Monday, 3 January 2011

Film 2010

Not posted in a while for a variety of uninteresting reasons, but this post will be a reflective look at the films i saw for the first time over the course of 2010, a year in which in my opinion was VERY good for cinema. I debated doing this in a countdown format, as a top 10 or something of that ilk, but i realised there wasn't the slightest chance of me settling on an order i would be happy with for even a week, let alone a year. Instead it's simply going to be a sprawling list of some of the films i saw for the first time this year (not all of them are films released during 2010, but they were new to me during those 12 months) and i would hope that anyone who reads it will have seen the majority of them, otherwise you've missed out as there were some real crackers. It might not be a top 10, but i will be handing out some accolades during the post. I've tried to avoid revealing any major spoilers but obviously i do reference particular moments in these films, so consider yourself warned.

Toy Story 3 (Best Animated Picture)
No doubt about this one, and it'd be in contention for best film of the year if i had the energy to decide that. It's incredibly rare to have a trilogy where every film is as good as the last, but here i really couldn't pick a favourite out of the trilogy. Charming, funny, heart warming, witty and ever so slightly heart breaking - everything i've come to expect from a Pixar film and from the Toy Story franchise. The closing scene tugged at the heart strings as effectively and as intelligently as any of the dramas and romances released in the same time period. One of the most enjoyable films of any year.

Huge amounts have been written about the complexities of Inception, some praising it for the twists and turns of the script and the stunning action sequences, others arguing that it was pretentious and too busy enjoying how clever it was to actually be a good film. I'm in the former camp, i really enjoyed it and there were several minutes where the sheer spectacle stunned me. I sadly didn't get to see it at the cinema (a fact i regret quite a bit, the corridor fight and the collapsing limbo city stand out as moments which i reckon were even better on the big screen) so had been hearing the hype for months and so it was genuinely nice to watch a film and find that it came very close to living up to what seemed to be perhaps insurmountable praise, a feeling which would be repeated by a number of other films during 2010. It's far from perfect and at times did border on trying to be clever for the sake of being clever, but overall i feel that it remained entertaining throughout, and from a summer blockbuster that's the main thing i ask. In my opinion Christopher Nolan has provided an action movie with a brilliantly crafted screenplay, genuine intelligence and some great central performances - bring on Batman 3.

Kick Ass (Best fight sequence)
I loved this film, loved the concept of an average kid (played very well by Aaron Johnson) deciding to become a superhero only to find himself quickly a long way out of his depth, loved the father-daughter crime fighting duo, loved the dialogue and most of all loved the action sequences. There were several great scenes (Hit-Girl's opening and closing fight scenes are both superb, if surprisingly graphic) but it is the sequence in the warehouse during which Hit-Girl makes use of a strobe light to take out a dozen or so gangsters in an attempt to rescue Big Daddy and Kick-Ass that stands out even amongst such strong company. Perfectly accompanied by a dramatic score it was in my opinion the most tense, most involving and most perfectly crafted action sequence of the year.

Monsters (Best cinema-going experience)
I went to the cinema plenty this year, although possibly not as much as i'd have liked to. It took me a while to settle on which film that i saw there i enjoyed the most, but in the end i realised there was only one winner, the Gareth Edwards directed alien invasion movie, Monsters. Detailing the journey of two people across a quarantined area of Mexico which contains gigantic, tentacled creatures that according to an early caption arrived nearly 6 years ago, It got called 2010's District 9 by a lot of critics and in some ways it is similar to that, it looks at an earth where the aliens have been there for an extended period time rather than the actual invasion, where people and these creatures are starting to co-exist. I think what i enjoyed most about this film was that it was subtle and thoughtful in every way that most alien invasion movies are hyper active and aggressive. There was genuine characterisation, beautiful cinematography (which at times bordered on nature documentary level in terms of the way they showed the Mexican scenery) and an appreciation for how resisting going for the big dramatic fight or clichéd line can make a film so much more powerful. The biggest compliment i can give to this film is that for pretty much the only time i can remember truly caring about the characters in an alien invasion film.

Up In The Air (Most Deserved Oscar Hype)
I'd heard a lot about this film, with it's 6 Oscar nominations and pretty much universally good reviews in the magazines and newspapers, but only got round to watching it on DVD very close to the end of 2010. Often i've been disappointed by films which have had similarly hyped up releases, so i was braced for this to be good in a particularly underwhelming way. However it actually managed to make the aforementioned hype seem utterly justified in a staggeringly understated manner. For a film attempting to look at some of the most defining issues, at least on a personal level, of the 21st century, those of isolation, monogamy, true love, marriage and most crucially the broader issue of how we relate to other people, it did so in a wonderfully subtle way, avoiding both clichés and falling into the trap of being defined by any particular genre or clear categorization. It is also my favourite George Clooney movie, so there you go.

Scott Pilgrm vs the World (Most Undeserved Commercial Flop)
This film completely and utterly sank at the box office for a film with a big budget and high profile cast. I believe this was potentially one of the great cinematic injustices of 2010. A great film, with a witty screenplay and the perfect amount of pop culture references i really enjoyed this film. I acknowledge that a significant portion of anyone's reaction to this film will depend on what they feel about Michael Cera, personally i like him, but if you don't you're i guess unlikely to really connect with this film. Intelligently and uniquely tying in video game geekdom, a splattering of the clichés of the musical genre and what in essence is a rom-com (though it resembles no rom-com i've ever seen before, and i've seen plenty) Scott Pilgrim manages to tick so many different boxes i suspect in doing so it spelt it's own downfall, but in doing so is a brilliant film.

Zombieland (Best Horror-Comedy hybrid of the year)
Another film i sadly missed out on at the cinema but one which has rapidly become a favourite on DVD. I've personally damned it with my own choice of praise several times by calling it the American "Shaun of the Dead". The phrase suggests an element of dismissive criticism, as if i am suggesting it is merely a cheap and lazy imitation of a European film for a Hollywood audience. However i never intended any criticism by the comparison, i merely meant to suggest that it was a Rom-Zom-Com (a phrase coined by Edgar Wright and the other Shaun of the Dead crew), but a highly American one. Using the premise of a zombie invasion to make comments about both American Society as a whole and the relentless, blindly optimistic search for the one, Zombieland could be more accurately described as the American cousin of Shaun of the Dead rather than an identical twin. One of the most quotable films of the year it also provided some of the images of the year and a romance that would feel all to familiar to the myriad of teenage boys who've fallen under the spell of a confident, self-assured girl.

30 Days of Night (Best Horror)
A theme is developing here as this is another film which I failed to see at the cinema. Comfortably the horror film i most enjoyed since "Let the Right One In" in terms of challenging the clichés and pre-conceptions of the Vampire based horror genre while still providing a damn good horror movie. On a larger scale than the previously mentioned film, and thus lacking the depth of characterisation that it provided, this film makes up for it with gore, tension and genuinely shiver inducingly (it's now a word, don't lie it's one that been missing from you life) creepy villains. It was far from the most intelligent or complex film i watched that year, but it was one of the most entertaining and it fulfilled exactly the role i hoped it would when i read the blurb on the box. The only film that came close was "The Crazies" and that, despite being a very enjoyable film, suffered from failing to decide if it was a zombie apocalypse movie or a survival horror, never quite settling on either without nailing the combination. A really enjoyable concept (what if the sun wasn't going to rise for an entire month, thus taking away a key weakness for most film vampires) executed excitingly and with a good eye for a jump scare as well as a more over-riding sense of dread.

A Single Man (Most heartbreaking scene)
This was an excellent film throughout with the frankly supreme Colin Firth the centre around which this tale of loneliness and grief revolves. It stands out particularly though for one scene which is quite possibly the most moving moment of cinema I saw in the last year. The scene in which he finds out over the phone that his partner has died in a car crash is an agonisingly honest display of grief. So subtle, yet so powerful, Firth receives the news with only the most minor visible signs of anguish, yet communicates so much through each blink, each swallow, each tiny little mannerism that despite the composed exterior no one watching that scene could be in any doubt about the devastation that man is feeling. Simply masterful acting on Firth's part and superbly understated scripting and direction mean that this scene is a hundred times more powerful than anything most films can ever achieve.

The Town (Best Crime Movie & Most Clear Cut Example of an Actor Redeemed)
The best crime film since 'Heat', and once i've watched it a couple of times on DVD when it comes out, i might actually be willing to claim it is the superior film. This has everything you could want from a good crime movie: Complex yet relatable criminals, brilliantly executed action sequences, a girl who makes the lead question his lifestyle and a bastard of a cop hunting them down, it's all there and it's all done brilliantly. The aforementioned redemption is of course Ben Affleck's, he is an actor who though i didn't doubt had talent; his writing and performance in 'Good Will Hunting' and his acting in 'Dogma' both attest to that, had seemed to squander it. Forever burned into my memory was his part in 'Pearl Harbour' and i happily admit i had dismissed him as just one of the many actors who ends up falling short of their potential. 'The Town' has made me entirely re-evaluate this. He writes, directs and stars in this excellent crime film about bank robbers in Charlestown, Boston and he manages to nail all three roles. It may be that he returns to squandering this indisputable talent, but i really hope he instead continues to provide 'Town' level of performances and involvement, rather than returning to the hugely underwhelming waters of 'Pearl Harbour'.

Whip It (Feel Good Film of the Year)
This Drew Barrymore directed sports movie, about women playing a pretty brutal sport called roller derby in Austin, Texas, really surprised me. I watched it because it had Ellen Page in it, because a female orientated sports movie isn't a genre overly familiar to me and because i was intrigued by several reviews which had emphasised it's feel good qualities but i wasn't exactly expecting a huge amount. However it was inspiring, entertaining and outright cool in many places. Along with Ellen Page it had Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis and Marcia Gay Harden all starring and all providing very enjoyable performances. A pretty classic formula of a teenager bored with their small town life entering into a competition without their parents knowledge is used as the starting point for an extremely up-lifting film about how important finding your passion in life is and how moving on with your life doesn't mean you have to leave everything behind.

Four Lions (Comedy of the Year)
Comedies come in many different shapes and forms i know, but surely one of the most important qualities when evaluating a comedy is how much you laugh and 'Four Lions' made me laugh more than almost any other film. There are several lines in that film which even on the third or fourth watch still draw an audible chuckle from me rather than just the pleasant smile that most comedies inspire on repeat viewings. However for all the one-liners that had me in stitches the first time i heard them, what makes the film much more memorable is the bitter sweet nature of the plot. This is a film which was never likely to end well, yet the way Chris Morris deals with the conclusion means that for all the laughs involved, as the end credits roll it isn't quite the simplistic feel-good experience many comedies provide.

I could go on, because there's several other films that i enjoyed during 2010, but i reckon this should do as a list of the best films of the last 12 months or so.

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