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C.G.I. and Rental Stores, They Were Expendable

Karen Ballard/Lionsgate

The big story in film in Britain in 2010 was the closure by the coalition government of the UK Film Council, the centralized funding body for British films with the caveat that the productions had to be aimed at the people in the region where it was filmed. The resulting movies tended to appeal to no one at all, although there were several glorious exceptions, this year's "Tamara Drewe" among them. The responsibilities are instead being shifted to the British Film Institute, which runs the BFI London Film Festival and an Imax, manages the BFI National Archive, publishes books on cinema and releases DVDs of various classic or neglected films. These responsibilities are so new and vague, the BFI hasn't yet bothered to update its website. And since the government has already developed a history of backtracking on its cultural cuts (eg. the furor over Bookstart, a charity providing free books to underprivileged kids), it's still uncertain what is going to happen.

This funding uncertainty is replicated worldwide, as the continuing financial crisis means that mid-level funding model for movies is all but disappearing. It seems movies must now be made either for practically nothing — five or six movies shown at Raindance involved a character locked in a room — or for millions of dollars devoted to summer blockbusters. These bigger budgets seem to be spent wholly on C.G.I. I've found myself missing cast-of-thousand spectacles from earlier blockbusters or just supporting characters given the chance to demonstrate a bit of personality. I've lately been watching 1949's "A Letter to Three Wives" over and over, mostly for the sequence in the home Linda Darnell's character Lora Mae Hollingsway, where her mother has a poker game, her sister is getting ready for her date and everyone knows each other too well. When have six actors been allowed to occupied a scene together like that lately?

The low point for me this year was being publicly insulted by Roger Ebert, but we're all over that. The greatest thing this year was getting the Apple TV in my house. To my small-business-supporting shame, I no longer mourn the loss of my local video stores, since the iTunes store has a comprehensive catalog that includes small gems such as "Three Blind Mice," which never received a U.K. theatrical release. I also waste a lot of time in the gallery of upcoming movie trailers. We are now gaga with anticipation for "Hop," "Country Strong" — I have got to mature beyond both anthropomorphized animal cartoons and power-ballad biopics — and most especially "Cowboys & Aliens" — there should be an Oscar for Best Previously-Overlooked-Yet-Immediately-Genius Idea. It's not out in Britain till August. I'll probably hate it.

Above all else, we must not forget directors Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasulov, who on Dec. 20 were sentenced to six years in prison in Iran for opposing the government. Mr. Panahi has also been banned from making films, writing scripts, traveling abroad or talking to the media until 2030. This is an outrage. Berlin Film Festival has invited Mr. Panahi to join its jury in February, and I hope more people in film and people who believe in freedom of speech, thought and association will continue to protest their incarceration and punishment in the strongest possible terms.

Sarah Manvel's Top Movies of 2010 in alphabetical order

THE EXPENDABLES (Sylvester Stallone) Mr. Stallone has always been a smart guy playing stupid. He tried for years to move away from his meathead cinematic profile — did you ever read his interview with Susan Faludi in "Stiffed: The Betrayal of Modern Man?" — without success. Then he figured out he could adapt the meatheadedness in order to sneak the big ideas in without us noticing. I watched "Rambo" at my brother-in-law's with my jaws open; have you ever seen a non-war Hollywood movie look that deeply down the barrel of a gun? "The Expendables" is the tickling resuscitation to follow that film's KO. Isn't it nice to see a movie try so hard to entertain and actually succeed? With a whole bunch of tough guys knowing exactly what we want and then giving it to us? And with Dolph Lundgren in the house? I enjoy the whole damn thing.

INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan) The best thing Mr. Nolan has yet filmed was the lumberyard chase sequence in "Insomnia," which was preparation for "Inception." Someone really ought to write a thesis about how his movies look at sleep as an alternate reality. I don't much like his work; David Edelstein's phrase "ticktock logistics" was exactly right. Mr. Nolan is interested in placing people in illogical situations and using his own logic to determine how they react. He is more concerned with the creation of the artificial situations that he forgets to make them real, nuanced characters. That's why Joseph Gordon-Levitt's kiss is so special, as well as Tom Hardy's whole performance — they manage to sneak a little bit of unexpected life past him. I've included "Inception" in this list because of those two performances; the rest of the movie left me cold. For starters, I am incredibly bored of movies about a son chasing his father's approval. I was expecting it to explore dream logic and not be so worried about constructing nesting-doll realities. I was expecting to watch Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe and even Leonardo DiCaprio let loose. Instead, as in most of Mr. Nolan's movies, there are so many turnings of so many different screws that it overloads and collapses. Wouldn't it be nice if Mr. Nolan's next movie were not another Batman but instead a smaller film, possibly focusing on women, in which he allowed his characters to think and act, not like wind-up dolls, but people?

THE MILK OF SORROW (Claudia Llosa) Ms. Llosa has a background in advertising, perhaps that's why she knows so much about color, shot composition and the subtle use of repetition to create feeling. Actress Magaly Solier is amazing, all flickering expression and wide eyes. Ms. Llosa uses Ms. Solier's singing voice to make some stinging yet subtle points about colonialism, intellectual property, fear and racism as expressed in Peru. The movie is shocking, and more so because of it's so matter-of-factly about violence. All Ms. Solier's character Fausta wants to do is bury her mother properly, and all she has to do to do that is overcome the terror that has ruled her life. It's a movie of almost silent struggles and even quieter kindnesses, and for that it achieves a payoff even more spectacular than any physical explosion. It’s the mental explosion in Fausta’s head when she realizes she has other choices than the ones she has made. I could talk about this movie for hours; just rent it and see for yourself, please.

PONYO (Hayao Miyazaki) Since "Toy Story 3" managed to make over a billion dollars already, I decided to nominate "Ponyo" instead. It's obviously loosely based on "The Little Mermaid" if the mermaid and her boy were five and lived on a mountain in Japan. Their mutual love opens the door for them to have great adventures, and they have a big world in which they must find their way. I went to live in Japan when I was five, and to do so I had to leave behind a boy I loved. It was weird watching this movie and feeling blasted back to being so small in Japan, feeling just as seriously about love and my life as I do now. Mr. Miyazaki is the only filmmaker I've ever come across who understands that children view their lives and choices as seriously as adults, and who respects that totally in his work. Long may he continue.

A PROPHET (Jacques Audiard) This movie was released in Britain in January and was still by far the smartest movie released all year. It's remorseless in its depiction of one young man's fight for survival in a French prison rules by conflicting gangs. The choices Malik makes are disgusting, shocking, reprehensible, etc., but many times the only other option is death, meaning the stakes could not be higher. And what is more fascinating about the movie is that it's a French film that focuses on an Arab character and shows him as the master of his own fate. There are flaws, not least the stereotypical prison setting and the boring way it treats women, but the movie has achieved global respect in the way the great mafia movies did in the '70s. Star Tahar Rahim has four films pending on his IMDb profile. If director Mr. Audiard had made a bad film, it would at least have been a long-overdue wake-up call. But as it is such a good one, everyone involved in the production can be extremely proud.

ROBIN HOOD (Ridley Scott) I am not sure if Mr. Scott or Russell Crowe is my weakness. Probably both. The movie isn't perfect — everyone is too old; the subplots are too complicated; and Mark Strong must be desperate to play a nebbish – but it is diverting from start to finish, and sometimes that's all you want. Especially when it includes Mr. Crowe.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Edgar Wright) Did it do so badly at the box office because its target audience was grounded? This is an intensely likable, cheerful, smart movie about a useless slacker who can't figure out what he wants until seven people say he can't have it. We have all known boys like Scott Pilgrim, who don't grow up and take responsibility for themselves until forced to, and this was a fresh way to show up moving up to the next level. We have also all known girls such as Ramona Flowers, who are trapped in loops of bad behavior until they take responsibility for their choices. Mr. Wright sharpened his teeth on beloved British sitcom "Spaced," which, if Daisy Steiner dyed her hair, was the direct precursor to this movie. It's not perfect — there are a few superfluous exes, and Kieran Culkin as Wallace deserves his own movie — but it quietly depicted multiracial, multigender relationships without fuss or comment, which is almost revolutionary. We'll gradually realize this is a few years ahead of its time. I also wish this movie's nuanced understanding of how people relate to technology is the one making money hand over fist. Technology should be about new tools to bring people together — as with ordering cool things online, being able to text in your sleep and two-player mode — instead of killing them thoughtlessly. I find it very troubling that a film such as "TRON: Legacy" has been more successful than "Scott Pilgrim;" and I wish more directors slowed down their gallop to the uncanny valley to reflect a little more on the traps inherent in every tool they use.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher) It's unusual for a movie to come along exactly at the right time, and it's rarer still for a movie to be about something which everyone, but everyone, in the audience can relate to personally. "We Live in Public" was more dramatic, but not nearly as universal. Everyone has an opinion about Facebook, and everyone has an idea about what the people behind its curtain are like. Mr. Fincher and Aaron Sorkin manage to take this big idea and boil it down to its basics: friendship, exclusivity, public versus private personae and betrayal. Again, everyone can relate to these things personally. Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer are absolutely amazing as the geniuses dueling for control of the trees, while Jesse Eisenberg is devastating as the only person who never loses sight of the whole woods. The framing device of the depositions is actually a good tool to impose a traditional structure on a new method of storytelling. And I like how the movie keeps reminding us that hardly anyone in it is legally old enough to drink.

WHIP IT (Drew Barrymore) Alia Shawkat had a terrific 2010, with this, "Amreeka" and "The Runaways." She and Ellen Page had a great time in this cheerful, sparky movie, which is an enormous amount of fun and a thoroughly positive film in absolutely every way. We need more of these, and I hope Ms. Barrymore hurries up and directs another one.

WINTER'S BONE (Debra Granik) I saw the reviews coming out of the States of this movie and then found a copy of the novel. Daniel Woodrell is an absolutely phenomenal writer and I cannot praise the book highly enough. One of his earlier novels was adapted into Ang Lee's "Ride with the Devil," but ignore that film and pay attention to this. Our heroine is 17-year-old dropout backwoods trash Ree, daughter of a crazy woman and a meth cooker who has run out on his bail. She has a week to find him or she and her little siblings lose their home. Most movies sneer at people with no money and people whose lives are disfigured by one bad choice are figures of contempt. "Winter's Bone" is the rare film which neither preaches nor condescends to a world such as Ree's; it's her life; this is what she knows and loves; and we accept it just as she does. But Ree needs everyone to just do the right thing for just once; and her quest to make that happen is triumphant. Jennifer Lawrence will certainly be nominated for an Oscar. I hope Dale Dickey is as well — her matriarch, determined to keep her family's secrets no matter the cost, is the center point around which the film's actions revolve. Mr. Woodrell has written seven other novels, which I am going to work though next year; and director Ms. Granik will surely be allowed an even bigger canvas for her next film.


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