By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Every four years, the American people act en masse to send a message to the nation's power brokers, and every four years this vote is interpreted as a sign of the decline in taste, intelligence and moral rectitude of the populace. Every four years, a Jackass movie opens at No. 1.
I'm not too worried that the continued success of Jackass (which offered me the closest thing to pure escapist pleasure I found on the job this year) is a sign that we're getting stupider. However, I do sort of wonder if the massive success of Inception is a sign that we're getting stupider. Sold — and bought — as the year's most "intelligent" blockbuster while actually baldly insulting its audience's intelligence (to quote Andrew O'Hehir's Salon.com review, "Every time the story gets puzzling the characters call a time-out and explain it"), Inception both conquered the 2010 zeitgeist and helped define it. It was merely the biggest rendition of the year's most prevalent movie theme: How do you know that what you think is real is actually, like, really real? How do you know that you're not being fucked with?
It's a theme that manifested itself across budgetary strata and genres, popping up overtly or as subtext, in form and/or content, in everything from camcorder quasi-docs such as Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop and I'm Still Here, to big-money genre entertainments like Salt and How Do You Know, to Oscar all-but-sure-things Black Swan and The Social Network. Two of my Top 10 choices, Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer and Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, directly deal with the "real real" question, and most of the other films on my list incorporate some variety of au courant questioning, from the romantic skepticism of Everyone Else (is what seems to be love really love?) to Enter the Void's vision of afterlife as "the ultimate trip," to the full-on phantasmagoria of my No. 1 film of the year.
A few notes on the Undistributed section of the Film Poll ballot (which you can see in full at laweekly.com/filmpoll): Twice I tried and failed to see Film Socialisme with the "Navajo English" subtitles (at the Toronto film fest and AFI, it was mistakenly shown with no subtitles at all), but it's the only film I (sort of) saw this year whose lack of distribution seems like a scandal. The fact is, thanks to newish ventures in distribution (Oscilloscope Laboratories, Variance Films) and exhibition (Brooklyn's ReRun Theater), most worthy (and a lot of unworthy) films that make it to the festival circuit eventually find their way to some kind of theatrical play — at least, in New York. Films that I considered for this poll that have been distributed enough to not qualify for the Best Undistributed Film category but that remain theatrically undistributed in Los Angeles, include Audrey the Trainwreck, The New Year, Open Five, Lourdes and Making Plans for Lena. Two of my top 10 films, Dogtooth and The Red Chapel, did not open in L.A. in 2010 at all (current evidence suggests the former will, in January, and the latter likely won't at all). Steven Soderbergh's And Everything Is Going Fine, which would have made my Top 15, had a single public screening here last week. As far as what qualifies as "undistributed," we might be due for a redefinition.
Finally, to swing wildly from one end of the commercial spectrum to the other, an assessment of 2010 would be incomplete without mention of James L. Brooks' How Do You Know, which its distributor didn't screen for critics until after ballots for our poll were due. The filmmaker's most quotable feature since Broadcast News (and also his most creditably romantic), flabby and messy in a manner that marks it as uniquely Brooksian (he boldly lets certain scenes go on forever, expertly guiding their mutation from slapstick comic to deep poignancy and back again), How Do You Know steers clear of the knee-jerk clichés that are choking its genre. Its guiding influence seems to be Billy Wilder's The Apartment, up to and including a goofy yet wonderfully shaded turn from Paul Rudd in a part that could have been writtern for Jack Lemmon. Consider it No. 11 on this list; I have no doubt that it is the best studio romantic comedy of the year (a subject on which you can consider me an expert, as I reviewed most of them).
So, to count down from 10:
10. Enter the Void
Directed by Gaspar Noe
I can't fully condone Noe's trip — in my review, I called it a "mash-up of the sacred, the profane and the brain-dead," and I stand by that. But I've come to appreciate its stoner stoopidness as part of its charm. And nothing else in 2010 set off my "What the fuck am I watching?" sensor quite like it. (On DVD Jan. 25)
9. The Ghost Writer
Directed by Roman Polanski
The best Hollywood thriller Hollywood didn't make this year. (On DVD now)
8. Shutter Island
Directed by Martin Scorsese
The best Hollywood thriller Hollywood did make this year. (On DVD now)
7. Everyone Else
Directed by Maren Ade
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