Yeah yeah yeah, shaddup. My top ten list comes in late, but I had a LOT of catching up to do. Life conspires to thwart my regular viewing habits, so admittedly there's more than one film I know that has to be great (True Grit and Fubar 2, I'm looking at you!) but can't include simply because I haven't had the chance to see them yet. That said, it was more than anything, The Year Of The Action Film for me.
The headier fare, while wonderfully artistic and beautifully rendered, just didn't ignite me like some good ole' bloody fisticuffs. I found no greater cinematic joy this season than losing myself in a hail of bullets while safely tucked into a theater seat, while slightly inebriated. An inordinate amount of my favorite titles also come from new talent, seven out of ten if my numbers are correct. Know what that says to me? There is a wave of awesomeness washing onto screens and if it is a harbinger of anything that would be "Get ready for more fun and bad-assery!"7. VALHALLA RISING -
I'd like to personally thank big daddy ScreenAnarchy boss Todd Brown and Alamo Drafthouse kingpin Tim League, along with all my fellow Twich crew, for making it possible for me to see these films at Fantastic Fest 2010 in Austin this past September as well. An amazing experience, and one that yielded many of the picks that populate my list this year. I am eternally endebted gentleman.
10. THE LAST EXORCISM -
Yep, yet another cinema verite' video camera movie. I'm a sucker for theologically
based horror films though, the possession and satanic panic sub-genres in particular.
This tale of an evengelist who has allowed a documentary film crew to follow him as
he travels the countryside of the rural south, preaching an empty gospel in Pentecostal churches, and performing faux exorcisms on the areas misguided faithful echoes strongly of real life child evangelist turned actor Marjoe Gortner, and the 1972 film based on his exit from the ministry Marjoe. The Last Exorcism then makes a beeline detour right into scare fare, moving at a brisk pace, and not overstaying it's welcome. Short and sweet with a final reel that has a lot of people moaning "premature ending", I found it just right. Director Daniel Stamm has delivered a tight little tale of what may or may not be a case of demonic posession, and a preacher who comes to question his own cynical and burgeoning atheism, which is nice inversion of the Father Karras character in the all-time classic The Exorcist (for those who have lived on Mars for the past38 years). Buoyed by a breakout performance from lead actor Patrick Fabian as "Cotton" (the film's original, and superior, title), The Last Exorcism was a nice surprise in this years release roster.
9. A SERBIAN FILM -
Notorious. Shocking. Brutal. Yep, A Serbian Film is all of these things. Misunderstood.
Moving. Beautiful. Yep again, A Serbian Film is all of these things too. Playing like an
unflinching, naked eye take on movies such as 8mm and Paul Schrader's Hardcore,
director Srdjan Spasojevic and writer Aleksandar Radivojevic have provided fans of
extreme cinema with one of the most controversial films since Cannibal Holocaust.
Graphic depictions of sexual brutality, murder, mutilation, and depraved characters
are at the very center of A Serbian Film, which contains what is surely the most
disturbing scene involving an infant in any film to date (it's so twisted, it nearly stops
being disturbing and enters the realm of the absolutely absurd) so it is a surprise to even myself it ended up on my Top 10 list for 2010. I don't have a taste for the torture porn sub genre (say what you will hairsplitters, it is indeed a sub-genre) and ignore films that fall into that category for the most part. A Serbian Film is my exception to the rule. With *gasp!* an actual plot at it's core, coupled with Nemanja Jovanov's deft cinematography and composer Sky Wikluh's pulsing score, there is a sheen and a tension to A Serbian Film that help to set it far and above other films of it's "type".
8. THE LOVED ONES -
Yeah yeah yeah. This really was officially released in 2009. Hoo hah, this wonderful
little film leaked and trickled out little by little, so for me it's a 2010 release. Starting
as a simple inversion of the male predator/female victim paradigm, with a high schoolgirl abducting, with a little help from her dear old Dad, her crush and tying him to a chair on Prom Night for a private party of their own, the tag team of Father/Daughter torment and toryure her unlucky object of desire. Then, when you think there's really nowhere for writer/director Sean Byrne to go with any of it...the movie takes off like a rocket. Clever plotting, solid direction, and damned fine performances. This is one of those films to beat a horror fan over the head with who complain about the proliferation of sequels, remakes,and the fact that the good ole' days are long gone. Top shelf stuff, any scare junkie is doing a disservice to themself if they haven't seen The Loved Ones.
Nicholas Winding Refn steps away from the brutal crime dramas he is primarily known for and into the distant past with this somber yet violent tale of One Eye (played by Refn regular, the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen) who frees himself from his captors, who are using the imprisoned mute warrior in a kind of Fight Club 1000AD, by way of a berserker frenzy . One Eye, and the boy slave Are join up with a roving band of Vikings, and end up in the New World. If Terrance Mallik made an action movie for art-minded black metal fans (a culti-sh form of music birthed in Norway that embraces Viking culture and mythology, eschewing and denouncing Christianity) this would be it. Still undeniably a Refn film, Valhalla Rising
is a work of relaxed beauty, punctuated by moments of abject brutality.
6. BEDEVILLED -
To think that I almost blew this off at Fantastic Fest 2010...wow. What a mistake that would have been. Korean filmmaker Jang Cheol-so's feature film debut blew me the hell away, evoking a visceral emotional response I had a hard time containing. A successful woman, Hae-won, working as a banker in the city, returns to her island home after a series of tragic events force her to take a vacation to to regroup. Most of the men have been wiped out due to a typhoon, and the island is now run by the few men left, and an elderly matriarch that is one of the most vile characters I've ever seen on screen. Hae-won's childhood friend Bok-nam, with young daughter in tow, pleas with Hae-won to help her escape from the island where she is a constant whipping post, abused by her sexually promiscuous and deviant husband, and ridiculed by the other women. Hae-won soft peddles her old friends misery, not really believing things are as bad as her friend is implying. Bullied to the point of intolerance, a final tragedy plays out and Bok-nam snaps. To say that things end badly is an understatement. A emotionally wrenching tale of domestic abuse, strayed friendships, and abject loss. Bedevilled
will stick in the viewers mind for a long time after watching. Steel yourself.
5. MAN FROM NOWHERE -
Playing like a Korean take on Man On Fire
and Leon The Professional
, writer/director Jeong-beom Lee comes out swinging with his second feature. This one blew my ass to the back of the theater with the best hand to hand fight sequences I have ever seen. Cinematographer Lee Tae-yoon will leave you scratching your head saying "How the fuck did they do that?" with some of his brilliant and aggressive camerawork. The premise is basic: Tae-shik, a retired CHA special agent lives alone in a dingy apartment building. A little girl, So-Mi, (in a breakout performance by young actress Sae-Ron Kim) born to a hooker/drug-smuggling mother, ingratiates herself to the loner, who is much more than the placid, quiet man he seems to be. When the mothers shady dealings get the local drug lord and his gang after her, the shit hits the fan. Before yo can say "Travis Bickle" Tae-shik is rescuing his little friend from the clutches of the murderous gang. This intense actioner's third reel is up there with the classic climaxe of John Woo's Hard Boiled
, and stands next to one of my all-time favorite Korean crime melodrama's A Bittersweet Life
as a prime example of state-of-the-art violent goodness. Full tilt kick ass action, solid plotting, great performances...a modern classic that is an adrenaline shot to the eyeballs.
4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE - *Beware, potential spoilers*
Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Be afraid, be very afraid! Nope, this is not another Silent Night, Deadly Night or Christmas Evil. Rare Exports
is an out-of-the-box original from Finland courtesy of first time feature director Jalmari Helander culs subject matter from two of his previous shorts, and expands his wonderful tale into a full length, with this tale of farmers who are mysteriously having their reindeer slaughtered cattle-mutilation style. Could it have something to do with the mining company excavating the mountain that looks over their village? Magic 8 Ball says "Highly likely!" This is not the Coca-Cola Santa we are all used to in America. This is the grim and foreboding Santa, whose purpose is much more than to just deliver presents to children around the world on Christmas Eve. Things spiral out of control when the farmers actually catch the Great Bearded One, and start soliciting his sale to the highest bidder. But wait...that's NOT Santa after all, merely one of his minions. What is that monstrosity frozen in ice within the exposed cavers of the mountain? Oh shit...this cannot be good. If Hans Christian Anderson and Joe Dante went on a bender of booze and acid while listened to a shitload of Burzum, Immortal, and Enslaved as they banged out a script together, Rare Exports
is likely the film that they would likely emerge with. Original. Brilliant. Essential. Add this to the Christmas Movie Rotation List immediately, and cue for next December, and every December to follow.
3. ENTER THE VOID -
Holy shit. Gaspar motherfucking Noe does it again. Filming the un-filmable for one, right out of the gate with the film's opening scene, a real-time DMT hallucination, all fractals and crystalline lights and sound design. Woah. Just. Woah. Based loosely on the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, Enter The Void follows the spirit of a drug dealing American youth in Japan who is shot in a bathroom stall by drug enforcement officials during a sting operation. We then journey with his disembodied ghostly specter as he watches over those he knew and loved. Long and trippy, Enter The Void
is another Gaspar Noe epic win. 2. RED HILL - *Beware, potential spoilers*
That's right, yet another first time feature film maker slips into my top ten cut. This time it's a throwback shoot'em up modern Western done Aussie style, by writer/director Patrick Hughes and starring True Blood
breakout star Ryan Kwanten. A big city constable moves his pregnant wife to a small town in Oz, thinking that the resulting peace and quiet will be the perfect place to raise their soon-to-be-born child. Wrong. A killer is returning to reap his vengeance on the towns police force, a bunch of good old boys, for reasons that slowly reveal themselves and culminate in a bloody climax of bullets, conspiracy, and ultimately tragedy. Three words about Red Hill
: Fucking Bad Ass.1. STAKE LAND -
Director Jim Mickle (who co-wrote with star Nick Damaci, this generations heir to the Throne Of Charles Bronson, thank you very much) follows up his vastly underrated Mullberry St.
with an episodic road movie taking place amidst the backdrop of a vampire apocalypse. These aren't velvet clad, foppish, whinebag vamps either, these are flaky skinned monstrous mutations that border on the straight up demonic. The characters are iconic (and cliche yes, but beautifully rendered cliche's!) with "Mister" (Damici) the stoic and heroic vampire hunter, "Martin" (Connor Paolo) the boy he saves and makes his protege, Kelly McGillis in a welcome return as "Sister" the nun who winds up traveling with them, and the vastly underrated Danielle Harris (somebody give this girl an A class role in something like Black Swan
please, it's time) as the pregnant "Belle" who they end up scooping up from one of the many encampments of survivors holding out against the threat of bloodsuckers. Factor in the crazy militia-like The Brotherhood, led by the insane and psychotically righteous "Jebidia Loven" (Michael Cerveris) and a kitchen sink, so to speak, here and there, and you have genre magic. This is a popcorn muncher of the highest order and I am doing the pee pee dance until I can see it again. It reminds me as well of something out of my favorite horror anthology book, Under The Fang
, a multi-author collection about a world overrun by vampires. I am going to make a bold statement here now folks: Not only is Demici the new Charles Bronson, but his creative partner and director Jim Mickle? Say hello to this generations answer to John Carpenter. Stake Land
Take that Mr. Alexander! *wink*
There you have it. Go forth and kill!!!