Top Ten Movies of 2010! Black Swan, Winter’s Bone, Fish Tank, You Are Here, True Grit, Enter the Void, The Kids Are All Right, Kick Ass, Mother, Nowhere Boy.

Posted in Cultural Mining, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 30, 2010

Well, we’re on the verge of a new year, and movie reviewers seem obligated to say which movies were the best in the past year. But I’m what you’d call a promiscuous moviegoer (I see about 250 movies a year), so it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. But I’ll try. (I’m not including documentaries or animated movies, just because I’m trying to narrow it down. And I’m also not counting any movies I saw at film festivals that haven’t played publicly yet in Toronto.

The best movies all have a great story, script, direction, and acting, and are in some way new and novel. They also go beyond what’s normally expected from a movie, and transcend genres. Here, in no particular order, are my 10 favourite movies of 2010.

Black Swan

Dir: Darren Aronfsky

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a sheltered, young ballerina who wants to play the lead part in Swan Lake, but the ballet director wants her to explore her dark side, and try to play the Black Swan. She has to overcome her inhibitions, her rivals, her doubts, and her increasingly psycho-sexual delusions if she is to make it in her part.

Despite my ignorance and lack of interest in Ballet dancing, this movie had me transfixed. Aranofsky successfully navigates between the documentary-style hyper-realism of backstage massages, taping and bone-cracking, the high camp of melodramatic scenery-chewing and cat-fighting, and the surreal, drug-induced psychological fantasies. All of this plus stunning visuals and sound.

Winter’s Bone

Dir: Debra Granik

Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) is a 17 year old girl who lives in dirt poor rural Missouri in the Ozarks with her silent mother and two little kids. She has to find her missing father, who’s out on bail before a trial, or else lose the family homestead. She’s a Dolly – “bread and buttered”, she says. The Dollys aren’t the nicest family in those parts, but they’re her kin and she has no one else to turn to so she starts on a mysterious journey into the dangerous swamp of her creepy family’s secrets.

Winter’s Bone is an excellent, compelling mystery-drama, made on location in the Ozarks, with great acting, a compelling story, and an unknown cast. With the fiddle, banjo and the guitar and mountain folksongs in the soundtrack you really feel like your there with her.

Fish Tank

Dir: Andrea Arnold

Mia is a 15 year old street-smart and tough-as-nails high school drop-out who lives with her mother and little sister in a high-rise council flat in England. Her hobbies are drinking, smoking, shouting, fighting, stealing, pilfering through wallets, and practicing her hiphop dancing. (She wants to be a dancer.) Her mother’s handsome Irish boyfriend Connor acts like a young father to her and her little sister – but then she sees him half dressed one day. The familial structure begins to crumble when all of their roles silently adjust themselves.

This is a great movie, with a terrific cast, especially the staggeringly good Katie Jarvis, as Mia, in her first acting role, and Michael Fassbender, as Connor. The movie itself looks almost improvised, though it clearly follows a story – and a heart pounding, tense, and engrossing story it is

You Are Here

Dir: Daniel Cockburn

This first feature is an experimental film that’s hard to categorize: it’s like a series of matrushka dolls dancing on a moebius strip, being fed through a reel to reel tape recorder. I don’t have enough time to even attempt to say anything about the story or characters, except that its sort of like an abstract physics string theory plot… if that makes sense. You are Here is a great, unique, Toronto movie.

True Grit

Dir: Joel and Ethan Coen

In this remake of a 1960’s John Wayne western, 14 year old Hattie hires a drunk Marshal Rooster Cogburn to hunt down her father’s killer. Can she depend on the True Grit sincerity and perseverance of either Cogburn or the Texas Marshall LeBoeuf? It’s a great, classic western, complete with Spielberg-style cliffhangers and tear-jerking scenes, along with the Coen brothers absurd comedy and violence.

Enter the Void

Dir: Gaspar Noe

A Canadian brother and sister living in Tokyo are tied together by a childhood bonding. But when the brother dies, he’s torn from his body and his spirit drifts around the city’s underworld, back and forward in time, through walls and over rooftops. This spectacularly, overwhelmingly trippy is a 2 1/2 hour hallucinogenic experience, seen directly through his eyes. Enter the Void is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It is an extremely absorbing and mind-blowing — but looooong — work of art. Even the opening credits are more fantastic than most movies.

The Kids Are All Right

Dir: Lisa Cholodenko

Nik and Jules (are a southern California middle-class, lesbian couple living happily with their two teenaged kids. But things change when their daughter hunts down the sperm donor (Mark Ruffallo) – a happy-go-lucky, organic motorcycle rider and college drop out who hits on every pretty woman he sees. He’s the third wheel that intrudes in the peaceful family.

Normally I’m not a big fan of light family dramas, but this movie has such good acting, (Juliane Moore playing against type, and Annette Bening in what I think is her best role ever) and is so funny, is such a good story – I really liked it. It’s a honey of a movie.

Kick Ass

Dir: Matthew Vaughan

Dave (Aaron Johnson) is a High School boy who’s tired of the undesirable combination: invisible to girls, but a magnet to bullies and muggers. So he makes himself a superhero costume, and when he’s caught on film fighting some street thugs, it goes viral on youtube and he becomes a superhero for real. But when he encounters some real superheroes, Hit Girl and Big Daddy (played by Chloe Moretz and Nicholas Cage), he is shocked back into reality. These real “heroes” were also amassing huge amounts of weapons and money they steal. The even more horrific villains he encounters, forces him to make a decision.

Kick Ass is not just a typical teen action comedy. It’s a fascinating, shocking, extremely violent, morally ambiguous drama, adapted from a graphic novel.

Mother

Dir: Bong Joon-ho

A desperately poor Korean mother (Hye-ja Kim), is shocked when her ne-er-do-well, not very bright son is accused of a murder. When the police don’t help her , she sets off to find the real killer. The great acting, uncomfortable characters and gripping mystery/detective plot make this a cinematic treat.

Nowhere Boy

Dir: Sam Taylor-Woods

John Lennon (Aaron Johnson), is a high school student in the late 50’s, growing up with his cold aunt Mimi in a middle class home in Liverpool. But when he discovers his long-lost mother is still alive, and lives a couple blocks away, his life turns upside down. His mother introduces him to banjo music. He combs his hair like a rock n roller, and becomes rebellious, cocky, almost a local tough, joy-riding around town on the roof of a double decker bus, smoking, drinking, and kissing strange girls. I was expecting another tired Beatles biopic, but this actually a great movie.

Have a Happy New Year, control yourselves, go crazy but not too crazy, and I’ll be back next year (and next week) with more movies.

On Coming of Age Movies. Films Reviewed: An Education, Fish Tank

Coming of age themes have been around for a long time, but they’re still popular. You probably already know all about this, but it’s the old story of a young man faced with a dilemma or an unrequited love, or an opponent or a hard to reach goal… that he eventually overcomes – or not – but ends up somehow learning from it, and growing up a bit. Think of movies ranging from Breaking Away and Old Yeller, to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and Lean on Me, and The Outsiders, to more recent ones like L.I.E. and Igby Goes Down, or even Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which just opened.

These kind of movies are fun to watch because you get to experience the new discoveries, fresh views, amd the adventures that the hero is going through for the first time; as opposed to a "slice of life" movie where everything is the same, not new.

Well, coming of age stories have been talked about a lot over the past year, mainly because of the death of two of the most famous proponents of that theme – I mean, of course, the late JD Salinger who wrote Catcher in the Rye, and the director and writer John Hughes, known for his teen comedies in the 1980’s.

Catcher in the Rye‘s Holden Caulfield is a rebellious, troubled teenager who runs away from a boarding school, to get away from all the phoniness, cliquishness, and superficiality he saw there. Some people were so moved by this novel that they said it changed their life. (I’m not one of those people, but I did like the novel when I first read it.) There’s even a rumour of a movie version, now that the reclusive writer — who always resisted that — is dead.

Another kind of coming-of-age story was the hallmark of the much-loved "icon of the ’80’s" John Hughes. There’s been a great outpouring of grief over the end of his innocent, young rebels in movies like 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club.

Well, It’s always sad when people die young, but John Hughes was an awful director with a non-stop stream of terrible, conservative, faux-rebel dreck, who co-opted fake punk/ new wave fashions to make his nasty, small-town characters seem more hip.

He was unsympathetic to the nerdy characters and the outcasts, and instead seemed to glorify bullying, and promote conformity. "Losers" were not doing well, but it was their own
fault. Ferris Bueller, the rich, successful and popular teenager (from Hughes’s best movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) decides one day — brimming with smirking entitlement — to do whatever he wants… because he can. Ferris Bueller was a Reagan-ish personification of US exceptionalism.

Expensive cars were what was really important. Women were treated to a backslide to the 1950’s, Happy Days-style, as if the feminist movement had never happened.

His movies later devolved even more with the Home Alone series, where a brat gets to run rampant out of greed and self-centredness, as long as he is juxtaposed against even more "evil" villains — meaning losers who "deserve" to lose.

In the world of coming of age movies, I think it’s fair to call John Hughes the Anti-Salinger.

But opposite though those archetypes may be, Holden Caulfield and Ferris Bueller do share one trait – they’re both teenaged boys, not girls. You see, coming of age stories about young women are a much rarer breed.

Let’s look at two current, female, coming-of-age movies.

An Education, by Danish Director Lone Scherfig, tells the story of Jenny, an English school girl in the early sixties whose father wants her to get into Oxford. That’s her only goal. She’s 16, smart, pretty, and middle class, but longs for the great things in life. She meets a much older man, David. He’s a bit sleazy, a bit louche, but to Jenny he’s glamorous and important with jaded friends who take her on cultural adventures away from her suburban town. He’s going to take her away, to take her to Paris. Eventually reality sets in and she’s forced to deal with unanticipated problems and twists.

This is an enjoyable movie, with a good story, and great acting, especially Carey Mulligan as Jenny, and it’s been nominated for an Academy award for best picture.

The only problem is that it’s a little too soft and fluffy and nice, and even its touches of bitter reality seem tinged with more nostalgia than grit. I kept expecting Hugh Grant to pop his head into a scene and say “Ooh sorry, I must be in the wrong picture…” It just has that feel to it. But it’s a good movie anyway.

Another British coming of age picture is Fish Tank, Directed by Andrea Arnold, which opens today.

Mia is a 15 year old street-smart and tough-as-nails high school drop-out who lives with her mother and little sister in a high rise council flat. She has an unspoken sense of justice: punish the bad, help the needy, free the enslaved. Her hobbies seem to be drinking, smoking, shouting, fighting, stealing little things, pilfering through wallets, and practicing her hiphop dancing. (She wants to become a dancer) She can find her way, unseen, through vacant lots and empty apartments, but she’s still strangely naïve about how people get along in the real world.

Her mother’s handsome Irish boyfriend Connor acts like a young father to her and her little sister – but then she sees him half dressed one day. The familial structure begins to crumble when all of their roles silently adjust themselves.

Early in the movie Fish Tank, Connor drives his new family out to a hidden piece of land. Mia follows him into the water while her mother stands disapprovingly on the shore. He reaches into the pond and pulls out a trusting fish with his bare hands, just like that. Then he pierces it with a skewer. The movie’s full of unforgettable scenes that carry the story along. (In fact all the scenes are unforgettable)

This is a great movie, with a terrific cast, especially the staggeringly good Katie Jarvis, as Mia, in her first acting role, and Michael Fassbender, (who played IRA prisoner Bobby Sands in the movie Hunger) as Connor. The movie itself looks almost improvised though it clearly follows a story – and a heart pounding, tense, and engrossing story it is. Beautifully shot, this movie just blew me away.

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