BAM Best Picture Profile: Sling Blade (1997)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM nominee and winner lists. However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

Much like my first selection, this film was one I first viewed on video and a year later than its initial release. Although, Sling Blade being a highly acclaimed film unlike my first choice, was a later-in-the-year release poised for awards season.

I have revisited Sling Blade again recently enough such that I didn’t feel the need to see it again to be able to write about it comfortably. One thing that bears noting is that since a fair amount of time has passed, and considering the trajectory of Billy Bob Thornton’s career; this is a film that deserves to be talked about and remembered. Trajectory more in terms of the kinds of roles and films Thornton has made more often since then. Sure, Sling Blade has its comedic and heart-warming moments but at its core there’s a classical dramatic arc to the story. He’s played a lot more straight comedies since this film than dramas or even dramedies.

All of that is meant to underscore the fact that Sling Blade may be one of the greatest “showcase” type films ever created. Actors often will, and at times are encouraged, to develop their own idea to showcase a side of themselves they can’t seem to in other films, or simply to prove themselves in a meaty role. They do happen, but few are this complete a film and as accomplished works by said actor in all phases he/she participates. In this case Thornton wrote, directed and starred in the film.

However, a film that exists merely to highlight one actor has a hard road to getting to “Best Picture.” What is needed is not only a great supporting cast, but also a great narrative. In story terms it’s not only a tragedy at its heart, but also a story of redemption and looking beneath the surface, there’s a Southern Gothic element.

The cast features great actors, both character and not, like Robert Duvall, J.T. Walsh and John Ritter, but it also features revelations like Lucas Black, whom was a virtual unknown since American Gothic was a very low-rated show; and the film incredibly impressive film debut of country-music star Dwight Yoakam.

What is also worth noting is that while more features than you realize are first born as shorts there’s not many you get to see, and fewer than are just a prelude. Sling Blade is one of those. I was lucky enough to find a copy of Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade and watched it and I was amazed that’s its really just the interview scene, one that’s emulated in the feature, and a great set-up for who Karl is and who he is perceived to be. You can watch it below:

If you can watch that and not want to see the feature if you’ve not there’s nothing else I can say to sell you on its greatness. I’ll close with perhaps the best one-line encapsulation of the film offered by Roger Ebert:

If “Forrest Gump” had been written by William Faulkner, the result might have been something like “Sling Blade.”

It’s sheer brilliance. Enough said.

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BAM Best Picture Profile: Mulholland Falls (1996)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM nominee and winner lists. However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

This may prove, by the end of this retrospective, to be the one and only film I had to go back and watch over again. As I dusted off my ancient VHS I first realized that I’ve never seen this film in its proper aspect ratio, but rather have only in pan & scan. It’s sort of a testament to how old this film is by now, relatively speaking, and how young I was when I saw it. Now, I’m not about double back on this film. Granted it may not retain the luster that some of the Best Pictures I’ve revisited. In fact, some of the “retroactive” BAM Winners that I created (and no longer acknowledge because they weren’t truly picked at year’s end) are much stronger films.

However, this was what started it all. In 1996, I sat there and perhaps for the first time I paid close attention to Awards Season as the nominations were coming out. I was quite young (15) and I was very unaware to the process, critical buzz and the like. Regardless, I needed an outlet to express my opinions. Therefore, with the aid of ticket stubs, and I would suppose the IMDB (as this film was a rental that I had viewed during the year), or maybe even just memory; I started assembling my first nominations. Even back then I refused to bow to release dates and did pick a 1995 title as my favorite film of the year because of my lack of a reasonable chance to see it.

I’ve since gotten a bit more strict about that rule, but the spirit of it remains the same. So being my first Best Picture, from my first award slate (one if I recall correctly had about 25% or less the total eligible titles this year will likely have), sure, there was reticence to revisit it. However, I long since stopped engaging in revisionist history. It’s a snapshot. I still like the film, moreover, I still know exactly what it was that had me respond in so enamored a way then even though the surprise, and to an extent, some of the thrill is gone.

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

Back then I was far more actor-oriented and there are many in it I tracked closely at the time (Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palmentieri, John Malkovich) some I’ve since come to know better (Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Connolly, Treat Williams, Chris Penn, Stephen Baldwin, Ed Lauter). Perhaps more noticeably I realize now that many behind the scenes names are know more well known to me Sally Menke (Editor most known from Tarantino’s works; May she rest in peace), Haskell Wexler (Legendary DP perhaps best known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Lee Tamahori (Director who broke out with Once Were Warriors)

While the film may not be technically a noir tale, its got many of the elements that I was just recently introduced to and starting to become enraptured by so that most definitely captured my imagination. Aside from the titillating aspects, it’s also the multi-pronged plot wherein Hoover (Nolte) was squared off against the the military and FBI in the interests of solving a case that has personal significance for him. He goes rogue, for lack of a better word; and it’s not like he’s a by-the-book kind of guy as the film takes its name from how he and his team deal with the organized crime element in LA.

Mulholland Falls (1996, MGM)

I enjoyed, and still do, many of the performances. And upon revisiting it not only remembered many of the lines I connected with but the line readings (“They brought me a film” as Malkovich says as he’s sick and “You broke my heart” as Melanie Griffith says to close it out; to name a few).

Aside from using film itself as a storytelling element, the narrative also starts with a simple case and opens up into a more complicated, entangled mystery much bigger than the players involved. The professional and personal co-mingle and the characters take justice into their own hands. All these things and more are what I connected to.

In conclusion, it’s not that I regret this choice, as I’ve stated it was most definitely true and correct at the time (and that’s the least you can ask) but it’s one, perhaps the only one, that I feel really dates me. It is still a solid, entertaining mystery that I believe can pack a punch on first-viewing.

Film Activism: The Dreamlands

During this past 61 Days of Halloween I discovered a new, and great Lovecraft adaptation. It was produced in Germany and titled Die Farbe, or as it is know here The Color Out of Space. Albeit another adaptation of this oft retold tale it has its own slant and a great take.

As it turns out that same production team, including writer/director Huang Vu are embarking on a new Lovecraftian journey. This one entitled The Dreamlands purports to be the first feature-length film treatment of Lovecraft’s dream cycle.

While this other side of Lovecraft’s oeuvre has also inspired writing, most notably Brian Lumley’s Dreamlands Sequence; this would be a cinematic treatment of a very visually conducive subset of Lovecraft’s writings.

The Dreamlands has an interesting, fitting set-up:

Roland, an orphaned boy with a troubled past is led into another world by a mysterious old man. A world that has been created by the great dreamers of mankind in their sleep during the preceding thousands of years. There the old man rules as a king and he wants to educate Roland to be his successor. But Roland is unable to overcome the dark shadow that weighs on him, and he must decide whether he wants to use his abilities to further expand the Dreamlands, or to destroy what others have built.

The production team has released a teaser trailer:

I am posting about this early to spread the word ahead of the unveiling of this film’s Kickstarter campaign from March 1-31, 2014 because all too often these crowdfunding opportunities sneak up on us and don’t give us, prospective donors, time to prepare. Therefore, I wanted it known early so that the word could spread. Based on what this team did with The Colour From Out of Space they should definitely get a shot at The Dreamlands which would incorporate elements of Celephaïs, The White Ship, The Strange High House in the Mist and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.

Be on the look out.

Short Film Saturday: Last Letter to Santa

The last time I did a short film post it was just after Thanksgiving, and though a great film it wasn’t really one that jibes with the holiday mood. I now bring you one that though a little bittersweet does have it’s uplifting side and is holiday season appropriate! It comes from Zachary Maxwell again this time writing Santa about his doubts. It’s quick, sweet and should get most anyone into the holiday spirit.

2013 Holiday Viewing Log

The end of the year for any movie watcher typically puts you in scramble mode. Regardless of what kind of movies your trying to watch: new releases, classic cinema or Holiday-themed films.

Therefore, rather than have both the Year-End Dash run overly-long, I figured it’d be good to siphon off the holiday-themed offerings. If any films are new and holiday they will link from the other posts to text here.

For a reference to what my ratings mean, go here.

The Christmas Ornament (2013)

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The first thing that needs to be said is that the initial offerings are all Hallmark originals for the holidays. On the rare occasion these can surprise. Those found in these reviews here are not the case. Furthermore, what’s not included here was one that I could not finish watching due to how insipid, and in the end, predictable it was.

All these three have their moments, but ultimately fall short. What’s pleasant in this tale are some of the performances and that some of the obvious realizations are not held off for too long. Certain factors that I thought would only come in to play late are out fairly early here. Other than that nothing special.

5/10

Pete’s Christmas (2013)

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This film does feature a Groundhog Day like tale that is unusually, in a good way, heavy in montage and features a good cast Bruce Dern, Zachary Gordon, Bailee Madison and Peter DaCunha. However, given its trappings it doesn’t do anything to special with the formula and does, sadly, meander a bit through the second act taking too long to figure out what its ultimate path was aside from trying to improve how setpieces and tropes are handled.

5/10

Christmas Star (2013)

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This may not have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in regards to my tolerance for Hallmark’s formula, but it was the low ebb prior to having to call one quits early. Essentially what you have in this film is an unrealistic and highly predictable scenario, inadequate performances save by one given by the youngest cast member (Kyle Harrison Breitkopf), uncomfortable staging and glacial plot movement and add to that, for the most part, really grating country music stylings. It just fails in nearly all aspects.

2/10

Foreign Language Film Issues 2013: Introduction (Part 1 of 5)

As has been the case in years past I will here look at some of the issues plaguing the Best Foreign Language Film nomination process at the Oscars. Since this year I am touching on a large array of interrelated topics I thought it best to post my thoughts in a weekly series.

Introduction

The time has come again in the year when I look at the the Best Foreign Language submission process. As opposed to years past when I looked at the overall process and discussed pie-in-the-sky solutions here I’ll look at some more microcosmic issues that will illuminate some other issues with the process that need to be looked at; some of these issues will have been discussed prior but here are looked at under a different guise and others have not been discussed. This time I’ve not contacted as many people as I did in previous years but I did glean some insight and just want to get some issues mentioned. Every year, at least in the trades, this process is brought up so it’s one that even the Academy will admit is imperfect and constantly tweaked. A majority of the discussion highlighting what is not taken into consideration under current rules.

One Film Per Country

One of the key Oscar rules that, I have frequently hearkened back to, is one film per country submission policy. In the past I discussed the possibility of adding more viewers and a “merit-based” quota. This year aside from tossing out potential alternate systems I did want to discuss some of the things that create issues in the current system. This is one of the first and foremost offenders. And, yet again, I found new ways in which this can be limiting.

    To be continued

Christmas Special Review: O Natal de Todos Nós

Introduction

I didn’t, as of yet, stockpile a bunch of new Christmas specials for this year so I am unsure how many of these reviews will be posted, and how many titles will be added to this year’s Holiday Viewing Log (to be posted soon) in addition to the first class.

O Natal de Todos Nós

However, I did see this short special through the year. It’s interesting that this universally loved group of characters in Brazil in essence did one special did kind of what I suggested in this piece. The film goes through short iterations where we see disparate characters, one-by-one, have their own Christmas preparations and they all coalesce in the end and join into one story.

The stories deal with the following characters: Horácio, Jotalhão, Mônica, Cebolinha, Cascão, Magali, Bidu, Franjinha, Chico Bento, Astronauta, etc. and is made up of shorts produced from 1966-1986. It includes a preponderance of voice over, emphasis on montage and stills. Techniques aside there are quite a few interesting thematic touchstones in it such as, mainly, the fact that there are dinosaurs and Jesus, thank you, Brazil! Aside from the co-existence of science and religion in the same special, which would be unheard of here; there is also fantasy and reality side-by-side such as acknowledgment of the true nature of Santa Claus and embracing it nonetheless. There are other aspects touched upon both universal (midnight mass) and culturally specific (trying wine with parental consent), more creative touches (a celestial Christmas tree and the Big Bang) and voice talent up the wazoo.

Perhaps what’s best is, that at least for the time being, I found it on YouTube (Sorry, I did not locate English dubbing or subtitles). Enjoy!

2009 BAM Award Winners

In the last of the remaining re-posts here is a list of my 2009 BAM Award Winners complete with my rationale for each. Again, the text (save for minor grammar and syntax corrections) is mostly unchanged, in order to preserve my thoughts from the time accurately.

These awards and their winners are based on my opinion alone.

Best Picture

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are

One of the most emotionally engaging experiences from beginning to end in a long time and also a purely visual film. When comparing all other Best Picture nominees, all of whom where great, nothing quite lives up to this.

Best Director

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)


Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

It always takes something very special to split Best Picture and Best Director and that didn’t happen this year. However, here you have a case of a film thriving due to the vision of its director. A man amongst the few who can truly be called a visionary and who had such a clear concept of this adaptation that Maurice Sendak endorsed it in featurettes leading up to the release. Spike Jonze made this film happen beginning to end struggles with the studio and all.

Best Actor

A Single Man (2009, The Weinstein Company)

Colin Firth A Single Man

A performance which is reserved when the character is trying to be as such is great, however, it is when that reserve cracks that the true greatness bubbles over: when he’s questioned by Charley, when he’s trying not to let his voice crack on the phone and tears are rolling down his face, when he’s allowing himself to be happy and many other moments.

Best Actress

Jimmy Bennett and Michell Monaghan in Trucker

Michelle Monaghan Trucker

During this performance Monaghan reminded me of several different leading ladies such that her persona was unique and all her own. She plays a frustrated, somewhat immature, lonely woman and while she never fundamentally changes who she is. We do see her change in her attitude and behavior. She’s a gritty, tough character who does not hesitate to run out into the street and protect her estranged son at the first sign of trouble. It is a moving and complete performance and it is great.

Best Supporting Actor

landainglourious

Christoph Waltz Inglourious Basterds

Absolutely the easiest decision to make. This performance is the work of a virtuoso in action. How Waltz remained unknown to the American public this long is a mystery and it’s a credit to Tarantino that he cast him.

Best Supporting Actress

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Diane Kruger Inglourious Basterds

A strong an impactive part very deftly played by Miss Kruger. She is believably a movie star, a lady of society and a spy. She is quite convincing in pain and like Waltz perfromed in more than one language astutely which is very admirable indeed.

Best Cinematography

Before Tomorrow (2008, Isuma)

Norman Cohn and Félix Lajeunesse Before Tomorrow

This is a film which spends a lot of its time in the cramped confines of a tent or cave but also shoots majestic arctic vistas. However, landscape and wilderness cinematography is not enough to win there is framing and exposure to consider and how these shots tell the simple story of the film which is just enchanting. The fire-lit scenes inside allow for added intensity in the simplest scenes and day scenes in tents allow for diffused backlight.

Best Makeup

Film Title: The Unborn

The Unborn

Creepy and effectively done job on several fronts where makeup and not effects were used.

Most Overrated Film

Paranormal Activity (2007, Paramount)

Paranormal Activity

Hyperbolic critical acclaim not withstanding this film never escalated whatever tension it did build far enough to be a satisfactory experience. How it can be cited by some as one of the scariest movies they’ve ever seen is a mystery.

Most Underrated Film

Aliens in the Attic (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Aliens in the Attic

A grossly underrated family film that is reminiscent of 1980s family films and sci-fi. It’s funny and a pretty good action film at the same time.

Worst Picture

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

Orphan

The tagline says it all: “There’s something wrong with Esther.” This is a movie that starts going downhill and never stops.

Best Editing

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)


Mark Day Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This film feels so much shorter than its running time. Everything is always visually clear the story is told well and none of the cuts leave you scratching your head.

Best Song


“Quiero Que Me Quieras” Gael Garcia Bernal Rudo y Cursi

As catchy as the original, if not catchier, “I Want You to Want Me,” however, this version has a Northern Mexican flair and also a very comedic side as can be witnessed here.

Best Score

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

Carter Burwell and Karen O. Where the Wild Things Are

The score to Where the Wild Things Are not only made itself instantly felt and known but also played on a loop in this critic’s head for at least a solid week.

Best Sound Editing

Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Avatar

This version of the award truly combines the edit and the design and both, from what can told in a single screening, are great in this film.

Best Visual Effects

Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Avatar

Probably the most impressive display of effects that has graced the silver screen in a long time. This is truly a technical milestone and it appears WETA has surpassed ILM at least for the time being.

Best Cast

A Single Man

The intimacy of scene in A Single Man is as cinematic as you can get. There are flashbacks, two-person parties, conversations in hushed tones and all demanding that scene partners match Firth. While it’s true he’s frequently alone it is through his character’s interactions with the world that we learn about him and for that the whole cast needs to be up to snuff, whether it be leads or smaller characters like Carlos and Jennifer Strunk.

Best Performance by a Child Actor

Is Anybody There? (2008, BBC Films)

Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

As stated in the review of the film Bill Milner is the greatest actor of his generation, meaning professional child actors around his age, there is seemingly nothing he can’t do just based on this performance and Son of Rambow. Should he continue taking smaller independent work he’ll be allowed to grow and could transition quite seamlessly into an adult career as currently his talents seem boundless.

Best Original Screenplay
Inglourious Basterds (2009, The Weinstein Company)

Quentin Tarantino Inglourious Basterds

It’s an original. The title takes its inspiration from an Italian film of the late 70s about American GIs behind enemy lines but similarities end there. Tarantino doesn’t second guess himself once and he created one of the most unique and enjoyable films of the year.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Spike Jonze, David Eggers and Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are

Jonze spoke about how he worked with Sendak to get something he felt was true. Sandak was quoted as saying he felt this film elevated his work. It was a brilliant adaptation which lead to a brilliant film. It was the rare adaptation which allows for expansion of tale as opposed to its contraction and it succeeded due in part to that fact.

Best Art Direction

Is Anybody There?

anybody_9small_1241523992_crop_550x362

This is a film that not only dresses a house but its roof, the yard, a train station, Clarence’s magic lorry and a cemetery amongst others. There is a muted tonality to everything in the film and there are great conscious decisions made all over the sets and appearing in frames all over.

Best Costumes

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are

Thankfully CG was only needed for the faces of the Wild Things, and a great job was done there, however, if the Wild Things has been all CG it would’ve greatly diminished the overall effect and charm of the film.

No Worst or Most Overrated Picture Ever Again

Recently the BAM Awards had a change in which two categories were contracted. I never really elaborated as to why. No with Awards Season upon us the time has come for me to adequately explain this decision.

Last year, in reaction to the Razzies slate I debated compiling a list of stupidest Razzie nominations/wins but I didn’t feel like wasting my time. My point in slamming the Razzies is not to sanitize movie opinions. My point is that they’re lazy/pointless.

I personally, through the BAM Awards, do not want to partake in worst lists anymore. That doesn’t mean I’ll not express my opinion honestly. It’s prioritizing for me and a preference. I used to pick a worst, but felt like moving on. I write an awards slate, top films, horror list and older movies list so fatigue is a small factor. I’d just prefer not to dwell on the bad more than is necessary. Being excited about finding a film you love is a much more rewarding thing.

That reward is multiplied when you inform people that this is a movie they might (even by word of mouth) or express how you were affected. This is also why on my blog I don’t force myself to write reviews. Some, especially the bad ones, are like pulling teeth. I always want to be certain I’m contributing something that I find to be of value to the conversation on a given film.

As for overrated, and in a way underrated. In the case of those monikers what the perception of others is plays into it and if I’m making a list that really shouldn’t factor very much. Overrated is devoid of meaning if you ignore the commentary of others. It’s when you get to the bottom of it a meaningless putdown as it’s usually stated alone with not other statement. It’s crutch and replacement for actual thought. You can like or dislike whatever you see fit so long as you are prepared to defend it and that’s what I felt was the most crucial thing to learn.

Therefore, saying underrated alone, or even quantifying what was highly rated that I just didn’t like started to feel like a waste also. However, seeing as how there is still a positive impetus behind the underrated selection process, I will keep the thought and have changed the name to Most Overlooked Film. This may seem like merely a semantical change, but what it does is more accurately reflect my thought and decision-making process. In the past two years both with Toast and lat year’s Kauwboy I chose films I felt desperately needed a wider audience.

In other words what this means is that a $100 million-dollar-grossing film that was nearly unanimously slammed isn’t a front-runner anymore. Rather a film with little to know distribution that is great is.

So these are the most recent, significant changes to the BAM Awards and they should be fairly permanent. Now, with these explications they’re more formalized. Onward to the 2013 slate!

Top 15 Films of 2010

This like my 2009 List is a repost and has been added here virtually without change from its original appearance elsewhere.

15. Entre Nos

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With an election and events that would steal headlines towards the latter part of the year it is no wonder that the illegal immigration debate has hit the back-burner in the socio-political landscape of the country as we saunter into 2011. However, as a nation that once permanently etched that it sought the world’s “tired, your poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” it is a persistently relevant debate whether it is treated as such or not after all we are a land where “all men are created equal” but certain “men” have always had to fight to prove it.

It is taking such grandiose and abstract ideas and incarnating them in narrative where you will find great fiction. This is what triple-threat Paola Mendoza does so deftly in this film wherein a mother and her children come to the US after their husband/father only to be abandoned in a strange land and needing to struggle just to survive.

14. Secretariat

Secretariat (2010, Disney)

I have my very own personal bugaboo with horse racing movies. Typically, there comes a point where in an imaginary but definite line is crossed and the purity of just riding and the wild beauty therein takes a back seat to the grueling nature of the competition. The sport is dangerous, as are most, and creates a moral gray area as it is hard to know whether a horse really wants to run or not. However, by all accounts the story of Secretariat is a different one. The horse was one of a kind: part animal, part machine. So that stumbling block is cleared. More impressive is that as a spots fanatic I am seeing a movie in which I already know a majority of the story, and of course those who have seen enough movies can surmise, but this film still manages to suspenseful- what an amazing trick.

Lastly, of course, the story really makes a connection due to its characters. We learn their circumstances and see their journey more so than the horse’s meteoric rise, we become fully invested in them and their plots as much as the Triple Crown pursuit.

13. Easy A

Easy_A_Movie

Wit is a rare commodity in film these days, wit in combination with an actual point being made is even more rare. If you combine that with a film that both pushes narrative forward with 21st century storytelling devices like webcasts but is also reverential of classic films like those of John Hughes and the original, not the Demi Moore, Scarlet Letter then you really have something.

Combine that with the star-making, dead on performance of Emma Stone and you’ve got something special that is one of the best films of the year and without question the best straight-up comedy.

12. Le Petit Nicolas

LPN

This, for you my dear reader, will likely be the one of the most unnerving selections on this list because it is likely you have not heard of it and gaining access to it will prove rather difficult.  To the best of my knowledge this film didn’t see US release in either 2009, the year it was released in France, or in 2010.

I only managed to nab a copy off Amazon from a re-seller in Canada where it had already hit DVD. This film does a number of things quite well: it tells a tale of childhood whimsy without being insipid or condescending. It manages to tell a tale of naive misunderstanding without getting ridiculous and all the while remaining funny and clever throughout.

It also seems to be an adaptation in the proper spirit, while I am unfamiliar with the books upon which this story is based judging by the Pierre Goscinny I am familiar with, Asterix, it seems very much in keeping with his tone. It is a film that is absolutely delightful, a word I rarely use, from start to finish.

11. The Red Riding Trilogy

Red Riding: In The Year of Our Lord (2009, IFC Films)

OK, so here’s were scoffers can have more fun while I know this makes it technically a Top 17 list bear with me: The Red Riding Trilogy was a project released on British television in 2009, however, it hit US theaters in Spring 2010 and Netflix later on. So that and the way it’s told and shot qualifies it as cinema and its release date in the US makes it eligible for this year. As for the three films? Well, part three set in 1983 is the best of the installments, however, devoid of having seen the other two it is likely to be highly unintelligible. The films are highly co-dependent of one another, therefore to separate them is next to impossible. As a unit they stand as one work, they are sold as such therefore I evaluate them as such and give them one and not three spots on this list.

It is a tale of murder and intrigue of the highest artistry that requires you to stick with it and begs you to follow it through to its harrowing and artistic conclusion.

10. My Soul to Take

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Being a fan of the horror genre is a bit like going back to a well too often. You visit it repeatedly in hopes of finding refreshment but you usually come up empty. I consider myself fortunate then to have in the last few years have found films I have deemed worthy to place in my list.

My Soul to Take is a bit of a throwback by director Wes Craven but what it does do is tell a story that is deceptively involved, not dumbed down and an unpretentious whodunit. Furthermore you get within this film a teaser beginning that is rather than the highlight of the film a tone-setter for the ever-increasing tension level of the tale.

9. Machete

machete-danny-trejo-machete-kills-vest-hero-breaking-bad-121722497

Here we are again with the same theme, illegal immigration but a vastly different variation. Robert Rodriguez absolutely delivers on the promise that was teased at in the Grindhouse double-feature a few years ago. Not only is Machete as portrayed by Danny Trejo every bit the cinematic badass you want him to be, on par with Eastwood and Bronson in their most iconic works but it is also deliciously funny both because of the writing and intentionally cheesy production values.

You get in this film hilarious one-liners, insane plot devices and extraordinarily didactic dialogue which all suits the tale perfectly. It was likely the most enjoyable film-watching experience from start to finish that I had last year.

8. Waiting for ‘Superman’

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George W. Bush once asked the very important question “Is our children learning?” After watching Waiting for ‘Superman’ it’ll become quite clear that no, our children is not learning. However, this film is not propagandist. It has quite a few citations to back up its claims that the educational system in America is fundamentally broken. However, even more important than that in my estimation is that it also becomes a very involving emotional experience. While your intellect is often stimulated as you learn ugly, inconvenient truths you never heard before you are involved in the story as you learn the plight of educators who fight for change, children caught in the system and parents who are seeking and hoping for the best for their child.

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

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This is without question the best and most artful mash-up style film that you will likely see for quite some time. As I cited earlier if you’ve ever wondered what mixing comics, video games and film would be like the answer can be found within this film and therein lies the rub: you’ll either love it and walk away enraptured like I was or your eyes will hurt and your brain will boil over in your head and you’ll die- or something like that.

It’s the epitome of a go-with-the-flow type movie: it has either sold you on its strange universe within the first 10 minutes or you’re never buying. It’s a film that’s unafraid and many times that is the absolute best kind to watch whether you like it or not.

6. Kick-Ass

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The superhero movie may be on its way, if its not already there, to supplanting the vampire film as the cinematic dead horse that just keeps getting beaten. It is at the very least impending if you’ve looked at the Summer 2011 slate. With that in mind it makes this last gasp even more wonderful and marvelous.

I have seen it again since its initial release and I still liken this film to the original Batman, meaning it absolutely earned its closing line and lest we forget that Batman was made back when everything Tim Burton turned a camera towards turned to gold so it is high praise indeed.

While much less ballyhooed than Emma Stone, Aaron Johnson no doubt had a breakout kind of role here, his buoyed by the fact that he had quite a few 2010 releases to follow.

This is a film more so than most that deftly and fluidly moves between emotional notes with tremendous ease and propels it to this spot on the list.

5. City Island

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I like my independent films to be un-convoluted. It seems as if sometimes independent filmmakers take that mantle to mean that they need to tell a certain kind of story and not just their story how they want it told, which is supposed to be the idea. City Island most definitely has the right idea and from start to finish just consistently makes decisions that are true and accurate and not merely for shock value.

It is a personal and personable tale which is also a somewhat comedic twist on a Greek tragedy in parts. Even with some of the plot devices employed there is always a humanity and understanding behind all the actions the characters take.

It is proof there is room for real people, real acting and great narrative all at the same time in the same film.

4. The Ghost Writer

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To elaborate on a point I made in my initial review students of film, whether they seek to critique or make films, or just generally like films, should watch this so that they might better understand the true meaning of the term ‘Hitchockian.’ This is a word you hear far too much. It’s almost akin to saying that anyone who drives a car in the fast lane is like (insert favorite race car driver here). Just because you are attempting something in the same vein doesn’t make it the same or as good as. Few and far between are those who can try to impersonate Hitch and come anywhere close.

This comes very close, dangerously close and note that it’s Roman Polanski who does it and not some anonymous who has a a resume littered with straight-to-video releases. The intrigue, tension and at times surreal atmosphere of this film are hard to match and this truly stands as one of the best of the year and if its the last we see of Mr. Polanski, what a way to go.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Review- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The first word that came to mind when I completed viewing the latest Narnia was “glorious.” Which I stand by but perhaps triumphant would be more astute as the film lived up to my hopes and not my expectations, and there was a wide gulf between the two.

Sometimes going through a Top Films list can be a bit like going through a new land with a very crudely drawn map and it can be difficult to judge through various similar compliments what the lay of the land is until you hit a signpost (read number) the way the list breaks down, for this year anyway, is: 15-11 is the third stratification, amongst the best of the year but not quite up to getting a BAM Best Picture nomination, which is reserved for the top 10. Then from 10-4 is the second tier, the elite films. From this point forward you have the crème de la crème.

What may also be interesting to note is that Narnia once again had to overcome the Potter hurdle. This installment was released just after the Potter series did about as much as you can with a truncated tale. Yet Narnia trumps it again, which I likely would not say for 2 of the 3 books but would for the movies and therein lies the beauty of adaptation.
 


2. The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon (2009, Sony Pictures Classics)

Had I not already taken a few leaps of faith I may have been tempted to label The White Ribbon #1A, however, that does not seem fitting. Secondly, since I am already in disclaimer mode: Yes, I am aware that this film was up for Oscars last year, much to my befuddlement it walked away empty-handed.  It qualifies for 2010 to my mind because I, being but a voracious moviegoer do not get the free, advanced screening treatment that many a critic/blogger do, so unless I owned stock in Amtrak I can’t be on a train up to New York every weekend for every limited release. Thus, The White Ribbon only hit Philadelphia, where I first saw it, in January of 2010.

With all its BAM Nominations how is this film #2? Partially the nomination process is a bit mysterious to myself I try not to consciously keep a running tab of what film has what number of nominations and just decide category-by-category. The acting without question is virtually unparalleled by anything I’ve seen in a long, long time such that it was a contributing factor to the birth of new categories. It is also one of the best examples of how chilling and effective a film can be and also how much foreshadowing can be done (paradoxically to things we never see) without answering questions but instead leaving doubts.

It’s not that The White Ribbon does anything wrong per se, in fact, I’ve seen it three times and only saw my top film the once. They’re two very different films and each has their place and their point to make. Both are a tribute to this class of film and both will have a resonance cinematically and otherwise it’s just a matter of picking your poison so without much further ado the best film of 2010 is…

1. Inception

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You will rarely if ever see such an audacious combination of high concept and highbrow. Typically, a film dealing in dreams is too busy being aloof to tell a coherent much less have an intelligent storyline. Nolan’s film is not, in my mind, overly-concerned with trying to confound quite on the contrary one of the few negatives you could say about it is that it is very concerned with making sure the audience is still holding on tight almost as if the subtext of certain lines of dialogue is “Are you still with me here?”

Yet it manages to impart its information in a way that is not overly-expository, we never learn what’s eating at Cobb all at once. In fact, we don’t know there is anything for some time. An important point is danced around in one scene and cleverly revealed later. A character unaccustomed to the world of dream espionage is the vessel through which we learn.

Inception takes a wild vision of the future and makes it seem mundane and doesn’t make a spectacle of itself but slowly builds a world and a narrative. It’s a blur slowly coming into focus and with each ratchet towards clarity more and more meaning can be inferred. It is a grandiose tale told in the intimacy of the psyche of its characters. It’s a tale that reduces large concepts into characters that dresses as a heist film only to shed that skin and reveal something even more appealing.

Yet through all its brashness, pomp and circumstance there is a deft hand at the controls of this tale too. It is a film that does hint at larger meanings that travels through the catacombs of the mind and makes you consider if you are reminded of someone… a man you met in a half-remembered dream.

Honorable Mentions

Best Short Film



Day & Night

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While people were all distractedly getting in touch with their inner-child as they watched Toy Story 3, a film that is eerily similar to the first two yet supposedly much better somehow, they also forgot that they had just witnessed another work of true Pixar genius in Day & Night. So impressed was I by this short that I wrote it its own review and honestly believe it was worth the price of admission 3D and all and that Toy Story 3 was just icing on the cake.

Jury Prize

The Complete Metropolis

Metropolis (1927, Kino)

Some critics will have Jury Prizes in their lists and some festivals award them as well. They’re basically a way of saying “I couldn’t really give you anything but I wish I had so here’s something for being just so friggin’ awesome.” My Jury Prize for this year goes to a film that was miraculously found and restored to more closely match the cut screened at its premiere in 1927 than had been seen in many years. In some ways it was brand new but having a silent with a reputation competing against new films is unfair to both parties. So my Jury Prize is proudly awarded to Jeff Matakovich, Benjamin Speed, Bernd Heller, Robert Gray and Kino for the wonderful reconstruction of The Complete Metropolis.