The Ten Best Films of 2010
2010 was a very good year for film. Not a great year but a damn good one which delivered plenty of really interesting films, several of which will definitely be remembered for years to come. The only things I feel worth noting before we jump into it is that there are a couple of titles that I haven't seen yet but most aren't getting released in Australia till January so I don't feel so bad neglecting them here.
As well as my top ten I am giving you guys a list of ten honourable mentions that either just missed out on making the final cut or simply deserved some attention as being incredibly worthwhile offerings.
This was a film that came to me completely out of the blue. Going into it I didn't even fully realise it was a low-budget film. What I ended up experiencing was one of the most technologically innovative and visually beautiful films of 2010. Edwards' tonal mash-up of 70s style mood piece and modern monster movie was so perfectly realised that I've seen it three times now and it still offers up simple pleasures. Even the opening sequence the initially feels like irrelevant misdirection has more function than meets the eye.
Not only did Quentin Dupieux successfully make a feature length film about a psychic killer tyre but he managed to also turn it into a postmodern comment on spectatorship that is frequently hilarious. I didn't expect Rubber to be this good or this clever. It may be too slight for some and too wanky for others but it was spot-on for me. From its thesis-like “no reason” opening monologue to its great score and exploding head montage, Rubber is absurdist meta-comedy at its finest. Loved it and cannot wait to see it again! General release in 2011? Calling Madman entertainment??
The term Hitchcockian gets thrown around a bit too much these days but Rodrigo Cortes' second feature is undeniably the type of film the master would be making if he was around in 2010. Setting an entire film in a coffin will inevitably result in a few contrivances here and there but once you accept these things you are set for one hell of a ride. Cinematically Buried was also one of the most interesting theatrical experiences I had in 2010. The darkness of the cinema was perfectly utilised brilliantly by Cortes, frequently cutting to black and letting the soundtrack do the work. His use of the widescreen also resulted in some excitingly stylish compositions with the camera literally flying through dirt. Exciting and uncompromised cinema.
Scorsese's best film in almost 15 years! I had a ridiculous amount of fun with this film, from its feverishly bombastic score to its lush and lucid imagery. Shutter Island was greatly misunderstood by many who reduced it to nothing more than a mere twist film yet it was so much more than that. Scorsese, well aware of the obviousness of his final act twist, played with his film in such a knowing way that even those who picked the twist immediately could find much to enjoy. I'd almost written Scorsese off as being in that uninteresting 'twilight' stage of his career that many filmmakers tend to stagnate in but boy was I wrong. I am now officially excited about what he has left in the tank.
David Michod's debut feature film was not only a brilliant film in and of itself but had the effect of a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Australian film industry. Suddenly the international community were taking us seriously and that made us realise we do have world-class films in us. A torrent of great cinema came out of this country over the last 12 months but Animal Kingdom was nothing short of a masterpiece. Michod's technical control was stunningly realised for a first-time filmmaker and Ben Mendelsohn showed a side of himself that scared the hell out of me. An exciting film that made me more proud of being an Australian than anything else in 2010 (although it probably didn't do my home city of Melbourne any favours for tourism).
Chris Morris is a genius. While I was anticipating Four Lions greatly, I still was wary. I'm not a complete Morris apologist despite my love of his work. Most recently his Nathan Barley series was a career nadir in my opinion so his jihadi-slapstick feature could've gone either way. Luckily it showed to be a brilliantly subversive satire with genuine heart. Morris managed to have his cake and eat it too with a sharply observed comedy that hit the mark in so many ways. The final half hour was so well done I think I was grinning from ear to ear in awe of watching a master satirist at work who can traverse high-brow and low-brow so seamlessly. Also on a simple laugh scale this was the funniest thing I saw all year!
To say this was long-awaited would be an understatement. I had been closely following the trials and tribulations of Enter The Void for almost 2 years before I finally got to see it so I was literally quite nervous as it began. In many ways Gaspar Noe's epic trip was a simultaneously underwhelming and extraordinary experience. Exhausting, exciting, harrowing, boring, mindblowing, Enter The Void is a cavalcade of conflicting emotions. Noe has pushed the limits of what narrative film can achieve with this one as his film begins to resemble an extended drug trip with all the highs and lows that accompany such an experience. While I found certain stretches to be interminably long I wouldn't change a moment. It needs to be long, it needs to be a journey. You will be changed when you leave the cinema after this one (and please, see it in a cinema).
The film that you are seeing on every critics Top Ten list is there for a good reason, it simply is one of the best films made in 2010. That is as close to an objective statement as one can make in the realm of film criticism and it would be almost disingenuous or naively reactionary to not place this film in a top ten list. Aaron Sorkin's script is a sharply observant and borderline cynical take on a technological advancement that has (like it or not) shaped all our lives. David Fincher's direction is a masterclass in elegance and style. This is how you direct a wordy script and still make it cinematic. Love it or hate it this is one of the most relevant and well-made films of 2010. The top three films I list from here on in perfectly sum up the collective zeitgeist of the first decade in this millennium.
Since first watching this magnum-opus of pop-culture cool I have discovered that the rest of the world does not like this film as much as me. When I first saw it I was so energised after it finished that I was loudly proclaiming that it would make a billion dollars and everyone is gonna become obsessed. I was slightly wrong but it doesn't change the fact that Edgar Wright's first American film is the most visually kinetic film I have seen in years. This is the type of film that lives in many film students heads but never ever comes out properly. The degree of formal inventiveness that has gone into this film is astounding. I've seen it three times now and still notice small details that Wright has slipped into random transitions (my favourite detail occurs when Scott initially hooks up with Ramona on the bus. Watch closely in the background whenever it cuts back to Scott. Love hearts scroll from right to left into his head as if one is in a video game collecting tokens).
I saw ETTGS in early June and for the next 6 months I waited for a film to excite me more. That film never came and I can without a doubt say that Banksy's first foray into the world of cinema is one of the most culturally definitive movies I have seen in years. As months have progressed I have moved further towards believing the film on face value (to a degree) but what arose on repeat viewings was something much more than a mere mystery over its truthfulness. ETTGS is storytelling at its finest. It manages to tell the story of the birth of street art, examine questions surrounding the commercialisation of art and introduce us to a hilarious character named Thierry. On top of that we have an artist, Banksy, who has made millions from the sale of his art basically calling shenanigans on the hand that feeds him. Not only is he questioning why people spend so much on arbitrarily selected art but he also brings into question the truth of the whole medium of film itself. Despite his denials, he has consciously stoked the questions over his film's authenticity. Ever the prankster, Banksy has created a stunningly rich film that doubles as the most entertaining, hilarious and insightful film of 2010. Brilliant!
(in no particular order)
I'm stealing quotes from previous reviews from here on in for most of these entries. As above, click the titles to link to my original postings.
"Winterbottom's absolute control of the medium reveals him to be a cinematic chameleon, much like Steven Soderbergh. He has an ability to take on different genres and aesthetics from film to film, mastering them all. This is one of his most elegant pieces in years though, making full use of the wide-screen and throwing in some satisfyingly ironic musical cues. The Killer Inside Me is a magnificent film although it will not be for everyone. If you like your noir rough and uncompromised then this is the movie for you. It's a remarkable piece of cinema that demands a reaction from it's audience."
Why isn't this in my top ten you ask? Well, I thought long and hard about Inception and while I loved it immensely on my first viewing that love dissipated greatly the second time I watched it. I simply cannot get over the formal problems inherent in the film. On my second viewing I was frequently bored during the first 100 minutes. So much of the film contains scenes of characters explaining to each other what is going on that Inception doesn't have the rewatch value that I would've hoped. The last 40 minutes are still some of the most magnificent cinema I have ever seen but I can't ignore the problems of the first two-thirds. Memento is still Nolan's most effective film. (Village Voice critic J. Hoberman actually placed only the last 40 minutes in his Top Ten list. He added the best 30 minutes of Tron Legacy to it to create the best spectacle entry of 2010)
"This is a vital film. Important in its objectivity and realism (or course no documentary is completely objective but the observational quality of this film is the closest we will get to something free of politics) this is something I think a lot of people need to see. It doesn't overtly vilify what is going on in Afghanistan but it paints a picture that is so completely alien to western audiences that I think it's required viewing. This is what is going on, and it is absolutely pointless."
"Red, White & Blue is not a film for everyone. In fact it is not a film I would recommend to many people. It is harrowing in the truest sense of the word. It is the type of film that many will leave wondering what the point was, wallowing in such irredeemable brutality for 100 minutes. Of course it is also an incredibly well-made piece of cinema and there are moments of touching beauty to be found in these troubled characters. It's artful without being pretentious and brutal without being gratuitous. Red, White & Blue is underground filmmaking at its finest and most dangerous. Those with a taste for extreme cinema must hunt it down."
"Mother is an absolutely accomplished and well-made piece of cinema which takes a generic story and turns it into a fascinating and highly original work. It's thrilling, funny and ultimately rather sad. A great achievement from a very, very good filmmaker."
"This is amazing stuff. As Mads explains at the start of the film, all the footage they shot was examined on a daily basis by the authorities to ensure they were not making a negatively spun film. The simple fact that the film consists of state approved footage shows how little the North Koreans understand of, as Mads terms it, 'post-modern irony'.The sheer access they receive to the city is unprecedented and the sequence showing Mads and Jacob walking in front of thousands of soldiers at a “peace” rally while having an argument in Danish is truly mindblowing. This is certainly the highlight of the festival so far. Highly recommended."
"Catfish is a brilliantly exciting and textually intriguing documentary. See it."
"In many ways this film reminded me of Heathers. Its sarcastic portrait of teen angst hits a tone much like that film. For the most part in World's Greatest Dad, Goldthwaite balances delicately between cynicism and sympathy brilliantly and Williams endears himself to the viewer in many unexpected ways, despite his actions over the course of the film."
"The film is a character study of perfectly nuanced proportions with Stiller giving a fantastically understated performance and Gerwig offering a star turn of odd naturalistic flourishes directly lifted from her mumblecore films of the past few years. Greenberg is full of uncomfortable scenes and quiet moments. It will not connect with all audiences but those seeking a low-key film, rich in detail and truth will find a lot to love in Greenberg and the sweetness of the closing scenes will leave you with an unexpected smile on your face."
"All this may sound like dauntingly heavy stuff but the whole film is infused with a unique streak of absurdist humour and a fascinatingly anachronistic soundtrack that includes weird 80s electro and traditional bluegrass. This is such a difficult film to encapsulate in a few paragraphs. It is almost wilfully eccentric as it careens through an increasingly abstract story that includes severed hands, cannibalism, non-sequitors, Japanese angels, naked dancing, the weirdest performance of Uncle Vanya you have ever seen and a Kafkaesque interrogation scene where the detective strips naked."