Top 20 Films (And The Bottom 6) Of 2010

FilmBuff Online contributing writer Michael McGonigle is the film lecturer for the Philadelphia Museum of Art and sees a lot of films. Here is his of some of the best and a few of the worst films of 2010. Some of the titles may surprise you.

1. A Town Called Panic

Somewhere in a candy colored, weirdly angled village in Belgium, three roommates live congenially in a house.  Cowboy and Indian are excitable and childlike, but the sober, smart Horse keeps them in check.  Still, it is Horse’s birthday and Cowboy and Indian decide it would be nice to build Horse a brick BBQ for his present.  Going on line to order the 50 bricks needed, they accidentally order several million bricks when the zero key jams on them unnoticed.  What do you do with the extra bricks so Horse won’t notice?  Well, you hide them on the roof.  What do you do when the weight of the bricks collapses the house?  How do you handle snowball throwing giant penguins?  It’s just one thing after another in his brilliantly minimal animated film that is weird, funny and contains more eye-popping effects than Avatar.  And the characters look more realistic too.  My favorite is Steven the most irascible neighbor who ever lived, who has a farm across the road from Horse, Cowboy and Indian.  This indescribable comedy from Belgian filmmakers Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar is exactly the kind of film that should be on most “Best Films Of The Year” lists, but almost never is.  A Town Called Panic is well made, thematically intriguing, and gut-bustingly funny.

2.   All Good Things

I don’t know why this film didn’t get a better critical or box office reception than it did.  It has one of Ryan Gosling’s best performances, a labyrinthine plot (based on a true story) that deals with familial conflict, illegal real estate dealings in New York City and the possible murder of a society wife and the definite murder of several other people.  Just when I thought I had All Good Things figured out, it changed up and my jaw dropped to the floor.  With Kirsten Dunst as the society wife and good old Philip Baker Hall in one of the best roles of his career, toss three Steely Dan songs into the score and I was totally happy.  The real mystery is why this film didn’t get more attention.

3.   Animal Kingdom

This astounding Australian crime film takes the notorious revenge/execution murder of two young Melbourne policemen in 1988 as its base and then writer/director David Michod delivers us a film for the ages.  By focusing on character and the inter-relations of this creepy family responsible for the cop-killings, Michod and cast show us a truly demented crime family, but like other mythically dysfunctional families, we can’t help watching.  Animal Kingdom is moody, stylized, full of visual and sonic surprises and contains some of the most shocking violence this side of a Martin Scorsese film.  With Joel Edgerton as the only sane family member whose murder by the police sets the whole revenge/assassination dominoes falling and Ben Mendelsohn as the really crazy brother who does more with simple stillness to terrify you than most actors can do with exaggerated movements.  James Frecheville is our guide, a wide eyed innocent thrust into this lions den, Guy Pearce is one of the detectives, but not necessarily one of the good guys and Australian stage and TV actress (and current Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee) Jacki Weaver nearly steals the film as the most disarmingly brutal Mom you’ve ever met.  But, like any good mother, she loves her boys to death. . .yours I mean.  Available on DVD.

4.   Babies

This film was widely hated by critics and the pithiest put-down came from a local colleague of mine who said (I paraphrase) “Babies is a screensaver, not a movie”.  I disagree.  For me, Babies was the biggest surprise of the year.  Folks who know me, know that a baby held up to my face is more likely to get bitten than kissed.  That said, watching Babies was enthralling.  I admired the tough choices made by French filmmaker Thomas Balmes who eschewed all voice over narration and explanations of baby development to simply show us four babies (Hattie, Ponijao, Mari, Bayarjagal) in four parts of the world (San Francisco, Namibia, Tokyo, Mongolia) as they lived through their first year of life.  The epiphanies were amazing.  Watching Ponijao discover her foot, wow, what’s that?  Can I get it into my mouth?  Mari trying to put a plastic ring on a round pole and upon failing ending up in a complete crying jag of frustration at the technical world.  Hey Mari, just wait till you get to computers!  But it is when Bayarjagal at age one, who has been struggling to walk, finally steps up to the top of a small hill on the wind swept plains of Mongolia and stands against the bracing wind on his own two feet and smiles brightly, at that moment, I never felt so proud to be a human being!  There is no special effect in Inception nor imaginary vista in Avatar more intoxicating than this moment from Babies. Available on DVD.

5. Casino Jack And The United States Of Money

Alex Gibney’s doco about Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist/douchebag who used mob style money tactics to help finance a conservative revolution and to line his own pockets as well is one of the most jaw dropping films of the year.  Jack Abramoff is a pure example of capitalism’s downside, with none of its positive attributes.  Seriously, what did Abramoff ever do besides make money?  Did he create any new products?  Create any new industries or jobs?  Did he ever help anyone other than himself and his rich corrupt friends?  There is great joy in watching this strutting ass tumble from his own greed and arrogant stupidity, and stupidity is the key word here.  Jack Abramoff was not some idealistic guy who went to Washington to help change the world, who then got corrupted by D.C. culture.  No, Abramoff was already a selfish and corrupt jerk when he arrived.   He was never more than a thuggish manipulator who saw that he could make a lot of money with the limited skills he possessed and that was that.  He never did anything for his fellow citizens and if anything good ever came from his tenure in Washington, it can only be described as collateral damage.  Director Alex Gibney presents this story with great sonic and visual flair and what could have been a dry expose of a scumbag becomes a consistently entertaining film about a scumbag.  And no, I am not being harsh.  Available on DVD.

6.   Catfish

A lot of people were confused by Catfish.  Was it a documentary or a hoax?  Did the events depicted really happen?  I believe they did and that the filmmakers took various liberties with the truth to make their story more effective dramatically, which is exactly what every filmmaker does with every film, so why the critics were so parsimonious with credit towards directors Henry Joost, Yaniv and Ariel Schulman is beyond me.  Maybe because most people missed the real story of Catfish.  Without giving too much away, New York filmmaker Yaniv Schulman (Nev) develops a long distance relationship with a young woman in Michigan on-line and in a stupid move, drives out to see her only to discover she was not at all how she represented herself on Facebook.  Then, when Catfish could have turned angry and resentful, it became powerfully human and turned into one of the most profound and uplifting films of 2010, but profound and uplifting in the good way, not the Ron Howard/Steven Spielberg mushy way.  Ideally, it’s best to see Catfish without knowing too much about it to retain the genuine surprises; many films promise surprises, Catfish delivers.  Available on DVD.

7. Exit Through The Gift Shop

Another documentary that fooled audiences.  Was this real, or was this a joke?  Exactly who is this “Banksy” and is he a real person?  Is Thierry Guetta?  It’s very hard to get people to see this film because the first question they ask is the one that is almost impossible to answer; “What’s the film about?”  Even a simple description leads you into abstruse film theory.  I can’t call Exit Through The Gift Shop fiction, but if I say it’s a documentary, people automatically expect that everything they are being told is the truth.  Oh well, here goes, a French immigrant to Los Angeles began to document all the various street artists he liked as well as the graffiti artists who would tag all kinds of structures and walls often one step ahead of the police.  After years of accumulated footage, Banksy, a noted street artist from Britain wanted to put the footage together into a coherent film, but by then Thierry Guetta began to think that he could do street art as well so he sets out to have his own art show in an unused TV studio in downtown Los Angeles where all the elite people came to praise this guys crappy, derivative art.  Is Exit Through The Gift Shop a spoof on critics who can’t tell good art from crap?  Does it ridicule the rich who buy this dull art because it’s currently fashionable and they have more money than brains?  Does it even matter?  All in all, this is just prankster Banksy’s joke on the art world, but Exit Through The Gift Shop is nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary.  Will Banksy show up at the Oscars?  I think he will, but we won’t know it.  Available on DVD.

8. Farewell

Christian Carion’s film about a Russian translator for the KGB who gives a French diplomat important secrets that show how the KGB has infiltrated the US intelligence service is well made, intelligent and exciting.  Director Carion is able to master the alchemy of mixing major political themes with intimate familial themes without seeming pretentious.  To describe the plot too much would give away many of the films pleasures, but there are a few great moments, one of my favorites has Kusturica’s moody teenage son standing on a picnic table in the woods listening to the forbidden music of Queen while he struts like Freddie Mercury.  This scene underlies the reality that it was soft power that ultimately undid the Soviet Union far more than any nuclear weapons build-up or Star Wars.  Farewell also has Fred Ward as Ronald Reagan, complete with his feeble minded rictus, obsessing on the old western movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance when he should have been paying more attention to affairs of state.  Why do I have no trouble believing that?  There is a great tenseness to the film that comes from hidden motives and since Canet is such an inexperienced spy (he is truly out of his league) he is ironically, very successful.  Sometimes, having no idea what you are doing can lead to success.  Guillaume Canet and Emir Kusturica, normally directors, play the lead roles here and they are both excellent.  One of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this year.

9.   I Am Love

Director Luca Guadagnino has created a film as sensual as any I have seen.  The lighting, the camerawork, the costumes, the sets, the music all work to create a mood of restrained opulence for the members of this wealthy industrial family from Milan.  But the cool placid exteriors cannot hide the passions burning within various members of this tribe and when outsiders breach the chateau walls, well hold on.  The great Tilda Swinton leads a cast of Italian actors and every performance is delightful.  Swinton plays a Russian émigré to Italy by way of marriage and yet there is something about her aloofness that is alluring.  So much so, she finds herself engaging in a completely inappropriate relationship with a much younger chef friend of her son’s that turns I Am Love from a cool film about adult relationships into a hot and passionate film about adult relationships.  Available on DVD.

10.   Lebanon

On the first day of the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, we find ourselves in an Israeli tank with a young crew and here is where we stay.  Writer/director Samuel Moaz served in a tank during this conflict and Lebanon has the ring of truth to it although, to be honest, I have never been inside a tank.  The film makes us believe that everything the tank crew knows about the outside world is gotten through the radio, viewed through their gun sights and portholes or told to them by the surprising number of visitors who literally drop into their space from above.  Are they safe in the tank?  Can they trust what they are hearing about the outside world?  This film has been called Das Boot in a tank, but that is unimaginative and incorrect.   Assi the tank commander is indecisive, Hertzel, the ordnance loader never heard an order he wouldn’t argue with, Shmulik, the gunner has never fired at anything other than stationary barrels and Yigal the driver is more prone to call for his Mom in a tense situation than respond to commands from Assi.  Das Boot this ain’t.  But it is one of the most frightening, terrifying depictions of war ever put on screen.  Considering we only see what the tank crew sees, the visual variety is astounding and the sound design of this film is knockout!  Believe me, you need to know nothing about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to understand this film.  Lebanon is very powerful and I have seen people leave the theatre genuinely shaken.  Available on DVD.

11.   Mid-August Lunch

Gianni, a middle aged man who lives with his demanding mother in Rome and drinks way too much white wine is in a bind.  His funds are drying up and he owes his landlord money.  A solution appears when the landlord is willing to forgive the debt if Gianni will watch his disagreeable mother for a mid-August vacation when everyone leaves Rome.  Before Gianni knows it, he is saddled with several other old ladies dumped on him by their families so they can go on vacation.  From this unpromising idea springs one of the most delightful and funniest films of the year.  Not a laugh out loud comedy, but a film of gentle observations on aging and life and good Italian food.  I was thoroughly charmed from beginning to end and I remember more impressive visuals from Mid-August Lunch than anything from Inception.  Available on DVD.

12.   Patrik, Age 1.5

A gay couple in Sweden wants to adopt an infant child. Goran is a mild mannered doctor at a public health clinic and Sven is a former hard partying night owl, settled down to an advertising job.  After many interviews and much paperwork, they are approved and the orphaned infant named Patrik, age 1.5 years will soon have two daddies.  However, due to a misplaced decimal point, what Goran and Sven get is a sullen 15 year old Patrik, who has a criminal record, is definitely homophobic and is decidedly not a baby.  This film could go wrong in so many ways and the miracle is that it doesn’t.  Directed by Ella Lenhagen, Patrik, Age 1.5 is a well-written drama with humor, but the humor is not at the expense of the characters.  Foster care and orphan placement are difficult issues and not even the Swedes blithely toss infants to gay couples without strict guidelines.  This is partly why Patrik has remained in foster care for so long and escapes custody whenever he has a chance.  Yet, as we slowly break through Patrik’s shell, we see the years of neglect and parental abuse he endured and the long stretches he spent homeless sleeping in doorways, so we come to understand his wariness about getting close to anyone.  Likewise, Goran and Sven are not a perfect couple either and this adoption really tests their relationship.  I was surprised by how serious and moving this story was and thoroughly impressed by the entire cast.  But if you’re expecting wacky hijinx like on a bad sit-com, you will be disappointed, otherwise, see Patrik, Age 1.5 as soon as you can.  Available on DVD.

13.  Please Give

While everyone is praising The Kids Are All Right (a fine film) I would like to remind you of another film about upscale people trying to negotiate their way through life and still try and do the right thing.  Yes, writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s comedy Please Give is every bit as deserving of praise as The Kids Are All Right and maybe more so.  In Please Give, Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt are a married couple who own an upscale furniture shop in Manhattan.  They buy furniture cheap from estate sales and then jack up the price to astronomic heights to sell too the less knowledgeable clients who come to their showroom.  This causes Keener a lot of guilt and she acts out on this guilt by giving large denominations of money to the homeless.  On top of this, they live in a live flat in a building next door to an old lady played by Ann Guilbert who they are waiting to die so they can expand their apartment into hers, but she’s tenacious about living.  Rebecca Hall plays the neurotic grand daughter of the old lady, Amanda Peet is Keener’s obnoxious sister and Thomas Ian Nichols is the nice young man (although he’s very short) who dates Hall.  Please Give is a comedy about modern life that deserved far more attention that it received.

14. Red Riding Trilogy

If you love complex mystery stories like I do, then you must see the Red Riding Trilogy.  Based on a series of crime novels by David Pearce about police corruption, serial killings and child abductions in the West Riding section of Yorkshire, England, this series of three films, each taking place in a different year 1974, 1980 and 1983 will keep you shocked, scared and intrigued throughout its length.  Each film has a screenplay by Tony Grisoni and despite a different director, cinematographer and production designer for each production, visually, all three films look alike.  I guess there are only just so many ways to film cloudy, rainy, dreary northern weather.  But it’s the performances of the actors that make Red Riding Trilogy a stand out.  Andrew Garfield, Paddy Considine and Mark Addy are respectively great with Warren Clarke, Sean Bean, Rebecca Hall, David Morrissey and Peter Mullan as the scariest, helpful priest you ever met.  This is a series of films guaranteed to give you nightmares.  Available on DVD.

15. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I had no real expectations when I went to see this film.  I had liked Edgar Wright’s previous films Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, but I thought the antics of those films might have been more due to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.  Also, while I like Michael Cera, there is something about his effeminate wimpishness that I wasn’t sure would work in a leading role.  But boy, was I wrong!  Not only did Edgar Wright keep Scott Pilgrim moving fast, it was because of Michael Cera’s delicacy that he came across so strong.  Reading over that last sentence, I know it sounds confusing, but trust me, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World will have you laughing out loud.  Cera is Scott Pilgrim, our long-suffering hero constantly worried about his hair looking goofy.  When he meets the perfect girl, he finds he has to battle her seven evil ex-boyfriends to get her.  Why?  Who knows?  He just has to, and each boyfriend is a comic masterpiece from Brandon Routh’s militant punk vegetarian, to Chris Evans obnoxious Hollywood action star to Jason Schwartzman’s odious twerp of a music producer.  Yet underneath all of this is the adult realization that once you’ve fought all these battles, is the prize really worth it?  A special shout out to Kieran Culkin as Scott Pilgrims’s very funny gay roommate.  Available on DVD.

16. Toy Story 3

Most times, the third sequel in a popular series is often just a recycling of the bad ideas rejected for the previous two films.  But with Toy Story 3, (with one exception), the writers and filmmakers have not only found new directions to take the toy characters, but were able to incorporate a whole comic/horror subtext into the proceedings without scaring away the primary audience, which is adults who will pay for their kids to see the film.  Maybe it’s because I had just finished reading Anne Applebaum’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Gulag: A History that the similarities between the Sunnyside Daycare Center where our toy heroes wind up and a Soviet work camp were just to close to ignore.  Everything from the resetting of Buzz Lightyear’s programming, to the fashion conscious Ken to Mr. Potato-Head becoming the flat Mr. Tortilla-Head, the inventiveness and creativity in Toy Story 3 was astounding.  The emotional high point was when all our toy heroes look like they’re about to be incinerated with no hope of salvation and as they accept this end, they hold each others hands for strength only to be saved by the claw!  The follow-up scenes with the college bound Andy making sure his beloved toys have a good home was just filler that seemed to dissipate the previous emotional high.  Still, I saw more people leave the theater in tears after watching Toy Story 3 than any other film this year.  Available on DVD.

17. True Grit

I find it gratifying that so many people have said to me, “I loved True Grit and I normally hate westerns”.  When people say they hate westerns, what they usually mean is they hate all the bad western TV programs they saw on TV when they were young.  This Coen Brothers re-working of the Charles Portis novel is light-years removed from the family friendly True Grit that John Wayne starred in way back in 1969.  In true Coen Brother fashion, it’s the language they find fascinating and the overly formal speaking style of the characters sans use of contractions was of unending fascination to me.  Add to that the Coen Brothers penchant for odd visuals like the man hung way high up in the tree and the bizarre, eerie nighttime ride made by Rooster Cogburn to take young Mattie Ross to a doctor, which kills the horse they are using.  Toss in a creative use of sound and another excellent score by Carter Burwell and you have a solid, classically styled film that is the most mainstream movie the Coen Brothers have ever made, but it’s still identifiably Coen-esque.  All the actors deserve praise, but I’d like to mention Barry Pepper as Lucky Ned Pepper the boss of the bad guys, Dakin Matthews as the horse trader who gets out-traded by Mattie Ross (Haliee Steinfeld) and Josh Brolin as the main villain Tom Chaney who manages to be both scary and pathetic at the same time, like Hannibal Lector crossed with Boo Radley.

18.   Twilight: Eclipse

I like the Twilight films.  I’m not a tween girl so when people hear me say this, they laugh.  But people also laughed at Columbus and Einstein, albeit for different reasons.  As much as I enjoyed the first Twilight film, I think three times the charm and Twilight: Eclipse is the one.  The actors are more comfortable in their roles, the filmmakers have codified the style of the films, much the same way that Goldfinger, the third James Bond film is often cited as the best in that series, all the stylistic elements that make up the Twilight films have reached a unified level of perfection that is perfect for the stories these films tell.  And what stories they are!  Exciting, romantic, dramatic, surprising, everything the Lord Of The Rings movies weren’t and everybody praised them (undeservedly, I think). Robert Pattinson continues to amaze me with his portrayal of Edward Cullen, a role that could so easily defeat a less talented actor.  I do admit, there are times when Taylor Lautner as the wolfish Jacob sometimes looks like a harmless puppy-dog, but then a hardness falls over his eyes and you can easily believe he’s a killer.  Twilight: Eclipse has one of the most emotional and inventive marriage proposal scenes in film history and the freezing night in the tent on the mountaintop with Jacob, Bella and Edward is a robust and arousing scene of lust, yearning and downright funny double entendres, it should become a classic.  On top of it all, you have Howard Shore providing one of the best music scores of the year.  What can I say, I love this movie and I am not even remotely embarrassed to say so.  Available on DVD.

19.  Unstoppable

I have never made any bones about the fact I love a good action/disaster film.  When they are well made, they are one of the best cinematic highs imaginable and Unstoppable is very well made.  Due to a dumb error on the part of a railroad yardman, a freight train carrying some hazardous material gets loose and becomes a runaway.  Few man made vehicles have the kind of mass and terrifying weight as a freight train and if one is hurtling uncontrolled, there is little there can be done to stop it.  Regular guy engineer Denzel Washington, a railroad veteran and his newbie assistant played by Chris Pine make it their job to try and stop this train before it can do real damage.  They do it not because they are especially brave, but because they have the skills and knowledge to do it and like firemen walking into burning buildings or sewer workers walking into hazardous subterranean caverns, if they don’t do it, no one else will.  I like the way director Tony Scott (not one of my favorites) ramps up the tension by making their early failures to stop the train both believable and suspenseful.  Yet, one of the best characters in the film is the train itself.  It has the implacable demeanor of a Terminator and far more power.  It also makes some of the best groaning and grinding power sounds I’ve heard from a non-living character ever.  With a great underrated score by Harry Gregson-Williams and more than one narrative surprise, Unstoppable proves that a finely made formula film can still be one of the best of the year.

20.   Winter’s Bone

Oscar nominated for Best Actress, young Jennifer Lawrence stars in Winter’s Bone as Ree, a young girl trying to find her Daddy so the family won’t forfeit their house which has been put up as a guarantee of his showing up in court for drug charges.  But Ree’s search takes her through the most unsavory of back-woods meth dealers and cookers and their wives and families and danger is everywhere.  Winter’s Bone has taken a “Film Noir” style plot and transplanted it deep into tarnation country and the result is a hybrid film that knocked my socks off.  Along with Lawrence, there is the Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominated John Hawkes as Teardrop, one of the scariest characters you’ll ever met.  Director/Co-Writer Deborah Granik has made a crime film with one of the best young heroines I have ever seen in a movie.  This film is a must see.  Available on DVD.


1. Biutiful

For me, the disappointment started from the beginning with the dead owl and that guy saying that owls spit out a fur ball when they die.  Well, owls do that when they are alive too, it’s how they get rid of waste they can’t digest properly.  There is no significance in them doing it when they are dead.  What’s with the souls of the dead people unable to pass through ceilings?  This is going to be a surprise to the hardcore Christians.  If they are indoors when the “Rapture” comes, instead of ascending to Heaven they’re just going to bounce off the ceiling like boiled atoms.  Why does Bardem have the power to talk with the dead?  If I had that power, I wouldn’t waste my time talking to dead immigrant workers, I’d have some questions for say, Ben Franklin or Albert Einstein.  Biutiful is lachrymose, dull and completely pointless  Did Bardem get his Oscar Nomination for simply walking around peeing everywhere?  My dog does that.  One final note, Javier Bardem was sick and dying in The Sea Inside.  He was sick and dying in Before Night Falls.  He was sick and dying in Biutiful.  When did Javier Bardem turn into Susan Hayward?

2. Coco & Igor

What went wrong here?  After a great opening showing the première performance of The Rite Of Spring which supposedly had polite upper class Parisian audiences fighting each other in the seats, we move on to a meandering tale of the relationship between clothing designer Coco Chanel and composer Igor Stravinsky that is as dull and pointless as any film relationship I have ever seen.  I hoped to learn something about these two very different geniuses, each exceptional in their own field of endeavor, but I left the film actually knowing less about Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel than when I entered.  I don’t know how that was possible.  The film seemed to say they were both incomplete people who needed each other to be a complete whole.  That sounds like a bunch of crap to me.

3. Greenberg

This is the story of an insufferable jerk.  A neurotic loser who is also a complete asshole played all too believably by Ben Stiller.  I don’t want to say, “who cares” about the Greenberg character, but as I was watching the film, I kept asking myself, who cares about this character?  I don’t think a character has to be nice or good to be watchable, goodness knows, Tony Montana, Randall Patrick McMurphy and even the numbskull Jerry Lundegaard from Fargo are all not nice people, but at least they are fascinating characters and watching what they were going to do or say next was part of the fun in movies as diverse as Scarface, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and FargoGreenberg was simply no fun.  Yet, with Rhys Ifans and Catherine Keener, it should have been.

4. Green Zone

Take a notable book about a deeply ironic story from the unintentionally surreal Iraq War, add a major movie star Matt Damon, fold in Paul Greengrass, an Oscar nominated director with both art house cred (United 93) and action movie chops (The Jason Bourne films) and what could go wrong?  Well, actually, all of the above.  The Green Zone is a movie that makes you smack your head and ask, ‘What were they thinking?”  The complex manipulation of intelligence by the Bush administration to make it seem like Saddam Hussein had WMDs and the use of that false data to justify an invasion of another country defies easy explication, at least in movie terms.  Also, no matter how much good Ol’ Beantown boy Matt Damon tries to be just “one of the guys”, face it, you’re a movie star, so get used to it.  Don’t worry, none of us feel too sorry for you, now that you’ve made it, so you could at least act like a star.  Finally, director Paul Greengrass has been fracturing shots into smaller and smaller increments with each passing film, and the shakiness of the shots has increased as well.  Has Greengrass decided that tripods are a 19th century technology that shouldn’t be used anymore?  The Green Zone takes Paul Greengrass to the logical conclusion of his process and at the finale of the film, there is a long incoherent chase sequence, filmed with a shaky camera in the mish-mash of back alleys and unnamed streets of Baghdad, at night, with night vision equipment where I defy anyone to tell me who is where at any given moment.  The sad part is, this does not appear to be honest incompetence.  It appears to be active artistic lunacy.  If Greengrass wanted to create a sense of disassociation and confusion in this micro event to mirror the disassociation an confusion on a macro level, he failed.  The sequence is a mess.  Except for John Powell’s wonderfully minimal, yet evocative score, there isn’t much to recommend The Green Zone.

5. Hereafter

Another year, another Eastwood film on my worst list.  Initially, I felt this film was so bland and non-offensive, I was simply not going to mention it.  It would have to have actually done something to get on my worst of the year list, but as I thought about the film and its three part structure all leading to a grand and predictable dénouement and then considered what it was saying or more precisely how it was saying it, Hereafter got me angry.  It’s visually clumsy and the story is muddled; the performances were good and the tsunami scene in the beginning was awesome, but after that presenting the hereafter as bright lights swooping through a tunnel out of focus with little alien like creatures to greet you is insulting.  Is that the best you can come up with?  You know Clint, don’t try to tackle deeper themes that look at the puzzles of human existence or consider existential questions when you are clearly not up to the task.  I like you Clint and I have always enjoyed your films as an actor, but as a director, you generally suck.  Your ratio of good films to awful films is not very good and I am very dismayed by the fact that you have shown little or no growth as a director over 35 or more films.  You’re good with actors, but you can’t select a story to save your life, your visualization is clumsy at best and you just seem to be a sloppy filmmaker.  You know, it is permissible to go beyond two takes.

6. Never Let Me Go

I was looking forward to this film.  I liked the actors (perky Carey Mulligan, sultry Kiera Knightly, adorable Andrew Garfield) and it was based on a book by Kazuo Ishiguro, a well regarded contemporary writer; what could go wrong?  Plenty.  First there is no suspense in the film.  We are verbally told within the first 15 minutes what the grand secret of the story is, that these kids are being raised solely for organ transplant use.  Director Mark Romanek visually shows us the whole character denouement in the first scene when a scared and skinny Andrew Garfield gets wheeled into an operating room to have his last remaining organs harvested under the watchful eye of Carey Mulligan, the woman who ostensibly loves him.  Jeez, imagine what might have happened if she hated him!  And these spare-part kids are so passive about this, it almost seems like they WANT to be carved up like Christmas turkeys!  I was reminded of the 2005 film The Island starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson from bombastic director Michael Bay which also told the story of young people being raised as unknowing organ donors.  But those kids didn’t accept their fate, they rebelled and escaped from their captivity which lead to exciting chase sequences, imaginative fights, hair-breadth escapes and several dramatic plot twists.  Therefore, I am now going to say six words that have never before been uttered in the history of film criticism; between Never Let Me Go and The IslandMICHAEL BAY MADE THE BETTER FILM!

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