2010: Films of the Year

I must admit, the year of some lord two-thousand and ten was not a year of super-frequent cinema attendance as usual from yours truly, with a decent portion of my new release watches viewed at home, in-flight and, in the case of two Top 10 entries, last year at the London Film Festival. Nevertheless, here is a countdown of the ten films that really got me during the past twelve months – plus a rundown of some of the other titles that piqued my interest. Woweee!

10. ENTER THE VOID

Gaspar Noe’s follow-up to the incredible/incredibly upsetting Irreversible is a true cinematic experience. The packed opening night screening I went to at the Curzon Soho was the special extra-long version (160 mins) with Noe introducing, And yes there were a fair few walk-outs, which led me to wonder why anyone there paying to see it on opening night at a sold-out screening of an extended version with the director failed to understand what they were getting themselves in for. I couldn’t tell if they were bored or disgusted. Probably both.

Much like Antichrist was a mix of the stunning and the silly, so to does Enter the Void create an atmosphere unlike anything else – it’s languid, hypnotic, and dreamy, yet also uncomfortable, seedy, and garish.

If the story itself is peculiarly simplistic, albeit mixing the past, present, and afterlife, one could argue that it’s a case of style over substance, but in many ways, the style is the narrative – without the camerawork and special effects creating the sense of the POV of afterlife, there’d really be no sense in telling the story.

It is an exhausting watch, following mostly unlikeable self-destructive characters for over 2 and a half hours of despair and pretentiousness, and no amount of visual trickery and incredible shots over neon cityscapes will make the content within anymore palatable. With all the swooping and soaring, there’s a very real threat the camera’s going to disappear up the director’s arse at any time – and it certainly comes close (though there is a neat meta gag too). Therefore, not everyone’s cup of tea. But in summation…

Profound? Hardly. Ludicrous? Absolutely. But one hell of a trip? Definitely.

9. THE ROAD

This year’s Children of Men in that it’s been all but forgotten, ignored by all the awards and industry back-slappers, which is a shame, as it’s a very well-made adaptation. Perhaps it lacks tension and surprise if you are familiar with the source material, but its curious blend of bleakness and hope translates perfectly to the screen thanks to a fine cast and crew. Full review nyah.

8. BLACK DYNAMITE

While mainstream Hollywood sags and flags in its poorly-received attempts at the comedy spoof, it was superior sequel OSS 117: Lost in Rio and this sterling independent effort from Scott Sanders and lead Michael Jai White that proved the subgenre can still produce the goods when treated with care and attention. Wonderful music, cracking dialogue and lots of smack getting laid down. There are lulls in the jokes, when it just lets the flavour its trying to recreate speak for itself but when Black Dynamite hits, I laughed louder and harder than in any recent film. Destined to become a cult classic.

7. THE SOCIAL NETWORK

David Fincher regains his mojo after the over-egged, over-long, over-sentimental, over-everything Benjamin Button with an engaging, sparky snapshot of modern history in the making. A movie about Facebook starring Justin Timberlake sounded like an awful prospect, but by letting the story (or at least the differing accounts of the same story) speak for itself, it becomes a gripping account of how events not only changed the lives of the protagonists but, by extension, my life and the lives of the majority of those who went to see The Social Network. Maybe the Battleship film with Rihanna won’t be bad after all, right? Right?

In any case, it’s probably the one of the big award front-runners and if it snatches top prize, it deserves it – excessive CG ice-breath and misjudged trip to merry old England notwithstanding.

6. FOUR LIONS

Chris Morris is a genius. That has been established before. But Four Lions is still a great achievement even based on his past pedigree. Both achingly funny and achingly sad, it rises above any controversies that could have easily been levelled against it with its well-judged tone and three-dimensional characters.

5. AIR DOLL

Not actually released yet in the UK (and a 2009 release to boot, so I don’t even know what rules I’m following any more), but what sounds like the set-up for a goofy Hollywood sex comedy (inflatable doll comes to life) is in fact in the hands of director Hirokazu Koreeda (director of Nobody Knows and Still Walking) one of the most moving and strangely beautiful films I have seen in a long time, and certainly one of the best to come out of Japan in a while. “Sex Toy Story” may be a glib throwaway summation at first, but it certainly mirrors some of that franchise’s melancholy, and themes of abandonment and neglect, with elements of Pinocchio and Amelie as well. At times funny, at times unsettling, at times poignant, Air Doll is buoyed by an exquisite central performance from Korean actress Bae Doona (The Host, Linda Linda Linda, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance), with wonderful music from one of my favourite Japanese musicians, World’s End Girlfriend. Ultimately, it’s a 21st century fairytale about the loneliness of modern society, the objectification of women, and the nature of humanity.

4. MOTHER

While some film-makers are happy to play around with heroes and villains, goodies and baddies, black and white, Bong Joon-ho once again proves that you can still create a satisfying piece of work where nothing is clear-cut or necessarily what it seems. And the director of Memories of Murder and The Host delivers his best work to date with a constantly surprising tale of a mother (the wonderful Kim Hye-ja) seeking justice when her son is arrested. From its arrestingly odd opening onwards, it’s a low-key but stunning film that is hard to shake, months and months after my first viewing.

3. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD

2010 was the year of Scott Pilgrim. Well, the box office would clearly think differently, but for geeks, it was a chance to see the film, play the game, buy the soundtrack and, most importantly, read that flaming final chapter in the comic book saga. And of course, the only reason I picked up the comics in the first place is because it was announced Edgar Wright was to direct it – without the film, I wouldn’t have read the books, as I’m not a big comics reader. Same with Watchmen. So ultimately in my eyes, the film is just a happy bonus at the end of what was a very good (but by no means perfect) series of graphic novels. Still, as a fan of the comics, my final thoughts?

In adapting the film, it’s clear a decision was made that in the running time you wouldn’t be able to have all the character development, emotional weight and narrative arcs of the books, as well as all the fights, video-game references, and music, so they sidelined a fair amount of former in favour of the latter, which was the better decision, as it’s the more visceral exciting stuff which is more cinematic and is more of ‘the hook’ of the comic.

There is perhaps too much sidelining of character (largely with the other members of Sex Bob-omb at the expense of the less interesting Stacey – though strangely, Young Neil emerges as one of the most rounded of the additional cast), and it would’ve been nicer for a few more scenes to allow the story to breathe a little. But really, if I was going to the cinema to see a Scott Pilgrim movie, I’d want to see fights and video-game references and music, and if it also managed to capture just some of the emotional noodling, episodes of self-doubt, and getting it together of the original material (which I think it did), then all the better for it.

I was concerned about Cera, but while I don’t think his portrayal is exactly comic-book Scott, I think he is a fine actor, and didn’t rely so much on his weedy insecure persona (except when the jokes demanded it). It probably means in the long run, I can re-read the comics and not think of Cera, and ultimately, appreciate both as separate entities, even if the development of both mediums were concurrent and shared material with one another.

In fact, I was more originally concerned about Edgar’s direction, after the rather shoddy and poorly edited action sequences in (the admittedly lower budgeted) Hot Fuzz, but I think he really came on leaps and bounds as a director of both action and comedy, and I loved all the little visual clues (the repeated numbers, love-hearts and X’s) that always mark his work as distinctive from the rest of today’s workmanlike comedy directors.

Ultimately, it’s a rich, vibrant approximation of the world of Scott Pilgrim – because of the material, you’d only be able to make a very good film, rather than a truly great one, and I feel that’s what has been achieved. Hence, it’s the Todd Ingram of my Top 10.

2. INCEPTION

Like five great films wrapped into one awesome one, there’s not a great lot else to say about Inception that hasn’t already been said elsewhere at great length by everyone. What I will say though to all the haters and backlashers…fuck you. Yes, you. Fuck you very much. Quit your whining, your complaining, your bitching. No-one deserves a film quite this good. Not you, not I, not anyone. Christopher Nolan adapted The Prestige, rebooted Batman and remade Insomnia – feel free to bring those to task for not living up to their original material if you so wish. But Inception is an original piece of work and your hang-ups are not justified. Stop moaning about how it’s not like what dreams are like, or it’s not weird enough, or the ending undermines the rest of the film, or the characters aren’t interesting or whatever little thought occurs to you today. Rest assured, the film is EXACTLY how it is meant to be, a work of a director with a singular and uncompromised vision. If you didn’t like it, just say you didn’t like it. But don’t take all the enjoyment out of those who did like it by waffling on about how it’s not as big and clever as it thinks it is. Go watch fucking Transformers 2 and Sex and the City 2 instead then, you pissing cockpockets.

1. THE BAD LIEUTENANT – PORT OF CALL: NEW ORLEANS

Full review nyah, but suffice to say, Nicolas Cage is astonishing, wild and unhinged, a moral black hole, snorting and smoking his way through a murder investigation without a care in the world. It’s surprisingly light and breezy, with little sermonising or counterpoint to his wicked ways, just copious amounts of substance abuse and filthy language. Hysterically funny, it’s like Bad Santa with a badge and a gun.

That’s the pick of the bunch, but honourable mentions must also go to a triple Adrian Brody fix of the long overdue The Brothers Bloom, worthy follow-up Predators and the commendably weird Splice. Plus, there was the fun Whip It, the ripe and juicy Shutter Island, the spiky yet sweet I Love You Phillip Morris, the nice and neat Cemetary Junction, the atmospheric Winter’s Bone, the surprising Exit Through the Gift Shop, the dark and disturbing Dogtooth, the darker and disturbinger The Killer Inside Me, and the exhilirating Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. And let’s not forget scary sequel [REC] 2, silly sequel and reason why 3D can be good #1 Jackass 3D, and sorta sequel and reason why 3D can be good #2 Piranha 3D. And the reconstructed and remastered Metropolis was a highlight.

Mild disappointments included Monsters, Toy Story 3, Up in the Air and Kick-Ass, which were not really as super-awesome as the press enjoyed saying they were. More disappointing but somewhat expected I guess were video-game vapidnesses Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D ( a step-up from the other sequels maybe, but, honestly…) and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, which given the budget, cast and crew should have been at least fun, but was just plain boring.

Advertisements

FILM SPECIAL: Top 20 Films of 2009

Onto the movies, but why twenty? Well, simply because there were more than ten films which were pretty much equally as good as each other. So while this list is in a sort of an order of greatness, a degree of shuffling up and down could easily take place. But let’s lock it down as this for now, shall we? I’ ve included mini-musings on each of the 20 – they’re not overviews or summations, just thoughts that cropped up when compiling the list together.

For the point of comparison, this should cover every film released in 2009 in the UK that I saw. That way you can see those that didn’t make the cut and a vague opinion on them, and why I might have omitted someone else’s favourite film of the year (because I didn’t actually see it). So, the pick of what was actually a very fine year for cinema.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Makes a good underdog documentary double bill with King of Kong. Hysterically funny and incredibly touching.

In The Loop
Ultimately rather depressing when you think about it. Loads of LOLs and swears though! Malcolm Tucker on a big screen = terrifying.

Drag Me To Hell
Thank you Mr. Raimi! Like the most fun Spook House ride you can think of, and as close to a new Evil Dead as you could hope for.

Moon
Sam Rockwell gives the best performances of his career. A simple story elegantly and economically told. Lovely models and miniatures too.

Thirst
The best vampire film of the year. Also, it’s rare to see a film about blood-suckers that actually makes you feel quite so giddy from all the red stuff as this manages. Park Chan-Wook’s best since Oldboy.

Let The Right One In
The other best vampire film of the year, it’s chilling, it’s creepy, it’s a little bit weepy. Uncomfortable viewing in the best possible way.

The Wrestler
More than just The Meaty Mickey Show, the film itself is remarkably well directed. More nods deserved for all concerned.

District 9
The most amount of body-popping to be found on the silver screen since Electric Boogaloo 2, I was pleasantly surprised just how much of the film was focused on the aliens as much as the humans. Especially the intergalactic tag-team buddy break-in of MNU. Best film based on a video game that doesn’t actually exist.

The Hurt Locker
Like the gripping finale to an action film over and over again and increasingly tense each time. Effectively a two-hour game of Russian Roulette. Sub-plots were a bit ill-fitting though.

Inglourious Basterds
Ludicrous but easily one of the most entertaining and rich pictures of the year that revels in its rollicking rambunctiousness. The best of QT’s post-Jackie Brown trilogy of self-indulgence.

Star Trek
The only big summer block-buster of the year that was any good whatsoever, but it more than made up for everyone else’s shortcomings by being so much fun. Like a big silly sugar-rush fireworks display, it should have been awful but was anything but (a couple of weak cast members and dafty plot notwithstanding).

Where The Wild Things Are
Best kids film of the year not really made for kids and amazing it ever got made, let alone finished. But it’s great that it exists and will grow and grow as time goes on. If Max crying in the ruins of his crushed igloo doesn’t get to you, you have an impenetrable soul.

Mesrine
Bit of a cheat counting them as one film, as each part definitely has a different feel and focus. If I had to pick, I do prefer the first part, if only because a rise is more fun, if not necessarily quite as deep and interesting, as a fall. Vincent Cassel makes it super-watchable (even during the nasty bits).

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The other best kids film of the year not really made for kids. And the stuff I liked the most wasn’t even in the original material (the relationship between Ash and Kristofferson). I hope kids who see it now will revisit it again and again and each time find something new.

Crank: High Voltage
It’s Crank TIMES 2. Or Crank SQUARED. The ante is upped in every aspect, so while it’s not better than the original, it’s the only possible way forward for Chev Chelios. Also, I think the guys get it just as bad as the girls when it comes to excessive nudity and violence to their person.

Slumdog Millionaire
The Little Movie That Could to most people. Another Danny Boyle film to the rest. But Danny Boyle films are always cause for some celebration. So what better way to celebrate than watch Slumdog Millionaire?

Red Cliff
Need to see the full 2 movies rather than the conjoined mish-mash cut-down released at the kinoplex. But hey! It’s a good John Woo movie for a change. Actually, a great one. Big historical war epics can often leave me cold, but this is tonnes of fun, and I’ll watch Tony Leung and/or Takeshi Kaneshiro in pretty much anything.

A Serious Man
Possibly their weirdest work since Barton Fink, and maybe even as upsetting as No Country For Old Men in a strange way. True moments of brilliance throughout though, and excellent performances from relatively unknown actors. Hard to find a more peculiar ‘comedy’.

Up
Not Pixar’s finest. Not by a long shot. And despite the set-up, ultimately disappointingly conventional and obvious. But disappointing from Pixar is usually still pretty great, and when it’s at full tilt, it’s stirring and magical like few others of its ilk.

Gran Torino
Like Up with less balloons. I’d like a Walt Kowalski action figure. Squeeze him and out comes a racist grumble! Comes with shotgun and can of beer, with titular vehicle sold separately.

As for future films I saw last year, if they were to be included The Road and Mother would absolutely rock into the top 10; Capitalism: A Love Story would certainly not. The Room would trump all three as well (it had it’s first cinema screening in the UK this year, so I guess it counts?). Also, The Brothers Bloom would be somewhere towards the top too (if only it’d come out over here – what is the hold up?).

Other films I liked (in rough order of decreasing likeness):
Adventureland, Watchmen, The Box, Antichrist, The Good The Bad The Weird, Synecdoche, New York, Zombieland, Frost/Nixon, (500) Days of Summer, Public Enemies, Punisher: War Zone, The Hangover

These were all a bit “okay, I guess”. Still, they had their moments (with most meh at the bottom):
Bruno, Coraline, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Triangle, Harry Brown, Departures, Gamer, Tokyo!, Three Miles North of Molkom…, JCVD, Religulous, G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra

The rest were all pretty bad, some very much more so than others (especially at the end), but all hard to recommend:
My Name Is Bruce, Franklyn, Resident Evil: Degeneration, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Terminator Salvation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

And that’s the lot. I know there’s still quite a few to catch up on, but that’s how it looks for MMIX for now. What did I miss?

FILM REVIEW: The Road

A London Film Festival Gala screening (i.e. free water and choccy bar – which I felt so guilty about eating while the characters on screen starve, I didn’t consume until the following day) followed by a Q+A with the film-makers and Viggo Mortensen.

John Hillcoat’s (The Proposition) adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s (No Country For Old Men) novel is a faithful one indeed, honouring the book’s bluntness and frankness to create a very honest (one would imagine) depiction of a non-descript apocalyptic American wasteland and a father and son’s journey across it. It’s certainly more flashback-reliant than the original source material, but never to the extent that questions are unnecessarily answered or the overall mood is diluted.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what to expect – perhaps to the film’s detriment in that the impact is somewhat lessened. Either I’ve been too desensitised or just knew the tone of the book so well that I was not as shocked or upset as I might have been going in cold. But it’s still hard not to be impressed with just how matter-of-fact yet beautifully told the story is. I had imagined a bleaker, more ash-ridden world, but this imagining of the world of the novel still manages to be both grounded in reality and often awe-inspiring, using real post-Katrina landscapes to create a sense of a land bereft of humanity, both in its physical and metaphysical forms.

Mortensen is every bit as believable, intense and watchable as in his work with Cronenberg and Kodi Smit-McPhee (soon to appear in the American version of Let The Right One In) is pretty much perfect, exactly how you’d expect a child to behave in such an impossible situation while never falling into the trap of acting ‘beyond their years’ – so much so that a day after the screening, I saw families with little kids in big coats and woolly hats and I got a little emotional, feeling a sudden paternal urge to protect them from the apocalypse! Add to that an impeccable supporting cast populated by well-known faces in bit-part roles (a near un-recognisable Robert Duvall may have less screen time than Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a supporting nom come Oscar time).

If you can imagine a cross somewhere between the end of The Mist and the start of Wall-E, then The Road is close to that. Though its setting and content is ostensibly bleak, there is a beauty and a purpose to it that transcends the darkness to make for a strangely uplifting and poignant piece of work.

The Road is released in the UK on January 8th 2010.

9/10