Old-ish news by just a couple days, but the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, in a poll of its members, has tabbed David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. as the Film of the Decade. Carving out a Top 10 list in any given year is tough, but picking from a decade’s worth of cinematic masterpieces is an especially brutalexercise. It’s always interesting to see how past favorites rise andfall in favor, and the personal unit of measurement in undertaking suchan endeavor is invariably subjective: Are they the films whose craftyou most admire, or those you most revisit? Are they films withpowerfully moving closed-circuit narratives, or need they leave youwith much to ponder?
I think the breadth of LAFCA‘s polling reflects the catholic tastes andintellectual engagement of our membership, but in so many ways Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. is an especially appropriate choice as Film ofthe Decade, and not only because it captures in elliptical fashion the polarizing extremes of life in Los Angeles. A beautiful, woozy mystery for the id, portions of itsmeaning are readily apparent, while others dance along its edges,deliciously up for substantive argument and debate — which is part ofwhat we as film critics love, after all. For some interesting reading/skimming, the full list of all 190 films receiving votes on 41 member ballots, as well as individual critic lists, is available by clicking here. Happy perusing!
Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize winner Fish Tank, from British writer-director Andrea Arnold, is a gritty, naturalistic drama that will slowly envelop patient arthouse audiences on the strength of its powerhouse performances. A slice of social realism in the vein of Ken Loach, this slow-boil, Essex-set tale of teen alienation and acting out is an example of character study done right.
Fifteen-year-old Mia (Katie Jarvis, above) is in a constant state of war with her younger sister, her schoolmates and neighbors, without any constructive creative outlet for her considerable energies, save a secret love of hip-hop dancing. When her party-happy mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing), an across-the-pond version of Amy Ryan’s character from Gone Baby Gone, brings home a rakish new boyfriend, Connor (Inglourious Basterds‘ Michael Fassbender), the rudderless Mia is quietly amazed to find him return her attention. In fits and starts, she argumentatively pushes him away and seeks his approval, believing he can help her start to make sense of her life. Slippery slope inappropriateness ensues.
In Fish Tank, there’s none of the vanity so typically associated with American films centered on teen protagonists, and the performances are something special. Acting neophyte Jarvis shines, conveying a believable spitfire mixture of teen vulnerability and anger, while the charismatic Fassbender, a star in the making, puts a good sheen on a character whose actions label him a cad. At two hours, Fish Tank is a bit overlong, but part of its engagement lies in the inexorably mounting tension in wondering whether the narrative is really going where you think it might be headed. It goes without saying that Hollywood studios wouldn’t touch this material without benefit of a moralizing conclusion, but the American indie version of this story would also most likely find it necessary to ascribe explicatory backstory, motivation or revelation to Connor, which Arnold rather refreshingly does not. Men, like adolescents, Arnold seems to say, tend to take. The value judgment one places on that is not her primary concern. For more information, click here. (IFC, R, 122 minutes)
I weigh in as part of Vulture’s 43-critic sampling of the worst of film in 2009, with a from-the-hip ballot of five movies that supremely irked and rankled me. There are more, sure, but those are the ones that most came to mind when polled, perhaps because I skipped The Ugly Truth and Old Dogs. And hey, I even make the pull quote chart at Number Two, for their slideshow of the top 10 worst vote-getters.