I’m back. Or I’m trying to be back. Nothing gets a pop culture enthusiast’s blood pumping like the end of a calendar year: ’tis time to ponder the most exciting creations of the last 12 months.
Lists: they’re fun! But ‘best of’ lists are boring. So for this post, I will focus on the most magical movie moments of 2010, in no particular order.
To define my term: magical moments can be both literal and figurative; in all cases, the magical moments mentioned below are about the experience good movies offer when they draw you into the film’s universe, and help keep you there.
Magical Moment #1: the opening sequence of Mother. The very first scene of Bong Joon-Ho’s Mother is as fantastical a movie scene I saw all year, and involved no special effects or mystery-inducing narrative manipulation. The titular mother is first seen wandering in a wind-tickled mountain valley. She has a tired and blank expression on her face, and she looks lost. She then appears to draw resolve from some well of mysterious existential strength; music is cued, and mother hesitantly rolls her shoulder into what becomes a dance. She sways arrhythmically and occasionally stares into the camera lens; it’s a thrilling, totally disorienting scene. It’s also an instance of making strange that Bakhtin would have approved of, as it draws you from your complacency on the other side of the screen and makes you wonder what the fuck kind of movie you signed up for.
Magical Moment #2: the colors in Toy Story 3. Had Baudelaire been alive to see Toy Story 3, he probably would have written a ponderous 20-page essay on the correspondence between color and emotion in this movie. He would have titled it (in French, of course) “The Ecstasy of Color Synesthesia in Pixar Animations.” The characters’ hopes and dreams correspond with the brightness or droopiness of the colors shown; the new playroom at the day care center (the location of the toys’ last hope to be loved again) is a radiating palette of pastels, while Woody’s first brush with the seedy underbelly of the toy world in the vending machine comes in pukish hues of shadowy browns and sulphuric glowing yellows.
Magical Moment #3: the otherworldly & wintry environs of HP7. This movie had less wistful magicks than films past, and more grim, gruesome, and violent happenings. But the aesthetic of the other HPs was preserved and even heightened in some of the sweeping landscape shots of England. We find the downgraded (and Ronless) duo of Hermione and Harry on a craggy rock surface that looks positively lunar, a place that compounds the real isolation of our two young heroes. Later, after a near-death situation in Harry’s hometown, he and Hermione aspirate to a pastoral English forest, where virgin snows sits undisturbed on tree tops and an iced over stream. The best “environ” though, by far, is Dumbledore’s final resting place, which doesn’t have any of the mossed-over Anglosaxon charm of HP’s world, but instead looks like a monolith of Mies Van Der Roohean or Kubrickian provenance.
Magical Movie Moment #4: hallucinated ghost in A Prophet.
The ghost in A Prophet is the only surreal element in this brutally real film. Our hero enters prison as a petty thief and leaves it as a hardened criminal. The cost for this transformation was the blood of an inmate he is ordered to kill by the head Corsican mafioso. He slashes him up with a razor blade, and the scene is as messy with geysers of aorta blood as it is emotionally jarring. The ghost of the murdered man then appears to our hero throughout the movie, not as a moralizing haunter like, say, the ghosts of Christmas past or whatever, but as a reminder of what exactly it took to get in with the circles our hero runs with.
Magical Movie Moment #5: The vintage fonts in Vincere
Okay, no lies, I didn’t make it all the way through this movie. It more or less assumed its audience was Italian or scholars of Mussolini, jumping around the chronology of Benito’s life with no exposition or attempts to hand-hold you, leaving only befuddlement in its wake. This is what watching that movie was like: “Wait, why is he in a hospital bed? Who is that woman? Is that the one he was having sex with in the last scene? Oh, it’s not? This is three years later, he has a new wife, and he’s been injured in WWI? Oh, how did I not get that?” But the careful visual composition of each scene–with its blips of fascist browns, ornate wallpapers, silky bed clothes–almost made me keep watching. The best part had to be the somewhat hokey scene transitions, which often involved headlines from Mussolini’s first newspaper, “Il Popolo d’Italia.” The look of fascism, ripped straight from Futurist Manifestos of the time, was clean, angular, and severe. The vintage-style fonts in this movie remind us all that severe art and severe politics once combined to make for a world where sleek trains all ran on time.
Thanks for reading!