Friday, February 25, 2011

THE BEST FILMS OF 2010.... Better Late Than Never

I know, I know. I'm a bit late.

There are a number of reasons why this list of the Best Films of 2010 is late. First and foremost, it took me a while to see the notable films of the year, thus making it harder to reach an informed decision. And yet, I had this list pretty much locked a few weeks ago. No, the wait now is that I am knee-deep in my studies once again and just finding the time to write out the whole list seemed to be a monumental obstacle. And what's the point of having a blog if you can't drone on and on, right?

But the list is here. The Best Films of 2010. And let me take this time to reiterate that some of the films you will see on this list, you will see on no one else's. I have my own tastes and I stand by rankings. It's fun to go against the grain every now and then.

And that all starts with our weird little preliminaries......


Directed by Jean Rollin

This film would have easily made the cut for one of the Best Films of 2010. I couldn't put it on the list for one simple reason - it has yet to secure an American release. In fact, the film seems to have barely been released anywhere outside of France, despite being completed since 2007. Even a look at the IMDB page reveals very little information.

This is unfortunate. We lost Jean Rollin early this year. He was a filmmaker who brought a unique artistry to his films. Recurring themes and symbols such as vampires, fairy tale creatures, clowns, decaying chateaus and grandfather clocks, along with a sense of eroticism and surrealism set his films apart from pretty much everyone else.

NIGHT OF THE CLOCKS (the American translation of the title) has Rollin giving an unprecedented look at both his mortality and his legacy. In the film, we meet the estranged daughter of recently deceased filmmaker Michel Jean (an inversion of Rollin's first and middle names). She is approached by a character from one of his films and told to go look for him in the nearby cemetery and then finally at his chateau. On her journey, the daughter travels in and out of parallel dimensions. She meets several characters from her father's films, all of whom are also in a sense his children. These are actually characters from Rollin's "core" films, the ones he did out of love not money. Are these visions mere phantoms or do artists breathe life into their works. If that it so, what happens when the artist is no longer present? The appearance of these characters is often punctuated by brief glimpses of stock footage from Rollin's earlier films, bringing his entire canon to a cohesive whole.

Like the rest of his films, the whole thing is very arty. Those who have no seen at least most of Rollin's films will be left in the dark. Still, I hope to see this get distribution in the United States and elsewhere. In a very distinguished career, NIGHT OF THE CLOCKS is one of Rollin's most accomplished works.

And now, the official list....



And now....


10. 127 HOURS
Directed by Danny Boyle

It's not an easy thing to do. How do you make a film where the protagonist is stuck in one spot with limited movement throughout most of the film? It helps to have a craftsman as assured as Danny Boyle behind the camera.

Boyle has created an amazingly diverse filmography, covering comedy, drama, counterculture, romance, horror, science fiction, Hitchockian thriller and now this seemingly unclassifiable film. Boyle keeps the camera moving throughout the film, yet tempers style enough so that it never seems to be working against whatever is happening on the screen. Along with editor Jon Harris, Boyle has created a film that is always moving even when it's main character cannot.

Special praise must also go to James Franco, who bears the entire weight of the on-camera drama. Much like Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp before him, Franco is proving that he is not just another in a series of endless pretty boys. This guy is the real deal, a true artist who is not only eccentric enough to try new and dangerous things but also with the talent to pull it off.

Directed by Michael Stephenson

I am a lifelong fan of B-movies. I also made thousands of trips to the video store. Hence, when I was in a teenager, I rented TROLL 2 the week it came out on VHS. Sure, the original TROLL wasn't the greatest. But it was campy fun and this should be pretty good too, right? I remember being pretty excited about watching this latest rental.

Wow. Few people who sit down to TROLL 2 know what they are getting into. I was no exception. This film seemed campy too, but it seemed so unrelenting in it's style that I didn't know what was going on. It's one of those films that you watch, constantly asking "What were these people thinking?" The film joined BLOOD HOOK, which I had rented a few months before, as one of the worst films I had ever seen.

But I still thought about TROLL 2. This film has a way of staying with you. So it was with Stephenson, who starred in the cursed film and now has created a documentary about the cult following that has arisen around the cast and crew from Nilbog. Stephenson introduces us to an interesting cast of characters, from the funny to the tragic. He focuses mainly on Dr. George Hardy, who played Stephenson's father in the original film. Hardy is so nice, he seems absolutely impossible to hate even while he seems freaked out by the "zombies" that flock to horror films (a.k.a. my people).

BEST WORST MOVIE is not just a celebration of a bad movie. It's a celebration of the people who make those movies and the fans who keep them alive. As a result, Stephenson creates one of the most endearing and entertaining documentaries ever filmed on the subject.

Directed by Matt Reeves

On the one hand, I hate that this film exists. Let me rephrase that. I hate the entire thought process that typically goes into remaking a foreign film for an American audience, simply because it is assumed that Americans don't want to read subtitles. Not only is that an insult to the original film, it's typically an insult to the American public. Reading is not a chore and the continued practice of such remakes only reinforces the fallacy that it is. Most of these remakes have been either so faithful as to be rendered pointless (QUARANTINE) or they have been so watered down that any entertainment value has been lost in translation (pretty much every remake of an Asian film in the last five years).

Tomas Alfredson's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was not only my favorite film of 2008, I believe it to be one of the absolute greatest films of the last decade. That's why I was so incensed to find out it was getting the American remake treatment. I was screaming and moaning with the rest of them months before the film's release. But let me tell you something. If this remake had to exist, this was the way to do it. I don't see how they could have done a better job.

LET ME IN retains the spirit of the original. The beats are pretty much the same. However, the style and approach are different enough to make the film it's own entity. The storyline has been streamlined further. Gone are the subplots about the townies and even the police investigation is seen only in glimpses. Everything is cut down to the core story of the two children Abby and Owen as well as Abby's father figure. This gives us the entire story from their point of view.

You can thank the success of this film on a group of people who seemed dedicated to doing right by this property. Releasing their first theatrical film in thirty years, Hammer brought together just the right people to pull this thing off. Matt Reeves proves himself to be an exemplary director, creating one of the most poetically moving American films or recent memory. He is also responsible for the wonderfully structured script. Kodi Smit-McPhee is wonderful as the tortured Owen. Chloe Moretz will be a star, mark my words. Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas create wonderfully sympathetic supporting characters. The classically influenced score by Michael Giacchino is another highlight in a year that brought us some amazing scores.

And that's why I'm devoting so much space to LET ME IN. I am sounding the alarm. Don't dismiss this film like I was ready to. While it cannot touch the original (few films can), this makes an excellent companion piece to one of the finest artistic achievements so far this century.

Directed by Neils Arden Opley

Speaking of remakes, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is also getting the Hollywood treatment this year, by no less than David Fincher. Still, I want to point people to this original film, a wonderfully textured mystery with some of the best characters to light up the screen.

It's the story of a disgraced journalist and a rebellious hacker who work, at first apart and eventually together, to unravel the mystery of a disappearance many years ago. This leads them to buried secrets, hushed-up conspiracies and the continuing plague of "men who hate women."

The reason the late Stig Larson's Millennium books are so popular these days is that they are so much better than the disposable mysteries out there. Likewise, the film adaptation is not your typical thriller. Nils Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander are fully realized characters who react in a genuine manner to this intricate mystery. The film goes into the influence of power, the secrets families keep and the misogyny that is never talked about but still ever-present throughout the world.

Also, let me join the throngs praising Noomi Rapace. If I have any doubts about how Fincher's film will stack up to the original, it is mainly because of her. Rapace has taken a lively character in the books and made it completely her own. It is an astonishing performance and easily one of the year's best.

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Man, it was not a good year to be Leonardo DiCaprio's psyche. Now that I think of it, it probably wasn't a picnic being married to him in 2010 either. Months before having his dreams twisted, he was thrown right in the middle of Scorsese's mind-bending psychological thriller.

In truth, it isn't hard to figure out what's going on in SHUTTER ISLAND. But that doesn't matter. The real treat of this film is seeing how it all comes together. We're in the hands of a master as Scorsese connects all the threads together.

SHUTTER ISLAND manages to be one of the scariest films of the year, despite not being a horror film. Instead, the monsters lurk within the darkest corners of our minds, distorting the world and populating it with fire and terror.

I could not take my eyes off the screen during this one. Yes, it's pulp Scorsese. But it's still Scorsese and another fine film from one of our national treasures. In fact, it turns out to be one of his most enjoyable films in a long time and one that is completely worthy of repeat viewings.

Directed by Floria Sigismondi

The story of the Runaways should have been told a long time ago. One of the most amazing bands to come out of the 1970s. On the surface, who is going to take a band made up of teenagers seriously? What separates them from the many pop stars of today? But in fact, this was a band with real chops, bonded together through their desire to break out of the mold. These girls were rock stars in an age where girls were told the most they could hope for was to be groupies. And yet at the same time, they were horribly exploited, drugged, crooked and endangered by a callous management and the fame machine they created.

This film is based primarily on Cherie Currie's shocking memoir, Neon Angel and it does it's source material proud. First time director Florida Sigismondi does a fantastic job recreating the 1970s atmosphere, shooting everything up close where you can really see the grit and grime beneath all the neon. THE RUNAWAYS captures the spirit of the band and the chaotic time during which they both reigned and derailed. Filled with pitch perfect performances from Dakota Fanning, Kirsten Stewart, Michael Shannon and in smaller roles Scout Taylor-Compton and Riley Keough.

The first half of this film made me want to pump my fist in the air and the second half made me want to hang my head down and cry. A film of perfect length, this is one of the great rock bios.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Believe it or not, I am not one of those people who thinks Darren Aronofsky can do no wrong. I am one of the few who thought REQUIEM FOR A DREAM was overrated. I thought THE WRESTLER was a decent film but with an excellent performance at its center. I did love his sci-fi love story THE FOUNTAIN. Nevertheless, his best film so far is easily BLACK SWAN.

Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her career so far in this tale of a ballerina whose quest for perfection causes some shocking manifestations. Despite what I said in an earlier article about Noomi Rapace, I now think Portman really did give the best performance of the year. It was a fearless performance. It's the kind of performance that you only see in that rare indie film, the type that sadly stays in the shadows, relegated to obscurity. Thankfully, BLACK SWAN broke through early and has stayed in the spotlight.

By far the most twisted film on this list, BLACK SWAN is wonderfully put together with an excellent supporting cast including Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder.

The best horror film of the year - and it is a horror film whether you want to admit it or not. BLACK SWAN does a fantastic job blurring the same boundaries that are blurred by Portman's character. There is a beauty and savagery intermingling during virtually every part of this film. A fine achievement and proof that there is room for original vision, no matter what the cynics say.

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Speaking of originality, INCEPTION proves that there is room for smart science fiction at the multiplex. A brilliant film that nonetheless never weighs itself down or sacrifices entertainment value, INCEPTION is another gem on Nolan's crown.

INCEPTION gathers a great cast in telling an original story that creates several worlds. Give the film credit then for not having those worlds swallow up any of the characters. Even the supporting players feel completely fleshed out and could be featured in their own storylines. This is one of those films where you are never quite sure which end is up, but you love checking it anyway. It's designed to be watched more than once, with even subtle moments providing clues.

It seems like 2010 was quite a year for psychological filmmaking. Of the films I have written up on this list, at least five of them could be considered psychological in nature. Put INCEPTION at the top of that list. It's an excellent film and proof that summer blockbusters don't need to have a low IQ.

Directed by Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis

Hold on a minute, wasn't this just a silly exploitation flick. Yes it was, and what's wrong with that? The best of the year is not reserved for the so-called important films. Unless you've consciously made some piece of mediocre claptrap, your film is just as important as anyone's.

Besides, it's important to look at how I judge films. When watching a film I always ask two questions: 1. What did the filmmakers set out to achieve? and 2. How well did they reach that goal? MACHETE promised 100 minutes of overblown sex and violence, a drive-in movie filled to the brim with cheap thrills. MACHETE delivered all of this and more.

Rodriguez and first-time collaborator Maniquis (How much of the film did he direct anyway? I still haven't gotten a clear answer.) crafted the most pure fun to be had at the movies all year. They gave character actor Danny Trejo an excellent lead role and bringing along the most unlikely ensemble cast of 2009. Trejo was joined by Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Jeff Fahey, Don Johnson, Stephen Segal, Lindsay Lohan, Tom Savini and Robert De Niro - all of whom seemed to be in on the joke.

And just because the film was an overblown cocktail of exploitation thrills didn't mean the film couldn't make a point as well. Just like some of the best films of the 1970s, MACHETE manages to sneak in scathing indictments of the anti-immigration fervor sweeping the United States. The film sets its sights primarily on the Tea Party and the charlatans using the movement to mask their own greed and thirst for power. MACHETE winds up being the most gleefully shameless and shockingly subversive at the same time.

And my number one film of the year is......

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Yes, really. This was my most awaited film of 2010. I'm a huge fan of the original, remembering every detail of seeing it in the theater back in 1982. What I wanted from this honest to goodness sequel to the cult classic was a film that respected the original but brought it into a new realm.

Boy, was I pleased. First of all, yes there is a nerd factor. I got goosebumps the moment the "gridded up" Disney logo appeared on the screen. The very sight of light cycles on the poster gave me chills. None of these feelings subsided as I watched this film unfold. Realizing that I may be a little too in love in TRON as a whole, I went to go see it again and a funny thing happened. I loved this film even more the second time.

What we have here is a story of fathers and sons, a story of one generation trying to find a connection with the one that came before it. It's about the things that link us in technology, family and responsibility. TRON: LEGACY is littered with religious symbolism and it isn't hard to identify some of the legends the film references. This includes alusions to the Creation, Fall of Man, the Great Flood, Caine and Abel, the Tower of Babel and the coming of the Messiah to name a few.

Jeff Bridges in a sense plays three characters in this film and does an excellent job with all three. The effects are dazzling and the entire film feels somehow bigger than we ever imagined. The whole thing has an epic scope that makes you feel not that you have just seen a good movie, but that you have actually had an experience. It manages to feel special like the original classic blockbusters of Speilberg and Lucas did, something we've lost in the three decades since the market became flooded with big-ticket fantasy franchises.

TRON: LEGACY is not just a film that looks back with nostalgia, it is a bold vision that looks to the future, to a world of infinite possibility. In a film that deals with the madness that comes with the quest for perfection, first-time director Joseph Kosinski seems to have ironically created a film that gets everything right.

And if you disagree, that's fine. I kind of expect it. Only about a third of the audience fell in love with the original TRON as well. It's 1982 all over again. And yet, welcome to the future.

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