Top 10 Films of ’10

This year, I mean last year — 2010 — was good to me in terms of film, mostly thanks to The Site Formerly Known As The Auteurs. I met some very passionate people on there and got introduced to some incredible French films, Soviet cinema and old obscure British art films that I wouldn’t otherwise have heard of.

This list will probably not reflect any of that because I’m constrained by the fact that only films released in ’10 can be on here, and of those, I’ve only seen a handful. Still, I don’t think that I need to see all the films in ’10 to be able to make a list of my favourites. So without further ado —

10. Siege Of The Dead

Clocking at a little over an hour, this brilliant little film from Germany is about a group of ordinary people trapped in an apartment building surrounded by zombies. While Siege… isn’t quite as scary as REC, it is ultimately more clever and resourceful.

This is one of the films I found out about through an acquaintance on Mubi (The Site Formerly Known As The Auteurs), and boy am I glad that I did.

9. Dogtooth


From Greece comes this disturbingly dark film that I despise because of how it made me feel; yet it resonated with me so much that I find it absolutely necessary to include in this list. On the surface, it’s about bad parenting, but really, it’s a film about fascism and censorship; paranoia and mind control; and incest.

There’s a scene in this film that makes that one infamous scene in Antichrist look like some G-rated Disney shit.

8. The American


While most people compare Corbjn’s The American to Melville’s Le Samourai, I find that it’s a lot closer to Jarmusch’s Limits of Control than the former. It’s a hitman film with no hits; an international spy thriller with no thrill. All you get is some absolutely gorgeous photography and Clooney walking, sitting and having sex with a hooker. Now while that may not sound very interesting, I believe Corbjn made exactly the film he wanted.

It’s an exercise in minimalism and subtlety, and that appeals very much to my senses as a filmmaker.

7. Heartbeats


Now is as good a time as any for a little confession: I didn’t very much like Xavier Dolan when I first heard of him. I just hate knowing that there’s someone exactly my age (he’s only 20 days older) doing something I so passionately want to do — and doing it well. It makes me feel like such a loser. A failure. Also, it doesn’t help that he’s incredibly good-looking too. I’m sorry, but he is. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

His second feature, Les Amours Imaginaires, otherwise known as Heartbeats, is a beautiful film about love, lust and friendship. It’s very well written and incredibly well-shot. The editing can be a bit distracting at times, and the slow-mo shots get old really quickly, but the film is far greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s not something I can say about a lot of films.

6. Flipped


This American film by Rob Reiner is probably the sweetest most adorable film I’ve seen all year. It’s about two eighth graders who fall for each other. Essentially, it’s a film about first love set in the 50s. It’s funny, well acted and very well written. I don’t know what more to say except except that if you’ll only see one film about first love this year, this should be it.

5.  Please Give


Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give is the surprise film of the year, for me at least. I didn’t very much like Holofcener’s previous film, Friends With Money, and went into this one knowing absolutely nothing about it.

It’s a multi-layered ensemble about an upper middle-class couple who buys the apartment of their neighbour, an elderly woman, and wait for her to die. The characters are incredibly well written and the performances fantastic, especially from Rebecca Hall who plays the elderly woman’s granddaughter. Holofcener’s favourite, Catherine Keener, is in this too, and she’s brilliant. In a way, the film feels like good Woody Allen and the very best of Todd Solondz.

As far as slice-of-life films go, this right here is outstanding. Tell your friends.

4. The Ghost Writer


I’d like to go on record saying that I prefer the original title — The Ghost. That being said, this is a brilliantly crafted film by an old master. With The Ghost Writer, Polanski made what is probably the best political thriller in years. It was well written, well acted and had the most amazing score. Most of all, it was actually thrilling.

3. Four Lions


It’s not everyday that you see a film about “jihadists” that’s actually funny. It’s incredibly sharp, witty, dark and really really funny. I haven’t laughed like I did in this all year.

The film’s greatest strength is probably the fact that it didn’t ridicule or poke fun at Islam; it easily could have. It’s a film about idiotic terrorists who just happen to be muslim; not one about how islam “breeds” terrorists. A lesser director could’ve easily gone the other way and made a film I would’ve probably found offensive.

Chris Morris is no hack, and he succeeded in making one of the best films of the year.

2. Carlos


As long as I’m talking about terrorism, I might as well go ahead and talk about Olivier Assaya’s masterpiece, Carlos. It’s not so much about terrorism as it is about idealism, radicalism and battling western imperialism. Like The Baader Meinhof Complex, Carlos is about how someone with arguably good intentions turns into, for all intensive purposes, a monster.

With an ambitious running time of five and a half hours, Carlos is a near perfect film.

1. Somewhere


Like The American, Somewhere goes nowhere, but even more so.

The first five minutes, in which a stationary camera captures a Ferrari going round a race track over and over and over… tells you everything you need to know about this film. But I did not like the last ten minutes. Not because there was anything especially bad with the ending, it’s just that, for a film so subtle, the ending was too “in your face.” Nevertheless, that didn’t spoil this beautiful film for me.

Like Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola has once again made an incredibly deep human story about loneliness. Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning were fantastic; the cinematography absolutely brilliant, and the music wasn’t half-bad either.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my favorite film of 2010.

One-Page Screenplay

So I saw this One-Page Screenplay idea on MovieLine.com and decided to give it a short. And this is what I came up with –

One-Page ScreenplayBasically, it’s a cross between Rian Johnson’s One-Page Screenplay and the Opening Scene from Sam Raimi’s Army Of Darkness. Much love and respect to both guys 🙂

Here. My Review…

So I just saw “Here. My Explosion…“, the latest feature from indie filmmaker Reid Gershbein. The film can best be described as being a pseudo-mumblecore feature.

It’s about Sera (Eleese Longino), an artist who has a weird relationship with coffee. Or more accurately, coffee cups from which she’d drunk from. The empty coffee cups make magical things happen to objects around them, when she’s not watching. Yes, I think the basic concept is new and fresh too. And I like new and fresh 🙂

So the film basically revolves around how this “magic” affects Sera, her friends: Tom (Seth Burnham) and Francois (Jeffery Davis). And Francois’s two girlfriends: Lil (Lee Kuhn) and Tegan (Jennifer Jajeh).

The first thing you’ll notice about Here My Explosion is how over-saturated its colours are. To some extent, the effect works really well. I love how all the saturated establishing shots of the city look with the tilt-shift effect added in post to give the illusion of depth. I also like the wide shots that weren’t establishing. There’s this one shot in the beginning of the film of Francois and Lil walking into his house that stuck in head because of how magical and dreamy it looked.

HME_Magic

On the other hand, the over-saturated close-up shots don’t look quite as good. In some of those shots, the skin of the actors look too orange and fake. Other times, it’s not the actors, but an object in the background that’s distracting. There’s this one scene when Tegan and Sera first met that’s like that. Sera was trying to tell Tegan about her art, but I couldn’t concentrate because my attention was being distracted by the hyper-saturated red coming from the flowers behind them.

Why do I call this film a Pseudo-mumblecore? Well, it’s mumblecore because it was shot like a mumblecore film with multiple handled shots, shaky-cam and close-ups that wouldn’t have made sense anywhere else. It’s Pseudo- because it didn’t feel or sound too mumblecore. This is of course a good thing because nothing rapes my ears like the awkward filler-saturated dialogue of mumblecore films. It’s like, you know, kinda like, sorta… Goddamnit! Say something already!!!

Reid knows when to shoot handled and when to keep the camera stationary. He did an amazing job giving the film a “real” feel without being too distracting for the audience. For that, I give props to him. Although, there’s this one scene that didn’t feel right. Sera and Francois were in the car: She’s driving and he’s sitting comfortably in the back seat with no one in the passenger’s side. You don’t see friends driving around like that. It’s just not natural. The only thing missing was a  black suit, and she’d be his very own personal chauffeur.

Let me say it right here and now – I love the theme song. It is simple, yet very catchy. I simply love it. It appears in the very beginning, randomly in the middle and at the end credits of the film.

As for the audio, I have a love-hate relationship with it. At times, it’s clean. So clean, in fact it’ll have you wishing there was more background noise so you can have a more natural sound. Other times, the noise is too bad you’ll have to listen extra hard in order to hear what the actors are saying.

Also, there’s this one scene that was totally silent. Granted, no one was talking, but Sera was moving around and a little music might have helped. The theme-song maybe? Just saying.

Like earlier suggested, I like the dialogue. For the most part, it was natural without being too mumblecore. Everything a character said almost always felt right, with the exception being the ending. I didn’t buy that whole segment with the Colombians.

For the record, I like Sera’s final monologue at the end 🙂

Reid did a good job casting most of the parts. I like Eleese Longino, and I think she works really well as Sera. I buy her as an alternative-artist who’s a little confused about life’s little mysteries. Also, she’s beautiful. Really. Don’t take my word for it, all the characters think so too. They all have a crush on her. Yes, you read that right – ALL OF THEM! 😉

Jeffery Davis as Francois the Ladies Man was perfect too. Jennifer Jajeh plays Tegan well enough, and I think she’s very likable.

Two people I have a problem with are Lee Kuhn and Seth Burnham as Lil and Tom respectively. I don’t know if it’s Lee’s fault or Lil the character’s, but Lil is lifeless throughout the whole film. But that’s mild-criticism at best, being that she doesn’t have that much screen time.

My biggest problem though, was Seth as Tom – the multi-millionaire entrepreneur. To that, I say Bollocks! But that’s hardly Seth’s fault. I mean – Does the film need a multi-millionaire entrepreneur in the first place, who feels that he should tell everyone how much money he has every chance he gets? In my not-so-proffesional opinion, IT DOESN’T. Don’t get me wrong, the character can be there. He just shouldn’t go around telling everyone how much money he has. But if he must, then he should at the very least look the part.

HME2

In the end, seeing that I love the story, acting, music and the pseudo-mumblecore feel to it, I have no choice but recommend Here My Explosion. If you’ve seen a mumblecore film… or Dogme95… or any non “Hollywood” film… and liked it, then you should definitely see Here. My Explosion. It’s as good a film as any in that category.

Download/Watch HME right now – HERE.

Also, if you like it, follow Reid on Twitter – @thraveboy.

People, Dinners & Photographs

I slowly looked around this dimly lit room. What am I doing here? I thought. Who are these people sitting on tables all around me? They all look the same; with their matching black suits, and faces buried six-feet under an assorted combo of beauty products they saw somewhere on the pages of a fashion magazine, right next to an airbrushed picture of some skinny anorexic model named… whoever.

model

For a moment, my mind slipped back to an earlier time, two weeks ago to be exact; a dinner party not very much unlike this one. It had a lot less people, yet they didn’t all look the same. “Diversity” isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.

The hall is divided into four quadrants, each of which has thirteen or so tables. I am on a table somewhere in the middle of this grand hall, seated with arguably the most normal, or closest-to normal people in a 5-mile radius.

I’m all for people changing and experimenting with fashion; doesn’t matter how outrageous or ridiculous. I’m fine with you wearing anything from Black overalls, to Larry-King suspenders, to tight ridiculous fuck-me pants, as long as you do it for you, and not just because a thousand fucking idiots are wearing it too. I believe your dressing should reflect more who you are, as a person, than where you are at that moment in time.

Maybe it’s because of this Facebook frenzy we’re currently all in. Everyone wants to get the best possible shots of themselves in those over-priced suits and dresses they blew all their pocket-monies on. Because they know that they might never get another chance to wear these expensive pieces of fabric ever again. Well, at least not until one of these events come back around, which, if they’re lucky, might take quite a while.

I remember one particular picture from that other dinner, two weeks ago. There I was, smiling, wearing a red graphic-tee, blue straight-cut jeans and red Converse All Stars. Just your stereotypical average anybody, from wherever. Beside me, on my left, was this guy in a brown business suit, looking very corporate down to his spotless brown leather shoes. He reminded me of that Enron dude from TV a couple of years ago. Next to him, was this other guy, dressed in what I’d like to call the over-sized white-trifecta: Shirt, Pants, and Sneakers, all 2 sizes too big. He was also rocking a huge shiny chain half the size of his head around his neck. All he seemed to be missing was a shiny pistol to match, and he’d be that rapper that got killed in that late night drive-by shoot-out you didn’t see in your local channel’s nine o’clock news. He had his arms around a girl, who was wearing a long pink tube-type dress covered in a multi-colored, mind-bending, hallucination-inducing flower print. Going strictly by our clothes, you would be crazy to think that we would even so much as hang-out together, let alone be these semi-strangers sitting on the same table at the same fucking dinner party.

There is a touch on my shoulder, and when I turn, it is this girl, wearing a little black dress, who might have been beautiful, and who I might have known from somewhere. Jamais Vu. Or maybe it’s just all these layers of make-up on her face that are preventing me from recognizing her. She says something, but I didn’t hear because I am looking at her shoes. They are bright yellow, bordering on gold. I guess that is her idea of standing out, being bold.
She wants us to take a picture together. I look at the camera, and for a split second, I zone out. I wonder what happens when this girl puts her legs together and clicks these shoes three times. Definitely not Kansas!

What breaks my heart is the fact that the jackass who shot us doesn’t know the first thing about taking decent photographs. I have all these things in my head that I want to say to the asshole. I know photography isn’t exactly rocket science dude, I’m thinking. But it’s still got rules asshole. Sure, they are not the gospel, but they’re fucking guidelines, at the very least. So for the love of God, just because it’s called a point-and-shoot camera doesn’t mean you can just point to wherever your dick is facing and fucking shoot! This is not the Wild West, and this, most definitely, is not your goddamn bedroom!

The picture from the dinner of two weeks ago was really good though. I was smiling, and everyone, in their own little way, looked great. The girl standing on my right added even more diversity to an already over-diversified line-up. She was wearing a black micro-mini skirt with a slightly smaller strapless top to match her knee high, black leather high-heel boots. Her face looked like something that broke out of a testing lab at a big cosmetic & beauty products company, one you might know from the cover of some fashion magazine you were never cool enough to come across. She was also spotting thick black eye-liner and heavy mascara. She looked like the stereotypical Goth-chick from all the Hollywood movies, if the said Goth-chick was also a hooker in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Red Light District

Back at this event, I wonder why some of the people wear these suits and dresses, when they are so very clearly uncomfortable in them. Maybe it’s the delusion that they’ll look stupid or silly if they wore something a little more comfortable and different, which is very ironic, considering that’s exactly how they end up looking: Clueless fucking conformist-sheep! Maybe it’s in their blood. Maybe it’s inevitable. Maybe whichever way they went, they would have still ended up looking fucking stupid.

See also: Fate.

See also: Predestination paradox.

It wasn’t until the end of the night when I saw this one guy wearing a white muscle-tee under a sleeveless green hoodie that I started seriously doubting myself. He shattered my belief on fashion, diversity and everything I knew about standing out in social situations. It was the equivalent of being four all over again, and finding out that the whole tooth-fairy thing was all a big fat lie.

He was also wearing faded black baggy jeans to go with his huge grey military-style boots. A thick grey scarf around his neck and a single black gym-glove on his left hand to complete, what I assume was “the look” he was going for. I wasn’t exactly sure what look that was, but if it was the “Uber-Douche” look he was trying for, he totally nailed it!

Maybe standing-out isn’t such a great idea. After all, it was the quest to be different that made the Goth-Hooker chick from two weeks ago wear a crystal white diamond-encrusted wedding gown to this dinner party. Maybe it’s wise to heed the old proverb, When in Rome…

My Hypertime

Apparently, I tell my stories in hypertime. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it may have something to do with my pacing. Maybe how I don’t let one thing sink in before throwing in another. It’s the equivalent of force-feeding a patient on a hospital bed; you might get the job done alright, but at the end of the day, the process isn’t exciting for either of you.

Don’t rush, just because it’s not exciting, doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. That statement just keeps playing back in my head, over and over. I should read it one more time, just in case the one in my head scratches, gets grainy or worse, starts skipping and driving me crazy.

Don’t rush, just because it’s not exciting, doesn’t mean it’s not interesting.

This is my shot at not rushing. This is me writing not exciting, hoping it turns out interesting, even if just a little. Come to think of it, what is interesting? What does it mean when someone says something is “interesting”? I intend to find out.

But first things first, I need to slowdown time.

Thoughts in the Men’s Room

There was no one in the men’s room when I walked in. At the sink, I looked at my reflection in the mirror; my face was dripping wet with sweat. The slightest dementia would have caused me to believe that I had poured a bucket of water on my head.

I left home in a hurry, tying my shoelace inside the elevator. I ran, the minute the elevator door opened, and then ran some more till I got to the school entrance. From there, I walked in a hurry, pushing past people as I made my way to the bank.

By the time I reached the ATM 10 minutes later, I was sweating like crazy. I couldn’t see properly because my sunglasses were covered in sweat. I wiped over them with kleenex from my back pocket. The neck and back regions of my T-shirt were soaked wet, and inside, I felt like an overheated engine furiously expelling hot steam. It was the equivalent of stepping out of a hot shower and immediately putting on cotton without toweling dry.

See also: Getting soaked in the rain.

See also: Taking a dip in the swimming pool fully clothed.

The tap at the sink is the kind you press at the top to get working. I pressed with one hand and collected the water in the other. Almost immediately, I splash the water on my face with both hands washing in a clockwise motion. Washing your face with this kind of press-stop tap requires skill.

The ATM makes that sound it makes when it’s counting your money. I always welcome this sound, especially when I use the ATM machine of another bank. It’s like music to my ears, because I know I’m going to get my money.

See also: Pavlov’s dog experiment.

See also: Classical Conditioning.

The machine opens up, and I take my money.

Almost immediately, I turned and started walking. Next stop, the men’s room.

“Freshen up” isn’t the right phrase, but it was the first that came to mind.

It was in that sorry state that I saw her. She was with some random guy that I neither knew, nor had any intentions of knowing. She was wearing a tee and skinny jeans, like she always does, with both eyes glued to her phone screen – texting.

I call her Ceey, because that’s short for her real name. We went out a few months back, and to say it ended really badly, will be a gross understatement.

She hasn’t seen you yet. Turn, take another route. I told myself.

“Al, are you balding?”, she said with a mischievous smile on her lips, “But it wasn’t that long since I last saw you”.

You just know this girl is evil from looking at her face.

“Oh no it was long alright”, I said. “Because I clearly remember the last time I saw you, you weren’t this pregnant”

Stop this stupid dialogue in your head, I told myself. Turn, run, she hasn’t seen you yet.

And I was just about to turn when I heard her voice. Hey Al, How have you been doing.

I looked at her. She was smiling. You could tell the smile was insincere because only her lips smiled.

See also: The clown from Stephen King’s It.

See also: The serial killer from Scary Movie.

I told her I was great.

“You’re sweating a lot”, she said.

Looking at the mirror over the sink in the men’s room, I say, Am I? Gee, thanks captain obvious.

I then poured more water in my face.

I told her I ran, hence the sweat.

I poured water on my face one last time before walking over to the drier. It was broken. There was a box of brown toilet paper by the side. I took one, hoping it was brown only because it’s recycled paper.

The guy that was with Ceey handed me a can of ice-cold grape juice. What’s this guy’s deal. No thank you, I told him. The ass insisted. I told him no, I’m cool. He said I wasn’t cool because I was sweating. Nobody likes a smart-ass. What would Jesus not do? I told him to bugger off because I don’t like him and I think he smells like poo.

For some reason, he took that personal.

Cool air hit my fresh moist face as I stepped out of the men’s room. I smiled, and wondered if all that I thought might have happened, would have actually happened, had I not cowardly snuck past them without saying a word.

I know there’s a 50% chance she would have been nice. But if she’s not, there’s a 100% chance she would have been much worse.

I was never good at statistics.

mensroom

Monday Morning Madness

So the idea is that I will write every morning, for an hour, about whatever. It was something I picked up on the “tips” section of a writers’ blog in the vastness of the Internet. That being said, not everything I write will end up here. And not everything that ends up here was… Well, you get the point.

Today however, is one of those days, when what I write will end up here, like it already has.

So what is on your mind today, Al?

That sounds like something my shrink would ask me. Not that I have a shrink, but if I had, that sounds like something he’d ask.

I would reply with something like, “Nothing at the moment, but I can make something up.”

At which point, he would say “Fine, then make something up.”

From there on, we would get into a long and complex, but strangely familiar dialogue, before realizing halfway that my shrink is in fact Dr. Jeffrey Squires, and I am still asleep, and dreaming like my life depended on it.

But come to think of it, dreams make life worth living. I mean, why exist if you have nothing to achieve? You might as well just die and make space for the dreaming humans, after all, resources are very scarce.

But right now, it is not the scarcity of the resources in the world that is on my mind; it is the Maths class I’m having in an hour that bothers me.

One morning, I woke up to find myself studying Artificial Intelligence. Funny thing is that I’m not particularly bright at Maths. Sure, I like computers (who doesn’t?), and have experimented with a few programming languages, but Calculus just isn’t my thing.

I want to be a filmmaker. No, not in a Hollywood sort of way, although I have to admit that’ll be quite good. But small scale, Indie, so to say. And not only direct my own films, but work on other people’s. Help and teach others in non-formal ways and just live in the filmmaking. Live in the filmmaking: That’s my dream.

But I have a problem. Maybe not a problem in the I-owe-the-mob-a-shit-load-of-money-and-they-want-it-by-tomorrow sort of way, but a problem nonetheless.

None of my close friends is really into film. Sure, we often have great times at the movies, and even talk about said movies afterwards. But there’s a way moviegoers talk about a movie, and there’s a way moviemakers talk about a movie. Not one of my friends talk like the latter.

I’m not saying they should. I like pizza, and If it’s hot and smells nice, I’m game. I don’t really care how it came to be.

But I have my artsy friends, only not as easily accessible as I’d have wanted, but what the hell. They are the kind of friends that you’ll need a computer with a pathway to the interweb just to say Hi to. But take my word for it, it’s worth it.

I mean, take when I wanted to get my DSLR for example. Sure, I could have thrown the problem at Google, and gotten a thousand fucking answers which I would spend the whole day checking. But no, I asked Sean, and he gave me his honest to God opinion, straight up. It is refreshing.

Or when I so much like to talk about a film related something, and none of my friends seem to be paying any attention. Then on, she comes and we argue for an hour. No, it’s not the kind of argument that frustrates; it’s the kind that liberates. There is just something relaxing about having a deep, but meaningless conversation about something you care about with someone you know knows their shit, even if they don’t agree with you. In fact it’s more fun when they don’t always agree. Thank you Nadira for being there, even if so rarely.

This is turning into some kind of love letter to my online artsy friends, which is fine. They keep me alive, fuel my dreams and give me a reason to live. I love them all.

I would probably die if I didn’t have such friends. Not a physical death of course, but what’s a body without a soul? I’ll tell you, a vessel for the body snatchers to invade!