Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ten Best Films of 2010

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/United Kingdom/France/Germany/
Spain/Netherlands/United States)
In what is likely the Thai auteur's greatest achievement to date, Apichatpong explores not only the past lives and origins of his terminal lead, but also those of his own cinematic career - and even of his chosen medium (down to a Platonic shadow-play) - constructing a dense web of self-reference that transforms the filmmaker's reincarnation narrative into a comprehensive career reexamination.  Uncle Boonmee is the best new film in years.

2. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy/Iran)
For Kiarostami's first fiction feature shot outside his native Iran, the director makes explicit the European sources (especially Rossellini and Resnais) of his half-neorealist, half-modernist idiom, while adding a new dimension to his art: a heretofore forbidden sensuality that as always relies upon spectator participation.  A major return to narrative form for Kiarostami, and the best of the recent spate of Asian-made European art films.

3. Mysteries of Lisbon (Raoul Ruiz, Portugal/France/Brazil)
Staging the Chinese box narrative structure of stories-within-stories-within-stories of the director's masterpiece Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), within gracefully circular sequence-shots that call to mind (without conceptually replicating) the temporally unstable spaces of his very fine Time Regained (1999), Mysteries of Lisbon emerges as a summarizing achievement for the Chilean-born polyglot.  Ruiz's career in 272-minute micro form.

4. Aurora (Cristi Puiu, Romania/France/Switzerland/Germany)
By virtue of one of the year's more comprehensive reinventions of film language, where a series of unmarked events - including a pair of double homicides - unfold within visually occluded beehive spaces, without the aid of narrative exposition, Puiu's essentially experimental Aurora pushes the default realism of the new Romanian cinema into truly novel (minimalist) territory. Puiu's Crime and Punishment has almost unparalleled staying power.

5. Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean, Romania)
A small masterpiece of the new Romanian cinema, Tuesday, After Christmas discovers a formal means of working through its love-triangle subject - physical exclusion - following an extraordinary one-shot, one-take open that maximizes bodily presence.  That it is the 'other woman' who remains off-screen in Muntean's final act, after one of the year's more unsettling exchanges, insures that Tuesday, After Christmas registers as a profoundly moral work. 

6. The Social Network (David Fincher, United States)
Justifiably anointed an instant classic of the American cinema, even if it is not quite to the level of Zodiac (2007), Fincher has again built his narrative around a film historical source - here no less than Citizen Kane - while employing a narrational strategy that generates meaning less from the distribution of bodies in spaces than from the film's lighting strategies and its mimetic scoring; that is, as a top music video artist would.

7. Winter Vacation (Li Hongqi, China)
Among the most distinctive independent comedies to come out of Mainland China in recent years, Winter Vacation spends the end of winter break with a group of aimless teenagers and disaffected adults in a depressed corner of Inner Mongolia. Composed of extremely long takes that expertly serve the film’s uniquely nihilistic sense of humor, Winter Vacation was awarded the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival.

8. My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa, Germany/Ukraine/Netherlands)
An early contender for the defining cinematic achievement of the autocratic age of Putin, the Belarusian Loznitsa's My Joy divides between a verdant Heart of Darkness forward progress and the stasis that comes with arriving at the cursed, wintery nowhere at road's end. Loznitsa assiduously moors his narrative to his victim-lead with the second half's increasingly conspicuous digressions always returning full circle.

9. The Strange Case of Angélica (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/Spain/France/Brazil)
From a screenplay that centenarian Oliveira wrote in the early 1950s, The Strange Case of Angélica returns not only to the filmmaker's Oporto origins, but to the naissance of the cinema itself (in the documentation of Lumière and the magic Méliès). Emphasizing both poles, Oliveira introduces notable anachronism into his latest - though, of course, his screenplay dates to a moment closer to the art's origins than to the present.

10. Ha Ha Ha (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
In HaHaHa, Hong substantially modifies the "twice-told" narrative format that he inaugurated in his masterful second feature The Power of Kangwon Province (1998), transforming his signature two-part diptychs into a series of alternating inter-cut episodes narrated by a pair of conversing friends. In this sense a way forward for the Mondrian of the art cinema, it remains to be said that the Un Certain regard prize-winner is also one of the auteur's funniest.


Jaime Grijalba said...

Good list, I know that "Copie Conforme" and "The Social Network" will be in my own Top 10.
The choice of "Unstoppable" is weird for me, even as a fan of Tony Scott as I am, I didn't like "Deja Vu", so maybe that's why I didn't like this one.

Ben DeGrow said...

What does it mean that I have heard of only one of the 10 and have seen none of them? Yes, I bow before your cinematic genius. Thanks as always for raising the cultural level of the Internet.

Michael J. Anderson said...

Jaime, I appreciate that "Unstoppable" doesn't exactly fit, but I sort of see that as the point: it is a work for which I am making a claim that it belongs with the others, though it would not seem to; that there's something more to it than its ostensible action-hack filmmaking. I would and have said even more about "Deja Vu," to me among the best blockbuster-mode films of the last decade, but that's a debate for another place.

Ben, I do what I can to raise the standard, you know. As far as having only heard of one, I would make two points. One: it goes to show how little "Unstoppable" is on the collective cultural radar. And two: since only it and "The Social Network" have received US distribution, you may be excused for the time being.

Just Another Film Buff said...

Brilliant list, as expected. How I wish I could see some of these films...

Vahid Mortazavi said...

An interesting list, even I haven't seen half of them; But passionately waiting for them (Mysteries of Lisbon, Aurora, The Strange Case of Angélica, ..).

In my list, Certifed copy and The Social Network have higher rank than Uncle Boonmee and the more importnat absent of your list is "My Joy" which I liked a lot.


Anonymous said...

I've seen one from your list, it happens to be your number one on the list, and yet already our opinions diverge! Imagine what will happen when I watch Ruiz's latest, whose two minute 'behind the scenes' teaser of sorts that I saw online I would place ahead of it! It was a great piece, though, I admit. Imagine the fool I will look when my list ends up '1. Teaser for Mysteries of Lisbon; 2. Boonmee; 3. Mysteries of Lisbon'. That's a risk I'll have to take!

Matt Singer said...

So Mike, what did you think of the New York Film Festival this year?

Michael J. Anderson said...

Well Matt, to answer your question, I saw a lot of great cinema at the NYFF this year - 8 of the 10, if you're keeping count, which it seems that you are. Of those 6 were from Cannes, as was HA HA HA. Basically, the NYFF was an oasis amid the wasteland for those of us in the Tri-State area.

Let me ask if my lack of sampling beyond the fest weakens the perceptiveness of my choices? What in another words did I most clearly miss? Also, take a look at Peter Travers's list and I would ask whether an overwhelmingly single-festival-driven list is worse than an all-Anglo selection that could be a fairly accurate predictor of this year's Oscar nominees? Which better represents cinema circa 2010? Which group of films will be studied in cinema appreciation courses in 40 years?

Lastly, let me thank all those that have commented. Vahid, more and more I am looking forward to MY JOY, especially after the estimable Jonathan Romney also singled it out as the year's best. LEAVES, I haven't seen the teaser, but yes that's daft.

Matt Singer said...


I was just razzing you about the NYFF thing. And I can't comment on most of your choices because I haven't seen most of your choices yet.

Since you bring up Travers' list (just to disparage him), I'd be curious which of his films you found to be particularly unworthy of consideration. I've personally seen nine of the ten, and while only two of his picks will likely wind up on my own list, I enjoyed all but one of the films he chose.

Michael J. Anderson said...

I'm not saying that any of the films are inherently unworthy; they're not. (I liked those that I've seen, on which I will not put a number.) It is rather that the list in its totality could be a very good guess for this year's ten Oscar nominees. Not a foreign-language film; nothing unexpected from the US. Just front-runners. To me, this is neither helpful, nor is it an accurate portrait of cinema circa 2010. There's nothing exciting to his choices, nor is there anything to learn from his picks. There is nothing that learned viewers would see there and say, perhaps that's worth my time.

Besides, is anyone out there really deluded enough to think the US produced the ten best films of 2010, and that Oscar will manage to guess all ten?

Also, forgive my touchiness. I do feel bad for the NYFF over-representation, clearly.

Anonymous said...

'Besides, is anyone out there really deluded enough to think the US produced the ten best films of 2010, and that Oscar will manage to guess all ten?'

Can I count Due Date as 10 different films?

R. Emmet Sweeney said...

Have you seen "Oki's Movie" Mike? It's the most structurally audacious film of his I've seen. I'm acquiring HA HA HA as we speak, so I can't comment on that one yet.

I also thought the NYFF was really strong this year, and my list would look similar if I didn't hold to the released in U.S. thing. BOONMEE and MYSTERIES OF LISBON were the best of the bunch, for me.

Michael J. Anderson said...

No, I have not yet seen OKI'S MOVIE; I'm a Hong behind. Given what interests me about HA HA HA, however, I will be excited to see OKI'S MOVIE in the context of the former.

I was looking at the indieWIRE poll last night, and I can see how limiting it would have been this year to limit myself to 2010 Commercial Releases. For me, the Apichatpong, Kiarostami and Ruiz beat anything released this past year commercially (the best of which, I would argue, was Maren Ade's EVERYONE ELSE).

Oh, and LEAVES, DUE DATE is a real nadir. It really is something: after all of the really funny material in THE HANGOVER, and especially in its trailer - if you want a top ten teaser, that's it - there was just nothing in DUE DATE. Nothing. It is one remarkably unfunny film.

Anonymous said...

Seen half of these, and all are on my own top 10 as it is. Angelica's much higher, mind you.

Did you see Michael Rowe's Leap Year?

Michael J. Anderson said...

Tripzone, I have not yet seen either LEAP YEAR: neither the Oaxacan film nor the Amy Adams vehicle. When I do eventually get around to seeing a LEAP YEAR, I will be sure it's Rowe's (hopefully with my favorite Oaxacan snack: fried grasshoppers - they're very good).

Also, I get putting STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA higher. After all, James Quandt, whose taste I very much respect, put it #1 in a tie with RITE OF SPRING! (Then again, RITE OF SPRING is pretty far down on my list of my favorite Oliveira, so perhaps we do have slightly different tastes.) All in all, I thought ANGELICA was an extraordinarily interesting work, particularly in view of his first documentary short and first feature, but for some impressionistic reason I wasn't overwhelmed by it. (Also, I kind of found the conversations lacking by the standards of say A TALKING PICTURE, though I think there was a little more meat here than in his past few films.) Maybe I will move it up when I see it again someday.

Lance JMc said...

Like Tripzone, I've seen five of these. Three of which (Boonmee, Certified Copy, Hahaha) are very high in my own top 10. TSN is my #11 right now I think, and as much as I love Tony Scott and found Unstoppable to be one of his finer films it didn't quite crack the top for me either.

My current favorite (though I'll give them all a few more months to digest and rewatch, having only seen Boonmee once for example - the order of any could and will likely shift) is Denis' visceral, gorgeous, impressionistic White Material. Which I know you reviewed rather favorably, and yourself suggested you'd need a rewatch of to fully sort. I'm curious if you've gotten that chance yet?

Michael J. Anderson said...

Yes, WHITE MATERIAL made my list last year, even though I didn't get around to seeing it again. If you scroll down the site a bit, you will see that it is currently ranked #3 for 2009.

Lance JMc said...

Ah, that was a silly oversight of mine. I recall your 09 list now. Well aint that just a daisy.

In any case, as with many of Denis' films, it's one that certainly opens up greatly with each viewing. As I'm sure many of the finest films this year will. I'm really looking forward to giving Uncle Boonmee and Certified copy a second look, particularly the former, given how each of Joe's previous films continues to shift and grow seemingly indefinitely with time.

Anonymous said...

As much as I loved Anand Tucker's masterful Leap Year, the Michael Rowe one was a trifle more profound. Needles to say, watch them back-to-back.

The day I saw The Strange Case of Angelica the trains were massively delayed and after an hour or more of worrying I'd miss the film, and desperate running around, I made it just in time. Then it was 97 minutes of sublimity that reminded me the trouble getting there was more than worth it. Oliveira's gentle touch just washed over me. That scene where he observes the workers in the field! But the opening, too, at the mansion. The handsome lighting, the delicate humour. Did you find it interesting that he pegs up his photos along the line as the movie progresses and it comes to resemble a storyboard for a film, or even an editing suite interface? Just as Angelica moves within his camera's viewfinder, and comes to life in his dreams, he can only be with her outside of reality -in cinema. It brings her to life. A bit Vertigo. The obsession destroys him, though, as she's dead to begin with!

And of course the scene ending with the cat eyeing the fishbowl, only to hear a dog barking outside! I agree the conversations weren't up to par with A Talking Picture (which is one of his best to my mind. But then, so is Angelica), but the more silent moments excel in this film -the dream flying is another one.

Michael J. Anderson said...

Thanks, Tripzone. A lovely account of a lovely film. I hadn't made the connection of the photos and story-boarding, which certainly adds meta-cinematic richness.

Of course, it is important to remember that viewing conditions can and do often play a big role in evaluating work. I saw the film after seeing CERTIFIED COPY - a favorite as you know - and AURORA, which for much of its three hours was a struggle (in spite of the fact that I ultimately admired it a great deal). I was pretty spent, in other words, by the time the Oliveira rolled around. Meaning, I reserve the right to have liked it too little... though, as always, I at least suspect I'm right!

Oh, and to another of the earlier posts: I saw an another of Travers's choices today, 127 HOURS. Quite loathsome. Danny Boyle has rapidly become my least favorite Anglo-American prestige director. Also, I do think it is bad enough to make one *at least* consider the overall validity of Travers's choices.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, viewing conditions, particularly the sharp changes in tone, nationality, style etc of festivals, can have a subversive effect -maybe I appreciated Angelica more because of the real-life irritation of getting there to which the film alleviated (ironic, considering the film's themes), who knows?! But I agree, even if so, it's such a minor effect, and I don't doubt the accuracy of your own feelings at all. Hell, it made your top 10 after all!

I don't even want to see 127 Hours, or The Fighter for that matter, at all. What else did he have? The King's Speech looks mighty slight indeed. What's up with the compositions in the trailer? Winter's Bone was unremarkable. The Kids Are All Right got details right but the contrivances were bothersome. Wow, you'll be right about his list being identical to the Oscars BP lineup. Unless Coppola's Somewhere or the painfully smug-looking Love and Other Drugs gets in there. Name a worse "prestige" filmmaker than Edward Zwick!

Kitano's Outrage is out. Criterion announced YiYi blu for March. It's not all bad.

Michael J. Anderson said...

Don't forget the Silent Naruse box set from Eclipse. Already the film event of 2011.

Anonymous said...

Very true. Though considering the magestic trailer for Tree of Life I'd say that's the big cinematic event for next year.

Also, having watched Outrage yesterday...his weakest picture :(

Zaviar Wun said...

Your top two are absolutely correct, though personally I'm STILL grappling with whether I like Certified or Boonmee more. I suspect Certified may just eek out Apichatpong's similarly masterful work for my top spot in 2011, after they both get their US theatrical releases. Also Mike, in case you haven't heard, apparently Certified Copy will eventually get the Criterion treatment when it comes out on DVD. Just thought you should know (yes, I'd rather it were Through the Olive Trees too, but we'll take what well-packaged Kiarostami we can get, right?).
O and the Unstoppable inclusion...if you delete it and insert Polanski's tense, brilliant The Ghost Writer (which has plenty to say about post 9/11 angst, without the added hack factor), I think we'll all just forget the whole thing ever happened.

Brian said...

Have you seen some of the more provacative films of 2010 yet? Dogtooth? Trash Humpers? Flooding With Love for the Kid?

Michael J. Anderson said...

Brian, among the titles that you have mentioned, only the FIRST BLOOD film would be the only eligible, not having premiered prior to 2009. That said, I do have DOGTOOTH on my shelf and plan to view it before doing my TATIVILLE year-in-review write-up, and the accompanying TEN BEST FILMS' Mini-Poll; watch this space for the latter after the New Year. (If I like it enough, I could also amend my 2009 choices.)

Speaking of my year-end analysis, I also currently have a copy of THE GHOST WRITER that I also will take a look at before the end of the year. I acknowledge that the Polanski would have been the more acceptable choice in most circles. Perhaps I will see the error of my ways belatedly, though I would note that Polanski, as strong as some of his work is (CUL-DE-SAC, CHINATOWN, THE PIANIST) doesn't quite make the cut on any of my lists.

And no, I most certainly do not want to "forget" the inclusion of UNSTOPPABLE.

Unknown said...

Wow, I just found your blog, dont even know how but here I am, grateful for it!
You seem to know the european cinema much better than the people who choose which movies to premier in the portuguese theatres...
from your list of 2010 I've only watched 5 of them (and I heard of Social Network but it does not seem my type of film) but I am sure I'll check these remaining 4.
I am definitely read your posts of previous years and catch up on some of the best european movies that shamefully missed my attention.

Doctor Darkly said...

Have you by chance watched Enter The Void?

Never will you see another film quite like it. Noe creates a metaphor with a drug trip to stand as the meaning of life.

Keep in mind the entire film is based on the structures of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, so your enjoyment level may be based on your prescription to that philosophy.

Just a recommendation. :)

Peter said...

My favourite films from 2010 were Mike Leigh's Another Year and Xavier Beauvois' Des hommes et des dieux. The Mike Leigh is up there with his best work.

I watched Varda's Vagabond for the first time recently. It's a great film; powerful and existential with some wonderful cinematography.

Have you seen Tim Carey's The World's Greatest Sinner? It's very funny.

Michael J. Anderson said...

"Another Year" is #11 on my list. I also liked "Of Gods and Men" a fair amount.

Also, I should mention that I swapped the Frammartino and the Hong as I feel the former has the greater staying power. This list, like any on this site, remains open to revision; however, ten months into 2011, the choices themselves remain unchanged, which is actually unprecedented since I began composing these lists.

Anonymous said...

Great list! Some of these have been released THIS year in my country, so they're not eligible, but here's my list:

10. Another Year
9. Howl
8. The Kids Are All Right
7. Four Lions
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
5. Inception
4. The Social Network
3. Never Let Me Go
2. Rabbit Hole
1. Dogtooth

jamesyd said...

good list, although social network was #1 for me! check out my list if you want http://www.infobarrel.com/Best_Films_of_2012