THE AICN-DOWNUNDER ANNUAL 2010: The Best, The Worst, The Wrap-Up
AICN-Downunder purports to cover both Australian and New Zealand cinema, and though I make attempts to give even coverage to both, the fact that I'm based in Melbourne makes my continental lean inevitable. Both countries experienced huge years, though, with New Zealand's BOY beginning 2010 by continuing to rake in all the money available to it. In Australia, the likes of MATCHING JACK and SOUTH SOLITARY delighting practically everybody who wasn't me.
Critical response to these films was varied, as it was for everything that wasn't ANIMAL KINGDOM. That one was universally beloved, but nearly everything else divided the critical community right down the middle. It hardly seemed to matter though: audiences came to ANIMAL KINGDOM and practically no other Australian films. Oh, except for the romantic comedy I LOVE YOU TOO and the explosion-filled TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, which somehow managed to be both a blockbuster and a very good film. Even a crowd-pleasing war film like the excellent BENEATH HILL 60 failed to raise audience interest, nor did the Cannes-approved THE TREE get the sort of attention that SAMSON AND DELILAH enjoyed the year before.
Outside of ANIMAL KINGDOM, Joel Edgerton became city-bound with his duelling films: Australia's THE WAITING CITY was a very good, though decidedly imperfect, film, whilst New Zealand's SEPARATION CITY had admirable ambitions it sadly failed to meet.
As critics lamented the lack of audience interest in the likes of THE LOVED ONES, another Australian horror garnered close to no attention in any corner: the terrific horror THE CLINIC came out of nowhere to shock me, before disappearing into the darkness, as if its entire existence was modelled on the behaviour of a cinematic serial killer.
If comparing and ranking films against each other is a hollow experience -- and if you believe that, click away now before you see the below -- then comparing years is even worse. So I shall resist calling 2010 the best year of Australian cinema ever, and simply refer you to the below list, in which six Australian films and one New Zealand film make an appearance in my best of the year lists.
But before that, some awards...
The DISTRICT 9 Award For "You Did a Top Fifty and Couldn't Find Anywhere For This One? What the Hell Is Wrong With You?": A year on, and people are still asking me where DISTRICT 9 was. I liked it enough, but the Top Fifty isn't just for films I like, I've got to love them. Similarly, Roman Polanski's GHOST WRITER takes out this year's award, for as much as I enjoyed Polanski mess around with a thriller in a bleak seaside landscape with Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, the film is so much less than the sum of its parts. It's an easily-predictable airport novel with some terrible dialogue and fairly bad acting, and though I had a bit of fun with it, I am astonished that it's cracked anyone's Best of the Year list.
The PASSION OF THE CHRIST Award For the Film That Could Easily Live On Either My Best Or Worst List: Whereas PASSION OF THE CHRIST, despite the astonishing technical level of filmmaking on display, was a clear contender for my Worst list, I did waver. This year's winner, Gasper Noé's ENTER THE VOID veers more towards the Best list, with its first two thirds an astonishing visual and aural assault unlike anything I've ever seen. It's truly masterful stuff, almost completely ruined by its final third, in which it turns into a parody of itself. Someone will no doubt argue that this is a meta comment by Noé on his own film, a deliberate subversion of something-or-other, but really it's just an indulgence and inability to know when to stop. And we were so damned close!
The FANTASMA Award for the Film So Bad It Doesn't Technically Count As a Film: Back in July, I saw Jean-Luc Godard's FILM SOCIALISME, and commented that it would have been less embarrassing to watch him drool on screen for two hours. That was perhaps a tad unfair, but the vomitous way the disconnected images played on screen for two hours overwhelmed any point Godard may have imagined he was making. The fact that he removed what he thought were the verbs from the English subtitles was a clear indication that strained subversiveness is really just wanky nonsense. Early Godard, how I miss thee.
(Note: The following lists contain only a sentence or paragraph about the film. For a more detailed review, click on the film's title to be taken to the original AICN-Downunder review.)
I shall resist making an official Worst Of list once again, for though I thoroughly disagree with the assertion of AICN's Massawyrm that one cannot make a Worst list unless one has sought out the lowest bottom-feeding dregs that cinema has to offer, I can't bring myself to put the likes of ROBIN HOOD on such a list when I studiously avoided SEX AND THE CITY 2.
Nonetheless, THE OTHER GUYS was a serious contender for the worst of the year, purely because it intended to be a funny film, yet contained not a single funny moment. The Austrian/Czech/Slovak documentary COOKING HISTORY, the Korean drama HAHAHA, and the English whatever-it-was 184.108.40.206 all seemed to fail dismally at being the sorts of films they wanted to be. ie: the sort of thing an audience could comfortably watch for 90 minutes. Controversially, LEAP YEAR -- which many of my colleagues adored -- made its way onto the list of contenders for my unofficial Worst list, its one-note, single-location character study being for me an idea-less film that didn't explore so much as stayed still. A film about a character staying still could be interesting; the film itself staying still is not. Also not interesting is coming with a half-decent idea for a horror movie and then doing absolutely nothing beyond that single one-note idea. I should not get the same (minor) visceral thrill from hearing the one line synopsis as I do from watching the film. Are you listening, HUMAN CENTIPEDE, you worthless pretender?
So, whilst the soulless TRON LEGACY was one of the largest large piles of nonsense I'd ever sat through, the worst film I saw all year remains (drum roll please)... Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
This enormous mess failed to be visually interesting, failed to understand its own characters, and completely missed the point of its own message. It was a poor parody of a film, with one of the most ill-judged third acts in history. My theory? It exists purely because Tim Burton was sick of hearing the phrase: "PLANET OF THE APES is Burton's worst film."
I loved I'M STILL HERE. Sure, it was slow in parts, and the speculation about its level of truthfulness -- which should have elevated the film into something extraordinary and special -- ended up overwhelming and ultimately derailing it. But it doesn't receive nearly enough credit for doing what no other film has done or will ever do. Other films have explored these themes, but no other can ever do it on the scale of I'M STILL HERE. It was a one-off, and for all its failings, was a remarkable work... and though it only just missed my top ten, its themes certainly coloured many of the films that made it in. Here they are:
Mark Hartley's follow-up to NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD looks at the Filipino film industry in the exact same manner as his previous film (my favourite film of 2008) looked at the Australian industry, a fact which is both its biggest asset and biggest problem. I was hoping for something different and new, but I was soon won over by the film's energy. All film movements with this ridiculous level of sex, violence and insanity deserves a paean with this amount of passion. Infectious, educational, and crazy fun.
There's no point making a public service documentary unless it's entertaining, and Josh Fox's doco about gas drilling and the disastrous effect it has on the people who live near the gas wells is just that. It works primarily because of how it owns its subjectivity; Fox's narration jumps between the laconic and the pissed-off, and his guidance perfectly encapsulates what we as lay-people (and Fox readily admits his lay-ness) feel when we watch it. It should be compulsory viewing.
Another documentary that thrives on its subjectivity (but not the last in this list), WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY is the story of Disney's wildnerness years, as told by Disney's animators using footage they shot at the time. It is surprisingly brutal in its depiction of how terribly people behaved. The moment when the filmmakers, aware of the poor light everyone else is being shown in, attempt to turn that light on themselves really hammers home the no-holds-barred attitude of the film. Everything seems to be on the table, and there's no sense that you're missing a key part of the story.
Adrian Grenier's doco about a (you guessed it) teenage paparazzo was not the frothy-yet-enjoyable film I was expecting, but was a clever and revealing look at celebrity culture. Although I'm more impressed with the ambition of I'M STILL HERE, TEENAGE PAPARAZZO is the more successful finished product. Grenier doesn't just question the culture of paparazzi and celebrity, but his own life as well. Is he part of the problem? He comes across as someone genuinely interested in the answers, but it's the depth of the questions that make this film a cut above the rest.
The story of a tiny Slovakian town trying to raise funds from the European Union to build a spiritual centre is not one you would think would be gripping, and perhaps "gripping" is the wrong word. But it is a terrific and engaging film, and the town's remoteness as well as the wonderful characters who inhabit it are what made this one of my favourites of the year.
NOSTALGIA covers two seemingly-incongruous stories: astronomers taking advantage of Chile's clear skies to observe the stars, and citizens searching for relatives who went missing under Pinochet's regime. It takes a while before these two stories begin to intersect, but when they do, it's utterly symphonic. A documentary that is so much more than the sum of its parts, and a hell of a thing to see on the big screen.
We don't hear much about the Indonesian invasion of West Papua, but this Australian documentary illuminates the topic with incredible passion. Larger stories are blended with personal stories in an earthy, refreshingly hand-held manner. Unexpectedly funny and deeply touching.
Using bias and subjectivity as an asset is what makes this documentary about one of America's most influential and notorious lawyers such an amazing film. His daughters, Emily and Sarah, have seen him at his best and at his worst, and that comes through in a way it wouldn't with an outsider. It's as much a character study as it is an examination of the extraordinary things he accomplished, and one of the most superb biographical films I've ever seen.
Even though Steven Soderbergh is my favourite working filmmaker, that's no automatic free pass. He still has to work to pull me in, and he seems to feel the same way, constantly reinventing himself to keep himself interested. But his reinvention experiments are not just theoretical; they make his films all the more interesting, and this biography of Spalding Gray is one unlike any I've seen. There is no voice over narration, there are no interviews, there is no context. Spalding's life story is told using clips from the various shows and performances he gave, pieced together solely from these archives. There are not many people you could do this with, a fact that only adds to the film's unique feeling. Incredible and unforgettable.
The best documentary of the year is one that blurs the line between fiction and reality more than even I'M STILL HERE. Even if the claims of the filmmakers are true and this film is in fact real, it almost works better if you view it as a hoax. Why? Because the themes of the film are all the more potent if they're intentional rather than accidental. Authorial intent shouldn't make a difference, but it does, and if we are to take them at their word, then their intent must be studiously ignored. EXIT's examination of fakery and falseness is astonishingly deft, and the final result works on every possible level.
THE BEST NARRATIVE FILMS OF 2010
People are often amazed when I tell them I'm doing a top fifty, but I saw a lot of films this year, and such a list isn't difficult. Nor are there any wave-throughs: excluded from this list are films I really, really, really liked, such as PLEASE GIVE or DESERT FLOWER or COPACABANA, for really, really, really liking a film is not enough to make even the top fifty. Every single one of the films on my list is Top Ten worthy, forty of them only edged down the list because of even better films. Those who like a clean, simple Top Ten can scroll down to the main part of the list; however, these lists are at their best as guides to the year's shouldn't-be-missed-ables, and to exclude forty brilliant films for the sake of keeping the number down to ten seems silly. This way, everyone wins.
Some of these may not be the best of the year, but they are the ones that filled me with total joy at what I'd just witnessed, causing me to jump up and down in excitement, or, in the case of the films towards the top of the list, leave me struck dumb. Either way, these films are ranked largely by the reaction they caused in me. Number fifty is a film you really must see, and they only get better from there.
(Note: due to the disparity between Australian and American release dates, as well as the sporadic nature of media press screenings, I have not yet seen the likes of TRUE GRIT, 127 HOURS, RABBIT HOLE, NEVER LET ME GO or A SERBIAN FILM, all which sound like they might be serious contenders for this list.)
50. THE MESSENGER - Finding a new angle on the war drama is not easy, but everything in this amazing film feels completely fresh, and every moment of drama is believable, complex and nothing short of brilliant.
49. MADE IN DAGENHAM - This true life story refuses to solve problems with a simplistic ribbon-tying, is a whole heap of fun, and wisely puts the glorious Sally Hawkins front and centre, becoming one of the best crowd-pleasers of recent years.
48. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART ONE - Permit me an all-out geeky entry, for this HARRY POTTER film may have its faults, but my love of the series meant this was some of the most fun I'd had in a cinema all year.
47. A SINGLE MAN - Not released in Australia until February of 2010, Tom Ford's superb film works best as an examination of Colin Firth's complex George, and as such it left me arched back in my seat in amazement at its skill and power.
46. SPLICE - It baffles me that so many people didn't have fun with this deeply silly, tremendously fun horror film, for I can't help but love a film that consistently makes me jump in fright and laugh out loud in precisely the same moment.
45. THE HOUSEMAID - This South Korean remake of 1960's THE HOUSEMAID is, almost unavoidably, a lot less silly than its originator, but is so potent with its depiction of sex, betrayal and violence, that it simply refuses to get out of your head months after you've seen it.
44. BUNNY AND THE BULL - When the film started it looked worryingly like an empty exercise in style, but turned out to be one of the cleverest and most unexpectedly touching films of the year, and one I eagerly re-watched the moment it was out on DVD.
43. THE DREAMER - This tremendously beautiful Indonesian film about three childhood friends took me completely by surprise, made with enormous confidence and skill, and completely avoided a single false note throughout.
42. THE KING'S SPEECH - A great historical hook of a film directed brilliantly by Tom Hooper, with some of the most wondrous performances of the year (all are great, but Helena Bonham Carter stole the show for me), and one I'm jonesing to see again.
41. MEDAL OF HONOUR - I tend to either love or loathe Romanian cinema these days, and MEDAL OF HONOUR definitely fell in the "love" category: this gorgeous film at first tricks you into thinking it's going to be a dour, depressing affair, then subverts that by making you feel like a million dollars with its earned, subtle, uplifting ending.
40. LE DONK AND SCOR-ZAY-ZEE - One of the reasons Shane Meadows does drama so well is that his films are always infused with a strong undercurrent of humour, so it's not surprising that his attempt at an all-out comedy is a raging success, and some of the most fun I've had in a film this year.
39. THE UNLOVED - Samantha Morton's directorial debut is a tremendously confident and assured work, tackling a difficult subject with maturity and power, thanks in no small part to Tony Grisoni's masterful script.
38. KICK-ASS - It clearly wasn't the film many were hoping it would be, but I had an enormous blast with this film, and Nicolas Cage's Adam West impersonation left me in hysterics every time he opened his mouth.
37. THE LOSERS - This one surprised the hell out of me; it takes a lot for an action film to win me over, but this self-aware comic adaptation is a total win thanks to Sylvain White's direction and a superb cast, particularly Jeffrey Dean Morgan's charismatic scene stealer.
36. RUBBER - Possibly the most misunderstood film of the year, RUBBER turned out to be so much more than its logline (a sentient tyre going around killing people), revealing a very strange, very unique, very postmodern look at how and why we consume art.
35. AIR DOLL - Hirokazu Koreeda should be a household name thanks to his Ozu-esque drama STILL WALKING and this, a deep and thematically-rich comedy/drama/fantasy about a blow-up sex doll that comes to life.
34. MY DOG TULIP - Narrated brilliantly by Christopher Plummer, this animated adaptation of JR Ackerley's memoirs regarding the relationship he had with his German Shepherd is funny and touching in all the right ways.
33. SOUL KITCHEN - Fatih Akin's comedy is a slow-burn, and works brilliantly on a second viewing: the story of a man trying to run a hip restaurant in a run-down warehouse alternates between hilarious and endearing, and stuck with me more than I was expected.
32. MICMACS - Jean-Pierre Jeunet may never reach the glorious heights of AMELIE, but his wondrously enjoyable MICMACS is a clever dig at our culture's concept of vengeance, and takes on an entirely new meaning if you interpret many of the clues woven throughout.
31. THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES - This Oscar-winner leaned more towards the pulp than I was expecting, but was tremendously powerful and affecting, and one that rewards multiple viewing.
30. BURIED - This high concept film (90 minutes of a man trapped in a coffin) nails everything it aims for, brilliantly keeping the pace rocketing along, and never once coming in danger of losing its momentum.
29. MOTHER AND CHILD - Melodrama ain't popular, but when it's done right it's a thing of glory; this film features some of the most astonishing performances and complex characters of the year, and had me crying like a baby by the end.
28. BOY - The New Zealand box office hit is equal parts nostalgic family drama and straight-out comedy, with any danger of sappiness discarded in favour of the extremely funny.
27. I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS - Close to being the funniest film of the year, this romantic comedy with Jim Carrey and Ewan MacGregor absolutely destroyed the audience I saw it with, and me along with it.
26. THE AMERICAN - Anton Corbjin's stoic, meditative piece about (as my theory went) American foreign policy was one of the year's most unexpected delights, and one that demands further examination.
25. MONSTERS - No film swept my feet out from under me like this one, a low budget monster movie that gets everything right, from its depiction of the aliens to its two central leads to its appropriately-overt metaphors about war, immigration, and natural disasters.
24. WELCOME - This French drama about immigrants trying to get across to England didn't miss a single beat, not allowing its undeniable political message to get in the way of the flawless human drama at its centre.
23. CITY ISLAND - I almost missed this film completely (note it's the only film title in this entire column without an original review to link to), which would have sucked as it was a delight from start to finish, with Andy Garcia giving the funniest and most genuine performance of his career, and Julianna Margulies once again proving why she's one of the most underrated actresses out there.
22. WINTER'S BONE - The closest we've had to a proper film noir in a long time, this tale of a tenacious girl navigating the complex and impenetrable societal rules of the remote mountain community she lives in gets way, way under your skin.
21. SON OF BABYLON - That this film hasn't conquered the world is one of the strangest things to me; three weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein, a pre-teen Iraqi kid goes looking for his missing father, and the resulting film is passionate, endearing, and close to perfect.
20. FOUR LIONS - The best comedy of the year, Chris Morris's brilliant script is funny and clever in a way films just aren't these days, and is destined to go down as an all-time classic up there with the most subversive of cinema.
19. IRON MAN 2 - Favreau knows exactly how to hit all of my buttons, as if the IRON MAN films were geared specifically to the sort of superhero movie I would enjoy the most; funny, interesting, and with action I actually have a genuine investment in.
18. THE ILLUSIONIST - The second film in my top fifty to be directed by a Sylvain, THE ILLUSIONIST was a Jacques Tati script done in the style of THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, and was exactly as glorious as that description would suggest.
17. BLUE VALENTINE - The new benchmark for American drama, and one that should cement the enduring careers and reputations of stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, and director Derek Cianfrance for the rest of their lives.
16. SOMEWHERE - I'm a sucker for Sofia Coppola's filmmaking, and this film was the perfect distillation of the themes of disconnection she's been obsessed with for four films, slow and deliberate and wonderful.
15. THE LOVED ONES - "PRETTY IN PINK meets TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE" is an example of marketing taglines getting it 100% correct, with Sean Byrne's fantastic Australian horror still managing to do its own original thing whilst still wearing its influences on its bloodied sleeve.
14. DREAMLAND - Ivan Sen's soundscape movie is one of the purest, most hypnotic experiences of the year, a landmark in experimental cinema and another example of the diverseness and creativity in current Australian cinema.
13. SUMMER CODA - Richard Gray's ode to European dramas still managed to feel more Australian than every other local film, telling a deceptively complex story in a beautiful, funny and compelling way.
12. RED HILL - Patrick Hughes nailed this in every way imaginable, taking Western archetypes and applying them to a very Australian setting, with a deeper story of vengeance than the outline suggests -- and, most importantly, keeping me on the edge of my seat for every single damn minute of its thrilling running time.
11. TANGLED - It kills me that this isn't in my top ten, as this is the most fun I have ever had with an all-out Disney film; this is exactly the sort of film Disney should have been making all along, using its legacy with fairy princess tales, but doing it better than it's ever been done before.
Having spent the last two years getting acquainted with the entire works of Mike Leigh (from his first film, through to his BBC television work, to his recent features), I can tell you that ANOTHER YEAR is one of the best he's ever made. My original review (which you can read by clicking on the title above) describes how the film fits into his overall oeuvre, but more importantly it works as a stand-alone drama. If you've never seen a Mike Leigh film before, this is definitely the one to start with: accessible, powerful, and incredibly endearing, ANOTHER YEAR proves that even with a strong filmography stretching back decades, Leigh is one those rare filmmakers who just keeps getting better.
I saw this the day after I'd seen Godard's FILM SOCIALISME, and the thought that I'd have to watch another once-great filmmaker continue his decline almost kept me from the screening. Thankfully, I went along anyway, and discovered Francis Ford Coppola just got his second wind in a big way. FFC feels like a hungry young filmmaker, and that hunger translates to a story that feels to the outsider like the most personal he's ever told. The characters jump off the screen (particularly leads Alden Ehrenreich and Vincent Gallo), the sense of place is tangible, the cinematography is beautiful, and the subtextual undercurrents build the film up even more. Destined to be re-discovered in years to come and hailed as a forgotten masterpiece from a man who's already left an indelible mark on cinema, but still has so much more to say.
This, my friends, is exactly how it's done. Set entirely inside an Israeli tank during the 1982 Lebanon war, we find our expectations subverted at every level. Tanks, looking so invincible on the outside, feel entirely different on the inside, restricting vision and other senses, inhibiting agility, and being the first target for every missile and enemy combatant that comes your way. Command structures are entirely different from their usual depiction, with the claustrophobic tank atmosphere affecting the traditional assumed chain-of-command. The tank is faceless to those on the outside, and so seemingly-deliberate acts of cruelty are actually panic-induced damned-either-way reactions. But on top of that, it is the most palpable and intense films war films ever made, and my heart pretty much sat lodged in my throat during its entire duration.
There's a small part of me that is pleased that this film didn't do well at the box office. Sure, I want Edgar Wright to have a truck-load of success to ensure he can get anything he wants greenlighted, but SCOTT PILGRIM felt too damned good to be popular. It was like a big budget, brightly-coloured, deeply-personal story, one that is so personal you only want a select few people to know about it. It's like this great big secret shared by the coolest of the cool, and there is a small, admittedly-exclusionary delight that comes from being one of the few people in the know. There's no point me telling you about it, for AICN readers are generally in that group of people who get movies like this. This is exactly the sort of film that exists in your head, the sort of film you don't think anyone is actually ever going to be able to make, and so seeing it up on screen is almost too amazing to comprehend. Everyone involved in the making of this film, I love you to death.
I am overwhelmed by this film, so much so that the idea of writing a paragraph summarising why it is so wonderful and perfect is a very daunting task. Luca Guadagino's love letter to cinema is that and so much more, employing dreamlike photography and consciously cinematic tricks to delve deep into the experiences of a woman we could never properly know. A Russian girl now the matriarch of a rich Italian family? This is not a universal character. And yet, it's that inevitable distancing that gets us inside her skin, as if she cannot relate to the world she inhabits either. The film highlights food as a sexual, sensual experience, and that's exactly what I AM LOVE is. It is a filmic love affair you cannot ever forget.
So, my favourite screenwriter teaming up with one of my favourite directors was hardly going to be a film I wouldn't love, but that fact shouldn't discount that THE SOCIAL NETWORK still manages to be more than the sum of its parts. To borrow from my original review, this is exactly the film Shakespeare would have made if he were alive today and unconcerned with being nearly five hundred years old: it is the story of royalty (in this case, a billionaire) and his dubious rise to his position, with duplicitous characters and some of the greatest rhythmic dialogue ever committed to paper. If that isn't Shakespearean, I don't know what is. Less concerned with the advent of a popular modern craze than it is with the psyche of a man unable to truly connect with other human beings, it is a perfect beast right from its brilliant opening scene to its tragic and truly inspired closing moment.
The first TOY STORY was, to my eyes, perfect. The second one was even better. There was no chance, I thought, that the third one could come close or even equal those films. Could lightning possibly strike the same place three times, given stories about toys and their owners have limited potential, and it seemed like there was nowhere else to go after the second film? Astonishingly, yes. Although my misgivings about the discarding of a key character have not faded, this bothersome element has not diminished my love for this beautiful film. Had the film's denouement been the prison break-style sequence towards the end, I would have been hailing this film as a raging success, but the fact that it topped that sequence with the most emotional and powerful scene in any animated film ever made turns this from a great film to an undeniable classic. Another addition to that all-too-sparse list: the perfect film trilogy.
Had ANIMAL KINGDOM not existed, 2010 would have been an excellent year for Australian film (see 15-through-12 on this list), but with it, it's a watermark year -- arguably the best ever. David Michôd's ANIMAL KINGDOM is one of the most powerful films ever made in this country, a crime classic unlike any we have seen. The main strength is in the characters, from Ben Mendelsohn's predatory Pope to Sullivan Stapleton's explosive Craig, from Guy Pearce's sober Leckie to James Frecheville's sullen J. I saw the film months before its release, and a few eyebrows were raised when I suggested Jacki Weaver would be winning awards left, right and centre, but time has borne me out on that prediction. Her Lady Macbeth-esque character destroys any safety this film might have, and the turns the film takes as a result of her ever-changing loyalties are what makes this into one of the greatest Australian films ever made, and hands-down one of the best films of the year.
An idea is powerful, Christopher Nolan's original screenplay tells us, and that concept is what makes INCEPTION work. It is an exploration of originality and thoughts on a scale larger than most original ideas have the chance to operate on. That the film is packed with maguffins is its strongest feature, wrong though that may sound: the maguffin of the false totem completely sways every reading of the text; the maguffin of the main objective -- the planting of an idea in order to aid a large, soulless organisation -- being an ignoble goal makes the resulting goal of Cobb returning to his family all the more significant. The biggest mistake made by critics of this film is that it is about dreams. It isn't. It uses dreams to explore how we form ideas, and how we perceive reality. Dreams are merely the catalyst for this, just as the fortress in the snow is the perfect metaphor for how we obstinately protect ourselves. This is the best of Christopher Nolan's films, the perfect note in a great filmography, and was my absolute favourite film of the year until a few weeks ago when I saw the following...
It's quite difficult to talk BLACK SWAN up, particularly as it hasn't actually come out in Australia yet. Too many people reading this column haven't had the chance to see it, and praising it to high heaven -- let alone calling it my number one film of 2010 -- makes for a tricky and delicate situation.
On the other hand, I can't not talk about the effect the film had on me. I feel like I've been sucker punched in the gut, in a way I haven't felt since the late 90s when, as a teenager, I saw LOST HIGHWAY on the big screen and couldn't sleep for three days. Few films have affected me that way since, and certainly none like BLACK SWAN.
The film is still extremely fresh in my head, and in my original review (published only a week ago), I struggled to come to grips with a deeper analysis I wanted to give it. BLACK SWAN has so much going on underneath, yet to get to that extraordinarily rich subtext, you have to get through its amazing surface of tension and horror, of shock and beauty. It is the most effective genre film you will ever see, with a depth that most art films can only dream of. It is still in the process of sinking into my head, down to a place where I can unravel its secrets. Until then, it lives in the forefront of my consciousness, its images still extremely potent even though I've seen over a dozen films since I saw it. Every breath taken by Natalie Portman's Nina sticks in my mind, and until those sounds and sights and tangible moments are properly digested into my head, I stand helpless against it.
Nina, one of the most captivating on-screen characters of the 21st century, strives for perfection in her chosen artform, and does so in the midst of a film that is nothing short of perfect.
Happy new year!