Top Ten Films of 2010

31 December 2010

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

Inception

Inception

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)

Other

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


Film review – Enter the Void (2009)

29 November 2010
Enter the Void: Linda (Paz de la Huerta) and Oscar (Nathaniel Brown)

Linda (Paz de la Huerta) and Oscar (Nathaniel Brown)

There are some films that feel so uniquely off-kilter that they seem like they were made in an alternative reality. From Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) to David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1976) to E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten (1990), such films create a bewildering cinematic experience so that even if they are despised, as they often are, they are not easily forgotten. Enter the Void, the latest film from Gaspar Noé, the Argentinean-born French director of the highly controversial Irréversible, is one such film. Combining a radical range of digital effects and cinematic techniques, Noé has delivered a mind-altering first-person experience set in a gaudy version of contemporary Tokyo, drowning in neon-lit images of sex, death and drugs. The result is an almost impossible fusion of exploitation cinema and video art.

The thin narrative concerns Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a young American drug dealer living in Tokyo with his sister Linda (Paz de la Huerta), who works as a stripper. The entire film is shot from Oscar’s point-of-view evoking Hollywood classics such as Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake (1947) and the first third of Delmer Daves’s Dark Passage (1947) as well as first person computer games, the opening of Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) and Jonas Åkerlund’s music video for The Prodigy’s single “Smack My Bitch Up” (1997). Noé is so committed to the idea of presenting the entire film from Oscar’s perspective that the audience even hear his thoughts and experience the screen constantly flickering to black as Oscar blinks. However, with a head full of hallucinogenic drugs and passages from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oscar is very much an unreliable narrator.

Enter the Void: Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and Linda (Paz de la Huerta)

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) and Linda (Paz de la Huerta)

Later in the film Oscar relives pivotal moments in his life as a detached observer following himself from behind so that, like in first-person computer games such as Grand Theft Auto, the back of his head fills the bottom-middle part of the screen as he navigates himself through his own life. The final part of the film where Oscar has an out-of-body experience and floats over Tokyo (or imagines he does), is shot from a bird’s eye view. This mesmerising and dreamlike part of the film is not unlike the haunting continuous Stedicam long take used by Aleksandr Sokurov in Russian Arc (2002), except Noé’s use of digital effects allows him to ‘cheat’ so that his camera has even more freedom than Sokurov’s did, including being able to enter light sources so that Oscar can zap himself to another part of Tokyo.

The combination of visual beauty and garishness with the film’s sleazy voyeuristic eye and contrived spirituality all express Oscar’s point-of-view about what is happening to him. As a young, naive, drug-using man with an unnatural closeness to his sister, the results are suitably wondrous, sordid and absurd. Noé wants the audience to both be drawn into the experience of Enter the Void while also being aware of the shallowness of Oscar’s experiences. One example is an early scene when Oscar smokes the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The audience shares his trip and experiences the screen transforming into a series of brightly lit organic shapes that is both a beautifully sensory experience and also slightly banal in the way that the imagery resembles an elaborate screen-saver, representing the drug experience as both thrilling and tedious. It is also one of the most visually audacious and narrative-halting moments in cinema since Stanley Kubrick’s light corridor sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

Enter the VoidGaspar Noé is akin to a Pop Art equivalent of Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke in that his films are experimental works that manipulate formal cinematic conventions to annoy, frustrate and provoke. Both Noé and Haneke are cinematic geniuses, although sometimes cruel, condescending and arrogant geniuses in their desire to alienate audiences. Enter the Void is an extremely long film that will lose many once it gets into the final part of the film where Oscar drifts over the streets of Tokyo. Other audiences will find some of Noé’s shock tactics too contrived (a close-up on an aborted foetus feels overly calculated to offend) while some moments may elicit unintentional giggles (for example, the radical perspective used for the film’s climatic shot – in two senses of the word ‘climactic’). Enter the Void doesn’t quite have the structural and thematic cohesion or discipline of Irréversible, making it fall just short of masterpiece status. But it comes incredibly close and may well be one of the most intense, hyperactive and mesmerising cinematic explorations of shallowness and sleaze.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Wrap Up

9 August 2010
Enter the Void

Enter the Void

As another Melbourne International Film Festival closes I’m left with mixed feelings. It is admittedly somewhat of a relief to no longer be dashing from session to session every day, not getting enough sleep, not eating properly and drinking way too much caffeine. On the other hand, I do feel sad that it’s all over as it is wonderful to indulge in 2 and a half weeks of doing what I love the most – seeing films, writing about films and talking about films to other passionate cinephiles. It was also a thrill to be one the jury members for the short films awards this year. Being just a very small part of the festival in that way was a real privilege.

I was overall extremely impressed with the way the festival was run and I don’t believe that there were any mishaps (or miffhaps?) that were not understandable considering the immense logistics behind putting on a festival like this. Sure, there will sometimes be delays and projection problems  but this year everything seemed to be rectified and managed quickly and competently. Having proper breaks between sessions was also wonderful. My only wish is that you could exchange tickets online or at least over the phone without paying an addition charge on top of the exchange fee. It would also be great (but perhaps unrealistic I admit) to create a system where you don’t get charged for cancelling a session but instead only get charged for replacing a session. That way tickets would be freed up when people decide to skip a screening completely.

Son of Babylon

Son of Babylon

My goodness – bless the MIFF volunteers who do such an incredible job with a love of the festival being their main motivation. Having worked professionally on another cultural festival, I am fully aware of how hard volunteers work and that they can sometimes be under-appreciated. Fortunately the general public seemed to be pretty well behaved this year and I only witnessed one temper tantrum, which was so absurd it was actually quite funny (looking at you man who declared that the whole country was apparently incompetent because you had to wait an extra 20 minutes to see a film).

So, onto the films themselves, first with a list of my top 10 favourite films that screening during the festival:

Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010)
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2010)
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010)

World on a Wire

World on a Wire

I would also like to mention that the final film I saw at the festival, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, was a tremendous amount of fun and I’m glad I finished the festival with such an exhilarating film. I also thoroughly enjoyed the three retrospective screenings I went to, which were Psycho with the live orchestra, Joe Dante’s Homecoming and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire.

My full list of films seen at the festival is as follows:

Air Doll (Kûki ningyô, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Alamar (Pedro González-Rubio, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (Jessica Oreck, 2009) ✭✭✩
Bibliothèque Pascal (Szabolcs Hajdu, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Brotherhood (Broderskab, Nicholo Donato, 2009) ✭✭✭
Caterpillar (Kyatapirâ, Kôji Wakamatsu, 2010) ✭✭
Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2010) ✭✭✭
Dreamland (Ivan Sen, 2009) ✭✭✭
Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
Exodus – Burnt by the Sun 2 (Utomlyonnye solntsem 2, Nikita Mikhalkov, 2010) ✭✩
Four Lions (Christopher Morris, 2009) ✭✭✭
The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Homecoming (Joe Dante, 2005) ✭✭✭✭
The Housemaid (Hanyo, Im Sang-soo, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Hunter (Rafi Pitts, 2010) ✭✭✩
I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère, Xavier Dolan, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010) ✭✭✭✭✩
Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee (Shane Meadows, 2009) ✭✭
Leap Year (Año bisiesto, Michael Rowe, 2010) ✭✭
Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, 2009) ✭✭✭
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell, 2009) ✭✭✩
Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Psycho (Alfred Hitchock, 1960) ✭✭✭✭✭
Red Hill (Patrick Hughes, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Robber (Der Räuber, Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010) ✭✭✭
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright) ✭✭✭✭
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (Mat Whitecross, 2010) ✭✭✭
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Special Relationship (Richard Loncraine, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (Omar Majeed, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola, 2009) ✭✭✭
The Tree (Julie Bertucelli, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
The Trotsky (Jacob Tierney, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
The Wedding Party (Amanda Jane, 2010) ✭✭
Welcome to the Rileys (Jake Scott, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Wild Target (Jonathan Lynn, 2010) ✭✭✩
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
World on a Wire (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973) ✭✭✭✭
World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009) ✭✭✭✭

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Finally, MIFF this year was extremely sociable and I had a great time drinking and chatting with friends between sessions and making new friends while waiting for the curtains to part. I should really have done this much sooner but below is a shout-out to some of the other places online where MIFF has been discussed and digested. This list is be no means exhaustive and I apologise if I’ve left you off but I wanted to focus on people whom I actually spent time with in person in various queues, cinemas and the festival lounge. So, thanks to the following people for enriching my MIFF experience both online and in person:

Tara Judah at Liminal Vision
Cerise Howard at A Little Lie Down
Richard Watts at A Man About Town
Lee Zachariah (a.k.a. Latauro) at Ain’t It Cool News
Luke Buckmaster at Cinetology
David O’Connell at Screen Fanatic

That’s it for another year! Please feel free to list your blog/website in the comments if you’ve also covered MIFF and escaped my radar. Also, please feel free to share your MIFF highlights and maybe on this occasion it would be good to maintain the MIFF afterglow by just focusing on the films that you can share the love for.

Cheers
Thomas

PS It’s pronounced “FASS-bin-der” not “Fass-BIND-er”!

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Part 9

6 August 2010

There are not too many days left for the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival and my festival fatigue is now really starting to set it. I skipped a film on Wednesday night due to tiredness and slept through most of another film last night. However,  two of the four films I have seen over the past couple days, and stayed awake during, have been spectacular.

I enjoyed Four Lions, a comedy about incompetent Islamic terrorists trying to find something to blow up. However, I really thought it would have a bit more depth and insight considering its provocative subject matter and it being a film by Christopher Morris, a razor sharp satirist whose television work has an audacious and perceptive approach to comedy. Four Lions is certainly quite funny and there are a couple of excellent scenes that explore the absurdity of some of the extremist Islamic beliefs, but I really wanted a lot more than what this film actually delivers.

World on a Wire

World on a Wire

A big part of what I love about MIFF are the retrospective screenings and this year seeing Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1973 made-for-television science-fiction saga World on a Wire was an incredible pleasure. Stylistically, World on a Wire owes much to Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville in its use of at-the-time modern architecture, interior designs and fashion to represent the future. Eddie Constantine even makes a cameo to really establish Fassbinder’s tip of the hat to Godard’s film. Thematically World on a Wire is a distinct precursor to The Matrix but wondrously it also explores many of the ideas that are found in Inception. Definitely a festival highligh.

Caterpillar is a an anti-nationalistic and anti-militaristic film about a World War II Japanese soldier who returns home deaf, unable to talk, horribly scarred and missing all his limbs. He is declared a War God and the repeated ironic shots of his medals and articles in the newspaper, plus all the rhetoric spouted about the Japanese war effort heard on the radio, reinforcs how grotesque the glorification of war is. Furthermore, he does little but make his wife completely subservient to him by constantly demanding sex and eating more than his share of the food. Maybe I’ve been too caught up in watching short films this year but I am increasingly seeing featuress where I can’t help but think they would have been more effective as 20 minutes shorts. Caterpillar is one such films as it is a single note film that overly labours its point.

Enter the Void

Enter the Void

On the other hand, despite the large number of walk-outs and deep sighs of frustration during its final hour, I absolutely loved Gaspar Noé’s new film Enter the Void, an astonishing and hallucinogenic cinematic experience that mesmerised me for its entire running time. It’s shot in a variety of ways to convey a first person perspective to explore the sensations of drugs, death, sex and the neon lit metropolis of Tokyo, making it the type of film that William S. Burroughs may have made. However, it is only fair to warn that most people I’ve spoken to found Enter the Void to ultimately be an endurance test. I would almost declare it a masterpiece if it wasn’t for my recognition that it does become increasing repetitive, challenging and obscure during its long final act. However, I wanted it to keep going and I could honestly watch it all over again right now. It’s certainly looking like my pick of the festival.

[EDIT 29/11/2010: Read a full review of Enter the Void]

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Pre Festival – Part 2

21 July 2010

My process for selecting MIFF films each year is usually the same. I do an initial sweep off the program highlighting all the films that immediately jump out at me and noting ones of secondary interest. Those immediate interest films are the ones I book right away and bend heaven and earth to see while everything else I am happy to fit in where I can and if I can.

Here are the ten films that most grabbed my attention this year:

 I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris
Ever since I first heard about this offbeat romantic-comedy starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor as the two lovers, I’ve been looking forward to it. It has got an Australian distributor but they’ve been sitting on it for a long time now, presumably unsure about what to do with it. The same distributor almost sent The Hurt Locker direct to DVD last year so this was the first film I booked this year as who knows what might happen to it.

Air Doll
I have never seen any films by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda but at last year’s festival, missing his previous film Still Walking was my major regret as I  heard nothing but amazing things about it. So this year I was determined to acquaint myself with Koreeda and figured seeing his new film Air Doll would be as good a place to start as any.

The Housemaid
I know almost nothing about this new South Korean film except for being aware that it was as one of the films being talked about a lot during the Cannes Film Festival. It’s an erotic thriller that’s supposed to be very good so I’m sold.

Lourdes
Another film that I know next to nothing about except that it has attracted a lot of praise from overseas. For some reason this film has implanted itself into my subconscious as something worth seeing and that seems to be a good enough reason to a select a film as anything.

World on a Wire
I haven’t seen nearly as many films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder as I would like to have seen so this rarely screened, 1973 made-for-TV cerebral science-fiction epic is another step in rectifying that.

Exodus: Burnt by the Sun 2

Exodus: Burnt by the Sun 2

Exodus: Burnt By The Sun 2
The first film I ever saw at the first MIFF I ever went to (in 1995) was Russian director’s Nikita Mikhalkov highly acclaimed Burnt by the Sun. It is still one of my all time favourite films. I haven’t heard great things about this sequel but I am nevertheless very excited about Mikhalkov reprising his role as General Kotov.

Tetro
Simply because it’s the new film by Francis Ford Coppola and it can’t be any worse than Youth Without Youth, right?

Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam
They showed the preview for this as the program launch and it looks great. I can’t make it to the Merle Haggard documentary so this will be my music doco fix this year.

Lebanon
Another trailer screening at the launch that caught my eye as it looks like it will do for tanks what Das Boot did for submarines.

Enter The Void
Irreversible was one of the best films from the last decade for me so I’ve been curious to see what Gaspar Noé would come up with next. I’m also rather anxious since Irreversible is still one of the most upsetting films I’ve ever seen. But this does sound extraordinary.

Special events
I am really looking forward to the closing night film Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll as it’s another films I’ve heard very good things about, I like that era of music and I really like actor Andy Serkis. I’m also thrilled to be seeing one of the performances of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho with Orchestra, which promises to be a pretty amazing event for film lovers and film music lover especially.

Finally, the event that I am slightly nervously looking forward to is the MIFF Shorts Awards, which I have a very small role in this year as one of the three judges. The winning films will be screened after the awards are presented so fingers crossed we pick the best films!

I’ll be back tomorrow to share my thoughts on the films screening in MIFF that I’ve already seen. Two of them are more than likely going to find themselves on my top ten films of the year list.

Cheers
Thomas

PS I wasn’t going to see the new Bruce LaBruce film L.A. Zombie but like most other fellow film lovers I’m pretty disgusted that the Film Classification Board is refusing to allow other people from seeing it. Tara Judah’s piece “Cultural Zombies” on her Liminal Vision blog pretty much expresses my feelings about the issue.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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