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Best of 2010: Films

December 22, 2010

For the first of my year-end round-ups I’m going to stray from the music for a change and inflict upon you a list of my favourite films of the year.

I can’t pretend that it’s going to be particularly comprehensive, but between irregular trips to the multiplex, several trans-Atlantic flights and the evils of internet piracy, I think I’ve seen enough to give a fairly accurate summary of the year in film.

So without further a do, here’s my rough top 20 with some brief descriptions and trailers to make it interesting:

20. Senna – The first of several excellent documentary films out this year – at least in some parts of the world – Senna traces the life of probably the greatest racing driver ever. Told almost exclusively through footage of the man himself and voiceovers rather than talking heads, it is an immersive look at his driving skill, rivalry with Alain Prost, the man away from the track, the dangers of the sport, and his tragic death. An excellent piece of work, and not before time.

19. When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors – As a massive fan of the Doors and the time and place they occupied in history and popular culture, for me this film was long overdue. If you’ve read the autobiography there isn’t a great deal of new knowledge to be gained here, but the wealth of exclusive footage of the band in their heyday is still fascinating to see. The clichéd rock’n’rollercoater story may have been told many times before, but for me, no-one did it better.

18. South of the Border – To steal from Mark Kermode, the trend seems to have been that while Oliver Stone’s feature films have got worse, his documentaries have gotten better. This series of interviews with South American ‘dictators’ is remarkably well judged and insightful, precisely becasue Stone is willing to let these interesting people speak, rather than paint his own more sensationalist picture, as was previously his want .

17. A Town Called Panic – Some people won’t like this film, but I do. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense – I suspect even if you do speak French – and is very, very silly. If you like the weird bits in Spongebob, or the Cravendale milk adverts, then give it a shot; it might just be the most fun you’ve had watching a film in ages.

16. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – Yet another film igniting the debate over Nicholas Cage’s acting abilities, Werner Herzog’s remake of Bad Lieutenant gave Nic free rein to show the best of his abilities. The film is not without its problems, but much like any of the great ‘losing his shit’ moments, it’s difficult to take your eyes of Cage in his pomp.

15. Exit Through The Gift Shop – As with any cult, underground movement that gets picked up and goes mainstream, I’ve found it difficult not to feel a certain distaste for just how famous Banksy has become. So thankfully this film took on the subject in a unique and unexpected way, seeing things through the eyes of an obsessive fan, therefore eschewing any overt ego-rubbing on the mysterious graffiti artists’ part.

14. MicMacs – From the magnificent mind of Jean-Pierre Jeunet – who brought us such delights as Delicatessen and Amelie – this was another weird and wonderful piece of work. This time following a righteous crime caper it had brilliant set-pieces, adventurous camera-work, and buckets of Gallic charm.

13. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Scott Pilgrim entertained me in the same way that while I couldn’t give a monkeys about the graphic novels of Spin City and Watchmen, I throughly enjoyed the visual spectacle of their on-screen adaptations. With uber-geek Edgar Wright at the helm, the pop-culture references and knowing-teen vernacular was at times a little overbearing, but there was just so much going on that they didn’t have time to detract from the overall sensory overload.

12. Restrepo – The latest wars waged by our democratically elected overlords have given unprecedented access to journalists and film-makers brave enough to cover them, but until Restrepo there was always a feeling you weren’t getting the full story. This story of a remote U.S. outpost in high in the Afghan mountains is as close to the shit you’ll ever want to get, and gives an account of soldiers life more harrowing than any fictional recreation. Incredible stuff.

11. The Ghost Writer – The definition of an aeroplane film for me, one that I wouldn’t bother paying a tenner for, but which happily wasted an hour or so at 30,000 ft. I didn’t have any great expectations – despite the fine directorial and acting talent – so was pleasantly surprised by how well the Bliar war crimes plot played out.

10. Green Zone – Yes, it’s basically Bourne in Iraq, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing. It’s rare that you get a genuinely good action movie that doesn’t have to dilute its message in the process. The plot here is one that anyone inclined to a sceptical view of the latest Gulf war will already be aware of, but one that has deserved proper treatment on the big screen for some time.

9. American: The Bill Hicks Story – I got to interview the guys behind this film earlier this year, and since then have done everything in my power to promote their film, because it’s a crying shame that more people don’t know about the best stand-up comedian ever. That is of course a contentious accolade, but if you’re not already convinced of his genius, then I implore you to see this film and realise that he deserves such high praise because he raised the art-form higher than the usual gags and funny stories; preaching some of the most enlightening and entertaining gospel I’ve ever heard.

8. Monsters – On a Kermode recommendation I watched this on the way back from New York last week, and while the teeny screen didn’t really do it justice, it was easily the best sci-fi film of the year. Made for half a million pounds using a handheld camera and special effects all created on writer/director Gareth Edward’s PC, it really puts the more bombastic alien movies to shame, by using its monsters as the backdrop; thus creating a far more intense and rewarding character drama.

7. Capitalism: A Love Story – In the wake of the recession there were always going to some big screen investigations into how the free market economies got it so spectacularly wrong. As much as Michael Moore annoys me – in the same way Richard Dawson does – his documentary into the absurdities of our capitalist societies was the best of the bunch. Crucially, where in his previous films the human interest bits had detracted from the point, here they really added to the story, making it more than just incomparable numbers and pompous CEOs.

6. Kick Ass – I wasn’t sure if I’d like this, having never really being a superhero/comic convert, but its deconstruction of the genre made for a really entertaining film. Surprisingly brutal, whilst maintaining a lightness of tone and good sense of humour, it ‘s a testament to Matthew Vaughn that, 1. it got made, and 2. it did so well.

5. Four Lions – It takes both big balls and a lot of talent to pull off a comedy about suicide bombers, but those two attributes have always been evident in Chris Morris’ work. Both hilarious and tragic in equal measure, it was neither sympathetic nor condemning of the amateur Jihadi’s plight, and spearheaded a great year for British cinema.

4. Toy Story 3 – Calling it the most consistently excellent film trilogy ever made is high praise for what is essentially a children’s animation. But the final chapter for Andy’s toys saw more adult themes than ever being mixed with the knowing humour and exemplary animation; not to mention one of the most poignant scenes of the year.

3. A Prophet – In a good year for French film this really stuck out from the other, more cutesy examples on this list. With a brilliant central performance from young Tahar Rahim it was in essence no more than a simple prison progression plot, but done with such subtlety and skill that it sticks with you for days after.

2. The Social Network – A film about Facebook was inevitable, and in the wrong hands could have been a massive turkey, but David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin managed to make web-coding and intellectual property law one of the most entertaining films of the year.

1. Inception – A proper mind-fuck of a movie, combining the ‘edge of understanding’ twistiness of Memento with the blockbuster action of The Dark Night. Great soundtrack, excellent effects and a great decision by Nolan to go IMAX rather than 3D. Bravo sir.

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