Monday, December 27, 2010

More Lists: Raw and Rare

Most Lists///Top 10 Films of 2010///

By Todd Brown ()

13 Assassins

Takashi Miike's foray into the world of the samurai is the most assured, polished and simply best crafted film of his career. Those who gripe that it lacks the stylistic excesses of Miike's early years are missing the point entirely. The goal here was to make a classic and he's done just that, turning in not only what is the best film of his career but also arguably the finest samurai film in decades. The entire cast is stellar, the story is complex without bogging down, and the action brings a fantastic jolt of adrenaline.

Animal Kingdom

David Michod's debut feature delivers fully on the promise shown in his years serving as principal writer for Australia's Blue Tongue collective. The Sundance winner just swept the Australian film awards for a very simple reason. It's very, very good. A crime story at once epic and earthy the picture takes you through the dissolution of a mid level crime family in Melbourne, blood ties being swept away by waves of paranoia and the compelling urge for self preservation at all costs. Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver steal the show on an acting level but the entire cast is stellar and Michod's writing and direction are both sure handed.


Janus Metz's fabulous war documentary Armadillo made news first by being the first documentary ever selected to compete in the Critics Week program in Cannes. It made news second by being the first documentary ever to win said program. It made news third by triggering an inquiry into the actions of Danish troops in Afghanistan and the rules of engagement there with its incredibly intimate portrayal of the soldiers engaged in the ongoing peace keeping mission and fighting against the Taliban. This is intimate, engrossing, adrenaline pumping stuff, an absolutely fascinating piece of cinema.

Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky proves once again that he is one of the most vital, important and invigorating talents in the American film world. Black Swan deserves every ounce of the acclaim being heaped upon it, credit due in equal parts to Aronofsky and star Natalie Portman, who delivers what is surely the performance of her career. Black Swan is a tricky film to peg - it doesn't fit neatly into any pre-conceived slot - and that's a major part of its power. It unsettles you as it reels you in, the opening acts serving as a slow burn lead in to a barnstorming finale.


Ricardo Darin anchors Pablo Trapero's Carancho with a riveting, complex performance as a broken man slowly unraveling thanks to the tiny more of conscience he retains. Classic noir in content if not in style, Trapero's film spins its amoral tale of insurance scams and ambulance chasing in as unaffected a style as possible, letting events play out in a cold, almost clinical fashion as his characters stumble inevitably to a bad end. The always stellar Darin has never been better and he's perfectly matched to both director and story.


Jeff Malmberg's Marwencol is a film I simply can't forget which is more than a little ironic since it's subject - outsider artist Mark Hogancamp - is a man who can't remember. After being beaten literally to death outside of an upstate New York bar Hogancamp was revived by paramedics, spent several days in a coma and awoke
knowing nothing about himself or his previous life. Unable to afford proper rehabilitation and treatment Hogancamp instead created Marwencol - a one sixth scale model world populated with heavily modified army dolls and Barbies who live out rich, complex lives as Hogancamp tries to exorcise his demons. Not the slickest
or most polished documentary you'll see this year it is certainly one of the most heartfelt, a deeply affecting portrait of a very damaged man trying to put himself together again.

Scott Pilgrim Versus The World

While you can argue that there were significant errors made in the marketing and planning of Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and while there is certainly a case to be made that this is a film made for a very specific audience - the size of which was grossly overestimated by the bean counters at Universal Pictures - I'm
a part of that very specific audience and, dammit, this film nailed it. Funny, arming, technically flawless, action packed, and constantly surprising Scott Pilgrim deserves better than to be dismissed out of hand by those who have Michael Cera / hipster fatigue. It is a fabulous piece of film making by one of the most talented and ambitious directors on the planet today. That it happens to also be set in my home town is merely a happy bonus.


No, I am not being willfully obscure with this pick. The story of Super Furry Animals front man Gruff Rhys travels through the Welsh settlements of Patagonia in search of a distant cousin brilliantly defies expectations as it morphs between concert film, road movie and anthropological study. The style and structure of Separado mirrors the character of its subject, the film a cheerfully shambolic exercise in raw creative power. Whether you know Rhys and his music before the film or not - my own exposure was cursory at best - you'll be hard pressed not to love the man by the time the credits roll. A purely feel good doc that far too few have had the chance to see.

Stake Land

The American horror film of the year. Plain and simple. Jim Mickle's sophomore film is a 70s style road trip through a grim apocalypse, a land where the men don't talk much because they're too busy cutting down the undead. The living may not be much but it beats a death that never ends. Mickle's a director with the good sense to know when to back off and when to go for the throat and he is well matched once again with his star and writing partner Nick Damici.

We Are What We Are (Somos Lo Que Hay)

The inclusion of Jorge Michel Grau's We Are What We Are on this list should surprise nobody who is a regular reader of the site as I have been a vocal supporter of the film since first coming across it at the Guadalajara International Film Festival in March. An unsettling hybrid of domestic drama and extreme violence, Grau's film paints a picture of a family struggling to cope with the loss of their father and the subsequent pressure on the children to step up and shoulder the responsibilities of adulthood. The hitch to this being that the family are cannibals and father was the provider. Grau's writing and direction provide the initial hooks for this one but it's the haunting, understated performance by Francisco Barreiro in the lead that gives it a lasting resonance.


Niels Matthijs' discoveries of 2010!///
By Niels Matthijs ()


Chinese films are often quite traditional both in themes and presentation. is a welcome variation on the regular output, serving a hyper-modern romance dominated by social media and internet-savvy characters. The resulting film is quite unique, even outside the somewhat limiting confines of Chinese cinema. This one is for people who feel at ease in these modern times and dare to embrace the social revolution. Comes highly recommended.

09. Valhalla Rising

Chances are you won't be entirely sure what this film was about when the end credits start to roll across the screen. Not to worry though, the road that takes you there is an experience in itself. Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted by Mads Mikkelsen, Valhalla Rising is a testosterone-fueled adventure amongst rough men and even rougher men. Slide back into the couch and let this one come over you.

08. Air Doll

Koreeda returns with a lovely fairytale draped across a layer of pain and drama. The film features a sex doll coming to life, a simple yet effective analogy for the underlying themes of Air Doll. The result is a dreamy endeavor occasionally shred to pieces by the harsh reality of everyday life. Without a doubt one of my favorite Koreeda films so far and a welcome comeback after some more commercial movies.

07. Mr Nobody

Van Dormael went all the way and beyond, that's the least you can say about Mr. Nobody. It's overly ambitious and a little heavy-handed in places, but the level of detail is so overwhelming that I couldn't be bothered by such a minor glitch. If anything, Van Dormael's bold strikes of tackling anything in sight is a refreshing variation on arthouse cinema which is often dominated by subtlety and refinement. Hard to compare this one to other films, but not to be missed at all.

06. Paco And The Magical Picture Book

Remember when you were 6 years old? Your imagination was a lot bigger than what the world had on offer. Even fantasy never really seemed to completely satisfy your needs for colors and weird creatures. Nakashima comes damn close with his latest. He goes all out in this extremely colorful fairytale with a darker edge. An explosion of detail and strangeness molds this film into a surprisingly poignant little tale. I wish I could've seen this as a kid but the experience as an adult is just as good.

05. 22 Mei

Mortier returns with a bang. The humor is pretty much gone after Ex-Drummer, but Mortier's gritty style is still ever-present. A unique exploration of a single event and the people affected, 22 Mei is a drama that remains abstract throughout while still touching the core issues of its characters in a very emotional way. Definitely not for everyone, it's not exactly spirit-raising cinema, but by far one of the best films to have come from Belgium so far. A little bit of nationalistic pride is in place here.

04. Godkiller

Not quite animation, not quite comic, Godkiller is an awesome introduction into the world of the illustrated film. It takes some time to get used to the concept, the pure cyberpunk background story isn't exactly making things any more accessible, but once the film gets its grip on you there's no turning back. Pizzolo is definitely on to something here, add to that a grindingly pleasant soundtrack and what you have is one of the most original films of 2010. If you're an animation fan, you owe it to yourself to at least try it out.

03. Tetsuo: The Bullet Man

Initial reception of the newest Tetsuo film wasn't too positive. While somewhat understandable in a "that's how people are" way I cannot help myself but disagree completely here. Tsukamoto still has it. The film looks completely awesome, sounds completely awesome and is sure to burn a hole in your TV-screen before the end credits appear. Chances are you won't agree but Tsukamoto's film deserves at least a fair chance. A superb third act that easily beats the second film and doesn't have to be ashamed to hang around with the first film.

02. Symbol

Matsumoto is a funny guy, that much was clear after watching Big Man Japan. With Symbol he goes several steps beyond and plants a true masterpiece. He exploits a very simple (yet original) concept to perfection and finishes it off with a complete bang of a finale. People say it's impossible to make original films these days, but I believe Matsumoto begs to differ. Wildly funny, inventive and stunningly unique, Symbol is a film that cannot be missed.

01. Enter The Void

It was a long wait for Gaspar's latest film and when it finally arrived most theaters were to stuck up to give us a proper chance of watching it. Enter The Void's crappy release schedule was another sign that the movie industry isn't really interested in its biggest fans. Luckily Enter The Void can be enjoyed just as well in the cozy confines of your own living room. Just close the curtains, turn up the sound and let yourself be swept away by the neon-lit world of Tokyo. A true cinematic trip if I ever saw one and already one of my top 3 favorite films ever.


A Dozen Discoveries From 2010. New Faces To Watch.

By Todd Brown ()

A Serbian Film / Srdjan Spasojevic

Love it or hate it, the simple fact is that with his debut film director Srdjan Spasojevic delivered a film that cannot be ignored. And while many tend to get caught up in the extreme elements - and they are extreme - the reality is that this is a phenomenally well made, self assured piece of film. Spasojevic has technical skills, a clear vision and a bold voice, all of which bodes well for whatever he may set his mind to next.

Animal Kingdom / David Michod

Michod's Animal Kingdom made my overall Top Ten this year as well, so it's no surprise to see it here as well. Already well known as one of the principal writers for Nash Edgerton and his Blue Tongue collective of filmmakers, pre-Animal Kingdom Michod already had a reputation for precision and intelligence in his writing. Turns out he has those qualities as a director as well and is fantastic at drawing performances from actors as well. Of the names on this list Michod is arguably the most ready for big success with the sort of large scale but still intelligent thrillers that typically go to Michael Mann or Martin Scorsese these days, though our next entry may challenge him for that position.

Buried / Rodrigo Cortes

You want boldness from a young director? How about this: For his debut feature Rodrigo Cortes - working outside of his first language - cast a comedian who had never been particularly successful in any other genre in a thriller set entirely inside a box. One person. In a box. For an entire film. And Cortes didn't just survive the experience, he made it brilliant, Buried proving to be one of the film's earliest and most deserving buzz titles after premiering to almost unanimous acclaim at Sundance. Imagine what he can do if he gives his actors, say, a whole room to play with!

Gandu / Q

Gandu is the one film in this list that is not a debut, though it may as well be. The latest from a Calcutta based director who refers to himself simply as Q, Gandu is Q's response to time spent in the commercial and populist film industry. And that response is basically 'fuck it'. A film made with a tiny budget and a huge amount of talent, films like Gandu are the reason film festivals remain culturally important as a means of seeing challenging, non-commercial films by potent international talents. Though Gandu is never likely to find a broad commercial audience anywhere, that fact takes nothing away from its raw energy and the skill of its creator.

Kidnapped / Miguel Angel Vivas

Twelve shots. Twelve meticulously constructed, painstakingly timed shots. That's all Miguel Angel Vivas used to create his debut film, Kidnapped, a film that he spent 50% longer rehearsing than he spent shooting. The result is a gripping slap in the face, a painfully realistic, real time depiction of a home invasion playing out before your eyes. Vivas manages that most difficult of tricks, simultaneously managing to be both incredibly stylish and ultra realistic, the result being a burst of raw and painful emotion.

Monsters / Gareth Edwards

The cat is well and truly out of the bag on Monsters director Gareth Edwards - he's currently prepping a big studio scifi feature under the watchful eye of producer Timur Bekmambetov - but that doesn't make his achievement any less significant. Shot guerrilla style in Mexico with a crew smaller than those employed by many documentaries with effects reportedly created himself on a laptop computer Monsters proved that if you're talented enough you don't need Hollywood to create a large scale spectacle. Or a believable post-apocalyptic world roamed by enormous, squid-like alien creatures. Though an entirely different sort of story Edwards scifi road movie has drawn deserved comparisons to Neill Blomkamp's District 9, deserved because these two men will very likely be among the leaders of the next wave of intelligent science fiction film.

Norwegian Ninja / Thomas Cappelen Malling

One of the most unusual pictures of the year comes from Norway's Thomas Cappelen Malling who makes his debut by taking the real life story of Norway's most notorious Cold War spy - convicted of working for the other side - and devising a compelling alternate history in which he was not a spy at all but actually a patriot and the leader of a secret ninja force. Imagine, if you will, an 80's ninja film as directed by Wes Anderson. You are now approaching the neighborhood of Malling's Norwegian Ninja, a delightfully tongue in cheek skewering of the politics of paranoia. With added ninja action. Malling took home a Best Director award from Fantastic Fest for this one and it was well deserved.

Our Day Will Come / Romain Gavras

The indie music scene already knew Romain Gavras had the goods thanks to his breathtaking work for MIA but he got to prove it to the film world, too, with his antisocial road movie Our Day Will Come. One of the more polarizing entries in this list, Our Day Will Come has the same sort of confrontational edge to it that makes people love and / or hate the likes of Lars Von Trier and Koen Mortier but in this case it's dressed up in a distinctively French chic. This is a movie that features Vincent Cassel lighting a young woman's breasts on fire. For real. This tells you much of what you need to know about Gavras.

Rare Exports / Jalmari Helander

Behold the rebirth of Joe Dante, with more old man penis. While the fact that nobody seems to want to give the original Joe Dante a decent job these days is a little baffling to me, fans of the old Amblin days of kid-friendly genre fare that still managed to disturb need look no farther than Helander and his twisted Christmas story Rare Exports. The former commercial director fuses slick style with a slyly dark, ultra deadpan sense of humor as he updates the best urges of the 80s. Hilarious without ever cracking a smile, Helander is a cult giant in the making.

Submarine / Richard Ayoade

Heartfelt and hysterical, comedian turned director Richard Ayoade's Submarine has been drawing comparisons to the work of Wes Anderson but Hal Ashby's Harold And Maude seems more appropriate. Because while the stylistic flourishes are fully present they never seem the point of Ayoade's work - as they too often do with later stage Anderson - but rather serve to accent the character work. And Ayoade's eye for character is bang on. Years of performance have given him an eye both for talented performers and for the nuances that will open the doors to his characters while a few years spent shooting music videos for top acts has given him an impressive set of tools to draw upon. Ayoade may very well be the next darling of the indie set.

The Troll Hunter / Andre Ovredal

Though I doubt he knew he was doing it at the time Norway's Andre Ovredal created an international viral sensation with his debut feature The Troll Hunter. A moc-doc built on the conceit that the Norwegian government has been hiding the existence of real, actual trolls for hundreds of years the first footage of the giant beasties set off a storm of online chatter spanning the globe when it first arrived online. Yes, The Troll Hunter is essentially a one joke movie but it is a very good joke told very well and the film provides a useful reminder that the moc-doc format is capable of more than simple Paranormal Activity style scares.

We Are What We Are / Jorge Michel Grau

The second film on this list to also crack my overall Top Ten - Animal Kingdom was the other - Jorge Michel Grau created his debut film using a student crew, a tiny budget and a set that was broken by severe earthquakes that rolled through Mexico while shooting. And if he can do this under those conditions ... well, I'm more than a little eager to see what he can do with the resources that a Cannes selection for his debut film should bring to bear on his sophomore effort. That Mexico has all but abandoned its rich history of horror cinema troubles me. I expect Grau to be the leading force in bringing it back.


K's film retrospective; the best ten of 2010
By Kwenton Bellette ()

Number 10: Enter The Void

Gaspar Noe's seminal, (both literally in terms of semen and relating to his work) Enter The Void is an epic mind fuck. It is the simple story of two siblings, one of them dies in Tokyo right near the beginning of the film and then... his body freely floats through the neon nightmare, delving in and out of his past and climaxing (literally) to his potential future; it is incest in the most subtle way and is nearly impossible to explain, perhaps reincarnation is the best word. After his death he watches over his sister as her life continues in a downward spiral, as do the lives of his friends. The intensity and repetition of his floating journey create an unthinkable scenario; a meditative nightmare in which there is seemingly no end and no beginning.

Number 9: I Am Love

I Am Love is an Italian film about the extremely rich Recchi family and the subtle politics that play out between them, particularly Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), a Russian that married into the family. She is unhappy and quickly falls for another man while the family business much to her sons dismay faces troubles. It is not this layered story that makes I Am Love worthy of the top ten however, it is the pulsating urgent score from master John Adams as the most gorgeous and luscious visuals pervade the senses, particularly the scene where Emma and the man she is cheating with make love outside, the camera pans and zooms and focuses on their body parts, explicit but serene, it matches this with extreme close ups of flowers and fauna. Later the score is more alive than ever, and the title of the film is realized as in the last moments of I Am Love, Emma makes a decision that overrides all movie logic and it is a joy to behold. I Am Love is a multi textural work of art.

Number 8: Amer

Amer is an urgent experimental horror film that pays homage to Giallo. The camera takes on a life of its own and cinematography becomes king and really the only focal point of Amer, that traces a woman from childhood to adulthood and the auspicious events that happened in her younger years that follow her back to where everything began. The end is a shocking and ultra violent twist, but the journey to get there is loaded with a bizarre eroticism that perfumes every scene. How can something be so disturbing and yet beautiful at the same time? Watch Amer to find out.

Number 7: A Single Man

A Single Man is a beautifully sincere film that surpasses sex and gender to deliver a grand message that love is always out there no matter the circumstances. Colin Firth in his best performance so far plays George, a gay college professor in the 60's in America. Of course he hides this fact in public and at his work place and through the lens the era is bought to life with extreme precision from fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford. George has lost his lover some years ago and the daily grind proves too much for him and he has finally given in, preparing his final day on Earth as he plans to end it all. He visits friends, has a few choice encounters and remembers what he has lost. Is this enough to convince him to live? The results may surprise you.

Number 6: Neon Genesis Evangelion 2.0 You (Cannot) Advance

Neon Genesis is a complex anime. In its conception its creator Hideki Anno was clinically insane. Many years after the series and shocking movies comes the rebuild, the first chapter come and gone and viewed with contempt; yes it was pretty but it did little but rehash the series and the events with an unnecessary focus on the fighting of the robots. Enter 2.0, a title I looked at initially with disdain, then I saw it. Needless to say it is quite simply better than the series. The changes in character, situation and plot are an extremely welcome change for long time fans and new comers alike. This was a genuine unexpected treat that puts the mythos of the brilliant series in a new light, oh and its pretty.

Number 5: I Saw The Devil

I Saw the Devil disturbed and shocked me. This today in cinema is rare, I thought I was desensitized to everything (sans The Human Centipede of course) but the blackness and brutality and vacuum of hopelessness that pervaded every inch of the screen during the entire duration of this film convinced me otherwise. The plot follows a serial killer that murders a policeman's wife, and that man's quest to hunt the killer down, torture him then let him go, only to rinse and repeat. There are many problems with this idea, particularly the slew of innocents and guilty in his wake but also the devastating repercussions. In fact no one and nothing is safe. This is truly no holds barred cinema that is not afraid to go where normal genre does not. A cheap trick? No, far beyond that.

Number 4: The Social Network

A film about Facebook? No, a film about communication. Could this not be more important in this day and age and who better to helm it than contemporary master David Fincher. He proved with Fight Club and Zodiac that clinical black drama can work, and work so very well. I remember watching Zodiac and wishing it would not end, to get drawn so deep into a fascinating story and deeply affecting characters was a treat. I read about Fincher's directing style, to get actors to look and act tired he would simply rehearse the scene over and over until they were genuinely tired. Second best is not good enough, this principle he applied with full force to The Social Network, and as a result the feeling that I received from Zodiac resurfaced again. This masterful work could only get better thanks to the biting screenplay from Aaron Sorkin.

Number 3: Animal Kingdom

The general public in Australia is reluctant to see an Australian film. This is a sad fact and something that should be rectified as there has been a huge amount of releases that have been worthy contenders to the more popular Hollywood counterparts. Animal Kingdom of course destroys all notions of an Australian film. Yes it is set in my town of Melbourne, yes it has some brilliant Australian talent and is very much an Australian story, but the tropes of an Australian film are nowhere to be found. Essentially Animal Kingdom is a crime film about a bank robbing family and the ever controlling matriarch that leads it and the newcomer that gets caught up in everything. The film is in fact very hard to fault; it is its own animal, a savage beast that leaves its indelible mark on anyone that views it.

Number 2: Black Swan

Natalie Portman is barely recognizable as the coddled, damaged perfectionist Nina Sayers in this intense portrayal of a ballerina in the overly stressful world of ballet. The film is essentially a slow burner that has masterful performances from both her and her autocratic instructor Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) as he craftily manipulates her to become the black swan as she already has the white swan's routine down pat. In doing so he stretches her beyond her limits and slowly but surely the world around her falls apart and it is how that makes this movie so memorable. The use of mirrors and other subtle effects bring Nina's madness into full view and is reminiscent of the imagined horrors that befell many of the protagonists in Aronofsky's Requiem For a Dream. The final half-hour is a beautifully tragic crescendo that sees Nina come full circle, the modified theme of Swan Lake blares loudly as her transformation takes place and it is enough to take your breath away. This is perfect cinema.

Number 1: Inception

Damn you Nolan you genius bastard you have done it again. His last release The Dark Knight topped my list for that year, and try as I might to reorganize my top 3 I found it almost impossible to not have Inception sitting right at the top. Many people use many words to describe their cinema experience, but do they really mean what they say? I can honestly tell you I was floored by Inception; the visuals, the convolved analysis of dreams that somehow made sense and all those layers, while still touching on a deeply personal story of loss, and incorporating grief in the most original way possible. Inception took the viewer to mind blowing action pieces, clever infiltration scenarios and to the edge of dreams and imagination itself.


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