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Ravings Of A Film Fanatic: Top Of Twenty Ten

Words by Chris Elms

I’m pretty late to the party with this compared to movie critics and bloggers, but then those guys generally have alot more time to see the flicks as they are released, while I have had to play catch-up over the last month. This is also by no means a comprehensive best of the year as far as every release goes, as I generally only watch movies I think I’ll enjoy, so you’ll forgive me for not checking out the likes of Little Fockers or Gulliver’s Travels, because we all knew they’d be shite, I’d just be telling you what you already know but slightly angrier at wasting my time with such dross. I also don’t necessarily think that every film below is a masterpiece, or even ‘good’, depending on how you define it. These are films I enjoyed the hell out of regardless, that connected with me, and that I think deserve to be recognised for doing so.

Let’s kick off with the titles that would have to be omitted from an official top 10 because they’re technically 2009 releases. Even in today’s age of online piracy and streaming it takes films far too long to cross the oceans. As a film geek it’s unfortunate to live in the UK, as we often get stuff months or even years later than our American friends (especially the more niche movies, of which I am usually part of the audience.

(Technically) 2009:

Black Dynamite
Dir: Scott Sanders
Michael Jai White, Nicole Ari Parker, Byron Minns.

What I Said at the Time: “A criminally overlooked and under-seen movie, Black Dynamite is a perfectly crafted homage / parody of 70s blaxploitation. Extremely funny, well written and so much god damn good fun. I loved every minute.”

I only really discovered Blaxsploitation last year. Sure I knew it existed and I could see the style in alot of Tarantino’s flicks, but I never actually saw any of them until 2010. Black Dynamite really does capture the spirit and feel of those classic, low-budget movies perfectly. It even looks like it was made back then. The style is spot on and sits alongside other old school throwbacks like Grindhouse and Machete as being both a wonderful homage and awesome movie in it’s own right. The care and detail the makers went to to re-create the look of flicks like Coffy and Black Samurai is astounding. The music, the editing, the colours, it’s all there, and exaggerated just the right amount. Michael Jai White and everyone else involved (and there are some notable names, such as Cedric Yarbrough, Nicole Sullivan andBokeem Woodbine) are clearly having a blast sending up the flicks they almost certainly grew up with. White’s portrayal of the titular ‘Black Dynamite’ is inch-perfect, he’s a wise-talking, kung-fu fighting muthafucka, and with line’s like “Freeze you jive turkeys!” what’s not to love? He also wrote the script, which is sharp and hilariously funny. If this came out over here in 2010 it would be at the number 1 spot on my list (that is, if I had one). I have since shown this to friends who haven’t seen a Blaxsploitation flick in their lives and they found it just as funny as I did, so it works as it’s own film too. Another reason why Black Dynamite is the single greatest piece of awesome I’ve seen on my screen in years.

Action, Horror & Sci-Fi:

The Crazies
Dir: Breck Eisner
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson

What I Said at the Time: “Man it’s just so great to see a horror flick that doesn’t cater to teenagers or cop out in some shape or form. Eisner clearly knows what’s he’s doing, with good actors, unflinching violence, and just a better understanding of what makes a decent horror flick, The Crazies is a very cool film.”

Most ‘Best of the Year’ lists are filled with dramas and Oscar-fodder, which I think is somewhat unfair as many great titles like The Crazies get forgotten about. Each year we get a slew of unnecessary remakes and dumb horror films that cater to the masses, so when somebody has the cojones to make a clever, smart horror film and succeeds as Breck Eisner did, they should be applauded. Now, The Crazies isn’t exactly Inception. It ain’t smart in the conventional sense, you don’t need a college to degree to figure it out, there are no complicated sub-plots or anything like that. It’s smart movie-making.Eisner and the producers know how to make an engaging, entertaining and thrilling film. It’s highly enjoyable, thanks to it’s slick style and on-the-level presentation. Like I said, no complicated multi-stranded story, just a group of people trying to survive when the world goes to shit. They have chosen great actors too, adult actors, which is even more unusual when you look at how the teen market is clearly the target audience for horror movies. This film and the next entry proved to me that there are directors out there that actually have a passion for the genre and know how to get it right. I wish more people in the industry focused on the basic principle of making a good movie, before making something marketable for teenagers or something everyone remembers from the ’80s. The Crazies was the only decent remake of last year (unless you count Bad Lieutenant andTrue Grit, which I don’t), much like Zack Snyder‘s Dawn of the Dead, they managed to make something interesting, completely entertaining and more than worthy of carrying the title of the original.

The Horde
Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher
Jean-Pierre Martins, Eriq Ebouaney, Claude Perron.

What I Said at the Time: “A well directed, modern action / horror. Proving there are still good zombie movies waiting to be made if done correctly. This ain’t exactly ‘The Shining’, but it’s immensely entertaining and delivers on adrenalin, gore and gunshots.”

I had never heard of this French zombie flick until a guy at work asked me about it on the week of it’s release. Working in a supermarket I often see award-winning titles like Transmorphers and Floodgrace the DVD shelves at Tesco. You see, absolute shite like that isn’t worth a theatrical release, but they still cost money to make, and with straight-to-DVD they can exploit the average Joe who’s simply too dumb to release that beneath the exclamation pointed taglines (NOT review quotes) and shiny cover there is in fact, a film not worth the disc it’s burned on. So when I had a butchers and saw The Horde on the shelf, I was a little reserved to say the least. Almost immediately I realised it was French, which was intriguing, as foreign films don’t often get decent releases over here, let along bad foreign films, so being a huge fan of zombies since I was a kid, I was interested. After a quick search online and reading some of the festival feedback I had to give it a go. Boy am I glad that guy at Tesco asked me about this, as The Horde (in much the same way as The Crazies) is a rock-solid, well-made and thoroughly entertaining action horror film. It tells the story of a group of police officers who kinda go rogue and decide to attack the gangsters responsible for killing their comrade. The gangsters are held up in a wonderfully dingy apartment complex and both parties are armed to the hilt. Just as things get real, bam! Fucking zombie apocalypse happens! I love how straight forward Dahan and Rocher make it, there isn’t even much backstory to the characters, the film starts right as the cops are about to enter the building, and it’s just flat-out from there. There’s no foreboding shot of a random stranger staggering in the shadows, or a glimpse of the news reporting some strange accident, it just happens smack bang in the middle of what would otherwise be a crime / action thriller.

What I liked even more was the characters react fairly realistically when people start coming back to life and attacking them. If there’s one thing that pisses me off about zombies flicks, is that the characters within them always seem to occupy a world where zombies flicks don’t exist. The first time they encounter someone infected there’s the stereotypical “Oh my god! What’s wrong?! Sir…. are you okay? Shit, this guy looks sick, are you alrig……AAARGH! HE BIT ME! WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING?!” Of course all the time we as the audience are shouting at the screen to just shoot the guy already. But not in The Horde. Nope, when a guy the characters clearly killed gets back up moments later with blood dripping from his mouth, his skin and face all messed up, they take aim and machine gun the motherfucker. They even know to aim for the head. I was sitting there watching this, and thought to myself “Well it’s about time! Thank God, someone finally gets it.” and by that I mean the film-makers as well as the characters. As soon as that happened, I knew I dug the shit out this flick.

The pacing flows quickly, and there’s alot of really great action and gore. The group of survivors who must band together in order to get the hell out of the building are all well acted and the supporting characters are two-dimensional in a good way. This is why it randomly showed up on the shelves at Tesco one week, someone thought here’s a flick that deserves to be seen, and it truly does. If you’re a horror fan check this out at the next opportunity, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

John Erick Dowdle
Chris Messina, Bokeem Woodbine, Jenny O’Hara.

What I Said at the Time: “Not for everyone I guess, but I found this supernatural Hitchcockian flick really quite entertaining. I dug the small scale and the performances are pretty decent too. Not amazing, but a good, solid flick nonetheless.”

From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan’… The important thing to remember about this, is that this is ‘From the Mind Of’, and not FROM the director of The Last Airbender and The Crappening. I’d like to think this was just another cool, creepy film idea M. Night jotted down on the back of a cigarette packet and sold to Universal in order to make enough money to post-convert Airbender to 3D. He may even have thought of it back when he made ‘good’ films. All I know for sure is this does kinda fit in with the chilling likes of The Sixth Sense and The Village, and it’s a really solid movie. It isn’t amazing, but it is very decent, and it sucked me in almost from that first scene. The simple concept is executed really well, and it actually benefits from not having any massively famous stars in. I thoroughly enjoyed Devil when I first saw it, but since then, now that I’ve looked back on the largely low quality and forgettable-ness of most horror films that have come out, it deserves to be applauded. Director John Erick Dowdle amps up the tension, with a really sleek and eerie atmosphere. Even though it’s set it daytime, the weather’s over-cast, the colours are worn out and something evil is definitely going on. Every time we see Chris Messina‘s detective and the security guards looking at the CCTV footage it’s absolutely brilliant. I don’t like to try and out think a film, so I honestly didn’t know where we would end up until probably the last third, which is more than enough as far as I’m concerned. In my original review I used the word ‘Hitchcockian’, and I still believe that’s very apt for Devil. It’s the kind of multiple-character driven, all the pieces slowly coming together type of movie that I could quite see Hitch making back in the day. And if that isn’t enough to make you check it out, you probably won’t like it that much anyways.

Ethan Maniquis & Robert Rodriguez
Danny Trejo, Michelle Rogriguez, Jessica Alba.

What I Said at the Time: “Within the first 5 minutes I had a huge grin on my face which didn’t leave until way after the end credits. It’s everything I expected it to be, cheesy, retro, fast paced, action packed and hilariously funny. Easily the most enjoyable movie of 2010.”

I really did get a cheesy grin across my face for the entire film, and Machete was, without a doubt, the most gleefully fun cinema experience I’ve had since it’s forbearer,Grindhouse. Those two films (or 3 if you count the double-bill separately), along withBlack Dynamite channel the style, spirit and feel of 70s exploitation, of which I am deeply in love with, so incredibly well. WithGrindhouse I was in awe of the scratchy film, the vintage titles (‘Now Our Feature Presentation, Rated X’) and how gorgeous it looked, and if I could add any one thing toMachete, it would be a bit more of that. They haven’t gone down the faux-old route with this one, though it’s still a great throwback nonetheless.

I honestly don’t know where to begin with the wealth of awesome that is Machete. You have one of the most eclectic casts I think I’ve ever seen. Actors who I would never imagine being up for something like this, and looking like they’re having a great time doing so. Steven Seagal as uber-bad guy Torrez is inspired, it’s great to see the action star in an almost self-parodying role, and he plays it as only Steven Seagal could. Then you have Robert De Niro as Senator John McLaughlin… I’m sorry? Did you say Robert De Niro?! Yes, Robert De-Fucking-Niro, as a corrupt gun totin’ Senator. Granted the guy’s career has been a little, shall we say varied as of late (Meet the Fockers,Righteous Kill anyone?) but he’s in Machete? What’s more, is he’s pretty good too. Again, it looks like he’s having a pretty fun time, and it’s a whole lot of fun to see him lie and sneak his way through the flick. Next we have Michelle Rodriguez as Luz. Now a couple of my friends will tell you I’ve had a thing for her ever since The Fast and the Furious and Resident Evil (that’s like 10 years ago!), and it’s about time the rest of the movie-world realised just how amazingly hot this chick is. The role isn’t going to get her a Golden Globe, but daaaaaaaaamn, AND she gets to kick more ass than ever before, I mean, just look at the size of that gun. Everyone else is pretty good too, Lindsey Lohan also has a somewhat self-aware role and it’s probably her best screen performance ever,Jessica Alba is Jessica Alba and the always excellent Jeff Fahey returns from the original trailer.

Wait a sec, I haven’t even mentioned the most important character yet. Danny Trejo, I’d like to think the guy’s entire movie career has led up to this point. I first saw him in Con Air (a lads favourite and dumb classic) and there is something inherently likable about him. He’s also a tough-as-nails hard man in everything, and that includes Spy Kids. This is finally his moment to shine, to do what he does best, and do it he does. Trejo‘s stone-cold charisma fits the style well, and the character of Machete is an action hero up there with John McClane and The Terminator. The wonderful stupidity and craziness of his actions however, is something else entirely. Have you ever seen Stallone swing out of a window using someone’s intestines as a rope? No, no you haven’t. This is the final reason why Machete is a truly spectacular film. It. Is. Insane. Completely and utterly, insane. Unlike Legion, this knows exactly how dumb it is and plays is for laughs too, of which there are hundreds. It took me ages to wipe that dopey smile off my face once the credits had rolled, that’s because this film embodies everything that makes exploitation – and more generally – action movies ridiculously enjoyable and turns them up to 11, and it succeeds in doing so thanks to film makers who clearly love the genre even more than I do. If I could shake everyone involved inMachete‘s hand I would, as this was the best 2 hours I think I’ve ever spent in a theatre.

Dramas, Thrillers & Everything Else:

The Killer Inside Me
Michael Winterbottom
Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba.

What I Said at the Time: “Wowzers, this seems to upset ALOT of people. Probably because they somehow have us empathizing with a sadistic murderer, which is what makes this flick so damn interesting. Well acted, very well shot, and (brave) dark subject matter. I thought this was a fantastic movie.”

I think I summarised my thoughts pretty well in my original mini-review, and even now, a good couple of months after I saw this, I’m still thinking about it. I’m a big fan of the TV show Dexter, which sees Michael C. Hall play the titular blood-spatter expect who also happens to be a serial killer. Now as a viewer I like and root for Dexter because he’s a good person and only murders bad people, but in The Killer Inside Me, Casey Affleck plays a really dark, sinister and sadistic man who for all intents and purposes we should despise, and we’re somehow still on his side. Now we’re not quite ‘rooting’ for Affleck‘s Lou Ford as we do Dexter Morgan, he plays it deadly cold (a performance which gets even better the second time you see it) and isn’t even THAT likable, but we kinda want to see him get away with it anyway (at least, a part of me did). This is why I think a ton of people were upset and angry at the film. They don’t like the fact they were made to care about such a horrible character.

Without spoiling the whole flick, Affleck‘s Ford is a deputy sheriff who begins an affair with Alba‘s Joyce Lakeland, who in a self-destructing and twisted kinda way make the perfect couple. Ford gets off on hitting people, and Joyce gets off on getting hit by people (I hear Wedding bells! Or is that just the ringing caused by too many blows to the head?). Kate Hudson does a grand job of playing Ford’s girlfriend, and the rest of the cast are equally good in a distant, morbid (almost Coen-esque) way.

The Killer Inside Me will make you think about about yourself as well as the film, at-length. It’s a film that as I’m writing this I want to watch again. I want to revisit the irreverent, almost cheeky, darkness dwelling within Lou Ford. I think this will be snubbed come awards season, especially as we’ve already had a couple and this was nowhere to be seen. I’m hardly surprised, when it comes to the holocaust or some handicapped guy the Oscars light up, but the sinister side of the human condition is a little too much for those old fella’s to handle.

Dir: Christopher Nolan
Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page.

What I Said at the Time: “Nolan does it again, with this cinematic event that’s just so slick it makes 99% of what else is being released look like complete rubbish. Intelligent, immensely gripping, and a huge mess of fun, Inception is a truly wonderful, batshit awesome movie.”

There isn’t an awful lot to say about Inceptionthat hasn’t been said already by far cleverer people than me and at length. Heck, even I put it pretty well in my original review. ‘Slick’ is what this film has in droves. Inceptionoozes cool, it’s got such an intelligent swagger about it, if films were comic-book characters, this one would be Hank McCoy, aka Beast.

It was just great to experience a summer film that didn’t have to rely on Megan Fox running around in slow motion to be a full-blown blockbuster. Back when it came out everyone was pondering if the times were a’changin’ and this would give birth to a new generation of ‘smart blockbusters’. While I didn’t think that was true, it was a nice thought. Everyone wanted to believe this would inspire other like it, but only because we get such utter garbage most of the time. It’s to Nolan’s credit then, that it seems only he can make big-budget box-office hits that appeal to the Frasier Crane and the Kenny Powers both at the same time (though I’m basing that onThe Dark Knight as much as Inception). The cast he assembles is a cracking ensemble, and it was rivaled only by The Expendables (because, ya’ know, it WAS great seeing those guys in the same movie) and Machete. DiCaprio, who I’ve liked since Gangs of New York, had a heck of a one-two with this and Shutter Island, Ellen Page I can’t help but like for her Juno-style graceful quirkiness, and Tom Hardy, man, I said the guy deserved to do well after watching Layer Cake and Star Trek: Nemesis for crying out loud.

Inception is an incredibly engaging, action-suspense-look-at-that-the-freaking-roads-are-bending-thriller that had me glued to the screen from the very start. I thought the characters were well realised and the plot (and film in general) travels along like a freight train, constantly delivering great set-piece and scene and another. You’d have to be living under a rock not to have seen this, but if you haven’t, check it out ASAP.

True Grit
Ethan & Joel Coen
Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon.

What I Said at the Time: “Those guys have done it yet again, this is easily my favourite Coen outing since The Ladykillers (well I liked it at least). Superbly shot, captivating characters (all the actors are terrific) and that cold style which somehow feels rich, vintage and very clever. True Grit is a stunning, just brilliant flick.”

The most recently viewed and final entry in my list, and what an entry it is. The Coens are one of the most consistent sources of fantastic films working today (alongside Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith in my opinion at least) so I knew this remake was going to be great. It’s just an established fact now, if it’s made by the Coen Brothers, I will like it. The only exception to this rule is their first film,Blood Simple (and I never got round to seeingRaising Arizona). After the roaring success ofNo Country for Old Men, I thought True Gritseemed like a rather easy choice, after all ‘No Country is considered a western by some, and it does feel like one at times. But I still knew it would be good at the very least, and ‘good’ this film is not. This film is a whole thesaurus worth of ‘good’ synonyms and then some. Just bloody fantastic. The style is present and works just as well for the period setting and especially well for the subject matter: A young girl hires the help of US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (played with seasoned gusto and old-man-affection by the Dude, Jeff Bridges) to track down the man who killed her father. The film is predominantly the two following the trail, while avoiding rucks and running into Matt Damon‘s Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (pronounced ‘LaBeef’), who is a character Damon knocks out of the park.

Don’t pay attention to the billing though, the true star and main character of this film is Hailee Steinfeld‘s Mattie Ross. At the young age of 15 she not only plays the part impeccably well, but gives her character overwhelming maturity and if you like, balls. This is Mattie Ross’ movie, and she is a great character and the flick succeeds so much largely because of her. Saying that, the trio ofSteinfeld, Bridges and Damon is something special indeed. When they’re together they have this great group dynamic, almost like a family. It’s the rich characters that I think I like the most about the Coen’s films, of course that and the vintage style which I will never grow weary of. True Grit is a marvelous movie, a piece of brilliance, and has earnt it’s place as my signing off point. Thank you very much for reading.

Read the full list on Chris' blog Coffee Stained Papers

1 comment:

  1. Dan Zukovic's "DARK ARC", a bizarre modern noir dark comedy called "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different..." in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD and Netflix through Vanguard Cinema (http://www.vanguardcinema.com/darkarc/darkarc.htm), and is currently
    debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it's World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it's US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange ("White Noise"), Kurt Max Runte ("X-Men", "Battlestar Gallactica",) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy "The Last Big Thing"). Featuring the glam/punk tunes "Dark Fruition", "Ire and Angst" and "F.ByronFitzBaudelaire", and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.

    TRAILER : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPeG4EFZ4ZM

    ***** (Five stars) "Absolutely brilliant...truly and completely different...something you've never tasted
    before..." Film Threat
    "A black comedy about a very strange love triangle" Seattle Times
    "Consistently stunning images...a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, "Dark Arc" plays like a candy-coloured
    version of David Lynch. " IFC News
    "Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is...Don't see this movie sober!" Metroactive Movies
    "Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. " American Cinematheque