Ten Years Later, Revisiting the Best Films of 2010
Ten years ago, I asked my friends and colleagues at Sound On Sight to vote on the best movies of 2010. What follows is the results from the article we published on December 26th, 2010.
It’s always tricky for our staff to choose their favourite films each year. Since we have contributors across the globe and because many movies have different release dates in various countries, there are always a few movies that not everyone on our team has the opportunity to watch. These films have a disadvantage. since half of the team can’t vote for them, and so sometimes there are one or two great films that just don’t make it in.
However, we believe that each and every year the eclectic mix of movies that appear on our list really does show how much ground we cover. On our list this year you will find three Canadian films, several genre films, a few foreign-language films, and even some mainstream fare.
Each critic submitted a list of their ten favourite films in order of preference. The first place film of every list will get ten points and so on until the tenth spot receives one point. In addition, each film gains an extra point for every list it appears on. We are extremely happy once again with our list and we strongly believe it is one of the best you will find online. We’ve totaled up the points and here are the results.
Also worth noting: In order to qualify, a movie must have been theatrically released in Canada in 2010. And in case you are wondering, Mother, Fish Tank, Une Prophete, REC, Wild Grass & Everyone Else were all included in last year’s list.
#30 – Splice
From the director of Cube comes a film about the terrors of messing with science. Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley star as two scientists who combine human and animal DNA in order to create a new being. However, the result is more than they bargained for. It looks to be a pretty fun little throwback to early horror films about the dangers of playing God, though the cast is stronger than a film of this nature would ordinarily be. It’s always interesting to see what experimental sci-fi horror shenanigans director Vincenzo Natali is involved with.
#29 – 127 Hours
How does one make a film about a man literally stuck in a rock?
In his follow-up to the immensely successful, Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle brings out a tour-de-force performance from James Franco in a powerful and compelling story of one man’s will to survive. Based on the true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston’s (Franco) remarkable adventure to save himself after his right hand was crushed and trapped by a boulder during a freak accident in an isolated canyon in Utah, 127 Hours follows Ralston over the next five days as he examines his life and finds the courage to finally free himself by any means necessary. As for Franco, he has never been more alive than he is here in an extraordinary portrayal of the famed adventurer. For long stretches, it’s a one-man show, and Boyle helps stretch the actor’s extraordinary talents to their fullest. His transformation from confident and charming to emotions of shock, fear, anger, and heartbreak is remarkable and Oscar-worthy. Without diminishing the deep transcendentalist yearnings of its young hero, 127 Hours builds to a climax of profound human determination and profound physical pain offering inspiration, exasperation, and blunt realization in a true story of one young man’s will to survive. The Danny Boyle of the epidemic horror film 28 Days Later and the provocative and controversial Trainspotting gets his nerve back: the final 15 minutes of gut-wrenching terror is not easy on the eyes nor ears.
#28 – Carlos
Director Olivier Assayas’ five-plus hour Carlos, split into three parts is an exhilarating biography of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, also known as “Carlos,” also known as “The Jackal.” The film impresses on any number of levels running through about a decade of history with the man proclaiming his intention to be a radical force for Palestine throughout France and England. Anchored by a performance by Édgar Ramírez (Che) as the titles character that easily ranks as one of the best (if not the best) of the year. This is the stuff of legend, Carlos is a remarkable epic-scale movie – a tremendously absorbing blend of history, journalism and drama. Not to be missed.
#27 – Buried
From the Saul Bass-inspired, cascading titles it’s evident that the master of suspense would be proud; one can quite clearly imagine an intrigued Hitchcock mining Buried’s foundations for all their anxious credentials. It is quite an achievement to craft a full 90 minutes of tense, nervous atmosphere from such a restrictive location, but Cortés manages to keep his camerawork fluid and engrossing, the tension ratchets up as the plot develops and an incremental understanding and sympathy for our blue-collar victim emerges – he was simply the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. The film makes some allusions to the alternate horrors of a corporately minded, out-sourced battle-field, and the dulcet tones of a voice cameo from Stephen Tobolowky should satisfy the cult movie crowd. It is the ingenuity of screenwriter Chris Sparling that keeps proceedings tunneling along, although one sequence seems a little contrived and serves as little more than padding to expand the film’s run-time. Buried evokes the Stephen King short stories of his Skeleton Crew era and their EC comic progenitors, in that it is a tight, compact tale of terror that deftly explores its congested criteria – given its proximity to some headline-making real-world horrors one assumes that this is a film that won’t be picking up a distribution deal in Chile.
#26 – The Loved Ones
Sean Byrne’s debut feature, The Loved Ones, crosses various horror touchstones, touching on teen angst, torture porn, melodrama and conventional slasher tropes. It’s a gore-filled shocker that goes for laughs by paying homage to the outlandish low-budget video nasties of the ’70s and ’80s, blending together Misery, Saw, Prom Night, The Evil Dead and Carrie. The fusion of these horror classics makes The Loved Ones one of the best offerings at this year’s film festivals. Bound to provoke reactions from more sensitive audience members, The Loves Ones is destined to become a cult fave. Leaving most viewers with their hands over their eyes and a smile grinning from ear to ear, this dark horse independent gem is a guaranteed wild and unforgettable ride.
#25 – A Serbian Film
Srpski Film (A Serbian Film) may just be the most controversial and disturbing movie ever made. The film that pivots around a scene of self-styled “newborn porn” was pulled from the schedule of London’s FrightFest film festival after Westminster council ruled it could not be shown in its uncut version, and later the BBFC also required multiple cuts to the DVD submission in order to get released. Even with all the cuts, the film will still get an ‘18’ rating. The film has had the Sound On Sight team divided all year long, either thinking it was one of the best films of the year, or one of the worse. The filmmakers have stated that A Serbian Film is intended as an allegory about Serbia itself, but our very own Justine Smith had a different opinion in her review from the Fantasia Film Fest screening. However, our very own Al Kratina stated in his review that, “A Serbian Film works only when interpreted as an agonized scream from a nation mauled by a recent history of war and genocide. Like anything else, the movie would be a tired exercise in forced shock.” We’ll let you decide which – that is, if you think you can stomach it.
#24- Wild Hunt
It’s been a great year for Canadian cinema, and The Wild Hunt is one of the best and strangest of the year. Social decay, crippling urbanism and rampant narcissism are ideas explored through LARPING (Live Action Role Playing for those of you not in the know). Wickedly funny, the film quickly spirals into a weird, barbaric Lord of the Flies scenario. When confronted with the choice, it seems most would rather return to the cruel feudalism of the past: society may have changed, but people haven’t. One of the most unexpectedly brutal film of the year, it reaches Shakespearean heights of emotion and violence. A medieval reenactment game turns into a Shakespearean tragedy when a non-player crashes the event to win back his girlfriend. First-time feature filmmaker Alexandre Franchi scooped up the prize for best Canadian first feature at TIFF and an audience award at Slamdance. Effective acting, assured direction and breathtaking cinematography by Claudine Sauve, make the low budget production worthy of your attention. Highly recommended for anyone looking for something fresh and original.
Canada’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category for this year’s Academy Awards comes in the shape of a rather atypical piece of Quebecois cinema – a mostly Arabic language war drama. Originating as a coup de foudre that director Denis Villeneuve had for Wadji Mouawad’s play of the same name, Villeneuve’s screen adaptation has been hailed as his best feature film to date. Insofar as Incendies is part of the Quebecois cinema landscape, it is a trailblazer. Eschewing the navel-gazing, parochial tendencies characterizing a good deal of local production, this France-Canada co-production stands out as a singular piece not only by virtue of Lubna Azabal’s incandescent performance, but by the scale of its ambition, faultless execution, and the haunting, seared destinies of its characters.
#22 – La Quattro Volte
The academic film magazine Sight & Sound has for recent years been charting the emergence of a so called ‘slow’ cinema on the world stage, a type of cinema exemplified by the likes of Bruno Dumont, Bela Tarr or Carlos Reygadas, a strand of film-making where the emphasis is not on the conventions of dialogue or characterization – or in some cases even a cursory interest in plot. These traditional facets are all being sacrificed on the altar of atmosphere, as very long takes of beautiful landscapes and evocatively lit interiors dominate run-times. La Quattro Volte certainly falls into this latter category, as the film has perhaps a half dozen words of dialogue which are not subtitled, and once the emphasis changes from the herdsman there are no characters at all to speak of, although in a curious way a process of anthropomorphism takes hold in the viewer as the animals and eventually minerals seem to take on an animated life of their own. It may sound trite, but the cycle of life is here in this visual tone poem, a film certainly not for everyone that evokes a sense of Kiarostami or Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar in its unusual format and structure.
#21 – Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Though often difficult to decipher, the quiet pace and gentle touch of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s newest film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, makes for a spiritual and meditative film experience like no other. The film is largely deceptive, and it is nearly impossible to grasp everything it has to offer in a single viewing. A cinematic rarity, this will be a film to be discussed for years to come with a special warmth reserved for films that touch and change all those willing to open up their heart and soul to its influence.
#20 – Valhalla Rising
Nicolas Winding Refn, who made the underrated Bronson in England and the striking Pusher series in Denmark creates a brutal, yet thoughtful, re-envisioning of the Viking saga. This Malick/Jodorowsky hybrid is one of the best-looking films in recent memory. Its breathtaking digital photography across the bleak and otherworldly landscapes and atmospheric electronic score sets a tone quite like any other film this year. There’s a midnight cult here for those who yearn for one. Valhalla Rising confirms Refn as one of the most fascinating directors working today.
#19 – Cold Fish
Unflinching and unconscionable, Cold Fish is a black comedy with an obsidian pitch, a queer balancing act of outrageous humor and fathomless gore. Sly religious icons clutter the screen and the fetishistic fascination of Sono’s previous work is apparent, all wrapped up in an atypical analysis of madness and neurosis that he excels at. Although it doesn’t equal the numbing run time of Sono’s previous film – Love Exposure ran for a grueling four hours, while Cold Fish clocks in at two and a half – the film does not feel labored or lurched as it brusquely moves toward its shocking termination. Denden is ostentatiously the film’s hero, driving the meek Shamoto to fulfill his masculine obligations that are enforced by society, to conform to the status quo and control his distant wife and rebellious daughter. In its last half hour, the film descends into a Charnel house carnival with a typhoon of sloppy, gelatine intestines bursting across the screen, a crimson detritus that will provoke gasps and laughs in equal measure. Controversial yet controlled, Cold Fish is a fine example of challenging world cinema, and with a planned adaption of the book Lords Of Chaos in the works, Sono is proving to be an exceptional talent to watch.
#18 – We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay)
In the same way, Let The Right One In reinvented the vampire brand and [Rec] put a clever twist on the epidemic /zombie film, We Are What We Are reinvigorates the cannibal genre with an emotional portrait of a family bound by a terrible secret and driven by monstrous appetites. Unlike most cannibal films, We Are What We Are eschews the easy options of excessive gore, graphic violence, sex and cheap laughs to create a deeply moving drama with a spoonful of black comedy and a healthy serving of horror. It’s a slow-burning film with an engulfing atmosphere that occasionally leaves you feeling uneasy and other times laughing along. For every moment of bloodshed (of which there is surprisingly little), there are subtleties and surprises that transcend this exhausted genre. Though the violence is nowhere near as brutal as the cannibal movies of the late ’70s or early ’80s, We Are What We Are hasn’t forgotten its roots, administering just enough bloodshed to upset mainstream movie-goers. It also provides us with nice, small moments of color for the characters, short but clever lines of dialogue, and plenty of room for development. Director Jorge Michel Grau (who also wrote the script) conjures up one of the best, most imaginative, and resonant family-themed horror stories to date.
#17 – The American
Action fans and George Clooney enthusiasts might well be ill-prepared for The American, which, despite its marketing as a slam-bang thriller, is actually closer in spirit to Euro arthouse fare, and features Clooney in full-on “emptied out” mode. (It’s best described as a brooding drama slightly peppered with violence.) Anton Corbijn’s film, his follow-up to the lauded Ian Curtis biopic Control, is strongest when it avoids crowd-pleasing impulses to focus in on Clooney’s brooding performance and the unusually craftsmanlike nature of his work.
#16 – Never Let Me Go
In the five years since its Booker prize nomination, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go has collected a cadre of devoted fans who were quietly reassured that despite the recruitment of an American director – Mark Romanek – to bring this literary favourite to the big screen, it would maintain its quintessential British flavor by casting three of the contemporary UK’s most promising acting talents, with an adaptation from local screenwriter Alex Garland and an indigenous shooting terrain of Sussex, Sommerset and Surrey. With these cultural qualities in mind, it was unsurprising to see Never Let Me Go selected as the opening gala feature of the 54th London Film Festival, as the curators sought a prestigious marriage between literary quality and native constitution, whilst it’s certainly not in the vein of afternoon tea or the reassuring thud of willow on leather Never Let Me Go does retain a native Anglican affectation, especially when one considers how the word English is a close lexicographical cousin to the word anguish.
#15- True Grit
As can be expected, the film is beautifully acted, and though obviously cast for type, each performance offers unexpected moments of depth and surprise. Though not quite on the same level as the Coens’ best work, it is nonetheless a great film and one of the year’s best. It speaks for the incredible quality of their output that this does not rank among their top couple of films, as many filmmakers would only hope to make a film half as good as this. The Coens once again demonstrate why they are among the very few American filmmakers worth anticipating and they hardly disappoint.
#14 – Greenberg
Noah Baumbach has made another movie ostensibly about sad white people, but what he shows us is just plain human. It’s about how we change or don’t when the world changes around us. It’s about how we react to tenderness, and how we perceive or don’t perceive, ourselves in those moments. Roger and Florence aren’t heroes and they’re definitely not role models; they are a harrowing image of loneliness and mental incapacitation. And Greenberg’s not a movie about growth or love or purpose–it’s a movie about being flawed, hurt, people.
#13- Toy Story 3
Disney’s Toy Story 3 passed the $1 billion mark at the box office this summer making it the highest-grossing animated film of all time. The film is the first animated film to break the threshold and only the seventh overall. And, with the success of Alice in Wonderland earlier this year, Disney has become the first studio to release two-billion-dollar grossers in the same year. Disney has had only two ‘Best Picture’ nominees ever, 1991’s Beauty And The Beast before the separate animation category was established and last year with Pixar’s Up, the first time there were ten nominees instead of five since 1943. Neither won and Disney is the only major studio to never have won the Best Picture Oscar. Perhaps Toy Story 3 can change this.
#12 – Dogtooth (Kynodontas)
It’s important to note that Dogtooth entered on our top ten list in 2009 at number 3. We have contributors across the globe and since movies are released at different times (sometimes different years) not everyone had a chance to see the film last year. It is somewhat amazing Dogtooth entered into our “best of” list two years in a row considering the votes were split by our staff from both years. Infused with its own brand of hyper-stylized realism, Dogtooth feels so out of this world that it’s almost impossible to pin down. The winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, the Greek film is twisted and weird enough that the absurd comedy of Todd Solondz seems lucid by comparison. Dogtooth is not for all tastes, and at many times can be remarkably unpleasant to watch, particularly when it exposes the bizarre sexual undercurrents of the family’s life. Licking is a substitute for hugs and the film is peppered with oddly sexual situations, some amusing, all disturbing. Even aside from sexuality, the family’s home life can only be described as bizarre. Cats are alien creatures that should be destroyed with garden shears, and reenacting the dance choreography in Flashdance is accepted at the dinner table. At times the film is extremely graphic, with pools of blood dripping from the frame, and scenes best described as pornographic.
#11 – Castaway On The Moon
Being as it is a deserted island picture, you would think Castaway On The Moon would seem derivative of previous work – and while picking up on some influences from Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away and Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe, Castaway On The Moon offers something decidedly original: a deserted island story about a man who isn’t really deserted at all. Castaway On The Moon is a masterful piece of filmmaking – compelling, smart, and truly original but more importantly it manages to entertain while supplying observations on society, nature, determination, choice, isolation, friendships, ability and more.
#10 – Let Me In
Based on the best-selling Swedish novel Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and the highly-acclaimed film of the same name, Let Me In is a haunting, provocative thriller and in many ways is better than the original. While originally pegged as their own vision of the novella, it’s clear that director Matt Reeves has mimicked Alfredson’s distinctive sense of style and looked to his adaptation for visual inspiration. Reeves takes a bold and critical step in shooting an almost shot-for-shot remake of the Swedish vampire flick. But by injecting his own craft, he finds a way to harden it with a little more emotion and flavor. The pressure in adapting a story or remaking a film is that the filmmakers already have an archetype to which everyone will compare their work to. Some people will be unwilling to invite this film in, but those who do will be rewarded. Let Me In is a film that achieves the rare feat of remaining faithful to its source material while emerging as a highly accomplished work in its own right.
#9 – Rabbit Hole
Making a major change of pace, director John Cameron Mitchell shifts away from profiling the eccentric characters that populated Hedwig & The Angry Inch and Shortbus with Rabbit Hole, and delivers an emotionally powerful film about a couple dealing with the death of their young son. Mitchell is possessed of certainty as a director, providing a steady hand and a plain style to the proceedings by stepping back and letting the story and actors shine. He has a talent for drawing us directly into his characters’ lives and making us feel what they feel. This is the kind of restrained, deeply human relationship picture that Hollywood has long forgotten how to make. Mitchell has made a movie in which everything feels organic and strikes an unbelievably effective balancing act between sincerity and well-earned empathy.
#8 – Monsters
Monsters has already been pigeonholed as this year’s District 9, a somewhat lazy comparison as although they share similar aesthetics, the film is far more of a companion piece to Duncan Jones’s similarly acclaimed Moon from last year. Whilst District 9 was a solid, entertaining example of genre engineering despite its bludgeoning anti-racism message, Monsters surpasses its alleged progenitor as a far more finessed and subtle piece of work, a film which marks Edwards as a natural story-teller. This consistently surprising and lithe film retains a genuine sense of wonder and mystery in its not necessarily being the fanboy-friendly monster-mash that its misleading marketing may have you believe.
#7 – Marwencol
One of the more downright inspirational films here is Marwencol, the story of accidental artist Mark Hogencamp. After being targeted and beaten outside of a club one night, Hogencamp came out of a coma with severe physical and mental damage. His personal attempt at recuperation was to construct a 1/6th scale reproduction of a small WWII era town in his backyard, dubbed Marwencol, and photograph the happenings of that town. After years of building and story-telling on his own, his pictures are finally seen outside of a small group of confidants, and he is offered a gallery show.
#6- Winter’s Bone
A critical darling since its Sundance debut, Debra Granik’s second feature (following the touching drug-addiction drama Down to the Bone) cements her, along with Kelly Reichardt and Andrea Arnold, as one of the most skilled female directors of the new century. Winter’s Bone is a genuine triumph, a great movie with astounding performances, and Jennifer Lawrence delivering a stirring turn in a once-of-a-lifetime role. The tough tale of survival in a harsh environment continues to grow in the memory months after it was first seen which is always a sign of something great.
#5 – Exit Through The Gift Shop
In Orson Welles’ sleight-of-hand manifesto F for Fake, the notoriously puckish writer-director took on the notion of “expertise” – ostensibly in the world of high-class art, but really as a general concept, as a way of subtly lashing out at his detractors, as well as repositioning the very concept of moviemaking as a kind of fakery in and of itself. The movie worked both as an evocative cinematic essay and as a lovingly biased take on artistic credibility. While renowned UK street artist Banksy’s film debut Exit Through the Gift Shop isn’t on the same level as Welles’ masterpiece, Fake works as a useful reference point for the way in which Gift Shop slyly deceives the audience through misdirection before showing its true colors as a formal art prank with an axe to grind.
#4 – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Edgar Wright’s wildly innovative film adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels should more than satisfy fanboys while engaging adventurous newcomers. Wright does a terrific job establishing and adhering to the tone of the book while providing a faithful adaptation of O’Malley’s six-part series. While other comic book adaptions have failed when translating to the medium, Scott Pilgrim overachieves in what it sets out to do. A bold exercise in the liberation of movie conventions, Pilgrim is a mash-up of a comic-book movie that dares you to dive into its chaos. Pilgrim boats an enormous burst of imagination – a unique and totally original work of art that still finds ways to channel moments of the humanity and humour present in O’Malley’s work. Its outer shell may be a comic book/video game hybrid movie but Pilgrim is really a tender, smart and subtle coming of age flick that doesn’t focus on love but a shallow twenty-something romance. While most Hollywood teenage movies give us troubled youths and earthshaking-life-changing revelations, Scott Pilgrim presents us with the everyday simplicities and past times of today’s youth, throwing it all into a blender and pouring out one audacious, irresistible piece of pure entertainment. Like The Breakfast Club, Scott Pilgrim is a generational milestone that seems destined to be a film whose impact is measured in years to come.
#3 – Inception
Many will question Nolan’s need for having quite so many rules and restrictions for the film’s version of the subconscious, and by extension, the film’s occasionally tiresome opening stretch. While Nolan’s screenplay (his first since Memento) could certainly use some streamlining in that regard, and some of the plot mechanics feel extraneous (totems?), the sluggishness isn’t a deal-breaker considering the brisk pacing of the rest of the film. Like all of Nolan’s work, it’s the commitment you’ll just have to make in order to be effectively immersed. “Critic-proof” is a term usually thrown at hacks and “audience-friendly” studio pawns, but Nolan’s works occupy a different definition of “critic-proof:” you see Inception (or The Prestige, or Memento, or Insomnia), and his ideas either “take,” or they don’t – but going in with the willingness to be awed certainly helps.
#2 – The Social Network
The comparisons to Citizen Kane and other similar “rise to the top” filmic narratives are not entirely unwarranted, at least on a thematic level Fincher’s film seems to be a natural progression of their ideas brought into the computer age. How the film departs from these original models is most revealing of a contemporary relationship and perception of success. In many ways, few things have changed. We still understand, or more accurately “value” the idea that money cannot buy happiness. Similarly, we enjoy watching industry giants fall; it is strangely cathartic to watch those who are better off or somehow more successful “equalized”. Not that Zuckerberg really falls, Facebook is more successful than ever, but some kind of moral reckoning already seems to have been passed on his success. It is how we so keenly forgo personal responsibility and freedoms to corporate powers that has completely changed the landscape of contemporary success stories. This is not only true for a millions of people registered with Facebook, but for Zuckerberg himself.
#1 – Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky does not have a medium setting. However one might feel about any of these films – from the agitated anti-drug parable Requiem for a Dream to the time-bending metaphysical sci-fi mini-epic The Fountain to working-man’s tragedy The Wrestler – it’s difficult to argue that he holds back in any respect. Black Swan acts as a sort of greatest-hits of Aronofsky’s past pet themes – contorted bodies (Requiem), pathological obsession (Pi), and the transformational/destructive properties of the performing arts (Wrestler), but in execution it takes a bold leap in a different direction, throwing caution to the wind and delivering an over-the-top, consistently heightened, and gloriously insane film that isn’t afraid to skirt with the ridiculous in order to engage with its high-art milieu and troubled central figure.
Both a deeply Freudian melodrama and a body-horror nightmare, Black Swan is anything but subtle. It delights not exactly in surprising the audience with narrative twists – within the first five minutes, there isn’t much guesswork as to where this is all headed – but it just how far over the top Aronofsky is willing to push his performers and material. Where The Wrestler distanced itself from wrestling’s theatricality in order to provide a lucid behind-the-scenes feel, Black Swan embraces ballet’s inherent sense of distortion and weds it to the pressures of performance; the dividing line between subject and performer is erased. The sickening sound effects and bodily contortions that litter the movie are equally likely to arise from a landing gone wrong as they are from Nina’s tortured visions.
Written by Ricky D, Simon Howell, Al Kratina, Justine Smith, Detroit Burns, Derek Gladu, John McEntee, Eric Mendoza, Eduardo Lucatero, James Merolla, Al White, Emmet Duff, Erin Vandzura, Dave Robson, Joshua Youngerman, Chris Clemente