Top Ten Movies: 2010

Certified_Copy

To steal an opening line from one of Roger Ebert’s reviews about a favorite filmmaker of his, “Sooner or later, everyone who loves movies comes to Ozu.” The same could be said of Abbas Kiarostami. Others like the Italian Neo-Realists had already played with documentary-like narrative but what Kiarostami perfected was new and refreshing. Why not imbue that much more of the real world into the story? In fact, immerse it so much so that there’s no mark point as to where verisimilitude ends and actual reality begins. Movies like Close-up and especially the Koker trilogy are prime examples in this mental exercise of establishing a new interpretation of the real world through several layers of its manipulation, fore-fronting the Iranian film wave that took high strides by the 1990’s. If it all might sound a bit too labored, it isn’t, really. There’s too much humanity in Kiarostami’s characters for any reduction into a sort of film essay genre. Take Certified Copy as an example, a sort of Brechtian Before Trilogy singularity. How far is Kiarostami playing the audience in its portrayal of the relationship between its two leads? They continuously argue about artwork copies in comparison to their original sources, never reaching a conclusion about whether forgery is valid in its own artistry. Once watched, the obvious extension made here is to the protagonist’s own veiled past. Are they two people that actually met for the first time or are they a married couple of fifteen years? Either way, they’re playing roles that the audience can’t separate truth from, for like Kiarostami’s other movies, it’s not easy to distinguish the real from the not. It’s quite astounding to be able to make a film that could express just about every complex trait of its filmmaker all in one narrative. It’s even more astounding to do that with characters like Juliette Binoche and William Shimmell, because no matter how clever the exercise is, you remember their banter and adoration for one another so much more. So who cares if the whole thing feels indecipherable, real or staged or both, if there’s love for it anyway. And so at number one it goes.

1. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
2. Mysteries of Lisbon (Rául Ruiz)
3. Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán)
4. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
5. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
6. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski) and Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
7. Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira)
8. The Social Network (David Fincher)
9. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasenthakul)
10. 13 Assassins (Takashi Miike)

Mysteries of Lisbon is one of two Rául Ruiz movies I’ve watched and should be more than enough proof to anyone of his directorial legacy as one of Chile’s best… even though this one’s a Portuguese film. Then there’s Patrico Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light, another Chilean master with a heartrending – and I mean that with every sense of the word – documentary that parallels astronomy with Chile’s own tragic past during Pinochet’s dictatorship. Really, there’s something in the way the astronomers look up towards the stars that gets to you when compared to the relatives of fallen victims whose missing remnants they’re still looking for down in the buried and barren desert landscape. Carlos has the exceptionally well-executed OPEC terroist attack sequence and Poetry has Yoon Jeong-hee with a role almost too complex for anything American, perhaps with the exception of Michelle Williams in Meek’s Cutoff.

The Ghost Writer is my favorite thriller of the year despite some interesting work up against it like Chloe or All Good Things, and Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl is the funniest, although Four Lions comes pretty darn close. The Social Network needs no added commentary and Uncle Boonmee I remember in scenes more than as a whole. I could have also placed Vincere or Sweetgrass at number ten, two overlooked treasures lost in time, but I can’t deny my fandom for the pulpiness of 13 Assassins. I’m just happy to see Takashi Miike up there because a great movie it is.

And yes, I am aware I missed some pretty good stuff like The Kids Are All RightWinter’s BoneAnimal Kingdom, and especially Another Year.  But what I don’t miss is Inception and Black Swan. Just watch The Red Shoes instead.

Next Time: 1923. If Buster Keaton could talk I bet you he’d have a Southern drawl.

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Top Ten Movies: 2017

Phantom Thread

If you’ve ever watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, there’s a looming question that begins to dominate your every thought while the movie progresses: Why the hell doesn’t she just leave? Why does demure Joan Fontaine allow herself to endure her husband’s ambiguous temperament and, even more reasonably questioned, why does she put up with that damn maid’s psychotic obsession to humiliate her? Paul Thomas Anderson runs with this premise and sets it ablaze in Phantom Thread. His film begins like his protagonist, staid and orderly. Begins. So the joke’s on anyone expecting a BBC masterpiece classic. Vicky Krieps plays the Joan Fontaine to Daniel Day-Lewis’ Olivier-like enigma, attempting to decipher her own place inside of his world. When she can’t, conventionality curtails and that’s when things go off the rails in a refreshingly unsettling manner. It’s as if her character must break the mold of classic storytelling to achieve her own personal goal, for like the film strip melting away in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, character motivation breaks the fourth wall. And so a countryside stroll sharply detouring off course and heading straight for us shocks more than any foreign film I’ve watched this year, granting Phantom Thread high enough kudos in my book to position it at number one.

1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. The Son of Joseph (Eugéne Green)
3. The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
4. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Juho Kuosmanen)
5. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
6. The Orinthologist (João Pedro Rodrigues)
7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos) and Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
8. God’s Own Country (Frances Lee)
9. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
10. Happy End (Michael Haneke) and Slack Bay (Bruno Dumont)

The main perk of working at a movie theater is the ability to watch a glutinous amount of films without, say, mortgaging your house – although there is a movie pass to ease this sorta thing now, I hear. But yeah, this list reflects a wonderful opportunity to catch just about everything possible. The Son of Joseph is small-scaled and imperfect, a topical French trope – see also Happy End and Slack Bay – that works gangbusters. Then there’s The Lost City of Z, which since I’ve already made a habit of comparing new titles to older films (my life, basically), is a lot like The Bridge on the River Kwai in its ability to exceed genre and tap into novel-like depth. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is honorable mention territory in other people’s lists that cuts deeper for me for no other reason than its energy and fun. And Nocturama is quite remarkable at being so damn original in its news-topic premise that American films would have patted down for Oscar attention.

I’ve mentioned Happy End and Slack Bay, two eccentric pictures that look homespun compared to The Orinthologist. But since Apichatpong Weerasethakul took the year off, it was João Pedro Rodrigues who pointed his camera towards the jungle. The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Graduation are wickedly funny and incisive, respectively, and God’s Own Country is a movie that is probably better known in the U.K. but got kinda shafted in the States over Call Me By Your Name. Seriously though, give the former a chance if you can. Josh O’Connor gets my ballot for best male performance in the awards show playing in my head.

And where are all those runner-ups, you say? Well, here. Those that could have made the list include Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope, Andrey Zvyaginstev’s (don’t even ask me how to pronounce it) Loveless, and Robin Campillo’s Beats Per Minute – BPM. Oh! And the first two-thirds of Escapes! It’s like watching Kenneth Anger film grammar with a gnarly segment on Teri Garr and another one on Flipper, amongst many.

Then there’s stuff like Ladybird, After the Storm, Get Out, Faces Places, Lady Macbeth, The Death of Louis the XIV, and Free Fire – which I just realized as I’m typing I liked more than Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri if we’re going that direction.

Things that I missed include Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, and Hong Sang-soo’s On the Beach at Night Alone (did this even play in L.A.?), so I’ll be making the rounds for those in 2018. And speaking of 2018, here’s to hoping everyone has a great next year!