Monday, January 3, 2011

Favorite Films of 2010

As always, I held off posting my year-end lists until all 365 days ran their course – inclined as I am to watch stuff right up to the stroke of midnight on December 31. That said, my final lists didn't change one iota from drafts I made three weeks ago. I managed to watch around 300 "new" narrative and documentary features in 2010, kicking the year off with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and finishing it up with some True Grit.

2010 Ten Favorite Narrative Features
1. Gainsbourg (Vie héroique) (France, dir. Johan Sfar)
2. The Milk of Sorrow (Peru, dir. Claudia Llosa)
3. Mother (South Korea, dir. Bong Joon-ho)
4. Black Swan (USA, dir. Darren Aronofsky)
5. Dogtooth (Greece, dir. Giorgos Lanthimos)
6. I Killed My Mother (Canada, dir. Xavier Dolan)
7. The Social Network (USA, dir. David Fincher)
8. About Elly (Iran, dir. Asghar Farhadi)
9. Domain (France/Austria, dir. Patric Chiha)
10. La Pivellina (Italy/Austria dir. Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel)

Out of the 230 narrative features I saw, roughly 25% were viewed at home via DVD screeners, cable-VOD or on-line streaming, and the rest I watched in theaters. As I sat reveling in
Gainsbourg at last spring's SF International Film Festival (where it was shown under the title Gainsbourg (Je t'aime, moi non plus), I knew I had my top movie of the year. In his filmmaking debut, graphic novelist Johan Sfar took key moments from Serge Gainsbourg's life and career, and turned them into richly-conceived mythical fantasias. Eric Elmosino delivers an astounding lead performance, aided by brilliant supporting turns by actresses portraying the women in his life (particularly Laetitia Casta and Anna Mouglalis as Brigitte Bardot and Juliette Gréco). While my obsession for the man's music may have colored my appreciation for a film many disliked, at least Neue Zürcher Zeitung agrees with my assessment. It's unlikely this film will have a U.S. theatrical release or English-subtitled DVD for that matter, so I'm thrilled to be seeing it again next week at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

And speaking of the Palm Springs festival, that's where I first encountered five of the films on this list – all highlights of 2009's Berlin and Cannes film festivals. They were so terrific, I'd see four of them again when they later came to the Bay Area. Mother had a surprising six-week run at various local Landmark Theaters, while About Elly showed up at the SF International Asian American Film Festival. Dogtooth, which was simultaneously the funniest and most disturbing film I'd see all year, had one showing (in abysmal digital) at the Greek Film Festival and a later one-week run (in 35mm) at the SF Film Society's Kabuki Screen. I Killed My Mother entertained a packed Castro Theater one Saturday night during Frameline. Only the spellbinding The Milk of Sorrow never made it to these parts, despite an Oscar® nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and the top prize at 2009's Berlin Film Festival.

Slots nine and 10 of my list could have been filled by any one of two dozen contenders. I picked
Domain, which stars Béatrice Dalle as a scary alcoholic mathematician, after noting that John Waters had named it his #1 film of the year. Mr. Waters and I both saw it at the SF International Film Festival. You can see it, too, by spending three bucks at MUBI. Also at this year's SFIFF was La Pivellina, an endearing nod to neo-realism centering on a family of Italian circus performers. Rounding out the list are my two favorite American films of the year, Black Swan and The Social Network.

The Best of the Rest
127 Hours (my fave Danny Boyle film since Trainspotting, for which James Franco deserves an Oscar®), Alamar, All About Evil (we love you, Peaches), Animal Kingdom, Carlos, Chloe (minus the crackpot ending), City of Life and Death, the first half hour of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, Cyrus, Everyone Else (simply flawless), Father of My Children (especially the first half), Inception, Kinatay (Mr. Ebert, you embarrass yourself by calling this the worst film shown in the history of the Cannes Film Festival), The King's Speech, Leo's Room, Love Like Poison, Plan B, Please Give (the first Nicole Holofcener film to wow me), Police, Adjective (the dictionary scene!), The Robber, The Silence, Toy Story 3 and The White Meadows (let's not forget that Mohammad Rasoulof was convicted along with Jafar Panahi).

2010 Ten Favorite Documentary Features
1. Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (France, dir. Serge Bromberg, Ruxandra Medrea)
2. Marwencol (USA, dir. Jeff Malmberg)
3. Agrarian Utopia (Thailand, dir. Uruphong Raksasad)
4. Inside Job (USA, dir. Charles Ferguson)
5. Beautiful Darling (USA, dir. James Rasin)
6. Dzi Croquettes (Brazil, dir. Raphael Alvarez, Tatiana Issa)
7. 14-18: The Noise and the Fury (France, dir. Jean-François Delassus)
8. My Perestroika (USA/UK/Russia, dir. Robin Hessman)
9. The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (New Zealand, dir. Leanne Pooley)
10. Most Valuable Players (USA, dir. Matthew D. Kallis)

I watched nearly 70 documentary features in 2010 – 25% of them in theaters and the remainder at home on DVD screeners or on-line streaming – the inverse ratio of my narrative feature viewing. The doc that should be at the top of this list is David Weissman's devastating We Were Here: Voices from the AIDS Years in San Francisco. I left it off because the showing at Frameline was a sneak preview screening. The film will have its official world premiere at Sundance this month, and then immediately proceed to the Berlin Film Festival.


Audrey said...

I absolutely loved the Social Network, and thought Inception was crazy too, but I still have to see 127 Hours, Black Swan, and The King's Speech before Academy Award season, so I can avoid being a bandwagoner. I wish I could see as many movies as you. Some of the more obscure ones I'm definitely thinking of adding to my Lst.

Michael Hawley said...

Thanks for dropping by to comment, Audrey. And best of luck in the Iron Filmmaker Contest later this month!

Anonymous said...

Impressive list of films. Never heard of "Most Valuable Players." Why no review of this documentary?

Michael Hawley said...

Thanks, anonymous.

If I had written reviews of all 300 new films I saw last year, I never would have had time to see the films themselves!

MOST VALUABLE PLAYERS is a doc about the Freddy Awards, which is a competition for high school musical productions in Lehigh Valley, PA. It was catnip to this ex-theater nerd.

sarahramabv said...

I agree with you often does one get to say that? This year has produced an amazing body of engaging,entertaining,provocative work. I am particularly fond of Gainsbourgh...