26 Feb 2012 @ 2:00 PM 

Sunday Minute
No. 237 | February 26, 2012

The Year That Was, One More Time

The end of the year came before the end of my moviegoing for 2011, and my recap from the holiday season was admitedly an incomplete look back at last year’s films.  I blame Hollywood.  Most weekends are a drought for quality, then at the end of the year the heavens open.  I suspect we could more easily change the weather than the movie studios’ release schedule, which does create a challenge for anyone who wants to see all the movies that are worth seeing.

By now I’ve seen most, though not all, of what I’ve wanted to see.  (Melancholia, Carnage, some foreign films, e.g., remain on my “must see, but not yet seen” list.)  So, with the red carpet already laid out for the Oscars, it seems like a good time for a 2011 recap redux.

In the post below I’ll offer my quick take on some notable films that I hadn’t mentioned last time, including a few notable for the wrong reasons.  Then I’ll wrap up with my choices for top films for the year.  (As I type this I still haven’t made my list, so I’m as eager as anyone to find out what they are.)

Films of 2011 (Part II)

Films of the Year Recap

2011 Films, Notable and Otherwise

The Artist
A love story in love with movies, and with the way movies were once in love with love.  I found the film fascinating (and the reaction fascinating to read as well).  The Artist aims to recapture something that’s been lost, something more than just the stripped-down conventions of an early movie era.  It wants a way of looking at our world and ourselves free of the ironic and cynical view that’s become commonplace in recent times.  Not all was well in the old days, and The Artist has its scenes of tragedy as well.  Those moments may seem easier for us to grasp; the scenes of wide-eyed innocence feel less familiar.  They feel nostalgic, in fact, and if there is any use to nostalgia, it’s to say there’s something not quite right with the way things are today.  The once-fresh world of movies has grown old and stale, and we need a new way forward.  That’s a critique I find persuasive:  you’ll have to look hard to find anything new on this list of top grossers for the past year.  The Artist has something in common with the films on that list; it too borrows from the past.  But it is not an old film.  It’s wildly entertaining and the freshest film of the year.

A film about sadness, but hardly sad at all, Beginners is sweet and warm, yet far too sweet and warm for its own good.  The performances are fine, and give credit to Ewan MacGregor and Christopher Plummer, especially.  The cast makes the film worth watching, but the story seems oddly muted.  Conflict is avoided at all turns, characters are explored only so far, and this tale of how life can be messy and full of surprise seems a bit too neat in the end.

A Better Life
An immigrant gardener and his son, and the struggles of working-class life in Los Angeles.  The Oscar nomination for Demián Bichir is well-deserved, and all the better if it draws a bigger audience for the film, now on DVD.  The bond between father and son is heartfelt and moving.

The Descendants
Frailty, thy filmmaker is Alexandar Payne, the director who has given us Ruth Stoops (Citizen Ruth), Tracy Flick (Election), Warren Schmidlt (About Schmidt), and Miles Raymond (Sideways).  No one is as flawed and as compromised in The Descendants, except perhaps the mother, who is left in a coma after a fleeting few moments waterskiing off the Hawaii coast in the movie’s opening scene.  This film belongs to George Clooney, playing the husband she can cheat on no longer.  He is a true hero by Paynean standards, an accomplished lawyer, a respected patriarch, though a hapless father to his two daughters.  Payne does excellent work blending tragedy with humor, and Clooney and the cast are terrific.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The film has its flaws.  There’s the problematical appropriation of 9/11 for its ready-made tale of anguish, reducing a still-fresh national tragedy to a simple plot device, to the occasionally annoying, frequently not credible, central character, Oskar, the boy who loses his father in the World Trade Center crash.  The father left behind a key and Oskar searches the city of New York for the lock it belongs to.  So far, not so good.  But Oskar’s encounters provide a number of memorable scenes.  Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, and Sandra Bullock  all do good work, and Max von Sydow as the mysterious “renter” shines in a role without a word of dialogue.  A bit gimmicky, but that is par for the movie overall.

The performances are wonderful.  Michael Fassbender offers a brave and powerful portrayal of a man addicted to sex.  Carey Mulligan shows why she is one of the leading lights of her generation.  The bitter truth that the movie pretends to deliver, however, is all bitter and no truth.  I found the story not just unappealing but hard to believe.  Director Steve McQueen may be more interested in the buttons he’s pushing in his audience than the lives of his characters onscreen.

A Separation
This film from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi ranks high on the list of critics’ favorites.  I’d have liked it more if it were a little less the Bickering Bickersons of Tehran.  It’s a drama about a family being torn apart:  a married couple on the brink of divorce, a grandfather with Alzheimer’s, a daughter caught in the crossfire.  The father hires a housekeeper, but when her pregnancy ends in miscarriage, he ends up in court accused of murder.  Fair to say, Persian justice does not operate the same as our own.  A Separation is a good film, well worth seeing, though I have to say, not as great as advertised.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Did I enjoy it?  Thoroughly.  Will I see it again?  Absolutely.  Did I follow it?  Well, yes and no.  There’s a complicated plot that I wouldn’t dare to describe.  It almost comes as an afterthought, anyway.  Atmosphere, character, and games of trust and deceit are at the center of this Cold War spy story, adapted from the novel of John le Carré, with a cast of mostly Brits headed by Gary Oldman.  First rate all around.

War Horse
A misfire of epic proportions.  A war is fought, millions die, but all is well:  the horse survives.  Steven Spielberg, please phone home.  (We won’t even bring up what you did to Tintin.)

Another Oscar nomination (Nick Nolte as the alcoholic father) already on DVD.  Warrior is a father-son drama set in the world of martial arts fighting.  Above average for its kind, though nothing especially groundbreaking.

Top 10 Films of 2011

The List

1.  The Artist

2.  The Tree of Life

3.  Midnight in Paris

4.  Hugo

5.  J. Edgar

6.  Drive

7.  A Dangerous Method

8.  The Descendants

9.  Margin Call

10.  Bridesmaids

A few notes: (1) On any other day, you’d get a different list.  I could see any of the top four or five being #1, for example.  (2) I’ve left off foreign-language films, documentaries, and some others.  It’s silly enough to rank films of different genres telling different stories, but I did want to draw the line somewhere.  These are feature-length, live-action, fiction films in English.  That’s it.  (3) The conventional wisdom is that 2011 was a below-average year for movies.  I think it’s too early to tell.  What we are fond of now and fond of later are often different movies, and ultimately what makes a good year is a few good films that linger in our memory, not the ones we forget.  I’d guess most of the films on the list will stand up, and others will emerge.  But I don’t really know.  Only time will tell.  (Now, I’m wondering how I could have left off Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  The second guessing has already begun.)

The Artist (2011)
Michel Hazanavicius, writer-director
Guillaume Schiffman, cinematographer
Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Uggie

Quote of note
“With pleasure.”
—George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), The Artist (2011)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 26 Feb 2012 @ 09:20 PM

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 30 Dec 2011 @ 11:00 PM 

Friday Minute
No. 236 | December 30, 2011

Where Has the Year Gone?

Last we met, on this page at least, we were heading down the yellow-brick road with Dorothy to celebrate some joyous news with the Munchkins.  That was May.  May?  May!  So where have I been?  Good question.  Where have you been?  Another good question.  And where oh where has the time gone?

Long story short, my already full life became even more full and something had to give.  That something turned out to be writing for this site on any kind of a regular basis.  I had expected that I’d find time to add occasional posts, but that, I’ve learned, is harder to do when it’s not part of a daily or weekly routine.  So the year has slipped away—pffft!—but before it is officially done, let’s take a look back at some of the movies of 2011.

For the record, this is not my list of ten best films of the year.  No reason to stop at ten anyway, and slowpoke that I am, my moviegoing for the year remains a work in progress.  I’m still catching up with a few films from November (and before), and some late-year releases are just hitting theaters (A Separation opens today).

Rather, this is a list of movies I’ve seen (so far) that made going to the theater worth the time and effort.  It’s incomplete and somewhat arbitrary—I’ll have something a bit more definitive to say after I’ve taken in a few more year-end releases, sometime before Oscar time.  Let me add this disclaimer:  these are not necessarily great movies.  Some are only arguably good, flawed but with enough redeeming value to make them worth noting.

I’ve broken out the list into two groups:  one, films from before the deluge, i.e., before Oscar hopefuls hit theaters starting around October, and the other, films that have come out since.

Films of 2011 (Part I)

Pre-Oscar Season (films through September)

Standout Films

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick doesn’t direct many films—five features in 38 years (though he may be just a slow starter, with nearly as many in pipeline).  What he lacks in number he more than makes up for with uncommonly rich, dense explorations of the beings who people his stories.  His stories are not the linear narratives we’re used to getting at the movies.  Nor are his characters revealed through the usual mix of dialogue and action.  Malick’s works resemble photographed novels as much as they do cinema.  Malick combines images, dreams, memories, and voiceovers to portray lives lived in the context of forces far beyond, and deeper than, ordinary experience.  His latest, The Tree of Life, has divided critics and audiences (making it the kind of movie I tend to favor).  A tour de force or tour de farce?  Depends whom you read.  I lean toward the former view.  The story ostensibly is about a family in a small town in Texas, yet it takes time for meditations ranging from the origins of the universe to the ultimate demise of Earth.  Within that grand sweep we see human life not as a thing in itself but an episode in the continuum.  Few movies take such a wide perspective; 2001: A Space Odyssey, a very different film, is one.  Malick, like Kubrick, contemplates the mystery of it all and gives his audience something rare, a chance to experience wonder.

Midnight in Paris
We think of Woody Allen as a New York director but he seems to have found new life in recent years making movies in Europe.  Since 2005 he’s released four films shot in London and one in Barcelona.  This year it’s the City of Light and Midnight in Paris is the best of the lot.  (Rome gets its turn next year with Nero Fiddled.)  Owen Wilson turns in a winning performance as Gil, an American writer in love more with the city than with his fiancée.  His knack for time travel offers an escape as he hobnobs with greats from the city’s storied expatriate past—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, Porter, Picasso, Dalí, and Buñuel among them.  The film is sweet and whimsical, more than a bit nostalgic, and for one interlude in which Gil steals the heart of Picasso’s mistress, wonderfully portrayed by the beautiful Marion Cotillard, it’s altogether touching.

Drive is a steely cool slice of L.A. crime drama propelled by an unflappable, razor-sharp lead performance from Ryan Gosling.  The film borrows freely from a variety of sources, and influences such as Jean-Pierre Melville and Sergio Leone give the story a distinct non-Hollywood feel.  The driver, never named, is a man of few words.  He works as a mechanic in a shop run by gangsters, does stunt driving for the movie biz, and hires himself out for getaway work.  A loner by nature, he gets involved with his neighbor (Carey Mulligan), who has a young son and a husband getting out of prison.  Complications ensue and plans inevitably go awry.  Among the strong supporting cast is Albert Brooks as a ruthless and surprisingly believable bad guy.

Notable Films

A comedy with great laughs and real people.  See, that’s not so hard.  Thank you, Kristen Wiig et al.  More like this, please.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog’s 3-D documentary inside the Chauvet Cave in France, where some of the world’s great art has been sealed for thousands of years.  Ever wonder, What is it to be human?  This film holds part of the answer to that question.

The Company Men
A timely film about a corporate downsizing and for the unlucky duckies who lose their livelihood, what happens next.  A fine cast led by Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Thanks to the brave leadership of politicians and medical professionals, the societies of the world pull together, avert panic, and successfully combat a mysterious and deadly virus sweeping the globe.  Oops…that’s a different film.  This one’s from Steven Soderbergh, and sad to say, it may be a somewhat more realistic view of what could someday happen.

The Debt
The film is a remake of a 2007 Israeli thriller and doesn’t achieve all that you might have hoped.  Still, it’s a heckuva story, and with Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and the busy Jessica Chastain, among others, you’re in good hands. 

A Greek film that’s part horror, part comedy, about three older children living a totalitarian nightmare devised by their deranged parents.  Unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Hanna is a teenage girl living in the northern wilderness, where she is trained by her father to be an assassin.  Saoirse Ronan does a terrific job in the title role.  The film is uneven in spots and has some plot elements that don’t really work.  Nevertheless, there’s plenty of action, some nicely photographed sequences, and a few moments of brilliance.

The Help
I can think of a few things wrong with this movie, but I enjoyed the performances, especially those of Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, and Emma Stone.  The racial divide of Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1960s may not be the same as it is today, but the divide now between the haves and have-nots feels as wide as ever, and for that reason, the film seems unusually timely.

A Canadian-made film set in the Middle East and largely in French.  Two adult children travel back to the war-torn homeland of their dead mother to deliver letters to their brother and father and discover the truth about their family and themselves.  It’s devastating.

Films about baseball typically are not great movies.  This is no exception, though it is a cut above many of the others.  The tale leaves behind old-fashioned notions of the romance of the sport.  This one’s all about the science of numbers.  Perhaps that’s the way the game is played these days, but also it’s part of the problem—for the sport and for the movie.  A little more heart wouldn’t hurt.

Super 8
Probably the best Steven Spielberg film this year, though J. J. Abrams directed this one.  I liked the story of the clever kids, breaking curfew to make a movie.  The extraterrestrials show up, and what started fresh begins to feel like something we’ve seen a few too many times before.

Errol Morris’s documentary on the fascinating story of Joyce McKinney, with a big juicy 1960s sex scandal, a kidnapping, Mormons, and dog cloning to boot.

The Trip
Adapted from a British television series, The Trip follows the hilarious Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on their travels through the Lake District of Northern England.  They drive, they stop at one inn or another, and they eat.  Not a lot more happens.  But they talk, and their repartee and impressions account for some best laughs you’ll find on film this year.  The movie feels a bit slapdash, and I can’t help but wonder what didn’t make it into the final cut, but one thing is sure:  no one who sees it will think of Michael Caine the same way again.

Oscar Season (films from October on)

Notable Films

The story is over the top—but Roland Emmerich was never one for subtlety.  He took liberties—hey, like Shakespeare—so don’t come to this film looking for history.  Whatever merits the Earl of Oxford–as–Bard authorship theory may hold (it does make for fascinating reading), at heart this film is a paean to the greatest writer of the English language who ever lived.  That’s something special, whatever his name was.

A Dangerous Method
Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud at the birth of psychoanalysis, featuring the story of Sabina Spielrein, the patient, protégée, and lover who unites then divides them.  Strong performances from Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortenson.  Keira Knightley plays the troubled and irresistible Sabina.  It’s a period picture, but with David Cronenberg at the helm, working from a Christopher Hampton script, it’s not at all old-fashioned.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The first of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy to get its English-language big-screen treatment, it delivers more or less what you’d expect (though not much more):  quick storytelling from David Fincher, a pulsating score from Trent Reznor, and dynamite performances from Rooney Mara in the title role and Daniel Craig doing some very un-Bond-like detective work.  The film is the kind of up-to-date genre piece that Hollywood should be making more of, if only it could kick its fantasy habit.

A film about the magic of movies, and made with more than a bit of magic itself.  The story of Georges Méliès, the pioneer filmmaker who lost favor with audiences, ran a toy store with his wife at Gare Montparnasse in Paris, and late in life was rediscovered is one that deserves to be told, and now in fictionalized form it has.  Martin Scorcese directed the adaptation of Brian Selznick’s inventive novel.  Fine performances, with many comic touches and sweet moments.  I am probably more fond of this film than any other I’ve seen recently, and it’s the rare 3-D film I’m glad to have seen in 3-D.

The Ides of March
Intrigue behind the scenes of a presidential campaign, with pols and candidates more lifelike than we get on the reality TV known as cable news.  George Clooney directed and stars as Governor Mike Morris, but the film belongs to the campaign manager played by Ryan Gosling, who’s having quite a year.  An all-around fine cast, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood on hand to do deeds nefarious and otherwise.

J. Edgar
Here, friends, is the love story of the year.  Leonardo DiCaprio is a revelation as the one and only J. Edgar Hoover.  Armie Hammer is Clyde Tolson, his colleague, confidant, and more.  Naomi Watts is his lifelong secretary, the loyal Helen Gandy.  A richly told tale directed by Clint Eastwood, probably on balance as good a film as any he’s made.

Margin Call
If you want a movie to help you understand the financial crisis of 2008, I’d recommend the documentary Inside Job.  It shows how the 1% ripped off the 99% and gives you the who-did-what (plenty of bad guys, not a lot of good guys).  Margin Call is the story of some of those crooks.  You might not like them—a few are just rich assholes, after all—but you get a sense of the price they pay.  The film doesn’t let them off the hook, but you can understand why they do what they do.  That may not be a popular take in these times, but it’s an achievement.  The cast is wonderful and the performances well worth the time.

My Week with Marilyn
Marilyn Monroe, as great a star as the movies have known, is brought to life in a remarkable performance by Michelle Williams.  You can’t take your eyes off her.  That’s the reason to see this movie, even if the film may be slight in other ways.

The Pause Button

As noted above, I’ll be back with another post or two early in 2012, recapping the year and looking at the Oscars (February 26).  The regular schedule for posts about movies is on hold for the time being.  I’d like to get back to writing more about movies when time permits, but that will not be very soon.  I have a couple of ideas for other movie projects, and someday I will get to them too.  Meanwhile, my next writing gig will not about movies, and will not be online, but it will keep me occupied for some time, and if and when there is news to share about that, I will let you know.

For you crossword fans, my 16-month series of Gram Cracker minipuzzles wrapped up earlier in December.  It was a fun experiment, and in the end I’d say the puzzles turned out well.  Hope it was fun for you solvers too.  Once again, a big “thanks” to two-time ACPT champ Dan Feyer for his expert test-solving skills, a big help to me getting the puzzles ready for prime time.  The Gram Crackers and other puzzles, as always, are at the MAD Puzzles page.

Hugo (2011)
Martin Scorsese, director
Robert Richardson, cinematographer
Brian Selznick (book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret), John Logan (screenplay), writers
Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron Cohen

Quote of note
“If you ever wonder where your dreams come from, look around:  this is where they’re made.”
—Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), Hugo (2011)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 31 Dec 2011 @ 05:52 PM

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 17 Feb 2011 @ 6:00 AM 

Thursday Minute
No. 215 | February 17, 2011

Best of 2010

Our theme this week
Notable foreign-language films of 2010

Featured last week:  English-language films
(See Monday post for theme introduction)
Monday         —   Best Films of 2010 (#15 to #11)
Wednesday    —   Best Films of 2010 (#10 to #6)
Friday            —   Best Films of 2010 (#5 to #1)

Featured this week:  Foreign-language films
(See Tuesday post for theme introduction)
Tuesday         —   Notable Foreign-Language Films of 2010

Oscar-Nominated Foreign-Language Films of 2010


Biutiful (Mexico/Spanish)


The lesson for makers of foreign films is to cast an international star (and preferably an Oscar winner) like Javier Bardem to secure a decent theatrical release in the U.S.  Bardem is Uxbal, a man who leads séances in which he communicates with the recently deceased.  When he is diagnosed with a terminal illness and given months to live, he must reconcile the conflicts of his life and provide for the well-being of his children.  Bardem has earned his third Oscar nomination for the role, here working with Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu in a story set in the underworld of Barcelona.

(Biutiful at MAD:  preview)


Kynodontas (Greece/Greek)


Winner of Prix Un Certain Regard (for “original and different” work) at Cannes in 2009, Dogtooth is a surreal and disturbing look at the life of a Greek family.  Three teenagers are confined to their country estate by parents who insist on complete submission and inflict terror to achieve it.  The chance to venture out in the world will only come when a child has lost a dogtooth.  The film is the third feature for director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose résumé includes credits for the mainstream film My Best Friend and work on the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

In a Better World

Hævnen (Denmark/Danish)

Aussie flyer.indd

Director Susanne Bier’s In a Better World is a drama about fathers and sons, schoolboy friendships, loss, and revenge.  Anton is a doctor who commutes between two worlds, his home in Denmark and a refugee camp in Africa.  He and his wife may be headed toward divorce.  His ten-year-old son is the victim of bullying at school, where the boy is befriended by a new student who suffers from the recent death of his mother.  The film won the best foreign film award at last month’s Golden Globes.


Incendies (Canada/French and Arabic)


Incendies (French for “fires”), based on a play by Lebanese-born Canadian writer Wajdi Mouawad, is the fourth feature film for director Denis Villeneuve.  The story follows adult twins Jeanne and Simon on a journey to the war-torn Middle East as they seek to fulfill their late mother’s last wishes.  They must deliver two letters, one to their father, whom they thought was dead, and the other to their brother, whom they did not know existed.  The twins discover shocking truths about their mother, about their heritage, and about themselves.

Outside the Law

Hors-la-loi (Algeria/Arabic and French)

outside the law

Five Algerian pictures have been honored with an Academy Award nomination for best foreign-language film.  Outside the Law is the third of them directed by Rachid Bouchareb.  Set in the period after World War II (and after Bouchareb’s earlier Days of Glory), the film tracks the lives of three brothers who move from Algeria to France, each following a different path.  One joins the army, another becomes a political radical, the third takes to a life of crime.  They reunite years later in the fight for Algerian independence.

In a Better World (2010)
Susanne Bier, director
Anders Thomas Jensen, writer
Morten Søborg, cinematographer
Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen


Incendies (2010)
Denis Villeneuve, director
Wajdi Mouawad (play), Denis Villeneuve (screenplay), writers
André Turpin, cinematographer
Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette

Quote of note
“Soon your mother will give birth to two children and a dog.”
—Father (Christos Stergioglou), Dogtooth (2009)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 13 Feb 2011 @ 10:44 PM

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 15 Feb 2011 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 214 | February 15, 2011

Best of 2010

I’ll start with a confession.  I didn’t see nearly as many new foreign-language films this past year as I would have liked.  Anyone who spent a few days at a film festival probably saw more than I did in twelve months.  Festivals are where you can see world cinema.  Local theaters, even art houses—with little help from most distributors—do a poor job of bringing foreign films to the people.  People really need to go to festivals to see most of them.  I’m not the first to lament that fact, but that’s the way it is.

So the caveat for this week is that “best of” is hardly an apt description.  How can you tell the best of anything when all you’ve seen is a sliver?  Festival-goers get a somewhat bigger slice, but it’s still a sliver in the grand scheme of things.  Except for the well-traveled critic, beware of anyone’s “best of” list when it comes to foreign films.

This week I’ll highlight foreign films in two parts.  Today, I’ll briefly touch on a handful of the better films that have had theatrical runs in 2010, films that I have seen and do recommend.  Thursday, I’ll cover the pending Academy Award nominees, films I have not yet seen (only a couple have had a theatrical release in the U.S. so far, and only one of them a release wider than three theaters; I intend to see Biutiful sometime before the Oscars).

My biggest regret of the year is missing Carlos during its week-long run in L.A.  I’d had plans to take in its five-and-a-half hours one Sunday afternoon, then life intervened, and it was gone.  Can you be a foreign film fan and have a life at the same time?  It’s a challenge sometimes.

Our theme this week
Notable foreign-language films of 2010

Featured last week:  English-language films
(See Monday post for theme introduction)
Monday         —   Best Films of 2010 (#15 to #11)
Wednesday    —   Best Films of 2010 (#10 to #6)
Friday            —   Best Films of 2010 (#5 to #1)

Notable Foreign-Language Films of 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Män som hatar kvinnor (Sweden/Swedish)

tattoo Final 27x40.indd

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy has been the publishing sensation of the past few years, and its first screen adaptation was a trio of Swedish films, all of which made it to U.S. theaters the past year.  The best of the lot is the first, The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, the second and third in the series, felt rather by-the-numbers to me.  Noomi Rapace stars as the impressive and irrepressible heroine Lisbeth Salander.  Michael Nyqvist is beleaguered journalist Mikael Blomkvist.  The Larsson stories get their first Hollywood treatment later this year.  Though I’m not often a fan of English-language remakes, with David Fincher at the helm, the new adaptation should be worth waiting for.


Part 1:  Killer Instinct / L’instinct de mort (France/French)
Part 2:  Public Enemy #1 / L’ennemi public № 1 (France/French)

mesrine public enemy number one

The screen treatment of gangster Jacques Mesrine’s life is a two-parter.  Part 1 I saw at the theater.  Part 2 came and went too quickly for my schedule; I’ll see it on DVD next month.  The story is entertaining, fast-moving, and phenomenal.  Vincent Cassel captures the glamor and brutality of the crime legend’s life in a dazzling performance. 

A Prophet

Un prophète (France/French)

a prophet

A Prophet is a French crime film from director Jacques Audiard, set mostly in prison, where the inmates run the show.  It was an Oscar nominee last year for best foreign-language film.  It deserved the recognition and arguably should have won.

The Secret in Their Eyes

El secreto de sus ojos (Argentina/Spanish)

the secret in their eyes

A more audience-friendly film than A Prophet, The Secret in Their Eyes did win the Oscar last year.  A retired criminal investigator, haunted by a brutal rape and murder from years before, writes a book about the case.  The tale is well-structured and pays off with a memorable ending.  One especially well-crafted sequence takes viewers from an aerial shot high above a soccer field into the bowels of the stadium, seamlessly edited to make eight shots appear as one long take.

White Material

White Material (France/French)

white material

White Material offers a powerful look into the civil strife engulfing an unnamed African country.  Full of determination and denial, Maria (Isabelle Huppert) is the white owner of a coffee plantation who must find workers to help with the season’s harvest before armed rebels arrive.  Director Claire Denis, born in Paris and raised in colonial Africa, has drawn from her experience for many of her films.  This one feels particularly current and urgent.

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
Juan José Campanella, director
Eduardo Sacheri (novel), Eduardo Sacheri, Juan José Campanella (screenplay), writers
Félix Monti, cinematographer
Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago

White Material (2009)
Claire Denis, director
Claire Denis, Marie N’Diaye, Lucie Borleteau, writers
Yves Cape, cinematographer
Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Lambert, Isaach De Bankolé

Quote of note
:  Why are you doing this?
Mesrine:  Because I don’t like laws.  I don’t like the laws and I don’t want to be a slave of the alarm clock my whole life.  I don’t want to spend my entire life dreaming.  I don’t want to always think how I have to work half a year just so I could buy some thing.
—Interviewer (Laure Marsac), Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel), Mesrine:  Public Enemy #1 (2008)


 22 Oct 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 186 | October 22, 2010

The Crystal Ball

Our theme this week

Movies that open later in 2010

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Fair Game
Tuesday         —   The Way Back
Wednesday    —   The King’s Speech
Thursday        —   Somewhere



The story
Uxbal is a man who leads séances in which he communicates with the recently deceased.  He is diagnosed with a terminal illness, given months to live, and must reconcile the conflicts of his life and provide for the well-being of his children. 

Reasons to see it
Set in the underworld of Barcelona, Biutitul is the latest from Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel).  He’s back with another tale about death, his favorite subject.  Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) stars as Uxbal, winning Best Actor honors this May at Cannes, and the film is Mexico’s selection for Best Foreign Language Oscar.  The word is it’s a grim story.  González Iñárritu has never been a stranger to tragedy, but his heroes often find a measure of the redemption they seek.  He is not working with his frequent collaborator, writer Guillermo Arriaga, this time out (perhaps this explains why).  In the past I’ve found González Iñárritu’s work to be especially moving, and I look forward to seeing what he’s been up to lately.

Release date (U.S.)
December 29 (limited)

Biutiful (2010)
Alejandro González Iñárritu, director
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Armando Bo, Nicolás Giacobone, writers
Rodrigo Prieto, cinematographer
Javier Bardem, Blanca Portillo, Maricel Álvarez, Rubén Ochandiano

Quote of note
“All I know is that the boy was my charge, and if he was not the word of God, then God never spoke.”
—The Man (Viggo Mortensen), The Road (2009)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 22 Oct 2010 @ 06:19 PM

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