December 17, 2010

The best of 2010

1. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
See here.
2. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
See here.
3. The Social Network (David Fincher)
Both plot and theme -- the corporate legal wrangles and the world-changing ambiguities/potential of social media – in this skilfully-written and sleekly-directed film were pushed into the background by the compelling, difficult, sympathetic outsider-character study at the centre, Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg. Presenting as more than borderline Asperger’s, always paranoid, too-serious and sour, this Olympian genius struggles with nothing less than the burden of being himself. As for world-changing, it seems pretty clear that David Fincher certainly and writer Aaron Sorkin possibly share their Zuckerberg’s iconoclasm about the Harvard world and inherited money, so that his I-want-to-belong/I-don't-want-to-belong motivations look more complicated than simple revenge. By my diagnosis, then, the film’s closing zinger -- “You’re not an asshole, Mark, you’re just trying hard to be one” – has it all wrong.
4. White Material (Claire Denis)
Shot in Cameroon, but set nowhere in particular, this immersive, abstract, temporally complex film has colonial expulsion/nationalist revolution as a pan-African archetype playing out eternally: the white squattocracy, the messianic rebel leader and child soldiers, violence as historical inevitability.
Isabelle Huppert is the coffee plantation owner, facing ruin.

5. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)
Less vicious than Margot at the Wedding and less adolescent-awkward than The Squid and the Whale, this not quite crowdpleasing Baumbach comedy has Ben Stiller -- controlled but constantly at risk of explosion, breakdown or both -- as Greenberg, the unemployed housesitting narcissist who fails, Zuckerberg-like, to connect. Except that in his case he’s mostly an asshole and he’s mostly not trying not to be one.
6. Four Lions (Chris Morris)
See here.
7. Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik)
You should always worry when someone in a film produces a chainsaw.
8. Shutter Island
(Martin Scorsese)
See here.

9. Somewhere (Sofia Coppola)
Or, the girls looked at Johnny. How many American directors Coppola's age are as consciously constructing a body of work? But while some themes -- some unavoidably autobiographical -- recur, this is the most subtle of her four films, and not a burnt-out, LA-set Lost in Translation. Key close-ups: the "old" face of Johnny in the make-up room, the last shot. And aren't you glad Coppola stopped at two pole-dancing scenes? One last thing: we know that the audience missed what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation, but do we know if Cleo heard what Johnny said over the noise of the helicopter?

10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog)
See here.

Runners-up: A Single Man, Boy, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Fish Tank, The American, The Road.

Over-rated: Animal Kingdom, The Secret in Their Eyes.

Dud: The Killer Inside Me.

December 13, 2010

Twenty-eight years ago: "It's like 1954."

"I went to see them twice ... They played twice in Christchurch. August 1982. They were frightening, absolutely frightening. It was amazing to see. They had two drummers and you don't often see a band with two drummers. There's something inherently worrying [about it].
"They were incredibly well-drilled. Maryrose Crook, who had a bit to do with the organisation of the tour at the Christchurch end, said that they were like Mark E Smith and a rugby league team. That's how it worked. Basically there was a bunch of boys who just wanted to drink beer and talk about football and Mark E Smith, who was completely running the show. He clicked his fingers and they did stuff. Which didn't last long: he clicked his fingers once too often at Marc Riley. He [Riley] was photographed at Christchurch International Airport arriving and they put his picture in the paper, which I think the Fall found absolutely unbelievable. They had Totally Wired as a single, which went top 20 if not top 10.
"As soon as some friends heard they were coming, they rushed out and on this billboard on the south end of Colombo Street, in Sydenham, they sprayed up in huge letters, "Bang Fucking Bang! The Mighty Fall Are Coming!'' Which indicated the level of excitement. They are one of the greatest things ever in rock music. Who could not be profoundly influenced by the Fall? Only someone with cloth ears.''

-- Bruce Russell, during a Wire Invisible Jukebox with the Dead C, 2007 (suitably murky audio here). I would love to see a photo of that billboard, if one exists. Jonathan Ganley at Point This Thing has two great posts on the 1982 tour as it hit Auckland, here and here.

December 12, 2010

Test screenings

Asked in a 1963 interview whether his films were made for any particular audience, he replied: "Oh, goodness, no. They were just made for me ... My excitement in life was to discover something that was exciting to me. Now how the hell can I work it out if it has to be significant to an audience? It's the last thing on earth I'd be interested in."

-- From an appreciation of Len Lye by Ian Francis, Sight & Sound, January 2011.