Room for one more? It's Eight Rooks' TOP TEN FOR 2010

jackie-chan
Contributor; Derby, England
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Room for one more? It's Eight Rooks' TOP TEN FOR 2010

And to think I thought it would be a dull year. I might not have been able to join in the fun on the other side of the Atlantic, but the IFFR in Rotterdam (thanks to fellow ScreenAnarchists Ard - you're a star), London's Frightfest, Manchester's Grimm Up North and Leeds International Film Festival meant the past twelve months delivered in spades. While I haven't reviewed all of these (yet), and I did see one or two movies that would be on this list but weren't released last year, my final top ten for 2010 looks like this.


10: SHANGHAI


With Jon Cusack's star a little tarnished lately, perhaps he's wondering why this hasn't turned up in the West yet, other than through the grey market? The story of an American spy stumbling across a terrible secret in Shanghai as the Japanese invasion draws closer, it's an electrifying thriller with gorgeous production values, a stellar cast on top form and more restraint and nuance than you'd ever imagine from something courting mainland China's box office receipts.


9: INCEPTION


Not quite the second coming early buzz would have it, but despite a simplistic story and altogether too much exposition, Christopher Nolan's latest is a blockbuster with wit, soul and jaw-dropping technical expertise. It's a heist movie under the hood, yes, but a tight, compelling one with characters it's easy to root for and phenomenal set-pieces, one that still presents a landscape like little if anything else on film in 2010.


8: BEDEVILLED


A sickeningly gory revenge movie, true, but one where the violence is less for audiences to cheer and throw popcorn at the screen than it is the climax to an absolutely heartbreaking, gut-wrenching tale of loss, regret and missed opportunities. A fantastic debut from one of Kim Ki-Duk's assistants, with a brilliant central performance from Seo Young-Hee that should leave viewers torn between rooting for her and fleeing the room in terror.


7: DRIVERLESS


Zhang Yang's ensemble character drama is slick, polished commercial filmmaking, but product or not it's still a gorgeous production with some beautiful, poster-worthy imagery - not to mention it's possessed of a skilful, elegant script, thoughtful, moving and mature, like an older, wiser Crash that never once stoops to sensationalising or mawkish everything-is-connected cliches.


6: MONSTERS


Your move, Hollywood? Director Gareth Edwards raises the bar for sci-fi filmmaking on a budget with this gorgeous, contemplative road movie shot by a guerilla production crew, with a journalist slowly falling in love with his boss' daughter as he escorts her through a near-future Latin America torn apart by a very different kind of alien invasion. The odd hiccup in the script or FX don't stop this from being a phenomenal achievement.


5: RED, WHITE & BLUE


Another revenge movie that, well, isn't, Simon Rumley's barbed wire love letter to the American dream is a trio of fantastic character studies, beautifully observed, but then it tightens its grip to become a heartrending, horrifyingly violent car-crash-in-motion and even a blackly poignant, decidedly unconventional love story on top of that. Of the three leads, Amanda Fuller in particular deserves to have this be her ticket to even bigger and better things. Rumley and his crew have struggled to find a UK distributor willing to give this a good home - I heard very little more frustrating than that about cinema in 2010.


4: DRAW YOURSELF


A deceptively simple documentary, Gilles Porte's wonderful, uplifting little film can be taken as pure entertainment - the sight of children having fun doing exactly what it says - but there's a wealth of depth and insight in there too. Captivating, heartwarming, very funny and thrillingly artistic (the superb soundtrack is a highlight) it also raises all kinds of questions about the creative process and how it reflects who we are at all stages of our lives.


3: KOSMOS


A raw and heartfelt tone poem about the terrible power of compassion, Reha Erdem's film about a mysterious visitor who wanders into a lonely Turkish city - and how its people react to his strange gifts - is a long stream of consciousness that can prove difficult to get inside. But it's worth the effort, with the many plot threads coming together in the last act to give us in some of the most transcendent moments of cinema seen in any film this year.


2: DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME


The master finally returns to form - after numerous false starts this is Tsui Hark's comeback, adapted from the numerous tall tales about a real-life historical Chinese figure, a storming tribute to the golden age of Hong Kong cinema that provides more rip-roaring entertainment value than just about anything else in 2010. The FX may be a little weak, but the scope and inventiveness on display more than make up for it.


1: REDLINE


Sometimes style becomes substance, and nowhere is that more true this year than Takeshi Koike's mindblowing animated epic. This is 'just' about cars in the same way Ashes of Time is 'just' about memory; it's a non-stop celebration of the thrill of travelling very, very fast, a jolt of kinetic energy; a flood of excitement, spectacle and dizzying speed that proves utterly captivating from beginning to end and more of a purely cinematic experience than anything else released this year. The best film of 2010, no question: the final film on the big screen at the 24th Leeds International Film Festival, and walking out of Leeds Town Hall after this I felt on top of the world.


Phew.


Okay, how about a couple more? The biggest disappointment comes down to a tie between


SCOTT PILGRIM VERSUS THE WORLD


Oh, Edgar Wright. Just because you can cram six books' worth of material into one movie doesn't necessarily mean you should. The big-screen version of Bryan Lee O'Malley's stellar graphic novels about a lovable slacker's efforts to win the girl he loves is a technical tour de force, with the retro aesthetic a guilty pleasure for nerds the world over, but it's far too pared down, with barely a fraction of the original subtexts about growing up and making painful decisions remaining. People stayed away because it's not much of a film, not because they didn't 'get it'.


and


VALHALLA RISING


The critical praise for this is mystifying to me. It's all style and no substance, unless you really enjoy shirtless Vikings beating each other to death - Nicolas Winding Refn's story of a mute gladiator who escapes captivity and joins an expedition to the Holy Land piles on the atmosphere, but there's simply nothing there beneath the surface gloss. The soundtrack and the brutality relentlessly pound you into submission, as if Refn's hoping you won't notice his film's completely devoid of grace, subtext or personality.


While the worst film of 2010 goes to


THE DOUBLE LIFE


It's hard to decide whether to get offended by this incompetent, tasteless mess or just crease up laughing at how stupefyingly bad it is. A black comedy from mainland China about a security guard in an asylum who conspires with his ex-wife to drive her husband insane, it mines every hackneyed cliché in the book and then some for a breathtakingly lazy script that wastes the talent of all involved and glosses over several disturbing real-life issues in the process.


Still! It's been an absolute blast overall, and I hope at least some of you have enjoyed my reviews - but here's to 2011 being even better, obviously.

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TBYITBSITBHJanuary 11, 2011 12:28 AM

Always room for one more if it's a great list like this - with a bunch I haven't heard of and now need to discover.

Man I can't BELIEVE I passed up the chance to see Redline in the cinema..and I was so pumped for it, too. I dunno what happened there :/ And it's still not available on dvd/blu-ray from anywhere, right? is there even a release date in sight? *sigh*

Niels MatthijsJanuary 11, 2011 4:19 AM

Man, so jealous you were able to catch Redline.
Kinda funny though how you defend it by saying style can become substance, while at the same time trashing Valhalla Rising for that exact same reason :p

TBYITBSITBHJanuary 11, 2011 7:28 AM

hehe I nearly commented the same thing

Matthew LeeJanuary 11, 2011 12:29 PM

I don't see the problem. :P No, seriously: Redline it works - Koike is well aware of what he's doing, making a simple but solid story with some appealing characters and going overboard on the style to elaborate on the themes he's bringing up. We've all seen the basic premise, we all know the plot beats it's hitting but it's just so fantastically artistic, so clearly doing it for the pleasure of it you want to let go, sit back and enjoy the ride. The way the technical flair works with the story, however straightforward it might be, is just a bonus.


Valhalla it doesn't work, because Refn's continually giving the impression there's supposed to be some deep meaning that never materialises. The characters are unappealing and/or poorly written and the plot goes nowhere, yet he still keeps beating you over the head with the violence and the empty symbolism - and yet he never once backs it up with anything the characters do or lightens the mood in any way whatsoever. The ending's meaningless. It's a gorgeous film, beautifully made, but the technique has no relation to the story and it's not that special in and of itself. The style never becomes anything of any substance.


I'll say it again, the audience at Rotterdam giggled when One-Eye disembowels that guy in the middle act. To me, that was a really good sign the film simply wasn't working the way Refn wanted it to.

Sean "The Butcher" SmithsonJanuary 13, 2011 2:34 AM

Great point Niels.

As for the Rotterdam audience, I like to make my own conclusions about what I like. If that was a barometer then THE EXORCIST sucks, because when that was re-released? Laughter rippled through the theater on a continual basis (that is until I stood up and screamed for everybody to "SHUT THE FUCK UP!" hahaha)

VALHALLA RISING is indeed style over substance. I still loved it.

Matthew LeeJanuary 13, 2011 3:54 AM

I'd pretty much made up my mind by that point. :P Just hearing that sealed the deal... during the climax of RED, WHITE AND BLUE the auditorium was deathly silent, and I find it hard to believe there were no other people there who'd gone to see Refn too.


Eh, to my mind, one does style over substance right, the emphasis on visuals, technique and imagery works... one gets it completely wrong. Sorry if I'm doing a poor job of explaining why. I said it happens sometimes. Doesn't mean I think every film that tries automatically does a good job with it.


At least we can pretty much agree on BEDEVILLED, plus - though they're not on my top ten - THE LOVED ONES and RARE EXPORTS. ;)