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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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
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.