The best films I saw this year
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Director: Andrew Dominik
I wish this film wasn’t overlong and didn’t have such a boring bit in the middle because the beginning, and especially the ending, contain some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen on film. It’s an almost-brilliant film about masculinity and relationships between men. Brad Pitt is looking better and better as he gets older and Casey Affleck is great throughout. Plus, it has a Nick Cave soundtrack and Nick himself appearing at the end to sing a murder ballad. I may have to buy it on DVD just so I can watch the scenes I like again.
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Director: Kar Wai Wong
The first “wow” film of 2010. A man and woman in Hong Kong form a relationship when they both suspect their spouses of infidelity. This is such a stunning film to watch, it’s almost painful, as it juxtaposes the overcrowded, grimness of the world in which the protagonists live, with the beauty of their relationship; an ultimately enigmatic exploration of friendship, desire and loss.
Director: John Patrick Shanley
A nun’s attempt to protect children under her care from a priest who she suspects of being a paedophile turns into a gripping analysis of patriarchy, homosocial culture and the price of standing up for what you believe in. This is probably the most overtly feminist film I saw all year. More here.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
I quite liked this film when I first watched it, but thought it a little overrated. However, as time has passed I find myself quite haunted by it and thinking scenes over again. I’ll definitely be returning to it for a second watch soon. A film that poses the question of whether society makes life so unbearable for young people that running away with a vampire may be the better option.
Rebel without a Cause (1955)
Director: Nicholas Ray
Another tremendous film about masculinity and homosocial culture. Rebel Without a Cause sees a possible way out of the pain in friendship and tenderness, only to have that possibility destroyed by the violence of homophobia and misogyny. It seems as relevant now as ever. More here.
Director: Duncan Jones
I loved this film which seems to return us to the themes and feel of 70s SF, in this case exploring the relationship between the individual and society, anxieties about artificial intelligence, and the lengths to which we might go to ensure an energy supply. It shows that you don’t need a huge budget and a ton of CGI to make a good piece of science fiction. Some people didn’t like the slow build, but I did.
Director: Cahn-wook Park
Another good vampire film that, like Let the Right One In, uses the vampire to ask philosophical questions about the nature of existence. I felt that this was little overlong and quite misogynist, but it’s also very interesting as it shifts from a film about a Catholic priest who accidentally becomes a vampire, to a film about guilt and the way people treat each other.
Brief Encounter (1945)
Director: David Lean
I thought this was going to be a woman’s weepy and found myself watching a gruelling film about frustrated desire which questions the point of living without love. I also saw a gay allegory in this film in the story of middle-aged, married lovers who can’t be together and this may be why it affected me so much.
The Lives of Others (2006)
Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
A chilling, but ultimately moving film, about the price of power and the possibility of redemption.
All Over Me (1997)
The best lesbian film I saw this year – a naturalistic, gritty, serious, and very touching coming of age drama. This one feels authentic. Longer post here.
Director: Yimou Zhang
This has a terrible message at the end, but what a stunning film it is to watch. The cinematography is amazing and I loved the layered story with its twists and turns. I also liked the representation of women, as people who are excellent at what they do.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Director: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
I only watched this the other day and had to add it to the list. It’s a surprisingly subversive fantasy from 1946 that questions not only Anglo-American relations, but the point of war itself and the role of the British Empire in causing all the trouble. It’s also a meditation on survivor guilt and post traumatic stress disorder. The opening in which a pilot attempts to make a connection with a radio operator during what he believes to be the last moments of his life is still really powerful. The representation of heaven as a gigantic bearoacracy must have been pretty challenging for the time. The world has changed and you can feel film being pushed forward by this movie.
Worth watching, but …
Dark Victory (1939)
Creepy little melodrama that would have been great if only they hadn’t cast a plank of wood as Betty Davies’s love interest while giving Humphrey Bogart a bit part.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
A very good, but unbelievably depressing and bleak film about the origins of the IRA
Set it Off (1996)
A heist movie about four black women who’ve been screwed over too many times in their lives and decide to take something back for themselves. I liked this a lot and it begins really well, but I think it gets very over-the-top and a bit superficial towards the end.
Very entertaining as long as you don’t think about it too much.
Breakfast on Pluto (2005)
A film about gender and queer experience that just doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions. It seems to want to be about a trans woman without saying it’s about a trans woman.
House of Flying Daggers (2004)
Beautiful to look at with good twists, but I found the ending in a CGI snowstorm a bit silly.
And the worst films I watched all year
X-Men Three – The Last Stand (2006)
Quite an entertaining start soon leads into epic race and gender fail. According to this film women who have power are mad and evil and have to be controlled by men until they get get loose, after which they must be literally penetrated to death by the men who “love” them. Oh, and most of the baddies are people of colour.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness(1966)
In which they cast Christopher Lee as Dracula and don’t allow him to speak. This is a big mistake.
The Wolfman (2010)
Where to begin?! How can three fairly decent actors make such an attrocious film? Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt aren’t even trying here and should be deeply ashamed of themselves.
The Oblong Box (1969)
Race fail, disability fail, nasty salacious bits to try and encourage you to keep watching a film you know you shouldn’t. Ugh!
10,000 BC (2008)
CGI mammoths cannot save this film. Race fail dreck.