Monday, 10 January 2011

Top Ten Films Of 2010

There’s a lot of chatter about 2010 not being a vintage year in terms of films but my overriding impression of the year’s films is pretty good. As ever, I saw stuff I hated and I saw stuff I expected to like, but didn’t. However, I probably saw more this year that I was impressed by (percentage-wise) than any other year I can recall.

In terms of housekeeping, my self-imposed criterion for inclusion in this list is whether it received a UK release between January 1st and December 31st 2010, on any format. This means I’ve had to miss out a few I saw at festivals, some of which stood a sure chance of making it on to the list, as well as including films that were eligible for awards season last year.

Anyway, from 10 to 1:

10) Somewhere

If you can ignore the fact that the basic premise of ‘jaded, melancholic actor holes-up in a hotel and forms a non-sexual bond with a much younger girl’ sounds pretty close to Sofia Coppola’s breakthrough film, Lost In Translation, this is a beautiful deconstruction of the Hollywood glamour mythos. Slow, thoughtful shots and languorous pace aren’t to everyone’s tastes but I really liked the performances and general ambience created. As a portrait of a completely alien character at a certain point in his life, I was completely drawn in and, I’m not ashamed to say, thoroughly moved.

9) The Other Guys

While no new ground was being broken, in either its chosen genre or Will Ferrell’s career, of all the flat-out comedies this year, this is the one which had the biggest impact. It proved there was life in retro buddy cop comedies after another high profile, disastrous attempt earlier in the year. Who knew Mark Wahlberg had untapped comic potential, outside of the unintentional? The entire cast were consistently hitting their marks, the action scenes worked as action scenes and the script was full of zingers. The fact it soundtracked a shootout to The White Stripes’ Icky Thump was merely icing on the cake.

8) Another Year

Mike Leigh’s suburban, middle-aged comedy-drama was one of those films that comes along and completely takes you by surprise. Essentially taking a one-or-two-day slice of each of the four seasons in a year in the life of Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen’s Tom and Gerri, it managed to capture the minutiae of everyday dealings with friends, acquaintances and family with pathos, warmth and natural charm without ever downplaying the drama in the seemingly ordinary. The characters and situations never feel like ciphers at the expense of a forced plot and, to a fault, everything and everyone is acutely well observed.

7) Dogtooth (Kynodontas)

A fascinating and disturbing premise, which reveals itself as the film progresses, marks this out as one of the most intriguing and memorable films of the year. The sheen of normalcy in which the events of the film are presented is what gives it its power. Just when you’re sure you have it sussed and it won’t go any further, it does. As the tension is amped up and the circumstances grow ever more sickening, the measured, muted feel of the film serves to warn you this could, in the darkest of imaginations, be entirely plausible.

6) Whip It

Funny and smart, without feeling forced, this is a high school ‘fitting-in’ movie that also makes for a classic tearjerker. There’s a bit of everything in the mix from well-directed sports sequences in the roller derby scenes, sass in the badinage between the characters and coming-of-age melodrama. Drew Barrymore shows she has flair behind the camera, as well in front of it, with the entire cast (Jimmy Fallon aside) really getting behind the material and imbuing it with warmth and charisma. Despite not pulling everything off entirely successfully, this is a film I can see myself revisiting fairly regularly.

5) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män Som Hatar Kvinnor)

This is certainly the best of the trilogy, before it becomes bogged down in back-story and all-encompassing conspiracies, and plays out like an edgy episode of any number of detective dramas. As a film it works completely as an atmospheric standalone. Lisbeth Salander is one of the most multi-faceted characters to emerge this year and Noomi Rapace absolutely nails the inner turmoil with a relatively restrained performance. The strength of the film lies in the fact that beneath the computer hacking and punky aesthetic of its lead character, this is a good old-fashioned murder mystery with a strong chemistry at its core.

4) Enter The Void

Gaspar Noé is one of the few directors who can legitimately lay claim to being hailed as a visionary. So little cinema these days is about experience and, for its faults, that is exactly what Enter The Void is; an experience. The pervading sense of unease is constant from the minute the credits begin. With a constantly roving camera which guides us in both natural and spectral POV, this feels as close as I can possibly imagine to being on strong hallucinogens in the Gotham of Joel Schumacher’s Batman films. While it certainly doesn’t have as strong an impact or message as Irreversible, this feels very much like the culmination of everything Noé has been toying with thus far and entirely designed to put the audience through the wringer. Pure cinema.

3) Four Lions

Despite the seemingly controversial premise, and the convention-breaking Chris Morris at the helm, this is absolutely not the film many thought it would be. Far more old-fashioned in its sensibilities than you might expect, this almost feels like a classic British sitcom about oafish underdogs misguidedly railing against the norms of society. Only in this case those norms happen to be the doctrines of Western civilisation and the underdogs a band of would-be Islamic jihadists. Quite how it manages to sustain a tone whereby you can be rooting for these guys, if not their cause or actions, is masterful. While the script contains its share of classic Morris wordplay, it’s also got scenes as touching as any I’ve seen this year. Brave? Yes. Stupid? No.

2) The Social Network

The very idea of a film documenting the story behind such a huge phenomenon in our recent history certainly initially seemed to me to be somewhat distasteful and more than a bit gauche. The fact that David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin managed to craft a compelling narrative from what amounts to programming and copyright law is a wonder. Jesse Eisenberg finally makes good on the promise he showed in Roger Dodger and The Squid and the Whale and gives the character of Mark Zuckerberg a sense of fatalistic narcissism, combined with awkward social ineptitude, which holds the film together. The sparing use of near-unnoticeable special effects, along with Armie Hammer’s performance, to render ‘The Winklevi’ stands as the technical achievement of the year and leaves me considering that David Fincher does still have it in him after his last few misfires.

1) Toy Story 3

Quite simply, as close to perfection as I can reasonably imagine any film getting. Any worries about how this might measure up to the previous instalments soon fell by the wayside as the requisite themes of abandonment reappeared and the central jeopardy of the characters’ predicament became apparent. The ‘jailbreak’ scenes constitute as good a sequence as I’ve seen in any film and the denouement is about as fitting as you could hope for in spite of the smallest injection of schmaltz. It has become this year’s ‘thing to say’ with regards the film but I saw the film twice in a day and was moved to tears both times by the time the incinerator scene rolled around. This cements Toy Story’s place as the most consistently fantastic trilogy of all time.

The Next Ten…

11) Ponyo
12) The Ghost
13) Inception
14) The Secret In Their Eyes
15) Greenberg
16) Up In The Air
17) Get Him To The Greek
18) Donkeys
19) Cemetery Junction
20) Black Death

A list that seems to be almost entirely populated by misfiring comedies (and ignoring the fact there were certain likely candidates I never saw) this is The Worst Ten Of 2010:

10) Tamara Drewe – I wouldn’t think it were possible to make a more smugly middle-class film than this. Entirely misjudged tone, very rarely funny and absolutely no-one to root for.

9) Bonded By Blood – Woeful celebration of the good ol’ British criminal underclass. As misogynistic as it is inept. An injection of Dyer may even have been an improvement.

8) Saw 3D – As bad as can be expected. Not even livened by visceral thrills. Makes you pine for the heady days of Saw VI.

7) Skyline – An alien invasion, as seen by actors whose range consists entirely of forced grimaces, from one room, then the garage, then the room, then the garage. And not in good way.

6) Burke & Hare – Completely fails on every level; as satire, as knockabout romp, as historical drama. There’s a fascinating story in the facts, not that you’d know it from this.

5) It’s A Wonderful Afterlife – Fusion of ‘horror’ and comedy with a British Asian twist. Short on anything approaching a laugh.

4) Cop Out – The low watermark in Kevin Smith’s career. Seems to have been directed by someone who’s never seen a comedy, let alone directed some great ones.

3) All About Steve – Sandra Bullock fails to convince that obsessive kookiness is endearing in this stalker-centric alleged rom-com.

2) Grown Ups – Peopled by the most reprehensible ensemble group of characters ever assembled, there’s no warmth to this crude, mean attempt at dewy-eyed nostalgia.

1) From Paris With Love – From the bland foil of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers to the incorrigibly over-egged John Travolta, every second of this is offensive on some level.

What follows is a list that couldn’t possibly be considered among the best of the year but, for whatever strange reason, exceeded expectations. The Biggest Surprises:

Youth In Revolt
The Joneses
I Am Love
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
World’s Greatest Dad

None of the following list were by any means awful but considering the mix of people involved they’re the ones I left feeling let down by in some way. There’s a bit of a blurring of the lines between this and them being seen as overrated, but this is a short list of what I see as the year’s Biggest Disappointments:

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Shutter Island
A Prophet
Iron Man 2

The Lovely Bones
The Girl Who Played With Fire

Now this isn’t an exact science and I’m sure the scores don’t quite tally with the final order of preference or against each other. For a start, I’m certain I was overly generous to some films at the start of the year, but below is a link to the list of 459 films I watched in 2010 alongside a score out of five which they were given at the time.

Today's Viewing: Season Of The Witch