Wednesday, February 23, 2011

10 Films of 2010 I Liked Most

"I just want to be perfect."

Nina Sayers in Black Swan (2010)

Okay, disclaimers up front. This is a completely arbitrary list of 10 of my favourite movies of 2010 and I have made no attempts to be exhaustive. Neither did I try to include films I consider to be artistically or technically "great" (but just didn't enjoy all that much for thoroughly frivolous reasons) when I built it. I did not watch as many films as I would have wanted to last year either, mostly because not many good non-popcorn films get to enjoy a run in Small-Town Malacca™. Who knows, some of them would have made my list otherwise. The notable ones are: 127 Hours, The Fighter, The Illusionist, I Love You Phillip Morris, True Grit, and Blue Valentine.

Now, I know it's odd that I did not write any reviews or discussion pieces on most of the items populating my top 10 but that's because I don't necessarily have much to say about stuff I really, really like. But in the interest of not publishing what will read like a sterile shopping list, I'll offer a paragraph of thoughts on each.

And onward,

10. 12th & Delaware

12th & delaware poster

After seeing Grady and Ewing's 2006 Academy Award-nominated documentary, Jesus Camp, I have since been on the lookout for the duo's future projects. So when I heard that they were tackling another contentious subject - the pro-choice versus pro-life debate on abortion - I was immediately on board. The title of the film references a street intersection in Fort Pierce, Florida, where an abortion clinic and a Catholic Church-endorsed Pregnancy Care Center stood on opposing sides, serendipitously symbolising their intractable ethical divide. As was in Jesus Camp, the filmmakers were essentially invisible and made no attempts at peddling the ideology or agendas of either camp. They are contented to just show you, on the smallest scale, this grand controversy which suffuses all levels of humanity the world over. While 12th & Delaware was no where near as provocative as Jesus Camp, I consider it a compulsory watch for anyone who cares about this issue at all.

9. The King's Speech

king's speech poster

Colin Firth is Prince Albert, Duke of York, who had such a crippling stammer that he would freeze in front of thousands, unable to spit it out. Geoffrey Rush is Lionel Logue, unlettered, unconventional Australian speech therapist whose radical ideas include the notion that smoking is actually bad for health. Spoilers for real life: Prince Albert would go on to become King George VI, succeeding his elder brother who abdicated in order to marry a twice-divorced American socialite Nazi-sympathiser. Now, what is a king without a voice to speak to his people and for his kingdom? The King's Speech is one of those schmaltzy, guilty-pleasure-type inspirational true stories of one man's triumph over his disability interbred with a period bromance between a royal prince and a commoner. It's also an intimate and humanising glimpse into the secret lives of the members of the royal family. That's the operational word: family. And who would have thought that overcoming a speech impediment can be so riveting?

8. Last Train Home

Layout 1

It's a documentary about what is allegedly the world's largest annual human migration where more than 100 million Chinese migrant workers return to their home villages for their New Year reunion. Yeah, that summary didn't interest me one bit either but somehow I chose to see it anyway - and I was incredulous when I found myself in love with it. The film follows the story of one dysfunctional family, in which both the parents left their children in the care of an elderly grandmother in rural Sichuan to work in Guangzhou - so they can buy their kids a better life. There are things I've seen in this film that a documentarian's camera had no business witnessing - but surely it was there, harshly acknowledged, when one of the rawest, most brutally honest scenes unfolded in cinematic history. It inadvertently painted Suqin, the eldest daughter, as a spoiled ingrate but she was the person whom I identified most with. I understood how she felt, and I know why she did the things she did. Last Train Home is a tragic story which is made all the more tragic because of how commonplace it is. It's in the hundreds of millions.

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

scott pilgrim vs. the world

I am a huge fan of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series and I maintain that it's one of the most important, grounded works of literature on the subject of love and relationship ever published. I rank it alongside Murakami Haruki's South of the Border, West of the Sun based on the sheer influence it had on my life. The film adaptation, Scott Pilgirim vs. the World, failed terribly in translating those themes from paper to celluloid, but the result is a unique, over-the-top, frenetically-stylised action-comedy film which truly captured the pop-culture spirit of a generation raised on video games, comic books and indie music. The dialogues are clever and funny, the characters are neo-Dickensian hipster caricatures and the fight scenes are EPIC. The music, an important element which could only be limply referenced in print, was brought to life in full aural glory. The Clash at Demonhead's song Black Sheep (written by Metric and performed by the vivacious Brie Larson as Envy Adams) is my favourite track from the film, with Sex Bob-Omb's Threshold (by Beck) a close runner-up.

6. Kick-Ass

Kick Ass Poster

To read my review of Kick-Ass, click on this hyperlink. It was one of my most anticipated films of 2010. Personally, I think it's a hard toss between this and Scott Pilgrim - their positions on this list are pretty much interchangeable.

5. How to Train Your Dragon

how to train your dragon poster

I frequently refer to this animated feature as DreamWork's best Pixar impression, and I meant it in the best possible way - and unlike Pixar, DreamWorks actually know how to incorporate 3D properly into their films. Sanders and DeBlois, co-writers and directors of Lilo & Stitch, was probably why How to Train Your Dragon displayed so much heart. You can even vaguely see the genes of Stitch in the character design of the starring dragon. There was an indescribable rush when Hiccup first took flight astride Toothless and in my opinion, it's a flying scene which is as iconic as Aladdin and Jasmine's romantic magic carpet ride in Disney's Aladdin. If you missed this film when it was playing in theatres, I really feel sorry for you - because now you'll never be able to enjoy this film in the way it's meant to be experienced.

4. Inception

Inception Posteri

I had already written an immensely bloated gush on this. Nuff' said, methinks. Can't wait for Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. Can't can't can't wait!

3. Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 Poster

I wrote a 1,700 word treatise on why Toy Story 3 is an allegory for the afterlife back in June. Pixar's best work to date, if you ask me.

2. The Social Network

the social network poster

When I found out that they were making a Facebook movie last year, I pooh-poohed the idea. There is absolutely no reason why I would find this film appealing at all - I don't like Facebook, and I don't like to know about wildly successful dot-com entrepreneurs who are wealthy beyond all reason (unlike my Dad - he once bought a me a year's subscription of Forbes which I left unread). This is precisely the reason why I try to watch as many films as I can, even when their premises sound bland to me. Now, I know it's not at all an obsessively accurate chronicle of the founding of the titular social platform (and the legal scandal which followed), but people who derided this film because of that are completely missing the point
also they smell
. I think Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay, said it best: "It is a timeless story, one with themes as old as storytelling itself: of friendship and loyalty, of betrayal, power, class, jealousy. These are things that Aeschylus would have written about or Shakespeare would have written about. And it's just lucky for me that neither of those guys were available, so I got to write about it." It's a narrative stitched together from the points of view of several key characters using the narrative device of two depositions in two separate lawsuits. A great percentage of the film consists simply of conversations - but what piquant, witty and often brutal conversations they are. The cast was perfect, particularly Jesse Eisenberg as an aloof, arrogant, Asperger-ish Mark Zuckerberg. The Social Network also boasts one of the most epic hacking scenes I have ever seen in a movie. It's mostly just a voiceover explaining how its done, but yet... so inexplicably awesome.

1. Black Swan

black swan poster

What can I say about Darren Aronofsky's recursive reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake? It is in essence a portrait of a young woman's loss of innocence and descent into madness. Having studied psychiatry, I found the deterioration which Nina Sayers underwent to be, how should we say, "diagnosable". In fact, I actually planned a whole essay exploring Black Swan from a psychiatric perspective, accessible to a layperson - but I digress. We see the world Nina inhabits from right over her shoulder, and we follow her kinetically and up-close when she dances. Ballet is an emotive and operatic high art, I was told, but this film was the closest I have ever gotten to understanding that sentiment. But make no mistake about it: this is a psychological and bodily horror film. It will unsettle you. The toxic pressure of sexual repression and subversive eroticism, the eerie family dynamics, the physical punishment of performing and Nina's dizzying fluidity of perception - it will put a toll on the mind of anyone following the story. The use of sound effects to augment the sense of surrealism was genius, and Clint Mansell's Tchaikovsky-inspired score was impressive, as per usual. The atmosphere of the film was so heightened that I actually felt I was going insane watching it. This is without a doubt Natalie Portman's career performance. At the Aristotelian moment of Nina's anagnorisis and climactic despair, I felt something snap inside me too.

It was perfect.

Special mention of films which barely missed my list,
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop; a brilliant and funny mockumentary by Banksy on the nature of art.
  • The Kids Are All Right; a dramedy about two women's struggle to raise a family which is not at all reticent about the difficulties a household with same-sex parents would face.
  • Moon; a 2009 hard sci-fi film which I finally saw in 2010. It would've been in my top 3 otherwise.
  • Buried, mainly because so many people I know hated it with a passion. Here's my review.
My greatest disappointments of 2010,
Thus, my cinematic summary of the previous year concludes. Feel free to share in the comments what your favourite films of 2010 are - I'm always open to good recommendations. I'm sure there are gems out there I have never even heard about.

Watcher of moving pictures,
k0k s3n w4i


Inn Shan said...

Scott Pilgrim vs The World? O.o
Apart from the hot Ramona, i can't find myself to understand the storyline. Maybe it's not made for audience like me.

Liz ^^, said...

I absolutely LOVED "How to Train Your Dragon" and I thank GOD that somehow, very unlike me, I decided to watch that with my boyfriend (still can't believe how I managed to convince him to watch an animated movie) -- in 3D ! Goshhhh~ It was THE best movie in 3D I have ever watched !!! (Which also leads me to why Tron: Legacy was such a HUGE disappointment >.<) HTTYD just warmed the cockles of my heart :) And don't you just ADORE Toothless? :D

Same reason why I loved Toy Story 3. Man, made me cry buckets, that one. What a beautiful story of growing up and letting go. :) (Although I was disappointed with the 3D effects T.T)

When I saw those on your list, I just HAD to raveeeee~ :P

Chris C said...

Legend of Guardians : Owls of Ga'Hoole!!! Its on my list. Last train home sound interesting..I might check it out...

Zzzyun said...

i have already ticked a good few off your list, and so far your film recommendations have been right on track, im trying the Last Train Home and Kick Ass soon.

My recommendation would to check out this new movie titled "The Pregnancy Pact." About 4 underage girls that made a pact to get pregnant, which was inspired by a true story. an interesting story interspersed with documentary snips, i find it sheds a new light on teenage pregnancy.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Inn Shan: it's actually very similar to kung fu hustle - a live action anime - but instead of parodying kung fu, it's parodying hipster culture while paying homage to video games and comic books. i'm not surprised that you didn't get the meaning behind the visuals (like i said, the film translated those very, very poorly), but it's still a very awesome movie on a purely eye candy level.

Liz ^^,: well, watching 3D films requires some degree of discernment. there's two things you need to keep in mind; (a) was the film shot/rendered in real 3D, as opposed to being post-converted 3D? and (b) was it going to be a good film? the second part is tricky, because it demands some familiarity with the calibre of the people making the film - the director most importantly. tron: legacy was shot in real 3D, but with an unproven director, so it was a gamble. but the daft punk soundtrack of that film was still crazy awesome. i thought despicable me showcased better 3D personally, but how to train your dragon has the overall better production value and story base.

Chris C: The Guardians of Ga'Hoole is a great-looking film but its story is a little thin - still, i reviewed it quite favourably. hope you enjoy last train home :)

Zzzyun: thora birch is in the pregnancy pact. interesting... still, i never actually considered teen pregnancy to be much of a mystery :P oh, i just saw 127 hours and i'm writing a review for it. med students should totally see it (and if you don't know what it's about at all, don't google or wiki it!)

Liz ^^, said...

Ahaha, wow. I didn't calculate whether the movie'd be worth it in 3D by looking at (a) and (b) as you mentioned. I just looked at the poster and went, "Hey, the dragon looks soo cute !!!!" and who knew, I hit jackpot !!!! xD

Don't I sound bimbotic? :P