The big problem with doing these end of year lists is that I simply have not seen nearly every film that I wanted to see in 2010 (but I sure am trying to). It's just not possible for me to do so, but regardless, I'm comfortable in saying that I have seen many wonderful movies this past year. In fact, I've seen more than enough to make a list that I am completely happy with from top to bottom. If I watch three or four more films and find them to be best of the year material, I would simply add them to this list as opposed to removing a movie to make room for something else. And that's where I shall segue into how I'm doing this thing. As far as my picks go, I'm not doing a numerical list of 1-10, instead, I have what I consider my favorite movies of the year, in alphabetical order. Simple enough.
Touted as a Neo-Giallo, Amer is a film that I knew would be highly stylized, but I had no idea just how incredibly that style would be handled by co-writer/directors, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Amer takes the intricacies of the Italian Giallo film and displays a character's evolution using these tactics, but in a way unlike any Giallo film has really done. It's a movie that comes with very little dialogue or narrative, but the camera work, sound design, set design, editing and music are what drive a women's fantastical flowering (that's a creepy way to put it, right?). Amer is not the type of film everyone will enjoy. In fact, many will hate it, calling it pretentious. But that's a part of what makes art art, and that is exactly what Amer is. Art. Sometimes that can be a bit alienating to people.
Best Worst Movie
My heart is, quite simply, fond of Troll 2, and finally getting to see the much anticipated documentary, Best Worst Movie, was like having that fondness coming together full circle. What makes Best Worst such a solid documentary is the fact that director (and Troll 2 star) Michael Paul Stephenson did much more than explore the odd impact that the film has had on so many random people. The cult of Troll 2 is the jumping off point for the film, but the events that unfold very much focus on fame and the positive and negative ways that it can affect someone's life. It's a film that shows the difference in people's varying perspective in what we individually consider entertainment. It's a film about happiness, sadness, fear of rejection and redemption. If you enjoy Troll 2, this a must, but seeing Troll 2 is not a must to enjoy Best Worst Movie. And that quite honestly says it all right there.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
First of all, being a fan of graffiti and street art for many years, I simply enjoyed this film on the level of watching the "street artists" do their thing, as well as seeing the pieces themselves. But where Exit Through the Gift Shop makes me sit back and take notice most, is just how perfectly it exposes the average consumer for being so easily swayed. With the rise in popularity with this form of "vandalism" in the mainstream over the years, what Banksy - the film's director and prolific street artist - did, was take the piss right out of it all. Basically making the art form almost null and void as a marketing tool. Anti-cool, even. It's a commentary about the value of what is considered art, which is essentially something that is irrelevant within the confines of subjectivity. It's the cinematic equivalent of blinding people with a clear plastic bag, which is exactly what makes it so smart and such an enjoyable watch.
I had been pretty high on Adam Green (he's coated in THC. I know, weird, right?) after being greatly surprised by his co-directorial effort with 2007's psych-thriller, Spiral, a film that showed he was a filmmaker that could craft serious thought provoking horror, as well as a mindless gorefest. Falling on the former side of the equation, Frozen is a film that places its characters in a situation where options outside of death aren't exactly abound. One of Frozen's strengths comes from Green taking a one-note, basic premise and being able to keep the pacing tight, fast and the overall feeling very tense. Also, the characters themselves were wonderfully written, with a true attention to realistic human emotion. Something that is missed in far too many horror films graced with a youthful cast.
I don't think the conditions in which I viewed Christopher Nolan's Inception were the best for a movie of its magnitude. My lady and I actually went and saw it at the drive-in, which I believe may be the exact opposite of an IMAX, and still - while not being able to even make out the first five or ten minutes and sitting in the sweltering heat - I walked away (well, drove away, to be precise) knowing that I had seen something incredible. Most will call it a smart and complicated film, but I believe it to be very simple idea wise but complicated in its execution. Inception overloads the viewer with a massive amount of information all at once, specifically in that last hour, and that's where the movie shows its smarts. Beside the great acting, special effects, action set pieces, you get the drift, Nolan pieced together three different vignettes with the dream levels, and keeps them linked, coherent and nicely balanced while being completely different from one another on an aesthetic and narrative level. To be able to pull all of this off, and make it look fabulous, is truly the brain power behind Inception.
The Last Exorcism
In what is certainly my most divisive pick amongst horror fans, The Last Exorcism has a lot of elements that worked in drastically both directions for those who saw it. It's handheld, it's done in a mockumentary style that focuses on a specific character, and it has a bat shit crazy and completely off base ending. It is all of these things that, for me, made The Last Exorcism work as a refreshingly solid horror film. Spending time with the wonderfully written Cotton character gives the viewer time to get to know him, and serves as a great way to give him a little more value than the average protagonist. By time the horror elements come into play, there is some investment, which also carries over quite well to the other characters, namely the exorcist recipient, Nell, who is played fantastically by Ashley Bell. The verity styled camera work is effective and tense when needed and the it never feels as if it's being forced. Most importantly, while I think the ending is ridiculous, I cannot help but love it for just how out there it is. It, as well as House of the Devil, have endings that just go for it, which is something that was more of a staple in horror films from the 70's.
I was very surprised with how much I enjoyed 2007's fantastic crime drama, Gone Baby Gone, so when I started seeing trailers for Affleck's sophomore effort, The Town, I instantly knew that it was a must see. Granted, being a born and raised Masshole plays a part in that, and I simply love this sort of new wave of Boston based crime cinema that has become prevalent over the past five plus years. What I found to be the core strength of The Town is the focus throughout, and until the finale, is kept solely on the conflict found within Doug MacRay, not the struggle between him and his surrounding characters. Which is exactly where I thought the film would have gone with its seemingly predictable, but still great, first half. The acting is incredible all around, with another prize worthy performance from Jeremy Renner, and Affleck does a fantastic job playing both sides of the camera. But all of that aside, having a heist scene and eventual shootout set in, as Fergus 'Fergie' Colm describes it, the cathedral of Boston, is such an awesome payoff!
Outside of being a film filled with some of the year's best performances, the Coen brothers' True Grit takes a refreshingly classic look at the western film and does so perfectly. It's a slow riding character driven drama that keeps from going too far with its action, which means a lot in a time when the average moviegoer has little to no patience. Where I believe this film soared highest is with its independently motivated female character, Mattie Ross, who (despite being played by a criminally non-marquee sharing Hailee Steinfeld) is clearly the star of the show and most certainly the character that the title True Grit stems from. The western film is often a boys club, but here is a film where it's a strong and intelligent young woman who stands out for being just that, strong and intelligent.
Undisputed III: Redemption
Sure, it seems crazy to have a third entry in a franchise where I have yet to even see the second film. Even more crazy is seeing a film like Undisputed III: Redemption on any best of the year list. Crazy as it sounds, I absolutely loved this film and I did so because it is quite frankly the baddest mother fucking movie of the year. And when I say baddest, I mean it in the Michael Jackson way. This film has some of the best action choreography I have seen in years. It's fresh, hard hitting and filled with an individual style. Director Isaac Florentine crafts his incredible fight scenes with a mixture of slow-down to normal speed and a multitude of angles and camera movement that all come together cohesively, as well as brilliantly. But what really gets me doing push-ups is Redemption truly captures everything that one can love about the 80's action film. This is Bloodsport for a new generation. In a year where The Expendables promised a return to the lost art of the American action movie, and came pretty close to delivering it, it's Undisputed III: Redemption that truly delivered the all mighty punch that the genre needs most.
Every so often there is that rare film that comes out and just hits hard with a realistic subtlety that's as jarring as it is fascinating. A long and hard look into the lives of people we don't know but, in some ways, can relate to or at least understand due to the always lingering struggle known as life. Debra Granik's Winter's Bone sits silently with all the windows open so every little breath of this dark, broken and often saddening world can be taken in to its fullest. The characters that fill in the the story are all struggling in some way, and how they deal with it is what determines the path in which they are heading or have already gone. It's a dark place where many find themselves, trapped by drugs and violence, but it is the tenacity of one young woman that shines a light of hope for the ones that mean the most. The innocents. The young children that cannot fend for themselves and deserve nothing more that just a simple chance to live at least a decent life. What Jennifer Lawrence's character, Ree, brings is a woman that will fight tooth and nail to protect that innocence, because she still has hope, but more importantly, she has strength.
I also wanted to give a quick shout out to a few documentaries that weren't necessarily the types of documentaries that can fit in on a film list, but I still feel that I should mention them both. Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape and Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, both of which are wonderful looks into a specific piece of cult cinema history that I really and truly enjoyed. Specifically with Never Sleep Again, which was a doc I had been burning to see forever, and boy was it far from a disappointment.
Quick Honorable mentions
Burning Bright - Cropsey - Ip Man - Lake Mungo - Raging Phoenix - Splice - The Social Network – Shutter Island
And that's that's a wrap. I've gone on long enough now, but I would be more than ecstatic if you all shared your thoughts about my list and whatever films made your 2010 all the better. Thanks for sticking around, and I hope to see you on the other side!