Tree Housers –
It’s rather cozy up here, so let me slip out of my black cape and put down my scythe, because indeed there was much that I did connect with – and much that did surprise me – over this past year, and I’d be remiss not to share the love. I may lament all that I failed to remember, but 2010 still included so many shots, moments and performances that I couldn’t possibly forget.
To start off with some films that have already been mentioned …
How could I forget Sweetgrass? Jim, you said it: there’s nothing quite like it, and I hope it will find a larger audience on DVD. As I wrote in my review back in June, “whereas so many documentaries feel like long-form journalism (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Sweetgrass is cinema. It’s without omniscient narration, talking-head interviews or any other clues that might help explain what’s going on. It’s an experience, not a lecture. It’s something to feel, not something to learn.” And, boy, we feel it: the cold, the damp, the monotony, the tranquility. It’s all there. Aesthetically, it’s far from flashy – and those hoping for Planet Earth-esque HD imagery will be sorely disappointed – but there are two zooms in Sweetgrass that rival anything else I’ve seen all year: one that backs away from a very intimate (and hilarious) moment to bask in the majestic yet punishing surroundings, and one that zooms in from a striking panorama to show us how all those creatures are moving right along, hoofloose and fancy free, amidst the awe-striking terrain.
Also, how could I forget Blue Valentine, which so gracefully weaves heart-swells with heartbreak? I felt overcome with warmth during the scene in which Ryan Gosling’s Dean serenades Michelle Williams’ tap-dancing Cindy with his miniature guitar, not just because their musical flirtation is so sweetly performed but because director Derek Cianfrance frames it all so tenderly, giving Dean and Cindy their own private nook on public sidewalk. That scene really has no business working, but somehow it does. And if in moments here and there Blue Valentine has a heavier hand than it needs, what sets it apart are its so many moments of small, unflinching reality. The best scene, for my money, is the one just after Dean and Cindy finally lose it: Cindy has demanded a divorce, Dean has thrown his wedding ring into some tall weeds, and they’re about to drive off and leave the scene of the crime when Dean hops out of the car, walks over to those weeds and starts looking for his wedding ring – and then, moments later, Cindy joins him. At that moment, their relationship is over. There’s no hope. There’s no reason to find the ring. But they search anyway, because they once loved one another so much, and they can’t bear to disrespect that love more than they already have. They can’t stand one another, but they also can’t stand to hurt one another. Life is like that. Messy. It’s a simple scene that says so much.
On that note, how could I forget the second scene in The Social Network, when we watch Mark Zuckerberg walking through the Harvard campus, removed from the very kind of social interaction that he’ll soon try to foster online? How could I forget the name of the restaurant owned by Mark Ruffalo’s Paul in The Kids Are All Right, “WYSIWYG,” the acronym for “What You See Is What You Get,” thus doubling as the perfect name for a restaurant that serves organic food and the perfect key to understanding Paul. (If the film made any overt reference to the restaurant’s name whatsoever, such as calling it by name, rather than letting it hang there in the background, it would have ruined the moment.) And how could I forget Annette Bening’s terrific performance in The Great Outdoors, when … oh, sorry. I had an Armond White moment there. Moving on …
There are so many films we haven’t discussed yet that touched me – great films with great moments…
For example, the high point of True Grit – if it isn’t the scene in which Mattie and Little Blackie cross the river – is the transition from LaBoeuf’s rescue of Mattie on the hilltop to the showdown between Rooster and Lucky Ned (and three of Lucky Ned’s gang) on the valley floor. Thanks to John Wayne and Henry Hathaway’s 1969 version of Charles Portis’ novel, the “Fill your hand!” scene is the stuff of classic cinema, and so how do the Coens take us to it? Not with an abrupt cut, but instead with a crane shot – the camera rising above LaBoeuf and Mattie, who turn to look down on the meadow below them much like Siskel and Ebert used to turn from their spot in the balcony to look at the theater screen on At the Movies. It’s as if the Coens are saying, “Yes, here’s the signature scene that you’ve been waiting for, and we can’t wait to sit back and watch it, too.” If LaBoeuf had suddenly procured some popcorn from inside his jacket, I wouldn’t have objected.
And speaking of tough guys who aren’t afraid to be outmanned, what about the scene in Winter’s Bone when that garage door lifts up and reveals John Hawkes’ Teardrop? I won’t forget that! And I also won’t forget the shot of Ree running on the elevated walkway above the livestock as she chases after Thump, or the shot of Teardrop in the side mirror of his truck, staring down the sheriff. Nor will I forget the throwback thrill of the train shootout in The Good, The Bad, The Weird or the refreshingly lighthearted sight gag in The Town when a policeman happily looks the other way. Heck, 2010’s films include sounds that I cherish: chopping in Mother, sprouting feathers in Black Swan and –in a film I’m desperate to see again because I don’t remember it as much as I’d like – nervous breathing in Fish Tank.
Those are snatches of just some of my favorite films of the year. But there were also some great moments in some mediocre or downright brutal films, and I might end up remembering those, too. All these months later, I can still picture that stunning wide shot in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood as Robin and his (merry?) men ride their horses to meet the enemy on the coast. (So what if they happily give away the high ground after that? What military commander has ever wanted the high ground?) I can also picture the way Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum are always leaning up against one another or playfully wrestling Dear John, an effortless portrait of young, budding love, when simple touch is exhilarating. And I’m still stunned by the power of the finale of The Last Airbender, when Aang finally harnesses his power and M. Night Shayamalan finally avoids triggering my gag reflex for the first time since The Village. (Because, yeah, I like The Village.)
Look at all those moments! And I haven’t discussed 127 Hours, which is the only 2010 film I’ve seen three times. So, sure, despite all the films that “got away,” and despite my gloomy first post, there are still quite a few memories worth pasting into my cinematic scrapbook. So many memories, in fact, that right now I feel like I’m hogging the paste. Who’s next?
THE SLIFR TREE HOUSE #1: INTRODUCTIONS
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #2: IS THERE ANYTHING GOOD PLAYING THIS WEEKEND?
THE SLIFR TREE HOUSE #3: A BLUE VALENTINE TO THE PERSONAL
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #4: THE BELLAMY AWARDS AND DIFFERENT WAYS OF LOOKING AT MOVIES
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #5: SO MUCH TO SEE, SO LITTLE TIME
THE SLIFR MOVIE TREE HOUSE #6: HUMAN SEXUALITY AND ANNETTE'S EYEWEAR