The Year in Review:
The Best of Film in 2010

Features, FILM
Our editors pick out the crème of the crop from the year in movies.

Tim Wong

Editor, The Lumière Reader

  1. Meek’s Cutoff* (Kelly Reichart, USA)
  2. Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2009)
  3. Ne change rien (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France, 2009)
  4. Deep in the Woods* (Benoît Jacquot, France)
  5. The Social Network (David Fincher, USA)
  6. Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, Austria/France/Germany, 2009)
  7. Air Doll* (Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan, 2009)
  8. The Arbor (Clio Barnard, UK)
  9. I Wish I Knew (Jia Zhang-ke, China)
  10. Marimbas From Hell* (Julio Hernandez Cordon, Guatemala/Mexico/France)

Second Eleven: A Prophet, I’m Still Here, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Carlos, Life During Wartime*, La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet, Certified Copy, Essential Killing*, Animal Kingdom, Summer Wars, White Material.

Still to See: Everyone Else, The Ghost Writer, Nostalgia for the Light, Inside Job, Extraordinary Stories, To Die Like a Man.

Turkeys: Amer, Cold Fish*, The Killer Inside Me.

Thoughts on many of these 2010 highlights (among others) can be found in my recently published New Zealand and Toronto International Film Festival report. Of the films I’ve yet to elaborate on, Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective was the most outstanding as a scrutiny of genre, language, and civil service; while The Social Network possessed the best script of the year, a dynamite drama I prefer to detach from its oft-cited Citizen Kane comparison, in favour of its unlikely reinvention of the frat boy movie. Hirokazu Koreeda’s unreleased Air Doll failed to garner the acclaim received by Still Walking, though I find it as thoughtful, sensitive, and quietly critical as anything in the director’s increasingly varied oeuvre. The unreasonably dismissed I Wish I Knew—seemingly, on the grounds that it was commissioned by the Chinese government for the Shanghai World Expo—also richened, rather than diluted, Jia Zhang-ke’s potent cinematic tapestry, through which China’s restless, ever-advancing history, and the perspectives we view that history from, is unhurriedly explored. And what of the year’s most conspicuous blockbuster? Inception, an otherwise staggering conceptual and editing feat, was so at pains to ensure that its multi-tiered puzzle box fit together flawlessly, and that audiences were furnished with exposition and explanation at every turn, that it denied the very ‘logic’ intrinsic to dreams. Needless to say, what fun is a movie about dreams that makes sense the whole way through?

Brannavan Gnanalingam

Editor-at-Large, The Lumière Reader

  1. Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2009)
  2. Ne change rien (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France, 2009)
  3. Asylum Pieces (Kathy Dudding, NZ)
  4. La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (Frederick Wiseman, France/USA, 2009)
  5. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy)
  6. Boy (Taika Waititi, NZ)
  7. The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/Spain/France/Brazil)
  8. Extraordinary Stories (Mariano Llinás, Argentina, 2008)
  9. Hahaha (Hong Sang-soo, Korea)
  10. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, USA)

Near Misses: Between Two Worlds, The Social Network.

Best Reissue: The Night of Counting the Years (1969).

Films that I’m sorry to have missed: Around a Small Mountain, Melody for a Street Organ.

Worst: Eat, Pray Love.

Alexander Bisley

Editor-at-Large, The Lumière Reader

Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, USA)
The outrageous crime that is the 2008 financial collapse is dynamically documented in this comprehensive, rigorous must-see.

Boy (Taika Waititi, NZ)
From the rousing opening shot of the East Coast sign “you are now entering the tribal lands of Te Whanui a Apanui”, scored with ‘Poi E’, Boy is an instant Aotearoa classic. Hilarious, tragic, idiosyncratic, beautifully acted and deeply felt. (This Way of Life is another engaging account of a Maori whanau.) 

Four Lions (Chris Morris, UK)
The best way of dealing with idiots is humour. Morris finely judges edgy, difficult material in this scathing satire of hubristic suicide bombers.

Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, Australia, 2008)
A gorgeous, wistful animation that plumbs loneliness and connection, from Australasia to NYC.

Invictus (Clint Eastwood, USA, 2009)
A beautiful, inspiring paean to the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Road (John Hillcoat, USA, 2009)
Hillcoat renders the apocalypse with unusual tenderness and sensitivity. Cinematography of the year from Alvodomar’s regular Javier Aguirresarobe.

The Social Network (David Fincher, USA)
Fincher returns with a terrific account of Facebook’s troubled birth. Sorkin’s script is chocker with memorable zingers.

A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, France/Italy, 2009)
Wireesque. Audiard shows why he’s one of the best European directors working today. It could be Paremoremo or San Quentin, but this explosive French film captures the prison experience.

The Choir (Michael Davie, Australia, 2007)
The Choir hauntingly documents life inside South Africa’s Big Houses. A crushing downer after Invictus, but not completely without hope.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, USA, 2009)
Herzog’s New Orleans riff is scandalously direct to DVD. Would probably have been the most enjoyable, atmospheric film at the multiplex this year. As with Bringing Out the Dead, it’s a role Nicolas Cage was born for.

Jacob Powell

Contributing Editor, The Lumière Reader

1. Rubber (Quentin Dupieux, France)
Surreal cinematic meta-study involving a group of voyeurs watching the ‘birth to death’ of a rubber tire in some backwater desert landscape. Would you believe: love, jealousy, betrayal, road trips, murder, deception and the complete demolition of the fourth wall? All magically presented in DSLR captured HD crispness. What will the audience decide to watch… and eat?

2. Gone With the Pope (Duke Mitchell, USA)
Holy shit! Like a dream from the ’70s beyond, Mitchell’s lost film reemerges in 2010 in all its hairy-chested, ham-fisted, un-PC glory. Think of all the best-worst ’70s exploitation cinema you can, roll them into five short films, then unconvincingly stitch them into a singular feature, and you have Gone With the Pope. So awesome I felt like I had been in some kind of good-trip delirium!

3. Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski, USA, 2009)
Classic Bujalski for a new decade: awkwardness, small-scale relationship turmoil, and characters who elicit strong audience response. Credible performances from a typically non-professional cast, assured direction, and great freeform story construction make Bujalski as relevant and interesting as ever.

4. The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell, USA)
An unpretentious, multithreaded cinematic coming-of-age almanac combining the youthful haphazardness of Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused, with the awkwardness and threshold-walking present in Michael Cuesta’s Twelve and Holding, and the evocative visual tone of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park. I was transfixed.

5. Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, Australia)
Australian gangster feature that you can sink your teeth into. First time feature director Michôd achieves a thread of tension so strong and consistent that you can barely relax throughout this riveting film. He wisely keeps the plot and characters well contained and coaxes a revelatory performance from young lead James Frecheville as the seldom spoken teen thrust into a family of petty but violent criminals following the death (by overdose) of his mother.

6. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, USA, 2009)
I put aside my irrational Nic Cage hate for his Herzog collaboration and was richly rewarded. Cage may own the role of the eponymous Lt McDonagh, but this is a Herzog film through and through, replete with unusual character arcs, great mapping of environment/setting to plot and characterisation, and Reptile-Cam!?

7. Marwencol (Jeff Malmberg, USA)
This moving doco follows a man’s unique means of navigating life—physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially—after the tragedy of a severe beating. Mark Hogencamp created the fictional world of Marwencol in his backyard where he has complete control and all his hopes, dreams and fears can and do play out. Less outsider art than compelling therapeutics but visually and dramatically arresting all the same.

8. Boy (Taika Waititi, NZ)
Golden Boy Waititi’s somewhat autobiographical film ticks so many boxes in my own childhood that I find it hard to think of this in an objective fashion. Fun but cruel, poignant but ridiculous, Boy was much more than I expected, yet doesn’t get mired in the dark place in which many good New Zealand films find themselves.

9. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (Edgar Wright, USA)
A fine tapestry of cinematic references woven in such a way as to create a unified picture with its own unique identity (in a way that probably only Tarantino could match). Wright fuses elements of cinema, (console/arcade) gameplay and graphic novel convention to produce a film experience that gives the feel of traversing panels from a graphic novel rather than a simple movie narrative. Music, action, and editing all add but I think the interesting mesh of casting is a winner, e.g. Brandon Routh sending himself up as a slightly awkward vegan powered bad guy.

10. A Town Called Panic (Stéphanie Aubier/Vincent Tavier, Belgium/France/Luxembourg, 2009)
Surreal and ridiculous, this cheap adapted-from-the-small-screen cartoon romp is so inventive, it’s like a brainstorming session gone wrong. Horses that drive cars and can never quite make it to their piano lessons; angry old farmers with adoring, buxom wives; alien fish-like bad guys (in the Stingray mould) stealing bricks for the under-verse; giant snowball throwing robots controlled by a cadre of mad scientists… you get the picture.

Honourable Mentions: Kick Ass, A Portuguese Nun, Russian Lessons, His & Hers, Winter’s Bone, Exit Through The Gift Shop, White Material, The Hurt Locker, There Once Was An Island, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, Home By Christmas.

Clunker: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Steve Garden

Contributing Editor, The Lumière Reader

Alas, it seems to be increasingly difficult to get to the cinema these days, so most of my serious film viewing is compressed into two intense weeks at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Consequently, the best films for me this year are selected from the 50-odd films I saw at the festival.

I regret missing Honey, and didn’t manage to see Animal Kingdom, Lourdes, The Wind Journeys, Like You Know It All, Winter’s Bone, or any of the “Incredibly Strange” films. I have yet to see The Social Network and Meek’s Cutoff—which, being a Kelly Reichart film, is a must-see for me.

The list below comprises my pick for the first fifteen (a limit of ten was too difficult). The choices are in no particular order, although the first seven were the really big-hitters. The remainder were masterful.

If pressed to single-out a ‘most valuable player’, it would be The Portuguese Nun, a film about the discovery of the power of love and faith that reaffirms one’s faith in and love of cinema (and life too, for that matter). Eugene Green references many of the giants of the cinematic canon with great affection and understanding (Bresson, De Oliveira, Ozu, Antonioni, Dreyer), but he has the wit, intelligence and artistic self-assurance to avoid overly reverent or slavish imitation. Self-conscious and self-aware in the best sense (but never to post-modern excess), The Portuguese Nun is a near-transcendent masterwork that may well secure a place for its director among the company of his illustrious teachers.

  • The Portuguese Nun (Eugene Green, Portugal/France, 2009)
  • The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/Spain/France/Brazil)
  • I Wish I knew (Jia Zhang-ke, China)
  • Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 2009)
  • The Night of Counting the Years (Shadi Abdel Salam, 1969)
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
  • Melody For a Street Organ (Kira Muratova, Ukraine, 2009)
  • Ne change rien (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France, 2009)
  • Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy)
  • Around a Small Mountain (Jacques Rivette, France/Italy, 2009)
  • White Material (Claire Denis, France, 2009)
  • To Die Like a Man (Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal/France, 2009)
  • Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, USA)
  • Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine, USA/UK, 2009)
  • La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet (Frederick Wiseman, France/USA, 2009)

On the reserves-bench and showing great form: Between Two Worlds, Sweetgrass, Hahaha, Alamar, Nostalgia for the Light, and The Woman with the Five Elephants.

Enjoyable curtain raisers: I Killed My Mother, I’m Glad My Mother is Alive, Without Women, Extraordinary Stories, The Arbor, Beeswax, and The Time That Remains. I must add that Senso was extraordinary, and Once Upon a Time in the West was a hoot (though perhaps not the masterpiece it is widely claimed to be).

Revolucion was a disappointment, although the Carlos Reygadas segment was worth the ticket price. I fail to see why A Prophet and Poetry are so widely acclaimed, but I guess they must fall within one of my many blind spots. I Am Love had me attentive and curious for the first hour, but then it revealed its true colours. Carlos was very good, but didn’t manage to transcend its made-for-TV character. Enter the Void was in a category all of its own.

As I mentioned earlier, festival aside, trips to the cinema were extremely rare in 2010, but I did manage to chalk up a solid number of DVDs, of which Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience deserves special mention. If you appreciated Bubble, this ought to appeal. I would also recommend the BFI’s Alan Bennett collection, a dozen excellent television plays including The Insurance Man, 102 Hausman Boulevard, and A Question of Attribution.

Finally, at the end of 2010 I plunged into my collection of early French cinema, DVDs acquired over the years but mostly unseen. The films were by Marcel Carne, Rene Clair, Jacques Feyder, Julien Duvivier, Jean Vigo, and—best of all—Jean Renoir. Renoir was a revelation! Just about every thing he did from his first feature, Whirlpool of Fate (1924), through to La Regle du jour (1939), are exceptional. Formally, technically and aesthetically superb, politically uncompromising, Renoir’s films were way ahead of their time and profoundly influential. They still feel fresh and contemporary, and are fabulously compelling. Don’t hesitate—track them down and treat yourself!

Our ‘Best of’ lists are compiled from theatrical and film festival screenings attended in 2010. *Unreleased in New Zealand in 2010.

1 Comment

  1. I’m a little surprised Brannavan’s picks include Toy Story 3, while Social Network just marginally misses the list. I feel that Social Network was one of the best movies in years… and the writing was stellar.

    Enjoyed reading your list… a bunch of cinematic splendors.

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