Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best and Worst Films of 2010 - Honorable Mentions

Another year of film viewing has ended and it turned out surprisingly stronger than I had expected. Of the 155 films I watched in 2010, I came up with a whopping list of more than 25 films that could have been in contention for the top films of the year, which is somewhat unprecedented. Several films broke out of the large pool of "good, but not great" films, like Julie & Julia, Kick-Ass, Conversations with Other Women and The Other Guys, (I was as surprised as anyone how much I enjoyed that one) and classics like The Passion of Joan of Arc and La Strada were late-year viewings that proved once again that there are a plethora of excellent classic films I have yet to unearth.

So, for 2010, I had to expand my lists to include my regular top 11 (some years it has to be a top 10, unfortunately), a list of non-ranked "honorable mentions" that were in contention for, but didn't ultimately make the top 11, and of course, the bottom 10. In other years I've only gathered a bottom 5 list, but apparently with the abundance of good, you're going to have to take some bad too. And some were very, very bad.

As in other years, my lists are different from most others because they are not just comprised of new releases, but films that I saw for the first time, regardless of their release date. One quick disclaimer is that I have not seen the Coen Brothers' remake of True Grit yet, but considering I have a couple of films I saw in January of 2010 on my list, that shouldn't be an issue, should it blow my mind when I do see it in a week or two.

Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear comments regarding either.


The following are films that I thought were great, but didn't make my final 11. They all come, highly recommended, however.


Director Juan Antonio Bardem's Spanish neo-realist film about deception, morality and redemption is gritty and riveting. Its stark black and white photography also affords a lot of amazing shots. Deep, but accessible, Death of a Cyclist was my first glimpse of a neo-realist film outside of Italy, and made me want to explore the genre further.

DISTRICT 9 (2009)

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have very little interest in or tolerance for science fiction; I'm just not wired that way and I've come to accept it. However, sometimes a film that is categorized as science fiction can transcend the usual boring morays of the genre with a great premise or story and for me, District 9 was one of those films. Part cautionary tale/part commentary on apartheid/part gross-out alien-monster film, I thought it was outstanding and thought-provoking without being heavy-handed.


This was one of the handful of films that I really struggled with not putting on my top 11 list, because I thought it was so outstanding. An Education is set in the 1960's and Peter Sarsgaard gives a tremendous performance as a mentor/svengali to a young girl (Carey Mulligan) whose intelligence and lust for life and culture beguile him. Mulligan is the star of the show, however, and her performance is both inspiring and heart-breaking. At the end of the film I remember telling my boyfriend Chris, "I want to be her."


When I saw Shutter Island, I was embarking on an as-yet-unfinished project of seeing every Martin Scorsese feature film or documentary made, and it was a great way to kick off the journey. Leonardo DiCaprio, who really has immense talent, gives an amazing performance in this atmospheric psychological thriller that, even after the cards have been revealed, gave me pause about what truly happened, and I love movies like that.


Another film I discovered during my Scorsese journey, this mammoth 3 hour documentary about the life of Bob Dylan not only focuses on the artist himself, but his generation and the historical events occurring during his rise. Filled with interviews from everyone imaginable, including Dylan himself, No Direction Home ended up being more than an excellent documentary; it turned me into a Dylan fan.


I haven't seen the remake of this film yet, but Tomas Alfredson's original, about a bullied young boy who becomes friends with a mysterious young girl is emotional, intriguing and above all, fresh and original. Alfredson isn't afraid to cross the line, including violence toward children and strange romances, and that makes Let the Right One In that much better.


Written, directed by and starring Gianni di Gregorio, Mid-August Lunch is a film I saw at this year's Milwaukee Film Festival. From start to finish, I was utterly charmed and I was either laughing or had a smile on my face, watching the hapless di Gregorio try to hold his own while waiting on and caring for a group of old ladies who have been left in his charge by various friends who dropped off their mothers so they could take the mid-August holiday of Ferragosto off and go to the beach. Mid-August Lunch is one of those films that I wish I could convince everyone to see, because it is truly a gem of a film.


I had the honor and pleasure of not only seeing Jean-Luc Godard's iconic Breathless on the big screen at the Milwaukee Film Festival this year, but it was the restored version as well. Regardless of the decks that were stacked against me that night; it was the third screening that night (on a week night); it was nearing the end of the festival and I was getting dog-tired; I was enraptured from frame one. The chemistry (yet subtle distance) between Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg was like watching a playful game of cat and mouse, where you know that it can't possibly end up well for either one of them. And Godard's in-your-face camerawork in the streets of a vital Paris was, pardon the pun, breathtaking.


Wong Kar Wai's beautiful In the Mood for Love is one of those movies that have been on my short list to see for years now, and it wasn't until I recently decided to finally sit down and watch it when I realized what I had truly missed, not having seen it. The tale of neighbors who find out their spouses are cheating on them with each other, the cuckolded pair, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung begin a relationship that begins as a means of catharsis; reenacting how their spouses may have began their affair, but becomes much more emotional. Wong Kar Wei is one of the greatest directors of our time, and the exquisiteness of the film, the pain and beauty of the actors and their performances, and the haunting soundtrack had me in tears more than once.


There has been a lot of buzz about this film, primarily around its initial NC-17 rating for an explicit sex scene, (which, honestly, I didn't even remember, even after I read what the scene in question was) but it deserves a lot more respect for its intricate and well-told story and the amazing performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple who meet cute and marry, though they probably never should have. Blue Valentine may leave you feeling a little bruised, but at its heart, it is an honest depiction of a real relationship without Hollywood's bells and whistles.


Up in the Air - yes, most people have seen it because it is a George Clooney film, but it really is a full-bodied, adult film.

The Last Station - if this film didn't star Hellen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, it may not have been quite as good, but their performances really made it enjoyable and gave us an idea of Tolstoy we may not have been aware of.

Freedom Riders/Soundtrack for a Revolution - these are two documentaries I saw at the Milwaukee Film Festival this year that focus on the civil rights movement of the 1960's. The former deals with mainly the Freedom Rides in the South, while the latter gives a broader overview of the movement, coupled with the protest songs participants sang. Both are first-class films.

My Dog Tulip - an animated film based on the memoirs of J.R. Ackerley and his beloved temperamental dog Tulip. Narrated by Christopher Plummer, My Dog Tulip is beautiful, emotional and hilarious.

Lemmy - Who would have thought a documentary about Motorhead front man Lemmy Kilmister would show up on my list? I saw this at the Milwaukee Film Festival this year, and the documentary not only had first-class production values (this was the first film for the directors, who were present at the screening) but its subject was fascinating as well. This warts and all (literally) documentary is accessible even for those like me who aren't into the hard rock music scene.

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