Favourites of 2010: Film

December 14, 2010

It’s that time of year again. Over the next few weeks I’ll be making a series of posts on my favourite movies, music, and books of 2010. As always, comments are welcome.

Opportunities to see films were few and far between this year, but that need not prevent, and has not prevented, my writing about the best of those that I did see.

Crazy Heart
This is actually from 2009, but I only caught up with it this year. Jeff Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country music singer whose star has faded. He travels the bar circuit, alone, playing to small audiences, and finding his comfort where he can — mostly from a bottle. He is a wreck, headed straight for the bottom. En route, his down-and-out spiral brings him across the path of a young woman, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and this encounter works a slow but decisive transformation. In the end, it is a story about the power of love to rescue souls from destruction. Wisely, given that potentially sentimental theme, the film is hard-boiled and evades a conventional happy ending, but without relinquishing the moral victory that is at its heart. The arc of the story reminded me of the line from T.S. Eliot: ‘to be restored, our sickness must grow worse’. There is a lot of music in the film, much of it of high quality. (Songs were written by T Bone Burnett, Greg Brown, and Waylon Jennings, among others.) The acting is also very good, earning Bridges the best actor Oscar last year. In fact, the whole film is excellent, which is why I’ve put it at the top of this list.

The Town
Ben Affleck impressed me with his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone a few years ago, and in The Town, which is even better, he has returned to Boston with a gritty story about blue-collar criminals. The fact alone that Affleck returned to the same city to tell another story earns him points in my books. It must be the case that he is attached to the place, or that, as Walker Percy might have said, he is on familiar terms with the genie of the place. I suppose I wish that I had a place to love like that.

In addition to directing, Affleck co-wrote the script, and himself played the lead role, so it was his film to make or break. At its heart the story is about Affleck’s character’s moral struggle to break out of the life of crime that he has been living, with all that that entails. Sure, there are car chases and heists and shoot-outs, but the characters are the main point. I especially like Affleck’s directorial style: sober, unintrusive, and carefully crafted. In these respects, his films remind me of some of Clint Eastwood’s recent work (Mystic River, Gran Torino). The Town is maybe not a great film, but it is an awfully good one.

Inception
I plan to watch Inception again, just to see if I change my mind about it. After a single viewing, my opinion is mixed. Of course I acknowledge that it is a fantastically ambitious film — by that measure, probably no other film from 2010 could match it. Despite the almost inarticulable convolutions of the story, it retains, even if just barely, a beating human heart at its core. At a time when we have grown accustomed to startling visual effects, Inception still managed to amaze. Yet I have reservations. First, the premise of the film is not compelling. We are supposed to believe that “inception” — the covert planting of an idea in someone’s mind — is something remarkable and unprecedented. But many millions of people are employed today in doing just this; they are called ‘advertisers’. Let that pass. My main worry about the film concerns the very last scene, for the meaning of the whole film hinges on it.

When I left the theatre, I did not regard the ending as ambiguous; it seemed to me that Nolan had told us, in directly a manner as his medium permitted, that the odyssey through dream worlds had ended. This ending affirmed, in quite a beautiful way, the primacy of the real world over our fantasies, which affirmation I take to be basic to an honourable and serious human life. Yet in subsequent conversations with others, I was surprised to find that they thought the ending was ambiguous, and they presented several arguments in support of that interpretation, some of which gave me pause. As I said, I now need to view it again. In the meantime, Inception has my cautious and slightly irritated admiration.

Honourable mention: The Social Network. I find Facebook to be mostly a nuisance, and I watched this film about its genesis with a certain reluctance. I was won over. To be honest, the ‘true story’ angle was largely irrelevant to my enjoyment. It is a smart film, with an absorbing screenplay and some of the most sharply written dialogue I’ve heard at the movies in a long time.

**

No doubt there were good films this year that I missed. (In fact, there are some good films on the horizon before the end of the year, but I’ll probably not have time to see them until next year.) If you’d like to boost your favourite, I’d love to hear about it.

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10 Responses to “Favourites of 2010: Film”

  1. Adam Hincks Says:

    I am in agreement with your interpretation of the ending of the film, and was also surprised that others thought it to be ambiguous.

    The film seems throughout to affirm the necessity of discerning what is real and what is not. The main character makes a firm, and even courageous, moral choice for the real over fantasy. This to me seems to prove that our understanding of the end is correct.

    The way the final scene is edited is clever, but I interpret it not so much as presenting an ambiguity between reality and fantasy, but rather as a sign that once reality is embraced, it provides its own confirmation. That is, the human being is capable of knowing what is true and good without an obsessive need for external confirmation.

    I suspect that all this could really be developed in very Ignatian language, but I’ll stop here!

  2. Adam Hincks Says:

    (I was speaking of Inception above of course. When I realised that I had failed to mention the title, I hit “Stop” on my browser, made the edit, and resubmit. But WordPress chastised me: “You are trying to make posts too quickly. Please slow down.” I guess the server is feeling rather snarky today.)

  3. cburrell Says:

    Your interpretation of that scene is one that I have not heard before, and I like it. I agree with you that the whole drama of the film is undermined if the ending is seen as ambiguous; if Nolan intended it, I would even say that it is a cheap shot.

    Here’s a question, though: setting aside Nolan’s intentions — which I have not heard him state — if people are arguing over whether or not the ending is ambiguous, does that not mean that it is?

  4. Christina A. Says:

    A dishonourable mention for 2010 would be Avatar. (Ok, maybe it came out in 2009? I see a movie in theatre about once every five years, so I lose track when I’m watching on DVD.)
    Was it as obviously bad as it was for me for anyone else? All I heard were rave reviews, all I saw was a second rate preachy movie that regurgitated Bush-isms about war and destruction?
    I did stick my pony tail into a few electrical sockets after watching, but I still didn’t feel a supernatural connection with ecology!

    In terms of a simply visually beautiful film for this year, I’d recommend “Io Sono L’Amore” (I Am Love). Truth be told, I watched it in Italian, so I missed the more subtle parts of the dialogue, but there is an excellent “un-wedding” scene. The wife reveals her infidelities to her husband in an empty church and he turns his back on her and leaves. You don’t see the antithesis of a wedding too often. This same infidelity had just cost her the life of her eldest son. Very gripping. The beautiful Italian landscapes and interiors were awesome too!

  5. Janet Cupo Says:

    The ambiguity centers around the totem, right? And I never did exactly figure out how it worked.

    AMDG

  6. Adam Hincks Says:

    I liked Avatar more than most. Millinerd had an interesting take. I think he’s onto something.

  7. cburrell Says:

    Millinerd also had some interesting observations about I Am Love.

    • Christina A. Says:

      They are indeed interesting observations. As I mentioned, I watched it in Italian. My Italian comprehension is extremely basic, so I missed much of the dialogue. That left me with the imagery to rely on and it was certainly powerful. There were real consequences to the main character’s actions for her and for her entire family. Sin does not happen in a small, hidden place without sending its ripples out into the family around her in this movie. Only her lesbian (?) daughter living a secret life herself, seems to offer sympathy in the end.

  8. cburrell Says:

    I am going to make a note of that film. Thanks for the suggestion, Christina.

    I did not see Avatar, and probably will not.

    Anybody seen The Voyage of the Dawn Treader yet?

  9. Adam Hincks Says:

    It’s a curious creation: they got some things right on– much of the look and feel, for example — but they unfortunately felt that irresistible impulse to meddle around with the plot, and then added a green mist of pure evil for good measure. On balance I liked it.


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