Wading through the endless lists of best and worst films of 2010 it quickly became obvious that all you needed to compile them was a pair of rubber stamps; Inception, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone, etc for the best, The Last Airbender, Jonah Hex, Sex and the City 2, etc for the worst. All well and good, but these consensus selections give a distorted view of the year in film. There are hundreds of films that don’t get a mention in such binary best/worst selections, films that are ignored for committing the crimes of not being either bold statements that approach “perfection” or for being so bad they’re virtually unwatchable. These films in the critical no man’s land are often the ones that become favourites, the sort of movies you’ll love to discover, to lend out to your friends and, most importantly for any film, re-watch with ease (can you honestly say you’d want to sit through Shutter Island again?). Here are my picks of the best of the rest of 2010:
A great little superhero movie that went straight to DVD here. Woody Harrelson plays a very troubled individual who roams the streets at night as Defendor, a mostly ineffectual crimefighter searching for his nemesis “Captain Industry”. A great cast (including Kat Dennings and Elias Koteas), a wonderful low-key approach and consistent tone (no jet-packs here). In turns funny, exciting, oddly moving, and, with Phoenix Jones in the headlines, perhaps even a little relevant.
The Loved Ones
Another one that bypassed the cinemas (other than festivals such as Frightfest where it became many horror fans’ favourite), this Australian horror film looked, from a distance, like yet another torture movie as Lola, a plain-Jane oddball holds captive a classmate she fancies on the night of the school dance for a private and more horrific event of her own planning. Some great unpleasant moments here but what makes it so special is the stunning performance from Robin McLeavy as Lola, one of the most terrifying yet pitiful creations in horror cinema.
Ads made this look like another Step Brothers-style comedy for John C Reilly but, tonally, it’s more akin to something like Chuck and Buck. Reilly and Marisa Tomei’s relationship in constant peril due to her and her titular twentysomething live-at-home son provided some of the most uncomfortable cinematic moments of the year. A Serbian Film is a breeze next to this.
A poor year for blockbuster action movies, despite there being a lot of them. The A-Team, Takers, The Expendables, Knight and Day, etc all failed to truly deliver while this, just as silly as the rest, Angelina Jolie vehicle took itself refreshingly seriously, didn’t break the laws of physics too much with overdone CGI and, best of all, had action sequences that appeared to have actually been properly planned out so that you knew who and where everyone was when things kicked off.
The sporadically enjoyable Creep and Severance had me thinking Christopher Smith was yet another just OK horror film director. His next film, the temporally challenged Triangle raised him in my expectations and 2010′s Black Death sealed the deal in making him someone to watch. While this medieval adventure has horror elements, it has a lot more to say than other contemporary films set in this era; you couldn’t really call this a “romp”, it’s too dark, almost a cross between Verhoeven’s Flesh + Blood and Witchfinder General. Great disease and squalor-riddled atmospherics too.
A good year for animated films, many achieving high levels of artistry so it is almost understandable that this lo-fi, frantic and energetic movie was overlooked. The plastic toy characters, the stuffy Horse and his two naughty charges, Cowboy and Indian, seemed more thrown around than actually animated and their story, an arctic and undersea quest to retrieve their stolen home, was full of strong characters, great gags and a bizarro internal logic that just about held it all together for the brisk 75-minute running time. In many ways this is the opposite of Toy Story 3 as it shows what can happen if you not only hang on to your toys, but keep playing with them.
Monsters took plenty of (rightful) praise for the ingenuity Gareth Edwards employed to turn half a million dollars into a science-fiction giant creature movie. This film, from another ex-VFX artist Sandy Collora (of Batman: Dead End fame), did something arguably even more remarkable: a science-fiction action movie, set on an alien world for even less cash. It starts off a bit clumsily, like it should be called Cosplay: The Movie, as armoured soldiers bark near-unintelligible orders at each other, but after this hump it turns into a twisty, involving and rather ingenious tale. Hunter Prey is like Star Wars, Terminator and District 9 inasmuch as it’s a film where everyone involved is clearly giving their all under a director who truly knows the genre inside out, and while there are many reference points (including Enemy Mine, The Twilight Zone, 2000 AD and Heavy Metal comics) they are correctly used as building blocks rather than just being straight quotes.
Every time I saw the nicely moody trailer for this in cinemas the title got a laugh from the audience. Shame, as this new version of George A Romero’s 1973 film was one of the best horror remakes of the year, certainly better than the dismal A Nightmare on Elm Street and the offensive and pointless I Spit on Your Grave. It did a great job of showing a town turning quickly to hell, just about everyone dies and Timothy Olyphant, along with his turns in Deadwood and Justified, is just perfect as a smalltown lawman (so much so that if I see a film or TV smalltown that doesn’t have him upholding the law, I feel a bit sorry for it).
Another great animated film, this one was a 2009 film but it only got a very limited release here last year (after it was Oscar nominated). The look of the film, mixing computer and hand-drawn techniques, is both simplistic and lush, calling to mind old storybooks and the famed illuminated manuscript this Irish folktale came from. Unlike many animated films aimed at the family market, say, for instance the Shrek sequels, there is no hard line separating the elements aimed at the younger and older audiences. It’s more the kind of film that, if you see it young then you’ll notice more and more about it watching it again and again at different ages. Lovely.
Todd Phillips’ follow-up to his unexpected smash The Hangover didn’t achieve anywhere near that level of success. It’s too mean-spirited generally and has a lot of trouble in establishing and sustaining a tone. The bickering leads here, Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis, flit from horrible to likable but never quite reach lovable. But, despite that, there are still plenty of laughs and at least two great smaller roles by Danny McBride and Juliette Lewis. Maybe I was just in the right mood when I saw it (an important thing in dealing with comedy films) as I laughed plenty of times. It’ll probably play much better at home.
So what other perfectly enjoyable films did the critics miss? Which 2010 films will you be watching again and again while the lauded “Best of 2010″ titles sit on the shelf gathering dust?