It’s that time of year again. List time, the time where we all sit down and contemplate the year gone by and what the movies had to offer us. I have to admit the year has been pretty dire, with only a few gems (all of which are below) that had to be removed from the bad to the wholly unremarkable. Its been depressing to see so many a rotten 3D blockbuster or subpar kiddies animation. As well as yet again, another terrible year on quality terms for the studios who have given us very few interesting films.
The fact is the true genius work of this year has been provided by independent filmmakers, who are fighting hard in tough economic times to keep cinema alive and exciting. What was promising about 2010 was that when there was a great film, it was pretty much a knockout and my number 1 for this year will be one of my favourite films for many years. The only films not seen at the time of writing this that I think would make it into this list are True Grit and 127 Hours.
10. Kick-Ass (dir, Matthew Vaughn)
The more middle aged critics rile against this film and call it morally evil, the more entertaining and brilliant Kick-Ass becomes. In the UK Daily Mail, critic Chris Tookey, who famously launched a ban-it campaign against Cronenberg’s Crash, blamed the film for all the online ‘bullying’ he received after he called the film pedophiliac. Firstly it’s not pedophiliac and it does in no way eroticise any images of children. Secondly, critics just didn’t get it, because there isn’t anything to get, just don’t take it seriously.
It’s not to be taken seriously at all, it’s just a very funny, hysterically entertaining thrill ride. As if Quentin Tarantino had made a comic book film, only without the Tarantino-esque self indulgence. But it has everything you would want from a tongue in cheek, bang for your buck comic book that has much harder edges than one would expect. It also sees a career resurrection for Nicolas Cage, brilliantly channeling Adam West in his role of Big Daddy. Even though it tanked at the box office, this will go on to be a proper audience hit on DVD and become a modern cult classic.
9. The King’s Speech (dir, Tom Hooper)
This film is a huge awards contender for upcoming months and will prompt many of my fellow colleagues to utter the phrase: “Could it be? The British are coming…” and indeed we may be. While I’m not confident this will be taking home any Best Picture gold come February you’d be foolish to bet against Colin Firth for Best Actor, whose brilliant performance as King George VI is the centrepiece of the whole film. He is a very brilliant actor and with this and his performance in last year’s A Single Man, Firth shows he still has his best work in him.
What’s not to be denied is how much of a cinematic treat director Tom Hooper manages to make the film. Radio isn’t inherently cinematic but the tension towards George’s attempt at a stammer-less speech is nail biting stuff. Also terrific, and who could also possibly have an award or two on her mantle, is Helena Bonham Carter a fantastic actress who gives one of her finest performances and deserves all the awards she gets.
8. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (dir, Niels Arden Oplev)
With a David Fincher remake well on its way and expected next year, one of the finest thrillers of this year is the brilliantly tense Swedish original. The film does a fantastic job of condensing Stieg Larsson’s gripping, but long novel into a workable mystery thriller which is superbly directed by Oplev who strikes perfect balance between tense, psychological thriller and smart political allegory. The casting is also very, very strong in the main parts of bisexual computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, played by Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.
If the world was a perfect one, Rapace would be up there for some Oscar contention because her performance is thoroughly convincing and full of conviction. Even in a foreign language you can tell she is doing a really terrific job. In respect this is where the remake has a lot to live up, can the cast assembled match the brilliant work of this cast? I fear the answer is probably not, so before you catch Fincher’s version check out the original, it’s well worth 152 minutes of your time.
7. Black Swan (dir, Darren Aronofsky)
Bold, daring and exceedingly dark. Aronofsky’s superb psychological ballet horror is surprising on many levels and notably notorious in the press for scenes of lesbian sex and other Freudian images as well as some quite disturbing gore. But the most surprising thing about Black Swan is that it has become an awards contender. I think everyone can conceed that Natalie Portman’s performance is extraordinarily good. Unfortunately though, the members usually go for the inspirational drama (The King’s Speech) not the psychological horror of Black Swan.
The level of hysteria is truly jaw dropping, Aronofsky takes risks like no other filmmaker and is dealing in genres and mixing genres that don’t usually work but Aronofsky makes that so. It obviously has many different parts, some of which work and some of which don’t work as well, but as a whole piece, it is a complete work. It will polarize audiences, clearly some will love it and some will hate it, which is kind of why I like it very much because there is a debate to be had on its qualities and the elements that will turn people off. I for one, don’t hate the ending. Discuss.
6. A Prophet (dir, Jacques Audiard)
While up for the Oscars last year, Jacques Audiard’s supreme prison drama A Prophet didn’t get to reach audiences in the UK till January and the US until March. When it finally arrived it came along with tremendous reviews and huge critical praise, deservedly so and it is the film that should have walked away with the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
It’s an incredible film that is challenging and daring, a film which offers so much to so many different people on many different levels. Those looking for a good piece of gripping, thrilling entertainment will find it here. However those looking for more meaty political subtext will be overloaded with it. There are also metaphysical and supernatural elements which have a profound effect on the understanding of the plot. Absolute knockout.
5. Toy Story 3 (dir, Lee Unkrich)
It’s difficult not to love Toy Story, Pixar’s flagship franchise about the toys who come to life when the humans go away. It’s amazing to think that the original film was released over 15 years ago, considering all the films have a timeless quality.
The characters we have come to know and love have made a very welcome return to cinemas along with a couple of new, brilliantly set up characters. For the adults, the jokes are there, but it is much more about the story.
There is no doubt that parents who have children and also teens on the cusp of moving on will find Toy Story 3 profoundly moving. While the first 75 minutes is dedicated to an almost Great Escape narrative, the final movement is one which is aimed at the older audience. It taps into something quite poignant and relevant for the specific audience, it is about moving on and the process of becoming older and growing out of the phase where you play with toys. But also where we move away from those we old dearest, our owners or more specifically our parents, or vice versa: your prized possessions or your kids. It is there as a quiet reminder to make the best of everything you can while you have it and not to underestimate the good times you had while you had them, and never to resent them.
4. The Kids Are All Right (dir, Lisa Cholodenko)
It has been another thoroughly dire year for comedy, and out of all the comedies which came out this year the one that was truly funny and actually truly thought provoking work is this one. A heartwarming tale of a happily married lesbian couple whose kids go out to search for their sperm donor. It sounds like a pretty ghastly premise but actually it’s beautifully done and genuinely funny.
The performances across the board are completely wonderful, especially the three lead adults. The lesbian couple played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are totally convincing and just seem normal together. But most brilliant is Mark Ruffalo, who plays the sperm donor father who seems to fit all too perfectly into the kids lives. It’s hard to cast child or teenage actors but Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska are perfect in the roles. It’s a great film and you should take the critical praise very seriously.
3. Inception (dir, Christopher Nolan)
One of the things that has been written about a lot with Inception is that it is far too complex and is too confusing for its own good. But that’s the point, one of the reasons why I refrain from telling any more information on the plot is that one of its many pleasures as a viewing experience is to become completely enraptured and at times lost in writer/director Christopher Nolan’s dreamscape.
Nolan is a fantastic screenwriter and creates some mind melting original work, very rarely is he derivative when constructing his plots. Most filmmakers now will take narrative strands from other films and sneakily put them in their own, Nolan’s homages are mostly visual and despite a lot of similarities Inception has to other works, it is original. I wouldn’t put it past this film to pick up several Academy Award nominations, including I think, and rightly so, for Best Picture, if not Best Director. It will get a lot of technical nods, that is guaranteed, but this deserves your attention not only because it will entertain you but because it will challenge you.
2. Another Year (dir, Mike Leigh)
Mike Leigh is a seriously talented man, no one makes films like him. The methodology of his filmmaking is widely written about, an improvisational style where scenes are not written but the actors as the characters are allowed to roam freely. It’s certainly a very brave technique but one that clearly works for him, it is a method which allows for incredibly real moments and Leigh is all about making a situation feel real.
The film also offers so much more to the audience, it is real and Leigh’s uncompromising camera moves in all the restrained emotional moments. It’s all about the subtlety, there is no melodrama and the moments of emotion are made all the more powerful by just the simple flicker on an actors face. The final shot is an absolute delight, where we finally become aware of something Leigh has tried to do throughout his career and defines here, that life is defined not just by tragedy but comedy as well and there is a fine line between them both.
1. The Social Network (dir, David Fincher)
The best film of the year is also a film for a generation, an insanely smart and well crafted piece which defines a decade of extremely powerful internet expansion and online social networking. It is often risky to deal with such recent history but director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin attack it with aplomb and confidence, which is why the film is so successful.
Fincher and his team have produced a film very much for the age and that’s why it’s important it is a film completely in touch with how teenagers have developed into the reliance on the online world of blogging and social networking. It is the definition of perfection, it’s impeccable. This is a film which doesn’t care that its protagonists are profoundly hateful people, neither does it care that the invention at its centre is by any account depicted as tearing people apart rather than bringing people together.
Through a cast of extremely talented young actors, a flawless script is delivered with lightening intensity to find a pace which is pitch perfect. But not only is the film a technical marvel, it is deeply tapping into the zeitgeist of the internet and dissecting its qualities but also its troubling flaws such as the ability to completely breakdown how people behave with others. Sorkin himself is a man wary of the power of the internet, he is quoted as thinking it is emblematic of the breakdown of human interaction. The Social Network is perhaps the finest American film since There Will Be Blood.
So what do you think of my picks, what have I missed, what do you disagree with and what are your favourite films of the year?