Since I began writing this blog, I have had two friends also start blogs; brave blogs of real emotional honesty. They are revealing and open. And here I am typing away about movies and other pop-culture bits-n-bobs. But (and certainly not to put this blog on a level with theirs) movies, and writing about them, noting them down, act as the closest thing I have to a diary. You won't get any great emotional truths out of it, but you might discover something. Whether that's my tastes revealing something about me, or me pointing you towards an awesome new movie or who knows what else.
For the past 8 years I have kept a notebook of movies (seen at the cinema) and the date I saw them. So, I can generally flick back through this and say "Oh, 18th of June 2006. That's when I saw Thank You For Smoking and Hard Candy - the last films I saw in the UK." Or I can look back and say "Black Book was way back in 2007?! When do we get more Verhoeven?!" For the first time in my recorded movie watching history (dun-dun-duNNNNN) I have seen over a hundred films in the past year. Thank-you. Thank-you. Almost half of these were at the big Film Festival in the middle of the year but I still think I managed to clock up an impressive total. I don't mean to be self-congratulatory or anything, it's more that this blog has helped me re-realise my love of movies. In some ways, I want to see more movies not just to watch them, but so I can then write about them. I am currently lookin at this as A Good Thing.
Just like in previous years, what follows won’t necessarily be the “best” of the year, more my favourites of the year. I cannot rank preferences, so these are in no particular order. There’s been a fair bit of back and forth on these selections and I haven't included any of the classic films I've seen this year. These are all films that had their initial NZ run (and were seen by me) in 2010. So, without further ado...
How To Train Your Dragon
Dreamworks Animation finally stepped up their game in 2010. This may be a controversial pick for some: I'm picking this over Pixar's Toy Story 3, which is not something I would've thought at the start of the year. But fuck it. This is my list. And considering I almost didn't even see this makes it an even more surprising inclusion in my end of year list.
But How to Train Your Dragon comes from the directors of Lilo & Stitch, one of the wittier Disney releases of the last few years. It's a fairly standard storyline of misunderstood creatures and the underdog triumphing, but it was all in the telling: brave, intelligent and with stunningly thrilling flying sequences that really showcased the best thing about 3D.
Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of Mark Millar's and John Romita Jr's comic-book wasn't so much a breath of fresh air as a punch to the gut. With a crackingly propulsive script courtesy of Vaughn and Jane Goldman, this was a violent exploration of super-heroes filled with humour and smarts that was topped off with the character intro of the year and Nicolas Cage chanelling Adam West. The film starts off taking the piss and attempting to offer a more "realistic" take on the superhero business, and then Vaughn brilliantly escalates the insane carnage until the absolutely barmy finale.
I really don’t understand what went wrong with this, box-office wise. It’s a superhero movie. It’s got Nicholas Cage. It had a great, smart marketing campaign. It’s violent and smart and funny as hell. Perhaps it was too weird for the masses. Perhaps, for some unknown reason, it just didn’t click. Perhaps it was the R rating it received in the States. I think a lot of people are going to discover this on DVD and wish they could’ve seen it at the movies (or, considering the way people are progressing in their consumption of entertainment media, perhaps they won’t give a damn).
Sylvian Chomet's adaptation of an unfilmed script by Jacques Tati is filled with magical moments. Somewhat appropriate as it follows a struggling music-hall magician who alights in Edinburgh followed by a young Scottish girl. Edinburgh has never looked so beautiful in all its gothic glory. This is an animated film, yes, but it's not for kids.
As with Chomet's Triplets of Belleville the film is largely dialogue free, which some people may find an odd and diverting affectation, but which I love. Free of people talking, you are forced to focus on the story, the characters and the beautiful look of the whole damn thing.
This Melbourne based crime flick was a mind-bogglingly impressive debut feature from David Michod. An uncompromising tale of crime and family, it left you dizzy with twists and tension, with Michod displaying an astonishing grip on tone and pacing. The main character of J is, initially, an annoyingly blank teenager but it's that blankness, that adolescent vacancy, that draws you in. Joel Edgerton is charismatic as the brains, Jacki Weaver is frightening as the controlling matriarch but it is Ben Mendelsohn as the completely unhinged "Pope" who really amps everything up.
However, the big crime was that the showing during the Festival, at the Embassy Theatre and with Michod in attendance, was not sold out. This obviously wasn't the upper middle class Film Festival dames' cup of tea; or maybe they thought it would just be more Underbelly. More fools them I say, as this was a perfect debut feature film from a powerful new voice.
A Town Called Panic
I had heard this Belgian animated flick about a horse called Horse, a cowboy called Cowboy and an Indian named Indian was something approaching a freeform stream of consciousness slice of weirdness. But I hadn't quite expected this.
It all starts off with Horse's birthday but then accumulates secret undersea brick thieves, a journey to the centre of the Earth, mad scientists in a large robotic penguin and Horse learning the piano. Batshit insane doesn't even come close to describing this. Oh, and it's all stop-motion plastic figures. No need for cutting edge 3D CGI here; not when the ideas are so propulsively inventive. The funniest film of the year and an animated feature quite unlike anything else.
This seemingly small focused documentary was easily my favourite of the year. Late one night walking home from a bar, Mark Hogencamp from upstate New York was savagely beaten by five men into a coma. As part of his own personal form of therapy he builds a fictional WWII European village and peoples it with Barbies and GI Joes: Marwencol. Using these figures, and often crafting Marwencol lookalikes of real life people, he plays out storylines; often ones dealing with his beating. It's fascinating as bits and pieces of his life and personality are revealed, positive and negative, before beating and after. To assist with his stories he takes photos of Marwencol, almost compulsively. They're well-crafted and incredibly real and I urge you to check them out. These weren't intended as works of art or a pathway to stardom: these are his stories/therapy.
He's a compelling, sweet and somewhat lonely character as he wanders up and down back roads, giving his GI Joes Jeeps authentic wear and tear. He's someone who has been to the brink and is slowly bringing himself back out.
I think if I were to pick one film this year, one film that really surprised me and blew me away, one film that would be my pick of the year... then Winter's Bone would be that film. It's a noir film set in the Ozark mountains of the Southern States of America but is much better than that description would have you believe. Jennifer Lawrence is astonishing as the uncompromising Ree Dolly; a girl who needs to find her bail-jumping no-good Meth-cooking father before the court takes the family home. This is the wild woods of America as wasteland, the bleak landscape populated not with good ole' Southern folk, but hard and uncompromising criminals and shit-kickers.
It's a film that doesn't let up, that keeps pushing and twisting and challenging you.
I think Inception is the distillation and crystallisation of all of Nolan's films and ideas thus far. This is cinematic dreaming where the whole experience is/isn't real; where it doesn't matter if Dom Cobb is locked in a dream world or not. To some extent we all are, even moreso when sitting in the dark staring up at a cinema screen. This is a Big Film: big ideas with big set-pieces that is perfectly experienced on the big screen. This is perfect cinema, where each and every part locks in and performs to the utmost to unleash something new and inventive and familiar and brash.
DiCaprio gives his second grieving man performance of the year, Gordon Levitt comes across as a new king of cool, Tom Hardy is a joy to watch and Marion Cotillard is powerful and bewitching with her few scenes. The score is key to the film and works to enhance and enlighten. The action is inventive and miles ahead of anything Nolan has staged before: there's car chases, gun-fights, revolving corridors and a James Bond-esque mountain storming.
It's all a dream. It's all a film.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Another ground-breaking film that garnered poor box office and outstanding reviews, Edgar Wright's adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novels is his finest work yet. It's a wonderful caffeine fuelled mash of movies, music, video-games, anime, musicals and more. I had my doubts about Michael Cera as the eponymous hero, but he really (excuse the pun) steps up his game. This is a role very different to anything Cera has done before. The rest of the cast is also impressive, with a lot of fantastic talents brought in for what amount to little more than cameos.
You may debate the decision of Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall to compress all volumes to one film, but as much as the film honours the source material, it is also it's own creature. And that creature is a confident, powerful film showcasing Edgar Wright at the height of his directorial powers.
The Social Network
I find it interesting that this film has been appearing on so many end of year lists around the internets. When this was first announced I know a lot of folks wrote it off as "the facebook movie". How could you doubt this would be great? It had Aaron Sorkin scripting, David Fincher directing and Jesse Eisenberg in the role of Mark Zuckerberg; quite a potent combo of talents.
And this is so much more than "the facebook movie". Yes, it deals with the people and circumstances involved in the creation of the massive social networking website but it's also an examination of power, genius, creativity and the death of a friendship. It also carries one of the greatest opening scenes of the year: Zuckerberg and his girlfriend in a bar, talking with her quickly becoming his ex-girlfriend. The scene works wonderfully at laying out the rest of the film: witty, densely scripted with Zuckerberg as someone who operates on a different level.
This is where modern sci-fi should be heading: not big budgets, but big ideas. Alien lifeforms have landed and all but colonised Mexico. But in Gareth Edwards' debut, you barely see them: the focus (as it should be) is on the people. In this case, two people having to trek across the dangerous quarantine zone to reach the US. They slowly fall for each other along the way (as so often happens in films), but it all happens so organically you really believe it (in amongst all the massive, landscape striding aliens).
Monsters is one of those films that pushes and inspires someone like me. It's a confident debut feature from a voice I hope we hear much from in the next few years (and Edwards has just nabbed the directing gig on a new Godzilla).