This is the last of my lists of the best films of 2010, and the hardest to name. Call it the Best Art Films. I can't precisely define an Art Film, but I knew I was seeing one when I saw these. I could also call them Adult Films, if that term hadn't been devalued by the porn industry. These are films based on the close observation of behavior. They are not mechanical constructions of infinitesimal thrills. They depend on intelligence and empathy to be appreciated.
They also require acting of a precision not necessary in many mass entertainments. They require directors with a clear idea of complex purposes. They require subtleties of lighting and sound that create a self-contained world. Most of all, they require sympathy. The directors care for their characters, and ask us to see them as individuals, not genre emblems. That requires us to see ourselves as individual viewers, not "audience members." That can be an intimate experience. I found it in these titles, which for one reason or another weren't on my earlier lists. Maybe next year I'll just come up with one alphabetical list of all the year's best films, and call it "The Best Films of 2011, A to Z."
"Yellow Handkerchief." This is the story of three insecure drifters who find themselves sharing a big convertible and driving to New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina. The car's driver is a teenager named Gordy (Eddie Redmayne), who doubts most of what he does and seems to apologize just by standing there. At a rural convenience store, he encounters Martine (Kristen Stewart), running away from her life. He says he's driving to New Orleans. No reason. She decides to come along. No reason. They meet a quiet, reserved man named Brett (William Hurt), and she thinks he should come along. No particular reason.
We now have the makings of a classic road picture. Three outsiders, a fabled destination, Louisiana back roads and a big old convertible. William Hurt occupies the silent center of the film. In many movies we interpret his reticence as masking intelligence. Here we realize it's a blank slate, and could be masking anything. Kristen Stewart is a wonderful actress. I must not hold the "Twilight" movies against her. In recent film after film, she shows a sure hand and an intrinsic power. I last saw her in "Welcome to the Rileys," where she played a runaway working as a hooker in New Orleans. In both films she had many scenes with experienced older actors (Hurt, James Gandolfini). In both she was rock solid. The story of Redmayne, who plays Gordy, is unexpected. He fits effortlessly into the role of the scrawny, uncertain 15-year-old Louisiana kid. Yet I learn he is 27, a Brit who went to Eton, a veteran of Shakespeare and Edward Albee.
During their odyssey their secrets are slowly confided. They learn lessons about themselves, which is required in such films, but are so slowly and convincingly arrived at here that we forgive them. Prasad made a wonderful British film in 1997, "My Son the Fanatic." I've seen none of his work since. Now comes this redneck slice of life. Since the characters are so far from the lives of the actors and the director, this is a creation of the imagination. As it must be. The ending is a shade melodramatic, but what the heck. In for one yellow handkerchief, in for a hundred.