2010)
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
All Good Things (2010)
The American (2010)
American Grindhouse (2010)
Animal Kingdom (2010)
Art of the Steal (2010)
Babies (2010)
Best Worst Movie (2010)
Black Swan (2010)
Bluebeard (2010)
Blue Valentine (2010)
Buried (2010)
Carlos (2010)
Catfish (2010)
Centurion (2010)
Chloe (2010)
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (2010)
The Crazies (2010)
Cyrus (2010)
Devil (2010)
The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010)
Dogtooth (2010)
Easy A (2010)
Enter the Void (2010)
Everyone Else (2010)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
The Fighter (2010)
Fish Tank (2010)
Four Lions (2010)
Frozen (2010)
Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Get Low (2010)
The Ghost Writer (2010)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)
The Girl who Played with Fire (2010)
The Girl on the Train (2010)
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2010)
Greenberg (2010)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)
Holly Rollers (2010)
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Howl (2010)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
I Am Love (2010)
I Love You Philip Morris (2010)
Inception (2010)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Jean-Michel Baquiat: The Radiant Child (2010)
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)
Jonah Hex (2010)
Kick-Ass (2010)
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
The Killer Inside Me (2010)
Legion (2010)
Life During Wartime (2010)
The King’s Speech (2010)
The Last Exorcism (2010)
Last Train Home (2010)
Let Me In (2010)
The Lottery (2010)
Machete (2010)
Mademoiselle Chambon (2010)
Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2010)
Mesrine: Public Enemy Number 1 (2010)
Micmacs (2010)
Monsters (2010)
Mother (2010)
Mother and Child (2010)
Never Let Me Go (2010)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Ondine (2010)
Peacock (2010)
Piranha 3D (2010)
Please Give (2010)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
REC 2 (2010)
RED (2010)
Red Riding Trilogy (2010)
Restrepo (2010)
The Runaways (2010)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
The Secret in Their Eyes (2010)
The Secret of Kells (2010)
Secret Sunshine (2010)
Shrek Forever After (2010)
Shutter Island (2010)
Smash His Camera (2010)
The Social Network (2010)
Solitary Man (2010)
Somewhere (2010)
Soul Kitchen (2010)
The Special Relationship (2010)
Splice (2010)
The Square (2010)
Tales from the Script (2010)
Temple Grandin (2010)
The Town (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
True Grit (2010)
Unstoppable (2010)
Valhalla Rising (2010)
Vincere (2010)
Waking Sleeping Beauty (2010)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
When You’re Strange (2010)
White Material (2010)
The White Stripes: Under the Great Northern Lights (2010)
Who is Harry Nilsson and Why is Everybody Talkin About Him? (2010)
Winnebago Man (2010)
Winter’s Bone (2010)
The Wolfman (2010)

Post SAG/DGA Write-Up

The SAG and DGA awards were given out this past weekend, solidifying The King’s Speech‘s likely win for Best Picture come February 27th. With all the critics awards going to The Social Network, everybody (including me) assumed that it would continue its streak into the Guilds. How wrong we were. The end result of the tides turning has been a seemingly endless heap of insults being thrown at Hooper’s historical drama. It’s certainly everybody’s right to express their opinions and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who legitimately hate the film or are strongly against it’s probable win. Personally, I would pick several of the films nominated to win over The King’s Speech. Am I slightly annoyed about this change of pace? A little. Am I actively upset about it? No. To put this much emphasis on what the AMPAS has to say is a grave error. Awards season should be fun, it should provoke some worthwhile discussions and then put to rest so we can continue seeking out films of all different kinds to partake in and enjoy. What it shouldn’t be is an endless bashing of one film in favor of another as if the merits of the films themselves hang in the balance of this one context. The King’s Speech is no longer being judged on its own merits or quality. The only frame of mind linked to the film now is “Should it win Best Picture?” When the answer is unsurprisingly no, the film is discarded and any value it has shrinks in the shadow of the all too “important” question. This kind of thinking, in my opinion, destroys the entire point of watching film AND it suggests that anyone thinking this way genuinely puts a lot of stock into what the Academy thinks. Unless this is the late 1960’s when the Academy’s choice actually represented a recognition of a drastic cultural and cinematic shift, then it is ultimately irrelevant what they think. Of course we want them to recognize our favorites of the year; it’s natural. However, being in a frame of mind where the AMPAS’ decision for Best Picture matters so much that a film has to be unnecessarily lampooned by so many, only emphasizes the stereotype that bloggers have way too much time on their hands. Surely there are more worthwhile and relevant things going on in the world to get this upset over. I recognize that I get upset about the Academy’s decisions just like everyone else; I won’t be hypocritical and deny that. I also am very happy when films I love get the recognition from them they deserve. I used to put so much emphasis on the AMPAS; I have since learned better.

I have a long way to go before my writing is anywhere near where I want it to be. There is an article I’d like to point out about this very subject that is put so much more succinctly and accurately than I could have ever articulated. I URGE anybody who has somehow made their way to this post to read it.