I was setting up to post today about The Avengers, but I got derailed by the news that Adam Yauch has died at age 47 after a long battle with cancer. Rightly, much of the coverage is focusing on his career with the Beastie Boys, and a host of rappers have paid their respects on Twitter. Questlove’s tweet just seems to say it all: “Yauch is gone. Fuck.”
As a film guy, I couldn’t help but mourn the second career that Yauch had just embarked on as the co-founder of Oscilloscope Films, a company that has distributed some of the edgiest and brainiest narrative features and documentaries since it started up in 2008. To pay tribute to Adam Yauch’s other legacy, here’s my list of Top 10 movies put out by his company. He is gone too soon.
1. Exit Through the Gift Shop. I chose Banksy’s hilarious romp through the world of graffiti and high art as the best documentary of 2010. What happens when underground art is embraced by the masses? A lot of very funny things, it turns out.
2. Meek’s Cutoff. Kelly Reichardt’s ruthless, rigorous Western is more interesting than The Tree of Life and scarcely less beautiful, and it’s anchored by a Michelle Williams performance that deserved an Oscar nomination. I had a great many thoughts about this when I blogged about the film last year.
3. The Maid. Sebastian Silva’s spectacular debut about a Chilean housemaid on the verge of cracking up is a tense psychological study and also a detailed portrait of the complicated relationship between upper-class South American families and their domestic help.
4. We Need to Talk About Kevin. I missed this movie when it played at last year’s Lone Star Film Festival, but fortunately others (including our own Zack Shlacter) caught it. What they saw was director Lynne Ramsay’s abilities operating at an astonishing pitch. The story of a mother trying to patch her life back together after her son commits a notorious mass murder is told in glittering fragments that approach this grim story from unexpected and painful angles.
5. Wendy and Lucy. Another collaboration between Kelly Reichardt and Michelle Williams, this one tells the story of a young drifter with some vague dreams and a faithful dog who runs into financial trouble in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a wispy film, but it’s haunting all the same, a reminder of all the types on the margins of society whom we typically ignore, and whose existence is precarious and frail. This also played at the Lone Star Film Festival.
6. Burma VJ. Filmed on the sly, this Norwegian documentary chronicled human rights abuses and police crackdowns in the embattled southeast Asian nation. Fortunately, history has provided this film with a happy ending. Long live a free and democratic Burma!
7. Treeless Mountain. Telling a story from a small child’s perspective is always a tricky thing, but So-Yong Kim’s drama manages it beautifully as she takes in the story of two Korean sisters (ages four and six) who are shunted from relative to relative.
8. The Messenger. In retrospect, Oren Moverman’s film probably would have done better in terms of awards and box office if it hadn’t come out the same year as The Hurt Locker. This emotionally draining drama about U.S. Army officers who deliver bad news to the families of service members killed in action closed out the 2009 Lone Star Film Festival in strong fashion.
9. Howl. I said it before and I’ll say it again: James Franco should have received his Oscar nomination for this movie and not 127 Hours. The portions of this movie depicting the obscenity trial over Allen Ginsberg’s prose poem are ham-handed and obvious, but Franco’s performance as the beatnik poet who gives voice to all the homosexuals relegated to the closet is stirring stuff.
10. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. Marshall Curry’s film made my list of last year’s 10 best documentaries, and its portrait of a former ecoterrorist-turned-domestic violence counselor whose crimes have caught up to him retains its gripping power.
Honorable mention: Bellflower, A Film Unfinished.