2010 was the first year in a long time I attended no film festivals at all, add to that the fact I changed jobs and moved 100 miles and it’s probably not surprising I didn’t get to see as many films as I wanted this year. Most of my film watching came on scattered visits to London or catching up with dvds at home. This lack of visits to the cinema didn’t make this annual list any easier though and narrowing down a list of 20 top-notch films to the elusive 10 was as hard as ever. As ever with my list, I haven’t gone for the most entertaining films of the year, but I’ve picked the films that had the most impact on me, the ones that have stuck with me throughout 2010. These lists are always such a personal thing and I’m sure looking through all the lists we have on Directors Notes, you’ll see some similarities, but also a good variety of films based on the preferences of the reviewer (we’re a pretty strong minded bunch, with differing views on what we look for in a film). The one thing that please me most about my list this year though is the strong presence of British talent on show, proving that here in Britain, we still can cut it with the best in the world.
10. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Apichatpong Weerasethakul
I think everyone was surprised when Uncle Boonmee won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2010 but after watching it, I can see what the critics saw is this unusual, thought-provoking film. I have an unwavering love for Thailand and I was thrilled when Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the award, as his film is a completely original vision and a challenging piece of filmmaking. Although Uncle Boonmee won’t win any awards for ‘most entertaining film’, it’s a work full of intrigue, wonderment and magic. As the strangeness unfolds and we’re presented with monkey ghosts and speaking fish the film become more and more enchanting and hypnotic with every second. Weerasethakul’s work always seems like it would be more suited to an art gallery than a cinema and even though his latest work is probably his most accessible, it almost certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Read the DN review of Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
9. Voy a Explotar (I’m Gonna Explode) – Gerardo Naranjo
One of my favourite things about going to the cinema is sitting down to watch a film I know absolutely nothing about. When you view a movie with no expectations and no preconceptions and it turns out to be revelation, it can be such a rewarding and personal experience; Voy a Explotar was one such film. Mexican cinema is growing in stature as every year passes and Naranjo’s energetic, striking film helps this reputation continue to develop in leaps and bounds. Full of teenage angst, young love and rebellion, this is a film that perfectly captures the raw emotion and unpredictability of its young stars and the confusion that unravels in their minds as they try to discover their place in the world. Like with The Exploding Girl, one of my favourite films last year, the combustion never occurs and instead Naranjo’s movie is a slowly unravelling love-story with some assured performances.
8. Restrepo – Tim Hetherington & Sebastion Junger
War seems to be a common theme in my top ten this year and if I’m honest, I’ve been a fan of the war film ever since I first laid eyes on the likes of Full Metal Jacket and The Deer Hunter. Like Lebanon, Restrepo has been created so the viewer can experience war at its most honest and forthright, however, where Lebanon is based on real events, these are real events. American journalist Sebastian Junger and British photographer Tim Hetherington documented the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers as they experience war in what is known as one of the most dangerous postings in Afghanistan, the Korengal Valley. Restrepo is film that needed to be made, a story that needed to be told, it might make you angry and it might make you sad, but it needs to be watched.
7. The Killer Inside Me – Michael Winterbottom
Not content with producing some of the best television you were likely to see in England this year, versatile director Michael Winterbottom also had time to create one of the most controversial films to hit the cinemas. The Killer Inside Me is destined to be remembered for the storm its scenes of extreme violence stirred up in its audiences, with screams of “misogynistic” and “degrading” being hurled at the director. However, if you actually managed to stick with the film beyond this cloud of controversy (many didn’t), what you’d actually find is an accomplished piece of filmmaking. Stunning visuals, potent performances and a challenging, thought provoking narrative is what I discovered in Winterbottom’s film, but many just can’t get past the violence.
Read the DN review of The Killer Inside Me.
6. Lebanon – Samuel Maoz
With a story based on the director’s own experiences of his time in the Israeli army and an aesthetic approach which literally has you staring down the barrel of a gun, Samuel Maoz’s debut fiction film couldn’t feel more personal. Throwing its viewer into the belly of a tank filled with 4 young, scared Israeli soldiers we travel through broken cities, experience hostage situations and witness the horrors of war first hand. At times Lebanon almost feels like it should the most frightening IMAX experience you’ll ever behold, an experience that is only multiplied by the incredible sound design by Alex Claude and his team. Cutting from the confines of the tanks interior, to the scope view of the outside war-torn world, Lebanon almost feels as if this is one mans jumbled memories of a horrific time. Maoz’s film leaves you feeling disorientated, battered and shell-shocked after viewing…..what a brilliant feeling!
5. White Material – Claire Denis
Atmosphere and tension bubbles all the way throughout the 10th film of Claire Denis as White Material cements her place as one of the most talented and consistent directors working today. Set in an unnamed area of Africa, this is the story of a country in turmoil and a nation facing change. Big things are happening, but the film focuses pretty much on the world orbiting around Isabelle Huppert (putting in another stunning performance!) as she struggles to keep her family and their life from falling apart. Fear and frights are pretty easy to deliver in a film, but its films like White Material that are truly haunting as a sense of dread builds throughout its narrative and has you on edge throughout.
Read the full review of White Material.
4. Micmacs – Jean Pierre Jeunet
When I think of French cinema I think of Jean-Pierre Jeunet! I know as a cinephile I shouldn’t, I should probably think of the films of Godard, Truffaut or Robert Bresson, but I don’t, the first name to always pop into my head is Jeunet. Rich in colour, bubbling with eccentricity and full of charm and humour I always know when I’m watching this stylistic director in action. His latest film, Micmacs, is an oddball almost silent-comedy that owes a lot to the works of Chaplin and Keaton (Buster not Michael) and delivers big-time in the feel-good laughs department. As usual Jeunet’s eccentric ensemble has been perfectly cast, with each performer playing a vital role in the success of the film, all working in unison like cogs in highly polished machine. Micmacs is a film that reminds you just how magic cinema can be and is probably the best 105 minutes of escapism you’ll find all year.
Read the DN review of Micmacs.
3. Four Lions – Chris Morris
In all honesty when Four Lions was released, I wasn’t that excited! I wasn’t sure how Chris Morris’s off-kilter comedy would translate to the big screen and I was expecting disappointment. Although Four Lions is very different from what we’d come to expect from Morris’s recent work (Brass Eye, Jam), it’s a hundred times funnier than the majority of “comedy” films released in the cinema each week. I always believe a comedy should be measured on how often and much I laugh throughout it’s duration and if this is the case, Four Lions can only be beaten by Anchorman in recent years. However, Four Lions is not only about the laughs and its finale delivers some powerful scenes for a film in the comedy bracket.
2. Valhalla Rising – Nicolas Winding Refn
When a film reminds me of Mad Max, Conan the Barbarian, the work of Terrence Malick and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, you know you’re watching something special. This almost silent epic manages to be beautifully poetic and disturbingly brutal in equal measures and Mads Mikkelsen’s lead performance as ‘One-Eye’ is one of the most powerful and raw pieces of acting you’ll ever see. However, Mikkelsen is ever so slightly upstaged by the sheer grandiose beauty of the films locations. If it wasn’t for the extreme violence, this could be the best video for Scottish tourism ever made.
Read the DN review of Valhalla Rising.
1. Another Year – Mike Leigh
Having not made it to the London film festival this year, I didn’t see as many quality films as I would have liked, but after watching Mike Leigh’s latest offering, there was no doubt what was going to be my number one. If I class a Mike Leigh film as the best he’s ever made, there’s a 99% chance its going to be my film of the year. With stunning cinematography, a beautifully understated score and heartbreaking/heart-warming performances, if Oscars aren’t handed out to Leigh and his crew I’m getting on the first plane to Hollywood and fighting someone.
Read the DN review of Another Year.