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My Top 5 Films of 2010

By Delme Stephenson

Continued from Part 01

I haven’t picked films that generally fall into easy genre categories. I supposed ‘A Prophet’, ‘The Social Network’, ‘The Town’, ‘Inception’ and ‘Buried’ can all be connected under some genre umbrella.  All five films in some way or another have captured my imagination, led to debate and further examination.  What really connects them is a sense that they provided me with some form of insight that no other film on this list did this year...  

A Prophet (Un prophète) 

For all intents and purposes this film came out in 2009, yet was officially released in the UK at the end of January 2010. By the time I watched it, the film had already carved out a name for itself on the film circuit which ultimately culminated in a nomination at the 82nd Oscars for Best Foreign Film. It didn’t win, but its journey was quite spectacular. It won the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival and a BAFTA for a film not in the English language. It wasn’t just the buzz that got me into the cinema. Jacques Audiard, the film’s director had already built a formidable reputation on well crafted films such as ‘The Beat That My Heart Skipped’ (a personal favourite) and the excellent crime thriller, ‘Read My Lips’.

‘A Prophet’ is about a young Arab man who enters a French prison almost as a blank slate: he knows no one, is illiterate and has spent the majority of his petty criminal career in juvenile detention. He is an outsider and as such we follow his remarkable survival (and rise) in a prison ruled by a Corsican gang and its vicious leader César.    

In all honesty, ‘A Prophet’, exceeded my expectations. I was privileged enough to watch it with an audience who seemed to understand its violence, its humour, its grittiness and its moments of unexpected surrealism. There were squeals in the audience during one of the film’s most notorious violent scenes and laughter in several others. I marvelled at the central performances by Tahir Rahim as Malik our hero and Niels Arestrup as César, our antihero and Malik’s cruel vindictive father figure (…it’s a complicated affair). 

This film could be viewed as a crime thriller which straddles two subgenres; the prison drama and the gangster/mob film. However, I actually find putting this film into a category does it a great disservice. It pays homage to ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, but ultimately trades genres and aesthetics to become something totally unique and compelling. Overall the performances are brilliant while the narrative is gripping and the direction self-assured. This film can be read on many different levels. At its most obvious it’s about surviving and overcoming the odds, at its least obvious, it’s a film with a social commentary. It just depends how deep you want to go.  

The Social Network 

I watched the Social Network more than any other film in 2010 (more than even ‘Die Hard’…c’mon...it’s a modern classic! They were showing it every weekend on cable). There was something about it I couldn’t describe (‘The Social Network’ not ‘Die Hard’), something deeply fascinating and absorbing. I literally had to drag my friends to the cinema to watch this, and received a multitude of reactions in the process.

I knew it was a great film and possibly the most important of 2010, but every time I watched it, I grew less sure of its characters. Every time I read a film review or something in the media I became less certain of what I believed was essentially ‘the truth’. 

Eventually I understood ‘The Social Network’ for what it was - a fascinating and engaging story painted in shades of grey, where all our main characters are all too flawed and all too human. To me there were no easily identifiable heroes or villains in this tale about the creation of Facebook - although I must admit at first I believed it was that simple.

This film is based on the notion of ‘the truth’; the creation of Facebook. It’s based on Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction book, ‘The Accidental Billionaires’, several depositions (including the two that are used as a narrative device in the film), screenwriter Aaron (‘The West Wing’) Sorkin’s research and Mark Zuckerberg’s own words: recorded in hearings and blogs. Yet from all the Rashomon-like perspectives the only thing we can be sure of is that Facebook is a clear and undeniable success. The film is based on the idea of ‘the truth’ yet the ‘the truth’ is seemingly unquantifiable – how strange indeed. We should be able to identify heroes and villains in this piece yet I am not. This film let’s you decide. A perfect example is when Mark Zuckerberg ( Jessie Eisenberg) moves to Palo Alto. An accident happens at his home and a neighbour comes round to see what has happened, this next door neighbour ‘just’ happens to be Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake). The film doesn’t question our intelligence. It just puts it out there. A lot of my friends suggested the villain of the piece is Sean Parker, but Sean Parker is the only guy besides Zuckerberg who understands the potential of Facebook, of what it can be. Eduardo Saverin clearly doesn’t. We also have to question Eduardo’s involvement in Facebook, Zuckerberg’s supposed best friend, (who is wonderfully played by Andrew Garfield) is it really just about protecting his friend?

Although I must admit (in the film) Mark does commit the ultimate betrayal against his friend (measured against my own standards obviously). When Eduardo finally finds his voice, it’s a wonderful dramatic piece, ‘You better lawyer up, asshole, because I'm not coming back for the 30%. I'm coming back for everything!’.           

I feel like I’ve just shouted into my word processor and rambled on with enthusiasm. A couple more things: This is the most polished script of 2010. It’s undeniably quotable. It’s a very dialogue driven film. Dialogue even spills over the Columbia pictures emblem with two characters engaged in a witty, very fast paced conversation, but as much as Aaron Sorkin script is razor sharp this is director David Fincher’s film; aesthetically there is no denying it. As I stated before ‘The Social Network’ is perhaps to me the most important film of 2010 because as Andrew Garfield’s character states at one point, ‘You see in a world where social structure was everything…that (Facebook) was the thing’. On that point why would you not want to know how this billion dollar company was started? 

Inception

 

‘You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger darling’

I can be fantastically short about my profound respect for this film because everyone who watched Christopher Nolan’s latest not only believed they were watching something original, but also something that was confidently intelligent and didn’t doubt its audience.

In another year where the top grossing films were either sequels, adaptations with a built in fanbase, CGI animated films or specifically this year - the 3D movie experience – ‘Inception’ effectively bucked the trend. Its director has been one who has continued to make one great film after another and its leading star, DiCaprio, has managed to lend his talents to all the right projects.

To me THIS was the Summer Blockbuster that delivered the goods (sorry Robin Hood, Iron Man 2 you didn’t cut it). It had great acting from all involved, a touching emotional core and brilliantly devised set pieces. Oh and the best action sequence of the year by a mile involved Gordon Joseph-Levitt in a hallway which defied gravity. Read the review   http://www.liberationfrequency.co.uk/inception-review  

The Town 

After appearing in a string of dismal films Ben Affleck took control of his own career. He directed the surprisingly good, ‘Gone Baby Gone’, he starred in ‘Hollywoodland’ and had a wonderful role in ‘State of Play’ alongside Russell Crowe.

In 2010 he directed and co-wrote the screenplay for the ‘The Town’. If ‘Gone Baby Gone’ didn’t cement Ben Affleck as a director to watch then this surely does. ‘The Town’ is an absolutely great film that rises above the genre conventions that seemingly on the outset restrict it. It’s a crime thriller/heist film with great acting, directing and an absolutely delightful script. While ‘Inception’ is also a heist film where ‘your mind is the scene of the crime’ this brings the genre down to earth and adds some real grit.   

It does appear that ‘The Town’ exploits every plot device in the heist genre. We have the guy who wants ‘out’ and has to commit to one last job (Affleck), a sociopath of a best friend whose been in prison - James ‘Gem’ Coughlin - and whose never going back – a definite liability (what do you think?), the tough cop on their trail and who isn’t going to stop (Jon Hamm), the local crime lord (the late great Pete Postlethwaite) who won’t take ‘No’ for an answer and the potentially dangerous love interest(s) that repel and pushes our main protagonist (Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively). It sounds as if we’ve seen it before. Michael Mann perfected the genre with ‘Heat’, but Affleck adds something else to the mix - a social comment. This film is set in an area of Boston known as Charlestown, an underprivileged neighbourhood. It is this setting that really elevates the film and provides pathos.

 Charlestown is a character as much as any of the human actors in this piece. Its presence looms large. Before watching ‘The Town’ I had never heard of Charlestown. I suppose it doesn’t mater. The point is that a socially deprived area affects the lives and ultimate actions of those individuals that live in it. When this is applied to a heist film it becomes tragic. Charlestown is the reason why Affleck’s Doug has to escape. It’s the reason why we feel so much pity for Jeremy Renner’s sociopathic ‘Gem’ (Renner is a terrific actor and fully deserved the Oscar nod for ‘The Hurt Locker’ I truly wish the best for this talented actor). Affleck in particularly surprised me with a world-weary performance, and delivers a lengthy monologue at one point with perfect subtly and restraint. 

Another thing that sets this film apart besides the script is the directing. The action sequences when they come are skilfully and perfectly executed. Just one thing. Don’t put Affleck and his crew in the corner, because these guys aren’t going down without a fight. You have been warned.             

Buried 

I was not familiar with the name Rodrigo Corté, the director of ‘Buried’. His name is one that deserves to be remembered. The less I say about this the better. I saw a lot of great films in 2010, old and new. ‘Buried’ was a genuine surprise and deserves to be seen by a wider audience. It has several things going for it: a blistering performance from Ryan Reynolds, amazing direction by Corté and an excellent script. I went into the cinema to watch this without knowing too much about what  was going to happen  except the obvious…. a man is…umm… buried alive inside a coffin and it’s set in real time.

Now I’m going to keep this short, because the less you know the better. Reynolds is a U.S. contractor working in Iraq, he quickly realises he has been captured and placed in his situation by terrorists. He has several tools with him in his coffin: a mobile phone, a torch and a lighter. Now I didn’t feel as claustrophobic as my friend did watching this, but to say that this is little more than exercise in directing and acting would be extremely naïve. Reynold’s is extremely good and proves that he isn’t just a six pack with a big pearly white grin (in truth I’ve always thought he was a decent actor). Anyway if you get into the story you realise that this is more than a film about being trapped in coffin. I think there is a definite political allegory here. It isn’t set in Iraq just for the hell of it. If I say anymore I’ll ruin the game. In short, a very interesting film.   




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