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 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.


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.

Docs vs Biopics. Movies reviewed: In the Wake of the Flood, Cry of the Andes, Nowhere Boy, The Social Network

Posted in Acting, Biopic, Canada, Coming of Age, documentary, Drama, High School, Movies, Sex, UK, Uncategorized, US by on October 16, 2010

This week I’m looking at two documentaries and two bio-pics. First, let me say that in general these are my two least favourite genres. Lots of docs are too boring, lots of biopics are too earnest or stiff, and you know what’s going to happen, since the characters are already famous. But that doesn’t mean they’re aren’t some good ones out there.

The documentaries both come from the international Environmental Film and video festival going on in Toronto right now through October 17th, called “Planet in Focus.” Through lectures, workshops, films, and events — some aimed at school kids, some at adults – it’s an excellent place for people wanting to learn more about environmental issues.

The opening night film, directed by well-known Toronto documentary maker Ron Mann, was “In the Wake of the Flood”, and it’s a record of Margaret Atwood’s recent book tour. But unlike most book tours, she had local theatre groups and choirs performing with her. And she conducted it all as a fundraiser for birds! She also traveled by train, and boat, from Scotland to Sudbury, Ont, espousing environmental topics and showing her interest in the migration of songbirds and how they’re threatened by pollution, development, and environmental degradation. Her readings, in this movie have a quasi-religious feel to them; inside empty churches she preaches the ecumenical gospel of environmentalism, organic coffee, and the protection wild birds.

The movie is extremely low-key, with sort of a massive, anglo- Canadian Tilley-hat aesthetic to the whole thing. What I liked most are the historical clips and quotes of environmental saints – as one group refers to them; Saints like Eual Gibbons, Rachel Carson, Terry Fox, and Henry David Thoreau. The nature scenes are also really beautiful. So look out for this documentary, both for fans of Margaret Atwood, and people who want to help save the birds.

Cry of the Andes
Dir: Carmen Henriquez and Denis Paquette

Another documentary, Cry of the Andes, is also playing at Planet in Focus. If you’ve been watching TV listening to the radio, reading a newspaper, or just catching news headlines on-line, you cannot help but know about the incredible rescue of the miners trapped in Chile. But how much do you know about mining there, and what it’s doing to Chile, the people there, and the environment?

Toronto-based Barrick Gold, a mining multinational, is planning on putting mammoth open-pit gold mines into the devastatingly beautiful but ecologically fragile mountain region of the Andes. It’s water source is the mountain glaciers, that slowly melt and feed the streams that trickle down the rocks. The mining company plans to dig the glaciers up and truck them away. And it uses deadly poisons to bring the metals to the surface.

Without water, the community can’t function, and their orchards, rocky pastures, indeed their whole way of life would disappear. But the mines would also be a source of jobs and money, at least in the short term. It mines gold – Barrick Gold is the biggest gold mining company in the world – so it literally pits money and gold against the traditional and ecologically sound cultures.

This movie shows the dilemma facing the local indigenous population: go for the gold or keep the water. Barrick has set up lots of nice sounding commissions and compensation boards they present to the locals, but in absolute terms, it’s do the indigenous people there own the water rights – or just the land? Canadian filmmakers Henriquez and Paquette show the hidden effects of Canada’s international mining companies, and give voice to the largely unheard local side in their protests against the mines. Cry of the Andes follows the grassroots activists as they take their political cause from their small villages all the way to Bay st. in Toronto, and then home again for a local election that could decide their future. This movie has beautiful landscape shots of the Andes. And it’s screening on the 16th, at Planet in Focus.

Now the biopics:

Nowhere Boy
Dir Sam Taylor-Woods

John Lennon (Aaron Johnson), a high school student in the late 50’s, is growing up with his cold aunt Mimi and nice uncle George in a middle class home in Liverpool. But at a funeral he discovers his long-lost mother is still alive. Not only that she lives a couple blocks away. He confronts her, and his life begins to change.

His new-found, passionate and eccentric mother teaches him how to strum a banjo, and takes him to a movie where the girls in the audience shriek when Elvis appears on the screen. You can almost hear the gears turning in his head:  yeah, I want to be like him. 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, kissing strange girls.

When he gets suspended he decides to secretly wait it out at his mom’s place, so his icy and strict aunt Mimi won’t find out. Who des he choose as his parent: his passionate mother Julie or his cold but committed aunt Mimi? He also starts up a band, eventually including a young Paul McCartney– who looks like a cute, 14 year old lesbian in this movie.

This movie works – I was expecting yet another tedious biopic about a much-too-famous rock icon, but the story of how he ended up being raised not by his mom but by her sister is really good. (It’s a bit of a tear-jerker, actually.) Kristen Scott-Thomas as Mimi, Anne Marie Duff as his mother, and especially Aaron Johnson (he played Kick-Ass earlier this year) as John give three great performances. It’s well worth watching.

A bit of context: the director, Sam Taylor-Woods was a YBA (young british artists) a group of, well, young conceptual British artists in the 90’s, who changed the world’s art scene into a series of bed-hopping, money-making, artists-as-celebrity entities.

So, when watching this movie, it’s hard to look at John Lennon’s mother’s incredible, almost sexual, touchy-feely affection she has for him, without also seeing the director’s own obvious affection for the actor playing Aaron Johnson. (She recently gave birth to the boy’s baby. Nothing directly to do with the movie… but, in my mind, it informs the whole story.)

The Social Network
Dir David Fincher

You’ve probably heard of this bio-pic about the founder of Facebook, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s an interesting, clever, and pretty funny drama about Mark Zuckerberg and his various friends, enemies and frienemies from his Harvard days.

The story is narrated by the various people suing him: his former best friend Eduardo, and the rich crew team preps the Winklevoss twins who claim he stole their ideas. But it all harkens back to Mark being dumped by his girlfriend – which inspired what was originally a revenge site, to the phenomenon Facebook is now.

The script is intricately plotted, almost too dense; the acting is great (Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as the funny, driven, uptight geek; with Justin Timberlake surprisingly convincing as a slick-talking dot-com sleaze); even the scratchy, creaky soundtrack is effectivek disturbung. Only problem, it’s one of those movies where it’s hard to sympathize with any of them, or to care which millionaire or billionaire ends up with the most money and status in the end.

Also on this weekend is what might be your only chance to see Margaux Williamson’s experimental film Teenager Hamlet — a movie that strips away the artifice of film in order to explore the artifice of art, drama, and conversation — at the Royal Cinema tonight and on Sunday.

And the Toronto Jewish Film Festival’s “Chai Tea and a Movie” program is showing Avi Nesher’s film The Matchmaker – which is about a kid who meets a mysterious matchmaker from the wrong side of town – is the kind of movie  (one with a great story, comedy, passion, romance, intrigue, betrayal, and truly memorable characters) that you rarely encounter anymore. It’s playing one screening only on the 17th at 5 pm at the Sheppard Grande also this weekend. Look online at for details.

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