Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Fifties for 2010: Best Director

So, re-entering the now: seasoned readers will know that every year, once I've crossed the threshold of seeing 50 commercial releases, I pause for a midterm progress report of bests in several categories, which doubles as a kind of For Your Consideration ad for achievements that I'm hoping other people will recall at year's end (or else hunt down, if they didn't see them the first time). I'm going to move in reverse order of the categories I just rehearsed from last year's Honorees. And so, without further ado...

(...although, if I can just add a little ado, can I say how exciting it is to see this list filled with five filmmakers ranging from their early 30s to their early 40s, none of whom has more than three features under her or his belt, two of whom got their first solo directing credits for these films, and three of whom are women? And I promise, I arrived at this list before considering any of that. It's a new day!)

Maren Ade for Everyone Else, since she proves the term "actor's director" needn't imply inattention to visuals and structure—but still, get a load of those performances;

Jessica Hausner for Lourdes, because she hovers between spoofing her subject and seeming spooked and humbled by it, while maintaining pristine, enigmatic formal control;

Giorgos Lanthimos for Dogtooth, for evoking more about petty tyranny and ignorant complicity by refusing to be literal, allowing himself humor, and trusting his originality;

Kimberly Reed for Prodigal Sons, for an 80-minute master class in imposing clear, forceful, and moving arcs onto complex and wholly intimate material, without losing nuances; and

Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3, a playroom Preston Sturges who spins a rich central story about love and betrayal, couched amid sublime comic supports, pristinely concluded.

Extremely honorable mentions to Jacques Audiard for bringing his trademark blend of gritty realism and lightning verve to the prison tale A Prophet; to Bong Joon-ho for justifying Mother's wilder excesses by crystallizing his tones and intents so purely when it counts most; and to Andrea Arnold for sustaining the promise of Red Road in Fish Tank, which mirrors the Audiard in its blend of scrappy entrapment and fablic embellishments, and draws an ensemble of performances to die for. Those three runners-up would be full-time ballot contenders in a whole lotta years. I guess this year is shaping up okay? The only catch: Toy Story 3 is the only legitimately new film of 2010 anywhere among these eight.

Further honorable mentions to Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer, Noah Baumbach for Greenberg, Mia Hansen-Løve for The Father of My Children, David Michôd for Animal Kingdom, and Frédéric Mermoud for Accomplices. The first, second, and fourth actually did bow on the world stage this year—albeit very early, at Sundance and Berlin!—so that's something.

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Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

The UK is still being denied access to Everyone Else -- and you have no idea how much that's killing me -- but that irritation aside, there's much to cheer here.

Because endless agreement is boring -- and you already know which of these picks I'd co-sign anyway -- I will say that I'm slightly curious about the selection of Lee Unkrich, whose sleek, efficient handling of Toy Story 3 nonetheless struck me as one of the less idiosyncratic directorial achievements in Pixar's canon. Perhaps that's the point -- he's serving the film and the franchise with commendable selflessness -- though I still think he runs into those recurrent Pixar problems with pacing and action.

(Needless to say, this isn't a medium-related qualm on my part, given that Sylvain Chomet leads my own mid-term ballot.)

5:32 AM, August 26, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

Guy, you don’t have to beat Toy Story 3 every time you mention The Illusionist.

I'm totally teasing you :)

How weird is it that this is the first time I look at a pic of Lanthimos? And how cute is it that the person who made Dogtooth also made this famous (in Greece) video?

6:47 AM, August 26, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

And I can't wait to find out if Bening, Moore, Swinton and Papoulia will be on your list. I haven't seen Cairo Time but I predict recognition for Clarkson. And, obviously, Jacki Weaver. Well, at least one of those ladies will be out, of course.

6:51 AM, August 26, 2010  
Blogger Glenn Dunks said...

Gawd, I hate Dogtooth so much and I want to punch that director's stupid face at least one time for every pretentious, wanky, arthouse cliche that he put into that movie (so, quite a few).

Having said that... the Reed and Unkrich citations are wonderful.

6:51 AM, August 26, 2010  
Blogger Nick Duval said...

Best directors so far for me:

Banksy, "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
Ricki Stern/Anne Sundberg, "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"
Lee Unkrich, "Toy Story 3"
Andrea Arnold, "Fish Tank"
Debra Granik, "Winter's Bone"

Honorables: Noah Baumbach, "Greenberg," Roman Polanski, "The Ghost Writer," Nicole Holofcener, "Please Give," Don Argott, "The Art of the Steal," Dean DeBlois/Chris Sanders, "How To Train Your Dragon"

Note: Juan Jose Campanella was my pick for best director in 2009, but here he really should be the best director of 2010, since "The Secret In Their Eyes" came out this year stateside.

6:52 AM, August 26, 2010  
Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

What a fabulous selection.

I have nothing else to add really.

Even if you told me those were your favourite 5 of the entire year (be it 2009 or '10). Thoroughly justifiable.

P.S. So glad to see a plug for Dogtooth - here and on a several other American sites as well. I was mortified that movie would end up relegated to festival limbo. It's still in my Top 3 of '09 premieres.

7:58 AM, August 26, 2010  
Anonymous JStor said...

Yay for the Unkrich love! He must have really moved you, as you're not normally this kind to animated films.

Unkrich and Lanthimos would probably be on my list also, along with:

- Chris Morris for Four Lions for managing to find the funny side of terrorism without making the audience lose focus of the protagonists' horribe decisions.

- Sylvain Chomet for The Illusionist whose still camera manages to turn a simple animated story into a series of expressive paintings with real heart.

- Banksy for Exit through the Gift Shop for playing with the audience's expectations like a bravura violinist and making us guess about the intentions even after the film has ended.

9:08 AM, August 26, 2010  
Anonymous Evanderholy said...

I greatly enjoyed reading your 2009 Honorees and will definitely have to add even more films to what feels like a never-ending netflix queue (but I guess that's a good thing).

I'm embarrassed to say that of your five "Fifties" nominees for Best Director that I've only seen "Toy Story 3" and completely agree with you on its inclusion. I'm actually not someone who generally gets very emotional at movies (and even less so in real life honestly) so I was very surprised to find myself incredibly moved and emotional during the last 1/3 of "Toy Story 3". I really thought it was a terrific film and I was so happy to see you give it an A-. I might be alone here, but it's not only my favorite of the "Toy Story" films, but also my favorite Pixar.

And thank you for the "Greenberg" and "Ghost Writer" love. I really enjoyed both, especially the latter, and felt like they were kind of unfairly brushed off. It was especially frustrating to see "Ghost Writer" get so little notice at a time when Polanski was getting such an insane amount of media attention. I hoped some of that coverage would lead to curiosity among the ticket buying public, but apparently it didn't.

8:56 PM, August 26, 2010  
Blogger Glenn said...

Goran, I know that Dogtooth actually received a very limited release in Melbourne in early 2010. Not sure about Sydney though.

12:53 AM, August 27, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

So much good stuff here!

@Guy: You've kind of nailed it that I liked Unkrich's lack of a strong directorial hand, not that there's anything wrong with the more idiosyncratic sensibilities of Brad Bird, et al. But I thought he managed our relationships to the characters, the jokes, and the unexpectedly earnest confrontations with obsolescence and mortality very well. Some slight lags in pace, and it felt like no one ever quite figured out how to handle Lotso by the end, but I was very impressed.

@James T: Only time will tell on those leading ladies, after we march through the other categories! I have you just where I want you! Mwah hah hah...

@Glenn: Man, you are hard on Dogtooth! Though I obviously say that as someone with plenty of my own movies that I pick at relentlessly. Glad to see you're excited about Reed and Unkrich, though.

@Nick: Interesting list. I really need to see The Art of the Steal, and I'm shocked that Arnold isn't on my own list, proving what a strong string of work has already debuted these eight months. She could always pull a Sharlto from last year and show up in the final five despite being a runner-up here. But all the more reason why I tend to think exactly the opposite of a lot of people and expect there to be, if anything, fewer good movies circulating in fall and Christmas than during winter, spring, and summer, as long as you're minding the international releases. (Though the fall shouldn't be as barren as last year's. Hopefully.)

@Goran: Thanks! I'd be happy if these stayed my final selections, too, which is not my sense of all the other categories.

@JStor: Am I not usually that kind to animation? Uh-oh. I hadn't even heard of Four Lions, so thanks for that tip. As for Banksy, I enjoyed Exit, and I grant you that a fair bit of Guetta's stuff was kind of self-explanatorily lame. But, his art wasn't always as cripplingly bad as his personality and self-perceptions were, and I thought it was too bad that Banksy leaves almost no room for the viewer to make up her or his own mind about Guetta's work. We're locked into finding him totally tragic... and some of that "disguises his intentions till the end" feels more PR-stunty than directorially deft. But still, a memorable movie, and I can see why he's on some people's lists.

9:09 AM, August 27, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Evanderholy: I'm totally with you on The Ghost Writer and nearly as much on Greenberg: they really didn't get their due. Neither the media flak over Polanski's case (though it's unsurprising, I guess, that this wasn't the sort of media narrative that's bound to entice audiences) nor his Berlin prize for directing TGW really helped the film. And I know it's a cliché, but it really won't be the same movie at home. Still, I hope lots of people are picking it up retroactively.

We can't even talk about how emotional I was during TS3, but they had me at the cellphone.

9:12 AM, August 27, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

Very interested to hear your response to Four Lions when/if you see it, not least because you'll get to break another Lodge/Robey tie.

8:32 AM, August 28, 2010  

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