A last mad dash to the end of the year, watching as many movies as I can, and I still don’t catch everything I wanted to see. It’s always the way, and I don’t see any other way to beat it other than to become independently wealthy and watch everything the day it is released. As a result, consider this list incomplete for 2010. How can it be complete if I haven’t see True Grit, which promises to be great, or The Fighter, which promises to be gritty and/or great, or Burlesque, which promises to be not as great and therefore potentially eligible for the worst movies list that will follow this?
Another caveat for new readers of the blog, some of whom I have met this year via Twitter, and include some people whose views on cinema I have come to respect and trust. If you don’t know me well either in the real world or via the internet, you might not yet realise just how heavily my tastes skew towards populist cinema. It has been my preference for many years now, and even in this fallow year for big-budget, wide-appeal movies, I’ve still managed to find a lot that to enjoy. The list will also feature a lot of American movies, which is more to do with the amount of US product released. That’s not to say I haven’t seen some fine movies from around the world. It’s just that they didn’t move me enough for inclusion here.
As you can see, I’m riven with worry that my tastes will be considered gauche, but I really shouldn’t. After all, taste is dependent on your criteria for the success of an artistic endeavour, and with films this is merely that a film do what it sets out to do, doesn’t take the audience for a fool, and shows some evidence that the filmmakers have an ability to make their movies work on both the micro and macro-scale: are they aware of how each scene — either well-crafted or fudged — fits in with the whole? Get something basic like that right and I’m going to be a lot nicer to your movie. The bad movies list is littered with movies that could have been fixed in the editing room: it’s a simple thing to get at least slightly right but too many filmmakers don’t even know how to do it properly. As for my taste, I’ve come to expect that my unending and vocal support for despised “failures” like Hudson Hawk (never forget!!!) and Speed Racer has burned my cred already.
Right. Caveats over. Let’s list this mammajamma.
Would it have been possible for Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza to top their original zombie horror classic? For those of us who are still waking in the middle of the night with the memory of those terrifying final moments, it seems impossible. [Rec]2 might not feature anything that horrific, but its writer/directors are smart enough to take a step sideways, jumping off from the end of the original in an Aliens-esque way while skipping back into the timeline and geography of the first film, cleverly sketching new details in the margins. Even better, they flesh out the mythology, revealing that their horror franchise has more in common with The Exorcist than Dawn of the Dead, though this franchise features a badass action Priest, which is none-more-cool. Other than that it’s more of the same, but this is no dismissal. Some of the setpieces here are as breathtakingly staged as in the original: one early scene in a ventilation shaft is a nerve-wracking highlight. Best of all, it’s proves the [Rec]-niverse has legs. The next two movies cannot come soon enough.
24. Reign of Assassins
Chao-Bin Su’s eccentric wuxia romp is apparently co-directed by John Woo, though there is no hint of the master’s unironic hero-worship here. There is only the giddy sense that you’re not going to guess what’s coming next: a rarity these days. At first it seems like Chao-Bin is making a historical martial arts version of Johnny Handsome or The Long Kiss Goodnight, with Michelle Yeoh as the deadly assassin on the run from her past with a new face, but we’re instead treated to a dazzling final act filled with delirious plot twists and hysterical action. Very little else this year has the impact of the reveal of The Wheel King’s demented motivation for chasing the movie’s bizarre MacGuffin (half of a corpse), nor the sight of flaming sword fights, sex assassins and zipping death-needles in the final fights. It is also essential viewing for fans of the amazing Yeoh, who once more excels as the woman who cannot escape those she has wronged. Vibrant, colourful, and unapologetically sentimental and sincere, it’s an irresistible experience.
It’s been another good year for Dreamworks Animation. How To Train Your Dragon was a delightful, highly detailed and exciting adventure, fully deserving of its success. Shades of Caruso recommends it, but can’t help preferring Megamind. The clever script by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons plays with expectation, adding enough variations to a straight-forward premise to surprise audiences: something that eluded the makers of the similar but inferior Despicable Me. Tom McGrath’s direction shines too, getting the most from his starry cast, while raising the stakes impressively in the final act. It’s also a 3D triumph: Metro City (Metrocity?) truly boggles the eyes, those concrete canyons fading off into the distance while the superpowered protagonists battle it out on the vast stage. This might not reach the heights of Kung Fu Panda, or Sony Pictures Animation’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, but it’s still an entertaining and surprisingly affecting romp.
22. A Serbian Film
Satire might be the rapier that elegantly stabs at society’s hypocrisies, but apparently blunt-force-trauma porn/horror depictions of unimaginable cruelty can serve as commentary as well. Srđan Spasojević’s unforgettable nightmare vision contains zero cynicism: accusations that A Serbian Film is merely provocative exploitation are entirely false. It’s a bone-rattling scream of horror from the gut, a gauntlet thrown in the face of the Serbian government for turning the populace into puppets without agency, controlled from birth to death by forces beyond their control — here depicted as the almost unwatchable degradation of a family for the sake of meaningless, depraved entertainment. Even the strongest stomach will be turned by the toxic images pouring from the screen, but it’s the honesty and fury of Spasojević’s message that will linger longest, and make this a cause celebre for years to come.
21. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
The US action movie roster was deeply disappointing this year. With the exception of a handful of films, most of this year was taken up with unconvincing nostalgia (The A-Team, The Expendables), fun but slight comic adaptations (Red, The Losers), or genre crossovers (sci-fi – Repo Men: horror – Daybreakers: romance – Killers). Meanwhile, Reign of Assassins and Tsui Hark’s berserk Detective Dee mystery set the screen alight with crazed invention, whirling movement, and abstract plotting worth a dozen feeble CGI-heavy shoot-outs. Hark’s fictionalised retelling of the tale of 7th-Century courtier Di Renjie is a fantastical concoction, with Dee reimagined as a philosophical man of action, a Zen version of Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, except that movie didn’t feature Ninja puppeteers, deranged reindeer attacks, spontaneous human combustion and face-altering acupuncture. You never quite know what madness will be thrown at you. While the garbling of the real and controversial historical legacy of Empress Wu is troubling, as a slice of entertainment this ranks with Zu Warriors and The Butterfly Murders as one of Hark’s brightest fantasies.
20. Green Zone
This mixture of Bourne-style intensity and United-93-style reportage failed to find an audience, and frustrating populist compromises within Brian Helgeland’s otherwise ambitious screenplay threaten to scupper the movie at every turn, but it remains a unique venture: an attempt to depict the fraudulent practices of a corrupt government in a politically unstable warzone by hiding the bitter pill inside an action movie. It very nearly succeeds, certainly enough to stir the blood and anger the mind. It’s commendable just for its seriousness of purpose, and the unobtrusive way Greengrass paints infuriating details from Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s non-fiction book into the sides of the frame, but for action fans there is also the rush of Greengrass’ perfectly staged and edited set-pieces, especially the exhausting final chase through Baghdad, a scene made poignant with the knowledge that the disastrous occupation of Iraq was not going to have a happy end. Sad that the filmmakers felt obliged to tag on such a silly coda, but still…
19. Winter’s Bone
Debra Granik’s adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel crosses so many types of genre it’s hard to know where to start. It has the episodic structure of a fairy-tale, the indomitable hero and quest-arc of a detective story, the inhospitable landscape of a survival narrative, and the terrifying antagonists of a Hills-Have-Eyes-style horror movie. Granik’s control of atmosphere is such that the frozen world seems to bleed out of the screen, chilling the blood even before we get to the events depicted. Ree’s search for her no-good father takes her into the dangerous underbelly of her community, with only her menacing uncle to help her. Watching this young woman forced to endanger herself for the sake of her family is agonising, partially through some of the best storytelling of the year, but mostly through career-best performances from John Hawkes and Dale Dickey, and the memorable arrival of Jennifer Lawrence in the mainstream cultural consciousness.
18. Whip It
All hail Drew Barrymore! 2010 saw the release of Going The Distance, which was so far and away the best, most entertaining and most convincing romcom of the year that every other dashed-off failure should hang its head in shame. It also saw the UK release of her directorial debut, the utterly charming coming-of-age roller derby movie Whip It. Barrymore draws out Ellen Page’s most likeable performance yet as a young woman whose tiny rebellion against the small-town mentality of her home and family leads her to an equally tiny — yet momentous — sports career. Our hero’s direction is frenetic and fractured but invigorating, as quick and sharp as the best two-and-a-half-minute punk tune. This celebration of sisterhood is one of the most purely joyous movies about youth made in recent times. Hopefully its fanbase will grow, and its message of unsentimental female solidarity, and celebration of outsider culture, will be passed on and enjoyed for years to come.
17. Iron Man 2
It’s too long. There’s too much talking. There’s not enough action. Whine, whine, whine. Jon Favreau took the things most people seemed to love about the first Iron Man movie – Tony Stark being a smartass in formless scenes that lean heavily on the wisecracks – and multiplied them, turning the increasingly tired template of the summer blockbuster on its head. The box office was great, but no one seemed to be happy with what they got. Pish posh. The talkiness and loose nature of the Iron Man franchise has proved to be its greatest strength. This plays more as a semi-improvised comedy than a set-piece-heavy explosiongasm, a good-time free-for-all that still finds time to test Tony Stark’s character and build the Marvel Universe inbetween the rambling asides and coolly tossed-off non-sequiturs. It’s the most unconventional superhero movie yet: irksome if you’re not onboard but pure joy for the rest of us.
Some movies are just too crazy not to love a little. Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay – in which agent Evelyn Salt may or may not be a sleeper agent intent on destroying Russia, America, the Middle East or the whole world, depending on where you are in the movie – playfully messes with expectations, leaving the audience in a pleasurable state of confusion and doubt as to the motives of any of the main characters. Philip Noyce cranks up the action to levels far beyond those displayed in his Tom Clancy adaptations, throwing out several memorable set-pieces and brilliantly orchestrating the cast into giving broad performances pitched at the appropriate level of heightened emotional truth: some kind of miracle considering the preposterousness of the numerous plot-twists, of which the less said the better. It’s undeniably daft, but by God, it’s exciting.
Those of us who have watched the career of the amazing Richard Ayoade can rejoice: his feature debut is a triumph of endearing observational comedy, empathic storytelling, and film-nerd fastidiousness. The coming-of-age story of Oliver Holt doesn’t shy away from depicting its hero as an emotionally-stunted klutz, but the masterstroke is making all of his misjudgements seem perfectly logical, magically regressing the audience’s point-of-view back to its own adolescence, when we didn’t realise we hadn’t quite figured out how the world worked. Ayoade extracts impressive performances from his cast, especially newcomers Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige as the nervous, spiky young couple whose adventures in romance go so believably awry. Nevertheless, the director’s greatest achievement is the magical atmosphere he generates: nostalgic yet modern, bittersweet and utterly charming, even during its darkest moments.
14. Four Lions
Amazing how Chris Morris’ comedy about suicide bombers didn’t generate the torrent of controversy many of us expected: a testament to the movie’s unexpected warmth. Though the four terrorist-wannabes are obviously murderous scum, they’re also human, and the most daring thing about this magnificent farce is to give at least one character — Omar, brilliantly played by Riz Ahmed — a redemptive arc as he attempts to save dopey Waj (a hilarious turn from Kayvan Novak) from eternal damnation. This is also the movie’s greatest strength, depicting fundamentalists as people in all their fumbling, irrational glory. Playing them as nothing more than idiots would have no charge at all. It becomes more than just a film of its time, becomes a film about all of humanity. We’re all fools, all a mixture of good and bad. It’s just unfortunate that a very small minority of us are more likely to blow up others on a mission to pay tribute to an imaginary sky-god or to strike at a society that is not really that much of an enemy.
Arguably the most upsetting horror can come from the exaggeration of normal behaviour, as displayed in Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark extrapolation of how they fuck you up, your mom and dad. A depraved couple conspire to keep their children captive within the grounds of their home, feeding them false information about the world from birth. Treated like dogs, the children — now post-adolescent adults — have a completely alien idea of what the world is: planes are toys, cats are deadly monsters, and venturing outside the compound before they lose their ‘dogtooth’ will end in disaster. Nevertheless, with adulthood comes an increased urge to escape, even without knowing what that entails. Lanthimos’ matter-of-fact direction is the perfect counterpoint to the disturbing subject matter, impassively charting the slowly-unravelling experiment. Who needs human centipedes when you have parents like this? It’s an unsettling tale – The Truman Show without the hope and uplift.
12. Meek’s Cutoff
Who would have thought that the writer and director of something as soporific as Old Joy could create something as charged with suspense as this? That’s unusual enough, but Kelly Reichardt’s masterstroke is doing that without changing her signature style in any way. Her retelling of the true story of Meek Cutoff — in which a group of settlers of the “Wild West” are pushed off course by a potentially unreliable frontiersman guide — is deceptively simple. Under the surface are tensions that inevitably spill out as water dwindles and Meek’s instructions become less certain. The introduction of a new element — a Native American who wanders too close to the group — sets the movie spinning off in a different, and even more fascinating, direction. Reichardt’s superb handling of the group dynamic and the allegorical dimensions of this survival tale is aided by notable work from sound designer Leslie Shatz, weaving a hypnotic soundtrack using nothing more than the wind, the sound of shuffling feet, and the creak of a wheel. It’s an exhausting journey, but a riveting one.
Alejandro Amenábar’s ambitious, big-budget biopic of philosopher Hypatia – The Passion of the Christ for atheists – struggled to find distributors around the world, was dumped into cinemas with barely any publicity, and was criticised by Catholic groups in Spain for defaming Christianity: the polar opposite of Mel Gibson’s berserk Passion Play. Who knows why audiences didn’t connect with this tragic epic: it has the requisite visual wow-factor, moves at a clip, and is easily accessible. Perhaps no one wants to be reminded of the ancient — and modern — punishment and subjugation of women by vicious misogynists whose pitiful moral shortcomings and weak-minded thuggery lead to acts of barbarous evil. Rachel Weisz’s towering performance breaks the heart, bringing to life a great thinker whose fate is decided for her by infantile monsters: a loss to the world more profound than the library she tries to save. It should be required viewing for anyone who supports reason over superstition.
10. Easy A
Much like Drew Barrymore’s Whip It, Will Gluck’s teen comedy was greeted with a shrug. It’s a crying shame: movies this clever and witty don’t come along every day. Taking Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter as an inspiration, rather than a template, Easy A treats serious subjects — sexual awakening, female empowerment, the negative effect of socially accepted and enforced codes of morality, etc. — with a lightness of touch that seems ever more rare in these fractious times, remaining good-natured and silly while driving home a welcome message: mind your own business, and I’ll mind mine. However, the sparkling wit and referential games would mean nothing without a solid central performance, and Emma Stone delivers a star-making turn. Her charm and comedic skill are the elements that push this movie from good to great, and ensure that time will be generous to this underrated gem. It’s the best movie of its kind since Clueless: the proselytising campaign to see it get its due starts here.
Noah Baumbach’s character study of an odious, self-involved shit-head who uses everyone around him and sabotages himself tests that well-known writer’s maxim — that protagonists don’t need to be likeable for you to root for their success — to the point of destruction and beyond. Ben Stiller delivers one of the finest performances of the year as the title character, cast adrift in a city he hates, surrounded by people he cannot emotionally connect with, and consistently making the wrong choices. It’s a testament to Stiller and screenwriters Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh that you find yourself rooting for this douchenozzle, hoping that he will somehow figure out that he is the problem, and make some effort to rectify this. The movie succeeds admirably, regularly positioning him on a precipice of universally recognisable social failure, his empathic blindness exaggerated to unbearable levels — if this creep can find a sort of redemption, there’s hope for all of us. Kudos too for bringing the amazing Greta Gerwig to wider attention: her work as Florence Marr is one of the highlights of the movie year.
8. The Social Network
Aaron Sorkin’s voice is so distinct that no matter who adapts his work, it’s first and foremost an Aaron Sorkin project. Until now. David Fincher’s free-wheeling and zippy movie is as fast-moving as the world of social media which will probably see Facebook superseded by other sites by the time this film hits satellite (this sentence sponsored by Diaspora). His control of the material, his authorial confidence, almost completely overwhelms the various tics and habits of Sorkin – no mean feat. Which is not to denigrate Sorkin. The Social Network represents his best work since the early years of The West Wing, cleverly and bravely tinkering with fact in order to turn the prosaic origins of Facebook into a Greek tragedy as “Mark Zuckerberg” is undone by his ambition and ironically trapped in the unsatisfying world he created. It’s delirious entertainment, delivered at hyper-speed by two masters of their trade, and well played by a young and obnoxiously talented cast, with special praise due to Andrew Garfield, as good here as he is in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go.
7. Please Give
It’s been said before, and Shades of Caruso can merely echo it: why are people squandering their time waiting for Woody Allen to find something new to say when there is a perceptive, funny, imaginative filmmaker already working in the same area, and who isn’t merely content to ape better directors while putting nubile young women into leading roles as muses to various lecherous proxys? Please Give is a vastly entertaining and thought-provoking comedy-drama, playfully addressing themes of white liberal guilt, social discomfort, distorted body-image, and the generation gap, all while delivering endearing and subtle character comedy and well-earned last-act epiphanies that are recognisably small but no less profound for that. Nicole Holofcener has been making lovable and well-crafted social commentary for years without preaching, without resting on her laurels, and without pandering to the audience. Why she isn’t more widely celebrated by critics is beyond us.
Kick-Ass the movie is much like Kick-Ass the character, stupidly starting fights with powerful opponents just because it feels like it. Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman could have toned down Millar & Romita Jr.’s super-homage for family viewing, but instead they stuck to their guns and delivered a provocative blast of bratty energy right at the tutting moral campaigners. The only downside to the tide of handbag-clutching vitriol aimed at it (because really, who gives a fuck what these idiots think?) is that it obscured the message of the movie: if someone needs help, you have a duty to provide it, whether you like it or not. Hit-Girl may kill dozens of people and say the naughty words, but it’s not about that. It’s about a new generation kicking against the pricks. As London’s streets rage and the Establishment stamps on The Kids with all its might, Kick-Ass needs immediate reappraisal. It feels more like a manifesto than an action movie, but never forget: it’s a really goddamn good action movie.
5. Toy Story 3
Finally we reach the end of Pixar’s trilogy of torment. Toy Story 3 is a gruelling and emotionally devastating trip into the dark heart of society, laying bare the compromises made by all of us as we become adults. A world where wrenching sacrifice is inevitable is here depicted, with grim irony, as a candy-coloured landscape of potential joy crushed under the jackboot of miserable conformity, with emotional attachment to anyone or anything being a surefire way to see your dreams destroyed, your friendships demolished, your life ruined. It’s a relentless assault on the soul of the viewer, a sadistic and twisted reminder that life is dust and all we can do is cherish the odd moment of connection and bliss before being cast into the abyss, unwanted and alone. Oh the tears that were shed as Lee Unkrich’s nightmarish masterpiece hurtled towards its miserable end! Oceans of sadness! Waterworlds of lachrymosity! Damn you Pixar! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!
4. The Kids Are All Right
Lisa Cholodenko’s immensely satisfying family drama is a quiet triumph, compassionately extolling the virtues and compromises necessary to live a liberal life while frankly addressing the unavoidable urges and paranoias of us all. It’s gratifying to see a movie leap over the usual tangle of political argument to simply present a loving family in all of its flawed beauty. Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore excel as the trio of parents whose seemingly happy exteriors hide paranoia, jealousy and sadness; feelings that are brought to the surface by the actions of their teenage children. Does it sound like faint praise to say that the reason this movie appears so high on the list is just that it gets everything right? The movie’s ace in the hole is the script by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, which is a work of subtle genius. Without pandering to the audience we’re invited into the lives of some of the most exquisitely detailed characters of the year, whose actions are believable, recognisable, and revelatory. It’s a genuine crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word.
3. 13 Assassins
It could have been a wild and tacky action extravaganza, something entertaining but disposable, a repository of empty iconography that trades in nostalgia for the long-gone heights of the action genre: i.e., it could have been The Expendables. Thankfully Takashi Miike’s startling action classic — featuring 13 outcast heroes facing off against an army protecting the insane brother of the Shogun — is anything but. At times it feels like an elegaic send-off for a period in Japanese history, as our hero Shinzaemon Shimada faces disgrace and death in order to do the right thing: literally destroying a way of life in order to save the country. As the final half of the movie kicks in, it feels more like Miike is saying goodbye to the Samurai sub-genre. The careful pace is jettisoned for 45 minutes of beautifully paced and choreographed carnage, and two final showdowns of incredible emotional power. Nothing can prepare you for the intensity of this brutal war-in-miniature, with courage giving way to insanity as the battle progresses. It will be a long time before anyone can top the director’s astonishing achievement.
It may not feature Batman, but Inception still swept in like the Caped Crusader to save us from a summer of lacklustre movies. Nevertheless, even in a strong year this imagination-shattering masterpiece would stand out. Christopher Nolan’s bold and befuddling puzzle mimicked the beats of a traditional action movie to tell one story that appealed on a lizard-brain level, ending in an hour-long setpiece of dazzling complexity and ambition. Nevertheless, the genius of Inception lies in its labyrinthine structure. Numerous stories/interpretations could be implied from the layers of Freudian and Jungian imagery piled on top of the heist-movie genre trappings. Much like Lost, there was more than one narrative here, and viewers could choose whichever they thought was most applicable. Such confidence in the audience’s ability to unpick a knot like this is rare enough, but to present it at the height of the summer season – a period traditionally dismissed as an intellectual dead zone by sneering cultural commentators – amounts to a statement of intent: this filmmaker is trying to single-handedly restore cinema’s confidence in itself, and justify its existence as the audience finds satisfaction elsewhere. To do that he had to construct a maze: one that takes two hours to grow in our minds, but will take years to solve.
1. Black Swan
Forget 3D. Forget the inevitable future technology of thought-transference, even. What Aronofsky has achieved using little more than empathic and artistic skill is to plant our consciousness into the mind of a deeply troubled woman: we see and hear everything she does, and slowly our grasp on reality falls apart at the same time as hers. The willing members of the audience — who allow Aronofsky’s hypnotic magic work on them — will find themselves trapped in their seats, bombarded with unreliable imagery and noise, forced to question everything they see and driven to a state of delirious euphoria. The intensity of the director’s vision has proved too much for some viewers, and caused some cineastes to cry “foul” as they denounce the movie for being “overwrought”. As if this is a bad thing. This tribute to the power of art to transform both creator and audience is exactly as heightened as it needs to be. Watching it is to experience the feeling of creating a new idea or to master an artform, with all of the emotional turmoil that that entails. Technically it is impressive: Matthew Libatique’s raw photography, Clint Mansell’s overwhelming score and the ingenious sound design by Craig Henighan create a claustrophobic atmosphere of inescapable hysteria, but it’s the emotional charge supplied by Natalie Portman’s performance that pushes this movie to the top of the list. Her total commitment to the project is the key to its success: Black Swan would be movie of the year just for her heart-wrenching turn.
Archipelago: Joanna Hogg’s beautifully observed and played drama about a middle class family riven with discord is heavily loaded with almost unbearable British reserve. It’s as uncommunicative as its protagonists, but says much more about class issues and familial strife than any histrionics ever could.
The Town: A muscular action flick directed with consummate skill by the great Ben Affleck, stepping in front of his own camera to give a career-best performance alongside a similarly great cast of Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper and Jon Hamm.
Summer Wars: Mamoru Hosoda’s sci-fi movie about a family battling against a rampant AI is primarily about how the history of a warrior clan can be revisited in modern trappings, but it also struck me as a love letter to the Internet and its greatest asset: the people who populate it and defend it from marauding forces. It’s also a feast for the eyes.
Unstoppable: The traditional visual blow-out of Tony Scott remains a constant eye-sore throughout this pared-down action thriller, but this is still his best-paced film in an age, and his best overall movie since Crimson Tide. There may not be much to it, but what more do you need? It’s an runaway train! And Denzel has to stop it! Magic.
Amigo: What could have been a dry piece of historical fiction is instead both a vibrant celebration of humanity’s empathy and harsh depiction of its worst and most paranoid instincts, as the occupation of a baryo in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War flirts with success before disaster. A great cast; a great — and compassionate — movie.
Best Documentary: Tabloid
Errol Morris succeeds again with the wonderfully tawdry story of Joyce McKinney and The Case of the Manacled Mormon, which was a huge deal in tabloid newspaper culture last century. Timely points are made about how journalism can ruin lives, and how opportunistic individuals can make a living from turning their troubles into a kind of performance for the masses, but most of all it’s just a massively entertaining tale, filled with oddballs, twists and humour.
Best Fiction / Non-Fiction Hybrid: Self Made
Gillian Wearing’s feature debut is like nothing else out there, a pleasantly discombobulating method-acting experiment using non-actors. She plays with what fiction is expected to do, and how our response to it is tied up in our knowledge of the individuals involved in the making of it, while at the same time using her acting exercises as a tool to unwrap the thought-processes of her volunteers. It could have been a navel-gazing exercise, but Wearing is too smart and empathic for that. What she has woven is far deeper than some dry documentary, and more emotionally involving. It’s cathartic for those involved, and maybe for the viewer too.
Still to come: worst movies of the year, and my pick of the best performances, best crew contributions, and best miscellaneous gubbins.