Last Train Home (2010)
Directed and written by
• Grace Wang of TorontoChinese documentary films are important because they reflect, from the closest distance possible, in the most direct way possible, the rapid social, political, and cultural changes happening in China right now.
I'm sitting on a plane that is about to take off for Hong Kong. Looking out on the tarmac at Beijing, I can't quite believe my first two weeks here are already over, and Hong Kong International Film Festival is just around the corner.
The past week has been a whirlwind of food, work and discovery, not always in that particular order, but always an interesting combination of sorts.
Let's start with my favorite indulgence while traveling: Food. Fresh food, persevered food, homemade food, street vendors food, gourmet food... you name it, I love it. Gastronomic adventure is, in my opinion, one of the greatest pleasures in life, and I've never shied away from its waters. I don't just dip my toes, I jump in headfirst and splash around like a five year old.
Documentaries became a box office factor with the rise of such films as "Hoop Dreams" and "Roger & Me." Before then, there were hit music documentaries like "Woodstock" but most other nonfiction films could expect short runs in few theaters before dutiful audiences. What a small but growing minority of Friday night moviegoers is beginning to discover is that there's a good chance the movie they might enjoy most at the multiplex is a doc.
In alphabetical order, these were the best documentaries I saw in 2010:
Above: Best supporting actress winner Olivia Williams, "The Ghost Writer."
"The Social Network" has swept the major critics' groups honors (following NY and LA) with its best picture award from the National Society of Film Critics. From the NSFC website:
The Society, which is made up of 61 of the country's most prominent movie critics, held its 45th annual awards voting meeting at Sardi's Restaurant in New York City. 46 members voted. Scrolls will be sent to the winners.
BEST PICTURE *1. The Social Network 61 2. Carlos 28 3. Winter's Bone 18
BEST DIRECTOR *1. David Fincher 66 - The Social Network 2. Olivier Assayas 36 - Carlos 3. Roman Polanski 29 - The Ghost Writer
BEST ACTOR *1. Jesse Eisenberg 30 - The Social Network 2. Colin Firth 29 - The King's Speech 2. Edgar Ramirez 29 - Carlos
BEST ACTRESS *1. Giovanna Mezzogiorno 33 - Vincere 2. Annette Bening 28 - The Kids Are All Right 3. Lesley Manville 27 - Another Year
According to the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, the two best films of 2010 are David Fincher's "The Social Network" and Olivier Assayas's "Carlos." I've no quarrel with that. In fact, those two movies are at the top of a list I made for a critics' poll that will be published any day now because they're both masterful, multi-layered works that I found as stimulating to think about as they are engrossing to watch. Both the LA and NY groups chose "The Social Network" as best picture and "Carlos" as best (and most) foreign-language film -- all five and a half hours and 11 languages: English, French, German, Spanish (with a Venezuelan accent), various dialects of Arabic, Russian, Hungarian, Italian... LAFCA left no doubt about its esteem for both movies, with "Carlos" coming in as first runner-up for best picture and Fincher and Assayas sharing the director's prize. (Both groups also gave "Black Swan" their best cinematography prizes.)
Complete lists of the winners are below, but I wanted to take this opportunity to make some comparisons between these two movies. No, I don't think either of them has much to do with "realism," but both build their disputed nonfictional narrative webs around rather opaque, fictionalized central characters who are seen as heroes by some, villains by others, and neither by the movies themselves. Both "Carlos" (the revolutionary alias of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, played by Edgar Ramirez) and "Mark Zuckerberg" (the Facebook founder played by Jesse Eisenberg) are projections -- like profiles compiled by intelligence agencies or... Facebook pages. Either film could begin with a version of these words, which preface each of the three parts of "Carlos":
This film is the result of historical and journalistic research.
Because of controversial gray areas in Carlos' life, the film must be viewed as fiction, tracing two decades in the life of a notorious terrorist.
His relations with other characters have been fictionalized as well.
The three murders on Rue Toulier are the only events depicted in this film for which Ilich Ramirez Sanchez was tried and sentenced.
The Drugstore Publicis bombing is still under investigation.