Dec 20, 2010

2010 in Review: Part 2 - The Best of 2010; Runners Up

2010 was a busy year for me, the busiest I’ve ever had in terms of the amount of new films I saw. For all of the following posts I’ve assessed as eligible those films that either showed at UK festivals or in UK cinemas between January 1st and December 18th, which I saw for the first time. For example, though both played at LFF 2009 and I saw Dogtooth at that festival, I was only able to see Lourdes on its 2010 cinema release, so Dogtooth was eligible for last year’s lists and awards, while Lourdes is eligible this year.

Over the next five days I’ll be revealing my highlights and lowlights of the year. We’ll start with a The runners up lists for the worst and the best films of the year films, then move on to the 24FPS awards for the year and finish up with the bottom and the top 10 of 2010. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays, whatever you’re celebrating.

I love what I do, it really is the best job in the world, but in seeing more than 200 new movies in a year you do get a real insight into just how many bad movies are made (lots). And then there are those moments that keep me going, the screenings I walk into and leave refreshed, my enthusiasm for and love of cinema ignited again by something different and dazzling. The very best films of the year will be covered in my Christmas Eve post, but these ten movies were also among the highlights of the year, and each reminded me exactly why I love going to work. The list is in alphabetical order by title.

Dir: Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle's follow up to the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire doesn't sound that promising; a 100 minute film about a man (James Franco as Aron Ralston) who gets his arm trapped under a rock, and is stuck for the titular amount of time, before determining that to avoid dying he must cut off the stricken arm. Remarkably Boyle and Franco make this an extremely cinematic tale, with Boyle's sharp images and pounding, rhythmic cutting making for a film that defies the static nature of its subject. For his part Franco is outstanding as Ralston, again delivering a performance that makes the argument that he's one of the best American actors of his generation. The central self-surgery scene is uncomfortably long and graphic, almost palpably painful, but the rest of the film is by turns thrilling, emotional and funny. A great surprise.

ANONYMA: A WOMAN IN BERLIN [a.k.a.: The Downfall of Berlin: Anonyma]
Dir: Max Farberbock
Whenever I see that a film starring the great German actress Nina Hoss is getting a UK release, I celebrate. This adaptation of an anonymous memoir, penned by a female journalist in the immediate aftermath of World War two documents a seldom discussed aspect of the war; the massive scale of rape that civilization German women were subjected to by the conquering Russian army. Hoss plays the anonymous journalist, giving one of her finest performances to date, and this time the film matches her. The supporting cast is exceptional, with many of the best German actors working; Juliane Kohler, August Diehl, Sandra Huller, Jordis Triebel and many more besides, turning up even in the smallest parts. What really gives Anonyma punch though is Max Farberbock's unflinching eye, and his willingness to acknowledge both the determination these women had to survive, and the terrible things they had to endure to do so (the phrase "wie oft" (how often) takes on terrible meaning). This is a powerful film, with a brilliant performance at its centre.

Dir: Frederick Wiseman
Frederick Wiseman is one of the defining voices in documentary cinema. He was 77 when he shot this film (he's now 80) and it's as vital and fascinating as any work he's ever done. Wiseman doesn't impose structure on the way he follows the Paris Opera Ballet through their season, instead he focuses on the punishing, painstaking, effort, on the endless repetition, on the desire to get every moment, every movement, absolutely perfect. The composition of Wiseman's shots is often gorgeous; a shot of an empty hallway as beautiful and as telling as one of a dancer, but where this film really excels is as a study of movement. Forget the overrated Black Swan, this is the ballet movie you have to see.

Dir: Antonio Capuano
Antonio Capuano's film is not the love story he thinks it is, but it is an affecting, occasionally brilliant, and spectacularly acted (especially by 19 year old Irene DeAngelis) tale of how one horrendous crime (gang rape, which we never see) affects both the perpetrator and the victim. Capuano's parallel approach makes for a pair of compelling character studies, which become truly fascinating as perpetrator Ciro begins writing to his victim Irene from his juvenile detention. The visuals are beautiful, but it is the unusual story and the compelling performance of Irene DeAngelis, which really make the appropriately titled Dark Love an enduringly interesting film.

Dir: Chris Morris
Chris Morris, one of Britain's foremost satirists, makes the jump from TV to cinema with this risky project; a knockabout comedy about five inept would be suicide bombers. The masterstroke that keeps the film from being offensive is that, while it shows the terrorists as being human, even as decent, sympathetic people, it never lets us forget the gravity of what they are planning, and the film does carry the weight of their aim throughout. The performances are just as finely balanced, with Nigel Lindsay (as British born convert Barry) and Kayvan Novak (as peabrained Waj, whose idea of paradise is not having to queue to go on Alton Towers' Rubber Dinghy Rapids ride) standing out. In an age when things like Due Date are stinking up the box office, films this funny and this thoughtful give me hope.

Dir: Lindy Heymann
Lindy Heymann's film is, thanks perhaps to young cinematographer Eduard Grau, one of the best looking directorial debuts I can remember seeing. Together Heymann and Grau render Liverpool as a stark, bleak, but also strikingly beautiful urban landscape. However, that's not all KICKS has going for it. Nichola Burley and Kerrie Hayes are both excellent as the two girls who are distraught, to the point of disturbing action, when their favourite footballer confirms he will be leaving Liverpool for Real Madrid. The film goes a little off the rails in its last act, but the images, Hayes' performance in particular and the chilly soundtrack (featuring several tracks by Liverpool electro band Ladytron) are good enough to keep it extremely compelling.

Dir: Katell Quillevere
Katell Quillevere's debut is perhaps the most insightful coming of age movie of 2010. She follows the sexual awakening and burgeoning religious doubts of a 14 year old girl (played by an excellent Clara Augarde). Quillevere doesn't try to treat the subject controversially or over dramatically, instead she keeps Love Like Poison very grounded and real feeling, refusing to present the religious characters as either saints or devils (though there is some very pointed implicit criticism of Catholic dogma). This is a film that asks many pointed questions, both about religion and about growing up, and doesn't answer many of them, it's also a film that shows Quillevere as a major talent to watch both as an actors director and as a visualist.

Dir: Edgar Wright
Edgar Wright's third major film is his most audacious yet. In this adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series Wright has allowed his visual imagination to run riot, creating an entirely original collision of 1000 pop culture influences. Michael Cera (once again) plays the same nerd he's played in everything he's ever been in, but otherwise the casting is dead on perfect from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Scott's (and every nerd's) dream girl to the league of seven evil exes (Brandon Routh is a particular standout). The fight sequences (choreographed with assistance from the Jackie Chan stunt team) are fantastic and the script is hilariously funny. It didn't do as well as it should have at cinemas, but it's a cult sensation in the making.

Dir: Errol Morris
A return to form for Morris after the disappointing Standard Operating Procedure, this finds him back on typical territory, presenting a multi-faceted portrait of a truly eccentric woman. The case of the Manacled Mormon apparently gripped the British tabloid press in the 70's, and here Morris gets as close to the full story as he can, largely through an interview with the kidnapper; a deceptively sweet, but clearly delusional woman named Joyce. Joyce is fascinating, and the film's most interesting, scariest and funniest passages all revolve around her telling her story. It's a shame that Morris couldn't speak to her victim (he's alive, but wouldn't be interviewed) but as a portrait of a very singular woman, this is hard to beat.

Dir: Jac Schaeffer
THIS is how you do a modern, mainstream romantic comedy. Jac Schaeffer's film takes a simple, offbeat premise (the idea that in the future most people have a device implanted on their wrists that counts down to the day they'll meet their true love. Buffy's Emma Caulfield plays a woman whose TiMER hasn't started counting down, because her 'one' hasn't had one installed yet. This rather thin seeming idea is the framework for an hilarious rom-com. The jokes fly thick and fast, and thanks to star Emma Caulfield's dead on comic timing (honed as Anya on Buffy, just about every one sticks. It's also got the guts to be a little bit different from the other rom-coms out there, so, happily, you won't always know where it's going. I just wish someone would get off their arse and give it a UK release.

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