Gilbey on Film: The best of 2010

A look back at the year in cinema.

Film of the year

The Social Network

Honourable mentions

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives , A Prophet, The Headless Woman, Greenberg, Gentlemen Broncos, Father of My Children, Beeswax, Another Year, Lebanon, The Time That Remains, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, The Arbor, Still Walking, The Ghost (though let's keep things in perspective -- what's with the 3,017 prizes for Polanski's picture at the European Film Awards?).

Most unjustly forgotten film of the year

The Road, which also contained the scariest scene of the year: good to see there's life (and death) in the creaky old "Don't go down to the cellar!" routine.

Soundtracks of the year: The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and Greenberg (James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem)

The "What took you so long?" prize for delayed distribution

Contenders included I Love You, Phillip Morris, with 15 months elapsing between its Sundance premiere and its UK release, and The Headless Woman, which opened here nearly two years after its Cannes debut. But the most extreme case of delay was Frownland,an extraordinarily abrasive US independent film about a lonely, emotionally victimised door-to-door salesman. It took more than three years to get here, but it was worth the wait.

Knockout comic performance of the year

A tie between Nicolas Cage as a drug-crazed cop who hallucinates iguanas and breakdancing spirits in The Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans, and Jemaine Clement as the pompous science-fiction novelist Dr Ronald Chevalier in Gentlemen Broncos.

Most inventive death scene

Many contenders here, all of them from the impressive Hong Kong socio-horror film Dream Home, which included: a man forced to slash with a penknife at his own neck in an attempt to sever the cord that was strangling him; mid-coital disembowelment; asphyxiation by plastic bag and household vacuum cleaner. And the winner is... (cue fumbling with blood-spattered envelope)... the "man stabbed in the neck with his own glass bong" scene. That's what you call going out on a high. By the by, Dream Home also wins the L'emploi du temps award for Best Recession-related Film of the Year.

Rip-off cinema of the year

The Vue, Shepherd's Bush, west London. One adult, one child, bringing their own 3D glasses to a 10.30am screening of How to Train Your Dragon, on a Sunday morning three months into the film's release. Ticket price? £21. Consequence? I don't go to Vue cinemas any more. Admissions may have risen, but multiplexes shouldn't think they can price prohibitively, especially in off-peak times. Joe Flint wrote a sound piece on the subject on the LA Times website this year. His beef was with the pricing structure at Hollywood's otherwise wonderful Arclight cinema, a classy venue that knocks any Vue into a cocked popcorn tub. Extortionate pricing, Flint says, "gives people just one more reason to stay home. At a time when theater operators are worried about movies popping up sooner on DVD and video-on-demand and thereby undercutting ticket sales, making it costlier to go out to the local multiplex seems ill advised."

Misjudgement of the year

The violence in The Killer Inside Me. A straight minute, or however long it was, of Casey Affleck bashing Jessica Alba's face until it resembled an overripe nectarine may have grabbed headlines. But for visceral, enduring impact, it was manifestly not the cinematic equivalent of the few, sparing sentences that Jim Thompson used to convey the attack in his original novel. Winterbottom receives a partial pardon for some gorgeous moments in his six-part BBC2 series The Trip (especially episode four -- the "We leave at daybreak!" one), which started limply but proved a real grower.

Guilty pleasure of the year

The crude action movie spoof MacGruber was good, indefensible fun. Even doubters should seek it out for the divine Kristen Wiig (she plays the unimprovably-named Vicky St Elmo). I'm hoping 2011 will be the year that Wiig, who was also excellent this year in Drew Barrymore's underrated Whip It!, breaks out with a scorching lead performance. Nicole Holofcener, director of Please Give, has expressed a desire to work with her.

The "I don't get it" award for movie phenomena that passed me by

I experienced strange waves of guilt for failing to warm to either Of Gods and Men or Toy Story 3. That said, the latter film featured both my favourite character of the year -- the lumbering, shabby, horribly mewing Big Baby, who was both tender and menacing -- and the most traumatic scene: the toys holding hands in acceptance of mortality as they descend toward a furnace. No such guilt about disliking Inception, a film which felt like being trapped in business class on a grounded flight, listening to CEOs discussing their dreams for two-and-a-half hours.

Funniest line of the year

This award goes not to any screenwriter, but to an anonymous wag with a biro at London's Holborn underground station. On the poster for Please Give, the certificate advice reads: "CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE AND INFREQUENT SEX." Next to which someone scribbled: "Story of my life."

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Shell-shock symphony: Berg’s Wozzeck – opera’s take on post-traumatic stress disorder

Begun in 1914 and premiered in 1925, Wozzeck has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects.

When I was 12 years old, I made a devastating discovery. The arias from my favourite operas – Rigoletto, Turandot, The Barber of Seville – which I played over and over again, winding and rewinding the cassettes ­until they ceased to work, did not ­necessarily have words that matched the beauty of the music. Intense study of a book I had received for Christmas called Stories from Opera taught me that although some of the soaring melodies I adored carried words about love, death, horror and tragedy, other lyrics, in translation, proved to be people agreeing where to meet later, or misremembering each other’s names.

This crushing disappointment came to mind again recently while I was listening to an edition of Radio 3’s Building a Library, a segment of its regular Saturday-morning CD review, in which new releases are compared and contrasted with archive recordings to find the best listening experience. The reviewer Gillian Moore was surveying the available recordings of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. She gave credit to several English-language recordings for the clarity they offer newcomers to this work, but eventually concluded that she must recommend a version using the original German, because there were crucial aural elements that could not be reproduced without it.

Moore, now director of music at the Southbank Centre, chose to kick off a series of semi-staged concert performances of operas with Wozzeck. Although undoubtedly an opera, it was a far cry from the fairy stories and doomed romances that filled my pre-teen ears, but it worked surprisingly well stripped of scenery, costumes and other theatrical accoutrements.

Zurich Opera’s presentation placed importance on the orchestral score above all else, allowing its jagged and insistent lines to remind us that this is music born of the dark years between the world wars. Begun in 1914, but delayed while Berg served in the Austro-Hungarian army (it premiered in 1925), it has class struggle, poverty and mental health problems as its principal subjects. The score owes much to Berg’s fellow Viennese composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg (Mahler’s widow put up the money for the initial publication of the score). At times in this production, the orchestra was so utterly central that it felt like a symphony with singing, rather than vocal melodies with accompaniment.

The Wozzeck of the title is a poor soldier, flawed and dogged by madness and visions we would probably now see as signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. He scrapes a living for his girlfriend, Marie, and their son by humiliating himself before his military and class superiors (the Captain, the Doctor, the Drum Major) and by participating in degrading medical “experiments”. The star of the show, the German baritone Christian Gerhaher, had to withdraw at the last minute for health reasons, so the British singer Leigh Melrose stepped in to reprise his Wozzeck from the widely acclaimed 2013 ENO production. Despite performing from behind a music stand, Melrose acquitted himself well, handling the transitions between Berg’s three singing styles: “half-singing”, Sprechgesang (or “spoken singing”) and full vocalisation to great effect.

Gun-Brit Barkmin, with a severe Twenties bob and a flowing scarlet dress, was a superb Marie – alternately harsh and soft as the music demanded it, flirting destructively with the Drum Major while conveying how little choice she had in the matter. Of the ensemble, Lars Woldt’s Doctor particularly stood out, using the German libretto to drag every ounce of black comedy out of his character’s fascination with Wozzeck’s bodily functions. The high vocal standard proved Moore’s point about the necessity of the original German libretto – it is a difficult language to sing, because of all the harsh consonants and modified vowels, but when used expertly can be unendingly expressive. We hear this in the way the double “zz” of the title character’s name becomes a derisory bitten-off “tz” in the mouth of the Captain; and Wozzeck’s exclamation in Act I that “Du, der Platz ist verflucht!” sounds so much more accursed and deranged with all those consonants in such close proximity.

The German sociologist Theodor Adorno once called Berg “the foreign minister of the land of his dreams”, much to the composer’s amusement; but, hearing the score for Wozzeck laid so bare, you understand what Adorno meant. The incredible double crescendo on a single B from the orchestra after Wozzeck murders Marie – raised by the conductor Fabio Luisi in this performance to an unbearable volume before being allowed to die away – feels like music from an other-worldly nightmare. Yet, for the war-battered men who inspired Wozzeck, his tragic half-life was all too real.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis