If there's one movie that defines the state of Movie Love circa 2010, it very well may be the as-yet unreleased in the Twin Cities Blue Valentine, in which Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a couple falling into and being thrown out of love. Because the chronology of the film is blurred, that means their states of attraction and repulsion are not clearly delineated. Which seems like a pretty precious microcosmic version of what went down in movie houses this year. The screens got bigger, the pictures got smaller, and with the release of every stale new installment in old franchises, it became increasingly difficult to imagine the medium lasting another decade, much less until the end of our natural lifetimes. And then the spectacle of Johnny Knoxville & Co. getting splattered with unspeakable substances in 3D made it seem like maybe there were one or two things new to be seen.
Because confusion and uncertainty marked my year at the movies, it's fitting that the movie I ended up settling on as my #1 pick for 2010 is also probably one of the movies I'm most ambivalent about. What can I say? In a year in which just about everyone and their Facebook-addicted grandmothers settled on David Fincher's (perfectly great) The Social Network as the new masterpiece-elect of the Me era, I'm siding with its probable Oscar rival, a movie that just doesn't know who it is.
Eric Henderson is a web producer and film blogger for WCCO.COM.
01. Black Swan
(Dir: Darren Aronofsky; U.S.)
If Darren Aronofsky's previous movie The Wrestler was a surprisingly naturalistic ode to that most straight guy-ish of all half-nude sports, Black Swan is an unabashed return to form over function, from the man who once adapted Hubert Selby Jr. with all the delicacy of a battleship Potemkin. It's a teeming mass of contradictions which reflect the fragile state of mind of its heroine, the frigid ballerina acted (with blood, sweat and tears) by Natalie Portman as though her life depended on it. The disparity between Portman's Nina trying to embody both the virginal White Swan and the predatory Black Swan is matched by the gulf between Nina's Repulsion-derived fear of sex and Aronofsky's insistently sensual direction. It's quite literally impossible to tell if the movie's playing it straight or for laughs, and that's precisely where the best camp should be.
02. Enter the Void
(Dir: Gaspar Noé; France)
Speaking of sensual textures, no one is making more memorable trash (and I mean that in the best, most John Waters-ian sense) these days than French artsploitation director Gaspar Noé. His long overdue followup to the brutally nihilistic Irreversible is overlong, pretentious, shallow and aimless. It's also gorgeous, ambitious, psychotronic and admirably earnest. A feature-length P.O.V. through the eyes of a scuzzy drug dealer making his premature transition from life into death, Enter the Void may test the patience of as many as it entrances, but there's little doubt it trips the light fantastic.
(Dir: Giorgos Lanthimos; Greece)
Lanthimos' movie is what might happen if you had Luis Buñuel direct a feature-length adaptation of Full House. With stone-faced absurdism, Dogtooth examines just how far parental influence can mold the lives of children. The three adult children in this clan have lived at home since birth, shielded from the rest of the world by their parents. They've been taught a language system all their own, listen to recorded messages from their grandfather (i.e. Frank Sinatra records played by their parents), occasionally slash each other with knives and cower in fear whenever a stray cat wanders into their sanctum. None of the metaphoric thrust of the movie is overstated, which makes it all the more malleable. And hilarious.
04. Shutter Island
(Dir: Martin Scorsese; U.S.)
Don't you love it when a great movie is also a box-office hit and it's also one of the most underrated movies of the year? Sure, the story is as thin as the "Bah-stin" accents are thick, but don't those same complaints also apply (in spades) to the universally-acclaimed The Fighter? With all the panache Stanley Kubrick brought to The Shining (and some of the same Krzysztof Penderecki music cues Kubrick used), Martin Scorsese's psychological thriller takes an obvious, potboiler novel plot and imbues it with an oppressive atmosphere of prowling, rattling menace. Forget Inception. This is the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller that nailed the elusive nature of dreams.
(Dir: Joon-ho Bong; South Korea)
Bong Joon-ho's The Host hovered on the periphery of a number of genres, which seemed sort of natural for an environmental message movie that was also, as it happened, a monster flick. His newest film Mother is a trickier beast, as it tells a story more comfortably delivered within the context of a 1940s women's weepy, but refuses to be pinned down to the confines of straight melodrama. Kim Hye-ja gives one of the year's great performances as the title character, a woman who will stop at nothing to solve a murder her son has been arrested over.
06. The Crazies & Let Me In (Tie)
(Dir: Breck Eisner; U.S. / Dir: Matt Reeves; U.S.)
Two horror remakes that were leagues better than they had any right being, to the extent that both arguably equalled if not overshadowed their source material. The Crazies turned one of Night of the Living Dead zombie maven George A. Romero's lesser-known horror parables and turned it into a horrifying logical endpoint for a society that fears government and neighbor equally. It was the perfect accompaniment to our TSA-obsessed year. Meanwhile, Let Me In dared to remake what has emerged as maybe the most beloved cult horror classic of our time (Let the Right One In), and turned it into an even more devastating meditation on our fear of being left alone.
07. True Grit
(Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen; U.S.)
While No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man are the obvious masterpieces of this particularly fertile period for the Coen brothers, there's something remarkably reassuring about the second-gear films like Burn After Reading and this surprisingly wholesome western. There's something about the latter movies that seems to say, even without trying the Minnesota-native Coens are better than pretty much anyone else. (And those four movies taken together also indicate that no one, but no one, ends their movies better.) Jeff Bridges is a hoot as the soused codger, no more so than when he angrily engages Matt Damon (also brilliant) in a cornbread shoot-off.
08. I Am Love
(Dir: Luca Guadagnino; Italy)
While not quite in the same league as last year's John Cassavetes-inspired caper Julia, I Am Love will do just fine for this year's Tilda Swinton fix. Director Luca Guadagnino makes the unfortunate error of trying to direct above and beyond Swinton, which ends up being the movie's undoing, but how can you not want to spend as much time as possible watching the British Swinton tackle the role of Emma, a Russian woman trying to embed herself into upper-crust Italian culture? Meryl Streep, eat your heart out.
09. Jackass 3D
(Dir: Jeff Tremaine; U.S.)
As Roger Ebert tweeted earlier this year, the 3D craze is cheap and vulgar. WIth that in mind, no one gave audiences what they wanted from the format more explicitly than Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Steve-O, Wee Man and the rest of the gang. You haven't seen a face get slapped with a giant fish until you've seen it in three dimensions and super slow motion. With apologies to Banksy and Mr. Brainwash, the antics of Jackass 3D just feel like the more transgressive documentary of the year.
10. Boxing Gym & La Danse (Tie)
(Dir: Frederick Wiseman; U.S./France)
At the same time, there's something to be said for the professionalism of old-fashioned, neutral documentary filmmaking, especially when the standard for the medium these days is something along the lines of Waiting for "Superman", an emotionally compelling but intellectually shallow piece of agitprop. I can think of few other more heartening examples of cinephilia alive and well then the fact that not just one but two new works from legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman (a master of fly-on-wall looks at various institutions best known for his 1967 High School) opened in the Twin Cities this year.
Exit Through The Gift Shop (Dir: Banksy; U.K./U.S.)
How To Train Your Dragon (Dir: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders; U.S.)
A Prophet (Dir: Jacques Audiard; France)
The Social Network (Dir: David Fincher; U.S.)
A Town Called Panic (Dir: Stéphane Aubier & Vincent Patar; France)
New Cult Classics:
House (Dir: Nobuhiko Obayashi; Japan) [1977 film presented at the Trylon this October.]
The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (Dir: Tom Six; Netherlands) [Uptown midnights.]
Trash Humpers (Dir: Harmony Korine; U.S.) [Uptown midnights.]
Great Performances (in addition to those cited above):
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Charlotte Rampling, Life During Wartime
Ryan Reynolds, Buried
Ruth Sheen, Another Year
Chuckles the clown, Toy Story 3
for more features.