Some facts, more fiction

MOVIE MANIA

Some facts, more fiction

HISTORIC Rachel Weisz in ‘Agora’

Not necessarily, I would say. Here’s how that list looks like: The Social Network, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours, Blue Valentine, The Town, The Fighter, and Black Swan. Except for Black Swan, the others seem overrated to me. Interesting films, but not great or even memorable films. (The Oscars will be fought between The Social Network and The King’s English). I had problems embracing many of these movies. Take the first three, for instance.

Inception improves with subsequent viewings, but the heart of it — the dreams deepening into more dreams — get more and more utilitarian and functional as they unfold, and then what’s the pleasure anymore in watching such prosaic dreams? These dreams are worked out carefully enough to function as the plot! Nolan leaves us with a schematic dreamworld. Must be a first in cinema: linear, logical dreams.

Most dream-obsessed filmmakers like David Lynch serve up something feverish and irrational. Nolan’s dreams are like trailers for future James Bond movies. Two things he gets perfectly: the streets of Paris turning upside down, inside-out and that McGuffin of the spinning top.  What’s so brilliant about The Social Network? How is it the defining film of the year as most critics seem to think of it? It’s like those absorbing made-for-television movies based on a true story (except the Zuckerberg-Facebook story is fictionalised more than factualised) with several talking heads, and the whiplash Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing conversation providing the arc of the drama; the stuff of its plot. I thoroughly enjoyed its talkiness and craft, but like so many David Fincher movies, we are all going to forget it next year. I mean, who remembers his Benjamin Button or Zodiac now?

And I simply didn’t buy the yuppie lesbian couple act of Annette Bening and Juliane Moore in Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right. A kind of self-conscious, cute and cloyingly American indie-movie version of a gay couple. How this mainstream, feel-good movie turned up on most critics’ list is puzzling since there are truer and better gay movies.  It has been a disappointing year in movies for Hollywood. Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island disappointed, and so did Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Even what Hollywood does well — the thriller — was done better by Euro-thrillers like The Secret in Their Eyes, Carlos, the Stig Larsson trilogy, Animal Kingdom, and Buried. Two exceptional thrillers, I thought, went underrated. Paul Greenglass’ Green Zone and Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer.

Perhaps, from a fatigue of Iraq-themed movies, audience weren’t enthusiastic enough about Green Zone, a suspenseful, engrossing political thriller. Polankski’s political thriller belongs in the top five films of the year, but most critics failed to place it up there. Intelligent, beautifully crafted — an old master finding his style and tone again.

VERSATILE Leonardo D’Caprio in ‘Inception’.2010 seems more to be the year of the documentary, followed by animation. So many to choose from, each better than the other. My choice for best doc is Inside Job, an investigative film about the recession that has the propulsive suspense and charge of a whodunit with investment bankers and right wing politicians as super villains. Each year, such list making exercise invites us to consider the good movies we missed or simply didn’t hear enough about.

These are the movies that I especially enjoy and like bringing to the attention of the Sunday Herald reader. In my personal list of the best of 2010, three animation movies feature: My Dog Tulip, The Secret of Kells and The Illusionist. These anime features couldn’t be more different from each other, but they all share this in common: iconoclastic animation, originality, and high entertainment. I know I’m going overboard with stuffing my list with so many anime features, but I admired and enjoyed them more than the widely admired live action movies of the year.

My Dog Tulip is the surprise anime of the year. Irreverent, adult, incautious and bracing — all the things animation movies aren’t supposed to be. The story of a writer and his dog and the unexpected ideal friendship that blossomed. Nothing sentimental or cute about this dog tale — this is an honest and precise record of Tulip, the dog’s life, which includes elegant, plummy Christopher Plummer voice-overs about Tulip’s excretions, and graphic scenes of Tulip in heat.  

If you’re jaded with Pixar-Disney studio-factory perfection, then The Secret of Kells, a more handcrafted, wondrous and beautiful anime, will appeal to you deeply. Among other things, it’s about the making of one of the most breathtaking illuminated manuscripts in the world. Belgian anime artist Sylvain Chomet makes too few films, and we’ve had to wait a long time ever since his last masterpiece, The Triplets of Bellville. His latest, The Illusionist, invokes another master of comic art, Jacques Tati, as this is inspired from an unproduced Tati script.

Think Charles Dickens meets Prime Suspect, and you’ll have some idea of the power and excitement of Red Riding Trilogy, three realistic, painstakingly realised British crime dramas. In fact, they were originally made for television, and then found a theatrical audience following. In a Dickensian English town, peopled with Dickensian characters, unfolds an epic tale of police corruption, serial killing and miscarriage of justice.  

One that really went under the radar was Agora — most people didn’t even hear about it. Rachel Weisz stars as Hypatia, the famous woman philosophy professor and atheist of Alexandria. The attention to detail, its ambitious theme and the sumptuous period setting set it apart from the garden variety historical drama. The movie uses the bracing story of Hypatia’s defiance of theology to also show us the origins of early Christianity’s anti-science,  anti-intellectual roots. And how an investigative spirit was actually a sacred tradition with pagan cults rather than the opposite.

After a couple of misfires, another old pro finds his stride again: Woody Allen’s new film, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (starring Freida Pinto in an ensemble role) is a delight in every way. He is able to be both dark and funny here, like he used to be with such ease in his best work. And tells a gripping story about contemporary relationships with characters and actors you really worry for, and want to watch.  
 A Prophet is the most gripping foreign film I’ve seen in years, and a fascinating thriller. A petty thief goes to prison and gradually and painfully makes his way to the top of the criminal chain operating inside. Jacques Audiard’s French thriller has gritty precision, mesmerising acting and brutally powerful scenes. 

 Making a ten best film list is a year-end game all of us like to indulge in. We forget sometimes that these lists are personal — a kind of conversation about the movies we liked and hated, when personal taste mingles and clashes with critical perceptions.

We can only hope that the movies we found seductive and compelling resonate with fellow cinephiles, family members and friends. And if they don’t — then at least provoke an entertaining, feisty conversation about why they didn’t. 

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