Tilda Swinton provoked strong reactions with her performance in Sundance and San Francisco International Film Festival selection 'I Am Love.'

Film 2010: Moments, Trends, Docs and the Best of the Bay Area

Susan Gerhard December 24, 2010

It wasn't on-screen performances that most moved participants in SF360's 2010 Year in Film survey. It was, surprisingly enough, the off-screen elements that got etched deep into the collective brain: the testy Q&As with live audiences, the wildfire spread of anger or elation or sadness through a packed house, the brushes with fame, the personal film introductions, and, of course, the John Waters asides. What follows are selections of survey respondents' thoughts on the best/worst films, moments and trends of the year as well as a list of the top picks in Bay Area filmmaking, documentary film and films yet to be fully distributed here in 2010.  Please add a few thoughts, rants and raves of your own in the Comments section, below.

Best/Worst film-related moments

My favorite moment, hands down, was watching Thundercrack! at the Roxie on April 27, 2010.
—Mike Keegan, Roxie Theater

Best: A midsummer 10 p.m. showing of Cassavette's Gloria at Le Champo in Paris. Just a great summer film. Le Champo uses a periscopic system for projection.  It beautifully distorts the images. the edges of the frame end up looking like ripped parchment.
—Marc Capelle, musician

Best: Retracing the steps of Beat-era filmmaker Christopher Maclaine with my friend Brecht Andersch for an SFMOMA blog series on Maclaine's 1953 masterpiece The End. Along the way we had many epiphanies and even tracked down and interviewed one of the film's surviving actors.
Attending Bruce Baillie's birthday celebration in Canyon, California in September, where an audience of all ages enjoyed locally made experimental films in a redwood grove as part of the season-long screening series highlighting work featured in the monumental book Radical Light.
Mingling with the large contingent of San Francisco film critics, programmers, filmmakers and cinephiles who regularly attend the Toronto International Film Festival; this being my first year at that particular festival.
—Brian Darr,

Best: Hypnagogic screening of The Room at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and subsequent interactive presentation to a group of stunned friends.
Worst: Informed (by telephone) of my brother's death a few moments before introducing a James Benning screening.
—Jonathan Marlow, San Francisco Cinematheque / Fandor / Canyon Falls Observatory

Best: Frameline34's packed Sunday morning "work-in-progress" screening of David Weissman's We Were Here: Voices From the AIDS Years, at the Castro with a reverently silent audience (except for the crying). On a considerably lighter note, George Segal and Paul Mazursky swapping anecdotes and one-liners onstage as part of the University of San Francisco's Comedy Talks series.
Worst: The finite grains of sand of my life trickling away during Inception and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
—Michael Fox,, SF Weekly,

Worst: I can't actually tell you the worst things that have happened. But, maybe the 12th worst: Missing All About Evil at the Castro... aaargh.
Best: Stephin Merritt and crew performs score to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Sam Green explaining how the idea of the world's largest mall being a financial failure just might be used as a metaphor during a Q&A following Utopia in Four Movements.
—Sean Uyehara, Programmer, San Francisco Film Society

Best: Standing with thousands of film lovers, freezing our butts off as snow fell, watching the restored Metropolis being shown on a huge screen at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, which had been draped with a curtain created out of recycled materials by artist Christina Kim. See it here.
While another best would be Roger Ebert getting the Novikoff Award at the SFIFF. [It] was powerful and inspiring. But, sadly, a worst would be staying to see his selected film [Julia]. Why didn't we follow the many others leaving midway? Must have been curious to see what others raved about. Still don't get it.
—Gary Meyer, Co-director, Telluride Film Festival, Theater Operator, Balboa Theatre

Some bests: John Waters referencing Blow Buddies in front of 500-plus black-tied-and-evening-gowned guests in his introduction to James Schamus at the SF Film Society Awards Night.
Delicious dinner at the "Strawberry and Chocolate" paladar during the Havana Film Festival, complete with blue refrigerator named Rocco.
Fawning over brilliant band Plush with Roman Coppola.
Death-obsessed inquiries from fearless pre-teens during the post-screening Q&A of Junior Eurovision doc Sounds Like Teen Spirit with appropriately boyish director Jamie Jay Johnson.
—Steven Jenkins, Deputy Director, San Francisco Film Society

Worst moments (tied): Sitting through Sex in the City 2, Julia (Tilda Swinton version), Burlesque.
Best moments (tied): Seeing Roger Ebert before Julia, (personally) collaborating and editing a career highlight reel for Tony Curtis, which was shown at his memorial service and was one of the items placed in his coffin.
—Marc Huestis, impresario/filmmaker

Best: The whole Radical Light constellation continues to be cause for celebration, but I would draw special attention to the ongoing ephemera show in the Berkeley Art Museum as well as the jubilant “Return to Canyon” screening in September: seeing Bruce Baillie’s All My Life under the redwoods was bliss. I’m also counting my blessings for Ernie Gehr’s long answer to a question about the soundtrack of Side/Walk/Shuttle (1991) at the PFA, Bruce McClure’s molten projector performances at the SF Cinematheque’s Apparent Motion festival, Irina Leimbacher’s live translation of segments of Chris Marker’s Le joli mai (1963), SF MoMA’s afternoon-swallowing presentation of Bruce Conner’s Three Screen Ray (2006), Kelly Reichardt reflecting on the influence of her father’s crime photography on her films at the PFA, Elliot Lavine shaking up noir orthodoxy with his Not Necessarily Noir series at the Roxie, and Brecht Andersch and Brian Darr’s multipart “tour” of Christopher Maclaine’s The End (1953) on the SFMOMA blog.
—Max Goldberg, critic

Pacific Film Archive’s ‘Radical Light’ book and screening series awed Bay Area audiences with its reach into the region’s avant-garde filmmaking past.

Worst: At the Nashville Film Festival Q&A, an audience member suggested the subject of my film [Why Isn't Chris von Sneidern Famous?] should start writing songs about his dead mother. The boundary-lessness list could be longer....
Best: Feeling the strong impulse to check and make sure my film wasn't just playing on the DVD player when it was broadcast on KQED last month.
—Kathleen McNamara, Academy Avenue Films

Best: Seeing people cry after watching Lessons of the Blood in New York.
—James T. Hong, filmmaker

Best: Jean-Pierre Jeunet apologizing for the popularity of Alien: Resurrection in France; the SFIFF audience screaming at the announcer not to give away too much of the story at White Material; and the Columbia Film Noir series at the Roxie.
—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid

Best: Queuing at the Palm Springs Int'l Film Festival and savoring the utter disgust on people's faces when I revealed that yes, I had indeed loved Dogtooth, the most reviled and talked-about film in the fest.
Coming out of the SF International Film Festival tribute to Roger Ebert at the Castro, and eyeing a blood-splattered Klieg light with a corpse sprawled across it in anticipation of the world premiere of Peaches Christ's All About Evil.
Feeling emotionally devastated after Frameline's work-in-progress screening of David Weissman's We Were Here: Voices from the AIDS Years in San Francisco, and having that radically segue into the sheer exuberance of seeing yodeling, lesbian twins from New Zealand perform live on the Castro stage before the screening of Topp Twins: Unstoppable Girls.
—Michael Hawley, film-415

Best: The Toronto screening of Lynn Hershman Leeson's !Women Art Revolution had more emotional energy in the room than almost any screening I've been to—the crowd was electric!
—George Rush, Law Offices of George M. Rush

Jean-Pierre Jeunet gave the SF Int’l Film Festival opening night audience a laugh when he offered an apology for the popularity of ‘Alien: Resurrection’ in France. PAMELA GENTILE/SFF

Best: I got to interview one of my idols, George A. Romero. I didn't care for his Survival of the Dead but he was awesome anyway. Fun fact: he's very, very tall!
—Cheryl Eddy, SF Bay Guardian

Feature filmmaking trends

Worst: I don't know if it counts as a trend exactly, but most of what I saw from established American filmmakers this year seemed to indicate their profound disinterest in moving the medium forward or building a legacy. Instead, everyone's trying to cash in on their remaining credibility before the current business model eats itself.
—Brian Darr,

Worst: This is more a business concern, but too many small movies open each week, canceling each other out which results in them being gone in a week. Most disappear under the radar.
—Gary Meyer, Co-director, Telluride Film Festival, Theater Operator, Balboa Theatre

Rediscovery of the Year: Brandy in the Wilderness (Stanton Kaye)
Best Credit Sequence of the Year: Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé)
Restoration of the Year: Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
—Jonathan Marlow, San Francisco Cinematheque/Fandor/Canyon Falls Observatory

Worst: Over-the-hill action stars and respected older actors slumming for dollars in nonsense like The Expendables and Reds.
—Michael Fox,, SF Weekly,

Worst: Bad comedies.
Best: the viability of short film content.
—Sean Uyehara, Programmer, San Francisco Film Society

Best: Tilda Swinton Tilda Swinton Tilda Swinton....
—Steven Jenkins, Deputy Director, San Francisco Film Society

Worst: 3–D.
—Dennis Harvey, Variety/SF Bay Guardian/

Best trend: the slowing of the plethora of 3-D pix.
—Marc Huestis, impresario/filmmaker

Best: The failure of high-budget fiction films
Worst trend: Talking about a film instead of making it.
—Christopher Upham, filmmaker

Worst: 3–D, 3–D, and more 3–D.
—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid

Best trend is event-based theatricals. Worst trend is overpriced distribution consultants who just give worthless general platitudes as advice. Also bad trend, any movies championed by "fan boys"—since when are massive nerds arbiters of cool?
—George Rush, Law Offices of George M. Rush

Worst: No money for local indie/DIY sci-fi narrative features. Boo.
Best: Rise of DIY web series.
—DJ Bad Vegan (aka Brant Smith), filmmaker

The best and the worst is the same, which is to say that the distinction between narrative features and documentaries has broken down to such an extent that the categories are becoming protean at best, dysfunctional at worst.
—Michael Guillen, The Evening Class

Worst: Overuse of 3–D. Unless it's really making the experience more entertaining/thrilling (see: Piranha 3–D), then it's OK. Otherwise, zzzzz.
—Cheryl Eddy, SF Bay Guardian

Best: Going beyond the studios to reach audiences.
Worst: Studios.
—Lynn Hershman Leeson, Hotwire Productions

Trends in technology

Worst: Using performance-capture techniques to reverse the aging process, making an Oscar-winner look 28 years younger for a mindless sequel. The demand to make this technology available for civilian use must be overwhelming, and I suspect resurrection of the dead is the next step.
—Brian Darr,

Worst: Bad 3–D conversion to cash in on the hot trend. Can't wait for a Kiarostami to be converted? How about a restored Passion of Joan of Arc converted? Herzog's cave movie, shot in 3–D, makes sense and we'll see about Wenders' newest, also in 3–D. And Enter the Void would have been perfect. But I don't want to think about a 3–D version of that catfish scene in Uncle Boonmie.
—Gary Meyer, Co-director, Telluride Film Festival, Theater Operator, Balboa Theatre

Best: Most movie-watching takes place at home, so the transition from square picture-tube to rectangular flat-screen TVs will hopefully have the ripple effect of sparking a resurgence in Hollywood films of widescreen compositions, sophisticated camera movement and top-quality production design.
—Michael Fox,, SF Weekly,

Best: Not very new, but I still wonder how the NFL is able to put that green line over the field, so it marks first down yardage and somehow is able to read above the field yet below the players. How does that happen?
—Sean Uyehara, Programmer, San Francisco Film Society

Best: Fandor vs. Netflix vs. Mubi: The VOD Showdown.
—Steven Jenkins, Deputy Director, San Francisco Film Society

Facebook (again best and worst).
—Marc Huestis, impresario, filmmaker

Best: Ever cheaper/better gear/cameras/editing/software allowing anyone to make a film.
Worst trend: iTunes coming out with a new update every month.
—Christopher Upham, filmmaker

Best: Tiny Furniture shot on a Canon SLR
—Leo Wong, Larsen Associates

Worst: Tiny screens.
—Kathleen McNamara, Academy Avenue Films

Best: Wikileaks.
—James T. Hong, filmmaker

Best: On Demand, particularly Netflix.
Worst: Blu-ray—I can't tell the difference.
—George Rush, Law Offices of George M. Rush

Beloved Bay Area-made film ‘Toy Story 3’ benefited from a trend much disliked by the critics: 3–D.

Worst: the continued death of DVD biz for indie films.
Best: online streaming of features.
—DJ Bad Vegan (aka Brant Smith), filmmaker

Handheld devices, which have bred the addiction definitive of this "decade of distraction."
—Michael Guillen, The Evening Class

Best: Kickstarter, web 3.0.
—Lynn Hershman Leeson, Hotwire Productions

Favorite venue

Each local cinema I frequent has its own unique advantages for certain kinds of films and audiences. But my sentimental favorite of them all has to be the first place where I ever bought a ticket to a repertory film: the Red Vic. I fervently hope it survives 2011.
—Brian Darr,

Victoria Theatre. An unconventional venue for unconventional presentations (and a remarkably friendly staff).
—Jonathan Marlow, San Francisco Cinematheque/Fandor/Canyon Falls Observatory

The Castro, because of the audience.
—Michael Fox,, SF Weekly,

Castro Theatre for all the right reasons, not the least of which is I can leave my house at 6:57 p.m. and be right on time for a 7:00 p.m. screening.
—Steven Jenkins, Deputy Director, San Francisco Film Society

Pacific Film Archive—because of the incredible selection of movies shown as their makers wanted them screened.
The Smith Rafael Film Center, Castro and Stanford all are great and when the Paramount in Oakland shows movies, it is quite an experience. They create a wonderful movie palace environment with enthusiastic audiences who make each visit an event.
Going to an atmospheric theater is a wonder. The Golden State in Monterey and Arlington in Santa Barbara will be mind-boggling.
Further afield the Pagode and the backstage tour of the Rex in Paris should be on any visitor's list.
—Gary Meyer, Co-director, Telluride Film Festival, Theater Operator, Balboa Theatre

Lucasfilm—best screen and room in America.
Kabuki—best commercial venue - seats, food, screens
Castro —great room, tradition and good close side seats.
—Christopher Upham, filmmaker

Roxie, 'cuz so many films are only at the Roxie.
—Leo Wong, Larsen Associates

The Castro. It's walking distance from my home, and I have many good memories of great double bills, film festivals and events in that fantastic theater.
—Kathleen McNamara, Academy Avenue Films

Other Cinema because of Craig Baldwin.
—James T. Hong, filmmaker

A four-way tie: The Roxie, the Castro, the Red Vic and the Balboa, for keeping the moviegoing experience a real experience.
—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid

The Castro Theater, where else?
—Michael Hawley, film-415

A screening of David Weissman’s 2011 Sundance-selected ‘We Were Here...’ at top-ranked, historically rich venue Castro Theatre left audiences stunned.

A tie. Roxie—eclectic programming and always a fun evening in the Mission. Balcony at the Kabuki—Rum!
—George Rush, Law Offices of George Rush

Grand Lake Theater—it's in my neighborhood and is damn old. The owner is committed to keeping it open. Let's hope he stays rich and can subsidize if necessary.
—DJ Bad Vegan (aka Brant Smith), filmmaker

The Pacific Film Archive for its rich, diverse and educational programming.
—Michael Guillen, The Evening Class

The Castro. Huge screen, beautiful and historic auditorium. Nearly everything (though likely not Sex and the City 2, which had an inexplicably long run there) plays like a masterpiece. Audience can be snarky, but it's usually comprised of film fans, not jerky multiplex types.
—Cheryl Eddy, SF Bay Guardian

Embarcardero: parking, ease, screens, projections.
—Lynn Hershman Leeson, Hotwire Productions

And etcetera

It's too early to assess how VOD will affect the distribution of independent and foreign films, but it's something to keep a close eye on in the next couple years. Similarly, I'm exceedingly curious to see the consequences as people become accustomed to watching movies on handheld devices such as cell phones and iPads.
—Michael Fox,, SF Weekly,

I stayed home with the dog, thus missing nearly everything (please don't tell Gaspar Noé). I can't imagine anything I missed hitting me as hard as I Am Love or To Die Like a Man, but you never know. Stay tuned.
—Steven Jenkins, Deputy Director, San Francisco Film Society

We're in an in-between period of exhibition. I think a trend toward smaller slicker venues might be upcoming. Wondering why, in a town of cafes, no exhibitor thinks to add a film cafe as a moneymaking/social venue like the British Film Theater or even SFMOMA does?
I foresee a new upswing in fiction narrative for the Bay Area, prompted by the Rainin and other encouragements, like ever cheaper tools, perhaps smaller artier venues.
—Christopher Upham, filmmaker

There were too many documentaries, and too many of the same kinds of documentaries, all complaining about something (specifically the Iraq war, the climate crisis and the economic crisis). I'm for more unique, personal documentaries in the future. The good news is that the year's "B" movies and genre movies were above average, including things like The Book of Eli, Splice, Machete, Piranha 3–D, Survival of the Dead, and The Warrior's Way. Keep it up, guys!
—Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid

There is virtually no hope for a viable biz model for low-budget narrative features but more people are making them (thanks to low-cost technology) so more competition for far far fewer revenue opportunities.
This is an exciting time to be an indie/DIY filmmaker if you've got a trust fund or a stupid rich friend.
If you're a day job schmuck, god help you.
—DJ Bad Vegan (aka Brant Smith)

Best Bay Area films

!Women Art Revolution (Lynn Hershman Leeson)
All About Evil (Joshua Granell)
Babnik (Alejandro Adams)
Chorus (Paul Clipson)
Corner Store (Katherine Bruens)
Daniel Ellsberg: The Most Dangerous Man in America (Judith Ehrlich, Rick Goldsmith)
The Darkness Of Day (Jay Rosenblatt)
Day and Night (Teddy Newton)
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (Lev Anderson, Chris Metzler)
Everything Strange and New (Frazer Bradshaw)
Fanny, Annie & Danny (Chris Brown)
The Full Picture (Jon Bowden)
Howl (Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
It Came from Kuchar (Jennifer M. Kroot)
May I Be Frank (Cary Mosier, Ryland Engelhart, Conor Gaffney)
La Mission (Peter Bratt)
The Stranger In Us (Scott Boswell)
The Two Escobars (Jeff and Michael Zimbalist)
The Violent Kind (The Butcher Brothers)
Toy Story (Lee Unkrich)
Trust, Aubade, Compline and Pastourelle (Nathaniel Dorsky)
We Were Here: Voices From the AIDS Years, All About Evil (David Weissman)

Bay Area-originated documentary ‘The Tillman Story’ won praise at Sundance and in year-end poll.

Best documentary

October Country (Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher)
Marwencol (Jeff Malmerg)
The Tillman Story (Amir Bar-Lev)
The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town (Thom Zimney)
We Were Here: Voices From The AIDS Years (David Weissman)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
Art of the Steal (Don Argott)
Prodigal Sons (Kimberly Reed)
Choneggyecheon Medley (Kelvin Park)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, U.K.)
Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (Serge Bromber and Ruxandra Medrea, France)
Armadillo (Janus Metz Pedersen, Denmark)
Nostalgia For the Light (Patricio Guzmán, France/Chile)
The Two Escobars, (Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, Colombia/USA)

Best film no one heard of

Choneggyecheon Medley
Daddy Longlegs
Dzi Croquettes
Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl
The Famous and the Dead
Lovers of Hate
May I Be Frank
Milk of Sorrow
The White Meadows

The undistributed; hope for 2011
(Many have distribution in place for 2011, or have shown in one-off events, but have not yet screened in wide release in San Francisco. Thoughts/information/clarification on these films welcome in Comments, below.)

About Elly
All That I Love
Chico and Rita
Child of Giants
Mysteries of Lisbon
Crab Trap (El vuelco del cangrejo)
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
The Ditch
Double Take
Essential Killing
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
Fanny, Annie & Danny
Film Socialisme
The Forgotten Space
For Once In My Life
Gainsbourg (Je t'aime, moi non plus)
Get out of the Car
Ghost Town
Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then
The Hipsters
I Killed My Mother
I Wish I Knew
La Bocca Del Lupo
Like You Know It All
May I Be Frank
The Milk of Sorrow
Nostalgia for the Light
Oki’s Movie
Our Day Will Come aka Redheads
Precious Life
Promises Written in Water
The Queen of Hearts?
Queen to Play
The Red Chapel
Road to Nowhere
Robinson in Ruins
Silent Souls
Sleep Furiously
To Die Like a Man
Torn Memories of Nanjing
Trust: Second Acts in Young Lives
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Wagner & Me
Wanda (UCLA Restoration)
The White Meadows
The Wolf Knife

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