I have a confession to make: I didn't see anywhere near the number of movies that my colleagues here did in 2010, so my list is going to be a little bit different. I'm not so much making a "Best of" list for 2010, mine is more a list of most memorable movie experiences from the last year. Almost all of them came in cinema halls, but one or two of them came at home with new films from this year. You'll see a few familiar names, but then you'll see some things that I bet won't be found on the other guys' lists. But, hey! Isn't that what these lists are for, finding the things you missed?
The films on this list made me laugh, chant, and knotted my stomach; sometimes they made me rethink what films should be like, they challenged my preconceptions about people and places; some of them made me question my own sanity, and some were just plain fun in a way that was fresh and new. There are probably at least a couple that you haven't seen, well, here's your chance to seek them out, in no particular order apart from number one:
(Dir: Shankar) Enthiran
was an event film of the highest magnitude. The highest budgeted film ever made in India. Superstar Rajinikanth inspires such devotion that nothing I've seen in my life compares to the mania that preceded and followed this films release. The news from India was madness, 24 hour showings were booked solid for weeks in advance, men made pilgrimages to bless holy relics in hopes of the film's success, showings began at 5:30 AM in Dubai, people sat in auditoriums all day to watch the film numerous times. Most of us cannot even imagine the kind of insanity a new Rajinikanth film inspires, let alone his biggest film ever. Even in my little corner of the world in Dallas, I saw the film with my wife (neither of us are Indian) in an auditorium absolutely packed with screaming devotees. We were the only non-Indians in the room, this showing had been sold out for a week, and there was a line out the front door of the theater for ticket holders. All I can say is that if you missed this, you missed the film event of the year. When Superstar Rajni's credit comes up (before the production company or any other credits) the house exploded, confetti rained down from the upper rows of the theater, and whistles, cat calls, and shouts of "Thalaivar!" (Rajni's nickname to fans) drowned out the sound track completely through the opening credits and music. Then the film started, and it only got better. In my review I made note of the fact that I have no illusions about the experience diminishing once I get a chance to watch this on home video (not available yet, trust me I'll let you know), however, I have confetti at the ready to try and recapture my top movie experience of 2010 at home!
2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
(Dir: Edgar Wright) I am a child of the 80's, I played the original Nintendo Entertainment System, I had a Commodore 64, and I pumped thousands of dollars, I'm sure, into Street Fighter II arcade machines. I am the target audience for Scott Pilgrim. That being said, it wasn't those cultural references that really impressed me about this film, though they were cute. Edgar Wright made his most ambitious movie with Scott Pilgrim, he took chances, not only in making a film that would be hard to market outside of a core audience, but also by smashing so many different types of films together and then watching them explode on the screen in a way that is captivating and fresh. I didn't walk out of the theater muttering to myself about the 8-bit video game theme music references, I wasn't looking for Easter eggs in the film; I walked out knowing that I'd seen something that no one had ever done before, and I loved it. It had well-choreographed action, it had heart, it had conflict, it had art, it was touching, exciting, fresh, and familiar all at once. The blurb on the home video label calls it a "game changer" and while I get the video game reference in that blurb, I unfortunately don't think this film will change much in the film game, especially due to its dismal box-office performance. However, for those of us who saw it and enjoyed it, we all know that there is something special in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
, and we know that we may not see anything like it at a megaplex for a long time, and for that, we are sad.
3. Piranha 3-D
(Dir: Alexandre Aja) Okay, here is where I'm sure I'll begin to drift from my fellow writers. As evidenced in my Video Home Invasion column, I love horror. I love horror, I love exploitation, I love gore films, I love them. To be honest, I remember hearing that Aja was going to remake Piranha
well ahead of the release and I wasn't terribly interested at that point. It wasn't until the first pre-release reviews starting trickling out over the internet that my interest piqued. I read glorious tales of a film that went so far over the edge that it rivaled some of my favorite films from my teenage years. Sex, blood, and killer fish were all I could think about. The more I heard, the more I became convinced that all of the hype had to be over-blown, there was no way that a studio would let a director go that far in the boob-baring and blood-letting departments. I riled myself up and bought my ticket for the midnight show, I went alone, my wife had work the next morning, Hell, so did I, but I wouldn't be deterred. I saw Piranha 3-D
in a nearly empty auditorium with perhaps four other people to share my experience. The hype was all real. It was everything that exploitation films of the 80's promised with their posters and rarely delivered. The key gore set pieces were astonishing. There were boobs to spare. From the opening tribute to Jaws
featuring Richard Dreyfuss, to the closing sequences promising more to come, Piranha 3-D
was exactly the film I paid to see. A sequel, fittingly titled Piranha 3-DD
, has already been greenlit and is to be directed by John Gulager of Feast
, I can't say I'm as enthusiastic for the next one, but I love being surprised. Piranha 3-D
releases on home video just after the new year, and it is a day one purchase for me, I'm not sure that the 3-D floating dismembered Member will be the same at home, but this is the type of film I'll support every time. Piranha 3-D
promised, Piranha 3-D
delivered, can't ask for much more than that.
(Dir: Q) This is the only film on the list that I didn't manage to catch on the big screen, but I'm trying to make that happen here in Dallas sooner rather than later. This film was a revelation to me. I've seen a lot of Indian films, I know their tropes, I feel like I know their hopes and dreams, I feel like I know where they live. I've seen the slums, I've seen the poverty, I've seen the new riches and opportunities, I've seen the heroism, I've seen the evil and corruption that seems to invade the lives of so many common Indian people. Gandu
is something I haven't seen. It is a film about a loser. Gandu has hopes and dreams, but he also has drug and gambling habits to feed, and they seem to take precedence more often than not. It isn't brightly colored, it isn't coy, it isn't unassuming, it isn't a fable, and it is in no way conventional. It isn't conventional for any film, let along an Indian film. It is graphic in its depiction of sex, drugs, poverty, and the real struggles of real people living real lives, not the typical escapism of Indian film. It showed me an India I'd never seen, and it made me care about and cheer for a person who is the hero of no one else's story but his own. A person like me (only with more drugs). Q took an idea and made it real, it was a risk, in fact, there is very little chance right now of Gandu
getting a commercial release in India, its content will never pass the censors. It isn't the kind of film that makes it into art house complexes in the west, it is too experimental. Normally, I hate that, there is nothing worse that directors who love the smell of their own farts, but Q makes it work. The film, though very disjointed, works and doesn't feel self-indulgent. Everything in the film contributes to the messages, from the dialogue, or lack thereof, to the editing style and visual choices. It is a complete work, and it represents 90 of the finest minutes I spent in front of my TV this year.
(Dir: Hitoshi Matsumoto) Symbol
isn't really about anything. The first two thirds are a bizarre, yet captivating set up for a joke, but the audience doesn't know they're being told a joke, and the payoff is all the sweeter for it. Matsumoto places the main action in two locations, first in rural Mexico, where an amateur luchador is off to a weekend wrestling match, and second with Matsumoto himself stuck in a big white room. Much of the Mexican story plays out like Big Man Japan
did, with a very wry sense of humor, and no real direction that the audience can see. In the other "story", Matsumoto's unnamed character spends a good portion of the film trying to get out of this room in which he finds himself. He has awakened from a dream, he's even still wearing his jammies, and he can't quite figure out what is going on. Almost that entire last sentence could also apply to Symbol
's audience. To describe it, Symbol
doesn't sound like much, but never has such a seemingly endless stream of ephemera had such a volcanic result in a theater when the punchline is finally delivered. By the time we reach the 2001: A Space Odyssey
inspired conclusion, we are totally into it, and want to watch it all over again!
6. Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil
(Dir: Eli Craig) The fact that this movie still hasn't found American distribution is a crime. Tucker & Dale
is a pitch perfect send up of any number of classic Hillbilly horrors, from Deliverance
to Wrong Turn
. In fact, this is pretty much Wrong Turn
filmed from the inside out. Tucker and Dale
are a couple of down home boys celebrating their recent acquisition of a country cabin vacation home. As they are on their way down to check the place out and start sprucing it up, they encounter a group of 20 somethings who are determined to get into trouble and are frightened by the prospects of anyone wearing overalls or speaking with a Southern accent. In their ignorance and fear, the nubile would be victims turn aggressive and manage to get themselves killed one after another with no help from our hapless heroes, who are just trying to survive the weekend. When I saw this film at the Dallas International Film Festival in April, the entire crowd was completely in stitches from start to finish. The film has had regular theatrical runs in Russia and Lithuania, what the Hell is wrong with you, America? See this film by any means necessary!
7. Despicable Me
(Dir: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud) I have a six year old son, so I see a lot of kid's movies. I saw almost all of them this year, though I did manage to avoid Yogi Bear
, but the one that stuck with me the most was Despicable Me
. I loved Toy Story 3
, and I really enjoyed Tangled
's efficient and bald-faced tear-jerking, and Tangled
's attempt to resurrect the Disney musical, I think Despicable Me
ultimately had the most heart of all of them. The animation was fantastic, the 3-D effects, which are usually pretty anemic, were put to some of the best use I've seen yet in the film as well, but most of all, the characters had depth and were lovable. I was pulling for Steve Carrel's Gru, and don't get me started on the Minions. If I had my Christmas wish, I'd have a horde of Minions in my basement doing my bidding as well. Most non-Pixar animated films suffer from the times in which they are made, and not from the technology, but mostly from jokes that will become dated within months. Despicable Me
has an absolute minimum of those jokes, and will translate into good times for my family and I for years to come.
8. Summer Wars
(Dir: Mamoru Hosoda) I'm not an anime geek. I don't watch anime serials, I very rarely watch features, but once in a great while something will grab me. Summer Wars
grabbed me. Summer Wars
was a wonderful, ambitious film. Taking a very high tech world and attacking it from a sprawling country estate was an inspired decision. The characters both inside the network and outside in the real world have real worries and concerns. They mimic so many of us who hide behind our keyboards are create personas that live well beyond our real lives while in cyberspace. I'm a simple quiet guy in real life, but here online I can be outspoken and opinionated. This is the power that the Internet has afforded people, and Summer Wars
explores that dynamic in an interesting and entertaining way. Not the mention the fact that the animation is top notch. I think I still may like Hosoda's The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
better, but this is far more expansive and impressive an effort.
(Dir: Nobuhiko Obayashi) I know this is a cheat, technically. I said at the beginning of this column that this was a catalog of my experiences, and I experienced House
for the very first time in 2010. No single review of this film has managed to do it complete justice, and I'd wager that none ever will. House
is experimental but accessible, there is a completely lucid plot hidden beneath the layers of hallucinatory special effects. You've never seen anything like it and you never will again, at once it is a product of its time in that the effects are very indicative of where the technology was at the time, but at the same time it is a film out of place with time. It fits no movement, no particular genre, apart from being broadly a horror film, but it incorporates elements of the musical, the TV commercial, comedy, action, wuxia films, and too many other genres to count. Nobuhiko Obayashi was a singular artist who's time has finally come, even though his name barely registered a blip on anyone's radar before about 2008. The rediscovery and resurgence of House is one of the great filmic happenings of the last few years. These films exist all over the place, mostly forgotten, waiting to be unearthed and shown anew to audiences who are ready to believe in the magic of cinema. House
is a film that leaves very few people undecided, either you love it, or you hate it, very few people are indifferent. I find myself firmly in the former camp, and even though the film is 33 years old, it was still one of my top movie experiences of 2010.
10. The Man From Nowhere
(Dir: Lee Jeong-beom) The Man From Nowhere
was one of the great films from 2010 that very few people really had on their radar. It came out of Fantastic Fest with a bunch of really great reviews. Following that, it was picked up for limited runs in a couple dozen multiplexes across the US and Canada and it was successful anywhere people were able to see it. It is a classically styled heroic bloodshed film in the mold of Kim Jee-woon's brilliant A Bittersweet Life
. I saw it on the opening night of that theatrical run in suburban Dallas and I was blown away. The Man From Nowhere
is far from a perfect film, and it throws everything including the kitchen sink in to move the plot along, but its brutality and violence can't quite hide its heart. The movie belongs to Won Bin, who's silent power, charisma, and abs rule the day. There are other characters, but they are mostly stock characters straight outta any given South Korean gangster film, of which there are dozens of examples in recent years, but Won Bin's Cha Tae-sik is a real person. He just happens to be a real person who used to be an American trained super indestructible spy who has gone into hiding and now runs a pawn shop. None of the events have any ring of truth, but there is an emotional power behind everything Won Bin does, in spite of the hackneyed set ups of which he is a perpetual victim. At the end you are cheering him on, even as the situations stray farther and farther from reality. He is involved in a Herculean quest with insurmountable odds, but we still cheer him on. Every punch and stab punctures the viewers heart, and the final scenes mark less of a choreographed battle and more of an endurance test for character and viewer alike. Ultimately we are the winners. The Man From Nowhere
leaves you drained, but exhilarated and ready for more.
That's it for me. I'm going to post a top ten home video releases, but that may have to wait till I get home from vacation, as I suspect I'll have a couple of contenders in my mail to examine. I hope this will inspire someone to seek out something new, or perhaps something they just overlooked. Until next year!