Contempt (Godard, 1963)
Titus (Taymor, 1999)
Amer - (Dir. Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani, 2009)
Pulling from the likes of Argento, Polanski and the giallo genre, Amer is an astonishingly well-crafted sexual thriller and a near-perfect exercise in the power of the male gaze. Separated into three distinct acts, Amer pieces together snapshots of Ana’s life, as she stumbles upon her parents having rough sex (rape is a word that you could come very close to using) and, as a teenager, deals with the outgoing sexuality of her mother and her own blossoming beauty. What makes Amer so powerful is that every scene seems to be a collection of sensations. We feel the wind blowing Ana’s skirt in the cab, and shrink with horror as a shrouded figure encloses Ana within her dark fabric. These sensations don’t always connect, especially in the third act, but for the most part, Amer is a tense and beautifully shot film that isn’t afraid to flaunt and bend its numerous genre influences. B+
George Washington - (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2000)
Heartbreaking, yet strangely uplifting, Green’s film serves as a ode to lost innocence and the ongoing attempt to retain it. This struggle is imitated by the landscape, where George, donning a cape and helmet (to protect his soft skull), plays with his friends in grungy bathrooms and abandoned train yards. Still, these are kids we believe in, as they begin to carve their own stories out of their surroundings. They are full of ambition and hope, yet are constantly undercut by tragedy and a deep internal doubt. Green knows when to be frenetic with is direction, just as he knows when to be patient and still. Every scene and conversation in George Washington has the aching sting of reality, which make all attempts at triumph and the looming sense of failure all the more devastating. A
In The Loop - (Dir. Armando Iannucci, 2009)
I will flat out say that this was the funniest movie of 2009. Poignant, vulgar, scathing and wacky, In The Loop fires on all cylinders for the entire 100 minutes. Throw out the name of any actor in this film and you have a terrific, spot-on performance. Peter Capaldi, James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, Chris Addison, Mimi Kennedy and Anna Chlumsky, just to name a few, all turn in hilariously committed performances. This is a film that doesn’t shy away from its political satire, and the result is a strikingly grim, dark and laugh-out-loud look at US and UK politics. A-
Exit Through The Gift Shop - Directed by Banksy
Equal parts provocateur and auteur, Banksy’s street-art documentary stole a lot of the “is it real?” limelight from the likes of I’m Still Here and Catfish. Hoax or not (definitely a hoax, in my mind), Banksy’s film is more than just the exploitation cinema some have painted it to be. By turning the camera on his own documentarian, the suddenly commercial artist Mr. Brainwash, Banksy doesn’t just take a shot at commercial art, but at his own creative output. The entire film contemplates the idea or art and, more specifically, the rebellious nature of street-art. Banksy’s own art was destined to cross the line (if such a line exists) between ballsy satire and commercial appeal. Exit Through the Gift Shop isn’t about cutting down Mr. Brainwash, and it isn’t about creating a higher-profile for the street-art community. It’s about the struggle of the artists to stay both relevant and critical in a time when fads come and go in the blink of an eye, and when revolution is passively defined by a Che Guevara t-shirt.
Winter’s Bone - Directed by Debra Granik
Not only is Granik’s film one of the most tense and expertly constructed films of the year, it features some of the finest performances of 2010. Jennifer Lawrence is superb as Ree Dolly, the daughter of a known (and possibly dead) drug dealer, who left her and the family with very little to live on. As Ree navigates the foreign, vast terrain and the close-knit relationships it retains, we see her not just as a child with the burden of responsibility, but a strong and determined woman who just wants to do right by her family. Dale Dickey turns in a great performance as the hardened wife of a criminal, and John Hawkes is both menacing and compassionate as Teardrop Dolly. Winter’s Bone relies as much on its setting as it does on its characters. It feels like American land, but it looks like a corner of forgotten and lost hope, where Americana has been abandoned or dismissed as mere myth.
Greenberg - Directed by Noah Baumbach
Stiller’s Greenberg is an awkward, snobby, socially deficient shell of a man looking to pick his life up and start all over again. When he “house-sits” for his brother and his family when they are on vacation, he ends up falling for his brother’s assistant Florence Marr (played with more fantastic awkwardness by Great Gerwig). What ensues is the farthest thing from your average romantic comedy, and from your average Ben Stiller comedy. Greenberg is charming and distasteful all at once, and his back-and-forth relationship with Florence is one we can only halfheartedly cheer for, as we’re not sure whether they should even end up together. Uncomfortable scenes of dialogue and oral sex punctuate an overall theme of isolation and purpose. Both Greenberg and Florence just want to find their places in the world, and with any luck, share that place with someone else. All of this culminates in one of the most memorable and emotional final shots of any film in 2010. Intelligent and charming, Greenberg is one of the funniest and most heartfelt movies of the year.
The Killer Inside Me - Directed by MIchael Winterbottom
After some very solid performances in Gone Baby Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Casey Affleck really knocks it out of the park as the sadistic, power-hungry sheriff from Jim Thompson’s notorious pulp novel. Asked to run prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) out of town, Lou Ford (Affleck) finds himself fervently attracted to her, thought not in any Nicholas Sparks kind of way. Ford is a man of repressed anger and sexuality, constantly burdened by the austere nature of his job. With a total disconnect behind his eyes, Ford brutally beats and rapes Lakeland as if he was just doing some mundane household chores. Winterbottom cuts and edits every scene with a certain grace, pacing his film near-perfectly; an ominous slow-burn that constantly blurs the lines between madness, morality, violence, sexuality and justice. What makes the film and Affleck’s performance so striking and frightening is the total lack of provocation. Ford isn’t a man looking for revenge or haunted by a traumatic childhood. He is just a mentally unstable man in a position of power, creating a constantly looming threat of madness. The Killer Inside Me is a captivating genre film, steeped in noir and western tropes and propelled by Affleck’s haunting, fearless performance.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Lumet, 2007)