Sean Burns: James Cameron is getting kisses for Avatars technological breakthroughs. But for my money, the years most exciting innovation was Michael Manns bold use of handheld digital video in Public Enemies, roughing up the aesthetics and reflecting the internal confusion of Johnny Depps Dillinger.
Seans Top 10
9. Funny People
6. Two Lovers
Coming of age isnt what it used to be. Mismarketed as a teenage sex comedy, Greg Mottolas lovely Adventureland was an introduction to lifes disappointments, a lesson in diminishing your expectations. Ditto for Spike Jonzes Where the Wild Things Are, a raw expansion of Maurice Sendaks book that works through a childs anger, self-pity and maturation on an almost primal level.
This year taught us that more auteurs should try childrens films, as Wes Andersons adaptation of Roald Dahls Fantastic Mr. Fox is the most sympathetic portrait of a midlife crisis ever to be acted by puppets. Using gorgeous stop-motion animation, Andersons trademark over-emphasis on production design and artifice finally found a format where it wont distract, and his characters are afforded a complexity seldom seen in movies about woodland animals.
Speaking of animals, Nicolas Cages out-of-control cop in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was this years wildest. If the idea of Werner Herzog remaking Abel Ferraras 1992 pulverizer as a farce sounds like a joke, it probably is. Herzog and Cage carjack a routine police procedural and drive it into lunacy, complete with Cage chewing up every piece of scenery that Katrina didnt get.
No movie improved upon second viewing for me more this year than Judd Apatows Funny People. Modern comedys patron saint of man-children decided not to let his characters off the hook, and the result is a tough-minded gaze into self-loathing and romantic idealization. Adam Sandler gives one of this years bravest performances as a movie star who survives cancer and tries to better himself, though he eventually reverts back to being an asshole. Apatow cant always navigate the tonal shifts, but the unpleasantness and muddy morality of the movie sticks with you.
An attempt to diagram the Uncertainty Principle takes up an entire blackboard in A Serious Man, one of the Coen brothers densest and most amusing films. It deals with cosmic existential questions on a hilariously mundane stage. Michael Stuhlbargs sad-sack professor finds himself punished by either a cruel and vindictive God or the indifference of a chaotic universe. Mankinds attempts to impose order upon the unknowable bears the brunt of the brothers ire, but A Serious Man s deliberately unresolved structure allows for interpretation. For the first time, it feels as if the Coens are admitting they dont have the answers.
Finally, what more can be said about Pixars Up? This adventure is grounded by such profound sense of loss, I defy anybody to watch the first 10 minutes without sobbing. The emotional ballast in this tale of a crotchety widower and a neglected boy allows director Pete Docter to conjure Pixars wildest visual flourishes. A flying house held by balloons, an army of talking dogs and a goony-bird with a sweet tooth round out this strange and melancholy vision. Up is about saying goodbye, letting go and starting over, which feels about right for this moment in history.
Matts Top 10
8. Sita Sings the Blues
5. Im Gonna Explode
4. The Headless Woman
1. In the Loop
Matt Prigge: Armando Iannuccis war comedy In The Loop is about language as a weaponBritish and American officials use and abuse words to start a war in the Middle East. Again. To those stunned by the procession of one-liners in this, an even better collision of topicality and genre than The Hurt Locker, just think: This is a spin-off of the brilliant BBC show The Thick of It. That means theres about 10 more hours of this shit.
Dont call it a comeback. ( Death Proof was a masterpiece, yo.) Inglourious Basterds, a giddy burlesque of WWII, turns out not to have much to do with Jewish soldiers fucking up Nazis (and eventually Hitler). But thats A-OK. Instead, we get an alternate reality of vengeful babes, charming baddies and film-critics-turned-spies. Its a story told with insane economyonly five sections, each boasting epic chatathonsand a pithy reflection on propaganda, rumors and lies in which cinema heroically conquers all.
Written off as though its creator hadnt done Michael Clayton , Tony Gilroys conman comedy Duplicity is a neo-screwball, with lovers Clive Owen and Julia Roberts infiltrating the dangerous world of the cosmetics industry. Not to sound gross, but Gilroy locates the heart in the everyone-fucks-everyone-over genre, making the most slyly romantic film since Out of Sight .
Argentinas excessively talented Lucretia Martel ( The Holy Girl ) finally surrenders completely to the avant-garde in The Headless Woman. After a head injury, a middle-aged rich broad finds herself disconnected from life. The off-kilter shots, dark lighting, disquieting sound design and narrative discombobulation make us as confused as the woman we follow.
Gerardo Naranjos Mexican high school saga Im Gonna Explode, in which two teens go on the lam but only make it to the roof of a parents house, is a riff on Jean-Luc Godards great Pierrot le fou . In a twist, the female perspective subverts the originals sexism while still getting punch-drunk on romantic fatalism.
The French New Waves lone female, Agns Varda, is an octogenarian. But shes totally alert, having found that digital media is the ideal way to present her dense views. In this case, its her personal history, related in consistently inventive, charming and modern ways in The Beaches of Agns. Get this lady on Tumblr.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is great stuff, but please dont start substituting cuss words with the word cuss.
The most overtly fun movie ever born of a breakup, Nina Paleys megalomaniacal toon Sita Sings the Blues finds creative ways to relate the Indian story of Ramayama, a devoted wife cruelly dumped by her husband. Most notable are the song-and-dance numbers, in which our heroine lip- synchs as purple beasties burst into pieces.
Following the aftermath of two deaths at a private school, Antonio Campos Afterschool reflects on the way the media fails to capture life and actually makes the situation worse. More blood-freezing than its ideas, though, is the filmmakinglike The Headless Woman , Campos uses obstructive framing to present a terrifying portrayal of the mundane.
And finally, some of the most thrilling and original filmmaking this year is in Crank: High Voltage , a film in which Jason Statham hooks jumper cables to his nipples. Seriously.