Among the 124 features submitted for best film in indieWIRE’s annual poll of critics and bloggers, a not-insignificant thirteen percent mentioned a movie more than three years old. “Secret Sunshine,” Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s epic study of grief and spiritual solace, landed on sixteen ballots–all thanks to the IFC Center, which has scheduled the movie for an exclusive engagement at the end of this month, qualifying it for the list. The sudden appearance of “Secret Sunshine” among the usual fall accolades, long after its acclaimed 2007 Cannes premiere, testifies to the nature of such tabulation as not pertaining to the year in current cinema but instead surveying the best of what’s available. (A few critics even gave shout-outs to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s epistemological sci-fi headtrip “World on Wire,” an overlooked 1973 masterpiece that briefly played at MoMA this year, marking its U.S. theatrical debut.)
The heralding of “Secret Sunshine” suggests that poll voters look to the opportunity as a means of advocacy. However, many critics submit the same lists to several polls (indieWIRE, The Village Voice/L.A. Weekly, Film Comment), not to mention innumerable critics groups, a process that breeds uniformity rather than a plurality of perspectives. Hence the overwhelming critics poll powerhouse that is “The Social Network.”
With 71 votes, the David Fincher-directed Facebook saga easily topped the second-place finalist, Olivier Assayas’s sprawling terrorist biopic “Carlos,” which garnered 50 votes. The surge of “The Social Network” love comes as no surprise at this stage in the game, when the movie has already won prizes from critics groups in New York and L.A., among other places. At the same time, the “Carlos” spot in second place is particularly telling. The Assayas movie also wound up on the lists of a few mainstream critics who did not vote in the indieWIRE poll, including those at the New York Times and Time magazine, and it took the top spot of Film Comment’s poll, trailed by none other than “The Social Network.”
Produced as a French television mini-series and released in two different versions by IFC Films in North America, “Carlos” assumes the position of an alternative to the mainstream favorite. While “The Social Network” grapples with the Zeitgeist, portraying Mark Zuckerberg as the Sammy Glick of the information age, “Carlos” delves into the minutiae of history. One movie lives in the present; the other unpacks the past.
That contrast of agendas reveals a general tendency of critical consensus: Movies that possess immediacy gain the most cultural value. Both “The Social Network” and “Carlos” comment on the ways we view the world today. (And both feature intense, unnerving lead performances, by Jesse Eisenberg and Edgar Ramirez, respectively.) Zuckerberg, portrayed in viciously competitive terms by Aaron Sorkin’s poll-topping screenplay, reflects a change to the classic Horatio Alger narrative, taking into account the narcissism of the online era. Assayas’s chronicle of Carlos the Jackal, meanwhile, also involves a man driven against all odds to make the world bend to his cause — a decade-spanning feat that provides an opportunity to compare the global views on terrorism before and after 9/11. In essence, they are both movies about ideas, rather than simply experiences.
That could be said about a lot of the other movies mentioned in this year’s poll, from Bong Joon-ho’s remarkable genre-bending portrait of maternal drive in “Mother” to the similarly fierce mothers in “Animal Kingdom,” “The Fighter,” “I Am Love,” and “Dogtooth,” my own favorite and another movie that technically first showed up awhile ago, at Cannes in 2009. “The Ghost Writer” and “I Am Love” both snuck into the top ten as well, indicating their collective status as two of the year’s more significant underdogs. Lesley Manville’s placement in the top ten for both leading and supporting acting categories shows just how smitten critics were with her performance in Mike Leigh’s “Another Year.” But it also demonstrates the subjective nature of the director’s technique, which allows viewers to see the characters of his organic world in roles where they fit best. Manville’s middle-aged single loner Mary either represents the movie’s central thematic focus or catalyzes the life-affirming outlook of the happier characters around her — but, either way, it deserves recognition, as many voters agreed.
There was decisively less unanimity in the undistributed films category, where Jean-Luc Godard’s divisive Cannes entry “Film Socialisme” tied with “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu.” After “Mysteries of Lisbon” in third place and Hong Sangsoo’s “Oki’s Movie” in fourth, the rest of the undistributed films received no more than ten votes. This list, where “Secret Sunshine” found itself a few years back, tends to leave voters in a state of confusion. Here, the challenge involves the exact opposite of critical consensus and reflects an annual problem: The best movies of the year are often the ones that nobody sees at all.
The Full Results:
Best Film of 2010 | Best Lead Performance | Best Supporting Performance | Best Director | Best Documentary | Best Screenplay | Best First Feature | Best Undistributed Film | List of All Participating Critics & Bloggers