Darkest Hour stands apart from more routine historical dramas.
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.
So, as with any work of fiction or nonfiction based on historical events, whether it's Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde" or Bob Woodward's latest book ("The Social Network" was fictionalized from accounts in the "nonfictionish" book "The Accidental Millionaires" by Ben Mezrich), Fincher and Assayas's films are fictions that derive much of their texture from precise observations of time and place, even if the characters' personalities and interactions are matters of artistic license. That's art. (And forget about eyewitness accounts; they're about as likely to be "accurate" as something the filmmakers just made up.)
For legal as well as artistic reasons, there's also this familiar-sounding mantra, quoted from the end credits of "The Social Network":
While this story is inspired by actual events, certain characters, characterizations, incidents, locations and dialogue were fictionalized or invented for purposes of dramatization. With respect to such fictionalization or invention, any similarity to the name or to the actual character or history of any person, living or dead, or any product or entity or actual incident is entirely for dramatic purposes and not intended to reflect on any actual character, history, product or entity.
In other words, the filmmakers are saying: "Yes, we know exactly what kind of beer the real Zuckerberg drank on that particular occasion and what sandals he wore and, no, we don't care that he actually had a girlfriend all through college and is still with her at the time of this movie's release. We have decided to include the former details and not the latter because this is the movie we want to make."
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Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 2010(Announced Sunday, December 12)
BEST PICTURE "The Social Network" Runner-up: "Carlos"
BEST DIRECTOR Olivier Assayas, "Carlos," and David Fincher, "The Social Network" (tie)
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY Matthew Libatique, "Black Swan" Runner-up: Roger Deakins, "True Grit"
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN Guy Hendrix Dyas, "Inception" Runner-up: Eve Stewart, "The King's Speech"
BEST MUSIC SCORE Alexadre Desplat, "The Ghost Writer" and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, "The Social Network" (tie)
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM "Carlos," directed by Olivier Assayas Runner-up: "Mother," directed by Joon-Ho Bong
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD Paul Mazursky
LEGACY OF CINEMA AWARDS Serge Bromberg for "Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno," and the F.W. Murnau Foundation and Fernando Pena for the restoration of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"
New York Film Critics Circle Awards 2010(Announced Monday, December 13)
BEST FILM "The Social Network"
BEST DIRECTOR David Fincher, "The Social Network"
BEST ACTRESS Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
BEST ACTOR Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY Matthew Libatique, "Black Swan"
BEST ANIMATED FILM "The Illusionist," directed by Sylvain Chomet
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM "Carlos," directed by Olivier Assayas
BEST FIRST FEATURE "Animal Kingdom," written and directed by David Michod
Stop watching movies made by assholes. It'll be OK.
A review of Netflix's new Marvel series, "The Punisher."