As the sort of man who can’t make a list without making at least five lists about the pros and cons of making one, December is a special time for me. It’s the month where I sharpen my pencil, take out my notebook and distil the colour and excitement of my life into prosaic chart form. Somewhere out there, as you read these words, Nick Hornby is doing just the same, only dribbling.
That said, I doubt anyone reading this cares about the top ten injustices Doncaster Rovers have endured via referees this year, or the top twenty styles of moustache I’ve seen on public transport, so I thought I’d kick things off with my ten favourite films of 2010. In case you were wondering where Inception was, next week I’ll be publishing my ten least favourite films of the year.
In time-honoured tradition, I thought I’d start at ten and end at one. Why not imagine a synthetic rendition of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ is playing while you read the list? It’ll be more exciting that way…
10. Up In The Air
Jason Reitman’s George Clooney-starring drama was released at the very end of 2009, yet I’m including it in my 2010 list since, in doing so, it got lost at the tail of the year, and appeared in so few critics end of year lists. Also, because it’s one of the most emotionally devastating movies I’ve ever seen, and contains a message concerning the fragility of life as stark and as beautiful as Rolfe Kent’s astonishing soundtrack. As the director says: “on one hand it’s a movie about air miles. On the other it’s an examination of a philosophy, about living with nothing, with nobody”.
9. Toy Story 3
I’ll get to my usual penchant for gore and sci-fi shortly, but first another film that caused me to blub uncontrollably. Pixar’s conclusion to their Toy Story trilogy isn’t so much a film about growing old, but about growing older, and one which contained a coda as affecting as the intro to their film Up was the previous year. That aside, it was a fitting conclusion to the journey of Woody, Buzz, Andy, et al, and leagues above any other mainstream animation released this year. If it doesn’t clean up at the Oscars in February I would be astonished, not to mention pretty disappointed.
8. – The Social Network
I’ll admit that the news a movie was to be made about Facebook – Facebook! – filled me with trepidation, yet the announcement that said film would be brought to fruition by the team of director David Fincher, scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin and lead Jesse Elsenberg quickly dispelled my fears. When the movie did arrive, I couldn’t have been more impressed. The Social Network is a feature which is more a character study of friendship than it is about poking and growing turnips in your virtual garden, as well as one of the coolest, smartest, most intriguing stories told this year.
7. Valhalla Rising
Directed by Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn and staring Mads Mikkelsen as the one eyed, mute uber violent lead character, depending on your tolerance for art-house Viking movies, Valhalla Rising was either unbearably self-important or one of the most baffling, yet rewarding movies of 2010. In truth I found it a bit of both, yet came away from the experience thinking, “I’ve never seen a movie like that ever”. Then, “I wish more movies existed like that, um, wow”.
6. Four Lions
Chris Morris may have told a Q&A session at the films premiere in Bradford that he thought trying to cause controversy “was one of the most boring things you could do”, but many still feared his Jihad satire could have been outrage for outrage’s sake. What transpired was akin to a modern, very relevant, take on Dad’s Army – a comedy that was nearly almost funny, often touching, often darker than night – and I’m not talking about the film’s use of Toploader on the soundtrack.
5. Bad Lieutenant: Port Of New Orleans
Not a reboot, not a remake, but a blatant plundering of the title of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film Bad Lieutenant. Despite taking little content from Ferrara’s movie, director Werner Herzog replaced Harvey Keitel as the titular antihero and created one of the years most fun crime capers. If you’re a Herzog fan, chances are you loved it – it’s strange, it’s challenging, it’s got iguanas in it. If you’re a Nicholas Cage apologist like me, you’ll have noted it’s the actor’s best performance in eons. Sadly, Ferrara didn’t agree, telling Variety he hoped all who were involved in the film would “die in hell”.
Pitching itself somewhere between Cloverfield and The Road, along with 2009’s District 9 and 2011’s Battle Los Angeles, you might see this British film as at the forefront of a new breed of alien invasion movies – movies that are smart, innovative and, despite the extraterrestrial content, ultimately human. Made on a shoestring by visual effects artist Gareth Edwards and set in Mexico (using storm damaged locations en route as real life husband and wife leads Whitney Able and Scoot McNairy travelled cross country), this was 90-minutes of monster movie brilliance – and one that suggests there’s life in its parent genre yet.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
I’d read, and adored, Brian Lee O’Malley’s comic books prior to seeing Edgar Wright’s cinema adaptation, so there was always a danger the fanboy in me would repel and reject what the Spaced man had done with the source material. Yet despite the odd corner shaved off here, and the odd narrative bridge built there, few films excited me like Scott Pilgrim did this year. What Wright succeeded in above all was in celebrating the minutia which made up the title characters world – the video games, the rock and roll, the ability to fall in love with anyone and anything – blowing them up to fill entire scenes, creating an visual orgy of imagination.
2. Enter The Void
Described by writer/director Gaspar Noé as “a psychedelic melodrama”, the Frenchman said upon release he’d been waiting his entire life to make this Tokyo-set headfuck, only being able to fund the movie after the commercial success of 2002’s Irréversible. Given that film saw its narrative told in reverse, it’s extraordinary Noé managed to find even more rules to break this time round – the whole film is shot from behind the lead characters face, or inside his head, or, after he dies twenty minutes in, from the perspective of his omnipresent spirit. The strangest trip of the year, it’s equally as controversial as his previous film was – perhaps featuring the only CGI, inside vagina money shot in the history of movie making.
Matthew Vaughn’s superhero caper is number one in this list for the simple reason that no other film released this year left me feeling so exhilarated upon leaving the dark of the theatre. Based on Mark Millar’s comic of the same name – only infusing a tonne more heart than you’ll find in those pages – Kick-Ass is funny, and sexy, and at times, deeply moving; the scene where Hit-Girl (played brilliantly by child actor Chloe Moretz) races to save her father Big Daddy (another impressive turn by Nicholas Cage) – in nightvision – is the most exciting thing I saw in the cinema all year. In August, Millar confirmed a sequel had been given the green light – depending on how quick they get to it, and if it’s even half as good as the first, chances are a film going by the name of Kick-Ass might be my film of 2011 too.