It’s that time of year again and this year MarBelle has laid down some very strict ground rules. Only ten films (hard), in order of favour and only films made or released this year (positively mean). That means I can’t mention one of the best films I saw this year – Wake in Fright an Australian film from 1971 recently restored and re-released by the Australian film board. A desperate and edgy film about a bonded teacher who loses his way, his looks, his money and his hope over the course of a week or so in the deepest outback of Yabba Yabba. If I could I would be urge you to find it and watch it but I can’t, so I won’t.
So, I’m focusing on the last year’s film watching. I’ve been lucky enough to go to a number of festivals this year and am based at Broadway cinema in Nottingham so have seen most of these on the big screen. I haven’t seen as many films as I’d like – There’s always too much time spent meeting and pitching at festivals rather than film watching, but that’s the way of getting films made. I do think 2010 has provided some amazing films. I haven’t applied any science or stringent rules, just come up with a list of the films that looking back from the darkness of December made an impact and have stayed with me.
10. Let Your Feet Do the Talking – Stewart Copeland
Let Your Feet Do the Talking is a documentary from Tennessee filmmaker Stewart Copeland about Thomas Maupin, legendary buck dancer from Tullahoma Tennessee and his disabled grandson Daniel who plays old time banjo music. It’s an intimate portrait of a man who is coming to the end of his life and actively making memories for him and his grandson, the film explores the space in-between them. Tender, moving and like all good documentaries a window into a place a world away from my life.
9. Trash Humpers – Harmony Korine
Minxy, nonsense, unwatchable, brilliant, disturbing and hilariousness from Harmony Korine. I have to come clean and tell you that I hated Gummo with a passion but there was something mercurial about this. Leo Scott who edited this told me that he spent weeks degrading the footage making the HD look like VHS and that pages of the treatment just said “half the audience will have left” “doesn’t make any sense”. I’m paraphrasing but in a world of story consultants, trailer doctors and massive committees making films it’s a breath of fresh air.
Listen to the DN interview with director Harmony Korine.
Shockingly absent from the Oscar shortlist and one of my highlights of Hotdocs. An intense portrait of the man was (or wasn’t) Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard. The most brilliant unreliable narrator onscreen for years with much of the story taking place in Abu Jandal’s taxi cab where he now drives in the Yemen.
7. Racing Dreams – Marshall Curry
I included Sacha Gervasi’s film Anvil in my last year’s selection along with his quote – “Films don’t have to be serious to be moving.“ I completely believe in this sentiment. As a “non-issue” filmmaker making documentaries within a world that at times feels saturated with campaigning films about huge issues it’s hard sometimes to feel that if you can reach an audience by looking at the human condition or “small stories”. Racing Dreams embodies this sentiment. It’s a classic set up for a doc – We follow three teenagers who race competitive go karts over a season. Who will win at the top of the league and who will earn a life changing deal with Nascar. So far, so predictable. It’s a skilfully told classic, tense tale of who wins the race. What makes the film so brilliant are the details of the three racers and their onscreen transformation. We see them fall in love, grow up and deal with their lives changing. heart breaking. I watched this at Big Sky and sobbed into my popcorn.
6. Arsy Versy – Miro Remo
A Slovakian short from Hot Docs. Lobos wants to see the world differently so he looks at it upside down, like a bat. Made by Lobos’ nephew about his uncle and Great Aunt. Bonkers, wonderful and completely on it’s own.
5. Dogtooth – Yorgos Lanthimos
This is the only film in my top ten I watched on DVD, on a train. I had to lower the screen when the full nudity started – and I realised it wasn’t exactly family viewing. A claustrophobic and intense fucked up family drama. Makes you look at cats in a whole new light and the plane crashes are wonderful.
4. Last Train Home – Lixin Fan
I was a juror for the features competition at Big Sky back in February. I took it very seriously and didn’t read any reviews of the films ahead of judging, not a press release, not a press pack, not a sausage. In fact I watched them in a way that I would never see a film at a festival where one is absolutely bombarded with marketing material and killer strap lines. This was the film we unanimously awarded best film. It’s astonishing – I learnt more about China from following one family’s experiences of rural urban migration and the reality of sweatshops than a hundred news reports. It turned my heart inside out and made me think.
3. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – Werner Herzog
Nicolas Cage bristles as a drug and booze and gambling addled cop in Werner Herzog’s bonkers cop drama, complete with iguana hallucinations. Like Wake in Fright it just keeps on going wrong for him as he sinks deeper and deeper into oblivion. Cage gives the role what an apprentice contestant would call 110% and it made me remember why I loved him so much way back in Wild at Heart.
Read the DN review of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
2. Lourdes – Jessica Hausner
Wheelchair bound Christine makes a life changing pilgrimage to Lourdes to visit the shrine of our lady. This is a brutal and tender film about hope, faith, love, and the power of miracles. It’s a mischievous, atmospheric and quiet charmer that had me absolutely hooked, falling in love and devastated by the personal isolation. If you haven’t, you MUST watch this film. Brilliant.
1. Marwencol – Jeff Malmberg
I finally saw Marwencol at Doc/Fest in November after hearing a lot about the film. It didn’t disappoint. Marwencol is a documentary about the fantasy world of Mark Hogancamp. After being brutally beaten Mark rebuilds his life by building Marwencol, a fantasy world inhabited by action men and Barbies at 1/6th scale. What I like so much about the film is that Mark’s story is so unusual, so organic and the film is made with massive empathy and understanding of his story. I love the homemade ingenuity of the world and the way the film keeps on taking you deeper. It’s not perfect, a bit too long and it’s certainly not for everyone – the man I was sat next to at Sheffield tutted and sighed throughout the film – but I loved it.
Gasland – Josh Fox: We awarded Gasland Artistic Achievement at Big Sky in the features competition this year. Josh tells the devastating environmental disaster of natural Gas fracking through the fight to save the creek in his own garden. It’s just so well done.
Enter the Void – Gaspar Noé: Watch this for the title sequence, which is immense then leave. My husband described it as “rolling down a hill made of breasts wearing a helmet of drugs” which I think pretty much sums it up. It looks great but the story is wafer thin, the acting a bit ropey and there were moments when I thought the lead character had come back as a moth flying uncontrolled into lights and neon.
Avatar – James Cameron: Baby’s first eco story, written in wax crayon on the back of an envelope. Visuals developed in a club chill out room circa Middlesbrough 1992 didn’t help either.
Jeanie Finlay is a film-maker and artist based in Nottingham. She is currently working on two new feature documentaries - The Great Hip Hop Hoax and Orion: The Man Who Would be King. She is a secret geek and wishes John Waters was her Godfather. Twitter: @JeanieFinlay