Muted drama and Seinfeld slap-bass

The 10 best films of 2010

by John Packman

Hello. My name is John. I'm six-foot-one and I'm a Leo. I'm here to furnish Texture readers with a definitive list of the year's 10 best films. You might be asking yourself, 'what qualifies this young upstart jackanape to write a list of the year's 10 best films?' Good question. I don't have any formal training in film criticism, although I do own Jumanji on VHS and I saw Ben Kingsley at a restaurant once. No, the real reason I'm doing this is that Gene Shalit was busy. Let's get dangerous!

In alphabetical order:

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

One of the most original, refreshing and beautifully lensed crime films in recent memory, in that it's far more interested in its characters than their lifestyles, casting its eye on the banality of criminal life and the desperation of people in way, way over their heads. It kind of bothered me how lumpen and expressionless lead actor James Frecheville came off until I realized that his character had to be played that way. There's little in the way of actorly vanity or excessive stylization, which makes the film's handful of shocking moments that much more jarring.

Black Swan

Black Swan

This movie is batshit crazy. It's like Jacob's Ladder with bi-curious ballerinas. It may be ridiculously over-the-top, riddled with shock cuts, Gloria Swanson impressions and half-assed attempts at Freudian subtext, but that doesn't make it any less awesome.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Is this film truly a documentary? Was the majority of its footage really shot by its gormless hero, Thierry Guetta? Was he really so incompetent at assembling a coherent film that Banksy grudgingly took over the film's direction? Did this guy really make a million bucks hocking third-rate knockoffs of Warhol and Shepard Fairey to petit-bourgeois L.A. coolhunters? Is he a genius? Is he a poseur? Is the art world really this ridiculous? Can I fit one more question mark into this paragraph?

Greenberg

Greenberg

Noah Bambauch returns to his preferred motif: people being dickheads to one another. Since m*****core darling Greta Gerwig is really relatable and cute and mousy and not at all a dickhead, Baumbach compensates by having her love interest-of-sorts Ben Stiller be three times as dickheaded as any other character in any other movie, ever. I'm a sucker for shit like this because my parents never loved me and forced me to be right-handed; your mileage may vary.

Inception

Inception

I'm really pushing the envelope with these choices. I'm such a contrarian.

Please Give

Please Give

An increasingly rare kind of film: a muted drama with comic touches that features believable, recognizable people (the majority of whom are women!) interacting in a natural and relatable fashion, and exchanging dialogue that sounds as though it could have been spoken by real human beings. That probably sounds like damning with faint praise, but it's not.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Consistently funny and visually inventive and intimately familiar with its target audience — I'm pretty sure every twenty-something chin-stroker in the theatre simultaneously climaxed during the chiptune reworking of the Universal Logo, with an entire film of Mortal Kombat references and vegan-baiting still ahead of them. I don't remember the last time I laughed as hard as I did at the Seinfeld slap-bass gag. Bonus points for keeping Kieran Culkin off the streets.

The Social Network

The Social Network

I only put this on the list because I haven't seen Little Fockers yet.

Splice

Splice

It's probably not fair of me to include spoilers in this writeup, but I'm not getting paid so I don't care. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are genetic researchers who splice human DNA with panda/seahorse/velociraptor DNA in their spare time, just to stick it to those puritanical right-wingers and their outdated 'don't engineer freakish new life forms for no reason' morality. They end up creating some weird humanoid hybrid thing that they raise as a daughter. Then Adrien Brody fucks it on the garage floor. If you don't already want to see this then there's nothing I can do for you.

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone

No other film this year was as effective at conjuring a hyper-specific social milieu as Winter's Bone: rough-edged crank cookers and their put-upon families covering up a death in backwoods Missouri. Winter's Bone is chilly and austere, populated by leering unfortunates, the landscape almost rank with decay and economic failure; you will feel better about your life after seeing it. Jennifer Lawrence's performance is incredible, striking the perfect balance between youthful vulnerability and guarded stoicism. You want to give her a warm blanket and a cup of hot cocoa for putting up with all the shit that she does. Just see it, alright? Just see it.

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Big Trouble in Little Ireland

Steve McQueen's Hunger a masterfully stubborn anti-narrative

by John Packman

Hunger

The bloody history between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, to which I shall refer hereafter as ‘the Troubles’, has served as dramatic inspiration for filmmakers like Neil Jordan, Ken Loach and Paul Greengrass, with varying degrees of success. One of the primary problems faced by any filmmaker attempting to compress the Troubles into a standard narrative feature is the multiplicity of ideologies and personalities involved; the biopic. genre, by its nature, deals in sentimentality and binary narrativization, qualities to which such a politically charged conflict is inherently resistant.

It seems fitting, then, that the best film that I’ve seen so far about the Troubles was not made by an established narrative filmmaker but by an installation artist previously best known for his experimental shorts. His name is Steve McQueen — not that Steve McQueen, Dad — and the film is called Hunger.

Hunger focuses on the Irish hunger strike of 1981, an event that galvanized the republican movement in Northern Ireland and brought it international attention. As the film progresses, the focus is further narrowed to Bobby Sands (played with an unsettling conviction by Michael Fassbender), the former IRA officer who organized the hunger strike while in prison.

McQueen seems intent on reclaiming the Troubles from the clutches of narrative homogenization by making a film that is stubbornly anti-narrative. Hunger is organized like a triptych of paintings, with three distinct sections, reinforcing its crypto-religious overtones, and Sands himself is not introduced to the audience until roughly halfway into the film.

The first section is a mostly dialogue-free examination of the daily routines of both republican prisoners and loyalist prison guards, and this is where McQueen really flexes his video-art credentials. The comfy sterility of public life and the squalor of prison life are examined with a chilly equanimity and a subdued editing rhythm that juxtaposes brutal violence and shit-smeared cell walls with smoke breaks and trips to see Mom at the old folks’ home; these repeated but slightly modified patterns of behavior have the same hypnotic quality as a Maya Deren film.

We learn very little about the prisoners or the guards, apart from a few revealing words and behaviours. McQueen is less interested in his characters as people than as signifiers, essentially reducing them to parts in a machine, and consequently reflecting the dehumanization experienced by sufferers of the Troubles back onto the audience itself.

Just when it seems Hunger has stretched this austere motif about as far as it can go, however, the film completely shifts gears, introducing us to Sands and showing us a lengthy argument between him and his priest (Liam Cunningham) about the morality and necessity of the hunger strike, the majority of which is shot in one unbroken take and contains the bulk of the film’s dialogue.

McQueen’s decision to omit Sands from the proceedings until this scene is crucial to the film’s success. While the other prisoners are characterized almost entirely by their physicality and its subsequent manipulation, Sands’ own suffering is heretofore unseen, reducing our impulse to immediately identify him as a righteous martyr; we are forced to evaluate him by his own words and little else. In this way, McQueen divorces the concrete elements of political martyrdom from its abstract ones; we see both the rhetoric and the physical reality of the republican protests, but the two are not commingled until Hunger’s final section, in which the meaning of the film’s title becomes gruesomely clear. (I should mention at this point that Hunger is not a very good date movie.)

While the film is less than perfect, occasionally veering towards hagiography in its visual representation of Sands’ suffering, McQueen’s formal rigor and sangfroid succeed in forcing his audience to see the Troubles in a new light. It’s not a particularly enjoyable experience, but it would be a failure if it were.

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