Adam Whyte’s Top 10 Film’s of 2010

Matt here… Adam Whyte joined Obsessed With Film in April of this year and has contributed regular feature articles and...

Adam Whyte

Contributor

Matt here…

Adam Whyte joined Obsessed With Film in April of this year and has contributed regular feature articles and reviews from Scotland. This year he attended the Edinburgh Film Festival, reporting daily reports of all that he saw and writing several excellent full length reviews. It’s my hope he will once again attend the festival for us this year and continue his superb writings on movies past, present and future for us.

I particularly love the Top Ten of the year he has turned in here with great detailed reasons why the following are the best he saw in 2010. And having seen and very much enjoyed all the films on the list, I certainly concur…

10. Shutter Island

I have seen every movie Martin Scorsese has made, and I do not believe any of them are outright bad. Few would argue that his latest “Shutter Island” is up there with his best work; there’s nothing really groundbreaking here. What it provides, however, is an incredibly skilfully made genre flick. Leonardo DiCaprio, who seemed to keep losing his wife this year, turns up at the mental institution on the eponymous island to find a missing woman, but – guess what? – all is not what it seems.

DiCaprio has done his best work for Scorsese, and his performance here is as good as we’ve come to expect, while there’s strong support from Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow and, in a knowingly old-fashioned performance, Mark Ruffalo as DiCaprio’s assistant. Among the technical delights is a breathtaking tracking shot during a wartime flashback, and some haunting dream sequences (we barely notice one such shot is playing backwards, until we clock the smoke going back into the cigarette). In another sequence, observe how Scorsese uses the lighting of matches to punctuate and intensify a scene.

Some have criticised the number of continuity errors between shots; this I thought was clearly intentional, and Scorsese’s long-serving editor Thelma Schoonmaker is using them to establish unsteady subjectivity. This isn’t vintage Scorsese, but it is a movie that takes a (fairly predictable) stock narrative and some old techniques and brings them back to vivid life.

9. Winter’s Bone

It’s a long time into this movie before we learn how old – or rather how young – the lead character is. It’s not that she looks too old to be that age; it’s that the maturity with which she addresses her dilemma and the responsibilities with which she is burdened could convince us she’s 10 years older. Her name is Ree and she is played, in one of my favourite performances of the year, by Jennifer Lawrence. Her character is trying to hold together a household with an absent father, a depressed and vacant mother, and two young kids with no one else to look after them. Her father, it transpires, has put up their land as a legal bond, and now that he hasn’t turned up to his trial she has a week to find him, or prove him to be dead.

This is a really gripping movie which, though patient in its unfolding, develops in ways we don’t quite anticipate, and has some great individual scenes. There’s also a very good, ambiguous performance from John Hawkes, of whom Bree says, ‘you’ve always half-scared me,’ summing up exactly how we in the audience feel about him.

This is only the second movie from director Debra Granik, whose evocation of the landscape and rural way of life (everyone is obsessed by what gossip is going around about them) suggests a serious talent.

8. A Prophet

This dark, uncompromising picture from Jacques Audiard charts the steady rise of a prisoner developing into a killer for the mafia, and eventually even further. I was reminded of Andy’s contention in “The Shawshank Redemption” that he ‘had to come to prison to be a crook.’ A path opens up for him and he takes it, but that isn’t exactly to say he makes a choice; as a 19-year-old Arab in a French prison he is quickly coerced into killing a fellow prisoner. This opening sequence, with the protagonist (played by up-and-comer Tahar Rahim) trying to figure out the mechanics of actually killing someone, is particularly harrowing.

This has none of the glamour or excitement of most American crime movies. The characters in “GoodFellas” choose what they want to be, and enjoy it. This guy did what he had to do to survive in prison, and partly through the failings of the prison system walked out a far greater threat than when he entered.

7. Four Lions

Chris Morris’s directorial debut walked an incredibly fine line between the comic and the tragic, and part of the appeal of the movie was in watching how it would tackle such a difficult subject matter. It is about four terrorists who plan on setting off bombs during the London marathon. When we see, for instance, one of the young men (Omar, the closest the movie has to a protagonist, played by Riz Ahmed) explain what he’s doing through an analogy about “The Lion King,” the scene gets laughs, but the movie is also aware of how sad and disturbing what we are seeing is. While most people will laugh at the movie at some point, how much people laugh and where may be vastly different.

As with the famously controversial paedophilia episode of “Brasseye” Morris is forcing us to look not just at a difficult issue, but at how we respond to it, and how we are ‘supposed’ to respond to it. Discussions about some of the darkest subjects in contemporary society can often become two-dimensional; the comic edge Morris brings can provide that much-needed third dimension.

6. The Illusionist

One of the most charming movies of the year came from Sylvain Chomet, best known as the man behind “Belleville Rendez-vous.” Inspired by a story by the late Jacques Tati, it is about a conjurer (himself inspired by Tati’s famous Monsieur Hulot) whose travels take him to the Highlands and then to Edinburgh, where he and a young girl who sort of adopts him as her surrogate father try to get by. Chomet moved to Scotland after bringing “Belleville Rendez-vous” to the Edinburgh Film Festival, and the city has never looked more beautiful on film.

The movie is almost entirely silent, so I imagine it will appeal to people of all ages. It favours charm to farce, and melancholy to tragedy, and has a touching, bittersweet quality; though it’s set in the ’50s, the magician seems already to be anachronistic. Though not quite the best animated movie of the year, it is incredibly evocative and beautiful in its visuals.

Read my Edinburgh Film Festival Review of The Illusionist HERE.

5. Kick-Ass

I had a bet with a friend about “Kick-Ass.” We saw the trailer together and he surmised that it was going to be rubbish. It’s true that the trailer didn’t really sell it; it made the movie look a mess. However I spotted Jane Goldman’s name somewhere, and observed that she had last adapted “Stardust,” a very enjoyable movie, to the screen, and that it had the same director in Matthew Vaughn, who also made “Layer Cake.” The point I am making is that a track record is much more reliable than a movie trailer; when I finally saw “Kick-Ass” on a big screen, the audience was audibly enjoying it as much as at any movie I can think of in recent years.

The bazooka got a spontaneous cheer, and applause greeted the end credits. While the hilarious comic-book adaptation wasn’t universally loved (I can’t recall the last time I disagreed so sharply with a review by Roger Ebert) I found it a delight; I didn’t know how it would develop, and the more outrageous it got, the more I enjoyed it. It is a reminder, also, that action scenes can be both humorous and exciting; on screen fighting is very similar to on-screen dance, and allows for the same scope of tragedy and comedy. Aaron Johnson, who was also very good as the young John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy,” gave a very strong central performance projecting the right levels of courage, stupidity, geekiness and horniness as a teenage superhero-wannabe.

4. The Social Network

David Fincher is one of the best American directors going at the moment, although I rarely love his movies unconditionally (he seems to be at his best when dealing with serial killers). “The Social Network” is a fascinating story that taps into a phenomenon that is ongoing: Facebook, and social networking in general. The irony, as has been pointed out, is that as played by Jesse Eisenberg, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg does not come across as a particularly social, or even particularly pleasant, individual.

His motivation to start the site is petty and misogynistic (leading some people, wrongly I think, to accuse the movie of being misogynistic too) but the movie makes the whole thing compulsive through the breathless script by Aaron Sorkin, the legal wrangling about ownership, and the fascination of seeing a massive worldwide phenomenon being created as much out of petty fights and macho posturing as creativity and intelligence (although clearly Zuckerberg had both of those qualities too).

I don’t think the movie is perfect; in particular Fincher shows off with a boat-race scene that is, like the CGI work in “Panic Room,” very impressive and very redundant. It’s also hard to like anyone on screen, with co-creator Eduardo providing the only sympathetic central character. However Fincher has a story here that is so fascinating that whether we like the characters or not is actually not of the greatest importance.

3. The Secret In Their Eyes

This beautiful crime movie from Argentina is, like “Zodiac,” really more concerned with the effect a crime has on those investigating it as the years pass and the world moves on around them. It centres on a police detective revisiting an unsolved crime from his past, which in turn brings up both a dormant romance between him and his superior, and political corruption that may have hindered their progress. The movie expertly shifts between past and present, and while not exactly doing anything drastically original in its story I was completely drawn in by the performances and the efficiency with which the thing is told.

The tension between the aging pair constitutes maybe the most memorable love story of the year, made up almost exclusively of longing and regret. The direction, from Juan José Campanella, is superb, and if nothing else he can take credit for the best shot of the year. It’s a long, long take that starts from a helicopter above a football stadium, follows three characters through the crowd, through the stadium and onto the pitch, and does so without a cut. There must be a trick in there somewhere, but I really couldn’t spot it, and it outdoes the Steadicam shot in “Goodfellas” for how jaw-droppingly well sustained it is.

2. Toy Story 3

I walked into “Toy Story 3” with lowered expectations; I hadn’t read any reviews, but it was a Part 3, and we know how they usually turn out, don’t we? On top of that it had been over a decade since the second part, and we’re talking about Pixar’s finest hours here. I left the cinema giddy and a little perplexed: had Pixar just made a trilogy comprising of three perfect movies? And has anyone ever done such a thing before?

It perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that they broke the mould; Pixar has produced some of the best animated movies – actually strike the word ‘animated’ from that sentence – in the past couple of decades. While the first movie was the darkest of the three, and the second was the funniest, this third instalment is the most touching, and those of us who saw the first movie as kids may get disproportionally upset at some moments. I’m not a fan of 3D and as ever found it pretty redundant, but the movie was so good I’d kind of forgotten about that so-called third dimension after about three minutes.

This was both the best-reviewed and highest-earning movie of the year, and how often does that happen?

1. Inception

Here in the UK, both the first and second best movies of the year opened on the same day, giving those of us who have complained about how dull Summer blockbusters have been lately a much-needed anomaly. Christopher Nolan, who broke records with “The Dark Knight,” seems to have been given pretty much free reign by Warner Bros., who clearly trusted him enough to develop a story that would require the audience to, you know, pay attention.

While there are those who found its narrative explanations relentless, or its portrayal of dreams inaccurate (a silly criticism, if you ask me), I simply had the best time I’d had all year at a movie watching this. I loved the fact that it hit the ground running, without stopping to explain its concepts to the audience. Ultimately it uses the device of hacking into someone’s dreams as a framework for a heist movie, with the goal of planting an idea in someone’s head such that the person thinks it is his own. Nolan, who likes to capture as much in-camera as he can, uses CGI as well as anyone around just now; he understands precisely its function as a tool in telling a story.

Among the memorable set-pieces is a zero-gravity fight scene, evoking Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in “Royal Wedding.” Leonardo DiCaprio is on fine form as the lead and he has strong support from Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. When he has finished doing Batman, I have no idea what Nolan will do next, but he is perfectly placed to make big-budget movies with big ideas and clever narratives, and it’s about time.

Post-script: Classic Movies Rediscovered

Every year I try to dig back into cinema’s history and fill in some of the many, many holes in my knowledge. I was asked to mention one classic movie I discovered this past year, and while it’s hard to narrow it down to one, I think I will go for a movie I saw at a Christmas screening in Edinburgh’s Filmhouse (and which I think is getting a re-release): Ernst Lubitsch’s “The Shop Around The Corner,” from 1940.

This is, first of all, a Christmas movie starring James Stewart that isn’t “It’s A Wonderful Life.” He plays a clerk in a shop that hires young Margaret Sullivan; the two hate each other immediately, without realising that they are falling for each other through anonymous letters. The story inspired “You’ve Got Mail” and the shop inspired the TV series “Are You Being Served?”. Lubitsch is one of my favourite directors, having made “Trouble In Paradise” and “To Be Or Not To Be,” two of the best comedies – nay, movies – ever made. His movies age incredibly well – I might even place him above Billy Wilder – and without ever feeling sentimental or dated, “The Shop Around The Corner” is funny, romantic and touching, and the two leads are at their very best. Lubitsch – whose movies are largely unavailable on Region 2 DVD – is long overdue for reappraisal.