#7: “A story starring a child is allowed to be bloodcurdlingly violent without softening it with hand-holding guilt or apathetic abstraction.”
2010 was the year that Facebook got its own movie and William Shatner starred in a TV show based on a book based on a twitter. Anyone could get rich and famous for any reason, viral mission possible. And the dude shall rise . . .
1. Enter the Void, Gaspar Noé
Death never had it so good: sex, drugs, techno, wheel of fear and desire roulette afterlife, in which every drug dealer’s worst nightmare is realized: he’s narced out by the little shit son of his MILF lover, and then has to watch from on high while his hottie sister mixes it up with a sleazy Japanese strip club owner. That’s the hanger, but the coat is a many-colored dream all its own. A panic attack for all seasons, with some dynamo Fantasia 2001-meets-Tron lightshows. (Read more here.)
2. Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky
Natalie Portman looks in the mirror and we get our first sight of age lines on her beautiful face; and yesterday’s Portman, Winona Ryder, still achingly beautiful but as far as fickle cinema’s concerned, a shambling corpse. Like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Portman is forced to reckon in the split second of being onstage whether it’s better to burn out than fade away, and her decision isn’t just refreshing in light of today’s tedious safety-first, nanny-state righteousness, it’s downright modern, radical and brave, almost like we’re finally getting back to genuine rebellion at the movies, to the 1920s-early 1930s’s, when looking into the face of death wasn’t just another empty pose, but the essential, soul-chilling baptism of the true artist. (Read more here.)
3. Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich
Watching Pixar is like allowing yourself to be entertained so many ways at once that your whole outlook on what you like and dislike changes to conform. It’s not just our complex relationship to plastics and childhood fantasizing, but our notions of perspective and even filmmaking are extended, warped, broken. There’s no Randy Newman song along the lines of “When She Needed Me,” but there’s a brilliantly intense climax, involving the most spelled-out notion of divine extraterrestrial soul harvesting near-death transcendental surrender since Brainstorm. Tom Hanks’ voice as Woody continues to annoy me: that flat-edged sincerity, that over-the-top amiableness where he talks to everyone like they’re five years old and slightly retarded. In the end, this may be too disturbing for adults, and okay for children, for whom last-minute escapes are inevitably inevitable. Some of us can’t help but consider happy endings with the chill of Vertigo as we wait to get melted down and remolded into new Lady Gaga Barbies.
4. The Crazies, Breck Eisner
Call it what you want, but you can’t argue that this film hits all the marks and keeps hitting. Plus Timothy Olyphant proves he has the right stuff to seem like Clint Eastwood’s son, with all the well-tempered cool and Cali rich kid bro-hood implied, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I left this movie — the best horror remake since Dawn of the Dead, earning it the right to rip off that film’s Johnny Cash apocalypse opening — with shaking palms and a giddy tingle in my scalp. And we need more movies with insane large-scale riot meltdowns and nuclear bomb threats that — SPOILER ALERT — for once, deliver on the threats.
5. Greenberg, Noah Baumbach
Writer-director Baumbach continues to take risks, and best of all he got the amazing Greta Gerwig to be the girlfriend. Gerwig plays a tall ungainly girl who like so many is a little lost (and underrepresented in the movies): she likes sex and booze and maybe uses them as crutches and has no real direction in life other than a kind of guyly pursuit of pleasure – she has the body of a drinker and the slur of a stoner, and for once this kind of halfway relationship booty call dysfunction seemed real in a film. It’s every man’s fantasy to find a girl who doesn’t know how hot she is, making her grateful for every scrap of attention and affection she gets, and who likes to party and fool around; and yet the reality is that we men are eventually made as lost as they are, confronted with our own free-floating insecurity and disappointment when all our wants are suddenly fulfilled without effort. Love is about letting go of the feeling you could always do better — as much as it is about finding true companionship in a world that’s as fucked as only Noah Baumbach can make it.
6. Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik
A new cool dude in the cool dude lexicon comes in the form of a meth-addict tough named Teardrop. Jennifer Lawrence and a cast of fine actresses make this the best Dashiell Hammett film since Brick. There’s squirrel skinning, and a fine portrayal of the feminine/wilderness making uneasy truces with chainsaw phallic meth-headed man as he corkscrews himself into oblivion. (Read more here.)
7. True Grit, the Coen Brothers
Jeff Bridges steps into being the most interesting actor of his day, with a complicatedly dilapidated but iron-tough Cogburn that compares solidly with the John Wayne original. Wayne was always Wayne, but Bridges manages to be several feet deeper in poetic gravitas and still have that zonked hippy Jeff Bridges twinkle. It’s like you’re seeing a real American myth, like the iron spirit of Leadbelly, roar up from the underbrush. Every character is so well etched (great to see Barry Pepper again, playing a guy named Art Pepper), even Josh Brolin’s amiable playing-dumb outlaw, that it reminded me of all things, of Treasure Island starring Wallace Beery, where every character was an MGM-stable hoot and a holler, and a story starring a child is allowed to be bloodcurdlingly violent without softening it with hand-holding guilt or apathetic abstraction. Weak ending, though, like the Coens couldn’t quite do anything except trace a chalk line.
8. Valhalla Rising, Nicolas Winding Refn
L’Chifre with tattoos and lots of on-location wind make this a stealth bomb stunner set in glacial slow motion for all eternity. Kubrick by Conan! Aguirre: The Wrath of God lost in the final minutes of Col. Kurtz’s dying fantasy, the second best movie this year about a feral kid following a fearless one-eyed warrior into the chthonic chaos. It seems like a high school art film made by lunatic Vikings on fly agaric mushrooms in the 16th century, and that’s my exact favorite genre. I don’t even want to read about its true origins, as I prefer to think it emerged, full-grown, from the wilderness.
9. Twilight: Eclipse, David Slade
I’ll never read the books, or be a 14-year-old girl, so that I can still enjoy these movies testifies to their effectiveness, and the holding power of the leads, and the way the realization of modern myth requires teenagers to resonate, as all fairy tales involve the very young. Never forget that in the days of King Arthur, the oldest person — Merlin — was probably in his early thirties. These kids with their Goth attire are like a high school production of a Weimar-era avant-garde cabaret — they do something for me, they make me think that if I were a teenager today, I might have survived. These films make excellent use of mopey music, stretching out romantic looks on post-rock glaciers, reaching the held-through-time cobra stares of Last Year at Marienbad. Considering the sexist neoconservative consumerism-product placed orgasm-oriented flicks that predominate so-called “women’s pictures” or rom-coms, Twilight alone understands the supernatural power that can be had in rejecting bland, hand-me-down values. The pro-virginity aspect is the 21st-century Antigone move, the way not being a virgin was in the 1920s. I know very well the way a woman you haven’t had sex with can inspire like no other muse, and the way a 100-year-old lecher in a teen idol’s body can wreak merry havoc on pouty-lipped teenager brain stems, and I know these things to be true, and that as an artist or writer, that kind of inspiration should always trump the pitiful and misleading call of the proprietary orgasm. Edward knows it too . . . . sigh. (Read more here.)
10. Inception, Christopher Nolan; Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese
Leo DiCaprio really needs to stop playing grieving widowers who’ve bottled up their agony and guilt (I think it’s a kind of easy out for this former heartthrob, an excuse to close down his inner light in an effort to be super tough and shed his baby fat image) and must deal with dream anima projections of the wife they inadvertently killed or wasn’t there when they killed themselves and their kids, or otherwise did a bad bad thing . . . but there’s no denying the acres of total cleverness packed into these retro-futuristic remakes of each other, full of layered meaning and detail, each a fine example of something designed to be bought as a blu-ray disc and watched a number of times, the way we used to watch Goodfellas or Silence of the Lambs over and over and over. I don’t think I’ll watch either Inception or Shutter Island again anytime soon, but I’m glad they’re there, waiting, in case. (Read more on Shutter here, and Inception here.)