Hey there, stranger! Where have you been these last twelve months?
2013 has been a strange year professionally. While I didn’t make a short film of my own this year, I began the year in a rather alien position for me -- shooting ‘B’ camera on my good pal Shane Dunlop’s sitcom LEONGATHA (which screened on C31 in Melbourne and Sydney mid-year). I say “alien” as I’ve rarely been a Camera Operator outside of one of my films or a school environment. It was a fantastic experience, working with a lovely crew on a fun, fast-paced shoot. I learned a lot, got some nice footage -- and the shoot introduced me to the glory of the 50mm lens, for which I shall be forever grateful. So a huge thanks from me to Shane, Luke Morrison and the Sengsouvanh (aka Scallions) brothers for having me along. It’s a funny show, too, and all available on YouTube.
Then, thanks to the gale-force powers of Rubia Braun, I lent my services to the Armed With The Arts Peace Crane Project, shooting some footage of origami cranes and kids playing in Melbourne for the Australia arm of this excellent project. Supported by the United Nations, no less, the project aims to get children all over the world engaged in artistic pursuits, and exploring its potential to understand other cultures, start a conversation and find alternative ways to express emotions and resolve conflict. It’s a brilliant initiative, and the video we shot in the US, India and Australia was screened in New York, before the UN. Here it is, and it’s pretty darn cute.
There was also the usual work of shooting and editing pitch videos for friends’ TV projects and actors’ showreels... but the most exciting development for me this year was writing my very first feature film screenplay. I’ve been developing my “inverted slasher film”, MENTOR, for a little while now, but finally put Courier New to Final Draft (the new “pen to paper”, in case you’re wondering) this year and, by September, was able to hold an 88 page printed document, that included a beginning, a middle and an end, in my hands. Needless to say, this was a massive thrill for me. Literally decades of starting feature film scripts and hitting the wall at page 30 are now over. It feels like a new era has begun. I’ve since started work on my “official” first draft, cleaning the script up and turning it into the movie I want to make. It’s going slowly... but brilliantly. I’m even surprising myself, which is nice. I’m looking to have this draft locked in by March 2014, which is when things will start to get really exciting!
But enough about me. I know you’re all here for...
If I had to vote for a collective cinema MVP of 2013, it would be American Independent Cinema. The US Indies have killed it this year, showing more than ever that you don’t need a big budget, special VFX or even a script to get to the truth: you just need to find your own way there, in the way that speaks to you. Films in among my favourites this year include a midnight movie take on the 1%/99% divide, a completely improvised comedy of unresolved tension between friends, possibly the greatest feminist rom-com ever made and a look at a care facility for at-risk kids that manages to dodge all sentimentality for beautifully lived-in truth - and breaks your heart anyway. What’s more, 2013 is also the year where the spearheads of the so-called “mumblecore” film movement -- Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Andrew Bujalski -- finally graduated with honours, making films that were funny, touching, inventive, scarily relatable and beautifully crafted.
As always, this countdown arrives with disclaimers:
145 films enter... how many will leave?
PAUL ANTHONY NELSON'S TOP 20 FILMS OF 2013
1) THE ACT OF KILLING
The film of 2013 for me was a film -- truly, no hyperbole now -- unlike any you’ve ever seen. (And, hopefully, will scarcely see again.) After hearing about the mass murder of over one million communists in 1965-66 Indonesia, co-directors Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn went to speak to the survivors of this little-known holocaust. Strangely, they found them silent and uncooperative -- at least publicly -- before discovering why: even today, the genocide was still celebrated by Suharto’s Indonesia. A real-life exemplar of “history is written by the winners”, they found the leaders of this movement, former gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, and those beneath them, all-too-willing to boast loudly about their war crimes. (Imagine a world where the Nazis won WWII, the Hitler Youth continue to hold rallies and Hermann Goering appears on morning talk shows to chat about what a service he did by killing the Jews -- that’s what this is.) But the form the film takes is even more startling: how do you even begin to persuade these murderers that they’ve done something so wrong, when they lack even basic empathy for their victims? Anwar and his cohorts were all huge movie fans -- they used to sell black market movie tickets before spearheading a genocidal death squad -- so the directors decided to conduct what amounts to art therapy on an epic scale: Getting these gangsters and paramilitary stand-over men to reenact their crimes in the idiom of classic movie genres. They gave them cameras, extras and only the most limited assistance to film their ghoulish deeds in musical/western/war/noir fashion. Watching this startling, weirdly-amusing-despite-itself, yet fundamentally distressing footage is as confronting, conflicted as anything you’ll see, and will leave you pondering all manner of ethical questions. The scenes are interspersed with Anwar and co showing us around their everyday errands; going on TV, walking the streets like heroes, shaking hands, shaking shopkeepers down. It’s like seeing Goodfellas: Indonesia Style, but chillingly real. Also intriguing is the variation of responses from the war criminals involved, running the gamut from internal struggle, to moral justification, to unshakeable belief. We’re shoved, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, into a front row seat to the crass humanity and banality of cruelty, and makes us watch for 159 gruelling minutes... but something amazing happens toward the end of the film. I won’t say what, but it will stay with me forever. As a tragic postscript to the legacy of the Suharto regime, Oppenheimer and Cynn make sure to include the hundreds of “Anonymous” credits in the final scrawl: Indonesians who helped make the film but still can’t be credited due to fear of persecution -- hoping to see a day when their names can finally be reinstated. A singularly horrific, fascinating and important film, THE ACT OF KILLING is nothing short of a landmark documentary work.
Thank you for joining me again (or, if for the first time - welcome!) for my annual epic journey into my movie year! Hope you found my picks interesting, and are encouraged to seek out the films here you’ve not seen! Have a happy, healthy and cinematic 2014!
Viva la cinema!
My Top 10 Pleasant Surprises of 2012
So, here we are again, dear readers: Christmas gifts opened, dinners consumed and Boxing Day films viewed as we’re but hours away from closing the book on another year. Which means only one thing to film blogs, of course...
2012 has been an odd year, personally, professionally and cinematically. Personally, it’s been a year of finding my way: of testing what does work, what doesn’t work and examining what I want most out of life. Professionally, it’s been a year of constant activity entwined with -- somewhat paradoxically -- stagnation, which ultimately served as the chrysalis for a rebirth of professional goals and future projects. We started the year aiming to make two shorts, made none, instead creating a heap of trailers for various projects and purposes, before announcing to the world our big plan: Two shorts in 2013, followed by our first feature film, MENTOR, in 2014. Yeah, I’m pretty excited.
Cinematically, what promised in many ways to be an epochal year in modern cinema turned out -- for me, anyway -- to be one of cold disappointments and pleasant surprises, with only a few exceptions. It was a year where I became a radio film critic for ABC Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast FM stations in Queensland, and therefore going to more screenings and seeing more new films than ever before. Whether this contributed to my relatively ambivalent view of cinema in 2012 is something only time will tell, since I’ve now hung up my radio critical boots (after, it must be said, having a wonderful time chatting with respective morning hosts Nicole Dyer and Annie Gaffney).
It was a year where many of my favourite filmmakers released new works: Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, for starters (although the latter’s effort is excluded from this chart as it releases in Australia in 2013 -- which is a shame, as it would have made a huge impact on the list). Who of them made my list of favourite films of 2012?
Quick answer? Not as many as you would think.
So let’s dig in to it. What you will find below are my Top 10 Pleasant Surprises and Top 10 Films of 2012. As always, the rule of eligibility is this: Only feature-length narrative and documentary films that received a PUBLIC, NON-INVITATION-ONLY Cinema, DVD/Blu-Ray, Television or Video On Demand release in Australia for the first time in 2012 are able to be included. Basically, any feature film that Joe and Jane Public could buy a ticket to is in (so this includes films screened at film festivals). Got it? Okay. So, from a record 155 eligible films, here are my…
Paul Anthony Nelson's Top 10 Films of 2012
First, the runners-up:
15) THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
14) KING OF DEVIL’S ISLAND
12) THE RAID
11) A SEPARATION
...and then, there were ten…
So, that draws the curtain on 2012! If you haven’t seen any of these, I implore you to rush out and do so! Thank you all for your support this year, and we welcome you all to join us for the wild ride to come…
Now bring on 2013!
Viva la cinema,
Paul Anthony Nelson
Firstly, Happy New Year!
Secondly, welcome and thank you for joining me at the new blog! I’m aware many of you read my past year-end posts on my old PULP FRICTION AUSTRALIA page, which I discontinued in favour of this much more *ahem* self-promotional portal. But mainly because it made sense to put everything in one place. Feel free to go back and read my old pieces at PFA, however -- they’re not going anywhere.
Emerging from a cinematic year with optimism for the next, as I did at 2010’s end, is a risky proposition. Dreams and expectations, in this internet-driven age of hyperbole and rock-or-suck impunity, can be shattered in a cold, orphaned instant. Or, the impossible can happen: Your expectations could be exceeded...
Yeah, okay. So that didn’t happen in 2011.
But… my expectations weren’t reduced to rubble, either.
If nothing else, world cinema in 2011 – at least, the relatively infinitesimal speck of it I managed to see – was remarkably well played, for the most part. Sure, the stinkers were out there if you wanted to find them: THE HANGOVER PART II, ABDUCTION, BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE: LIKE FATHER LIKE SON, NEW YEAR’S EVE, GREEN LANTERN, RED RIDING HOOD, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN, ZOOKEEPER, THE ROOMMATE, BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR and, well, anything starring Adam Sandler or Nicolas Cage, had more than their fair share of vocal detractors. But you know what?
I didn’t see any of them. Potential dodged bullets, all.
But I also didn’t see such acclaimed efforts as A SEPARATION, SENNA, MONEYBALL, INCENDIES, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, RANGO, HIGHER GROUND, PROJECT NIM, THE FUTURE, THE HELP or BEING ELMO, so, y’know… swings and roundabouts.
Before I count down my (newly expanded!) favourite films of 2011, allow me the indulgence to get personal for a moment…
My nascent filmmaking career has had its own twists and turns this year. In a year where everything seemed to take me three times as long as it should (post-production on past shorts, development on future projects), I managed to make my fourth short film – and first horror film – to compete for a place in an upcoming anthology picture called THE ABCS OF DEATH. Shot in two days and edited over two weeks with a small and fantastic team, T IS FOR TALK RADIO may not have made the competition finals, but proved to be the most artistically fulfilling project I’ve originated thus far, and won our little production company lots of new fans around the world.
Which means I’ll have to make something even better next time. <gulp>
But it has given me the confidence to head into 2012 with a small head of steam, at least.
Now… enough about me – let’s hit the list!
(WARNING: Everything before this paragraph was written a couple of days before New Years Eve, as I was beginning to come down with a savage case of the ‘Flu. Everything after this paragraph was written in a haze of Lemsip, Neurofen, Echinacea/Vitamin C/Garlic/Zinc and Ease-a-Cold tablets. So, while the rankings were decided beforehand, if the reviews make little grammatical/conceptual sense… I blame the drugs.)
In a first, I’ve opened up my usual top 10 films to 25, as I felt at least ten films I saw this year were worthy of more than an “Honourable Mention”. But then there another five which wouldn’t go away, either. Doesn’t usually go down like that, so I thought I’d acknowledge it this year. A gold star to stick on 2011’s yearbook, if you will.
As for which films qualify, any film I saw which was commercially released to the public in cinemas, on DVD or at ticketed film festival screenings during 2011 is eligible. My field this year? 117 feature films and documentaries.
I’ve also done away with my Bottom 10 list this year, as a) I’ve purposely avoided the worst releases of the year and b) I’d prefer not to focus upon the negatives in what was, largely, a pretty strong year for movies. Also, I kind of like to celebrate why we love to go to the pictures in the first place.
Speaking of which:
Let’s do this.
PAUL ANTHONY NELSON’S TOP 25 FILMS OF 2011
And now… My #1 film of 2011…
And before we go…
THE WOMAN, KNUCKLE (documentary), MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES, BRIDESMAIDS.
BEST AUSTRALIAN FILM:
SLEEPING BEAUTY, by a nose over MAD BASTARDS.
One more thing: Loosely connected to MELANCHOLIA and watching movies, I so wanted to put this picture at the beginning of the post -- Yes, it’s Udo Kier at Austin, Texas’ Alamo Drafthouse cinema... salivating.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: YES.
Please leave any thoughts you may want to share on this list, of 2011 film in general, on Twitter at @mrpaulnelson or @cinemaviscera, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Before I sign off, I would like to extend a massive THANK YOU to everyone who made it through to the end of this epic tome, and to those who have followed me on Twitter, or Liked our Facebook page, visited this site, or just lent their support to Cinema Viscera this year!
Paul Anthony Nelson
‘Sup. Been a while. Hope you’re well!
So, on the weekend just passed (17-18 September), I did something I’ve wanted to do for years:
I made a horror movie.
Okay, a short horror movie (it’s four minutes long), but drenched with blood and thematically nasty nonetheless. It’ll be up on the ABCs OF DEATH website in about a week for all to see (AND VOTE FOR -- subliminal messages be damned), but until then, I’d just like to reflect quickly on the way we shot it.
Shot over two days, on the trusty Canon 550D, with a crew of 5 and a cast of 4 main actors and 2 extras, lit mostly with natural light, helped by a Kino, a Dedo & a bounceboard -- not to mention some costume items, latex and two litres of fake blood. It cost us an obscenely low amount of money. And you know what?
It just felt like the perfect way to make movies.
Teaming with friends who are great at what they do, working with the wind at their backs and mischief in their hearts, shooting wonderful, experienced, assured actors, it was easily the most enjoyable, efficient and successful shoot I’ve been on yet.
So, to everyone involved, thank you SO MUCH, from the bottom of my heart, of making it such a brilliant shoot. For those of you who weren’t involved, I can’t wait to show you what we did...
Especially to that woman’s head.
I tend to take my time with things.
Sure, not as much time as, say, Terrence Malick or Kate Bush, but long enough.
Some stats to support my point:
1) I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter at age 14, and a director at age 15.
2) Other than some silly (and still very occasional) running around with Super 8 & Super-VHS cameras in my late teens and mid-twenties, I’ve made just 3 short films.
3) Today is my 36th birthday.
So, yes, some 21 years after deciding I wanted to direct, write and CONTROL, MWHAHAHAHA-- erm, I mean, make films, I am now making stuff for a (small. meager, even) living, and we even have a website upon which to hang said shingle.
Being this here www.cinemaviscera.com.
This blog will be a conduit for my loosely diarised personal thoughts -- whether it be my Top 10 Films of any given year, a chronicle of my yearly Melbourne Film Festival pilgrimage (not a distant one, I’ll grant you), or my daily experiences of working as an independent filmmaker dealing with different phases of production, sub-atomic budgets, festival submission processes or attempting alternative distribution methods.
Could be anything. Perhaps I’ll even let someone guest post every once and a while.
But, as proud as I am of this little site and my slowly emerging career, I’m proudest that you’re here. Reading, listening and watching what I’m building. Because, ultimately, this is about you. You’re the audience, the one I want to scare, thrill, make laugh or cry. Without you, Cinema Viscera is a house-bound circle-jerk. And I’ve had two decades of that. And you know what?
I’m not going back.
So please keep dropping in, looking around, letting us know your feedback, and staying interested. Because, you and me?
We’re gonna make an impact on Australian film.
By the time we’re done, people are going to know we were here. And with any luck?
They’ll smile when they remember us.
(Then, you know, remember the flicks. Otherwise, they could be just suffering from dementia. And that’s not the reaction we’re looking for. Right?)
Viva la cinema!
(This blog entry was originally published on Paul's old blog, Pulp Friction Australia, on January 1st, 2011.)
2010 has been an interesting year for me, personally. I became a full-time student for the first time, studying filmmaking at RMIT, and made my third short film... the first that really felt like me. I also struggled epically with finances, which meant that I saw a few less films than usual. However, my friend Lee Zachariah and I started a monthly movie podcast, called HELL IS FOR HYPHENATES, and I was kindly enlisted by Thomas Caldwell to appear on 3RRR FM's FILM BUFF'S FORECAST on a couple of occasions, all of which means I officially hung my shingle as a film reviewer for the first time. So now I'm getting media passes to see films, which gave my tally a welcome year-end jolt.
Looking back at my yearly viewing tally, I watched exactly 200 films -- 87 films at cinemas (38 of them at MIFF) and 113 films on DVD (89 of them for the first time) -- beginning with the very English DVD double of 1948's LONDON BELONGS TO ME and 1963's SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON and ending with Darren Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN. But... once you round them down to films first released to general, non-festival screenings in cinemas or DVD in Australia in 2010, that tally shrinks to a positively anaemic 63! So, when you read these charts, please keep in mind I'm not drawing from some endless well of 200+ new movies, nor am I some schmo regurgitating the two films a month he saw this year. I'm somewhere very much in between, but I like to think I've seen a fair cross-section of films for my judgement to be somewhat valid.
So, enough with the waffling: here are my highlights of the films of 2010:
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UNDERRATED OF 2010 PART 2...
THE GREATEST EXPERIENCES I HAD IN A CINEMA IN 2010
Being a film buff/fan/nut, I'm still intensely connected to the cinema experience. As much as I hate people who have long and animated conversations during a film, let their phone ring out before answering it and having conversations in the theatre or just generally act like boneheads watching a DVD at home, I still enjoy seeing a film on the big screen with a bunch of like-minded people, and suspect I always will. For all the arguments toward home cinema and staying out of your local, there were two occasions this year that emerge powerfully in my mind as a spirited defence of the communal cinematic experience...
2. THE ROOM
Thanks so much to Carlton's Cinema Nova for instituting their excellent Cult Cravings screenings (Friday and Saturday night late shows) and for kicking it off with Tommy Wiseau's utterly bizarre, hack-handed work of bizarro genius, THE ROOM. The film alone would be hilarious enough, with its pornography-level acting, hilarious propensity to bring up seemingly pertinent plot points only to never mention them again, replacing a character entirely with someone else halfway through the film, endless shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, unfortunate framing, horrendously casual misogyny... I could go on. And I haven't yet mentioned Wiseau himself -- the writer/producer/director/star of this glorious clusterfuck -- a singularly odd man who sports an '80s hair metal hairstyle, a face resembling Arnold Schwarzenegger after years with Mickey Rourke's plastic surgeon and the physique of an aging bodybuilder, all topped off with the most indeterminable Eastern-European-via-Los-Angeles accent and what seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of how human beings behave. But what makes THE ROOM truly magnificent is seeing it in a packed theatre, particularly with people who have done this before. A genuine cult film with an enthusiastic following, there are rules for watching the film (get to the flick early to study up on the mini-guide provided by the cinema)... Phrases one needs to shout at the screen at certain moments. Plastic spoons to throw at the screen whenever a picture of a spoon appears in the film (this happens more than any reasonable person would think). Moments in the film where it's okay to run up to the screen and pretend the characters are talking to you. It's a rocking, riotous, hilarious good time, and one that provides some inkling as to what those great midnight movie screenings of the 1970s must have felt like. Nova are still screening it, so if you haven't been yet, GO. It's amazing.
1. THE MOVIE ORGY
A Frankenstein's monster of a film assembled by director Joe Dante (the GREMLINS movies, THE 'BURBS) from odd scenes and off-cuts from obscure films and television shows from the 1960s and 70s, Dante personally toured it around college campuses from 1968 to the mid-70s, continually adding footage whenever he saw fit, to the point where it eventually ended up running for seven-and-a-half hours! It remained unseen for decades, until Dante transferred it to video -- at a positively svelte 270 minutes! -- for a screening at LA's New Beverly theatre in 2008. It is this version that the Melbourne International Film Festival, who devoted a sidebar to Dante's work and brought the great man out here, very kindly screened at the halfway point of their festival this year. While many cinematic experiences bill themselves as being "one of a kind" or "once in a lifetime" experiences, very few actually are. I mean, they'll end up on DVD someday or revived again in other theatres... but there's only ONE COPY of THE MOVIE ORGY, and it goes where Joe Dante goes. And, as this was the 64-year-old Dante's first Australian visit, chances are, he won't likely make it out here again. So this IS a bona fide, once in a lifetime screening. Starting at the (ill-advised?) time of 11:30pm, it was a pleasure to witness Dante introduce the film himself, pretty much apologising for it the whole time, what with its shoddy look and massive running time, saying it was an experience designed to be walked out on and returned to. His intro was funny and affectionate, and it was a pleasure to have him there. For such a singular experience, it was slightly disappointing to see only about 50 or 60 determined souls in attendance, but it made the club a little more exclusive and special. I guess the thought of stumbling out of a city cinema at 4:15 on a winter's morning was a little too daunting for most film festival fans to consider. I sat in the back row with a couple of friends, all of us with only an inkling of a clue of what we were about to see. Within minutes, we were bewitched. Imagine flipping channels through the weirdest, funniest, most anachronistic film & TV cable television library ever assembled, yet it all fell in a way that made for startling sociopolitical commentary and perfect comic timing. THE MOVIE ORGY is hilarious, angry, satirical, fun, political, silly, caustic and utterly engrossing. As some people faded away to the clutches of sleep, my friends and I remained completely awake throughout the duration. How could you not? Between highlights from the deranged 50s delinquent drama SPEED CRAZY (whose lead is always losing his shit because people are "crowding" him) or sci-fi bomb THE GIANT CLAW (where a giant papier mache turkey monster headbutts model buildings until they explode) or the kid's morning show ANDY'S GANG (where a seemingly brain-damaged host treats us to a horrifying dirge of "Jesus Loves You" accompanied by a mini-piano played by a doped-up cat and dead-looking rat -- both real!) or jaw-droppingly racist clips from films and TV or some amazing TV musical performances from The Beatles or The Animals or... there really is too much awesomeness to mention. And sharing it with a small and bleary group of like-minded individuals made it all the more special. I laughed my arse off and was generally stunned at how brilliantly it both evokes nostalgia for a lost age and skewers the ugly face of the American persona. THE MOVIE ORGY was my absolute favourite film experience of 2010 -- possibly ever -- but the most disappointing thing is, no matter how effusively I recommend it, you'll never see it. And to Joe Dante: no apologies were necessary. As a comic sociopolitical collage, it's a fucking masterpiece.
THE MOST UNDERRATED FILMS OF 2010
I always enjoy directing people to the hidden, underseen cinematic gems -- or even just plain old good movies -- that get washed aside by the blockbuster culture that pervades our cinemas and home entertainment stores these days. And there were plenty of films this year that deserve the attention.
Miguel Arteta's YOUTH IN REVOLT proves before PILGRIM that there IS life for Michael Cera after George Michael Bluth, and every scene where he plays his character's delinquent alter-ego is hilarious. It's got a killer supporting cast, an involving script and some laugh-out-loud funny, almost surrealistic gags (not to mention some ace claymation, too).
WORLD'S GREATEST DAD gives Robin Williams his best role since his "Year of the Psycho" in 2002 (where he shone in ONE HOUR PHOTO, DEATH TO SMOOCHY and INSOMNIA). He's a single dad forced to put up with an odious son who treats him with the worst kind of contempt, until an event changes his life dramatically, and how he deals with it is nothing short of inspired. Written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, it's also a pretty keen satire on the modern-day phenomenon of the "human interest story" and how we're all too quick to canonise heroes.
CITY ISLAND was a goregous little New York indie comedy, the kind they don't really make anymore, starring Andy Garcia, in a return to form as a security guard who secretly takes acting classes, and Julianna Margulies, as his suspicious wife, who thinks he's off having an affair. In fact, everyone in this family has a secret of their own, and watching these facades unravel is hilarious fun and often genuinely affecting, thanks to a wonderful cast and Raymond De Felitta's warm yet sharp script and direction.
Australian writer/directors Sean Byrne and Richard Gray made strong debuts at different ends of the genre scale with THE LOVED ONES and SUMMER CODA, respectively. THE LOVED ONES is a deliriously entertaining slasher/torture horror, featuring Xavier Samuel (TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE) as a troubled, self-abusing young man who turns down an invitation to the school prom from misfit Lola (the amazing Robin McLeavy), who then, with the help of her equally deranged father, kidnaps him and proceeds to hold her own bloody prom night... and things just get weirder from there. Imagine that Molly Ringwald and Harry Dean Stanton from PRETTY IN PINK were utterly psychopathic and raised alongside WOLF CREEK's Mick Taylor, and you get the idea. SUMMER CODA, on the other hand, is as lovely and sun-kissed as a film can be. Heidi (a luminous, star-making performance from Rachael Taylor) and Michael (Alex Dimitriades) meet outside of Mildura, where Michael runs an orange grove and Heidi has returned from the US for a family funeral. They're both suffering emotional bruises but they quickly form a bond, and their tentative courtship is both sweetly and smartly unfolded. Michael's orange picking crew form something of a colourful Greek Chorus to the proceedings and, as played by Angus Sampson, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, Daniel Frederiksen and Pacharo Mzembe -- are wonderful. And Greg De Marigny's cinematography on the Red is flat-out luscious. As languid and laid-back as LOVED ONES is frenzied and punchy, these Aussie efforts may be polar opposites but equally worth catching.
RED HILL is another Australian genre flick that's a must-see, a modern Australian western -- and make no mistake, this is as much a Western as anything directed by John Ford -- set in rural Victoria, concerning a young city cop (Ryan Kwanten) who's transferred with his wife to a country precinct with less excitement... which turns out to be dead wrong. Writer/director/editor Patrick Hughes honours every trope of the genre and makes a stunning debut, a vision every bit as strong and assured as the much more celebrated ANIMAL KINGDOM.
I'm as surprised as anyone that TRON: LEGACY is the first movie I've ever seen that I felt really understands the 3D format. For once, all the buzz about the film's world being "immersive" were true. What it may lack in terms of plot and character development, it more than makes up for as a definitive audiovisual big-screen experience, particularly when seen its natural habitat in IMAX 3D. It ticks off the hero's journey tropes of the modern blockbuster, and tips its visual hat to its many references, but also builds a world that is visually enrapturing, beautiful and incredibly tactile. Garrett Hedlund is not nearly as uncharismatic as you've heard, and does a pretty nice job, Olivia Wilde is incredibly lovely and likeable and Jeff Bridges revisits Kevin Flynn with a warmth and affability that's instant. While it does touch on some intriguing ideas regarding our relationship to technology, it's the sound, light and music (thanks to Daft Punk) show that will really blow your hair back, much, much more than other movies that allegedly did the same (coughAVATARcough). But please, please see it in (true, not mini) IMAX 3D.
(Before I move on: My picks for the two most underrated films of 2010 are actually in my top 10 for the year. I'll let you know when I'll get to 'em... which brings us to...)
MY TOP 10 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2010
2010 gave us quite a few good films and an equal share of bad films, but very few were utterly great or outright terrible. Which, lucky for me, made making a top 10 best incredibly simple. A handful of films stood far above the rest, a couple of which crashed the party very late in the year. Now... I know you may be wondering where certain films are. If that film you expected to be on the list isn't here, it's probably because a) I thought it was really good, but it didn't hit me all that hard (eg. THE KING'S SPEECH, ANIMAL KINGDOM), b) in fewer cases, I haven't seen it (eg. BURIED, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT), or c) I haven't seen it AND it didn't screen publicly in 2010 (eg. 127 HOURS). All the films in my top 10 hit me squarely in the head, heart and -- most importanly for me -- gut.
The envelope, please...
Very few films succeed at once as an action, thriller and anti-war film, but LEBANON scores high on all levels. Much has been made of its claustrophobia-inducing location (the film is set entirely inside an Israeli tank during the 1982 Lebanon war), but the terrified, inexperienced tank crew, their immovable commanding officer and the various challenges that are thrown their way, and their narrow but terrifying view of the world outside all turn the screws to make LEBANON a masterclass in cinematic tension. Writer/director Samuel Maoz based the film upon his own experience as a tank soldier in the Lebanon War, which is undoubtedly the reason why it feels so fraught, so inescapably real. The crew are all in their early twenties, and none seem all that ready for the realities of armed warfare. They're scared kids who have been conscripted into their national army and sent out to confront a very dangerous unknown. What's more, when we meet them, they've yet to fire a shot in combat. The thing that grips you at once is, despite how powerful it looks from the outside, how utterly vulnerable their tank is. The thing is leaking, steaming and falling to bits: a perfect metaphor for its increasingly unstable occupants. Their communications are shot, their CO tells them only what he feels they need to know, and even then, he seems to be leaving information out. The crew's only view into the outside world is through the scope of their cannon and, while the images are powerful, this is the one and only element that occasionally pulls you out and reminds us we're watching a film. The scope images are always so perfectly pertinent (a child's face, a man's despair) and composed, when the reality would surely be more chaotic. But it's a minor complaint, as they're a small part of the film's duration and the collective experience of the film is worth so much more. "War is hell" may be a tired sentiment, but as we keep on sending our fellow humans to the slaughter, someone needs to continue expressing it. And, when it's expressed as powerfully and thrillingly as this, all the better.
BRRRAAAAAAHHHHHHHHMMMM! BRRRAAAAAAHHHHHHHHMMMM! If any sound defined cinema in 2010, it was the giant horn refrain of INCEPTION's score. Christopher Nolan's epic psychic heist picture is a puzzle within a riddle, a riddle within an enigma. It's one of those films that rewards a rewatch; it can be engaged with purely upon the level of its complex plotline and psychological struggle of its lead character, or pored through time and again for hidden and deeper meaning. It's a film about ideas, creativity, intellectual property, letting go and vanquishing emotional demons, and so much more. (There's a theory going around that it's about filmmaking!) It's a breathtakingly shot and composed film, that truly embraces an epic visual style. It's BIG and, with its impeccable wardrobe, expansive production design, percussive musical score, stunning visual effects and big-time cast, it has no qualms with letting you know. But it's big and clever, which is a duo rarely seen together in Hollywood films today. The main distraction of this film is the undeniable shit-tonnage of exposition, which fills about 70% of the film's length. Although it is beautifully delivered by its starry cast and often most helpful to orient us in its multi-layered world, there were moments where I felt a particular point could have been displayed visually, rather than spelled out to us (particularly in regard to DiCaprio's relationship to his wife). But, like LEBANON's cannon-scope artifice, this is a small complaint, as the film itself works so strongly on so many levels and creates a world so compelling that it's hard to be bored -- and what heist flick ISN'T filled with exposition, anyway? (Personally, I liked that Nolan introduced rules to stop the dream worlds from spiralling out of control -- this is RIFIFI OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, not DREAMSCAPE -- and the fact the dream levels were relatively grounded only adds to the viewer's compelling doubt over what in the film is and isn't a dream.) I also have to mention that the cast are excellent, and single out Tom Hardy in a rare dapper, urbane role as the charming Eames and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who, as well as being generally terrific, distinguishes himself in the coolest fight scene to emerge from a Hollywood blockbuster since THE MATRIX. Nolan loves to puzzle his audience and deliver big-time thrills and, in this regard, INCEPTION seems to be the perfect synthesis of his work to date.
The year's second-most underrated film for me actually first screened in Melbourne in 2009, when it travelled the festival circuit and won rave reviews. It says something about the current film climate when rave reviews -- for such commercial qualities as being "hilarious" and "likeable" -- can't even get a film released to the arthouse circuit. Unbelievably, HUMPDAY was dumped direct-to-DVD. It's one of the smartest, funniest and emotionally astute comedies not only of the last year, but the last decade. It's also the film that near-singlehandedly saves the American independent "Mumblecore" movement from oblivion, as it was made by, and stars, many of the movement's key practitioners and falls under the umbrella, despite not being filled with passive-aggressive characters you want to strangle. No, the lead characters in this intriguing spin on the popular "bromance" sub-genre of comedy are likeable and flawed in wonderfully human -- and funny -- ways. Ben (popular "mumblecore" comedy filmmaker Mark Duplass) is married to Anna (Alycia Delmore) and, while reasonably happy, is feeling his youth pass him by... Never more acutely than when his old college roomate, wannabe hipster Andrew (Joshua Leonard of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT) returns to drop in, stay over and take Ben out on a big night or two. On one of their drinking sessions, they hear about Humpfest, a DIY porno festival and decide (as one does) that it would be an ace idea -- an artistic statement, if you will -- if they did one together. The rest of the film deals with the consequences of this decision, leading up to the event. Writer/director Lynn Shelton could've played the premise for cheap & easy puerile laughs, but really sidesteps this in favour of finding the awkward human comedy within the two men's inherent sadness, no matter how pathetic they often seem. It's as sharp, mocking and sweet a depiction of modern male masculinity I've seen, and it really is massively funny. Get thee to a DVD store and seek this out, you won't be disappointed. It's a smart indie film even your family or beer-'n-pizza friends might enjoy!
Robert Rodriguez always promised to adapt his fake trailer contribution to GRINDHOUSE into a feature, but what I didn't expect is that he would extend and flesh it out so successfully. As punchy, fun, explosive, violent and nostalgic as anything he's done, and yet more personally revealing than anything in his oeuvre, Rodriguez and his longtime editorial collaborator-turned-debut director Ethan Maniquis have delivered a shotgun blast of a flick that is equally the year's most vibrant action film, most pitch-perfect film geek homage and most underrated picture. With its sledgehammer social commentary, gleefully racist villains and globs of casual sex and violence, it perfectly updates the archetypes and tropes of 1970s black action "blaxploitation" cinema to a pertinent 2010s context facing Mexicans, the southern US states and the issue of immigration. It sends a message loaded with gunpowder, C4 and outrageous characters, as the best action genre cinema does. It also gives Danny Trejo his first lead role, and this weatherbeaten, tattooed, highly affable cult hero does his damndest to honour it. Whether scowling at villains, spitting out one-liners or swinging on a henchman's intestines, he commands every frame he's in. (He also, more awkwardly, beds both female leads!) He anchors the nuttiest, most eclectic cast of the year, who are all having a great time swallowing the scenery, including Robert De Niro in his best role in over a decade (is it because he's finally made the transition to B-actor and thus fits in perfectly?) and Steven Seagal in the kind of role he should have been playing from day one: a villain. I won't lie: it's a kick to see 64-year-old Trejo go mano-a-mano with 59-year-old Seagal in the final battle. For an action flick with cojones of steel and its heart in the right place, you won't find a better time at the cinema than MACHETE.
6. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
I always had faith in the "Facebook movie". As much as it was mocked and dismissed before release, my heart held true. Not because I was particularly interested in the genesis of the social networking behemoth, but because of two names: Fincher and Sorkin. Sorkin and Fincher. I mean, the pessimistic, genius, visual stylist director behind SE7EN, FIGHT CLUB and ZODIAC and the idealistic, genius, maestro of dialogue screenwriter of THE WEST WING, STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP and THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT teaming up?? These guys could be doing SEX IN THE CITY 3 and I'd be there on opening day. But they far surpassed even my lofty expectations with their work here. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is a story of modern-day monarchs, of aspirants to the throne, engaged in betrayal over an empire. Through the prism of Sorkin's preternatural grasp upon the medium of film dialogue, it is quite literally the kind of story Shakespeare would have written were he born last century and alive and working today. But it's Fincher's dark view of human nature, which shines through with every foreboding, beautifully composed shot, with every note of Trent Reznor's delicious score, that perfectly compliments the caustic lines these characters fire at one another, and adds an extra dose of acid to Sorkin's entitled little Harvard boys. It's been a while since I've seen a talkfest so thrillingly staged and blackly performed, and the actors are just right and then some: from Jesse Eisenberg playing Zuckerberg like a wounded animal, unable to trust or even truly understand how the rest of us humans act, to Andrew Garfield's sweet but naive Eduardo Saverin, whose lack of boardroom street smarts sees him pushed aside, to Justin Timberlake's rendering of Sean Parker as a wonderfully sleazy 21st century snake oil salesman, to -- my personal favourite -- the towering Armie Hammer as the charismatic, righteously scorned Winklevoss twins. In a world where words are bullets, contracts are time bombs, information is power and a geek is God, the emotional shrapnel flies thick and fast, and ultimately wounds us all in some way or another. While I don't believe THE SOCIAL NETWORK defines a generation entire, I feel it does define a very modern, very Generation-Y phenomenon: the technocrat, whose social awkwardness and apparent technical omniscience brings with it an entitlement to instant fortune. Of this particular type of person, one could not possibly find a more expressive or fitting avatar than Mark Zuckerberg. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is as perceptive and important a look at a modern powerbroker as CITIZEN KANE was in the 1940s. KANE may have satirised and criticised William Randolph Hearst but, most crucially, it attempted to understand him, and I firmly believe that THE SOCIAL NETWORK does this for a new kind of powerbroker, a variety of animal we're still grasping to truly understand.
5. BLACK SWAN
[Okay, before I begin: I saw this film at a public, ticketed, advance screening on New Years Eve, which played at many theatres around Melbourne -- and possibly Australia-wide -- so, even though it isn't officially released until January 20, 2011, it has screened publicly at a non-media, non-festival capacity. So I'm counting it. HA!]
Darren Aronofsky is undeniably a filmmaker of prodigious talent, but not one whose films I immediately flock to. PI's circumstances impressed me more than the film itself, I thought REQUIEM FOR A DREAM was excellent but apparently not as heart-wrenchingly moving as everyone else, and was severely underwhelmed by the visually stunning but surprisingly flat THE FOUNTAIN. The first Aronofsky film I genuinely loved was THE WRESTLER, but much of that was tied up in the heart-blood-guts-soul performance he elicited from Mickey Rourke. There's genius present in all four films, but BLACK SWAN is the one where the promise finally comes to fruition, and stamps Aronofsky as one of the boldest, most individual, most thrilling filmmakers working today. It's a bewitching blend of the Archers, Polanski, Fosse and Cronenberg, but somehow uniquely Aronofsky, and makes for a strangely fitting companion piece to THE WRESTLER. It's both as sensitive a character study and scary a horror picture as any this year. (In fact, I haven't seen a 2010 horror film playing anywhere near its league.) And Aronofsky proves his talent for pushing great actors to another level (as he did with Ellen Burstyn in REQUIEM, and Rourke) is no fluke. Natalie Portman is pure dynamite as Nina, a perfectionist ballet dancer whose repression is blocking her from getting the best out of her dancing: she's the embodiment of SWAN LAKE's White Swan, but can't get her handle on the Black Swan. Which is where two very provocative figures come in: driven, manipulative company director Thomas LeRoy (the excellent Vincent Cassel) and rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis, who is perfect playing on the dark side of Portman). From there, the alternately artful and lurid screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J McLaughlin takes us into delectably unexpected directions. It's a concoction of behind-the-scenes melodrama, psychological horror and tribute to artistry that smashes us with its audacity and thrills us with its visceral power. It's the kind of hard-hitting genre picture with deeper, personal resonance that distinguished the American cinema of the 1970s, and is most welcome (but all too rare) today.
4. SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD
Edgar Wright is the kind of uber-geek-filmmaker I can get on board with in a big, bad way. His output of the last decade and change -- the TV sitcom SPACED, feature films SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ -- are fast, funny, endlessly energetic products of pure love. Wright is known as a friendly, gregarious character whose love of film, television and music is effusive and infectious, and one gets that from his films. He's a true auteur in the fact that not only is he a writer/director/producer, but his DNA seems to be present upon every frame of his celluloid output. This aesthetic of cinematic joy is present and most accounted for in SCOTT PILGRIM, which (if I may adopt the film's syntax for a moment) levels Wright's directorial game up to a new platform. His work has always been visually rich, filled with in-jokes, quick cuts and expressive angles, but PILGRIM is exploding with invention. It's breathlessly edited, inventively shot and many of the action scenes are downright exhilarating, but it never becomes overly self-conscious or feels like showboating, as every transition is completely and utterly logical. As footloose and free as it feels, it's actually as formalist as anything from Hitchcock or Ford. Wright is doing exciting things with cinematic language here, things that I'm sure will be abused by less talented or knowledgeable practitioners in future. Aside from this, it's also a breathlessly exciting, hilariously clever action-comedy adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series, and brilliantly cast. Michael Cera is subtly developing a star persona, and the character of Scott Pilgrim provides enough opportunities for him to build upon this without completely deserting it. Pilgrim is NOT George-Michael Bluth, nor is he the bumbling, sexually awkward teen of SUPERBAD and YEAR ONE. There's a confidence and nonchalance to Cera in this that we've rarely seen, not to mention the fight scenes, in which Cera does a surprising amount of physical work. Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes a gorgeously laconic leading lady, Ellen Wong leaps off the screen as Scott's "high school girlfriend" Knives Chau, Kieran Culkin is wonderfully sardonic as Pilgrim's roommate and the Seven Evil Exes are all perfectly horrid. The plot may be an amusing metaphor for rising above your own emotional baggage and anxiety over your partner's past, but I believe that SCOTT PILGRIM has something deeper going on: it's this film, not THE SOCIAL NETWORK, that provides the strongest definition of Generation Y to date. A generation weaned on video games, conditioned to believe they're all the hero of their own story by childhoods dominated by film and TV narratives, bombarded by pop culture images, sounds and influences, effortlessly referential yet rarely reverential, the characters and world of SCOTT PILGRIM are as definitive a look at the post-X generation as anything yet seen. This kind of insight, teamed with its audiovisual audacity and blissfully fun narrative, makes for a deceptively powerful pop cultural blast indeed.
3. FOUR LIONS
I'm just going to state this up front: FOUR LIONS is, for me, hands down, the funniest film of the year. Perhaps, the funniest film of the last five years. I can't remember going to see a film comedy and laughing so much I barely paused for breath. After 15 years in British TV, Chris Morris makes a startling feature directorial debut, nailing every single target he aims at, making a mockery of the macabre yet, incredibly, finding the very human side of Islamic extremist terrorism. Some have said he didn't go far enough, that Morris and his co-writers (Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain and Simon Blackwell) pitched it too broad, but I respectfully disagree. From DUCK SOUP taking on Fascism to THE GREAT DICTATOR taking on Hitler, FOUR LIONS continues a strong tradition of using broad yet clever slapstick humour to take on a fearsome, almost unmentionable ideological enemy. In all these cases, the very act of making the film is defiant, subversive and politically charged. But the film itself is also deceptively deft. Sure, our lead characters are ridiculously bumbling, but what is more human than our failings? (Morris' research also led him to discover that most terrorist plots fail due to pure stupid human error. It's the media that want us to believe they're all masterminds. I wonder why that is?) It also paints a comical yet more truthful demographic of your average terrorist: it's not the most devout London Islamics who want to wage a Jihad -- they're out playing football in the park on a weekend -- our would-be terrorists are all fairly working-class and relatively liberal. While the four jihadists are clearly angry at western "imperialist" society, they're very much a part of it, from the Nerf guns Omar (Riz Ahmed) plays with with his son, to explaining their fateful mission to him via THE LION KING. Morris has said that the film was born out of serious research he was doing on Islamic extremist suicide bombers -- not for a film, just to personally understand the phenomenon -- where he kept running into increasingly bizarre anecdotes sourced from MI5/FBI evidence recordings, where budding terrorists would mock other cell members for being too hardline, or ask each other questions like, "Who's cooler: Osama Bin Laden or Johnny Depp?" It's these qualities that bring a hilarious humanity to those we've been conditioned to believe are pure ungodly evil -- a force that we must subjugate our entire way of life to defeat -- when, really, they're just criminally misguided human beings who are manifesting this anger to combat a greater psychological malady: whether that be racial prejudice, socioeconomic marginalisation or lack of tolerance for their religion and customs. FOUR LIONS, in and of itself, isn't overly concerned with finding these answers, but after we've all had a laugh, perhaps -- perhaps -- it can prove a catalyst to ask questions, and may eventually lead to some inkling of an understanding.
2. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
This film really snuck up on me. Going in, I had no idea about street art, not really. I knew it had something to do with graffiti and stencils and repeated pictures and motifs. To quote Jack Woltz in THE GODFATHER, let me be even more frank: I had no idea who Banksy was. But I'd heard it was a great documentary, some were even calling it a "prankumentary", so I had to see what this was all about. We're treated to the story of Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeles man who obsessively records every waking moment of his life and everyone he meets. His cousin, a well-known street artist, comes to visit and asks Thierry to film him and his friends in the act. We soon meet his friends, who include Shepard Fairey (he of the "OBEY" faces once plastered around Melbourne and the Barack Obama "HOPE" piece), who Thierry becomes increasingly interested in, and this friendship eventually leads him to the most famed of street artists, the notoriously secretive Banksy. From here, things get really wacky. (No, I'm not telling you any more.) Now, once the film was over, I felt thoroughly entertained and thought it was a fun, satirical little flick that may or may not be complete fact or occasional fiction. It's only in the hours after leaving the film did its thematic tentacles begin weaving its way through my mind: It's a complete potted history of street art. It's a rare chance to see Banksy at work. It's a damning critique on the art world's commercial appropriation of street art, and artists' willingness to sell out. It's Banksy turning on those who have criticised him for selling out. It's a critique on how the dominant art form of the 21st century has become advertising, and that hype is the greatest trick of all. Upon further examination, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is revealed to be -- and I say this, honestly, without a shred of hyperbole -- a living, breathing work of absolute genius. There's definitely some documentation of fact here, whether it's 100% fact is the question (Banksy claims it is... but he would, wouldn't he?), but this doesn't concern me so much as the myriad interesting points it makes. I came out of the film much more informed about the evolution (and possible devolution) of street art, thinking about the nature of art in a world dominated by marketing... AND thoroughly entertained. Banksy's film is to documentary what Charlie Kaufman's screenplays are to feature films: it will make you think, question reality, explore your own point of view and laugh like hell. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is a depth-charge explosive of a cinematic masterwork, and a documentary to push the form into the 21st century.
1. BLUE VALENTINE
This film hurts my heart. Whether I'm connected to it on some fundamental, cellular level as a child of divorce, or whether I just brought my life thus far of relationships good and bad, thriving and dead, to it, I'm not sure. The triumph of Derek Cianfrance's film -- his second narrative feature, after 1998's little-known BROTHER TIED, as well as a career of documentary filmmaking -- is to seem so achingly intimate, so effortlessly real, that anyone who's been in a relationship will be powerfully affected by some aspect of the story. Everything in this stunning portrait of a dying marriage is geared toward creating a tangible reality, with what seems to be a stunning grasp on human psychology, echoed by Andrij Parekh's stunning, often hand-held cinematography that powerfully evokes family photos (present-day scenes on the RED digital camera, scenes from the past on Super 16mm film), by the mostly subtle musical score from indie band Grizzly Bear and, most of all, by the heartbreakingly human performances of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. As professionally crafted as everything in BLUE VALENTINE is, it rarely feels like a film; it's so intensely relatable, half the time it's like you're watching your friends fall apart, and the other half of the time, you feel you're watching yourself. The couple's happier moments are appropriately lovely, affectionate, funny... but never too much so. Again, nothing feels exaggerated, or sentimental, or poured on, or wilfully depressing; Cianfrance's direction (and he and his co-writers' screenplay) gets everything so right. It's an engrossing, ultimately devastating look at the ways we fall out of love with each other, that refuses to pass judgement or lay blame. Both characters elicit your sympathies, and who you'll relate to more is purely predicated upon your own personal life experiences. It's this kind of emotional truth, unflinching observation and non-judgmental outlook that makes you want to hug the filmmakers for treating the subject matter with such respect, and ultimately reminds us that, sadly, this is how our universal dream of love with another turns out, more often than not. BLUE VALENTINE will cut you in half.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is the punchiest, most viscerally satisfying thriller I saw this year, and introduces the world to a (much needed) international female star in the making in Noomi Rapace. Much more cinematic than the second film in the series.
TOY STORY 3 was yet another example of Pixar's enviable gift for perfect storytelling, provided a fond farewell for our favourite characters and boasted the best scene in any movie in 2010 (the furnace scene, of course)... and if it hadn't leaned so hard upon drawn-out sentimentality in the last 15 minutes, it would have made my Top 5.
THE ROAD's massively effective, inescapably bleak picture of a post-apocalyptic world seems to have been forgotten by many Australian critics at this time of year, considering it released here in February. Viggo Mortensen seems to get better each time he's challenged, and it's an uneasy testament to the effectiveness of this film when you wish death on the lead characters, because you love them and want to spare them another second in this horrible place.
FANTASTIC MR FOX was the first time I'd really enjoyed anything from Wes Anderson since THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. The mannered retro aesthetic and giant daddy issues were once again present, but the stop-motion animation was so charmingly designed and winningly voiced, and the film's spirit so genuinely sweet and unironic, that I'd recommend Anderson take up the form full-time... if I didn't think he'd fall into the same patterns of repetition there.
WINTER'S BONE was a tight, tough, chilling story of a criminal clan that, for me, was a spiritual companion to ANIMAL KINGDOM in many ways, and bested it in most. Jennifer Lawrence is terrific in a breakout lead performance, but it's John Hawkes and Dale Dickey, as her fearsome yet caring uncle and a terrifying Ozark matriarch, that really continue to stick in my head.
And that's my take on film in 2010. Hope you didn't find it too punishing! Feel free to comment and agree/disagree/praise me wildly.
Have a fabulous 2011, as this blog waves goodbye for the final time.
(This blog entry was originally published on Paul's old blog, Pulp Friction Australia, on June 6th, 2011, under the title 'Men of Influence'.)
WHO IS THE MOST INFLUENTIAL DIRECTOR OF THE LAST 30 YEARS?
It's one of those topics film geeks, critics and academics like to throw around more than most, but I've seen precious few articles in books or on the internet making declarations on the subject. So, perhaps foolishly, I have decided to choose a side. To declare a winner.
Firstly, let's look at what we're asking: how do we define influence? For the purpose of this article, I will define influence on filmmaking in terms of physical aesthetics of Hollywood filmmaking, those who have been most prominent in guiding/shaping/popularising a common camera, editing and scoring style for popular big-budget moviemaking -- the most prominently watched cinema on Earth today (outside of India's local "Bollywood" industry). Due to its worldwide reach, what occurs in Hollywood cinema often influences local industries (yes, even Bollywood), so what is trendy in popular techniques in American popular cinema winds up trickling down into international popular cinema.
Perhaps I've not seen many articles/blogs on this subject because I read the wrong sites. Or, perhaps the reason is, everyone knows who the biggest directorial influence on Hollywood cinema of the last 30 years is. It's elementary, really. Everyone knows the biggest shadow in post-1980 popular cinema is cast by...
Of course it is, right? I mean, every filmmaker and their sister seems to be on record as saying "my life changed the day/night I saw STAR WARS". It spawned a renewed interest in big, bombastic, matinee science fiction adventure that endures to this day, and kicked off the craze of merchandising films to the hilt, a philosophy that worked charmingly in 1977-83 (c'mon, who didn't own STAR WARS figures?), but in the three decades since has been so all-pervading that Hollywood is now content to let the tail wag the dog, as it were, devising movies around toys and games instead of the other way around, as Lucas originally did.
But that's more of a studio business model, isn't it? Lucas pretty much invented the modern blockbuster as it stands today. One can draw a line straight from STAR WARS to IRON MAN 2 or even PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME. But again... this has nothing to do with aesthetics. Those three films look nothing alike. Well... the two modern ones share some visual similarity -- which is where I'm really going here -- and that visual style has precious little to do with STAR WARS.
Yes, George Lucas and STAR WARS, in a broad sense, invented the modern blockbuster -- a cinematic rollercoaster ride aimed at teenage boys, merchandised on everything from t-shirts to fast food drink cups, dealing in huge mythical concepts and grappling with clunky expository dialogue and the odd plot hole (I love the first STAR WARS as much as the next guy, but we are being honest here...). But that's a BUSINESS MODEL. He changed the way Hollywood executives looked at making movies. May have even influenced the scripting, as pretty much everything in the blockbuster canon is based on a hero's journey nowadays.
But how many films of the last 30 -- let's bring it into even more relief, last 20 -- years have looked like STAR WARS. Very few. Most sci-fi films of the 1990s and 2000s look more like 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY (or... two other films which I won't reveal right now) than STAR WARS. How many popular films use "wipes" any more? The look of the film is fairly bright, kind of blacks, whites and sandy landscapes. But none of it looks particularly shiny, the lighting is fairly bright but not gleaming, like the TV advertising look that--
Oops. I'm jumping ahead.
So, while Lucas has been undoubtedly the biggest influence on corporate Hollywood, and the kinds of films Hollywood makes... he's hasn't been the most influential director aesthetically.
So if George frickin' Lucas hasn't had the biggest influence on how films from 1980-2010 look, who the hell has? Well, if it's not him, then it must be...
Has to be him. Low angles, close-ups and POV shots, lens flares, lots of light and wonder, soft photography... we see that everywhere today. Or do we? Think about the films Hollywood makes today. The colour palette. The lighting style. If you draw a long bow, you could say they're Spielbergian... if you didn't really consider all the options. JAWS -- which grossed a heretofore unapproached amount of money two years before STAR WARS, thus possibly really inventing the summer blockbuster -- itself was as influenced by Hitchcock as anything else. And, while directors like Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles and Leone also loom large over today's filmmakers, like Spielberg, directors today pick and choose from these great helmers' stylistic proclivities.
Just like filmmakers today pick and choose from Spielberg's. Look at Spielberg's films closely. Then look at every other Hollywood film of the last 30 years. Steven's pictures are unique to him; his visual signature is all over them. But does anyone else's flicks look like Spielberg's? Sure, some here or there do (most recently, Peter Jackson's LOVELY BONES springs to mind) but, for the most part, not really. Not for much longer than a shot or two, anyway.
So Spielberg's out. That's the big two down. You may protest this, saying I'm dismissing them out of hand, but I want you to look at everything you see these days, particularly from Hollywood, but also from around the world.
Orange and teal colour palettes.
Whacking great shafts of light.
Bright, stark lights on characters.
Searching, restless camerawork.
High speed shutter during action scenes.
Experiential action scenes.
Dark, dystopian city landscapes.
Complex production design.
Subtitles that move around the screen, change colour, emote.
Everything on screen looks 105 degrees fahrenheit in the shade.
Characters emerging from or surrounded by diffusion smoke.
Classical music or highly percussive scores.
Have you ever thought that every Hollywood film looks like an advertisement these days? You wouldn't be wrong. Movies really have taken a cue from ads these last 30 years. Apparently generation X and Y, raised on 30 second TV spots, music videos, video games and a constant stream of images via TV, Home Video/DVD and the Internet, don't have generous attention spans -- which may be true -- but this deluge of visual information has also made them more adept at reading stories through images.
So we needed filmmakers that understood this form of shooting and cutting. Filmmakers who could tell a story in thirty seconds. Not to mention, in a town of studios run by gigantic corporate entities, movies have taken a turn toward the aspirational, reflecting their capitalist financiers through product placement, gossip mag tie-in stories and, yes, merchandising. But this is business again, and I'm digressing.
Look at the roster of big-money big-time filmmakers today, and witness how many come from the fields of music videos and commercials. From uberhacks like Michael Bay and Brett Ratner to innovative artists like David Fincher and Michel Gondry... all have a background in shorter, flashier forms.
This all started in the late 1970s/early 1980s, of course, when studios and producers started to wrestle back control of Hollywood feature films from the visionary yet egomaniacal directors of the 1970s. They wanted to hire directors who would put the grimy 1970s behind them, who would slick up Hollywood product, no matter how sordid the subject matter, for modern audiences. They wanted directors with a modern visual style and, in those early stages, they found plenty of them...
Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker, Hugh Hudson and their like were the best and brightest advertising directors in the world, and were seemingly imported en masse to impose their innovative style upon Hollywood. With few exceptions (Parker's FAME being one), these filmmakers sought to distance 1980s studio product from the gritty realism of the 1970s, by bringing slick, sharp, smooth visual styles punctuated with very specific and intense light sources. And, eventually, this look began to dominate. But why did the Hollywood studios want these guys so bad? Someone must have led the way, set an example, right? Well, as it happens, two men did.
The men who all of these guys worked under.
The men who built a giant farm of gun advertising directors, before such a thing was even conceivable, let alone the norm, then branched into music video.
The men who brought advertising/music video aesthetics to modern Hollywood cinema.
THE MOST INFLUENTIAL FILMMAKERS OF 1980-2010 ARE...
RIDLEY AND TONY SCOTT.
(Wow, that was kind of a USUAL SUSPECTS reveal, hey? I felt like Chazz Palminteri there for a second. Except I wasn't yelling all my dialogue.)
The brothers started RSA (Ridley Scott Associates) in 1968, when they saw a burgeoning market opening up in the rapidly expanding world of television advertising. Quickly they developed a visual style all their own, which was then passed down to all the young filmmakers whom they recruited and further trained.
Now, as the company has Ridley's name on it, and Ridley made his Hollywood splash first with ALIEN, it's tempting to just lay it all on him, crown him #1. Except for the rise of action cinema. Look at TOP GUN, BEVERLY HILLS COP II and THE LAST BOY SCOUT, then look at every major action film of the 1990s, from SPEED to BAD BOYS to ARMAGEDDON. The tilted close-ups, the handheld "you are there" action scenes, the frenetic editing, the omniscient coverage, the use of diffusion smoke... it's all there in part or in whole. Jerry Bruckheimer (and, earlier, Don Simpson) seems to require every director who works for him, from Michael Bay to Simon West, to Dominic Sena to even a veteran like Joel Schumacher, to shoot and cut like Tony Scott, at least in their first or second efforts for the megaproducer. Without doubt, Tony Scott has been singularly the biggest influence on the visual style of action films in the modern era.
And it's Tony more than Ridley who has always pushed and evolved his style over the last decade, where it's arguable his older brother has flattened out somewhat. Such films as MATCHSTICK MEN, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN and BODY OF LIES have that Ridley Scott sheen and attention to detail, but don't look a million miles different to, say, THELMA AND LOUISE, 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE or BLACK RAIN. But Tony's MAN ON FIRE, DOMINO and excellent BMW short BEAT THE DEVIL are something of a visual quantum leap from TRUE ROMANCE, CRIMSON TIDE and ENEMY OF THE STATE. And, for better or worse, the somewhat berserk shooting/editing style of MAN ON FIRE has already had an influence on many modern action films. Ridley has even begun to ape Tony's style in films like G.I. JANE and BLACK HAWK DOWN, with HANNIBAL proving a curious mixture of both brothers' styles (the Florence stuff is all Ridley, with arched ceilings and darkly elegant surrounds, but the action scenes, like Clarice's FBI sting early in the film, are all Tony: colour bled out to a white/teal look, high speed shutters, close-in action).
But Ridley was the first to cross the pond, first with his underseen but utterly stunning to behold drama of oneupmanship, THE DUELLISTS, then making his real splash with the sci-fi horror hybrid ALIEN. I would argue that more modern sci-fi takes its cue from ALIEN than STAR WARS. From EVENT HORIZON to MIMIC to TV shows like FIREFLY to even the films of James Cameron (another candidate for this list, although I can't help but see his blue-tinged, techno-fetishistic style as very Scott Brothers-influenced as well), ALIEN is in there: the steam pouring out of god-knows-where, the mechanical innards that resemble metallic viscera, the crew grimy yet all wonderfully, perfectly lit, even when in total darkness.
Then came BLADE RUNNER. To deny this film's all-encompassing visual influence on Hollywood cinema is to deny breathing. BATMAN. THE CROW. THE MATRIX. Some of the biggest films of the last three decades have taken their visual cues straight from Ridley Scott's classic neo-noir epic. Between BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN, you've got the predominant look of every blockbuster sci-fi film from THE ABYSS to BLADE 2. Throw in LEGEND, BLACK RAIN, THELMA AND LOUISE, even 1492, and compare them to modern blockbusters today, and one can see, if not a facsimile, a direct evolution.
However, as stated earlier, much of their Keyser Soze-like influence (again with the USUAL SUSPECTS references!) has been indirect. Through those they've employed and mentored -- whether as part of RSA, which still exists today, or as filmmakers directing under the auspices of their prolific Scott Free production company -- or those who've simply evolved (some may say "devolved") from their established style as it became the norm. Michael Bay, directorially, is undeniably the bastard child of Tony Scott and John Woo. Bay's movies have turned everything the Scotts brought to the table up to 14: the stylish, gleaming visuals, the close-up experiential action, the shafts of light, percussive scores, etc. And a whole bunch of ad/musicvid directors are following the same path: Samuel Bayer, Marcus Nispel and their like. So now, it seems like Bay is the influence, when without Tony Scott (or John Woo) there would never have been a Michael Bay. (No, I'm not saying all this influence has been positive. But it's there.)
For the most part, I'm a fan of Tony Scott. I admire his drive to push his visual style in other directions over the decades, which is what, conversely, has turned me off Ridley Scott in the last decade: Ridley's refusal to change it up, push it further. Ridley seems pretty content to pump out mediocre scripts with grandiose attitudes in the house style. BLACK HAWK DOWN was the last Ridley film I loved, and that seemed more like Tony than he. While I'm not a GLADIATOR superfan, I do find it fun, and I also consider it the last time Ridley really pushed his visual boundaries on a film, and thus strongly imprinted on the visual and aural approach of every sword & sandal film that followed, from TROY to 300 to CLASH OF THE TITANS.
But Ridley's first three films put him in the Pantheon of Great Directors, and it's impossible to take that away from him. THE DUELLISTS, ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER are all largely unique visual experiences (sure, he himself utilises influences as diverse as BARRY LYNDON, METROPOLIS and the work of HR Giger, and has also been said -- as has Tony -- to take his cue from classical art styles, but the way they're combined and used is all Ridley) with equally compelling narratives.
The more I think about it, the more all-encompassing the Scott influence has been on Hollywood, and while Spielberg and Lucas changed the stories Hollywood told and the markets they targeted, the Scott brothers have undoubtedly changed the way we've seen them.
(This blog entry was originally published on Paul's old blog, Pulp Friction Australia, on December 31st, 2009.)
Trying to define the 2000s in film (or in TV or music or any other art) is tricky, and many themes have seemed to define this decade. But which one sums it up for this particular observer? Democratised/DIY filmmaking? Sure, it's become de rigeur, but it was up and going by 2000, with EL MARIACHI, CLERKS and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT having a huge effect on filmmakers in the 1990s. Meta-filmmaking, of the Charlie Kaufman school of self-referential through genre-referential through storytelling-mechanics-shifting gymnastics? Perhaps, but Wes Craven was laying foundation for that with NEW NIGHTMARE and SCREAM in the 1990s, as well as Quentin Tarantino's films (which also kickstarted another big 2000s craze: nonlinear narratives). No, if one major thing has filtered its way through both Hollywood and world cinema to, if not define it, at the very least leave its mark on it... it's the Fanboy.
And, no, I'm not being sexist. There are millions of fangirls around the world, and, especially at the tail end of this decade, are becoming a major audience force of their own. But, to a certain extent, the material I'm talking about here has been, historically, aimed toward teenage boys. Starting from Hollywood and working its way out, major big budget films are being built with a teenage boy mentality at the wheel. The reason it's really taken flight this decade, it seems, is because Generation X, who've become active enough to begin to shape this decade, and Generation Y, who've came of age in the '00s, are the people most -- to borrow a strained pop-psychology phrase -- "in touch with their inner child" than any generation in memory. X & Y are the television/video/DVD/CD/game console/home computer generation; entertainment has always been at our fingertips and many of us have experienced major moments of awakening, realization and discovery before the glow of a screen. Rather than remembering riding our bikes around or summer beach holidays as children, our most powerful memories are of Transformers, Voltron, Kimba, Astroboy, The Goodies, Doctor Who, Batman, Ghostbusters, Marty McFly, E.T., Gremlins... and so on. And, in the 2000s, all that nostalgia just exploded, and the shrapnel became irrevocably ingrained in every facet of popular culture this decade.
From albums of morning-cartoon theme tune covers, to superhero sitcoms, to big screen comic book adaptations, to theme park rides and board games being "adapted" into movies, to t-shirts and fashions incorporating pop culture characters and phrases, to a growing wide awareness of genre and cinematic convention, the "Fanboy" mindset has dominated mainstream cinema like no other. Although, again, Quentin Tarantino and his quotable ilk gave notice of this trend in the mid-90s, it has lit up like a bushfire these last ten years. 1998's BLADE was the first Marvel Films production, but 2000's X-MEN was their first blockbuster, which caught the studios' collective eye in a big bad way. Nine years on, no studio's slate lacks a comic book property.
1999, the last genuinely great year of cinema, was the baton-passing point. While brilliant films jockeyed for attention, we had STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE, which may actually be the most influential film of this decade. From mining the relatively dormant vein of fanboy nostalgia to its computer generated characters, it makes a perfect bookend with one of the last releases of the 2000s, AVATAR. Alongside that is 1999's perception-altering DIY blockbuster BLAIR WITCH, which got people first thinking about selling their handicam opus to Hollywood, which makes an intriguing bookend with another 2009 phenomenon, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, which has inspired Paramount to open a "microbudget" division, focused on finding said handicam talent.
It's no accident that your mum and dad, who once derided your comic books as juvenile diversions you'll grow out of, are now most likely familiar with the most basic tropes of superheroic lore.
And this is all without even mentioning the elephant in the room: the Internet, the single biggest contributing factor to this cultural shift.
Like it or not, the Fanboy is king, and may be here to stay for some time. But let's leave the future for now, and draw our focus to the recent past, as I present...
MY TOP 25 FAVOURITE FILMS OF THE 2000s
Originally, I was going to go with a Top 10, and do all sorts of charts but, frankly, I'm not ready to spend all that time looking back and dissecting; I'll leave that to others with more time, eloquence and perspective. (If you get some time, check out the top 2000s films of my favourite internet pundits, Jeremy "Mr Beaks" Smith and Drew McWeeny, who are far more analytical and entertaining minds than mine.)
ALSO: I have rather impassioned thoughts on how high-end television (predominately HBO and the BBC) has surpassed film as the dominant, most mature storytelling form of the decade, but everything I want to say on that subject is expressed much better here, by New York Magazine's Emily Nussbaum.
These 25 films represent the films that had the biggest effect on me this decade, in one way or another, the ones I found most entertaining, emotional, thrilling, exasperating, brilliant. The ones which blew me away above all, the ones I have no issue revisiting (some are easier to revisit than others, but it's like family: no matter if it takes years, you know you'll always drop in eventually). The ones that, for me, encapsulate this weird, wild, occasionally wonderful decade. And here they are...
25. DEAD MAN'S SHOES (2004)
For giving us the decade's best and most poignant revenge film, for giving Paddy Considine the chance to show how incredibly brilliant he is, for galvanising the burgeoning brilliance of director/co-writer Shane Meadows (which he would build upon with his next film, THIS IS ENGLAND), for creating a tense, emotional and shattering experience like few other on a small budget, for painting its despicable villains as real people, for breaking my heart in two every time I see it.
24. JARHEAD (2005)
For finding a fresh angle on the "war is hell" axiom -- not through violence or losing lives, but by being dehumanised and shaped for violence, then relegated to useless bodyguards for interests they barely understand, and have nothing to do but self-destruct -- for showing Sam Mendes can turn his hand to any genre and make it great, for providing stunning imagery, arresting set pieces (some taking place emotionally, others viscerally) and the best war film of the decade.
23. BAD SANTA (2003)
For growing into my favourite Christmas movie ever made, for being more corrosively hilarious every time I see it, for being utterly dark but having genuine heart, for the sight of Lauren Graham panting "Fuck me Santa, Fuck me Santa, Fuck me Santa", for perfectly harnessing Billy Bob Thornton's insouciant, world-weary visage and southern drawl for its ultimate purpose: delivering sledgehammer insults to children and midge-- uh, I think they like to be called little people...
22. THE PIANIST (2002)
For showing us new, ever more horrifying angles of the Holocaust we'd never seen (from a filmmaker who actually survived it), for having the balls to make a 150 minute movie virtually silent for huge chunks of time, for Adrien Brody to not only live up to this challenge but soar above it, for a cinematic master to make an elegantly frightening return to form with a story that couldn't help but be intensely personal, for giving us the most revealing account of the Holocaust since (and possibly surpassing) SCHINDLER'S LIST.
21. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. (2005)
For powerfully defining and perfectly exposing this decade's media-driven culture of fearmongering with elegant precision, for signalling George Clooney's arrival as a filmmaker, for giving the great David Strathairn a perfect lead role, for its outstanding cast of character actors and stars in supporting roles, for its gorgeous black and white images (from the marvellous Robert Elswit) and lush jazz score, for being a class act all the way.
20. JUNO (2007)
For taking a story and setting I had no right to be interested in and making it essential, for Jason Reitman's scarily confident storytelling, for its perfect cast, for Diablo Cody's screenplay which, beneath all the archly droll dialogue, lies a giant heart, for showing how teenage pregnancy might be handled if surrounded by loving, level-headed, non-judgmental individuals (ie. in a perfect world), and for being pro-CHOICE, despite what dunderheaded Republicans tell you.
19. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)
For transcending the dismissive "gay cowboy movie" slurs, for Ang Lee's sensitivity and grace in delivering one of the most beautiful, lyrical, tragic and effective love stories ever made, for ending with one of the greatest visual metaphors in film history, for making me cry like a newborn.
18. SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
For introducing the furiously talented creators of the definitive Gen-X sitcom, SPACED, to the big screen, for marrying genres effortlessly and making the fondest, most affecting horror-comedy hybrid (NOT a spoof) since AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, for not cheapening on the horror or the comedy and for being one of this decade's most quotable and constantly watchable films.
17. BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
For giving me the Bat I've always wanted but never seen on screen, for giving the Dark Knight -- at last -- a film which focused upon him and not his rogues' gallery, for allowing Christian Bale's angry, suave, damaged hero to own the show, for Christopher Nolan's scoring a home run on a major franchise while strongly maintaining his directorial identity, for that playing card at the end, for "You'll never have to."
16. HIGH FIDELITY (2000)
For surviving the transatlantic change to bring my all-time favourite novel to life perfectly, for providing an excellent follow-up to GROSSE POINTE BLANK and showing us what charisma, intelligence and insight John Cusack is truly capable of as a star/writer/producer (before throwing the rest of the decade away on middling rubbish), for -- again, being eminently quotable and summing up a great portion of my generation.
15. BRICK (2005)
For creating something which paradoxically used well-worn noir conventions but felt truly original, for Rian Johnson's genius in creating (much more than any sci-fi film did this decade) a three-dimensional world for his hard-bitten teens to move around in (of all the crappy sequels we were dished up this decade, it's the one film I would've loved to have seen continue -- with Johnson on board, of course), for giving Joseph Gordon-Levitt a quirkily brilliant heroic lead, and for making a truly remarkable example of a genre that was done to death this decade (only the Coens' THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE is in its class... okay, that and...)
14. KISS KISS, BANG BANG (2005)
For finally giving legendary Hollywood screenwriter Shane Black the opportunity to display his elegantly, hilariously testicular view of the world unfiltered and unfettered by hack directors or big budgets, for reintroducing Robert Downey Jr 2.0 as a unparalleled leading man (leading to his current much-deserved world domination), for showing us that Val Kilmer (given the right material) could still be great, for providing the perfect summation, satire and loving homage to the noir genre I love so much. And did I mention that dialogue...?
13. PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)
For taking the genius of Paul Thomas Anderson to new levels, for creating the decade's most dysfunctional yet painfully true and darkly sweet love story, for harnessing the rageaholic manchild persona of Adam Sandler and using it to elicit a genuinely sad, bruised, inspiring performance, for using Emily Watson's innate sweetness and making her powerful, for the discordantly brilliant Jon Brion score, for crafting a true original.
12. A SERIOUS MAN (2009)
For combining everything we've loved about the Coen Brothers' work this decade -- enigmatic scripting, sublime visuals, metaphysical musings, hilarious dialogue, casts of idiosyncratic actors, cheeky endings that throw down the gauntlet to audiences -- into one film and displaying their growing ambition, for asking the big questions -- Why is this happening to me? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are we here anyway? -- and providing no answers whatsoever except confirming what we all know and fear: there are no answers, at least none we'll ever comprehend, for introducing us to a fantastic new actor in Michael Stuhlbarg, for being entertaining at every turn, for speaking to me on some strange intuitive level.
11. SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004)
For being the very best comic book adaptation in a decade rife with them, for being utterly faithful to all the characters but fearlessly messing with the details in a way that reveals and enhances those characters, for really drilling to the metaphorical heart of who Spider-Man/Peter Parker is and represents, for showing Sam Raimi was no one-trick blockbuster pony, for making a villain I always loathed into a tragic, towering figure, for delivering as all sequels promise but all-too-rarely do, for infusing real character development, startling FX and big-scale action and bringing them to an emotional crescendo... and, of course, for "Go get 'em, Tiger".
THE TOP 10
10. [REC] (2007)
For giving us the scariest horror picture of the decade, which works in any arena, on any screen, provided you give it your undivided attention, for displaying painstaking craft and attention to detail rarely sighted in horror pictures nowadays, for not manufacturing artificial conflict between characters or making them arseholes for the sake of same, for taking the popular "verite" horror gimmick to technical heights equalled only by CLOVERFIELD (and for about a tenth of the budget), for being utterly believable, for being utterly nerve wracking, for being nothing less than the great white shark of fright machines.
9. BEFORE SUNSET (2004)
For bringing us back to the lives of two thoroughly real characters who we loved, for not feeling like a "sequel" cash-in but rather a visit with old friends, for providing a very thirty-something perspective on filtered dreams, pragmatism and battered-yet-unbowed optimism, perfectly counterbalancing BEFORE SUNRISE's equally affecting, very twenty-something romantic vision of fleeting but forever influential love, for Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's perfect chemistry and charm, for that wicked, wicked ending.
8. THE INCREDIBLES (2004)
For being the best Pixar film thus far and the very best cinematic take on superhero mythology yet seen, for confirming Brad Bird as a genuine animation auteur, for doing the Fantastic Four better than either of Fox's wretched attempts, for encapsulating everything that makes Pixar studios great -- bulletproof character development, smart plotting, genuine suspense, pure but not sickly sweetness, a story-first philosophy and state-of-the-art computer animation -- and showing us why they've redefined the art of animation this decade, for being sublime.
7. LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003)
For being the definitive lush, elegant, emotional mood piece of the decade, for exploring a friendship as opposed to a romantic love affair, for allowing Sofia Coppola to work through her marriage breakdown and follow up on the promise of the gorgeous VIRGIN SUICIDES, for giving Bill Murray the best role of his career and watching him nail it with small gestures and quiet pain that'll slay you, for giving Scarlett Johanssen something real to do, for showing as loving a look at Tokyo as an American filmmaker has ever given, for just being completely wonderful, and wonderfully sad.
6. OLDBOY (2003)
For introducing me to the inventive, invigorating glory that is South Korean cinema and the singularly brilliant mad genius of writer/director Park Chan-Wook, for taking us places we could never possibly -- and wouldn't want to -- imagine, for making us pay attention to detail, for its jaw-dropping set pieces, for its swirling widescreen camera and baroque score, for beguiling at every turn, for making us look at the cinematic trope of vengeance in a new way, for being that rarity in today's recyclable culture: an original.
THE TOP 5
Happy New Year, all.
And Happy Tens!
What fresh hell is this?
A semi-regular blog exploring films, popular culture, current or future projects and scabrous opinion from CINEMA VISCERA chief maniac, Paul Anthony Nelson.