The Movie Club
Dear Dana, Dan, Matt and Karina, Happy New Year to you all! I'm delighted to be here, among friends old and new.
I don't want to prolong the Black Swan debate too much, because Dan's flowchart really says it all. In fact, Dan, Black Swan would have been a much better movie if Aronofsky had used your chart as a storyboard.
That said, I enjoyed watching this silly ballerina-crackup saga and laughed all the way through—twice! But I can't even begin to think of it as the work of a mad genius, or even a sane one. It's more like the self-conscious work of a very, very self-aware wannabe genius—the whole thing reeks of calculation. In the Slate piece you referenced, Dana, Dennis Lim had a line I wish I'd written: "Aronofsky misses one of camp's most essential qualities: its tenderness." In the next paragraph he goes on to say, "Aronofsky, to put it bluntly, just loves a freak show." That's it: Aronofsky is aware every minute of how totally cray-zee his vision is, and he never lets us forget it.
Of course, all directors are self-conscious to a point—they're putting their vision on a screen for us, for Pete's sake. But watching Black Swan—even that bloody, feather-sprouting climax, which is technically very well done—I just hear Aronofsky's meter ticking. It's not like Amy Irving blowing up John Cassavetes in The Fury, which is both crazily organic and operatic. Black Swan feels goal-driven in its nuttiness, like a novelty pop tune of the '60s, a little ditty written for the kids out there in radioland, as opposed to, say, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," which seems to have been willed into being by its own pure need to exist.
On to other matters: Karina, I was struck less by the presence of Trash Humpers (which, I confess, I have not seen) at the top of your Top 10 list than by the fact that the movie's ranking on your list became, as you so delicately and tactfully put it, "something of an issue online." By that, I presume that a bunch of anonymous commenters, writing from the safety of their own little feetie pajamas, tore you a new one? I didn't scroll to the end of your list and thus have not actually read those comments. But I don't need to. My world-renowned Carnac the Magnificent abilities tell me that at least a few of these brain trusts called you a "contrarian" and claimed that you were "just making a name for yourself by saying the opposite of what everybody else is saying." So come clean, Karina: You don't really like Trash Humpers. It's just your plan to become more famous than, like, Abraham Lincoln. I knew it.
I just don't see what good a critic's, or anyone's, Top 10 list is unless you choose mostly from the heart or the gut. (And at some point this week, I do want to say a little about Somewhere, which is perhaps a movie I love beyond reason. But what other way is there?) As Matt just said, "I bet almost everyone who makes top 10 lists looks back at them years later and wonders why they put a certain movie on a list when they can barely remember a thing about it." Amen to that. On the other hand, the movies that I've put on lists that were, at the time, deemed wackadoodle choices (by the aforementioned feetie-pajama brigade, at least) are often the ones that have stuck with me for years: something like David Koepp's Ghost Town or Bob Dylan's America-as-dreamscape Masked and Anonymous, to choose a few randomly random examples.
The harder thing, for me, is drawing some big conclusion about the year that just passed, based on the movies that have or haven't made my particular list. So I just don't do that anymore. I think idiosyncratic, personal lists are the way to go—they're the only ones worth reading. As a prelude to my own list this year, I wrote about how most of the really interesting stuff happens in the bottom half of critics' lists. By that point, the pressure's off. You've already made your classy, unembarrassing choices (The Social Network, The King's Speech—two movies that, incidentally, made my list). The tail end of the list is where critics can go wild with the movies that just really got to them, or tickled them in some way. Things that are in some ways indefensible and yet may actually cut closer to the core of why we love movies in the first place. Those are also the movies that tend to invite jeers, mockery, and disdain from others, but who cares? They may end up being the movies you really remember in 10 years.
To that end, in addition to tangling with some of the questions Matt has raised, I'm curious about the No. 11's, the honorable mentions, the also-rans that may have appeared, or been tragically lopped off, your lists. Karina, I appreciate your defense of How Do You Know, especially in the context of all the other mainstream comedies (romantic or otherwise) that are foisted upon us year after year, so many of which try for so little. (I can't remember if Leap Year was a 2010 movie or a 2009 one. I know for sure it wasn't a 1939 one.) I'll take an interesting failure over a boring success any day. My personal favorite No. 11 this year is The Tourist, almost universally reviled, and yet I see it as striving for a kind of glamour and luxury that we rarely see in mainstream—or really any—movies these days. (The crass materialism of the hideous Sex and the City 2 doesn't count.) I fear that getting pleasure at the movies has become suspect. We feel much more comfortable when we're being punished by a Winter's Bone or a Biutiful. Pleasure is becoming the hardest thing to defend.
On that note, I remind you that Machete, starring the great Danny Trejo, arrives on DVD this week. Huzzah!
Stephanie Zacharek is a freelance writer based in New York. Her writing on movies, books and pop culture has appeared in publications including the New York Times, New York, Salon, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly.