I've picked my favorite films for the year and judging from how many of you LOVED James Cameron's Avatar (which does not make my list I'm quite afraid to say) I figure I'm in for some serious slack for these choices.
First of all, how DARE I declare Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In to be the best film of the year, when most people never even heard of it or missed its screening here in Trinidad at studiofilmclub earlier this year? And why is fellow vampire flick Twilight: New Moon NOT on my list? Didn't I get the memo about the pale and undead being HOT this year?
1. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)
You're getting beaten up in school everyday. It's always f--king snowing. The apartment you live in has really thin walls. Your mom dresses like she's from the band ABBA. And you spend most of your time 'playing' with your imaginary friend. Life couldn't get any worse, right? Oh yes it can. You could live in Sweden. And your girlfriend could be a vampire (later, you discover that not only is she apparently not fully human, but there is something seriously weird going on with her...gonads, to the extent that she explains, "I'm not a girl"). After several feeding frenzies (quite a few of the locals get chomped on) she dumps you because she's got to go away to stay under the radar.
It sounds like the stuff of a screwball comedy, but actually this is one of the most sophisticated, emotionally charged and beautiful films I've ever seen. Contrary to the view of most critics, the key is not only the performances of the child actors (they are exceptional; articulating complex adult emotions. Or is it that adult emotions are reflections of what we go through as children?)
There are also several other tricks going on, including the use of ambient sound. We hear the crunch of footsteps on snow like bombs going off, breathing is heightened in a way that makes living seem like an eternal labour, clothing rustle and stomachs grumble in creepy, creepy ways. Even in moments of 'silence' you can detect layers beneath the soundtrack, as though a slowed down recording of human screaming is being softly played (as was the case in a film that I was reminded of while watching this called The Sixth Sense). Another trick is the use of light and colour and the sequence of vampire attacks in the film.
Red appears at key moments of crisis, often involving fear and hinting at characters in conflict. I also have a theory that each vampire attack or feeding frenzy in the film is linked to a prior moment of romantic or emotional turmoil, expressing the violence or intensity of such conflict. We come away from the movie with a sense that we've watched a puzzle which, if we found an adequate cipher, would reveal layer after layer; like watching one film when you're actually watching another. This is a rare effect, and one which does not demand us to find a solution but rather forces us to surrender and to FEEL in a way we've never quite felt before. You WILL NOT forget this film; the closing scene will make you cry. A masterpiece.
2. Inglourious Basterds
We've all seen Schindler's List. Some of us have seen The Pianist. And Saving Private Ryan is always on television. But we've never quiet seen a movie like Inglourious Basterds which defies our expectations for what a World War II film is supposed to be like in exceptional ways. Not only does Tarantino reallocate how the violence of the Holocaust is depicted, but he does it with some style. Witness the most unforgettably tense bar scene/shoot-out ever filmed. READ a review at Tattoo here.
3. The White Ribbon
Almost the inverse of Inglorious Basterds. It is the eve of World War I and strange things are happening in a remote German village. Accident after accident happens, getting deadlier and deadlier. But there is no sight of a solution as to who is doing it all. Could it be the children? The adults? Outsiders passing through? Micheal Haneke, the great director of The Piano Teacher, Cache and Funny Games makes us think there is a solution just beyond our grasp and delights in keeping us away. CHECK a full review of the film here.
The genius of James Toback's documentary is how it simply lets its subject do all of the talking. The film is basically a series of interviews with former heavyweight champion of the world Mike Tyson, interspersed with news footage. He tells us things we may never have guessed about him: he has a lung condition, he was fat as a kid, he was bullied as a child, he likes to abstain from sex and then break his fast, the quality he wants most in a lover is protectiveness.
The film's lack of authorial intervention (say, by a narrator) works best when Tyson deals with controversial topics, such as his marriage to actress Robin Givens and the rape charge; it's up to each viewer to decide whether they believe Tyson or not. And although this documentary can been seen as a clever ploy to reposition the boxer's tarnished image, one cannot deny its inherent power as a character study. I mean, Tyson reads from Oscar Wilde's 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' for crying out loud! At one point, he even begins to cry, but can't bring himself to. Brilliant.
5. Jennifer's Body
Everybody wanted this to be the new Heathers, but let's face it that was never going to happen. That said, I'm still very very glad this film did happen. It's a teenage slasher romp of uncommon quality, with a central performance by Megan Fox that will MAKE YOU A BELIEVER.
Jennifer is the hottest girl in school. But after she spends a wild night with a creepy indie rock bank (and their hot bandleader Adam Brody), she CHANGES. Boys (and girls) begin to drop like flies. The metaphors are unending, but I just enjoyed the beautifully gaudy images: like Megan Fox in a prom dress in an abandoned poolhouse overgrown with vines or said Megan Fox puking black nails in front of the fridge after she comes in from a night out. Forget Juno this is screenwriter Diablo Cody's best work. MORE here.
6. Carmen and Geoffrey
Winner of Best Film at this year's Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, Carmen and Geoffrey is an affecting documentary about the extraordinary Trinidadian Geoffrey Holder and his wife the great Carmen De Lavallade. Especially for a generation that knows little of Holder, the film is a revelation. “I walk through doors. If I’m not wanted in a place, there’s something wrong with the place not me,” Holder says in the film directed by Linda Atkinson. “People don’t know your name until you tell them what your name is. I am like Madonna and Andy Warhol. Madonna tells the world that she is Madonna and she is who she is.” BROWSE more here.
7. Silent Light
This was another selection for the TTFF. An odd and unforgettable film about a love triangle in a Mennonite community in Mexico of which the world knows little about. A ravishing visual feast about being trapped and being freed. I enjoyed interviewing the film's director, Carlos Reygadas, for a feature which you can read here.
8. Broken Embraces (Los abrazos Rotos)
Of this Almodovar creation Roger Ebert cheekily said, "Broken Embraces is a voluptuary of a film, drunk on primary colors, caressing Penelope Cruz, using the devices of a Hitchcock to distract us with surfaces while the sinister uncoils beneath. As it ravished me, I longed for a freeze frame to allow me to savor a shot." READ his full review here. I've a weakness for Almodovar, and I must confess to being ravished too.
9. Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast?
Each year there's always at least one film I really like for purely sentimental reasons. In Erick Zonka's film, Tilda Swinton plays a drunk slapper who gets wasted and wakes up somewhere different every morning. I say no more.
The Solitary Alchemist read review here.
Coolie Pink and Green
Bury Your Mother
Sita Sings the Blues watch this movie in full here.
The Hurt Locker
GIVE ME MY MONEY BACK (EVEN IF I SAW YOU IN GLOBE):
Avatar read review here.
Twilight: New Moon read review here.
Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen read review here.