Top 15 Films of 2010

This like my 2009 List is a repost and has been added here virtually without change from its original appearance elsewhere.

15. Entre Nos

entrenos_still21

With an election and events that would steal headlines towards the latter part of the year it is no wonder that the illegal immigration debate has hit the back-burner in the socio-political landscape of the country as we saunter into 2011. However, as a nation that once permanently etched that it sought the world’s “tired, your poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” it is a persistently relevant debate whether it is treated as such or not after all we are a land where “all men are created equal” but certain “men” have always had to fight to prove it.

It is taking such grandiose and abstract ideas and incarnating them in narrative where you will find great fiction. This is what triple-threat Paola Mendoza does so deftly in this film wherein a mother and her children come to the US after their husband/father only to be abandoned in a strange land and needing to struggle just to survive.

14. Secretariat

Secretariat (2010, Disney)

I have my very own personal bugaboo with horse racing movies. Typically, there comes a point where in an imaginary but definite line is crossed and the purity of just riding and the wild beauty therein takes a back seat to the grueling nature of the competition. The sport is dangerous, as are most, and creates a moral gray area as it is hard to know whether a horse really wants to run or not. However, by all accounts the story of Secretariat is a different one. The horse was one of a kind: part animal, part machine. So that stumbling block is cleared. More impressive is that as a spots fanatic I am seeing a movie in which I already know a majority of the story, and of course those who have seen enough movies can surmise, but this film still manages to suspenseful- what an amazing trick.

Lastly, of course, the story really makes a connection due to its characters. We learn their circumstances and see their journey more so than the horse’s meteoric rise, we become fully invested in them and their plots as much as the Triple Crown pursuit.

13. Easy A

Easy_A_Movie

Wit is a rare commodity in film these days, wit in combination with an actual point being made is even more rare. If you combine that with a film that both pushes narrative forward with 21st century storytelling devices like webcasts but is also reverential of classic films like those of John Hughes and the original, not the Demi Moore, Scarlet Letter then you really have something.

Combine that with the star-making, dead on performance of Emma Stone and you’ve got something special that is one of the best films of the year and without question the best straight-up comedy.

12. Le Petit Nicolas

LPN

This, for you my dear reader, will likely be the one of the most unnerving selections on this list because it is likely you have not heard of it and gaining access to it will prove rather difficult.  To the best of my knowledge this film didn’t see US release in either 2009, the year it was released in France, or in 2010.

I only managed to nab a copy off Amazon from a re-seller in Canada where it had already hit DVD. This film does a number of things quite well: it tells a tale of childhood whimsy without being insipid or condescending. It manages to tell a tale of naive misunderstanding without getting ridiculous and all the while remaining funny and clever throughout.

It also seems to be an adaptation in the proper spirit, while I am unfamiliar with the books upon which this story is based judging by the Pierre Goscinny I am familiar with, Asterix, it seems very much in keeping with his tone. It is a film that is absolutely delightful, a word I rarely use, from start to finish.

11. The Red Riding Trilogy

Red Riding: In The Year of Our Lord (2009, IFC Films)

OK, so here’s were scoffers can have more fun while I know this makes it technically a Top 17 list bear with me: The Red Riding Trilogy was a project released on British television in 2009, however, it hit US theaters in Spring 2010 and Netflix later on. So that and the way it’s told and shot qualifies it as cinema and its release date in the US makes it eligible for this year. As for the three films? Well, part three set in 1983 is the best of the installments, however, devoid of having seen the other two it is likely to be highly unintelligible. The films are highly co-dependent of one another, therefore to separate them is next to impossible. As a unit they stand as one work, they are sold as such therefore I evaluate them as such and give them one and not three spots on this list.

It is a tale of murder and intrigue of the highest artistry that requires you to stick with it and begs you to follow it through to its harrowing and artistic conclusion.

10. My Soul to Take

25_8_01

Being a fan of the horror genre is a bit like going back to a well too often. You visit it repeatedly in hopes of finding refreshment but you usually come up empty. I consider myself fortunate then to have in the last few years have found films I have deemed worthy to place in my list.

My Soul to Take is a bit of a throwback by director Wes Craven but what it does do is tell a story that is deceptively involved, not dumbed down and an unpretentious whodunit. Furthermore you get within this film a teaser beginning that is rather than the highlight of the film a tone-setter for the ever-increasing tension level of the tale.

9. Machete

machete-danny-trejo-machete-kills-vest-hero-breaking-bad-121722497

Here we are again with the same theme, illegal immigration but a vastly different variation. Robert Rodriguez absolutely delivers on the promise that was teased at in the Grindhouse double-feature a few years ago. Not only is Machete as portrayed by Danny Trejo every bit the cinematic badass you want him to be, on par with Eastwood and Bronson in their most iconic works but it is also deliciously funny both because of the writing and intentionally cheesy production values.

You get in this film hilarious one-liners, insane plot devices and extraordinarily didactic dialogue which all suits the tale perfectly. It was likely the most enjoyable film-watching experience from start to finish that I had last year.

8. Waiting for ‘Superman’

2010_waiting_for_superman_005-1024x553

George W. Bush once asked the very important question “Is our children learning?” After watching Waiting for ‘Superman’ it’ll become quite clear that no, our children is not learning. However, this film is not propagandist. It has quite a few citations to back up its claims that the educational system in America is fundamentally broken. However, even more important than that in my estimation is that it also becomes a very involving emotional experience. While your intellect is often stimulated as you learn ugly, inconvenient truths you never heard before you are involved in the story as you learn the plight of educators who fight for change, children caught in the system and parents who are seeking and hoping for the best for their child.

7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

scott_pilgrim_vs_the_world_01-600x330

This is without question the best and most artful mash-up style film that you will likely see for quite some time. As I cited earlier if you’ve ever wondered what mixing comics, video games and film would be like the answer can be found within this film and therein lies the rub: you’ll either love it and walk away enraptured like I was or your eyes will hurt and your brain will boil over in your head and you’ll die- or something like that.

It’s the epitome of a go-with-the-flow type movie: it has either sold you on its strange universe within the first 10 minutes or you’re never buying. It’s a film that’s unafraid and many times that is the absolute best kind to watch whether you like it or not.

6. Kick-Ass

kick-ass

The superhero movie may be on its way, if its not already there, to supplanting the vampire film as the cinematic dead horse that just keeps getting beaten. It is at the very least impending if you’ve looked at the Summer 2011 slate. With that in mind it makes this last gasp even more wonderful and marvelous.

I have seen it again since its initial release and I still liken this film to the original Batman, meaning it absolutely earned its closing line and lest we forget that Batman was made back when everything Tim Burton turned a camera towards turned to gold so it is high praise indeed.

While much less ballyhooed than Emma Stone, Aaron Johnson no doubt had a breakout kind of role here, his buoyed by the fact that he had quite a few 2010 releases to follow.

This is a film more so than most that deftly and fluidly moves between emotional notes with tremendous ease and propels it to this spot on the list.

5. City Island

hero_EB20100331REVIEWS100339987AR

I like my independent films to be un-convoluted. It seems as if sometimes independent filmmakers take that mantle to mean that they need to tell a certain kind of story and not just their story how they want it told, which is supposed to be the idea. City Island most definitely has the right idea and from start to finish just consistently makes decisions that are true and accurate and not merely for shock value.

It is a personal and personable tale which is also a somewhat comedic twist on a Greek tragedy in parts. Even with some of the plot devices employed there is always a humanity and understanding behind all the actions the characters take.

It is proof there is room for real people, real acting and great narrative all at the same time in the same film.

4. The Ghost Writer

The-Ghost-Writer-22

To elaborate on a point I made in my initial review students of film, whether they seek to critique or make films, or just generally like films, should watch this so that they might better understand the true meaning of the term ‘Hitchockian.’ This is a word you hear far too much. It’s almost akin to saying that anyone who drives a car in the fast lane is like (insert favorite race car driver here). Just because you are attempting something in the same vein doesn’t make it the same or as good as. Few and far between are those who can try to impersonate Hitch and come anywhere close.

This comes very close, dangerously close and note that it’s Roman Polanski who does it and not some anonymous who has a a resume littered with straight-to-video releases. The intrigue, tension and at times surreal atmosphere of this film are hard to match and this truly stands as one of the best of the year and if its the last we see of Mr. Polanski, what a way to go.

3. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Review- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The first word that came to mind when I completed viewing the latest Narnia was “glorious.” Which I stand by but perhaps triumphant would be more astute as the film lived up to my hopes and not my expectations, and there was a wide gulf between the two.

Sometimes going through a Top Films list can be a bit like going through a new land with a very crudely drawn map and it can be difficult to judge through various similar compliments what the lay of the land is until you hit a signpost (read number) the way the list breaks down, for this year anyway, is: 15-11 is the third stratification, amongst the best of the year but not quite up to getting a BAM Best Picture nomination, which is reserved for the top 10. Then from 10-4 is the second tier, the elite films. From this point forward you have the crème de la crème.

What may also be interesting to note is that Narnia once again had to overcome the Potter hurdle. This installment was released just after the Potter series did about as much as you can with a truncated tale. Yet Narnia trumps it again, which I likely would not say for 2 of the 3 books but would for the movies and therein lies the beauty of adaptation.
 


2. The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon (2009, Sony Pictures Classics)

Had I not already taken a few leaps of faith I may have been tempted to label The White Ribbon #1A, however, that does not seem fitting. Secondly, since I am already in disclaimer mode: Yes, I am aware that this film was up for Oscars last year, much to my befuddlement it walked away empty-handed.  It qualifies for 2010 to my mind because I, being but a voracious moviegoer do not get the free, advanced screening treatment that many a critic/blogger do, so unless I owned stock in Amtrak I can’t be on a train up to New York every weekend for every limited release. Thus, The White Ribbon only hit Philadelphia, where I first saw it, in January of 2010.

With all its BAM Nominations how is this film #2? Partially the nomination process is a bit mysterious to myself I try not to consciously keep a running tab of what film has what number of nominations and just decide category-by-category. The acting without question is virtually unparalleled by anything I’ve seen in a long, long time such that it was a contributing factor to the birth of new categories. It is also one of the best examples of how chilling and effective a film can be and also how much foreshadowing can be done (paradoxically to things we never see) without answering questions but instead leaving doubts.

It’s not that The White Ribbon does anything wrong per se, in fact, I’ve seen it three times and only saw my top film the once. They’re two very different films and each has their place and their point to make. Both are a tribute to this class of film and both will have a resonance cinematically and otherwise it’s just a matter of picking your poison so without much further ado the best film of 2010 is…

1. Inception

inception_30

You will rarely if ever see such an audacious combination of high concept and highbrow. Typically, a film dealing in dreams is too busy being aloof to tell a coherent much less have an intelligent storyline. Nolan’s film is not, in my mind, overly-concerned with trying to confound quite on the contrary one of the few negatives you could say about it is that it is very concerned with making sure the audience is still holding on tight almost as if the subtext of certain lines of dialogue is “Are you still with me here?”

Yet it manages to impart its information in a way that is not overly-expository, we never learn what’s eating at Cobb all at once. In fact, we don’t know there is anything for some time. An important point is danced around in one scene and cleverly revealed later. A character unaccustomed to the world of dream espionage is the vessel through which we learn.

Inception takes a wild vision of the future and makes it seem mundane and doesn’t make a spectacle of itself but slowly builds a world and a narrative. It’s a blur slowly coming into focus and with each ratchet towards clarity more and more meaning can be inferred. It is a grandiose tale told in the intimacy of the psyche of its characters. It’s a tale that reduces large concepts into characters that dresses as a heist film only to shed that skin and reveal something even more appealing.

Yet through all its brashness, pomp and circumstance there is a deft hand at the controls of this tale too. It is a film that does hint at larger meanings that travels through the catacombs of the mind and makes you consider if you are reminded of someone… a man you met in a half-remembered dream.

Honorable Mentions

Best Short Film



Day & Night

daynightbig

While people were all distractedly getting in touch with their inner-child as they watched Toy Story 3, a film that is eerily similar to the first two yet supposedly much better somehow, they also forgot that they had just witnessed another work of true Pixar genius in Day & Night. So impressed was I by this short that I wrote it its own review and honestly believe it was worth the price of admission 3D and all and that Toy Story 3 was just icing on the cake.

Jury Prize

The Complete Metropolis

Metropolis (1927, Kino)

Some critics will have Jury Prizes in their lists and some festivals award them as well. They’re basically a way of saying “I couldn’t really give you anything but I wish I had so here’s something for being just so friggin’ awesome.” My Jury Prize for this year goes to a film that was miraculously found and restored to more closely match the cut screened at its premiere in 1927 than had been seen in many years. In some ways it was brand new but having a silent with a reputation competing against new films is unfair to both parties. So my Jury Prize is proudly awarded to Jeff Matakovich, Benjamin Speed, Bernd Heller, Robert Gray and Kino for the wonderful reconstruction of The Complete Metropolis.

Advertisements

Horror Films and Stephen King (Part Four)

The horror genre in film has attracted more than its fair share of crud-ass directors. Amazingly some of these people who lack in the fundamentals essential to filmmaking have managed to create scary films like David Keith’s The Curse, a modern day rendition of Lovecraft set in Tennessee, I dare you to watch it alone! Some, actually many, take a story that’s not all that bad and assemble a group of people who are just talent-less and waste a perfectly good premise, like in Richard Caesar’s The Calling. 

 
“The worst movie sends its own message, which is simply to say stay away from other movies done by these people; if you have seen one film by Wes Craven, for instance, it is safe enough, I think, to skip the others.” (Danse, 216). Contrary to King’s opinion people who begin their careers making junk as filmmakers can move on and make some damn good stuff. Case and point, Craig R. Baxley directed one of the most painful movies of all time Bad Day on the Block, better known as Under Pressure, in 1997 but quickly turned around to direct both Stephen King’s original mini-series (Storm of the Century and Rose Red).
 

And horror always seems to produce some of the worst films in the world, in America anyway, well, why? Stephen King puts it very astutely in his non-fiction examination of the genre “low-budget moviemakers are attracted to horror because it seems to be a genre which is easily exploited – an easy lay, like the sort of girl every guy wanted to date (at least once) in high school.” (Danse, 216).
    

Not only does the genre have to deal with low-budget moviemakers, which isn’t so bad, which the 90s have proven with the rise of the independents, but you also have to deal with rookie filmmakers working in what is likely the hardest genre to be effective in.
 

King approaches the horror genre in film with a very fair-minded and level-headed attitude. He understands that we’re not dealing with Shakespeare and every style has its standards. “I am no apologist for bad filmmaking but once you’ve spent twenty years going to horror movies looking for diamonds (or diamond chips) in the dreck of B-pics, you realize if you don’t keep your sense of humor you’re done for.” (Danse, 200). And one thing many people may not realize is that he is a very funny guy one of the few authors who doesn’t write humor who can make me laugh out loud. One of Maximum Overdrive’s “failings” is that it succeeds as being a comedy. There is some funny dialogue but the tone of the piece ended up being a little more lighthearted towards the middle and it feels totally unintentional.
 

“Once you’ve seen enough horror films you get a taste for really shitty movies.” (Danse, 200). This may be at the root of at least part of the problem with how Maximum Overdrive came out. While King understands the way horror works a more filmic approach was needed and is always needed when handling his tales. The concept of genre should be on the backburner. There were definitely attempts by King to try and build these characters through images but he may have run both out of time and cash to be completely successful.

Review- Scream 4

Emma Roberts in Scream 4 (Dimension)

Scream has always been, and will always be, perhaps the most reflexive of all properties. You can call it self-referential, meta or reflexive, whatever you want that’s what it is and it’s not about to change and what’s better is that it’s not about to start apologizing for it. So that much at least is a given and should be expected and now to see how it operates within that milieu is another story entirely. I, for one, believe it does very well there.

The horror genre is living a very interesting time and we all know what ancient Chinese curses say about those. It like many other genres in film are embroiled in a perceived plague of sequels, remakes and what have you. The inherent value or lack thereof of said trend is not in question here it just is a fact. Similarly, the genre may be more recognized and known than it ever has been. Whether loved or reviled almost any horror property now is scrutinized and analyzed to the nth degree. Attendance at conventions just keeps rising. Even if you’re not a certified aficionado you have at least enough familiarity to watch this film and get what they’re driving at, regardless of if you like where it’s going.

That is said to postulate this theory: that the rules of the horror genre and whether or not you know them aren’t enough to breathe life to a new Scream. Another hook is necessary and aside from always offering commentary on the genre, which it perhaps has never done so well as it does in this film, it needs a topical hinge to cling to, as it kind of always has in the past as well. It finds that as well in this installment and that’s what elevates it just above an enjoyable piece of escapist entertainment.

This film escapes many of the trappings that other horror films fall prey to almost by definition. The cast is rock solid top to bottom and they really help pull you into the tale, as much as you can be pulled in by a film that constantly reminds you that you are watching a film, however, that has always been the most ingenious thing about the series is that the audience is perhaps never more aware of the fact that they’re watching a film than when watching a horror film so this franchise addresses that head on each and every time and shifts it out of the equation.

What this also does is de-emphasize the whodunit aspect of the narrative, which is kind of old hat in any and all films, such that you don’t see it as much anymore, but it is a staple of this series as well. Whether or not you crack the identity of the new Ghost Face is rather irrelevant in the end because after the who always comes the why and as I may have intimated above I absolutely love the why. I will not divulge that as it might inadvertently give away the who but a good motive is also very important and this film does have that indeed.

The comedic aspect of this film is also alive in full force. It is always a bit like playing with fire when trying to balance out the amount of comedy that needs to be inserted into a horror film but the balance is struck here at least to an extent. It’s there and balanced with the gory scenes enough such that you’re never jarred by the lack or pervasiveness of it. It’s omnipresence may dissipate some of the tension but not much of the enjoyment.

The only parts wherein the film falls flat is when it does stupid horror movie things. This being two instances where you’re left wondering how someone is not yet dead. It’s all well and good to have characters act stupid in the Stab vignettes so it gives you something to talk about but to fall into a tedious cliché within your actual narrative is a bit bothersome.

All told, however, Scream 4 is a very enjoyable film on a number of levels, take your pick: If you’re squeamish at the sight of blood; it’s got plenty of that and it looks great too (easily overcoming one of my pet peeves), if you like comedy there are some great jokes in there (My favorite being where the likelihood of Courteney Cox’s marriage is called into question) and if you like a little social commentary thrown in with whatever you’re watching it’s got that too.

8/10

Review- My Soul To Take

Max Thieriot in My Soul to Take

While traditionally it has been that October offers us a barrage of horror releases other months are not immune from seeing them either.  It is a genre that though as much as I love it is drowning in sub-par sequels and remakes, which is sad because while finding a truly great horror film is kind of like finding a needle in a haystack when you do find one there’s almost nothing like it.



My Soul to Take, Wes Craven’s latest film, is very likely the film that will capture the title of Horror Film of the Year. While it’s true that Let Me In is a wonderful rendition of the tale it was not quite perfect and it is a tale already told whereas this was not.

This film hooks itself into you right away as we watch a jaw-dropping and fascinating opening sequence which chronicles who the Riverton Ripper was. Springing forward we are watching a late night party in the woods where those who were born on the last night the Ripper was seen alive, and is presumed to have died. They are about to engage in a cleansing ritual it is interrupted and things go south from there.

While there is a bit of willful misdirection by the film, certain scenes want you to lean one way over the other as to who the killer is, rest assured it does add up in the end if you look back on some of those scenes as just planting the seeds of mental illness and character building.

Almost from the word go this film ratchets up the tension and makes it a jaw-clenchingly enjoyable experience which is not only full of suspense but comedy, by design not by accident. What is even more surprising is that a seemingly superficial scene in which Bug (Max Thieriot) and Alex (John Magaro) are trying to eavesdrop on the girls in the rest room turns into one of the pivotal scenes in the film due to the fallout from it.

Even though this was a film that was converted to 3D in post production that bears commenting on because when I went to see it there was no 2D option available. While I don’t have a scorecard of native-3D vs. post-conversion I must say it is the best I’ve seen of post-conversion. The images are crisp and clear and there is depth of field. A lot of time and effort was put into it to make it all seem by design and indeed it did enhance the experience.

Finding a horror protagonist is a tricky thing. People who will watch a horror film will watch many and become jaded. We’ve all been there where we’re watching a horror flick and it stinks and part of why it stinks is we don’t like the protagonist and they just won’t die already. This film doesn’t have that concern Max Thieriot plays Bug as endearingly and affably as possible while still maintaining the utmost sincerity. We see him struggle through this nightmare and root for him not only to make it out alive but to not be the killer.

Another reason that this film manages to keep itself so engaging is while Bug is boyish, kind and sheltered he is never stupid. There is never a decision he makes or something he does that makes you roll your eyes and take you out of the moment.  

My Soul to Take will keep your eyes glued to the screen and your knuckles white. It is a great night at the movies waiting to happen and a breath of fresh air in a sometimes stagnant genre.

10/10
 
For More Information: please visit the film’s site. For tickets and showtimes please use Fandango.