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Friday, 7 January 2011

Best of the Year: 2010

Standout Film

Toy Story 3

It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed since the first installment of Toy Story, the stunning Pixar animated film that delighted both adults and children. Sequels are notorious for being calculated rip-offs, but the beauty of Toy Story 3 is that this ‘threequel’ treats the now familiar characters with integrity, while advancing their story-lines in ways that entertain, surprise – and let’s be honest – scare the living daylights out of – the audience.

No other film this year has had me sobbing so uncontrollably. There’s a scene where the toys hold hands as they cling to a conveyor belt that’s hurtling towards an incinerator. Surely this is one of recent cinema’s most poignant depictions of the consolations of friendship as we confront our inevitable mortality. Reading too much into it? No. The Toy Story films have always been brave enough to tackle dark themes of abandonment – after all, the toys get left behind as their owners grow into adulthood. It’s tragic. Luckily, there are lots of laughs, inventive set-pieces (like the meeting between Ken and Barbie) and thrilling action sequences to leaven the bitter-sweet loaf. One of the most successful films at the 2010 box office, this proves it’s possible to please crowds with style, and dare I say it, profundity.

Other film highlights:

The Ghost Writer: Roman Polanksi’s beautifully paced and elegantly directed thriller about a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) hired to write the memoirs of an ex Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) accused of war crimes, this is melancholy and sly.

Fish Tank: Powerful performances and a bleak urban beauty infuse a tough tale set in a British housing estate. Directed by Andrea Arnold (Red Road) Fish Tank portrays an angry and isolated 15-year-old girl (Katie Jarvis) who falls for her mum’s boyfriend (Michael Fassbender).

A Single Man: The directorial debut of fashion designer Tom Ford, this sublimely beautiful and moving film stars Colin Firth as a 1950s college professor the mourning the death of his lover (Matthew Goode). Set over the course of a day, it’s a lush meditation on life, love and lust.

The White Ribbon: Michael Haneke’s black and white masterpiece comments obliquely on the rise of Nazism with its tale of mysterious violent crimes occurring in a farming village at the onset of World War I.

Leap Year: Australian director Michael Rowe won the 2010 Cannes Camera d’Or for this confronting and sexually explicit Mexican film about a solitary young woman dealing with grief and loneliness.

I Am Love: Tilda Swinton is the respectable matriarch of a rich Milan family, until she falls desperately in love with her son’s best friend. A sumptuous and sensuous melodrama that pits passion against bourgeois convention.

The Kids are All Right
: Julianne Moore and Annette Bening shine as a bickering lesbian couple whose family is rocked when their teenage children decide to meet their biological dad (Mark Ruffalo). Funny and affecting, it’s a comedy for anyone in a long-term relationship.

South Solitary
: An Australian film that divided critics, South Solitary comes from the highly original writer/director Shirley Barrett (Love Serenade). The film features Miranda Otto in an adorable performance as a not-so-young woman who’s run out of options in 1920s society and finds herself living with her uncle (Barry Otto) in a remote lighthouse. Marton Csokas and Essie Davis also feature in a strange, halting and salty romance that’s very funny in its own quiet way.

Exit Through the Gift Shop: Real or hoax? It doesn’t really matter in this hilarious documentary about notorious graffiti artist ‘Banksy’ and the man who obsessively follows him with a video camera. A smart guerrilla expose of the pretentions and paradoxes of the art world.

Looking forward to 2011

Another documentary causing speculation about its authenticity is Catfish (27 Jan), a story of three friends who document a budding Facebook romance only to find that the woman involved may not be who she says she is. From the personal to the political, a documentary that’s set to terrify us all is Countdown to Zero (26 Jan) tracing the history of the atomic bomb and the current dangers we face in the case of accident, terrorism or failed diplomacy.

Fans of French auteur Claire Denis (Beau Travail) will be keen to catch her latest film White Material (limited release from Jan), which stars Isabelle Huppert as a plantation owner trying to keep her family together in a warring African country. Also in January, the Coen Bros’ latest offering, True Grit will hit screens on the 20th. Set in the Old West it stars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon as two lawmen tracking down a murderer.

Other big name directors bringing out new titles include Mike Leigh, with comic drama Another Year (26 Jan); Clint Eastwood, with supernatural thriller Hereafter (Feb 10); Danny Boyle, with the true story of rock-climbing survival starring James Franco, 127 Hours (10 Feb); and Peter Weir’s much awaited escape drama The Way Back (24 Feb), a story based on fact about soldiers who break out of a Siberian gulag in 1940 and walk 4000 miles to freedom.

Here's to a new year at the cinema - and lots of resolutions to blog more often!

Rochelle Siemienowicz
(A version of this post originally appeared in edition #370 of The Big Issue magazine.)

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