2010: Favorite 25 Films of 2010 (05-01)
25 films that defined our 2010
05. Black Swan
Dir. Darren Aronofsky
[Fox Searchlight Pictures]
No one can accuse Darren Aronofsky of being a timid director, and with Black Swan, he delivered a hallucinatory melodrama while maintaining complete control of his craft. Natalie Portman starred as Nina, a dancer whose mind unraveled after she was given a starring role in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Portman was in every scene, and her commanding performance forced audiences to share her anxiety. We grew to care for Nina because those who were supposed to care for her, her director (Vincent Cassel) and mother (Barbara Hershey), couldn’t see how their sinister defects took a psychic toll on the young dancer. Despite strong performances, Black Swan was at its best when Aronofsky’s bravado camerawork left a visceral impact. During dance rehearsals and performances, the camera penetrated the company as if it were a fellow member. The special effects, which were subtle and bold in equal measure, became an eye-popping metaphor for Nina’s undeveloped sexuality, as well as her eroding sanity. And when Black Swan reached its climax, we were presented with the year’s most hauntingly beautiful transformation. Even if Aronofsky’s tight rein scarcely offered a moment to breathe, his arresting imagery left us gasping for more.
04. Exit Through The Gift Shop
Many of this year’s documentaries seemed to exist solely to summarize a current event or promote some grassroots cause, the cinematic equivalent of an informational brochure. But with Exit Through The Gift Shop, enigmatic street artist Banksy came armed with an actual thesis about the relationship between art and commerce, not to mention a rousing narrative to boot. Whether said narrative was crafted using “real” footage placed Gift Shop among a new breed of films, along with Catfish and I’m Still Here, dubbed “hoaxumentaries” (where there’s a will, there’s a genre), docs that carefully blur the line between reality and fiction. And indeed, when Gift Shop’s central goofball Thierry Guetta spouts ludicrously daffy lines like “I’m like a bird… I like to fly from one artist to another,” you can’t help but ponder if he’s being played by an actor or perhaps, as some have suggested, even Banksy himself. But if it turns out that Gift Shop is yet another byproduct of Banksy’s seemingly endless imagination, then hey, all the more power to him. It might just be his finest work yet.
• Exit Through The Gift Shop: http://www.banksyfilm.com
• TMT Review: http://tinymixtapes.com/film/exit-through-gift-shop
03. Trash Humpers
Dir. Harmony Korine
The unexpected theatrical distribution of the defiantly analog, rash, and experimental Trash Humpers was some sort of cinephilic revelation. Shot with a handheld VHS camera with seemingly no plot or script, the film consists of people wearing old-person masks who whoop and holler and sing songs as they smash lights and televisions, hump trash cans, and occasionally murder, managing to bring a camera along too. And yet it would’ve merely been a random series of darkly funny sketches if the perspective weren’t so fascinating. As these events repeat in various iterations in an oddly desolate cityscape, the exhilaration turns into a mundane, almost ritualistic portrayal of life, to the point where I started to feel some strange empathy for these people. Why do they hump trash? Because they need to. The joke fades, but the fireworks keep flying, and I was moved when the film’s hypnotically absurd world became recognizably human. It is Harmony Korine’s gift that he can find a kind of beauty in bizarre, aberrant subcultures that may or may not actually exist, and here a distorted focus — aesthetically and narratively — resulted in, ironically, his most singular and immersive vision yet.
02. Enter the Void
Dir. Gaspar Noé
Gaspar Noé is known for his dark spectacles — most notably, the graphic, nine-minute rape scene that made his 2002 film, Irreversible, a sort of audience endurance test. In the years between that movie and its follow-up, Enter the Void, the cinema has been deluged with torture porn. Now that we’ve become desensitized, Noé has found a new way to get to us: pleasure. Although it had its share of jarring moments, Enter the Void tipped its hand in its witty, colorful, and exuberant animated opening credits. The plot was almost incidental, but the central theme, a Tibetan Book of the Dead-inspired inquiry into what happens after we die, combined with soaring cameras and a psychedelic, neon color palette, created an all-encompassing visual and philosophical experience. Ever the provocateur, Noé occasionally pushed past brilliance into silliness, but he did it with such energy you couldn’t help but humor him. Enter the Void stretched the boundaries of filmmaking while carrying on the mystic tradition of such masters as Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose movies it will surely earn a place beside at midnight screenings for decades to come.
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Family is nonsense. In Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, a father sits down to dinner and asks his family, “When is a child ready to leave the house?” The children respond with “When the dogtooth falls out.” In humans, canine teeth typically fall out between the ages of five and seven. The human children at the dinner table have grown into their twenties and thirties. The father then asks, “Do you want to hear your grandfather sing?” He plays Sinatra, translating “Fly Me to the Moon” as “I love my house and I will never leave it.” The children smile. “What is a cunt?” the eldest daughter asks her mother. It is a word she did not learn from vocabulary tapes. “It is a large lamp,” the mother says.
Watching Dogtooth was like tonguing your brother’s ear in the back of the family van. It was your grandmother’s fingers, gnarled with arthritis, opening a Pepsi. The relative weird happens in all worlds, be it a fenced-in suburban home in Dogtooth or your sister’s wedding. Not since Todd Solondz’s Welcome To The Dollhouse had a film so brutalized family convention. This Greek picture of middle-class isolation and control made hardly a peep upon release, waiting like family does to choke you. It was a welcome relief from the noisier mind-fucks (Enter the Void, The Human Centipede), as Lanthimos discerned between style and agenda. He refrained from finding a moral, keeping his hand out of his pants and licking your eye instead. Save for the composed cinematography, there was nothing deliberate about Dogtooth. The camera angles mimicked a child’s perspective; we often stared at characters’ stomachs, their heads and feet decapitated from the frame. We saw the belly of family, our existence. We saw a creepy house, along with a realness hard to find outside rooms where the afternoon light illuminated the boredom braiding your sister’s hair. It is what steers the death drive.
Shot in the colors of a hospital, the whites, grays, and pinks were like mother’s milk — a soft hygienic maintenance. Then the blood: brother’s forearm slashed with a butcher knife by sister; garden shears driven through a kitten; complacency utterly fucked in moments of gore, curious love. The colors lent a physicality to the film, like nerves and tissue popping red against skin. Then the sex, the performance of incest in the midst of ennui, the body functioning as a nail. Lots of kinky sex was had this year in Hollywood, but few films fucked us in the stomach the way Dogtooth’s pale adult children copulating against a headboard covered in stickers did.
Year-end lists are a strange attempt to assemble moments into a package, like a single photograph you can hand to someone and say, “Here, this is what happened last year.” When dealing with film, we tend to be disappointed. Three, maybe four, films really burned my hair this year. Maybe this is because I’ve got my hand in other cookie jars (books, literary magazines, music), or maybe there is a serious lack of brutal films being made in the new century. Or perhaps it’s more about personal dosage, how much we can tolerate. Watching something like Dogtooth changed us; the visual imprint, the internalization of trauma lent a kind of permanence to our lives. That final scene will make us cringe for years. Just like when the eldest daughter finds a videotape of Rocky and reenacts the boxing scenes on herself, we can’t shake the bloody images or the sound of a 10-pound dumbbell smashing into a jaw. It stays with us. And this might be the difficulty in finding other films to see; the uneasy blankness we feel after Dogtooth compromises our daily existence. But isn’t that one of the reasons for great artistic works? To be bothered? Maybe it’s okay that only a few movies truly bothered us this year. We couldn’t handle any more.