Roger Ebert just tweeted that today is the 20th birthday of Sony Pictures Classics. I normally don’t weigh in on distributors, but I note that Sony Pictures Classic has already released three of the films on my Best Movies of 2011 – So Far – Incendies, The Guard and Midnight in Paris.
In 2009-20, their released four films that made my annual top ten lists: Another Year, The Secrets in Their Eyes and A Prophet. And, in 2008, Sony Pictures Classics released both my #1 film, I’ve Loved You So Long, and my #2, Rachel Getting Married. Not bad.
2010 continued a trend of really good recent crime dramas. This year, most of them came from overseas: The Secrets in Their Eyes (Argentina) won the most recent Best Foreign Language Oscar and A Prophet (France) and Ajami (Palestine/Israel) were nominated.
We also had other strong imports in this genre: the Mesrine films (France), Animal Kingdom (Australia) and Mother (Korea).
The best American crime drama was The Town, in which the rockin’ first two acts were betrayed by a sappy and implausible climax.
Here’s the trailer for Ajami, an ultra-realistic crime drama set in a scruffy neighborhood in Jaffa, Israel. The story weaves together Arab Christians and Arab Muslims and both religious and non-religious Israeli Jews. Everyone aspires to make a living and live in personal safety, but the circumstances and tribal identities make this very difficult at best. There are two trans-religious romances, but no one is going to live happily ever after. Ajami was co-written and co-directed by Scandar Copti, a Jaffa-born Palestinian, and Yaron Shoni, an Israeli Jew. After seeing the film, I was surprised to learn that it has no trained actors – all of the roles are played by real-life residents who improvised their lines to follow the story line.
Here’s my list of the best films of 2010: 1) Winter’s Bone; 2) Toy Story 3; 3)The Social Network; 4) The Secrets in their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos); 5) Rabbit Hole; 6) Black Swan; 7) A Prophet (Un Prophete); 8 ) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; 9) Mademoiselle Chambon; 10) (tie) Ajami and Inception.
(Note: I’m saving room for some films that I haven’t yet seen, especially Mike Leigh’s Another Year.)
Continuing with my list of 2010’s best films: The Tillman Story, True Grit, The King’s Speech, The Girl on the Train (La Fille du RER), Inside Job, Fish Tank, The Ghost Writer, Carlos, Fair Game, Hereafter, The Fighter, Solitary Man, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and Sweetgrass.
It’s the Holidays – this is your best chance to see a few excellent films. I strongly recommend Rabbit Hole, an exquisite exploration of the grieving process with great performances by Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhardt, Diane Wiest, Sandra Oh and Miles Tenner. True Grit is the Coen Brothers’ splendid Old West story of Mattie Ross, a girl of unrelenting resolve and moxie played by 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld in a breakthrough performance, and Jeff Bridges is perfect as the hilarious, oft-besotted and frequently lethal Rooster Cogburn. The King’s Speech is the crowd pleasing story of a good man (Colin Firth) overcoming his stammer to inspire his nation in wartime with the help of a brassy commoner (Geoffrey Rush). Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a rip roaring thriller and a showcase for Natalie Portman and Barbara Hershey. The Fighter is an excellent drama, starring Mark Wahlberg as a boxer trying to succeed despite his crack addict brother (Christian Bale) and trashy mom (Melissa Leo). Fair Game, the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson story with Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, is also excellent. I Love You, Phillip Morris is an entertaining offbeat combo of the con man, prison and romantic comedy genres. For some delectable food porn, see Kings of Pastry.
I didn’t pick a new DVD of the Week. This is the time to catch up on the year’s best, such as Winter’s Bone, Toy Story 3, Inception, The Secrets in Their Eyes, A Prophet, Mademoiselle Chambon, Ajami, The Girl on the Train, The Ghost Writer and Joan River: A Piece of Work, all available on DVD. For my recent DVD choices (including trailers), see DVDs of the Week.
Movies on TVinclude Arsenic and Old Lace, My Darling Clementine and The Producers on TCM.
It was another year in which foreign cinema was essential. Three of the nominees for the 2009 Best Foreign Language Oscar were released in the US this year: Ajami (Israel/Palestine), A Prophet (France) and the Oscar winning The Secrets in Their Eyes (Argentina). Those three made my list of Best Movies of 2010, along with Mademoiselle Chambon, The Girl on the Train, and The Ghost Writer from France, Carlos from France/Germany, Fish Tank from the UK, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo from Sweden. If I couldn’t see foreign films, I wouldn’t have a Best Movie list.
France also gave us the Mesrine films. Ireland offered Kisses. Italy had the food-centric I Am Love and Mid-August Lunch. In a tremendous year for crime drama, the Aussies added Animal Kingdom and the Koreans contributed Mother. Police, Adjective was another bleak, cynical drama from Rumania.
We’re living in a good time for crime drama. When I think of this genre, I generally think of The Godfather, Goodfellas, and the film noir of the 40s and 50s. But there are some excellent contemporary ones. This year, we have had A Prophet, The Secret in Their Eyes, Ajami, Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Animal Kingdom. (Interestingly, two of those films are French, and the others are Australian, Argentine and Israeli.)
Here are some more outstanding crime dramas from the past seven years: The Lookout, A History of Violence, Layer Cake, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Tell No One, Gomorrah, Sin Nombre, In Bruges, Zodiac, Maria Full of Grace and Eastern Promises. All of them have inventive, fresh takes on the crime genre. All of them are on my list of best films for its year.
This is the riveting real life tale of Jacques Mesrine – a French criminal with a portfolio of audacious heists and even more shockingly daring escapes. He became intoxicated by – and addicted to – his own notoriety, which he embellished with some left wing political posing. He saw himself as a modern Clyde Barrow and positioned himself that way in the media (without thinking too much about the final scene in Bonnie and Clyde). At the end of the day, Mesrine was just a vicious thug, although one with an unusual amount of bravado and luck.
Vincent Cassell brings Mesrine to life in a brilliant performance that does not glorify Mesrine, but inhabits a countenance that shifts instantaneously from jokey charm to cold-blooded hatred. American audiences may remember Cassell as the psycho Russian gangster in Eastern Promises and the suave Francois “The Night Fox” Toulour in the Ocean’s movies.
Director Jean-Francois Richet showcases Cassell’s performance with a series of outstanding artistic choices. The harsh violence is shown for what it is but not stylized. Richet makes strategic use of split screen that enhances the story without distracting from it. And when Mesrine meets his new girlfriend (Cecile De France) and she says that she’s up for anything, the movie immediately cuts to the two of them robbing a bank. Point made.
Richet and Abdel Raouf Dafri (screenwriter of A Prophet) adapted the screenplay from Mesrine’s memoir. Dafri has had a spectacular year in crime and prison dramas.
The entire cast is good, particularly Gerard Depardieu, who summons all his hulking menace to play a gang leader who is at least as dangerous as Mesrine.
Richet and Cassell return later this year with the second part of the story, titled Mesrine: Public Enemy #1.
Well, we’re at the halfway point of the movie year – the summer movies are winding down, and the Oscar bait is still ahead of us in the autumn and holidays. So it’s time to take stock of the year’s movies to date. I now have ten movies on my list of Best Movies of 2010 – So Far. You can read my comments and watch the trailers on the Best Movies of 2010 – So Far page.
Better yet, you can see Toy Story 3and Inception in the theater this week.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Prophet, The Girl on the Train, Fish Tank, The Ghost Writer and Sweetgrass are all available on DVD right now. Sweetgrass is also available on Netflix streaming video.
The Secrets of Their Eyes will be available on DVD on September 21. The DVD release of my top film of the year so far, Winter’s Bone, is October 26.
I recommend the summer’s one high quality blockbuster, Inception. If you have followed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you will want to continue the trilogy with The Girl Who Played With Fire. The indie dramedy The Kids Are All Right is enjoyable, too. One of the year’s best, Toy Story 3, is still playing. For trailers and other choices, see Movies to See Right Now.
My DVD of the week is one of 2010’s best: A Prophet (Un Prophete). For the trailers and other DVD choices, see DVDs of the Week.
Movies on TV include The Set-Up and Leave Her to Heaven, coming up on TCM.
This week’s DVD of the Week is a film from earlier this year: A Prophet (Un Prophete). It is the story of a young French-Arab from his first terrifying day in prison to his release. Once he starts to adjust to his role in the prison as the toady of a Corsican crime boss, no one else in the movie knows what he is really thinking. It evokes the DeNiro scenes in The Godfather: Part II, except set with gritty realism in contemporary France. Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. One of my Best Movies of 2010 – So Far and pretty high on my list of 10 Best Prison Movies.