Filmstalker's films of 2010
2010 is about to close, the year is almost at an end, and it's a time to look back and reflect on the year. For some it's a time of happiness, and for some a time of sadness - right now my thoughts and love are with one of my close friends whose father has just recently died.
However here on Filmstalker it's a time of films, and I'm still enjoying watching them, so despite everything else the reviews go on. So I'm going to take a look back on the reviews of 2010 and see what the five star and the best four star films were of the year, and I'll definitely be breaking with awards convention.
Let's start with the films that I saw in 2010 that I gave five stars to that saw some form of release this year, and remember, in no particular order.
I was concerned about how TRON: Legacy would turn out. I was a huge fan of the original TRON along with a massive percentage of the audience who were going to see the film, and that always puts pressure on a film. Looking at the Hollywood track record of sequels to older films, made after a decent gap in time, it's not a success story, far from it in fact. It's a bit of a struggle to make a list of the successful films in that category.
TRON: Legacy was a big surprise for a number of reasons. It didn't do what was expected for a modern action film in 3D, it built characters and concentrated more on story. It allowed the audience to think between the lines without spelling out everything with excessive dialogue or visual explanations. However it didn't have total success as there were a couple of key areas that needed some more explanation, the new programmes is one of the areas that needed more, in comparison to the motivation behind the programme Clu which contained next to no explanation and worked really well.
Typically though, as we've seen throughout this year, the 3D wasn't that important, and while the film-makers had the right idea and they kept it as another layer of the film-making process to build the complete film, it did get in the way of the viewing and for the most part faded into the background. Indeed most of the film just looked like 2D to me.
Despite that the film was excellent. Superb effects, visuals, soundtrack and story that kept a strong, deliberate pace and was surprisingly non-Hollywood. Above all, it really did stay true to the original without simply recreating the story and becoming Son of TRON.
I'm going to say something rather interesting about this film, I think that this film is fighting for film of the year alongside Inception. Now I know there are going to be people up in arms about that statement, screaming about Inception, Toy Story 3 and the forerunner for the awards The Social Network, but The Town seems a stronger choice for me for a number of reasons, some you can read about in each of those films, but here it's because where it comes from, Ben Affleck.
Director wise it's fair to say he's a relative newcomer, and when you have that in your mind and watch the film you have to be amazed at what Ben Affleck has achieved in relation to his acting career, especially when you see his performance in the film too. In terms of achievements this is massive. Affleck has directed, co-written and led the film, and in each area he's excelled what we would think of Affleck the actor.
The Town is a superb thriller that takes elements of many other heist thriller films and delivers all the best as well as a hell of a lot of style and reality that it can definitely call its own. It was an excellent film, a powerful thriller, wonderfully written and acted by all concerned, and shows signs of a talent that, if he kept delivering films of this quality and grew with them, could well be considered as a director with the likes of Mann, Scorsese, Eastwood, he carries elements of them all.
Surprisingly the action and the heist itself takes a back seat to characters and relationships, something that raises the film up even more. I stated in the review that this film...
"...redefines Affleck and his career... ...and despite setting himself up for a fall by directing himself in the lead, he not only saves it but he blows expectations away...Affleck comes away looking like a seasoned professional with this his fifteenth film, and yet this is his first co-writing, acting and directing."
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The start of a beautiful trilogy and a story that would see David Fincher and Hollywood pick up the films and remake them for an English speaking audience. What are we going to expect from the Fincher version? Something darker both visually and in story, although the story is pretty dark to begin with. What will surprise me is if they can really pull it off as well as this original film from director Niels Arden Oplev and writers Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg, as well as the author Stieg Larsson.
What struck me about that film was how the film travelled through some really dark sections of the story so well, not being afraid to tell some more shocking aspects without flinching or skirting around the edges, and how it delved into sub-plots which actually strengthened the characters and the main plot line incredibly well and surprisingly well.
The lead character became fascinating, and none of her story was over told, keeping as much a mystery of her as the character did with others in her life. It's another fantastically well paced thriller that revelled in a complex multi-layered story. Shame the sequel was such a disappointment to the trilogy.
The Losers on DVD
This will probably be a completely bizarre choice to some, especially seeing the five stars it received in my review, but I read The Losers comic series early on and I loved it, I could see it would make a good film and just about the time I thought I might try my hand at adapting something to script along came the story that The Losers was going to be made into a Hollywood film, I was excited, especially with Peter Berg set to adapt and direct.
That wasn't meant to be though, and while Berg was heavily involved in the script adaptation, he didn't stay to direct the film, and it was handed down through directors until it finally laid with Sylvain White, and my heart had sunk at every hand off until it sat with the director of Stomp the Yard.
My review opened with an apology to Mr White because with all the stories I'd written about my concerns for the film, he delivered an adaptation of The Losers that was incredibly faithful to the original, took to its bosom the characters, and compromised quite well on the massive plans of the bad guy and the language and violence.
I thought that this was one of the best comic adaptations to date, capturing the characters so well from the original story and really bringing them to life on screen. There's a great deal of humour in the story as well as action and adventure, and while some of the story might be a little far fetched, in the confines of the story things worked out well. It was so surprising though how well it did adapt the original material and retained some of the key scenes and components of the characters.
Casting was nigh on perfect too, and with the strong scripting, direction, cinematography, set design and sound design, the film paved a brilliant way for a potential franchise. This was a tougher, more fun version of The A-Team, and if it hadn't the silly CG final to it, I think it would have done way better. Here's my closing statement from the review:
"The Losers is hugely entertaining for all types of audiences, whatever you're expecting from the film, action, adventure or fun and entertainment, it's got it all and plenty of it."
Knight and Day
Why did this film not do anywhere near as well as expected? There are two things to blame, and the first is by far the biggest, the studio marketed the film so badly here in the UK that if that was the case around the world you wouldn't be blamed for thinking that they'd deliberately tried to kill it. People should be sacked right left and centre for the mis-marketing on this.
I tend to believe that the second area, and the much smaller issue, is the general populace view of Tom Cruise. There's a fair amount of people, my father included, who mix the real life person behind the actor with the role and film they are playing. With stars like Cruise I may disagree with their beliefs, but I don't cut out their performances from my viewing because he is such a strong actor and produces some great performances, much like many of the stars in Hollywood who have similar personal lives.
That aside Knight and Day is a superb film that is a highly enjoyable action/adventure film that is filled with humour and inside jokes and digs at many other action films, and one of the key features of the film is the humour of Cruise's character and the comic timing that he brings to the part. Another aspect is the relationship between his character and that of Cameron Diaz's, who plays her part fantastically well.
There are great action sequences in a film that delivers thrills, excitement and adventure from start to finish, and it's one of the few UK public previews I've been to that have had the entire audience laughing out loud through it. Knight and Day is an excellent film.
What is there really to say about Inception apart from it's brilliant? Christopher Nolan did his magic once again with a story he'd had in his mind since he was much younger, a story about the mind, about dreams, and about controlling them. It's an incredibly complex story that delivers the core ideas amazingly easily and with visuals that are eye-popping but never, ever overtake the story.
Add to that the great line-up of actors and their performances, particularly from Leonardo DiCaprio, the nigh on perfect scripting, and the concentration on characters and their relationships, as well as everything else around the film using amazing visuals and an incredible soundtrack that has been copied a number of times since, and we get Inception.
Nolan just continues to deliver these great films, and we don't expect anything less from him any more, but each time he's still surprising us, and with Inception it was at times breathtaking.
Once again I really have to turn to the review I already wrote, for there I wrote it best.
"I can't praise Christopher Nolan enough for this film from the idea, scripting, casting, styling, cinematography, effects, etc., and while I could say that it did feel a little harshly edited in the first act, and the multi-tiered crescendo doesn't quite fit together perfectly, these things would be picking very small points out of a film that is superb as a whole...
...I've never felt so manipulated and provoked by a film for a very long time, in fact I'm struggling to remember exactly when I last felt this taken in by a film, for even a day after seeing it I'm still thinking of that ending and some of the turns in the story. In fact I'm really keen to go back and watch it again and see how it feels on a second viewing. That's something that doesn't happen with me very often...
...A clever, wonderfully imagined script that combines multiple complex ideas and threads together in one compelling and thought provoking story, building layer upon layer and never relying on the obvious, delivering with a multi-layered crescendo of an ending that comes crashing around you time and time again, to a final shot that surprises right to the point the screen goes dark, Inception is an amazing film."
Jackboots on Whitehall
I loved Jackboots on Whitehall when I saw it, as did the large press audience at the Edinburgh International Film Festival where we even saw the star studded competition jury laughing away. It's a superbly ingenuous film that has some truly hilarious moments. Filled with intelligent humour the film just keeps delivering comedy throughout.
For those of you who don't know, the entire film is made with the use of stop-motion and action figures, figures like Action Man dolls, and the look and styling of the film is fantastic, delivering a whole raft of comedy moments throughout, set pieces aside.
It's hard to remember when I laughed so much at a film this year, especially in comparison to the raft of American comedies pouring out with their baser comedy.
Toy Story 3
What a wonderful ending to a great trilogy, an ending that reflected what the films were to the fans and vice versa as well as telling the stories of the characters themselves. It really was a return to the strengths of the first film, and while the second was still a really good film, it didn't have the same effect on the audience as the first did. I felt that the third recovered that feeling with the audience and really brought the magic back to the screen.
It's a beautiful story that makes us remember why we fell in love with these characters, and the ending pulls together everything from the previous films so beautifully to embody what they represent to us all, to every age, and represents what Pixar means to the audience, not just a cash cow, but a real desire to entertain.
It did have a failing, the 3D element, again it just wasn't needed and for almost the entire length of the film your brain settled into normal viewing and it just felt like watching 2D with a few 3D moments thrown in when something came at the screen. Once again, no real point to it.
However the film will make you laugh, cry, and you leave the cinema with a warm feeling inside the pit of your stomach. A hugely satisfying conclusion for the series that delivers more imagination, fun, and drama.
The Cove on DVD
I was shocked and moved so much by this film, and it's fair to say that this film really did change my beliefs, understanding and actual actions. It's not often you can say that about a film. The Cove is a huge expose of a film that shows the lengths that a country is prepared to go to in order to keep moving forward on a genocide of a species. I said in my review that this film had the potential to change the world for the better, but only if people watch the film and listen to the message.
As a documentary the film is nigh on perfectly constructed and at the core of that is the editing which helps keep the story going through exploring multiple issues and still remaining focused on the central issue of the events at the Cove, shocking events which are built on slowly until the horrific and shocking ending, an ending which never goes too far.
It's an amazing documentary that will open your eyes, anger and move, and hopefully will make you broaden your views and change them, perhaps even spur you to some form of action. Even if it doesn't, it's a documentary that should be seen.
American: The Bill Hicks Story
This is a great film, a superb documentary that isn't completely documentary and has a rather unique style to it where so often it animates Bill Hicks' life through photos of the man inter-spaced with video of his performances and the voices of others. As I said at the time:
"It's just streets ahead of so many other films, biographical or not, and really does deserve a huge audience."
We get humour, a strong emotional punch to the story, and quite a lot of revelations about the man, events around him, his philosophical and political comedy, as well as ourselves. It's beautifully filmed and wonderfully and lovingly told. This is a film not just for fans of Bill Hicks, indeed I had only watched one on stage performance of his before I saw this film, but for fans of film full stop.
Those are the five star films, what about the four star films of 2010? Well here are the better choices.
The Disappearance of Alice Creed on Blu-ray
J. Blakeson is a writer who decided to have his first crack at directing with this film which he wrote specifically for his first time directing, and he did an excellent job in story and behind the camera. Very cinematic and a wonderfully restrained story that is held back from moving too far ahead of itself and keeping focused on just three characters in very small locations. What it delivers is a great story that has a few interesting turns to the traditional story, not huge reveals, but nicely played twists. Pile in some strong performances to the script and cinematography and we have a very good film that like so many great thrillers, doesn't over explain itself.
The Social Network
This is a film that many would argue belongs much higher up the list and which all the awards across America are screaming out should win. I do agree that it's a superbly crafted story, that it builds characters and relationships well, traverses a difficult story and some very dull material transforming it into a very enjoyable film that engages you throughout and keeps you thinking.
Thought provoking, engaging and visually enticing, and yet the film is filled with dialogue and devoid of action, you don't often find that in cinema these days. There are also strong performances to add to the direction and excellent writing.
However, I did feel there was a little too much to try and get through the film, and that I felt there was a little too much that was left unsaid. It did seem rather a simplistic view of the events and the age old issue of what really is real in reality based films came to the fore. For The Social Network doesn't tell us what is factual and isn't, but the assumption is that it all is.
I'm sure if you haven't laughed at some of the choices already then you'll be laughing at this one, however if you are then you obviously didn't approach the film with the right frame of mind, or was a fan of the television series. For me the big win of this film is how it captures the feel of The A-Team and what it does with the characters and their relationships, as well as explaining some of the oddities of the show such as the non-violence.
What fails the film are two set pieces in the film. The first is the tank sequence, which you can just about live with, and the last set piece which is overly reliant on CG and some far too over the top action. If it had just relaxed a little and pulled itself back from the brink, sticking with action levels of the rest of the film, this would have been far better. As it is though, it's great action, hugely respectful of the original series characters, and delivers a lot of fun.
Going the Distance
What a surprise this film was for me, I didn't think I would enjoy it at all, but the writing was very clever and the loose and natural feel of the performances really captured the characters and their relationships. There was so much to identify with as well as laugh at and with. It avoided clichés and delivered much more than most comedies. There's so much fun and enjoyment to be had from it and a lot of that comes from Drew Barrymore and Justin Long.
L'immortel (22 Bullets)
A well written film that is also nicely shot and gives us a strong performance from the very cinematic Jean Reno. The film takes some time to develop the characters and make a stronger story for it over and above the average revenge film. Connecting us with the characters more than most revenge films do, allows us to commit much more to the revenge action when it begins, and we are.
You can see a theme running through many of these more popular films this year, a concentration on characters and relationships in the story, and that's what Monsters does. Instead of delivering the monsters we get something much more personal and considered. A clever and intelligent film that tells a story more about humans than it does about the creatures it appears to focus on. It's far from what you might expect, and if you're looking for a monster invasion film, this has so much more to offer than that.
The Killer Inside Me
A film that really does take some unusual twists and turns from the average thriller and unnerves, upsets and gets you thinking. It compliments the book which it comes from well and Casey Affleck delivers a visually engaging performance, even if the mumbling does affect the understanding of the character. Michael Winterbottom has delivered a wonderfully shot film with some sets and sequences that will have you glued to the screen. There are a few flaws to the story, but it is a powerful and engaging one and well worth seeing.
Armored on Blu-ray
While Armored is a pretty standard thriller Nimród Antal does deliver a very cinematic experience even through some very frantic action sequences. It looks far bigger than it actually is and Matt Dillon delivers a great performance that makes us wonder where he's been all this time.
Looking back I might be tempted to drop this to a three considering the Blu-ray itself, but the direction, the characterisation and the performances from a couple of the leads will have you engaged to the end.
What a subject to tackle, but Chris Morris does just that and does it well. The film provokes, unnerves and will leave you entertained as well as thinking through the events and the messages well after it has finished. While some might just see the comedic side of the film, there's a lot more to it than that, and a film about terrorism on UK soil doesn't immediately sound as though it could cover all those areas, but it does. An intelligent script that combines humour, entertainment, satirical commentary and shows some dangerously difficult subjects that we haven't seen tackled in the cinema before.
Iron Man 2
Great performances from the big stars deliver a good sequel to the superior Iron Man, however it does suffer from a little too much being crammed in to such a small space. It's loud, fast and enjoyable but not quite as good as the first which had a lot of fun and great action sequences, as well as a star cast who are doing more than just appearing, oh and plenty of tongue in cheek humour too. I did want more from this film, but it delivered just enough of what I was expecting and didn't just fall into more of the same.
How to Train Your Dragon
Again, no need for the 3D which you soon forget, although with a lot of flying and swooping you're forced to remember it. The film is enjoyable and engaging and delivers a good emotional journey for the characters and the audience. It worked well with me and I ended up having more fun at it than my two nephews did!
Sequels should be more than a repetition of the previous events or of a simple continuation, and this film managed to do that. Avoiding any Hollywood sequel traps it delivered more and twisted the original story into something you might not have been expecting, delivering a far more dramatic and powerful story than the first film might have had you believe. It's cleverly written and filmed and there are some good performances in there too, but a few clichés do slip in, although not enough to destroy your love of the film or the trilogy. Bring on more.
Drew Barrymore surprised the hell out of me with this film, I didn't think I would like the story and I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. Again this is a film that builds characters and relationships above all else, and that shows once again what a winning combination that can be. Barrymore directs really well and gave an exciting and enjoyable film that had me hooked all the way through, and through all the in-ring action there's plenty of space for the more subtle and quieter moments of the film. Throw in a strong cast who perform well and you have a really enjoyable film that makes you want more from the star.
Many didn't think that this was such a good film and yet I found it very enjoyable and very effective in building tension through some powerful and scary moments. It's well filmed and the leads deliver well, compared to many of the remakes in the horror and thriller genres this is well up amongst the forerunners and I think delivered better than the original in quite a few places.
I am a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, so it pained me to write what I did in the opening of the Overall section of my review for Invictus:
"There are a lot of things that I don't feel connected in the film, or that weren't examined deeply enough for the story considering the subject matter. Invictus may be billed as a true story, but it doesn't do the truth justice, for the real story has much more depth and complexity to it."
"...the film does a great job of delivering an emotionally charged and inspiring story that touches on many aspects of the reconciliation of South Africa."
Matt Damon gives a powerful performance, as does Morgan Freeman, and Eastwood's direction is as noticeable as ever. It isn't his best, but it is a strong film that did grab your attention and move you with the moment.
Up in the Air
Once more I'm saying characters and relationships, that's what's at the core of this film and makes it work so well, and through so many of these top choices. George Clooney is excellent, as is Vera Farminga who needs far more recognition than she receives. They work so well together and are given some great dialogue to draw you into their characters and the excellent story. It has a lot to say about many topics, and all slipped easily into the story that will capture you throughout with a surprising amount of reality. I really did enjoy this film.
So that's been my journey through the Filmstalker reviews of 2010, I hope you've enjoyed the films and the reviews as much as I have. What did you think of these films? What were your favourites of the year?
Actually hold that thought, instead of telling me your films of the year here, why not submit your own Top Ten? It can be your best, your worst, or a list to do with anything film related. Head over here to submit your list and see it published beginning in the New Year.