Top Ten Films of 2010

31 December 2010

Top ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australia in 2010



1. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
This almost clinical and mechanical representation of the human subconscious facilitated an extraordinary exploration of cinematic space in order to deliver an intriguing heist story with wonderfully thrilling action sequences. This year’s masterpiece.

2. Enter The Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
This mesmerising assault on the senses by the director of Irréversible was a strange, brilliant and audacious first-person head-trip into drugs, death, sex and the neon lit metropolis of Tokyo.

3. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
Martin Scorsese’s latest film was a typically brilliant example of subjective filmmaking, but where the point-of-view belongs to an unreliable protagonist. A sophisticated exercise in film style dressed up as a pulp thriller. So much more than a spot-the-twist film.

4. Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010)
The Australian film to receive the most hype this year was also the most deserving. The low-key filmmaking resulted in a tense, gritty and at times horrifying crime drama.

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3

5. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The combination of tight writing, powerful sentiment, humour and characters with so much heart delivered one of the greatest animated films ever made. Possibly the most perfect resolution to a trilogy too. Not a dry eye in the house.

6. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
An extraordinarily empathetic film about the everyday and commonplace tragedy that love doesn’t always prevail. Contains the year’s strongest performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

7. The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Juan José Campanella, 2009)
The surprise winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, this Argentinean murder mystery/romance contains hidden depth. A thrilling and intriguing genre film in its own right but also a moving representation of Argentina’s history of political turmoil.

8. The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010)
To reduce this to merely a generic hit man film ignores how immaculately crafted Corbijn’s second film is. The rich use of style and homage offers multiple rewards for a visually literate audience.

9. The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
Another great example of subjective filmmaking where the film gets increasingly deranged as its psychopathic protagonist increasingly loses his grip on reality. A superb adaptation of Jim Thompson’s hardboiled novel featuring some incredibly upsetting acts of violence.

10. Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
It wasn’t an old-school David Cronenberg film but the glorious blend of science-fiction, horror, melodrama and psycho-sexual thriller made it feel like one. Transgressive wicked fun.

Honourable mentions

11. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
12. Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
13. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
14. Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010)
15. Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009)
16. The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2009)
17. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
18. The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)
19. A Prophet (Un prophète, Jacques Audiard, 2009)
20. Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

Top ten unreleased films

Son of Babylon

Son of Babylon

(Films with either very short seasons or only festival screenings, and to the best of my knowledge aren’t scheduled for a general release in 2011).

1. Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
2. I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
3. Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010)
4. The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
5. Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010)
6. Nobody’s Perfect (Niko von Glasow, 2008)
7. William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, 2009)
8. When You’re Strange (Tom DiCillo, 2009)
9. World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009)
10. The Army of Crime (L’armée du crime, Robert Guédiguian, 2009)


Tim Burton: The Exhibition

Tim Burton: The Exhibition

1. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948) at the Astor Theatre.
2. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) with a live orchestra at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
3. Tim Burton: The Exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
4. The Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and Jacques Demy seasons plus the Max Ophuls and Tod Browning nights at the Melbourne Cinémathèque.
5. The experience of seeing The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003) as part of the on-going Cult Cravings program at Cinema Nova.

Also appears here on Senses of Cinema.

An earlier (and since revised) version of the top ten film list originally appeared in the December 2010 edition of the Triple R magazine The Trip (online here).

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

Still some of the finest films

9 December 2010
Red Hill

Red Hill

One of the great things about the Australian Film Institute Awards is that during the build up to the awards night people actually start talking about Australian cinema and the industry gets a bit of media attention. The bad thing is that this has increasingly resulted in a stack of inaccurate and unfair criticism being thrown at Australian cinema for it being too miserable and not mainstream enough. Whether in the comments found under articles about the industry or in the actual articles themselves, too many people love to characterise Australian cinema as arty doom and gloom stories set in the inner city. This is apparently the reason Australians don’t go to see Australian films.

This time last year I started writing a piece that was eventually titled “Some of the finest films”, published in issue 1999 of Overland Literary Journal and then posted online here by Overland and here by myself. The thrust of my argument was that the industry is significantly suffering do to the perception that Australia only makes worthy dramas. This prevalent perception is simply not true but that doesn’t stop uninformed commentators dismissing everything this country produces as doom and gloom.

Bran Nue Dae

Bran Nue Dae

There is a place in any healthy national cinema for challenging social-realists films, especially those that give a voice to the marginalised, and Australia makes its share of such films but they don’t typify the current industry. This year alone has seen the release of a diverse collection of films including Bran Nue Dae (musical), Daybreakers (horror/action), Beneath Hill 60 (war), I Love You Too (romantic comedy), Animal Kingdom (crime drama), The Horseman (revenge thriller), The Loved Ones (horror/comedy), Tomorrow, When The War Began (teen action) and Red Hill (action/western).

Not everybody is going to like every film that Australia produces and it’s unrealistic to expect every film to be a hit. Our industry caters to a broad range of audiences, but the intense negativity and lack of support means that frequently those films don’t always reach those intended audiences. This has been recently demonstrated with the poor levels of interest in The Loved Ones and Red Hill, which according to many commentators are supposedly exactly the types of genre films that Australia should be making more of.

The knee-jerk reaction that Australia only produces depressing films is unfounded and unfairly puts people off seeing films that deserve to be seen.

Written for the Oz Film Blogathon hosted by Dark Habits

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Cinema Autopsy on the 2010 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Feature Film Nominees

8 December 2010
Bright Star: Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish)

Bright Star

For me the two films eligible for the 2010 Australian Film Institute Awards that really stood out over everything else were David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom (2010) and Jane Campion Bright Star (2009). Both films have deservedly picked up a number of nominations this year (Animal Kingdom in particular) and while I’d like to see a few nods go to Bright Star, I suspect Animal Kingdom is going to sweep the floor. I certainly believe it will win both the AFI Members’ Choice Award and the Samsung Mobile AFI Award for Best Film, plus the awards for direction and original screenplay as well.

Of all the films nominated for best adapted screenplay I believe that The Tree is the one that should win for Julie Bertuccelli’s fine work. I also admired Tomorrow, When the War Began on many levels but I still firmly believe that the way the invaders where represented was a poor choice and for that reason I believe it is a flawed adaptation (you can read all the debate that my stance on that issue created in the comments under my original review).

Beneath Hill 60

Beneath Hill 60

Everybody nominated for the cinematography award did outstanding work but for me it will once again be between Adam Arkapaw for his work on Animal Kingdom and Greig Fraser for his work on Bright Star. However, I would love to see Fraser ultimately get the nod for this in recognition of just how much good work he has done recently on other films such as Let Me In, The Boys Are Back and Last Ride. As for the editing award I really have no idea who I would ultimate pick from the terrific nominations so I’ll simply pick recent Australian Screen Editors Awards winner Dany Cooper ASE for her work on Beneath Hill 60. However, I am steadfast in my belief that Beneath Hill 60 should win the best sound award as the use of sound in that film was astonishing.

While I wasn’t a fan of Bran Nue Dae, it is the only musical nominated for the original music score award so I won’t be the least bit surprised if it wins. However, once again I return to Animal Kingdom and Bright Star as the films I feel should be recognised for they way they used music to so effectively create atmosphere. While I usually get frustrated by the conservative and bland approach of always giving production design and costume awards to period films, in this instance I believe that Janet Patterson should win both awards for her stunningly expressive work in Bright Star.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Finally the acting awards, which Animal Kingdom dominates yet again with multiple entries in both the lead male and supporting male categories. Nevertheless, I think Ben Mendelsohn truly deserves to win the best lead male award for his terrifying performance as Pope. Mendelsohn has been nominated several times before and won a supporting actor award in 1987 for The Year My Voice Broke but I think his work in Animal Kingdom is a career best. On the other hand, while I realise that Jackie Weaver is probably the favourite for the best female actor award for her performance in Animal Kingdom, I would really like to see that award go to Abbie Cornish for giving such a moving yet measured performance in Bright Star. I don’t have particularly strong feelings about who should win the supporting actor awards but I’m inclined to thing the awards will go to Joel Edgerton and Laura Wheelwright, both for Animal Kingdom.

The 2010 Samsung Mobile AFI Industry Awards presented by Digital Pictures will be held on Friday 10 December 2010.

The 2010 Samsung Mobile AFI Awards Ceremony will be held on Saturday 11 December 2010 and televised at 9.30pm on Channel 9.

UPDATE (12/12/10) I won’t be writing a separate article this year about the actual winners as the awards more or less went to the films that I expected/wanted them to. Check out the list of all the winners here on the AFI website.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Animal Kingdom (2010)

31 May 2010
Animal Kingdom: Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (Luke Ford)

Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (Luke Ford)

Very loosely inspired by the Walsh Street police murders in 1988, Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime drama that doesn’t feel like anything else that has come before it. Tonally it owes more to Rowan Woods’s excellent drama The Boys rather than other Australian crime films like The Square, Gettin’ Square or The Hard Word and yet it still follows the conventions of a crime drama to result in a complex and gripping piece of cinema.

At the centre of the film is Joshua ‘J’ Cody (played by newcomer James Frecheville), a socially inept and introverted teenage boy who goes to live with his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) after the death of his mother. Janine’s sons (played by Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Sullivan Stapleton and Luke Ford) are career criminals whose lives are increasingly under treat from a group of vengeful and trigger-happy detectives.

Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver)

Writer/director David Michôd achieves a remarkable intensity throughout Animal Kingdom with his command over film style. Director of Photography Adam Arkapaw’s superb slow and fluid camera movements often creep up behind characters or emerge from behind obstructions to give many scenes a sense of paranoia and vulnerability. Composer Antony Partos’s haunting music often consists of a slow series of heavy notes but the result is an atmosphere of utter menace. One scene where a television in the background plays the video clip to Air Supply’s softrock hit “All Out Of Love” is made extraordinarily creepy by the addition of Partos’s music to really reinforce the threat posed by one of the characters.

Michôd takes an extremely low-key approach to the violence so that it never has a chance of becoming entertaining spectacle. Violence is an important part of Animal Kingdom but it occurs quickly, often without warning and in an almost muted way. The result is that the actual physical acts of violence are not under scrutiny but we are instead compelled to focus on the aftermath to confront the horror of what has happened and the fact that human beings are capable of such acts. The violence in Animal Kingdom is never graphic but it is always chilling.

Animal Kingdom: Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce)

Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce)

While Animal Kingdom is a tightly written and expertly directed film it still owes much of its power to its fantastic cast. James Frecheville is remarkable as J and the film really takes advantage of the fact that Frecheville is the unknown actor amid many of Australia’s finest and most well known performers (also including Guy Pearce). For most of the film Frecheville is a blank slate – almost the ultimate innocent bystander – but in one key scene where he does emote he gives a performance in one or two minutes that many actors strive for throughout their entire careers.

All the actors playing the Cody brothers are wonderful but it really is Ben Mendelsohn who shines as Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody. Pope is first discussed in the film as being the one everybody else feared but when we first see him he looks so inconsequential that you cannot help but wonder if there was an error in the script. However, as the film builds Mendelsohn brings a simmering furiousness to Pope that is truly terrifying. Mendelsohn constantly keeps this energy right below the surface so that it is never obvious but always present enough for us to see it and dread what he could be capable of.

Animal Kingdom is the best crime film ever made in Australia and it’s one of the best crime films full stop. Michôd really gets us into the world of these characters in a way that makes them completely fascinating without ever glorifying the destructive lives they lead. A film like this should horrify and revolt you but when it is this well crafted and so lovingly and intelligently made by everybody involved, the results are captivating.

Listen to Thomas Caldwell’s interview with actors James Frecheville and Luke Ford.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Read more reviews at MRQE

An interview with James Frecheville and Luke Ford from Animal Kingdom

30 May 2010
Animal Kingdom: Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Luke Ford (Darren Cody)

Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Luke Ford (Darren Cody)

James Frecheville makes his feature film acting debut in Animal Kingdom playing J, a teenage boy who goes to live with his grandmother Janine, played by Jacki Weaver, after the death of his mother. J is exposed to a world of violence and criminality via his four uncles, in particular the very dangerous Pope, played by Ben Mendelsohn.

While promoting Animal Kingdom I spoke with James and Luke Ford, who plays J’s youngest uncle Darren. The pair spoke about creating the dynamics between the family members and in particular Ben Mendelsohn’s methods of creating tension on set that would carry over into the film. James spoke about the key scene in the film where J’s virtually blank exterior breaks down during a brief outpouring of emotion and Luke, who previously won an Australian Film Institute award for his portrayal of an autistic boy in The Black Balloon, spoke about how he gets into the head of a character.

This interview was recorded on Monday 24 May 2010 and then played on The Casting Couch on Saturday 29 May 2010. The interview took place in the hotel where the actors were staying so the sound quality is not as good as a studio recording.

Download link (interview running time = 8:50)

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