2010: IN REVIEW

page 2
eric pfriender

 ALSO PRETTY GREAT

DOGTOOTH

I don't have any children, so I'm no expert on that front, but I do watch a lot of movies, and for my money, Dogtooth is the best film made about parenting since Finding Nemo. It's not a film about one family's misguided attempt to protect their children from the horrors of society, and it's not simply about how one man's extreme overprotectiveness and megalomaniacal control issues supremely fuck up his children; it's about the way everyone fucks up their children.

 

GREENBERG

This movie features what I felt were a bunch of sharply drawn, deeply flawed characters that felt recognizable and real. Now, my fear is that my instinct to recognize the film's characters as realistic actually just means that I'm as misanthropic as the film's title character. The film actually has a lot in common with Another Year, in that the characters are self-involved, frightened, and confused, and frequently unaware of what the audience can see clearly: that they are the source of their own problems, and life might be a bit more bearable if they'd just wise up.

Greenberg also features a great score, the icing on the cupcake that was a banner year for James Murphy. Take a bow, James.

 

SOUL KITCHEN

I realize I'm cutting this movie all kinds of slack because director Fatih Akin's last two films are two of my favorite films from the last decade. But this film is entirely likable. It's about the simple pleasures of food, music and fucking (three things I can get behind), and the small, random indignities life throws at you that make you forget that some uptempo soul and fried chicken are all you really need to get by. It doesn't take itself very seriously, which occasionally means it gets a bit too silly, but it was one of my most pleasant viewing experiences of the year. Also the lead character suffers from a herniated disc through most of the movie, an ailment I also had the displeasure of suffering through in 2010. If you don't go into this expecting anything more than a good time, you'll walk away satisfied, which is kind of what the movie's about.

 

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

This movie came closest to falling into the "inexplicably overrated" category, not because I didn't like it, but because the critical reaction was so overblown, and even further off the mark. This is not a film about "the way we live today." It is not a film that is tapping into the cultural zeitgeist. And it is definitely not a film about "a generation," although I'm still confused by which generation it is supposed to be about, according to the criterati. What it is is a (mostly) well-written and well-directed drama about a very specific character and a very specific conflict.

I'm no Sorkinite but, a few missteps aside, this script is good. (Biggest missteps: an ending that is too obvious by half, and dialogue that is characteristically over-witty, although that mostly gets buried under the tight performances and direction.) Fincher gets a lot of flack for being a "perfectionist," but his movies always feel polished, and he's one of the few filmmakers working today who is using new technology to push cinema to places I wouldn't mind it going (unlike, say, James Cameron.)

Basically, this movie is on this side of the Great Good/Overrated Divide because if I divorce myself from everything I read before and after seeing it, I was captivated and entertained for the two hours that my ass was in the theater seat. And really, that's all that matters.

It also features my favorite score of the year.

 

  INEXPLICABLY OVERRATED

BLUE VALENTINE

Dear Blue Valentine,

I want to punch you right in your stupid hipster sunglasses, then beat you to death with your fucking ukelele. I keep hearing about how "real" you are, but you're actually just a phony piece of shit. It's easy to act "real" when you're fashionably out of focus, but you're not fooling me. And donít find some obscure (admittedly great) song, then have it be the film's emotional crux by having the characters literally announce in spoken dialogue that the reason it is special is because they love it when nobody else even knows about it. That is the very definition of hipster garbage.

Also, just for the record, if somebody has a severe drinking problem that causes them to do things like show up at their spouse's job and punch their spouse's boss in the mouth, or refuse to get a better job that might make their family's life a little better because they don't really feel like doing it, the dissolution of that relationship is not a tragedy, or even really sad. It is a good thing.

Look, I know it's not entirely your fault. You honestly think that you are cool. And you honestly think that being cool is something to aspire to. I get that. It's just...I wish everyone didn't agree with you. I guess I'm just writing to tell you that you are the lucky recipient of the "What is even the fucking point if this is the kind of shit people want to see?" Award. Previous winners include Juno and Little Miss Sunshine. Congratulations.

Sincerely,

Eric Pfriender

p.s. I'm not really mad at Ryan and Michelle. It's not really their fault. They did the best they could.

p.p.s. Seriously though. Go fuck yourself.

 

BLACK SWAN

There's nothing really wrong with this movie. It just made this section because there's nothing really right with it either, yet people were screaming from every window about it. It felt like it was the most talked-about post-summer movie, so much so that it broke right into the mainstream, thanks in no small part to what turned out to be a pretty tame sex scene between Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman.

Natalie Portman's performance is fine, if you like the kind of acting that basically amounts to emoting all over the place. And I think Aronofsky is really talented, I just think he'd be better suited to pulpier material, rather than the awards-baitey quasi-artsy stuff he seems to gravitate towards. Imagine if he took himself less seriously and made something Verhoeven was unavailable to direct.*  We'd all be better off.

INCEPTION

This movie has all the little nerds spouting off making Kubrick comparisons, which would make me laugh if I wasn't too busy being horrified. Not because I love Kubrick - I don't - but because all the people making the comparisons do, and this movie is hopelessly self-serious at worst and a passable entertainment at best. Actually, that pretty much sums up my feelings about Kubrick, so maybe the comparisons are actually valid.

My problems aren't really with the movie itself. I think it ultimately wasted a great premise, but it does have some cool visuals and at least one great set piece (hello, zero-gravity hallway fight!) and a few gags that work. So: high-concept idea, passable action scene, handful of jokes, sounds like a halfway-decent summer movie, right? Why all the genius-speak?

"Because it's BRILLIANT! Did you see that last shot? It cut to black! Maybe he's still in the dream or playing eXistenZ or in the Matrix or whatever! What is reality, anyway? You could be dreaming right now! Mind: blown! Also, that one scene with the stairs was totally a reference to that poster I had on my dorm room wall!"

Okay, you're all idiots. I was willing to just meet the movie on a level that seemed fair. As an above-average summer flick (and even then I had to ignore the fact that the film's idea of an awesome final action sequence involves machine gunners on skis, which is decidedly not awesome. And, zero-gravity hallway aside, Nolan is not a particularly gifted director of action. Most of this film's gunfights, along with those in both Batman movies, are really hard to follow.) But if you are going to demand that I take the film seriously, here it goes:

First of all, the final shot and the whole "is he still dreaming at the end" thing isn't even the most complicated layer of that entire dumb twist - I don't think there is ever a scene in the film that takes place in Cobb's waking reality. The chase sequence in Tangiers, where he runs into an alleyway that seems to be slowly narrowing? His visit to the chemist, with his ridiculous giant key that opens the secret room? The fact that Mal (these fucking names) actually calls him out on all of this, making fun of him for thinking he's actually being chased around the globe by secret agents working for shadowy, evil corporations kind of seals it. It's all a dream, not just the end, and I already feel dirty for thinking about it this much, because "it was all a dream" twists are dumb. I only point it out because half the people telling me why the movie is awesome apparently don't even fully understand their own reasoning.

More importantly, for a movie that is basically about dreams, it has very little understanding of how dreams or the subconscious actually work. The movie has a scene that acknowledges the whole narrative-jump element of a dream ("Do you remember how you got to this cafe?") but then spends the rest of the movie choreographing the specific geography that each dream-level takes place in, so we are never lost or confused, which is antithetical to what dreams are like. (Speaking of lost and confused, if your movie is, by design, extremely convoluted and thus runs the risk of occasionally confusing your audience, don't cast two actors with extremely thick non-American accents that make it even more difficult to understand which level of reality we're in.)

Also, where is all the sex? The whole movie takes place inside a man's subconscious, but the only women in it are the charming but elfishly androgynous Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard, whose character is constantly trying to undermine and/or kill you?  I'm not buying it.

Where are the non-sensical nightmares that make so much sense when you're trapped in them? Why is every dream just a gunfight? Why even bother having any of that take place in a dream? Why does everyone like this movie so much? Is this a nightmare? Am I still dreaming?

* I am not advocating the green lighting of the rumored Aronofsky-helmed Robocop reboot. Something like Verhoeven would do, not something Verhoeven actually did.

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