A dozen great films from 2010

2010 review by FilmFella Darren

Another year in cinema is done and dusted and the Hollywood accountants have slavishly done the math and figured out what the highest grossing picture of the year was – mercifully this year it was the delightful Toy Story sequel.

Those Hollywood accountants will be beaming from ear to ear as this year, for the first time ever, not one but two films took over a billion in Box office revenues. Sadly, the second film after Toy story to break box office records was the crushing disappointment that was the Alice in Wonderland debacle.

There can’t be a clearer sign that big box office doesn’t equate to the best quality film of the year than that – so we’ll swiftly move on.

The biggest trend – no surprises – is the increase in films by directors using 3D technology.

Following the success of Avatar, Hollywood is really championing 3D as the future.

The vast majority of films made in 3D this year including, Clash of the Titans, Alice in Wonderland, the crass Piranha movie, Jackass 3D and even Toy Story gained nothing by being in 3D. In some films, after the novelty has worn off, your eyes adjust and you forget all about the 3D on-screen which massively defeats the point. In others, Alice in Wonderland particularly, the 3D was so pop-up book poor, it was hard to believe Burton was using the modern technology, I found myself removing the glasses as I thought there was a smudge restricting the light, but there wasn’t, the 3D was badly shot.

The arrival of Tron: Legacy was the one film that made me re-think my dismissive attitude to 3D. After watching Tron I now feel that if the context is right, 3D can enhance the experience and upgrade a mere movie into an event, but the vast majority of 3D films don’t have such context and show that the industry is panicking and desperate to give audiences something they can’t get on the super home cinema systems or their pirated downloads.

For weeks and weeks the hype builds for films via posters, teaser trailers, general media talk and internet hype, then the film arrives, sits in cinemas for a few weeks and departs anonymously such is the fickle, fast turning world of modern cinema.

Hundreds of films were released in 2010 and many that had big campaigns like the flawed Prince of Persia or the God awful Clash of the Titans will soon be finding their ways into the bargain bins. But rest assured, amongst the mediocrity, there were some instant classics, some hidden gems, some thought-provoking thrillers and some destined-to-have-a-cult-following sleeper hits. 2010 wasn’t nearly as good as 2010 for cinema but there were still some great films made.

Here are FilmfellaDarren’s picks for the best 12 films of 2010, delivered – like all charts should be – in reverse order. What will be number 1? I’ll give you a clue, it isn’t Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

12.   Shutter Island
Director: Martin Scorsese

What at first looks like a creaky revisit to the crude B movie mental asylum stereotypes of a bygone age of cinema, subtly and cleverly transforms into an eerie, suspenseful psychological thriller with a seriously foreboding atmosphere. Martin Scorsese is in terrific form, and after finally bagging that Oscar, he clearly wanted to take a few risks plus move into a psychological thriller territory he hadn’t worked in since Cape Fear. Shutter Island saw Marty take an unfamiliar genre to him, horror, and subvert audience perceptions of seemingly archetypal characters. This was an intelligent canny and cunning re-imagining of a dated Hollywood formula, but it wasn’t without it’s flaws. The considerable mystery and tricky enigmas become pretty easy to decipher three quarters of the way in and Scorsese’s plot is more than a tad contrived and consequently hard to believe. Di Caprio brings a wide-eyed intensity to his fifties style sleuth and guessing what exactly is going on in Shutter island is fun and thrilling, even if it is easy to see the final trick way before the big reveal.

Click here for Shutter Island reviews

11.   The Town
Director: Ben Affleck

The redemption of Mr Affleck continues apace. Affleck again reminds us that he was the man who co-wrote Good will hunting rather than than actor who starred in a string of duds like Gigi and Forces of nature. This was a worthy companion piece to his excellent directorial debut Gone baby gone which again proved that Affleck can turn the mean streets of Boston into prolific and gripping cinema. The Town contained some thrilling heist set-pieces but Affleck was mature enough to take a measured and restrained approach to the action – thus he made The Town into a captivating character driven drama which exploded into life during the well directed bank jobs.

Click here for The Town reviews

10.   Green Zone
Director: Paul Greengrass

The director of the last two Bourne movies found the perfect subject matter for his lo-fi, gritty, grainy, and naturalistic filmmaking style: the Iraq war. His raw visuals created considerable tension as we watched Matt Damon’s increasingly suspicious U.S soldier’s futile attempts to find the much talked about weapon’s of mass destruction behind enemy lines.  This was a bold, political war movie which dragged it’s audience to the centre of the conflict with it’s filling shattering intensity and left them to reflect, along with Damon’s character, on the spin and fear we were all fed by the media about Weapon’s of mass destruction as well as the dangerous, manipulative role the media plays when reporting on these dubious wars. That gave it far more political weight than the average, indoctrinated media broadcasts about Middle Eastern events, rendering The Green Zone essential cinema. As angry, though-provoking and charged as Oliver Stone in his prime.

Click here for Green Zone reviews

9.   Devil
Director: John Eric Dowdle

Straight from a visually arresting credit sequence of Manhattan turned on its head, signs were strong that there was going to be something fresh and unconventional about this M.Night Shyamalan written – but not directed – suspense thriller. Daringly, the film declares early on that Satan himself has engineered the lift failure that kicks off the plot and trapped five random people in a now stranded lift. What form Satan takes and why exactly he is scheming to imprison five native New Yorkers in an elevator, remains a nerve shredding, tantalising mystery until the shocking, gobsmacking and genuinely satisfying climax. It was the most inventive use of Lucifer for quite sometime, and God knows Lucifer is no-stranger to cinema.

Devil combines the twined horror threats of the primal fear of being stuck in a confined space with increasingly suspicious strangers, with a more supernatural horror. The considerable claustrophobia of the one location setting was unsettling enough and the uncertainty of the film, literally and figuratively leaves the audience in the dark, so when Satan strikes, it is genuinely heart-stopping. The director wrings every possible drop of tension and paranoia out of the premise, in a style worthy of likening to master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock. Like the great master, Dowdle makes the best of his one location and avoids a seemingly inevitable narrative cul-de-sac with some convincing back-story to flesh out the narrative. Atmospheric, clever, frightening, and inventive – Devil was the best horror of the year.

8.   The Social Network
Director: David Fincher

Hiring David Fincher to direct Ben Mezrich’s 2009 novel The accidental billions – aka the facebook story – was a stroke of inspiration. Fincher, brought his trademark lively style complete with brisk pace and sleight of hand edits to enliven what, essentially is a court room drama featuring insufferable, rich Harvard students squabbling over who should become richer. It didn’t play like that in the hands of Fincher.

Suddenly, computer nerds and web-programmers were the power broking money men as Fincher depicts their sub-culture in a fashion that makes typing at a computer seem as elicit, irreverent and rock and roll as underground street fighting. The dialogue was quick, quip ladened, witty and slick, Trent Raznor’s industrial electro soundtrack added even more layers of cool as audiences were thrust into Harvard’s hidden world to discover the origins of the social network that millions of us are addicted to. Few films this year were as cool as The social Network.

Click here for The Social Network reviews

7.   Cemetery Junction
Director: Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais proves with the subtle observational humour at the heart and soul of his second directorial effort Cemetery Junction that his mega-stardom has not prompted him to forget his humble beginnings growing up in working class Reading in the 70s. Not only did he not forget his roots, he turned his origins into a vintage piece of British cinema.  Gervais turned what could have easily been another mundane – it’s grim in Blightey – kitchen sink drama into something that is far more lively and cinematic.

The characters populating Cemetery junction are such well rounded figures that they must have been drawn from memory rather than created; likewise the situations the character’s are faced with are so real, and beautifully observed that you suspect Gervais is channelling his memories of his past. It’s close to autobiographical then, and consequently very organic in tone.  Anyone who has grown up in working class Britain will easily relate to the feel and theme of the film whilst laughing in recognition at the observational comedy.  Gervais directs with a lightness of touch, a warm tone, and a droll sense of wit that offsets the realism of the film. A charming little film, that speaks to the heart of anyone wishing to live that Bruce Springsteen style fantasy of escaping small town life. What they should have put on the posters: A Quadrophenia for a new generation.

6.   Four Lions
Director: Chris Morris

Taboo targeting uber satirist Chris Morris is the king of cult comedy in the UK. For those who don’t recognize his name, Morris gained his reputation from his controversial show Brass Eye – a Channel 4 faux documentary which skewered such topics as shamelessly ignorant celebrities and the media’s sensationalism of pedophilia – with a sharp satirical sword. He’s always been ballsy but his decision to make – as his debut directorial outing – a broad black comedy about suicide bombers and the unsavory world of terrorism, is his boldest move to date. Making light of anything vaguely related to Islam in the current climate can bring about not just death threats to oneself but the whole Western world.

It’s exactly this fear that Morris was hoping to defuse with his absurdest and consequently rip-roaring hilarious comedy about comically hapless would be terrorists. What Morris does here is reinvent terrorists as a bunch of clueless zealots who have the desire to blow up the West but with none of the required resourcefulness. These four moronic muslims, who hail not from the middle east but from Yorkshire, look like terrorists… they sound like terrorists but they have more in common with a troupe of clowns than genuine jihadist. It’s a novel, yet genius idea, the catalyst for a corking comedy. The actors give a deadpan earnestness to outrageously cartoonish stupidity; the film’s formula never runs out of laughs. Four lions is many things that a film about terrorism shouldn’t be: it’s colourful, outlandish, vibrant and features a Laurel and Hardy like sense of cartoonish action, in short – it puts the fun in fundamentalism.

5.   TRON: Legacy
Director: Joseph Kosinski

Twenty eight years may have passed but this sequel to Tron showed that the ideas underpinning the narrative are even more relevant in this world of ubiquitous internet than they’ve ever been. We were dragged back into a computer in thrillingly realistic style thanks to the best marriage between subject matter and 3D technology in cinema history. The film had just as unique a look as the original did and the plot was given a reboot which prompted some intriguing new ideas and a surprisingly philosophical subtext. As an action movie, it was slick, exciting, thrill inducing cinema. It was the cinematic event of the year.

Click here for Tron: Legacy reviews

4.   Toy Story 3D
Director: Lee Unkrich

Revisiting everyone’s favourite toys after a ten year absence was the latest in a long line of genius strokes by Pixar. Pixar now seem incapable of making a film anything less than exceptional and they showed this year that even with a trilogy concluder that the quality never dips and they are passionate about creating fresh and inventive stories. Woody, Buzz and the rest of the charming plastic fantastics proved there was plenty of ideas and life in the old toy box. This third installment saw their owner Andy all grown up and leaving his former beloved play-things shunned out in the cold.

This made for a surprisingly dark, poignant plot, as we saw what terrors await unloved toys. Director took inspiration from an unlikely source for a colourful animation: shadowy film noir. This created an engaging narrative and a considerable sense of danger and toddler bothering peril as the gang come to terms with life in a shady daycare Centre and the prospect of new perilous adventures to threaten their survival – it’s not easy being a toy. The script was as witty, punchy, affable and colourful as we’ve come to expect from Pixar in a delightful third film to create a Pixar perfect trilogy.

3.   Inception
Director: Chris Nolan

‘It’s just pure creation’ declares Elaine Paige’s ‘dream architect’ character in reference to the technology that allows the characters in Inception to synchronize dreams and extract secrets from other unsuspecting dreamers. Extend that quote to cover the film as a whole as Chris Nolan’s phenomenal and awe-inspiring film was creative and original in ways that were previously unimaginable. This was a film as loaded with ideas about the blurring of lines between realia and reality as the Matirx was 10 years ago. It is indeed a new Matrix, blowing-audiences minds with a stimulating futuristic story that got us all thinking what life would be like if we really could extract secrets in dreams and live in dreams indefinitely.

It trail-blazed into new territory that to my mind – only the anime film Paprika has touched on – in terms of creating technology that could allow dreamers the freedom to enter and manipulate dreams on command. Such a plot allowed for some spelling-binding, but thankfully still underplayed imagery. Di-inconceivably was again a commanding and intense presence as he led us into an inconceivably way-out world of industry espionage and a thriller that shows that Chris Nolan is one of the most exciting directors working in mainstream cinema and has a genuine desire to channel fresh, stimulating ideas into big, bold exciting blockbuster action movies.

Click here for Inception reviews

2.   The Road (released Jan 2010 in UK)
Director: John Hillcoat

Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s gripping novel, this was a post apocalyptic vision of America where – for reasons thrillingly undisclosed – the earth is dying. Animals belong to history – plants are soon to join them. It’s a world where the roaming hobo hoarding things in a shopping trolley is king of the road; a world in which the only way to cheat death is by developing a taste for forbidden red meat; a world where the suicidal are the sane and those who battle on to forage for food are deemed foolhardy. Abandon all hope ye who enters here. But wait, for there was more to The Road than unrelenting grimness.

It may look intolerably depressing, but something wonderful, something heart-warming even happens during The Road that transcends the evident despair experienced by the characters. The warm bond between Viggo Mortensen’s protective father and his vulnerable young son restores your faith in humanity. Their tenacity to battle on in a world without hope is both noble and inspiring. Putting such a bond into words will always sound sentimental but rest assured, this is a film where the paternal instinct of a father to give his son the best chance of living, provides the most life-affirming relationship in cinema this year. If you don’t feel a modicum of compassion and sympathy for the two spirits on show here, you might be made of stone.

Australian director John Hilcoat adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel was the most gritty and realistic depiction of the post-apocalypse you will ever see. The central character wasn’t some weapon-wielding warrior like in other films of this genre he was just a vulnerable man. There was also a refreshing absence of zombies in this vision of the end. Instead this was a film that was about sheer survivalist spirit. Yes, it was grueling but it was also rewarding in unexpected ways. It depicted the bond of trust and companionship that galvanizes people together when they’ve braved sheer pain and tortuous conditions. The tone of grimness was harrowing but there were so many moments that had the power to uplift. The Road was a strangely cathartic and deeply rewarding character-driven piece of work – the most disturbingly naturalistic vision of the end of the world in cinema history.

Click here for The Road reviews

1.   Kick-Ass
Director: Mathew Vaughan

The Watchmen was the first film to reinvigorate the beleaguered superhero genre, and Mathew Vaughan’s excellent adaptation of Mark Millar’s revered graphic novel brings the super-hero – sometimes quite literally – kicking and screaming into the modern world, grounding costumed vigilantes in the laws of reality more than any film before and thus making the notion of caped crusaders easy to relate to and consequently absolutely enthralling again. This was an eye-wateringly hilarious take on comic book mythology. The script was snappy and razor sharp, packing in guffaw inducing dialogue as well as a continual string of deliriously warped, wince inducing, violence orientated sight gags.

The black comedy packs a mighty punch, firmly putting back the comic in comic book movies. It was a film gleefully mocking and poking fun at comic-book movie conventions but it was so much more than a genre parody. Colourful, lively and surprisingly ballsy, Kick-ass was more successful than any other comic-book movie at making the audience ponder the question, what would happen if superheroes were real? Vaughn inspiringly reinvented comic book movies with Kick-ass.

A delightful, entertaining crowd-pleaser, dynamically directed with great comic flair and a striking sense of visual panache. In Kick-ass, the fan boy’s fantasy was fulfilled; this is the film that gave the superhero movie new powers to entertain.

Click here for Kick-Ass reviews

And the worst film of the year goes to…

Leap Year
Director: Anand Tucker

You know a film must be damn awful when the lead actor is so embarrassed by his appearance that he attempts to distance himself from it before it’s release and states in a public interview that it will be a prime candidate for worst film of the year. Well lead actor Mathew Goode you were spot on. This is what Goode said about Leap Year in an interview with the telegraph:

“I just know that there are a lot of people who will say it is the worst film of 2010,” he said. Goode continued on, detailing the main reason he took the part in the film, which was “so that I could come home at the weekends. It wasn’t because of the script, trust me. I was told it was going to be like ‘The Quiet Man’ with a Vaughan Williams soundtrack, but in the end it turned out to have pop music all over it … Do I feel I let myself down? No. Was it a bad job? Yes, it was. But, you know, I had a nice time and I got paid.”

That right there is a more damning indictment of how poor a film this is than any critic could muster in a review.

This was a film that dragged out all the old stereotypes of lovable bumpkin Orish folk. It was so shamelessly crass and offensive you half expect a two foot Leprechaun to walk in shouting ‘top of the morning me dearie’ whilst doing a jig-a-jig on a bar with the saucer eyed simpleton of a lead character. The height of the comedy is having lead actress Amy Adams fall in the mud in a pretty frock, Sandra Bullock style – ha! bloody ha! Hollywood is known for it’s sheer disregard for geographical logic and knowledge when depicting places overseas but having Adams drive from Cardiff in Wales to Ireland is beyond belief.

Is Hollywood trying to lure unsuspecting moon-faced wannabe American princesses to their death in pursuit of finding their Irish prince charming? A quick glance at a Google map would have shown that anyone attempting Adams journey would drown in a rather large sea. It’s an evil, evil film trying to kill naive would be princesses – it’s just wrong. The 2 hour commercial for designer handbags and shoes that was Sex and the city 2 and the hideous and cynical Valentine’s Day are spared a deserved critical mauling only because Leap year is worse.

That said, the general consensus among The Filmfellas is that 2009 was a vintage year for cinema and 2010 is a little underwhelming by comparison. At the end of 2009 critics were spoilt for choice. This year has posed a different problem as there haven’t been enough quality films to justify a top 20.

What do you think?  How was 2010 for you?  Please leave your comments below or post on our twitter or facebook pages.

The review of the year was written by @FilmFellaDarren
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About Filmfella Darren
Film critic, writer and long-time cinema appreciator. I write about cinema matters, because cinema matters. Like your clothes and your laptops, my articles were made in Taiwan.

5 Responses to A dozen great films from 2010

  1. First list I’ve seen where Kick Ass has come out on the very top, interesting! Were you already a fan of the graphic novel? Anyway, good choices – we have a lot of the same on our Top 10!

    • Darren says:

      thanks for your comment. I saw Kick ass in a London premier with the film press – it received 3 rounds of applause during the film and a standing ovation. I’ve never seen such a reception. It’s a surprise to me that more critics didn’t pick it. I haven’t read the graphic novel, but I didn’t recently read Alan Moore’s the watchmen so I am keen to read The graphic novel of kick ass. Is it a classic. I’m looking out for it but it’s hard to find in Taiwan.

  2. I completely agree with your comments about 3D. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Tron, I’m not convinced 3D enhanced it that much. Other than the light cycle race I don’t think I really noticed it, but then maybe that’s what they were going for. Except that the director’s note at the beginning about “some scenes were shot in 2D” would indicate that I should have noticed the 3D when in The Grid. http://filmsrruss.blogspot.com/2010/12/tron-legacy.html

    I guess I will chose which films I see in 3D very carefully; more often than not I don’t think it enhances a film; Clash of the Titans gave me a headache!

  3. Bobby Ball says:

    top blog mate, I’ve only seen Shutter Island, Green Zone, and Inception thus far, so I’m looking forward to my next trip to ‘Movie World’ or ‘Even Better Than Movie World’ ha. i’m off to check out previous reviews…

    • Darren says:

      Thanks for reading mate – great to have you on board. Ahh, I miss ‘even better than movie world’ – a knock off DVD shop in Shanghai – if anyone was wondering. Unfortunately they all all legit in Taiwan. I haven’t seen one knock off dvd store. I can get cheap rentals from blockbuster though.

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