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FILMS OF THE YEAR 2010
Pang Ho Cheung shows himself a master of yet another genre with this social conscience slasher, a rare beast that mixes blood, guts and housing politics, bolstered by some amazing work from Josie Ho. The film is quite possibly the year’s bloodiest and most sadistic, with some in incredibly gruesome scenes that are all the more effective for his deft handling and notching up of the tension. Cleverly structured and darkly amusing, Cheung proves that it’s perfectly possible to work within such a downtrodden form to produce something masterful. 2010 was a great year for fans of the director, with smoking themed romance “Love in a Puff” being of a similar quality.
Enter the Void
Gaspar Noe has long been hailed and reviled as an enfant terrible of modern French cinema, and “Enter the Void” is probably not going to change anyone’s perception of his talent. Whilst not as controversial as the notorious “Irreversible”, the film is perhaps even more likely to divide viewers between those who take it as pretentious, over long and self-indulgent, and those who find themselves helplessly awed and caught up in its trippy ride. To an extent both are right and the visually gorgeous, incredibly imaginative film is a modern equivalent of “2001”, probably best watched in a state of altered consciousness.
I Saw the Devil
There’s nothing quite like a top director on top form, and “I Saw the Devil” is certainly that, with Kim Ji Won turning out what might be his best film yet. As usual, the Korean director delights in playing with genre conventions and viewer expectations, with a serial killer thriller that has a great deal of evil mischief along its tense, demented way. Although it’s easy to see why the film has generated so much controversy back at home, being incredibly callous and strikingly gruesome, the main impression the viewer gets is of a sense of Grand Guignol fun. Kim makes the very most of his trademark ironic sense of humour, though here turning it to some pretty horrific situations, making for both the year’s best black comedy and gritty detective thriller. Whilst it may not have a great deal to say about the human condition or even the darkness of the soul, it offers a superb helter skelter ride into blood soaked craziness, which is all the more amazing for the presence of two of Korea’s most acclaimed actors in Choi Min Sik and Lee Byung Hun.
Though a remake may seem like an odd choice for one of the year’s best, Im Sang Soo’s new version of the 1960 social commentary suspense classic is a perfect example of how to update a film, staying true to its themes whilst offering something entirely new. As well as being the best looking and decadent Korean film of 2010, “The Housemaid” also works on a variety of other cinematic levels, with a wry sense of satirical humour, a well told suspense plot and plenty of tense deception and manipulation. A large part of its success is down to Jeon Do Yeon’s brave lead performance, balancing naivety and self-interest to gripping, and ultimately heartbreaking effect.
Recalling the heady Hollywood days of asteroid and Robin Hood themed box office clashes, 2010 saw two great Korean films about small town old ladies trying to solve a murder involving their grandsons. Although Lee Chang Dong’s “Poetry” was itself a 5 star Cannes friendly piece of humanistic drama, Bong Joon Ho’s “Mother” just about edges it as the more enjoyable of the two thanks to its offbeat sensibilities and vein of dark humour. Following an international mega hit like “The Host” was always going to be a tough job, though with an amazing performance from veteran actress Kim Hye Ja in the lead, the film is a true gem, and the kind of small-scale character driven affair that really hits home how possible it is to make great cinema without a huge budget or CGI explosions.
A new film from Darren Aronofsky is always cause for excitement, and “Black Swan” is arguably his best to date, mixing elements of “The Red Shoes”, “Repulsion” and “Suspiria” to awesome effect. Reminiscent in many ways of his debut feature “Pi”, the film is a master class in genre cinema, with the tension and surreal madness being orchestrated to fever pitch. It’s a real assault on the senses, bombarding the viewer with increasingly weird imagery and loud, frantic bursts of opera and classical music, making it a must see big screen event.
An unexpected and largely unheralded classic, co-directors Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng’s “Gallants” is the year’s best martial arts film, bettering the likes of “Ip Man 2” and the rest of Donnie Yen’s many outings. An old school tribute to kung fu cinema that affectionately recalls countless Shaw Brothers classics without resorting to spoofery or cloying homage, the film mixes great action and well written characters to create something thrilling, amusing and moving.
A comedy about four particularly hapless suicide bombers was always going to be a controversial, edgy affair, but in the hands of Chris Morris, it becomes something much more. Not only is “Four Lions” probably the year’s funniest film, it’s also one of the most thoughtful and serious, with much to say about life in modern Britain as well as the religious conflicts gripping the world. Unsurprisingly, the film is a razor-sharp satire, though its one which doesn’t go for the obvious gags, and is all the funnier for it. Probably the biggest risk which Morris takes is treating his characters as human beings, making the film challenging and yet oddly emotional viewing.
A Serbian Film
It’s easy enough to see why “A Serbian Film” continues to whip up such a furore of controversy around the world, which is a testament not just to its shocking content, but the fact that it’s a disturbingly well made piece of cinema. Whether taken as metaphor, social commentary, exploitation or even as dark satire, Srdan Spasojevic’s debut is impossible to ignore, and the debates which it has inspired serve as a nice reminder of how films can cause such extreme reactions in audiences and critics – many of whom, it has to be said, probably haven’t even seen the film in the first place. “A Serbian Film” is easily one of the most important releases of the last couple of years, and though it’s undoubtedly not a film for all tastes, its absurdist edge makes it much less difficult to stomach than its reputation would suggest.
Cult Japanese writer director Tetsuya Nakashima follows up his critically acclaimed hits “Kamikaze Girls” and “Memories of Matsuko” with something considerably darker in the form of “Confessions”. The film is the year’s best, at least for those with the stomach for its candy coated cruelty and soul crushing darkness. A tense, impeccably structured piece of story telling that throws harsh light on the very worst of its characters’ broken souls, it grabs the viewer right from the start, with easily the year’s most gut punching opening scene – which it then proceeds to top, time and time again, through to its nasty conclusion. Though lacking the over the top gore and controversy of “A Serbian Film”, it’s arguably even more sadistic and shocking, and though its doubtful that the film will make too much of a splash at the 2011 Academy Awards, there are few others which will stick in the memory for quite so long.
A SELECTION OF THE MOST DISAPPOINTING FILMS OF 2010
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Soulless, self-important and incredibly annoying. Michael Cera playing Michael Cera as usual, Edgar Wright trying embarrassingly hard to cram in as many cynical pop culture references as possible, and the rest of the cast being jerked around like gap-clad hate puppets. Even for its very specifically designed target market, the film is a pathetic, excruciating piece of trash that makes puppy dog eyes at viewers while shitting on their feet.
Clash of the Titans
Given the director, the cast, the budget and the source material, there’s no reason whatsoever for this film to have been so mind numbingly awful. Really. It’s the kind of film that you go back to and watch again, thinking that maybe you made a mistake, maybe you were just in a shitty mood when you saw it the first time. And then…no. It’s just a bad, bad, bad film.
Why this film received so much praise is completely beyond me. A would-be hip revisioning of “Species” that holds no surprises whatsoever, it’s delusions of grandeur and self-important mock philosophy are pretty astounding – especially given that most of it takes place in a cheap looking barn. Still, for Adrien Brody haters, it might make for a good double bill with “Giallo”.
The Human Centipede
What could have been the year’s most amusingly offensive tabloid troubler sadly turned out to be one of its dullest missed opportunities. With very little going on aside from a mild touch of xenophobia, its pretty amazing that Tom Six managed to make something so harmless and utterly conventional from such an imaginatively warped premise. With a lack of shocks, demented fun or indeed any discernible point, its hard to view the film as anything other than a depressingly cynical stab at whipping up public interest without really bothering to back it up with a decent product. For shame, Tom Six, for shame.
Bafflingly bad. It’s a mystery how anyone could make a film about the end of the world with quite so little ambition. The film seems to think that viewers will happily accept that when god finally gets pissed off with the world, he’ll respond by sending incompetent hissing angels dressed as ice cream men to destroy the human race. Although this in itself is an oddly comforting thought, the film is simply rank rotten.
I really hated “Inception” for the simple fact that I wanted to love it. Great director, great cast, great story, great trailer. The film even starts well, with the mind bending dream imagery of the world being pulled around in spectacular fashion….only for it to slump rapidly into sub-“Matrix” style shenanigans and shoe gazing, with its imagination resulting in nothing more than a few standard gun battles. Frustrating, to say the least, and nowhere near as good as “Dream Warriors”.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Thank you for ruining my childhood by making it abundantly clear that Freddy Kruger liked little kids. The film has the year’s most distasteful plot manipulations, keeping the viewer guessing as to whether or not the 1980’s most popular horror pin-up was a paedophile….switching between ‘no he isn’t!’, ‘yes, he is!’ and ‘no he isn’t!’ several times during its painful running time, only to settle on ‘wait, yes, Freddy Kruger was, and probably still is a pederast’. Great.