While I didn't see near as many films this year as some of the fine gentlemen who write for this site I did see my fair share of gems. Below is a list of films I thought stood out this year, in no particular order.
We Scandinavians have a ton of legends about trolls and assorted monsters in our culture and when André Øvredal created a film about trolls in modern times I didn't think it would be as well made and successful as it turned out to be. Set firmly in the Blair Witch side of filmmaking the film delivers a fantastic story, action and scares, all wrapped up in the gorgeous scenery of the Norwegian fjords.
Brothers Jalmari and Juuso Helander created a few years ago a couple of shorts about the hunting and domesticating of the wild and feral santa claus in the northern region of Finland. While other films who are based on short subjects usually end up being drawn out and the story stretched to fit in the feature format the brother have successfully created a prequel to the shorts using local legends of the santa claus and do it in a Dante-esque way. That is, a dark children's fantasy film that hits all the right notes and is something we rarely see today when it comes to films catering to young adults.
Probably the best straight up horror film of the year for me. Jim Mickle's Stakeland mixes The Road with crazed vampire monsters and the outcome is a bleak, gritty survival tale about two men on their way to the promised land in the north where there are no vampires but plenty of Hockey and bacon. Superbly shot and oozing with atmosphere Mickle is on my radar as talent worth keeping an eye on.
If there is something that the Australians do well it's westerns and revenge tales. Patrick Hughes takes a rather simple revenge tale and envelops it in mystery, tension and crusty characters. TV heartthrob and contender for the bare chested award for his work in True Blood, Ryan Kwanten turns in a great performance that's far removed from the goofy characters most know him from. A bad ass modern western filled to the brim with crust and grumpy characters Red Hill is a film to seek out.
Sadly people don't make giant monster movies as often as I would like, aside from maybe Asylum but those are exactly the types of giant monster films I don't want. So when Gareth Edwards, with a minimal crew and his experience in special effects created Monsters I cheered. But this is not the all out action film that the trailers might make you believe but a intimate road movie about two characters on their way back to America after being stuck in a quarantine zone in Mexico that's littered with monsters from space. A slow burner as I like them to be, in the vein of Van Diemen's Land and The Road the film focuses more on the people stuck in a bad situation a few years after the initial monster outbreak, something we hardly ever get to see.
The Killer Inside Me
Michael Winterbottom created one of the funniest TV series this year with The Trip where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel the English countryside, go to restaurants and be funny. So it's note worthy that he also created one of the most brutal film of this year as well with The Killer Inside Me. Based on the Jim Thompson novel of the same name the film follows the seemingly pleasant country bumpkin Lou Ford, played brilliantly creepy by Casey Affleck who hides a much darker side while he operates as a county sheriff. We get a look inside the mind of a crazed killer who shows no compassion for anyone but himself as he takes care of business and tries to avoid detection from his co-workers.
Bleak and beautiful at the same time Winterbottom creates a magnificent film that is bound to shock many, especially fans of Jessica Alba.
I barely remember the hubbub that surrounded the real Arne Treholt in the 80's, all of which has come to pass as a complete lie fabricated to bring him down. But I would probably remember more if he had actually been a real life ninja working for King Olav at the time. Using real events as the base for the story Thomas Cappelen Malling puts together a rousing tale of international spies, terrorism and weird ass comedy as the Norwegian Ninja force battles super villains in the Cold War. Using state of the art computer effects and intentionally crappy effects and miniatures as well the film is a surreal mixture of James Bond and the old Lee Van Cleef ninja films of yore. If only real life was as exciting as this film is.
Having known a couple of ballet dancers I know how grueling and often sadistic this art form can be, both on the body and psyche. Darren Aronowsky creates a stunningly beautiful film about the competitive world of Ballet and how a girl destined for stardom spirals in to madness as she prepares for the role of her life time. This is classic Aronowsky mind fuck with disturbing images and terrific performances from all involved. With that in mind I can't wait to see what he does with Wolverine.
A Serbian Film
Speaking of mind fucks. Mind rapes more likely. Commenting on the state of his country director Srdjan Spasojevic pulls no punches as viewers are treated to some of the most fucked up imagery to have ever graced the silver screen. It's understandable why it's heavily cut in the UK and why some reviewers have hated it with every ounce of their soul. This is hard stuff but extremely well made hard stuff, beautifully shot and well acted, which is something that has kept many from dismissing it completely. It's clear that Spasojevic has something to say and wants to shout it out at a top of a mountain and he succeeds in that. Approach with caution because you will not be the same after viewing it.
I've always been a fan of Chris Morris ever since I saw his brilliant TV shows Brasseye and Jam. This is a satirist at the top of his game often tackling subjects that are very much taboo in our society, especially when we make light of them. And ever since 9/11 terrorism has been on the "No no" list of comedy but Chris Morris wants to rectify that and brings us a tale of four would-be London based terrorists that plan to blow shit up for Allah. Problem is that they are not very good at it. At first I thought this film would stir up a shit storm of controversy but, almost disappointingly, that hasn't happened, not that I have been looking. It's a film that doesn't make fun of religion but the people who practice it and feel that everyone else should listen to what they say. Funny, funny stuff.