Unless you’re a film critic or a film-going maniac (therefore someone unencumbered by job, family and daily concerns), it’s patently ridiculous to put out a “Top 10 films” list at the end of a given year. But I did it anyway. After seeing Derek Cianfrance’s phenomenal “BLUE VALENTINE” on DVD this past week, I need to amend my list to the following ten best:
1. BLACK SWAN (my review is here)
2. BLUE VALENTINE
3. CYRUS (my review is here)
4. THE WHITE RIBBON (my review is here)
5. WINTER’S BONE (my review is here)
6. NYMPH (my review is here)
7. TOY STORY 3 (my review is here)
8. ANIMAL KINGDOM (my review is here)
9. INCEPTION (my review is here)
10. THE LOTTERY (my review is here)
I call it Cianfrance’s film, but this is just as much an actors’ and a writers’ film as it is a director’s. Concerning the dissolving marriage of two hastily-married young people, played in career-making roles respectively by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, “BLUE VALENTINE” is as bitter, raw and uncomfortable as any Bergman or Cassavetes film, and even more visually arresting. I know it got a lot of film critic love when it came out, but the only thing standing between this excellent work and wider regard was just how seat-shifting difficult it is to watch, for married and unmarried alike. My wife contends that it should be required viewing for every teenager who thinks he/she’s in everlasting love and who deigns to get married young, and as she is on so many things (right honey?), my wife is right.
The film is told in a shifting tableau of present and past. In the present, Gosling’s a balding, paunchy f*ck-up who doesn’t want to go to work and prefers to drink & smoke all day while (capably) looking after the couple’s young daughter. Williams is a harried working mom who, due to her husband’s completely inability to grow up, is basically mothering two children while being mostly incapable of doing so. In the past, these two were beautiful losers who found each other serendipitously. A true “rescue marriage” on both ends, they are shown with increasingly revealing flashbacks to have come together out of desperation and the need for someone to love them. Of course, sometimes with maturity, these marriages work out wonderfully. This one does not, and the film shows its final destruction (the long-building resentments are both voiced and implied) over the course of about 48 hours.
Williams is an absolute revelation. I had no idea that she could so convincingly portray a pixie-cute teenager and a weathered working mother at the same time. Gosling I’ve never really cottoned to before this film, thinking him totally overrated in his supposed breakthrough “HALF NELSON”. In fact in the first 5 minutes of this film, I hated him already – which is exactly the idea. It wasn’t the actor, it was the character – and it’s a measure of his talents and that of the crew that put this together that by the end, I was rooting for him & sympathized with his plight almost as much as I wanted to strangle him for his stupidity and violence. The arguments between the characters – actually, the inability to effectively argue, out of love or out of pride – are right out of real life. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. This film needs a cult following at least half as big as that of “SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE”. I’m not saying it’s in that league yet, but it’s not far, and with some time and rumination, this too might take on the status of a true classic.