Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Year in Film Watching

I decided I might as well make some sort of year-end list.

I have to confess that I lost a bit of passion for film this year. Mediocrity on screen had something to do with it, but being around desperate screenwriters in search of high concept premises and trying to make it big in the business really got me down. It’s not who I am. Seems like the movie business thinks it needs more cowbell but they don’t know where to get more cowbell. This desperation is quite prominent and visible all over mainstream theater screens. Luckily, after seeing Claire Denis’ White Material, my passion was renewed. That’s all it takes. One film.

I live in Los Angeles. That means that as a cinephile, my big screen choices are not limited to mainstream studio crap. (My apologies to crap.) Because I skip that shit for the most part, every year the list of films I see on the big screen gets smaller. I can’t really make a Best Films of 2010 list since I didn’t see it all and I became even pickier, so what follows is a recap of the best films I saw in 2010.

White Material is my favorite new film of 2010, but the No. 1 spot (for the second year in a row) goes to Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm. Before 2008 I had only seen it on a television, but when I finally got the opportunity to see it in all its glory, I felt I was seeing it for the first time. And this year was no exception. I will continue to see it every year to remind me of what movies can and should be.

The highlight of my film going experience this year–life actually—was seeing all of my favorite director’s films, for the first time, in a movie theater. LACMA put on a full Andrei Tarkovsky retrospective and nothing was going to keep me away. Nothing. Again, even though I own all the films, they were a revelation. If you are familiar with this blog you know Tarkovsky is my religion. I was, however, bummed that the Nostalghia print was shitty.

Imagine my excitement when it was announced that Anna Karina would be in town for the screening of Pierrot Le Fou for the COLCOA (City of Lights City of Angels) French film festival. Now, imagine my utter disappointment when, before the screening, they announced she was stuck in France because of the volcano ash brouhaha. She was replaced by Monte Hellman and Howard A. Rodman. They were great, often making me feel like a philistine with their knowledge about everything. However, they were not as pretty as Anna. Maybe next year.

Along with The Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood Forever Cemetery screenings, the AMPAS exhibits and screenings are Los Angeles cultural treasures. This year the Academy presented the world premiere of Ingmar Bergman: Truth and Lies, which delved into the central themes and motifs of the genius’ body of work. (Blog post and photos forthcoming.) In conjunction, LACMA screened several of Bergman’s films and I saw The Seventh Seal and The Silence back to back. It was too intense and I doubt I will ever watch more than one Ingmar film at a time. Each deserves its own time and space in my head.

As part of the Academy’s summer Oscar Noir: 1940s Writing Nominees from Hollywood’s Dark Side film series, I saw Double Indemnity and Shadow of a Doubt. And earlier in the year a special presentation of Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life. I love going to Academy screenings because the audience is always so respectful and passionate about what’s up on the screen. And they always have great special guests at the screenings. For film lovers, you can’t top the Academy’s events.

A huge treat was seeing Another Year and hearing Mike Leigh speak afterwards. He’s an outspoken curmudgeon that is not deterred by politeness when addressing dumb and pretentious questions. One of his applause-and-cheer-inducing answers was: “You’re interpretation of my film is complete misinformed and wrong.” The interviewer, a local film critic, became paralyzed with disbelief and embarrassment and was able to utter only “OK. Moving on.”

Another Year is another utterly confident and unhurried ensemble picture from Leigh. It is deceptively upbeat; with the distant sob or throb of sadness always lurking as the film's power creeps into your consciousness by stealth. Leslie Manville’s portrayal of a lost and damaged soul is plaintive, tragic and dissonant and, along with Isabelle Huppert’s in White Material, the best performance of the year.

Mike Leigh and the critic dude (forgot his name)

White Material is hardly a conventional “social problem” picture or even a linear narrative. Instead, it’s yet another emotionally complex study in character identification from Denis. White Material is all motion. Friday Night, L’Intrus —they all focus on movement and bodies, and personality is strictly defined by what people do and how they do it. In this case it's even more pronounced since the bodies in question are caught up in harrowing life and death situations. It’s really an action movie. The narrative and visual landscape, so expertly embodied by Huppert, is a marvel, largely because of its naturalism; there’s no sense that these characters have been suddenly manufactured before our eyes so that the filmmakers could make a point. We’re a far ways off from stupid white man’s burden movies like Blood Diamond. Instead, this is a portrait of Africa that’s enormously lived-in, despite and also, shockingly because of, its focus on white people.

Since one of my special talents is finding the dark side to everything, Toy Story 3 made me cry because it drove home the sadness of growing up and families breaking apart. The Social Network showed, and I hope the people with greenlighting power were paying attention, that a protagonist with a formulaic character arc is not necessary for Box Office success.

Let Me In is probably the only remake of a great film (Let the Right One In) that I have liked or will ever like. The American version was injected with style and testosterone and the result was a thrill-filled and entertaining horror film which was criminally ignored by audiences. I guess they were busy watching Saw XXI.

I almost drove myself bonkers trying to analyze Black Swan. (I had a similar experience with Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears.) I reached the conclusion that this silly movie is not to be taken seriously but to be enjoyed and that’s it. It’s okay to laugh. Really. Analysis only diminishes its entertainment value and who wants to do that?

I saw a few documentaries, including Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child: an homage to an artistic wunderkind, constructed around a rare question-and-answer interview with Basquiat. It is a rather romanticized portrait; however, the depiction of the madness and the greed of Manhattan in the 1980s kept me fascinated until the end. Inside Job fueled my anger to such extent I filled a bucket full of bile afterwards and Waiting for Superman only reaffirmed that my choice not to have children was the right one.

I stayed true to my quest not to pay to see shitty movies, so all the films I saw I liked except for one, which is on my list for Worst of What I Saw in 2010 But I Didn't Pay (below):

127 Hours

I haven’t seen True Grit because I heard some scenes on the radio and it make me not want to see it. The dialogue sounded forced. Sort of like Deadwood gone wrong. I plan on seeing Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right, but not until I get my Independent Spirit Award voting screeners/screenings.

I hope this next year is much better, don’t you? There is certainly much room for improvement.

Best wishes and Happy New Year.


Jamie Dierks said...

I can't believe you gave in. I haven't even done the year end post yet. Love it.

Unknown said...

Another good blog entry.

dizzydent said...

I know. I'm so weak.

Thanks Mike.