Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2003!

As always, the not quites: Big Fish is that increasingly rare Tim Burton film where he seems to be free of studio influence to do whatever he wants and tell a sweet, offbeat story. Freddy Vs Jason takes one great horror franchise, and one pretty crap franchise, and smashes them together in a funny, bloody fan’s dream. House Of 1000 Corpses is probably Rob Zombie’s best movie to date, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to recapture what makes it so fun again. Dogville is Lars Von Trier doing what he does best – pissing people off, experimenting with Cinema, and creating something unique. It’s bizarrely engaging and while it shouldn’t work, it really really does. The Last Samurai dropped at jsut the right time, as my love for Japanese cinema was at its peak. Ignoring all the White Guy Saviour stuff, and all of the wonderful hair, it’s a gorgeous movie and features a couple of great performances in Cruise and Watanabe. School Of Rock is quotable, fun, and reminds me of a lot of my the favourite movies of my youth – Bill And Ted, Kindergarten Cop, Wayne’s World etc. Jack Black is at his best, and it’s one of those movies you get sucked into watching every time it’s on.

10: The Dreamers (UK/US/France/Italy) Bernardo Bertolucci

Bertolucci should be enough to grab any movie fan’s attention, but through in Michael Pitt and Eva Green, and this seemed like it was made just for me. Naturally there’s a lot of nudity and sex here which may put some off and likewise invite a lot of idiots to watch it for the wrong reasons. There’s a lot of callbacks – to classic New Wave Cinema, to cultural shifts in the 60s, to Bertolucci’s life and career, but in essence it’s a captivating story with a great central trio.

9: Underworld (US/UK/Hungary/Germany) Len Wiseman

As Buffy was ending I needed a new sexy vampire heroine. Kate Beckinsale steps in, all leathered up and guns firing to save the world from a deadly vampire/Lycan war. It’s all very silly and serious, it’s all very stylish, but in terms of post-Matrix action movies it’s one of the best.

8: Kill Bill Vol 1 (US) Quentin Tarantino

This was the first Tarantino movie I ever saw on the big screen, and it felt like a big event. It had been half a decade since his previous film and it was a packed screening. Most of those there didn’t seem to ‘get’ the movie, but I enjoyed every second, spotting a myriad of Easter Eggs and enjoying the onslaught of violence and visuals. It might be his most straightforward, enjoyable movie.

7: A Mighty Wind (US) Christopher Guest

It honestly took me a while to come around to This Is Spinal Tap. I’d always liked it, but it took me longer to love it than most. A Mighty Wind I loved immediately – perhaps because I was more used to the format, perhaps because it wasn’t lampooning anything I cared about. There are some great songs and performances here from Guest regulars, and it’s an easy going movie which continues to unwrap subtle jokes with each viewing – sometimes a visual gag, sometimes a single line or word of dialogue you missed before, or sometimes an actor’s reaction. All of Guest’s movies are gold.

6: The Curse of The Black Pearl (US) Gore Verbinski

Is there a better example of a Theme Park attraction being turned into a movie than this? Depp should have received his Oscar, and it’s the closest we’ve come to a rip-roaring Indiana Jones style romp since The Mummy. It’s funny, rattling along like raft cutting through the waves, and everyone involved seems to be having the times of their lives. It’s such a shame the sequels are trash.

5: Zatoichi (Japan) Takeshi Kitano

Kitano had been steadily pumping out underrated film after underrated film – an amazing accomplishment for the quirky funny man best known in the west for Takeshi’s Castle. While many of his films dealt with common themes – masculinity, violence, inner turmoil, they were typically set in a modern, Yakuza setting. With Zatoichi he goes back to the legend of the blind Samurai to make the best film version of the character, starring as the title character himself. He does things with sound and editing in this film I’d never seen before, and uses the story to showcase those common themes with a keener eye for detail while not letting up on humour and action. Like many Asian movies of this era, it’s a travesty this saw zero interest by The Academy.

5. Oldboy (SK) Chan Wook Park

Each of the remaining films on my list are covered in more detail in my favourite films of the 2000s post. Check it. Suffice it to say, this is essential viewing.

4: A Tale Of Two Sisters (SK) Kim Jee Woon

Gorgeous. Haunting. Should have had a Best Actress Oscar nod.

3: Ju On (Japan) Takashi Shimizu

Wonderfully creepy J-Horror classic

2: The Return Of The King (NZ/US) Peter Jackson

The excellent climax to maybe Cinema’s greatest trilogy.

1: X2 (US) Bryan Singer

Probably the greatest comic book sequel of all time.

Let us know in the comments which films of 2003 make your list!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2004!

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As always, here is the group which didn’t quite cut it: Napoleon Dynamite is one which always makes me laugh, but there’s something so… desolate about it? The Passion Of The Christ is just a well made gore-fest, while Team America has dolls fucking. It’s not Meet The Feebles, but what is? The Terminal is one of my favourite underrated Spielberg movies, Dead Man’s Shoes is one of Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows’ best. Hellboy drops in and out of my Top Ten – it’s great fun, even if I don’t love it as much as some – probably because I’m not a huge comic book guy.

10: District 13 (France) Pierre Morel

Merging real life stunts with little or no string work or CG guff, and the parkour and martial arts skills of a talented cast, District 13 is one of the action movies I show people who claim to not like foreign movies. It blows them away, every time. It also has the benefit of having a simple plot which still pulls the viewer in to the world of an over-populated Paris ghetto. Over time, gangs take over the ghetto and the police stay out, leaving millions fighting and stealing and trying to survive. We follow an undercover cop and a brother trying to rescue his sister from one of the marauding gangs. It’s a story you’ve seen a hundred times, but it’s told at breakneck speed with likable faces. Yet, it’s the action which keeps you coming back, a world away from CG superheroes punching CG supervillains out of CG Skyscrapers.

9: A Very Long Engagement (France) Jean Pierre Jeunet

Jeunet, and Tautou’s follow-up to Amelie was always going to be an impossibility – that movie was universally loved. A Very Long Engagement is a very different story and film, a romance of sorts told with a larger cast over a number of years, against the backdrop of War. The visuals are what it has most in common with Amelie as it is one of the most delicious looking films of the era. Jeunet’s usual suspects show up, along with supporting turns from the likes of Jodie Foster and Marion Colliard in a film about undying love and hope in the face of hopeless odds and loveless tyranny.

8: R-Point (SK) Kong Su Chang

It’s still annyoing that so few people know about this film. Even plenty of my online pals who enjoy Asian horror haven’t seen it. I get that it may be a hard sell given its unusual approach and confusing plot, but if anything I liken it to something like Aliens, but with ghosts. It’s a war film with a supernatural bent, it’s like the twisted sister to Session 9, with a similar atmospheric setting. It hits a lot of my sweet notes, without giving too many spoilers away, but there may or may not be something funky going on with time, reality, madness, it has hardened soldiers going up against a mysterious foe, and it does give two shits about convention. Just go in knowing that it’s set during the Vietnam War as a group of soldiers respond to a distress call, and knowing that I’ve recommended it.

7: Shaun Of The Dead (UK/US/France) Edgar Wright

Is it Edgar Wright’s best movie? Probably. Plus it came out at just the right time, when zombie movies were suddenly popular and legitimate, but before they over-saturated the market. I was never the biggest Spaced fan but I knew Simon Pegg from plenty of other things and him and Nick’s laid-back everyman approach to the apocalypse, as well as the filmmakers obvious love for the genre made it a treasure trove for me. Great gags, kills, and plenty of hidden treats in the cast including the great Peter Serafinowicz and George Dawes. That’s right, Matt Lucas will always be the man with the scores, George Dawes, none of that Little Britain wank.

6: Spider-Man 2 (US) Sam Raimi

One of the finest examples of how to follow-up a successful debut and continue a franchise. Of course it all went horribly wrong in Part 3, but everything goes right with Spider-Man 2. It’s bigger and better than the first part, adds a terrific villain in Doc Oc, and all of the surviving players from the first film step it up here. It has everything I want in a blockbuster comic movie, with the added bonus of me actually giving a shit about what happens.

5: House Of Flying Daggers (China/HK) Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou had been making breathtaking movies for many years, but beyond Asian film fans like me and well traveled critics, his films were completely unknown in the west. Then Hero came along and made a lot of waves, presumably riding on the wave of success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. That movie gave him a new status and fame across the globe and House Of Flying Daggers only spread that further. It’s an almost unbelievably beautiful film, spattered with energetic and exuberant martial arts set pieces. The use of colour, of music, puts most films to shame, and the lead trio of Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Zhang Ziyi have rarely been better. At its core it’s a love story, but in many respects the plot is irrelevant – it’s just one of the most beautiful sights to behold.

4: Saw (US) James Wan

Saw was released smack bang in the middle of ‘Torture Porn’ but while that often unfairly vilified, often admittedly vile sub-genre generally focused more on gore and effects, Saw is 100% concerned with plot and the viewer. It wants to trick the viewer and take us on a horrific, twisting journey. While the series would keep it’s increasingly nonsensical twists it would become ever more reliant on gore and unique kills and lose what made the first so special. The story is convoluted without being obtuse, it’s more of a thriller in a horrifying scenario than a straight horror, and it’s bolstered by a great cast. It introduces one of horror’s more engaging serial killers – Jigsaw – and for much of the running time we don’t know what his end-game is, beyond wanting to punish people through the lens of his twisted morality. The film becomes an overlapping game of wits and cat and mouse and we have several intertwining plots – the two men who wake up handcuffed in a room, with only a corpse and a saw between them. The cops hunting Jigsaw. A man holding a woman and child at gunpoint. These are spliced together with various flashbacks and scenes depicting other characters and victims of Jigsaw, and it’s all blended together seamlessly in a swift running time. I can’t say I love the MTV camera thrashing effects which the series is known for, but I’m used enough to those now that I don’t care anymore. For a film which is essentially an extension of one particular scene in Mad Max, it keeps the viewer guessing, and flinching throughout.

3: The Grudge (US) Takashi Shimizu

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I loved the Japanese Grudge (and to a lesser extent the prior TV versions), I loved Ringu. I didn’t like the US Remake The Ring and I therefore wasn’t overly hyped by The Grudge getting a US remake. Over time more promising details emerged – Grudge creator Takashi Shimizu would be directing, Sarah Michelle Gellar would be starring – suddenly I was hyped. Honestly, The Grudge is on par with the Japanese originals, going for a bigger budget, more bombastic version of the exact same story. Most of the original scenes and scares are in place, but what made those effective for me is that there are slight twists on what I expected – a jump scare from a different position or moment – all enough to give me a great time viewing it. Of course I saw this in a packed screening, and people were going nuts at the scares, especially when it was obvious they hadn’t been exposed to the originals.

2: Kill Bill Volume 2 (US) Quentin Tarantino

Volume 2 is distinctly different from Volume 1. Both are great, but both have completely different styles and tones – different enough that they can be enjoyed individually. This one is interesting because it is both a slower burner than the first film, but has the benefit of also racing towards a conclusion. We get more information on Bill and The Bride as individuals, as partners, and we dispense with much of the over the top stylized sequences of the first for a more introspective, near Western style flick. As you would expect, the cast and dialogue are uniformly great, it’s funny, insightful, it has a huge rewatchability for me, and it wraps up in a satisfying way.

1: Dawn Of The Dead (US) Zach Snyder

This one made it onto my Top Movies Of The Decade post, so go read my thoughts there.

Let us know in the comments which movies you would pick!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2005!

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So 2005 is another one of those years where I forgot a bunch of movies I love and didn’t include them in my original list – silly boy. I’m going to update it to 11 – adding a new film which should have knocked Land Of The Dead off the list first time round. The order doesn’t really matter anyway. In my almosts, I’m adding a few of the great films I forgot about too,

Corpse Bride is that rare ‘modern’ Tim Burton movie which reminds us that he can be a great filmmaker when he’s doing his own thing. It’s just creepy enough to make the kids snuggle up to you on the sofa, but not scary enough to give them nightmares. It has the Tim Burton look and style, and is enjoyable for the whole family. The Devil’s Rejects is also fun for the whole family, if your family are inbred murderers of the Texan variety. It’s probably still Rob Zombie’s most enjoyable movie and the distilled prime example of everything he is as a filmmaker – that Southern vibe, that 70s grindhouse look and style, sadistic characters, sick humour, and lashings of violence. It’s a sequel to House Of A Thousand Corpses – but you don’t really need to have seen it first, though it’s good too. A History Of Violence is Cronenberg, so it should be one any film fan’s list regardless. It takes him in a fresh new direction from his body horror roots, acting more like a twisting drama filled with secrets. Viggo Mortensen firmly leaves Aragorn behind with a chilling performance in this one, and everybody else is good.

Serenity was Joss Whedon’s first bash at big screen stardom, a fan-pleasing coda to the short-running Firefly. I’m not as huge a fan of the show as most, but the film is a fun watch. Election is Johnnie To’s finest work, almost up there with Infernal Affairs but focuses more on the criminal underbelly than twists and double-crosses. It’s another must watch once you get into Hong Kong cinema.

11. Noroi (Japan) Koji Shiraishi

Found footage and creepy Japanese long-haired shenanigans – that’s possibly a hard-sell. I know plenty of horror fans who dislike one or both of those sub-genres but usually I persuade them to watch by saying that while found-footage it isn’t run around the woods nausea inducing, and while there are long-haired shenanigans they are not of the Ringu or Ju-On variety. On top of that, the director had a history within the found footage genre to the extent that by the time he made Noroi he was savvy enough to deliver the unexpected, and he would go on to make the notoriously nasty Grotesque. 

Noroi follows a film-maker and documentary expert on the paranormal who is working on his latest show – investigating a curse and a number of people who claim to be embroiled in different types of paranormal activity. We see his capturing of these incidents and over time the word, or name ‘Kagutaba’ comes up repeatedly. Without getting into spoilers, the stories are somehow connected and a sordid history of abortions, theft, murder and all sorts of goodness oozes out. It’s a film which doesn’t go near jump-scares or obvious answers but instead succeeds because it’s so unnerving and goes places where few films dare to tread. It’s also one where you need to watch all the way to the end for some mid-credits extras. If you want a J-Horror film which doesn’t fit the mold and which hardly anyone knows of, you can’t do much better than Noroi. 

10: Land Of The Dead (US) George A Romero

Back to our original Top Ten – I was as hyped as anyone when it was announced that Romero was returning to the genre he created, decades after. So it’s not as good as his first three Dead movies, but it’s still a fun ride, and it’s still political. Moving the action to a more familiar location (of sorts) it’s set in the present day in a world which has learned to survive alongside the walking dead. Quite understandably, the wealthy are still safe from most of the problems the rest of the world face, living in skyscrapers while everyone else slums it on the streets, protected by the military, the average gun-toting civvy, and by a convenient river acting as a moat. Dennis Hopper is one such rich guy, hamming it up in one of his most amusing final roles, while John Leguizamo and Simon Baker play two soldiers who make dangerous journeys in a Mad Max style souped up vehicle for medical supplies and more. Leguizamo shines as the opposing force to Hopper’s white politician and there are a slew of in-jokes and cameos to enjoy. Mostly it’s an excuse to give Romero a big budget and let a master do what he pleases. In the wake of The Walking Dead it does feel a little like 1 series of that show condensed into a single movie, but it’s also a thank you to the fans.

9: Hostel (US) Eli Roth

I feel very much that this is the one film most likely to drop off my list when I get around to seeing more movies from this year. Eli Roth is always hit and miss for me – his humour is usually very misjudged though generally the ideas are sound. Hostel is notorious as a standard bearer for torture porn – an excuse to cut up nameless nobodies for our entertainment. There’s  much to be said in support and opposition to that statement, the obvious political asides being as simple as using the template as a satire on US Imperialism and as an extreme reaction to the torture tactics used by terrorists, military, and government alike. While I won’t say Hostel is clever, I will say it’s not as dumb as most people think. It’s just a bloody good time which takes mainstream US brutality to new levels as it follows a group of Millennial backpackers who are captured in Europe and find themselves as unwilling guinea pigs in some sort of Millionaire-led murder business. Basically, if you have enough money, you can pay to hurt and kill another human in whatever way you please – with our protagonists being the victims. There’s plenty of blood and to Roth’s credit the first half of the movie is spent trying to get to know these people. There’s not a lot to know about them, but at least they’re not standard slasher fodder.

8: A Bittersweet Life (SK) Kim Jee Woon

A Bittersweet Life is another prime example of the sort of boundary pushing film Hollywood used to make but seems to have given up on in lieu of treading increasingly safe and tame waters. The plot of the film itself is safe, tame – a hitman is employed by his boss to kill the boss’s cheating girlfriend, and he refuses. Stuff happens. What raises it is the fact that Kim Jee Woon directs – expanding upon his eye for detail and grim truths as exemplified in his previous film A Tale Of Two Sisters. He has found a niche in capturing breathtakingly beautiful shots against horrifying or violent backdrops and situations, and he rarely cares for conventions. Throw in Lee Byung-hun as the hitman with a change of heart who keeps everything grounded. Like any number of South Korean movies from this period – it’s a must-see.

7: Sympathy For Lady Vengeance (SK) Chan Wook Park

The final entry in Park’s esteemed trilogy is maybe the weakest, probably my least favourite, but still head and shoulders over 90% of what was released this year. It may be the most accomplished and beautiful of the bunch. Like the first two films it is presented as a straightforwards revenge story, but as revenge is never clean there are plenty of twists and complexities. It follows a woman (Lee Young-ae) as a woman just released from prison for a murder she didn’t commit, and her quest to hunt down the real perp. Starting out as a seemingly reformed model prisoner due to newfound spirituality, we slide down her rabbit hole and are dragged along another characteristically grim tale. As with the above entry – this one demands your attention.

6: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (US) Shane Black

Without knowing it for much of my life, Shane Black had been one of my favourite people for most of my life. Predator has been an all time favourite of mine for as long as I can remember but in my younger days, while I knew the character names, I really only remembered Arnie’s name when it came to the cast. Later he would three further all time favourites – The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout, and Last Action Hero. It wasn’t until I started to think about how movies were made and who made them that I began to connect the dots. Of course by that point he had dropped off the face of the planet, seemingly to never return. Then  it was announced he would be directing his first film – this is the result. There’s no way I wasn’t going to at least enjoy this, but it’s a typically incisive, funny, violent story with the usual macho leanings upgraded for a new decade. It’s great to see Val Kilmer back on screen, it was a launch pad for Downey Jr to get back on track. It’s more of a Noir than anything he had done till that point, but his trademark writing keeps it unique as 100% Black.

5: The Descent (UK) Neil Marshall

Neil Marshall had gained my attention a few years earlier with his debut Dog Soldiers – an adventurous werewolf movie with more comparisons to Aliens than any Universal classic. The Descent drops much of the fun of that movie, dispenses with the more macho influences, and instead gives us one of the most tense, atmospheric, and claustrophobic movies in recent years. It’s the best of a spate of similar sounding movies from the period which saw a group of travelers going into some sort of underground world and meeting with various mishaps. Where this one differs is with its reliance on character and emotion – yes it’s a film about being trapped underground, yes it’s a film about the monstrous creatures which you may find once trapped, but it’s also a film about grief and guilt, about escape and resilience, about friendship and loss. Marshall also wisely makes the first half of the movie simply about these women, their fears and motivations, and their struggles to keep it together once they head into hell. It’s a shock then when the first creature does appear, and the film takes on a new edge. My only complaint remains that the cast are too similar in features which can make distinguishing them in the gloom problematic first time around.

4: The 40 Year Old Virgin (US) Judd Apatow

Much of the comedies which have been successful this decade and up till present day haven’t worked for me, either descending or focusing on bro-bullshit or because the dialogue is delivered in this faux unscripted manner. Or simply because they’re not very funny. Judd Apatow sometimes strikes the right balance between juvenile humour and honesty, a blend smoothed out by likable performers and a solid script. The 40 Year Old Virgin is probably my favourite of his movies with plenty of zingers and a more refined Carrell who doesn’t need to do his whole straight man-The Office-shouty shtick. For the most part. Of course the usual Apatow pals show up in supporting roles but the clincher is having Catherine Keener as the object of Carrell’s affections.

3: Revenge Of The Sith (US) George Lucas

For a while it seemed like this was the end – the culmination of Lucas’s grand plan. Since then Disney has released another 15 Star Wars movies and has plans for another 83. Per year. Jokes! Revenge Of The Sith, is easily the best of the prequels. It’s not without its faults, with Padme being reduced to a birth vessel and the whole not being as emotionally powerful as it should have been. I think that’s more of a fault with how the trilogy was laid out, with casting from the outset, and an overburdened script that was never set up to allow us to scream, cheer, and cry. But still, it has some of the best action of the whole series, it does feel like the collapse of good and the success of evil, and Ian McDiarmud deserved an Oscar nomination at the very least for his performance.

2: Sin City (US) Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino

The benchmark for visually unique and authentic comic book movies, Sin City nails the tone, look, and dialogue of Miller’s series – a collage of disturbing and violent and sexually charged intersecting stories which truly does feel like flicking through the ragged pages of a seedy comic you picked up on a whim for a few bucks before the last metro home. Rodriquez and Tarantino both do their thang and pull together a terrific ensemble, including such repulsive and creepy creations as whatever the hell Elijah Wood and Nick Stahl are supposed to be. It’s a mixture of pulp, thriller, action, with obvious twisted noir principles, swept along with a cool, detached pace.

1: Batman Begins (US/UK) Christopher Nolan

It’s in my Top Movies Of The Decade post, so if you want to read my thoughts, go check it.

How Many Of My Films Were In The Top 10 Grossing Of The Year: Two

How Many Of My Films Were Nominated For the Best Picture Oscar: None

Let us know your picks in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Top Ten Films Of 2006!

I’m doing something a little different here – I’m adding another film because I somehow missed it in my original list and given that it’s one of my favourite films of the decade, it should have been there. Silly me. I’m not changing the order – I’m just adding it as Number 11, even though it would probably have been at 3, 4, or 5 if I’d remembered to put it in first time round.

11. Black Book

We begin with the one I’d missed first time around – even though I saw and loved it at release. Sometimes when making these lists it’s easy to forget. Nevertheless, Black Book is Verhoeven’s Magnum Opus. It’s not my favourite from him – given that he’s made Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers etc, but it’s not far off. It’s his return to more legitimate film – not sci-fi – and a return to WWII. It’s just as powerful and violent as the stuff he’s widely known for and in Carice Van Houten he has a powerfhouse lead performance. This deserves to be mentioned alongside Schindler’s List as one of the all time great WWII movies.

10: Paprika (Japan) Satoshi Kon

There’s a case for Satoshi Kon being the greatest animated feature director of all time. He never had the chance to make a bad movie. Well, he had plenty of chances, but each movie he released before his untimely death is unique and brilliant, filled with ideas which others have shamelessly riffed on, and visuals forever etched in your memory. Paprika was his final film, following Tokyo Godfathers (classic), Millennium Actress (excellent), and Perfect Blue (an all time great). Put quite simply – there would be no Inception without Paprika, just like there would be no Black Swan without Perfect Blue. Yet nobody knows these films, in the West at least. It is startling and inventive from top to bottom, yet the story can feel labyrinthine. A crowning achievement by one of the greatest filmmakers the world needs to learn from.

9: The Host (SK) Joon-ho Bong

I’ve always loved monster movies – one of my earliest movie memories is of a Godzilla movie – no idea which one, and something about the mix of special effects and the ability of a film to make me sympathize with a creature I should be terrified by turned me into a big fan of creature features. I’d been watching plenty of South Korean movies since the late 90s, but I believe The Host was the first monster movie I’d seen from the country. Like many Western movies it blends humour with the action and horror, but where is stands out is in the emotion, the dedication to character, and in the numerous gut punches which Hollywood movies typically shy away from. The effects are a little dodgy in places, but putting that aside it’s one of the best movies of its kind.

8: Death Note (Japan) Shusuke Kaneko

I’m not a huge Manga or Anime person, so any time a live action movie comes out based on one or the other, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. I watch the films on their own merits, and I typically only watch those with a premise which sounds interesting or from a director I enjoy, or if it features some actor I like. When I saw this starred Tetsuya Fujiwara of Battle Royale fame my interest was piqued. Then I read the synopsis – a student finds a book with the power to kill anyone whose name is written in its pages, and decides to use that power to make the world a better place. The book thing sounded a little YA and silly, but that moral core – killing anonymously to make the world ‘better’ sounded ripe for goodness. What I didn’t count on was a giant fuck-off animated apple eating angel/demon thing lurking in the background. Yeah… it’s a strange hybrid film.

The film, and the series steps away from its premise to become a game of wits between the holder of the book and a brilliant and eccentric (and teenage?) detective called L. It twists like a bizarre noir thriller as private and personal and public struggles collide and intertwine and Light – the holder of the Death Note – seeks to consolidate his power without losing touch. It was more enjoyable than I was expecting, and the rest of the series is pretty good too.

7: Idiocracy (US) Mike Judge

What is it about MIke Judge? His stuff is always entertaining – Beavis And Butthead was one of my favourite shows growing up, King Of The Hill remains sorely underrated, Office Space is the definite workplace movie, and Idiocracy – clever at release – seems increasingly prescient with each passing month. It stars Luke (I’m not Owen) Wilson as a military librarian (is that a thing?) who is selected for a brief suspended animation experiment alongside a prostitute. As always happens with these things, they are forgotten and left there for 500 years, waking in a future where materialism and advertising are the only things which matter, and society has been dumbed down to such extremes that they try to water plants with Gatorade. The satire is on point, but the humour wide enough that everyone can get a laugh out of it, and the visuals are surprisingly unique. With endearing performances and plenty of laughs, it’s one of the best comedies of the decade.

6: Children Of Men (US/UK) Alfonso Cuaron/Pan’s Labyrinth Guillermo Del Toro.

First time around I somehow missed Pan’s Labyrinth – unacceptable. I’ve slapped it in alongside Children Of Men for no reason. It probably remains Del Toro’s finest work, detailing his love of fantasy and horror to heart-rending extremes, placing the story in a very real time and place against a frightening backdrop. It features some of the best creatures in modern cinema and some of the most knuckle-gobbling set-pieces which never fail to set your heart on edge. As well as being brilliantly acted by the young heroine Ivana Baquero and her wicked step-father Sergi Lopez. One of the easiest ways to get people into non-American Cinema is to stick this on.

Children Of Men brings an oft-ignored authenticity to dystopian fiction – it looks just like our world today, shunted a couple of steps to the right. With the wrong steps taken today, you can imagine ourselves in a world just like it in the future. Clive Owen is never better, and the action has a gritty realism to it – anyone who has witnessed or been part of a riot, a car crash, a skirmish, or outright war will have familiarity with the pulsating set-pieces here. Such incidents are not clean, they are not lived through step by step – they happen around you, absurdly, leaping at you unexpectedly, and the best you can do is keep your head down, react instinctively, and run. It’s another Cuaron masterwork.

5: The Hills Have Eyes (US) Alexandre Aja

Who would have thought it – a remake of a filthy Wes Craven classic by some French guy – would not only be better than the original, but one of the best horror movies of the era? There are some caveats – The Hills Have Eyes original isn’t that well thought of and in truth it’s not a particularly special movie. And this isn’t just some French guy, but the director behind the glorious High Tension from a couple of years earlier. His vision for The Hills Have Eyes doesn’t stray very far from the original at all – it’s still the time honoured story of a family outing gone wrong, of the wrong road taken, and of the lengths suburban white folks will go to for survival, for revenge. It’s wonderfully brutal, excessively so, with a a streak of black (blood red?) humour throughout. Crucially, it has the bigger budget and a more accomplished cast behind it. It’s more fun than people remember and is something easy for a weirdo like me to stick on and chill out to.

4: The Departed (US) Martin Scorsese

When I first heard this was announced I thought ‘cool, Scorsese is doing a trilogy’. Then I heard it was actually taking elements from the three Infernal Affairs movies and squeezing them into one movie, and I was apprehensive. America’s recent attempts at remaking Asian classics, usually in the horror genre, had not gone well but if anyone had a good shot and doing it well then it was Martin Scorsese. Turns out I had no grounds for concern because it’s at least on par, if not much better than the originals. Something about having the familiar cast of faces and having it on more familiar cultural territory lends a different vibe and I find that I watch this one more than I go back to the originals. With a stellar cast including Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Di Caprio, Farmiga, Sheen, Winstone, it’s the crime movie fans had been waiting for since Goodfellas.

3: Apocalypto (US/Mexico) Mel Gibson

How is this film still so little known? I don’t get it. People clearly must be put off by the language, by the setting but Apocalypto is easily more thrilling and action packed than any number of Marvel movies and is equal to the achievements of Braveheart and The Passion Of The Christ. I much prefer this to those two movies – it shaves things down to the bare essentials; a tribesman is captured by a powerful cult and taken to their city to be sacrificed, leaving behind his heavily pregnant wife and child in a pit steadily filling with water. Not only does he have to escape and overcome insurmountable numbers, but he has to return home to rescue his family before they drown. It’s a pedal to the metal chase movie, a mixture of First Blood and Mad Max, which just happens to be set hundreds of years ago in the South American jungles. It’s wonderful, and you owe yourself a watch.

2: Borat (US/UK) Larry Charles

I believe Borat made my Decade movie list, so I’m not going to talk much more about it here. It’s lung-collapsingly funny, that should be enough

1: Casino Royale (US/UK/Czech/Germany) Martin Campbell

Same as number 2, this made my decade list, so go read that for more info. I love Bond, and this is one of the best.

Let us know your favourites in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2007!

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Lets begin as always with the films which just missed out on making the Top Ten. 300 took one of my favourite stories from all of the myths and legends and historical stories I read in my youth and gave it the full Zack Snyder/Frank Miller treatment. It wasn’t the first time this story had been told on the big screen, but this is an adaptation of Miller’s comic book version – as such it takes many liberties – but at its core it’s still about a relatively small number of warriors making a final stand against an overwhelming force. I’ve always loved stories like this, and films like this – Zulu, The Two Towers would be the most obvious ones until this dropped. It also works as a siege movie – Night Of The Living Dead, Assault On Precinct 13 come to mind. At the time, Snyder was fresh off the Dawn Of The Dead remake and Miller had done Sin City – both of which I loved, so it seemed like a match made in heaven. It’s everything I thought it was going to be, but with the macho and the visuals ramped up to 12. It’s just sillier than I hoped it would be – too much CG nonsense, stupid love-plots, and the dialogue doesn’t hit like in Sin City. Still, it delivers in the big men killing other big men with big swords stakes, plus it looks great.

This year saw every critic and movie goer falling into the No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood camps. As tends to be the case with Oscar hype movies, I put them on the back-burner and don’t watch for a couple of years after release when the hype has fallen away. I’m in the Coen camp in this respect – There Will Be Blood was all about the Lewis performance for me and honestly not a lot else. It’s obviously a great movie, directed within an inch of its life by Anderson, but for me it doesn’t amount to much. I feel no need to revisit it, and it doesn’t tell me anything. No Country For Old Men I rank a little higher, but I’m not some huge fan of it either. I recognise it more for its greatness rather than how much I think about it and want to watch it again. It’s the movie I’d want to rewatch least out of any in this post, but is elevated by numerous terrific performances.

Eastern Promises continued the David Cronenberg renaissance from A History Of Violence as he teamed up once again with Viggo Mortensen for another trip into non-body horror related thriller territory. It still has some notably brutal scenes – most memorably in a bath house – and also features Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel. It’s moody and shows an uncharacteristic restraint from a director known more for the outlandish. Inside is another shocking example of French Extremism – don’t watch it if you’re pregnant. It’s, on the surface, a home invasion movie with a heavily pregnant woman coming under attack from another woman but to say anymore regarding the plot would be spoiler territory. It has two alarmingly good lead performances, and it is pretty brutal. Superbad is the cream of the crop of Noughties Apatow/Rogan/Hill brand of comedy – it’s just a great hang-out movie and feels like the ‘next generation’s’ American Pie.

10: Black Snake Moan (US) Craig Brewer

Black Snake Moan feels like one of those films which is still waiting to be discovered. It got the wrong sort of attention at the time of release due to some sexualised out of context shots of Christina Ricci and the use of a chain by Samuel L Jackson (both of whom deserved Oscar nods). The film definitely feels like it was marketed incorrectly when in truth it’s more like an offboat drama focused on the relationship between Ricci and Jackson, and Justin Timberlake as Ricci’s boyfriend. It has elements of Brewer’s style which viewers of Hustle And Flow will be familiar with and it’s also very funny. It’s a film about a nymphomaniac who is beaten and left for dead, and found by a bitter old religious man with a penchant for the blues who decides to rehabilitate her. It probably will take a very specific kind of person to be pulled in by that synopsis, but with Ricci and Jackson on top form, it is highly recommended.

9: Sweeny Todd (US/UK) Tim Burton

Regular readers will know by now that I’m not a musical fan. But I am a Tim Burton and Johnny Depp fan – one of the finest cinematic partnerships since the 90s. While Burton had been hit and miss for a while, Depp was at the height of his powers and could do no wrong. I remember going in to the film expecting it to be a dark romance, and being familiar enough with the origins of the story that seemed reasonable. What I didn’t expect was that it would be so grim, so bleak. Even Burton’s darkest fantasies tend to have a happy ending, a glimmer of hope, but this has nothing of the sort. I was a little disoriented walking out of the screening first time and that feeling has never really left. I don’t have much to say about the songs – at a push I could recall one or two melodies off the top of my head – but the performances are universally terrific. It’s not a Burton film I revisit often, but it is one of his best.

8: Grindhouse (US) Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino

No cinemas near me offered the full Grindhouse experience – instead I had to see the two films individually. Planet Terror is my favourite of the two and I only saw Death Proof a few years later. Both are dirty, grimy, shlocky and peppered with the sort of violence, character types, and dialogue we know and love from Rodriguez and Tarantino. Planet Terror is basically a romance in the middle of a zombie outbreak, featuring memorable turns from Michael Biehn, Rose McGowan, and Freddy Rodriquez, with Death Proof being a showcase for stunt driving, car chases, and Kurt Russell. Stick on any film by these two directors and you’re always in for a good time, even when they’re doing little more than paying homage to their favourites.

7: Angel-A (France) Luc Besson

I still don’t really understand why Angel-A is not talked about. You take any best of list from this year and you take any person’s favourite Luc Besson movie list – this won’t be on either. It’s wonderful, both unlike anything Besson has ever done yet right in line with what he always does. It’s almost like his upturned version of Amelie. The moment I saw the poster – one of my favourites of all time – and I was sold. Based on the poster alone there was no way I wasn’t going to enjoy the film. I mistakenly went in thinking it was another sci-fi film, the lady towering over the man some sort of hulking feminine cyborg, but no – it’s just a romance between a complete loser and a gorgeous woman several leagues above his class. The title does give away a certain fantasy element, but that only loosely comes into play later.

Jamel Debbouze plays Andre, a pathological liar and loser who decides the world would be better of without him – and that he would be better off dead than being chased by the thugs he constantly owes money. As he prepares to kill himself by leaping off one of the many bridges over the Seine, he sees a woman getting their first. After saving her life, she pledges herself to him and they travel over Paris trying to sort out his various debts. It’s a consistently funny, charming, and visually stunning film – probably the most visually impressive work Besson has completed outside of The Fifth Element, except here there is a much lesser focus on effects. It always wows me when I watch it and it always surprises me that no-one knows it exists.

6: 30 Days Of Night (US) David Slade

Another movie based off a comic I’ll never read, this has a great premise – there is a town, little more than an outpost, so far north that once it reaches a certain part of the year it doesn’t see sunlight for a month. So? So throw in vampires. That’s enough for me, but also add Ben Foster, Josh Hartnett, and Melissa George and we’re up another few notches. Then add the fact that it’s actually good – tense, bloody, and with vampires which feel truly demonic, animal, and we have a winner. David Slade went from some of my favourite music videos to Hard Candy, then to this. Then to the Twilight franchise, but we don’t talk about that. There weren’t many good or even interesting vampire movies in this period – 30 Days Of Night manages to be both.

5: Paranormal Activity (US) Oren Peli

Well, I had to. Say what you will about the franchise, or the trend that it started, but when you talk about the most important movies of the decade and the most important horror movies of all time – you have to talk about Paranormal Activity. Made for basically nothing, it grossed more money than The Thing, Halloween, and A Nightmare On Elm street combined (three of my favourite movies ever). It was nothing short of a phenomenon, using effective marketing and a simple premise to maximum effect – a couple notice unusual phenomenon happening inside their home and decide to place cameras around the house hoping to catch something supernatural. That’s it, and yet it spawned a series which you just know is going to be continually remade over the next hundred years. Personally, I think they perfected the formula in the second film which is essentially a remake while also acting as a prequel/sequel. But it all started here. Say what you will about the annoying characters and the stupid decisions they make, the performances, and the scares which to many amount to nothing more than a period of stillness and calm followed by a sudden jolt, but it’s one of the most effective films I’ve ever seen in a theatre at making the audience freak the fuck out and for that alone I’ll always love it.

4: 28 Weeks Later (UK/Spain) Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

I love the original 28 Days Later. It’s fun, inventive (even if it did rip off one of my own stories), and tows the line between nihilism and hope perfectly. 28 Weeks Later catches hope in bed with your neighbour, beheads it, and feeds the corpse to the neighbour’s kid. Fresnadillo has only made three films and they’re all gold – this, Intruders, and Intacto. It doesn’t relate to the characters of the first movie but rather expands the universe to show what was happening around the rest of the country before, during and after.

It begins with one of those most pulsating, heart-pounding intros I’ve ever seen – Robert Carlyle abandoning his wife when his house is attacked by hordes of the infected before running over hill and dale towards a boat. That shot of him sprinting over the fields with a number of the creatures gnashing close behind him is genuinely chilling and sets much of the tone for the rest of the film. That tone is unremittingly grim. Carlyle is great as a cowardly jerk and the main child protagonists manage to not be annoying. Aside from that opening, there are some memorable scenes – Carlyle coming face to face with someone later in the film and of course the helicopter mowing down the infected scene is gleefully silly. I understand that people will always choose the first movie over this, but don’t sleep on this one either – it’s a fun, dirty ride.

3: The Mist (US) Frank Darabont

I think by this point most people know how this movie ends. I won’t spoil it anyway, but it has gone down with some amount of infamy over the years. Everything up to that point is in many ways like the perfect horror film for me – it’s a seige movie so we have a disparate group of survivors holed up in a single location, trapped in by a mysterious, murderous force. For the King fanboy there are tonnes of crossover references, most notably with The Dark Tower, and the cast is uniformly great – it’s like a dry run for The Walking Dead before that show started killing off everyone remotely interesting and leaving us with a cast I could maybe name three characters out of. As King stories go, it’s very simple – there has been a storm, a dad and his sun go down to a local store for supplies, but a sudden all encompassing mist sweeps in and traps them inside with other townspeople. It soon becomes clear that something is in The Mist, and it’s hungry.

That’s all you need for an enjoyable, easy to dismiss movie. King and Darabont spend more time on the characters and the threat and the mystery to raise the film so that it becomes unforgettable. Tensions rise, differences are exposed, factions are drawn, and lines are crossed and before long it’s not only whatever is outside causing the danger, but the person over in the soup aisle. All of this makes that ending more effective. My only complaint is the ropy nature of some of the effects – good ideas and creature designs, but let down by cartoon effects. Apparently watching in the originally planned Black and White counters a percentage of this issue.

2: Enchanted (US) Kevin Lima

There’s really no reason why I should like this – it’s a Musical for a start. But I first saw this on a flight to (or from) Chicago (or possibly Mexico…) and I just loved everything about it. It was Disney, so it probably wasn’t going to be that bad, and the idea of an animated cliched Disney Princess coming into ‘the real world’ was fascinating – there’s so much they can do with a premise like that. Plus I recognised Amy Adams from Buffy so that helped. Within a few minutes I knew I would love it. Adams is fantastic, everyone plays up wonderfully to their tropes, Patrick Dempsey and Rachel Covey are perfectly cast as your typical work-obsessed single father and starry-eyed kid, and the whole thing is just one of the most utterly charming films you’ll ever see. Most people say the same thing about Mary Poppins or The Wizard Of Oz or something, but this is my version of those films. I shouldn’t like this, as a cynical horror fan who wants everyone on screen to die or go through horrific trauma, but there’s no getting away from how lovely this is. I even love most of the songs, and it’s a soundtrack which is in regular rotation for car journeys. It’s every bit as good and necessary as the best of Disney’s Animated Features.

1: Rec (Spain) Jaume Balaguero/Paco Plaza

While France was pumping out more and more extreme, troubling, and gore-filled movies Spain wanted in on the fun. Rec is perfect on multiple levels – a technical marvel, filled with effectively jumpscares and genuine horror created by building upon its premise and setting. The whole Rec series is worth watching, but the first is the best. It’s what I wanted the Resident Evil movies to be. It raised the bar for found-footage/POV horror, and nothing has really matched it since.

The film begins as a reporter and her cameraman are filming a documentary about a local Fire Crew – spending a night with them, hoping to catch them in again and show the dangers of the job. The crew gets a call to investigate a screaming woman seemingly trapped in her apartment so the reporter and cameraman tag along. What at first seems like a routine investigation turns violent as the screaming woman attacks. As the group tries to work out what is happening, the apartment block is shutdown from the outside by military people in hazmat suits – the documentary team, fire crew, police, and other residents are trapped inside with what appear to be people turned violent due to some zombie like infection.

Rather than having static placed cam or overly shaky cam, Rec makes more use of light – or the absence of it – and the genuine confusion and tangible fear of the characters to illicit emotion from the viewer. It’s more reminiscent of real world news stories of reporters in war zones, the ones where the reporter and cameraman are hunkered down while a gun battle goes on in the background, or running from the scene of an explosion. Even though it gets supernatural and then spreads the Rec mythology wings in its final scenes, it’s that realism which marks it out from other found footage films. The proximity to danger, the claustrophobia, the sudden violence – it all adds up to provide one of the finest horror experiences of the decade.

Let us know what you think of the films above and what your favourite films of 2007 are!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2008!

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2008 was a great year for cinema – quite a few of my picks here made my end of decade post, and a number of the more obvious choices will appear on many critics’ best of lists. Lets get the almosts out of the way first:

Son Of Rambow is an early Will Poulter showcase – he continues to be a star in the making but hasn’t quite caught on the way he deserves to have yet. It’s a funny and charming coming of age film about two friends – both outcasts in their own way, and from different social backgrounds as tends to be the way with these films. The hook is that they’re both Rambo fans and decide to go make their own homage movie. The best moments are just the boys arsing about trying to do stunts and make an action movie. Director Garth Jennings would go on to make Sing but is perhaps best known in Britain for his various comedy performances and involvement with some of the biggest names. You know he’s respected when the likes of Edgar Wright, Jessica Hynes, Adam Buxton, and Eric Sykes all pop up here. Wall-E is, well you should know it by now. I didn’t love it first time around but came to enjoy it more when watching it with my kids later. A film of two distinct halves – the first being Wall-E alone on Earth and the second an ever more realistic vision of a future where we’re all fattyies 100% reliant upon technology and entertainment. Fred Willard even pops up later, so extra points there.

Equally charming is another Ghibli treat – Ponyo is the delightful tale of a boy and his… fish. A magic fish of course. It’s basically The Little Mermaid but without the forced romance and drag witch. It’s Miyazaki so you know you’re in for a beautiful, heart-melting experience. It’s just a sweet story with enough imagination to charm viewers of any age. The Informers on the other hand is not about charm. It’s all about disgust, malaise, debauchery. And it’s wonderful. I almost had this in my top ten, and in truth I feel like adding it in there instead of number ten, but why bother. I don’t really understand why this film has flown under the radar. For the sleaze balls you have any number of Amber Heard nude scenes, and for everyone else it’s a Bret Easton Elis story directed by the guy who made Buffalo Soldiers. If you need more, and I get why many will, just check out the cast – Brad Renfro, Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder, Lou Taylor Pucci, Mickey Rourke, Chris Isaak, Rhys Ifans. The film received almost universal shrugs and derision with most people completely missing out on the fact that it is supposed to be one big nightmare – a satire on vapid existence, on wealth, and not so much the pursuit of fame or money – just the complete lack of meaning behind it all. It might not be for everyone, but it honestly deserves for recognition.

10: Johnny Mad Dog (France/Liberia) Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

Johnny Mad Dog is the film that I kept saying ‘Don’t you mean Johnny Mad Dog’ to when people began talking about Beast Of No Nation. It’s almost the same film – the main difference being the lack of an Idris Elba. If I can say anything to convince you to watch it, it’s just that – Beasts Of No Nation, but earlier. If anything it’s more gritty, more brutal, and the fact that almost all of it focuses on the kids makes it all the more upsetting. There’s also a definite sense of the bizarre given some of the antics the child soldiers get up to – not to mention their costumes.

9: Pontypool (Canada) Bruce McDonald

Even though I’ll watch any old rubbish horror movie, it’s the ones with an interesting premise that pull me in and stick with me. Pontypool has one of the most intriguing you’ll ever hear – a disease (?) is spreading and seems to be passed on via language – certain words – and those who succumb become slightly more sentient versions of the 28 Days Later creatures – manic, violent, and equally likely to kill themselves as batter you to death. On its own that’s enough to get me invested, but throw in the setting – an isolated radio station where a late night DJ and his skeleton staff suspect something is amiss as they  receive unusual calls. It’s still fresh now, and it plays admirably with its low budget and central ideas.

8: Cloverfield (US) Matt Reeves

The big surprise of the year, though looking back the biggest surprise seems to be that everyone was surprised by it. Buoyed by an excellent marketing run, Cloverfield also uses the hand-held fashion of the time to craft a literal Escape From New York. My problem with the film was always the characters – there isn’t anyone here you give a shit about and if we’d been allowed to feel an ounce of affinity with them this would probably be higher up my list. The story is simple – something crash lands in New York City and begins attacking everyone and everything. It’s some sort of gargantuan alien creature scene only in brief glimpses on news reports and through flashes between skyscrapers. I have zero problem with the shaky cam – this is the perfect film for it even though the whole ‘I have to document this’ excuse falls apart pretty quickly. The shaky cam heightens to war-torn confusion of it all – people don’t have any idea what is happening in the middle of a battlefield – you’re only concern is getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible, and that’s what we see. It’s a rollercoaster ride, wisely helped by the inclusion of smaller aliens and while it doesn’t live up to the promise, in reality could we have expected much better?

7: Rambo (US/Thailand) Sylvester Stallone

Who’d have thought it – the return of John Rambo? And who’d have expected it to actually be both good and faithful? When Stallone wants to, he can still pull it out of the bag. This is just ridiculous carnage – an 80s Action movie with an 80s Action hero, but with the violence blown up to 11. The plot is almost irrelevant – Rambo is helping out a bunch of missionaries who get caught up in an Asian war zone – but at least it isn’t completely vapid. The supporting cast contribute well – Julie Benz and Graham McTavish the obvious standouts. Stallone keeps the pace ticking along until the brutal climax and there’s simply something comforting about seeing an old character resurrected from your childhood, whether they’re standing on stage, swinging a lightsaber, or in this case, ripping out throats with their bare hands.

6: Ip Man (HK) Wilson Yip

From ripping out throats, to jabbing them 48 times in one second. Donnie Yen has been a beast for at least thirty years now, but the Ip Man series may be his crowning achievement. Beyond being a showcase for his badassery, and beyond hitting that personal sweet spot for me of being both a martial arts movie and telling a (sort of) history of Bruce Lee, you have Wilson Yip – the director who seems to know how to get the best performance from Yen. Yip and Yen have teamed multiple times and have a shared understanding of choreography and character to the extent that, and I know it’s a cliche, but that watching the fights are more akin to watching a dance – with the added benefit of it not being a fucking dance. The fights in Ip Man are so painstakingly practised and directed that each one is a thing of beauty – all heightened by the fact that we come to care for the guy and his family.

Ip Man is a martial arts teacher in a very large pool – at this place and point at time it seemed like every street in the vast city has multiple competing martial arts schools – each with their own styles, fighters, masters, and rivalry. Ip Man stands out by being almost invisible – he isn’t interested in getting into disputes or proving he’s the best, but simply wants to train, learn, and live out a peaceful existence. It’s not necessarily a unique story when it comes to the genre, but in Yen we get a sympathetic human we can stand behind rather than the standard faceless pile of fists and feet. When the Japanese invades, Ip and his family lose their home and business and he is forced into mining to make ends meet. It turns out that the Japanese are offering additional food to the Chinese if they take part in unsanctioned fights – except that the Japanese military have been killing some of the Chinese fighters when they lose. Ip is understandably enraged and wipes out a number of the Japanese fighters which attracts the attention of their General.

Plot is often secondary in Martial Arts movies which generally means ridicule for the more discerning critic. Placing this in a ‘genuine historical setting’ (seen from the Chinese side) helps matters and this becomes a standard enough story of heroism, patriotism, glory, and family values that you’ve likely seen before in Chinese Martial Arts. But it’s the fights, the nuances, and the performances which raise this above the myriad others. I’d probably recommend starting here for anyone interested in Donnie Yen and it’s a high budget, classy starting point for anyone keen to gateway into the genre. As someone who has seen the dregs on offer, this is light-years ahead and offers incredible, breathless action.

5: Let The Right One In (Sweden) Tomas Alfredson

So far the horror films on my list this year haven’t been out and out scare-fests, but have rather been subtle, introspective, or done something new with an old favourite. Let The Right One In captures each of those points – taking the vampire mythology and offering new twists, yet makes it a character piece, a romance of sorts, a coming of age story, and drip-feeds us dread, unsavoury pedophilia subtext, while being shot through the lens of abandoned beauty. This was one of the first modern horror movies which truly cared about how it looked and sounded and how both were portrayed – the current wave of so called elevated horror all owe something to Let The Right One In.

Like Ip Man, this is something of a sweet spot movie for me. I love vampire movies and horror, and I love coming of age films – especially ones which feel genuine, ones which I can relate to. I didn’t know too many vampires growing up, but isolation, bullying, looking for close friendships are things I know all too well as do many others. The film downplays much of the horror and mythology and the darker elements of the novel and focuses instead on the friendship and loneliness and need. Oskar is a boy with no friends, no confidence, bullied into fantasizing about bloody revenge. Eli is a vampire who needs to feed and tasks a familiar with killing on her behalf so that she can keep living. For much of the film Oskar doesn’t know the truth, and even when he does their established friendship works, even if it does take on some sour, manipulative notes. Hell, who wouldn’t want an all powerful vampire in their corner?

The film doesn’t take a jumpscare approach, rather relying on the horror inherent in its ideas – needing to kill, needing to protect a killer, bullying, abuse. It all looks gorgeous too – there’s something wonderful about snowy nights and landscapes on screen, about quiet moments shattered by sudden violence. It’s a horror movie for critics to appreciate, for non-horror viewers to get on board with even though they’ll brand it a thriller, and it should of course please horror nerds. With two great lead performances, a career defining directorial from Alfredson, and shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema who earned Her, Interstellar, and Dunkirk from this.

4: Departures (Japan) Yojiro Takita

As the 2000s went on I began to side more with South Korean cinema than Japanese. After the J-Horror bubble burst, only the obvious big hitters like Koreeda and Miike and Sono were repeatedly bringing the goods. Departures came out of the blue, surprising everyone to win the Best Foreign Oscar this year over some front-runners. It, and the three movies remaining on this list are covered in more detail in my end of decade favourites list. It’s a film which caught me off guard and may do the same for you – the director I only knew from the decent enough Hiroyuki Sanada vehicle Onmyiji, and out of the cast it was really only Ryoko Hirosue I knew – from her days as a Nintendo model and Wasabi. It’s tender, heart-tugging, funny, and has one of the best soundtracks of the decade.

3: Martyrs (France) Pascal Laugier

So, America had the whole Torture Porn market cornered. Then Spain came along and said ‘hold my scalpel’. Then France beheaded the lot of them with a baguette and farted in their general direction. There’s a reason why there is a whole movement called French Extremism, and Martyrs is the peak. It’s just brutal, exhausting, and difficult to get through yet utterly compelling, impossible to forget, and once its over you know you’re going to be drawn back to it again to experience the twists once more. It made my end of decade list, so read more there. Quite simply, if you’re a horror fan you need to see it. If you’re not… it might put you off the genre forever or become one of your all time favourites. There are those horror movies which even the most ardent anti-horror film critic can’t deny – this is one of them.

2: The Dark Knight (US/UK) Christopher Nolan

It’s one of the biggest, most popular, and best movies of the decade – of the last two decades. You know it, you love it.

1: Love Exposure (Japan) Sion Sono

There are some movies you want everyone to see. Each of us finds a small handful of movies each year that no-one seems to know about and you tell all of your friends and co-workers and anyone you can get your hands on because, dammit, those movies need to be seen. Love Exposure is near the top of that list for me. It’s just perfect and is everything I love about film, somehow. It’s… not really anything. It’s not horror, it’s not action… it is a bit of comedy, a bit of drama… it’s just a bit of everything shat into a blender and squirted out into a four hour long cup, whatever the hell that means. Sion Sono, like other madcap hero Takashi Miike, does whatever he wants it seems. There’s just no way any other person on the face of the planet at any other time in the history of the world could make the films these guys do. Sono in this case has dealt with suicides and cults in Suicide Club, revenge in Hazard, comedy in Into A Dream, horror in Exte, drama in Land Of Hope, musical in Tokyo Tribe, and brutal thrillers in Cold Fish and Guilty Of Romance. Love Exposure trumps them all, with its panty obsessed fetish ninjas, budgie-shouldered cult leaders, daddy-pleasing pervs, child-slapping religious nutcases, and all the rest. I suppose in the end it’s a romance – my kind of romance. It should have been at the Oscars for Best Picture, Sono should have been down for best director, and Hikari Mitsushima should have won Best Actress. But who cares about awards – if you love Cinema, even if you have a passing interest in movies, you have an obligation to see Love Exposure. I know most people hate it when someone one really pushes a movie onto you – I get that too – but believe me when I say that your life will be better with this in it.

Let me know your favourites of 2008!

Nightman’s Favourite Films Of 2010

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Okay, okay. You asked for it, you get it. Maybe no-one asked for it, but tough – you’re getting it anyway. I mentioned before that from 2010 onward I haven’t seen as many movies as previous years and there hasn’t been as much time for them to sink in to my being to say I truly love them. What that means is that these lists will likely omit a lot of great films purely because I haven’t seen them yet, and it may feel more like a simple collection of films I just happen to have seen and didn’t hate. In ten years time I imagine these lists will be different, while my lists of previous decades will likely be identical. If you’re curious as to why I’ve missed something – stick it in the comments and I’ll let you know! I’m only posting 2010 for now, then I’ll go back and redo all the previous years before I publish 2011 onward.

First, the almosts – Predators. Animal Kingdom. Tomorrow When The World Began. Predators was, for me at least, the long awaited sequel. I love the Predator franchise more than most and I even enjoyed both AVP movies – rubbish as they were. Predator is a Top Ten all timer for me and Predator 2 is decent. Predators has a great opening and some strong set-pieces, along with a strong cast featuring Adrian Brody and Alice Braga. The whole Topher Grace thing was predictable and the Lawrence Fisbourne angle ultimately goes nowhere, but it’s a neat twist on the whole ‘group of strangers working together to overcome a mutual enemy’ thing. Animal Kingdom is a film deserving a spot on any Best Of 2010 list – a supremely acted and directed crime thriller, with Jacki Weaver well deserving of that Academy nomination. Tomorrow When The War Began keeps things in Australia – it’s very YA and while I enjoyed it more at first watch than I have since, it’s still a better version of Red Dawn than the Red Dawn remake was. Plus, I’ll take any excuse to see Caitlin Stasey on the big screen – still waiting for her to go over big time.

11: Inception

It’s not the masterpiece people say it is. It’s unquestionably a great movie, inventive, well acted, brilliantly crafted. But man does it go overboard on the exposition, and it thinks it’s smarter and more groundbreaking than it actually is. Mostly it feels like a cloying teacher’s pet begging for validation from teaching staff. It’s okay – we already understand you’re good, just do your thing and we’ll still enjoy it, stop being a tryhard. Still, it sells certain constructs and philosophies to the masses who may have not been aware of such things or does it in a non-stale way. More than any other movie Nolan had directed to that point, Inception does that strange thing where scenes are edited together without the soundtrack changing, making minutes upon minutes feel like one extended scene or a montage, even though it isn’t. But lets focus on the many positives – it has a number of the best set-piece scenes you’ll ever see which are almost on par with the first time you saw The Matrix, improved by the fact that the technology used enhances the idea of what is happening on screen – the effects are integral to the plot, not just a bunch of fancy explosions. The soundtrack is great, the script is peppered with one-liners, and it all looks glorious. Like many of the best films of all time – it’s the fans who piss me off and tarnish the experience.

10: Kick-ass

The highest profile of a number of movies which came out around this time with a similar premise – what if a regular person just decided to suit up and fight crime like a superhero? Super is the other notable one – it’s great fun too – but Kick-ass has the budget and street cred and a number of memorable performances. You have Nic Cage on top form, Mark Strong in yet another villainous role, but the breakout stars are Aaron Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz as two (sort-of) normal people with a penchant for justice, however violent its pursuit may be. There is plenty of fun action and humour, with just a touch of the psychology behind the decisions each character makes, and the cocktail of style and violence is perfect – much better than that Scott Pilgrim mess.

9: The Expendables

Of course if you want violent action, you go back to the 80s Action heroes heyday. In 2010 a project which had been discussed for years, and which seemed an impossibility, finally came to fruition – a film which tried to squeeze all of the biggest action movie stars into a single story. That means we have Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham all arsing about with guns larger than most people’s arms and blasting away bad guys inside a generic ‘stop the warlord’ plot. As you would expect, it’s a lot of fun. It’s silly, but the cast all have a great time and it’s a film made purely for the maniacs like me who grew up watching them. Of course it’s a pity some of the stars are reduced to cameos, but we get Terry Crewes and Randy Couture filling in admirably, Stone Cold as a henchman, Eric Roberts as Eric Roberts, and Mickey Rourke mumbling his way through an emotional macho speech. Plus Charisma Carpenter on the big screen. It would have been nice to have seen this ten years earlier – it would have been nice to have even more stars involved – it would have been nice to have a plot more in line with something like Predator than Raw Deal, but it still happened, they still made a franchise out of it, and it;s still a lot of fun.

8: Kaboom

I’ve been a Greg Araki fan ever since I first saw The Doom Generation in my late teens. Its mix of sex, violence, humour, and post Pulp Fiction style was infused with a manic nihilism and tongue in cheek awareness that felt unlike anything else. Naturally, nobody else had heard of it and few even now know what it is. Since then he followed it up with further well-received, under-seen films with big name actors. Kaboom takes the manic qualities of The Doom Generation and ramps them up tenfold. It’s lighter in tone, more obviously a comedy, yet also a sex-filled jaunt into Science Fiction. It’s bizarre and it has a terrific ending. It’s a difficult one to summarize – it follows a University student who appears to be bisexual who has been having strange dreams which suggest he is ‘the chosen one’. We follow his sexual antics (and those of his friends) and he keeps noticing people he first saw in his dreams, in his everyday life. Plot-wise, that’s really all you need to know. But the movie moves like it’s on a combo of Ecstasy and Speed, Dekker is great in the lead role, and Juno Temple delivers the sort of performance which is deserving of an Oscar nod. It’s never going to happen for a film like this, but it put her on the map.

7: Tangled

It’s Disney’s Rapunzel. At this point it is still overshadowed by Frozen and the more ‘political’ Pixar movies, but it’s just as wonderful as those. Great songs, strong characters, lots of laughs, and a charming story – everything you want from Disney.

6: Ip Man 2

Most sequels tend to be an example of diminishing returns and the same is often more true in Martial Arts. With Ip Man 2 we get everything we loved in the original and more; more fights, more emotion, more Yen. Keeping the same cast and director as the first film it follows Ip Man as he moves to Hong Kong and sets up a new school. Sammo Hung shows up. It’s wonderful. It eschews the nonsensical fraud editing of Hollywood action and allows the camera to catch every movement of every fight, making it all the more breathtaking. It still looks glorious with a gorgeous vision of period Hong Kong and a dedicated attention to detail. For fans of Martial Arts movies, the Ip Man series is like the Holy Grail, and part 2 may be the best of the bunch.

5: The Last Exorcism

I believe I mentioned this in my review of the film many years ago, but it deserves to be said again; Ashley Bell deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance here, if not the win. She is extraordinary, easily on a par with some of the more critically popular horror performances – Kathy Bates, Toni Colette, Jodie Foster. Unfortunately the film is of a trashier, cheaper sort than others and The Academy believes it to be above such things. It’s a found footage horror movie about a charlatan exorcist who lost his faith and admits to making up most of what he previously called out as true exorcisms. He is invited to perform an exorcism on a naive teenage girl in the Bible Belt, and a film crew tag along. It is clear some sort of abuse has been taking place, but the group argues over whether it is from Nell’s father, friends, someone else inside the community,  or a genuine demon.

The film would not be as effective without Bell as Nell, but she is backed up by dedicated performances from Patrick Fabian, Caleb Landrey Jones, and Louis Herthum. Credit goes to Daniel Stamm, someone who remains little known even in horror circles, who elevates te least likely sub-genre.

4: Bedevilled

As I write up this list (29th December 2019), South Korea’s Parasite is gaining momentum as a possible Oscar Contender. In my introductions to Foreign Cinema series, I mention (in one unpublished post) that one of the great crimes and complete nonsenses is that South Korea has not even been nominated for a single Oscar before. That is quite frankly ludicrous, given the quality of output the country has been producing since 2000. If there is one thing which probably puts off the stuffy Hollywood Academy types, it’s the grim and macabre nature of the most highly regarded films, films which don’t shy away from showing violence, or sex, or the taboo. Bedevilled ticks all of these boxes and is one of the finest all round movies of the decade, yet is one which remains little known even among those who frequently dine out on Asian Cinema.

It’s a film that I would love to be widely seen almost purely to see the thoughts on any feminism and masochism which people will take from it. It’s a film concerning a woman who works in a competitive banking environment who decides to go on stress leave, taking up an offer from an old friend to visit the backwater island she grew up in. Once there, memories of her childhood and her friendships come back, and she recalls why she left the regressive, male-dominant, outsider-fearing community. Her friend has never left the island and wants a better life for her and her young daughter. To say any more would be spoiler territory.

There is a slow and steady assured direction to the film, a washed out palette, and some moments which will have you groaning in anger and shifting uncomfortably. It’s not as violent as other films of the ilk, but it’s just as shocking and pulverizing to your emotions. It probes your own morality and begs you to question how you would or could react and survive given your decisions. It’s a watch both difficult and effortless.

3: Stake Land

How many truly great vampire movies are there? There are hundreds of good ones, and many more which are entertaining and worth your time, but only a small number can be held up as great films. Stake Land should be added to that list, though it never will be, at least not until director Jim Mickle makes something which is both a widespread critical and commercial success. He has come close a few times and continues to make highly regarded films. Stake Land, while clearly appealing mostly to horror fans, remains criminally underseen even within that group. For those looking for a dark drama, there is more than enough here to seduce and provoke – for my money it’s better than The Road – a film it is often compared to.

It’s set in a post-apocalyptic USA where survivors must avoid rapists and religious cultists by day, and vampires by night. We follow Mister (Nick Damici), a vampire hunter of sorts as he takes a teenage orphan called Martin (Connor Paolo) towards a supposed last protected zone. Along the way they pick up a Nun (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant woman (Danielle Harris), and a marine (Sean Nelson) who was rescued by the cult who wanted to sacrifice him. The film moves from threat to threat with plenty of introspective chat and bleakly stunning views of a collapsed world. It’s not a pleasant, happy viewing experience – there are precious view jokes or moments of hope, but it’s never less than completely engrossing and you never feel like any character is safe. Like The Road, the film is interspersed with rapid bouts of violence – cultists dropping vampires into a survivor camp is of particular note. The sequel is worth your time too, but the original is best survived by watching the associated webisode prequel shorts.

2: Paranormal Activity 2

I said it at the time, and while I admit to it probably not being a true statement, I still kind of feel the same way – it’s the greatest horror sequel of all time. Of course, if you didn’t like the first film, you probably won’t like this one either. If you did enjoy the first, if the found footage shtick and use of shaky cam didn’t piss you off, and if the long moments of quiet followed by a thumping boom jump scare hadn’t yet been watered down to irrelevance for you, then PA2 does everything the first one does – but better. Better scares, a better story (one which expands the universe and mythology), and it is better directed. Most crucially, the characters are more likable, grounded, and not the nonsensical yuppies of the first. In fact, as the movies begin to cross over at different points, this one makes the lead characters in part one more likable – at the very least more interesting.

The film is most similar to Evil Dead 2 in its approach; it’s basically a remake, but also acts as a sequel. Not to confuse things, but it’s also a prequel. The film takes place over a number of weeks and follows the Rey family, with mother Kristi the younger sister of the first film’s Katie. The family have a new security system installed in the opening minutes due to a perceived burglary – you know what that means – beeping doors and subtly placed cameras! The family has an infant son – Hunter – and we watch their daily, and nightly, business as creepy activity increases, seemingly centered on the child. At various points the film crosses over with the first as we catch up on Katie and Micah as they too begin to experience unusual capering in their house.

While I’m not a fan of jumpscares – mainly because they are used so cheaply – that’s not the case here. Sure you know they’re coming, but the fun is in trying to work out which room something is going to happen in, which camera is going to catch a subtle movement, how long drawn out is the tension going to be? I’ve mentioned this before too, but seeing this in a Cinema was one of my best Cinema experiences as the audience was All In – people were legit screaming their heads off, shouting at the characters, and you could feel the held intakes of breath as people waited for the next fright. That just doesn’t happen in Northern Ireland cinemas and is the closest experience to to any time I’ve been in the Cinema in the US. While I admit it enhanced my love and nostalgia for the film – I would have loved it had I been there by myself. Some of the scares are completely out of the blue and the ones which are a retread of those from the first are dialed up several notches – greater impact, more visceral, more effective.

1: I Saw The Devil

South Korea strikes again. While Japan started out the 2000s as the biggest and brightest light in Asian Cinema, South Korea picked things up in the second half of the decade and that has obviously continued into the 2010s. Two of Kim Ji Woon’s previous efforts – A Tale Of Two Sisters and A Bittersweet Life are essentially flawless, beautiful, grim, stylish, and provocative in equal measures. With I Saw The Devil he embraces the grim and dispenses with beauty. It’s a singular viewing experience, with few easy answers, but many moments which will sit with you for years afterwards.

The film is essentially a game of cat and mouse between a cop and a killer, with escalating tension and violence. The killer, played by Oldboy’s Choi Min-Sik is utterly, thoroughly unlikable. Yet he is the mouse and by proxy, traditionally, the person the audience is supposed to sympathize with. Throughout the film he is stalked by the cop, played by A Bittersweet Life’s Lee Byung-hun. The killer brutally murders the cop’s pregnant wife in the opening moments and the cop, with nothing left to lose, becomes the killer, hunting down Sik and repeatedly beating him to a pulp, only to leave him dangling as a cat would, then hunt him down again. It’s a film concerned equally with blurring lines as it is with showcasing the director’s penchant for nihilism and inflicting pain. Both lead performers are superb, surpassing most of their prior achievements, and what they go through is keenly felt by the viewer. While the violence and tone is grisly, it is offset by just how well it is all put together, and the genuine emotional trip we are put through. There’s a fight scene inside a taxi which beggars belief, and there are a variety of side-characters and sojourns into their depraved lives which extends the running time and complicates the narrative, but it all makes up for the most devastating experience since Martyrs. There’s simply no excuse for this not to have been on the Oscar list for 2010, even if it was a particularly strong year. More importantly, there’s absolutely no excuse for this not be on your list of must see films right now.

Let us know in the comments what you think of the movies above, and feel free to share your Top Ten!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2009!

Greetings, Glancers! As they say in Pointless, it’s time to come back down the line. Yes, it’s time to go back through my favourite movies by year lists and update them with additional thoughts and information to expand beyond simplified originals, starting with 2009 and working backwards towards 1950.

Lets begin briefly with those who almost made the cut. Although we’re now ten years plus removed from 2009, the year was always going to be remembered for one movie above all – the all conquering Avatar. While we continue to wait for the next blue tinted extravaganza from James Cameron, time has been kind enough to the film. It still looks glossy and the 3D technology involved is still a marvel. The story was never very interesting first time around and it quickly collapsed into Transformers Vs Jurassic Park, but it remains one of the most important spectacles in Cinema history. It’s not one I will see myself revisiting often as time goes on but you can’t go without experiencing it at least once.

Harry Brown is like Get Carter for pensioners – or Get Off My Lawn. Capitalizing on much of the fear of ‘hoodies’ and society’s post millennium breakdown and paranoia it tells the satisfying story of an ex marine, now elderly man living in a run down council estate. Having lived through many years of war and violence you’d expect him to be enjoying his twilight years in luxury, but instead he has to deal with gangs and hoodies and chavs who prevent him from seeing his wife in her dying moments. With the police unable to help and refusing to end his days in fear, he goes on the warpath. It’s all a little right wing in the vein of Michael Winner, but I’ve always had a soft spot for vigilante movies – who hasn’t wanted to flip out and beat the shit out of a gang of scumbags or bullies? The cast certainly helps elevate matters – Michael Caine hasn’t been this badass since the 70s and a host of GOT faces will be familiar. There is the usual assortment of go-to thugs who have made a career of these types of roles – Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Ben Drew, and Joseph Gilgun all give committed performances. There were quite a few films of this ilk at the time, from Eden Lake to Gran Torino and director Daniel Barber went on to helm the Hailee Steinfeld/Brit Marling ‘Western’ The Keeping Room which is always well worth a look.

Moon is a film I was interested in from Day One, but took a few years to actually see. It’s Sam Rockwell alone (mostly) on the Moon near the end of his three year term as the only living worker maintaining a mining facility. It would be entering spoiler territory to give away anymore of the plot, but if you’ve seen the obvious influencers – Silent Running, Solaris, 2001, then you won’t be too far off what unfolds if you were to hazard a guess. It’s an opportunity once more for some moral and philosophical wondering under the guidance of Duncan Jones and writer Nathan Parker who specializes in this sort of high concept hard genre stuff. Rockwell is terrific and it was a little misguided when he was overlooked at The Oscars.

District 13 Ultimatum is… well, if you liked the original (and you should), it’s more of the same. This series has some of the best physical action you’re likely to find, taking the visceral quality of the Bourne movies and throwing in copious amounts of parkour. Both films have me wanting to leap out the living room window and begin tearing my way through the neighbours gardens – over walls, through bushes, up drainpipes and bounding from rooftoop to rooftop. Bringing back both David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli from the original we see quickly that the French ghetto is still in bad shape, with rival gangs fighting over filling the gap left after the events of the original. Again there are plenty of obvious allusions to political situations but we cam here for the action and it doesn’t disappoint. If you’re bored of superheros and CG and building crashing to the ground this will revitalize your interest in action.

Up is yet another near perfect movie from Pixar. I don’t love it as much as most people do and its best moments are in that opening, but it’s still a lovely tale about dreams and friendship that it’s hard to criticize. My only issue with the recent Pixar and Disney animations is the ‘chubby’ nature of the art – almost every film and character follows this style and even by the time Up was released it was long past time for a change – a change which neither Company has made since.

Bruno is exactly what you would expect if you’ve already seen Borat or the Ali G Show. It’s basically a carbon copy of Borat but with a different character – an excuse to ridicule the vain, the stupid, and the generally right wing. It’s offensive, it’s hilarious and the only reason I don’t enjoy it as much as Borat is that Borat is such an endearing character, in spite of being a terrible human. My wife’s parents loved Borat – they had to switch Bruno off within ten minutes. Ok boomer comes to mind.

District 9 got a lot of positive reaction this year, critics suddenly deciding that genre movies were worth discussing as long as they had a political subtext, however on the nose it may be. Never mind the fact that horror and sci-fi have always done political subtext better than almost any other genres. I came for the gore and the swearing and the ludicrous over the top performance by Sharlto Copley. I like the low budget creative approach and the fact that the aliens aren’t what we were used to seeing, and the descent to action in the final sections feels like a fun payoff. Again, I don’t think it’s as good as the praise it received at the time, but I’d take something like this over almost every other Best Picture nominee this year. Finally, The Road possibly should have been nominated in that category – a bleak and uncompromising take on McCarthy’s book with a great lead performance by Viggo Mortensen. John Hillcoat follows the approach he showcases in The Proposition and makes it a film well worth re-watching.

Just one final late entry, which probably should have made it into my original Top Ten, but I somehow overlooked that it came out in 2009 – The House Of The Devil. It’s a great slasher throwback, and everything simply works.

Now into the top ten.

10: Dead Snow (Norway) Tommy Wirkola

2009 was peak, or end of peak zombie renaissance territory, and even then most viewers were tired of the whole shtick. Enter Tommy Wirkola who smashes fun back into the genre which had become a little too serious. Dead Snow is one big episode of Wile E Coyote And Road Runner – a natural stepson of Braindead if not Evil Dead. The pitch is great – what if a gang of Nazi soldiers who had been frozen in the mountains woke up again in an undead search for gold? Actually, that’s not great, but it is hilarious. To set up the story we throw in your standard Cabin In The Woods tropes – friends staying in the wilderness for a weekend with all of their relationship crap and then unleash the zombie Nazis. The film neatly balances the shocks and humour and goes wildly overboard with the gore and kills to satisfy any gore-hound. While the cast and characters are almost irrelevant, Vegar Hoel impresses as a modern day Euro-Ash and expands upon that role to ridiculous levels in the sequel. It’s just silly, mindless fun with particularly chunky gore effects.

9: The Princess And The Frog (US) Disney

Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer hand drawn. It largely avoids the aforementioned chubby animation and just feels more tactile and committed. I’m not discounting the work CG animators perform, but when I see hand drawn it simply pulls me in more and gives me a greater sense of the the person behind the creation and the love and care which went into the work. The Princess And The Frog is yet another lovely, simple story from Disney – it’s them going a little meta, recognizing the tropes they helped perpetuate, and having fun turning them around. The voodoo setting and the first African American Princess are all positives, the voice work is particularly strong with the likes of Keith David, Anika Noni Rose, and Jim Cummings standing out. The songs may not be the huge hitters which translate well to the charts, but Almost There joins the ranks of classics which the Company has created over the decades and there are enough sentimental and scary moments to make it memorable. It’s not top tier Disney for me, but it’s in that large and wide B Grade territory where much of their material resides.

8: Micmacs (France) Jean Pierre Jeunet

I’m not sure why this film flew under the radar so much. It’s the director of Amelie making another utterly charming and quirky comedy drama, complete with all of the visual flair he is known for. It deserves a hell of a lot more recognition and while it’s no Amelie, that’s a bit like saying Heat is no The Godfather. It has that exaggerated colour scheme not quite comic book look which you’ll be familiar with from Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, and several of his usual cast members pop up, from Dominique Pinot to Urbain Cancellier.

The film follows a man who seems to be incredibly unlucky when it comes to weaponry – first his dad is killed by a landmine, then he is shot in the head by a stray bullet at work one day. Becoming something of a freak due to the bullet remaining in his head, he joins a group of similar outcasts who happen to live in a junkyard – a contortionist, a maths genius, a human cannonball etc – he has a history in mime. Essentially they become their own circus and they plot to get revenge on the weapons manufacturers who are causing so much grief in the city and around the globe using their unique talents not unlike The A Team. It’s all very charming, fast-paced yet gentle, and is one of the more unique comedies you’re likely to catch – old fashioned yet with a dark satirical streak. Something like this is always more interesting to me than generic rom coms or alpha male comedies.

7: Jennifer’s Body (US) Karyn Kusama

Karyn Kusama doesn’t make many movies, but each one is worth watching – maybe with the exception of Aeon Flux. I kept away from Jennifer’s Body – assuming it was another generic teen horror with a cast picked for their looks rather than their talents. If you’re in the same misguided mindset as I was, consider that it was written by Diablo Cody – Juno, Tully, Young Adult – and very much follows the dialogue and smarts of those movies. The film made me a supporter of Megan Fox – she’s great in this – and also features Adam Brody, Amanda Seyfried, and JK Simmons. It’s a film which has seen some deserved re-evaluation since the mauling it received at the time – when I watched it a couple of years after release I couldn’t believe that so many critics, and myself, had been so wrong.

Seyfried is your typical awkward teenager, ironically (?) called Needy whose best friend is her polar opposite – Jennifer, the popular cheerleader. Best friends since they were young children, the film truly captures the urgency and closeness and ‘us against the world’ feeling you have with such intense friendships when you’re young. Unfortunately, Jennifer seems to pick up some sort of disease which turns her into a killing (eating) machine impervious to harm. Naturally the friendship becomes strained.

The film ticks all of the boxes for horror fans – it’s bloody, some kills are inventive, and its funny. But at its core it’s a character piece – we care about the two leads, the writing is so sharp and the performances endearing that it’s difficult not to see yourself in them. The film is largely told in flashback too, but I’m not sure if that was a conscious decision to allow the audience to reminisce – it seems more likely that teens are the core audience, but ten years later the script still works. It also works as a take down of macho tropes and of some of the seedier aspects of masculinity.

6: Antichrist (Denmark/France/Germany/Italy/Poland/Sweden) Lars Von Trier

Lars man… who never know what you’re going to get with a Lars Von Trier movie, but on the flip side you always know exactly what you’re going to get. Controversy, and a whole lot of messed up shit. And recently – lots and lots of talking. Antichrist starts off in a tame enough way – a couple are shagging while their infant child takes a stroll out of their upstairs window and topples to his death. Naturally, this is all filmed in glorious, beautiful slow mo in a disconcertingly tender way. This intro kicks off the remainder of the plot – the grieving parents cope (or don’t) in their own ways, with the husband (Willem Defoe) a therapist electing to take his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to a good old cabin in the woods where he can treat her personally. Things… don’t go to plan.

This being Lars, the film doesn’t simply descend into the torture and mutilation the tabloids would have you believe. No, we have our usual lengthy insights into the human psyche, merging philosophical jargon, music, literature, history, and manic foxes. Reality gradually becomes skewed, dark believes and fears carve their way out from beneath the skin, and scissors come into play. If you’re familiar with the turn the last act of The House That Jack Built takes, that’s quite similar territory to the final stages of Antichrist. You probably won’t want to re-watch this one, but every movie fan owes it to themselves to see it once. You can say the same for any Von Trier film – every one is worth seeing.

5: Trick R Treat (US/Canada) Michael Dougherty

Horror fans and Halloween go hand in hand, with movie marathons on the day or in October being a staple of each passing year. The same films come up each October – Halloween being the most obvious choice, but Trick R Treat deserves to be second on that list. It’s such a fun, creepy anthology – the stories just the right length and with the right festive tone and variety. Hell, there’s even a new mascot in Sam. Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, and Dylan Baker all feature, but it’s director Michael Dougherty who ties it all together. With only the Godzilla sequel and Krampus to his name in terms of directing, this is his best work. Even if you don’t enjoy horror, there is something here for everything – even the most ardent anti-horror watcher still succumbs at Halloween, and this is perfect for everyone.

4: Triangle (UK/OZ) Christopher Smith

Another terrific little mind-bending, overlooked horror movie with a great premise. Firstly, Christopher Smith has been hit or miss for me – mostly hit. Creep was a disappointment, not making use of a great location, Severance was sort of fun but inconsequential, and Black Death was very good. Triangle is his most ambitious and enjoyable movie.

Having Melissa George in any movie is a plus – a modern scream queen who generally picks better material than most. She stars as Jess, a single mum who is heading out for a boat trip with friends. They hit a storm and lose their boat but stumble upon a deserted liner. Although the liner is seemingly unmanned, there is fresh blood and various signs of people having been there very recently. As the friends search, they suspect they are not alone and we fall into a slasher style one by one pick off march. Except nothing is quite what it seems and without getting too much into spoiler territory, some time-looping stuff happens.

I usually enjoy these sort of high concept horror movies – there have been quite a few which take or twist a similar premise recently – TimeCrimes and Coherence being another couple I would recommend. If the snapshot above doesn’t interest you, possibly the fact that Liam Hemsworth is in a supporting roles might? It is a twisting affair which should be of more interest to non-horror fans and it raises a lot of questions which The Babadook would later be heralded for. It’s one of the best horror movies of 2009 and one of the more challenging and unique of the decade.

3: Inglourious Basterds (US/Germany) Quentin Tarantino

After Kill Bill, Quentin began slowing things down for himself – he’s pretty much a one film every 4-5 years kind of guy now. For years he had been dropping hints about making a WWII movie, his own Dirty Dozen and in 2009 it dropped – instantly becoming everything we would have wanted. It’s vintage Tarantino in style – vignettes, time-jumps, quotable one-liners, speeches, and set-pieces. He rips up the history book and makes his own alternate version of WWII and populates it with plenty of sinister character types – yes, none of the people here feel real, they’re more like heightened stereotypes. Brad Pitt is more fun than he’s ever been and Christoph Waltz is a revelation. After this Tarantino went on a bit of a down turn for me – Django was fine, The Hateful Eight was less than that. But this remains great – not Pulp Fiction great, but almost, and just as watchable.

2: Drag Me To Hell (US) Sam Raimi

Sometimes when you’ve been out of the game for so long, you just lose it. While Sam Raimi had hit a commercial peak with his Spiderman movies, something was calling out to him from beyond, a niggling rat gnawing at his creative cortex and saying ‘blood, cats in mouths, hoofed demons, vomit geysers’. Thankfully for us he embraced that voice and gave us one of the most fun film experiences of the year – a return to his slapstick horror roots with a film which both judders, disgusts, and tears belly laughs deep from within.

The films stars Alison Lohman (who is wonderful here) as a sympathetic loan worker who, against her own morals, refuses to pay out to a gypsy woman begging for her help. She wants that promotion you see, and her selfishness and annoyance at being seen as the whipping boy forces her to be harder than she normally would. After work, the gypsy attacks and curses Lohman’s character. Over the next few days she is tormented by attacks, nightmares, and visions and realizes the curse is true – finding out that if she does not find a way to reverse the curse she will be, literally, dragged to hell within three days. Cue mouth cats and vomit.

Raimi is having a whale of a time here – sure he employs plenty of cheap shocks but they mostly work – his mojo has not been lost and the film’s shocks are an antidote to the morose and stale torture porn of the time. Lohman is backed by the ever reliable Justin Long, with Dileep Rao providing some of the lighter moments. Horror doesn’t get much more fun than this.

1: Orphan (US/Canada/Germany/France) Jaume Collet Serra

My number one is the only film from this year which made it into my favourite films of the decade list – click the link to read my more detailed thoughts on it. It’s just a dirty little horror film raised by an exceptional performance from Isabelle Fuhrman who I feel should have got an Oscar nod. Of course that would never happen, but it is easily one of the best performances of the year. The film is more than just that performance, its creepy, has a neat twist, and also features Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard. Highly recommended, as everything else here is.

Let us know your picks in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Movies By Year List!

I promised I wouldn’t do it, but if you didn’t know by now I’m something of a liar. A couple of years ago I posted a series of Top Ten movies lists by year, and they were just that – a list of my ten favourite movies of the year with no gloss, no explanation, no guff. For those who like to get into the nitty gritty, I then wrote my favourite movies of the decade posts in which I did go into detail about why I loved what I loved. The purpose of the list posts was just to give a simple snapshot of what I enjoy without verbose embellishment; a quick snack before bed.

Now I’m going to go back to those Top Ten Lists and do the embellishment. I’m not going to change the ordering or add or drop my choices – I’m simply going to add a few lines about why I love the movies and maybe encourage anyone who hasn’t seen them to give them a shot. And because I like talking about what I like. Rather than starting with 1950, I’m going to go backwards from 2009. In addition, I might complete the original series by adding simple lists from 2010 – 2019. I still don’t feel I’ve seen enough movies in these last nine years to create lists which I can standby, but at least they’ll act as a current snapshot.

So, for anyone who likes to ready my ramblings or who has been waiting for me to cover in greater detail some of my picks – the time has come. Also, remember this post? It was my argument over ‘Essential’ being a subjective term when it comes to movies, because as viewers we have our own needs and desires and backgrounds – so to decide what is Essential you must first define the viewer? Yes, it’s as crap as it sounds. I’m going to begin posting some of my lists based upon that notion – essentially (sorry) looking at some of the most beloved movies of each year, starting in 1960, and arguing if they are truly essential (spoiler alert – they’re not).

That’s that then. If you like what I do, tell your friends. Recommend my humble blog to the guy who keeps coughing on your commute to work. Tell your da that you have some new toilet reading material for him. I’m not earning money from any of this, but knowing I have billions of followers is bound to be an ego boost and might even make me put a bit more effort in to what I write.

Lies.

Nightman’s Favourite Films Of The 2000s

If you’ve been reading my yearly lists, then you probably noticed that the 2000s was when I parted ways with mainstream Hollywood Cinema. This wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision – it’s just simply that better, much better, films were being made elsewhere. My favourite genres of horror, action, sci-fi, still had considerable output but the gluttony of remakes and the lack of risks being taken in the US led to the rest of the world picking up the slack. That boils down to more than half my twenty films being either completely foreign films, or joint productions between the US and (an)other nation(s). This is going to be my final yearly post for a while, maybe ever, as I’m so slow at catching up on modern releases – off the top of my head there aren’t that many films released between 2010 and today that I can say I truly love. It will be some time before I have seen enough of those, and seen them enough times to make a genuine attempt at a list beyond simply calling out random films I enjoyed.

21: Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002)

Chan Wook Park burst onto the scene in the early nineties, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that Sympathy For Mr Vengeance saw him making waves worldwide. Having already seen and enjoyed JSA, this revenge thriller was a step up in all departments. Bringing powerhouse actors Kang-ho Song and Shin Ha-kyun with him from JSA, the film follows the two men in an interweaving tail of tragedy and violence – hence the name. Saying much more would land us in spoiler territory – the story following a deaf mute factory worker who has just lost his job and goes to the black market to try to get a kidney for his dying sister. This is a film where people have the right intentions, kind of, but everything goes wrong. In the hands of anyone else, with a different cast, this would be lackluster B-movie fare, but with this team we have an extraordinary, bleak, piece of grim drama. The South Korean movie revolution didn’t start here, but this is where it started to wipe the floor with Hollywood.

20: Orphan (2009)

Horror hit a bit of a renaissance in the 2000s. First with Asia, kicking off a hole host of remakes and imitators in the west, followed by the new wave of extreme horror with Torture Porn sagas and French and Spanish extremism leading the way. Branching off this success we were treated to more adventurous indie or smaller scale efforts. Director Jaume Collet Cera ticks the Spanish and remake boxes and before he struck up a partnership with Liam Neeson he unleashed this neat little original on us. The director is assured, but the film succeeds because of the cast – Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, and a stunning performance in the title role by Isabelle Fuhrman. Following the death of their unborn child, a married couple decide to adopt, bringing in Fuhrman before things get weird. Then things get much weirder. There’s a certain element of sleaze as the film progresses, and some uncomfortable racial issues which almost feel self aware, but there is enough intrigue and enjoyable tension to raise this higher than most ‘bad seed’ movies. You’ve heard me drop my Oscar nods in these lists before – Fuhrman was snubbed here.

19: Batman Begins (2005)

Everyone’s going to have this on their list, right? There are a tonne of films which most people will have – There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men – neither of which are anywhere near my list, but most people will have this and/or The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan was already a successful, highly regarded director before this, but this is the film which gave him superstardom. He became a household name, a director that your average film-goer will seek out, a director who could pretty much do whatever he wanted from this point on.

Fans of the Burton movies will be at home here – visually, Nolan has is own style but as an origin story all of the boxes are checked. What truly holds it together is its scope and ambition, and its cast – Christian Bale the perfect choice and ably backed up by Oscar winners and nominees and that pedigree left right and center – Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Cillian Murphy. There has yet to be a Marvel film which comes close to matching this in terms of quality – the film transcends the comic book genre and becomes something all of its own. It’s not even the best of the trilogy.

18: Rec (2007)

I mentioned New Wave European extreme horror earlier. While this doesn’t exactly fit in that ultraviolent category, it’s certainly one of the super successful breed or Euro Horror which got fans so excited. Capitalizing on the cheap to make found footage style, Rec instantly became the benchmark. Its sense of claustrophobia, mystery, tension, terror, and its sudden explosive violence is the closest we’ve come to a true Resident Evil movie. The shot for shot US remake was watchable, but there’s something special at devilish work here. In your perfect horror movie scenario, the almost perfect Rec follows a journalist and her team making a documentary about a fire crew – following them around on a typical day. The crew is called to an apartment building due to a report about an old woman trapped and screaming in her room. This being a horror movie, the old woman isn’t exactly screaming because she’s fallen over…

There is a lot of wild innovation on display here – those moments that make you think why no-one else had done it before. The apartment building almost becomes a character in itself, its rooms and corridors closing in on the inhabitants like a fist. 28 Days Later and its sequel raised the bar for what fast moving ‘zombies’ could do and Rec sticks you right in the middle of an unwinnable situation. Most horror movies fall because of lack of character – Rec realises this and cleverly builds a world where each person feels real and in danger, forcing you to see things from their POV even if most only get a few minutes screen time. The film builds tension in the classic sense but then decides to unleash all out war, rarely giving the viewer time to breathe before cranking up the nerves once more in the convoluted wtf finale.

17: Mulholland Drive (2001)

Here’s another which most will have on their list. David Lynch had been on a bit of a downturn in fortunes for ten years – at least that’s what They’d lead you to believe. Framing this as a pilot for a new TV show a la Twin Peaks, once Lynch heard that the show was never going to be made he spliced his footage together and released it as a standalone – a standalone which many believe to be his best work. Hypnotic, non-linear, packed with mystery and few answers, it’s a film which people are still dissecting now, connecting dots to find a bigger picture which may not even exist. Attempting to assign a synopsis may be futile, but on the surface it’s the neo-noir story of a hopeful aspiring actress who comes to Hollywood and meets an amnesiac woman who is recovering from a car crash. Interspersed are both random and connecting vignettes about other characters who would have presumably found greater meaning if the series had been realized – bumbling hitmen, ghostly totemic producers, actors, cowboys. Where most films start out fractured and end with a whole, Lynch’s film starts out broken, pieces form and seem to fit, before becoming shattered and pulped. Everything a Lynch fan loves about Lynch is here, including his underrated talent for colour and sound. Watts and Harring are superb ably backed by Melissa George, Justin Theroux, Robert Forster, and a host of cameos. The film’s greatest mystery may be why it was only nominated for a single Oscar in a year where fluff like A Beautiful Mind and Moulin Rouge were so successful.

16: Departures (2008)

While we’re talking about movie mysteries – how is it that Japan has only ever won a single Oscar for Best Foreign Picture? I think we all know that this category is complete nonsense anyway, but that’s another story. Before 2008 the number of wins for Japan was zero, Departures the shock winner this year. It’s the perfect film about life and death, a film inherently Japanese and which may give other viewers some culture shock, but underneath the customs it’s a film that we can all understand and relate to as human. As Jim Morrison once warbled – no-one here gets out alive. Joe Hisaishi crafts one of his finest scores – probably the best score of the decade – and the cast includes ex idol Masahiro Motoki, Kurosawa stalwart Tsutomu Yamazaki, and Ryoko Hirosue who I had been a fan of since her days as a Nintendo model (I’m weird like that).

The film a cellist who is forced to move back to his childhood home with his wife, after his orchestra falls apart. Out of work and with no valuable skills he takes the first job he can get – assisting departures, which he assumes is some sort of travel work. What he soon finds out is that he is assisting the departure of a soul from this world to the next – basically helping in old funeral rituals such as washing and dressing the corpse. Horrified and embarrassed initially, as this is seen as a ‘low’ or ‘defiled’ position, he quickly comes to see the the dignity and beauty in this work, and its importance to those left behind. All this plays out against his guilt over not spending more time with his now deceased mother and his anger towards the father who abandoned him as a child. I know what that sounds like, but trust me – you’ll love it. It’s one of the most moving, heartfelt, and poignant films I’ve ever seen and it had me moved to tears at several points. Those weren’t merely tears of emotion – the film had me laughing my ass off too, a strange combination of humour and drama that I haven’t really encountered to this degree of success before.

15: Oldboy (2003)

It’s that man Chan Wook Park again, back with the second part of his vengeance trilogy (the films’ characters and stories are unrelated – the only link being the theme of revenge). If you thought Sympathy For Mr Vengeance was dark, and enjoyed it, then you’ll love Oldboy. This time bringing on board the masterful Choi Min Sik, the film again merges overlapping stories of revenge where no-one is wrong and no-one is right – mistakes and terrible decisions ripple outwards, infecting everyone in the vicinity and ensuring that even greater mistakes and tragedy results. Oldboy is brutal in every sense – on screen violence reaching new heights without being sickening or voyeuristic, and with each new twist bringing a new level of depravity and head-shaking awe. The film has of course been remade… I’ve not convinced myself to watch it yet and I doubt that I ever will. Maybe it’s okay, maybe it’s even good, but I doubt it will come close to reaching the glory of the original. I’d advice everyone to do the same and only watch this.

14: Borat (2006)

I was never a fan of the Ali G movie, seeming like it was too much on the side of supporting what the TV persona was lampooning. I was a fan of Cohen in his early days on Channel 4, always tuning in for The 11 O’Clock show and later the Ali G show. The former was more of a cult show that only a select group of friends was aware of, while Da Ali G show was one that had everyone talking in school. Borat was my favourite character, seeming much more sympathetic and Mr Bean – like. I never thought a film featuring any of Cohen’s main character’s could be a success, but I am very glad I was proven wrong, because Borat is easily the funniest film of the decade, and one of the funniest of all time. Prepare to be offended. Borat exposes the racism and fear and paranoia which is all too prevalent in some parts of the world – specifically in the USA here, leading to many absolutely bewildering encounters with politicians and regular people all loosely wrapped around the story of Borat coming to the US and A to learn about its people and possibly meet Pamela Anderson. It’s not going to be to everyone’s tastes, but in the good old tradition of rubbing the human face in its own vomit and then forcing it to look in the mirror (sic) it’s a vital piece of art which should be seen by all.

13: Martyrs (2008)

The zenith and nadir of French Extremity. Martyrs is torture to watch, a grueling experience which will pummel you and leave you exhausted, this is film-making at its most visceral and powerful. Pascal Laugier’s debut was standard horror fare, a Virginie Ledoyan vehicle which suggested the director wouldn’t be anything more than someone who rode on the coattails of Christopher Gans by association. His follow-up, Martyrs, is a work of undiluted force, a shotgun blast to your sensibilities, and makes Hostel and pals look like Sesame Street. Starting out with the escape of a young girl – Lucie – who has been held captive and tortured for unknown reasons, Martyrs shows how haunted she has become, believing she is being stalked by some demonic creature. At an orphanage, she befriends another girl, Anna, who acts like a bigger sister. Once more, I don’t want to give away any further details because this is a film which takes some decidedly sudden shifts in narrative – it’s enough to say that the torture Lucie suffered has scarred her for life and into adulthood she and Anna continue to deal with its fallout – even as answers slowly drip through.

This is maybe the only film on the list that I’d only recommend to horror fans. I don’t mean people who enjoy a horror movie every so often – I mean hardcore horror fans who watch more from this genre than anything else. If you don’t do horror, stay well well away in your land of sunshine and rainbows. This is not a pleasant watch and at times it feels like an endurance test. It’s not merely violence glammed up in a neat budget or gore for the sake of gore. I wouldn’t go so far as examining it from every philosophical angle either, but it is a movie with brains for the viewer with brains, and regardless of the conclusions you choose to draw it is a movie that will stay with you for a very long time. This one has been remade too and no, I haven’t seen it.

12. A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)

Another entry and another film which would be remade later in the States. This one features an Oscar snub too. Snub isn’t the right word as they would never nominate something like this in the first place, but supporting actress Yum Jung-ah gives the performance of a lifetime, full-blooded and horrifying. Director Kim Jee Won may be the best shot framer in the business. He may be the best since Kurosawa or Kubrick. Every. Single. Shot. Is set up like a painting, the camera a paying customer to the greatest gallery in the world. In fact, his only rival currently may be Chan Wook Park. A Tale Of Two Sisters is simply gorgeous, a joy to behold, almost beautiful to the extent that you forget the horror bubbling underneath.

The film is basically a twist on the wicked stepmother story – a teenage girl has been institutionalized but at the start of the movie is released back home to her father’s mansion where her distant father and loving sister wait. Also living there is the father’s new wife who he married after the death of his first wife. There is a lot of tension in the house, with the father not engaging with his new wife while the relationship between the sisters and the stepmother starts out uneasy and grows violent before long. Secrets and twists abound.

The film isn’t happy merely to offer the tried and tested Asian long-haired ghost girl tropes although it does present several chillings scenes of this nature. There is a more dream-like quality akin to something like Audition and the undercurrents of abuse – physical and psychological – create a murky atmosphere of unknown depth. This is a film that you’ll want to watch as soon as possible again after finishing to see how the puzzle pieces revealed in the final moments all fit together with foreknowledge. It’s a film which will leave you uneasy during and after, as mentioned it looks stunning, and the performances are all top-notch.

11: Dawn Of The Dead (2004)

In the pantheon of great remakes, only a handful are ever mentioned and agreed upon – Cronenberg’s The Fly, John Carpenter’s The Thing… The Departed. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead is one of my favourite films of all time so Snyder’s remake marked one of the only times I really, truly loved the remake. This also marked the start of the zombie’s return to popularity, along with Shaun Of The Dead and 28 Days Later. This film was insanely successful and was one of those films which was a hell of a lot of fun at the screening, yet translated just as well to the small screen. The consumerism of Romero’s is replaced by a general end of the world paranoia, with a collection of interesting characters led by a great cast all with their own issues and presenting a view of the new millennium that doesn’t leave a sweet taste in the mouth.

The story isn’t all too different from the original, the difference being that we are launched straight into Dawn without knowing the night. It gets off to a rip-roaring start and barely lets up, introducing us to a nurse who wakes up one morning to find a zombie child chomping on her husband. Her frantic escape through suburbia is pulsating and she eventually makes it to a shopping mall where she meets a bunch of other survivors – teens, gun fiends, old couples, security staff etc. There they spend their days waiting for rescue, waiting for the world to revert to normal, talking, shagging, killing, but it becomes increasingly clear that the world is not going to get better. The fast zombies here add so much more threat, the movie frequently ‘goes there’, and it’s simply a lot of fun with a high rewatch factor. It remains Snyder’s best film, by quite some distance.

10: Final Destination (2000)

If the Nineties saw a renaissance in teen horror towards smarter, or at least more self-aware movies, then with Final Destination it looked like the new millennium was going to take things further. What better movie villain could there possibly be than Death? In spite of the quality of the various sequels, I still contend that this is one of the best ideas in the history of movies – a bunch of people, according to fate, are supposed to die in an accident but manage to cheat death, leading death to stalk them one by one so that fate’s course is corrected. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know I have a thing about inevitability – it creates an inescapable sense of dread and it reminds us of our own lives, situations, and mortality. Final Destination works on so many levels – as a thrill ride, as a perfect teen date movie, perfect popcorn fodder, as a grim comedy, as a visceral catalogue of memorable movie kills, and on all of those deeper levels. You can choose to watch it as you see fit. It features some great performances – Devon Sawa should be a much bigger star by now. James Wong directs with style, squeezing out every drop of tension from the kill scenes, adding plenty of fake-outs and establishing the tone of the series. This one equals of fun factor of Dawn of The Dead, but adds the depth missing from Snyder’s effort.

9: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)

By the time this came out I’d never read any of the Tolkein books in total. I’d tried Fellowship and given up and I think I read most of The Hobbit as a kid. This is weird because the books should have been right up my alley. As I saw the trailers and began reading the reviews of the movie I knew I had to see it and knew I had to read them. And so, I read the trilogy in a short space of time before seeing this. I’ll go there – the movies are better than the books. I mean, not really, but I do much prefer the movies. This is my generation’s Star Wars – an epic introduction to an epic saga featuring a massive ensemble cast fighting a classic battle of good and evil. I don’t think I need to say much more about it – you’ve seen it and you love it.

8: Ju On (2003)

This is the last horror film on my list, which surprised me more than you should be. I will say that this top ten, like all my lists, is pretty interchangeable. I will say that I love the entire series, and there’s a lot of entries. Takashi Shimizu is the maestro behind the series, directing the TV movie originals, then this main big screen effort and sequel, then the US remakes. They’re all good, and they’re all pretty similar, and yet they all have this weird interweaving timeline that you can lose yourself in. In the end it doesn’t matter, this is Ringu with jumpscares, played at a hundred miles per hour. This features some of the most innovative scares you’ll ever see, a non-linear plot which ends up feeling almost like an anthology movie, but isn’t merely a series of loud noises. It’s a film which instills a sense of dread with the slightest effort, giving some early scares in the first moments which set the tone and set you on the edge of your seat for the remainder of the movie. Sound design, atmosphere, directing, acting are all great here and the finale is a breathless, unsettling, hate-to-use-the-term-but-fuck-it-rollercoaster ride.

7: The Dark Knight (2008)

This is the one. The one everyone is going to have, right? Unless the film has aged to the point now that hipsters look down upon it, but who the hell listens to them. This is everything you want in a Batman movie (The Joker), everything you want in a comic book movie, everything you want in a movie full stop. The surviving cast carry over from Batman Begins, but this is Heath Ledger’s movie, a final hurrah to an actor on the cusp of greatness. Unlike The Crow, where the real life tragedy seeps through to every aspect of the film, this feels like a celebration. Nolan here does begin to direct his movies a little too close to being like a trailer – something which he has only done more with each subsequent film – where scenes don’t seem to connect, where the music continues through scenes without cutting or fading to another track… but that’s another point for another day. For my money this is still Nolan’s best film and like several others on the list I’m fairly confident you include it on your list, so I won’t say any more about it.

6: The Return Of The King (2003)

The epic to end all epics, this massive curtain call to Jackson’s saga is gigantic in every sense. Thankfully, it’s also excellent, giving closure to all of the characters and the story (perhaps too much closure) and featuring battles on a scale which haven’t been equaled yet. It feels wrong splitting the trilogy into three parts as they are not as distinct as say, the original Star Wars Trilogy, but feel more like one continuous story. Nevertheless, you can put this or any of them on, and lose yourself in one of the finest, fully realised fictional worlds ever committed to paper and screen.

5: Casino Royale (2006)

How on Earth do you follow-up the worst entry in your franchise? With one of the best, of course. Blonde and Buff, Craig takes the series into new levels of realism with his emotive portrayal further showcasing what I have always loved about the character – he is a broken man – everything he touches dies, and yet he keeps fighting for the cause. Team Craig and Campbell up with surviving cast members from previous entries, throw in a creepy villain, and add probably the best Bond girl there has been in Eva Green, and you’re onto a winner; the action, the plot, and the visuals are merely the icing on a very sweet cake.

4: X2 (2003)

Remember when there used to be good superhero movies? You know, instead of the twelve which come out each month now? Yeah. Yeah, those ones. This puts all the current MCU fluff to shame and it’s much better than any of the other X-Men movies. Alright, I haven’t seen most of the MCU, and I haven’t seen Logan yet, but give me a chance – I only have two eyes. Unlike several of the X-Men I imagine. Great action, effects, emotional resonance, interesting characters and story, rather than big ego A-Listers getting 20 million each for four minutes screen time.

3: Amelie (2001)

I don’t do romantic comedies and generally those quirky type Indie movies don’t work for me. The latter tries too hard and the former feel insincere and end up neither making me laugh or giving me whatever it is romances are supposed to give you. What a surprise then that Amelie is at once a quirky romantic comedy, but one which is entirely sincere and effortless. It’s also absolutely gorgeous, has Jeunet’s style down to a T, and features a career defining performance from Audrey Tautou who melts the hearts of every viewer. It’s one of the most beautiful films of the decade and one which never fails to put a smile on my face and think that maybe the world ain’t such a bad place. Just what we needed in 2001 and just what we need now.

2: Love Exposure (2008)

This came from nowhere and absolutely floored me. I hadn’t laughed so much at a single new movie in years and it came when the Japanese market wasn’t pushing out so many classics. I had already seen some Sion Sono films and I was concerned when I heard he had made a 4 hour religious drama, but this so far surpasses anything else in 2008 its ridiculous. In fact, it would be number 1 except for that film being a once in a lifetime masterpiece and a piece of vitally important work. Love Exposure isn’t important, it’s simply amazing, and I guarantee you won’t have seen anything like it. Religious monologues on an abandoned beach, ninja camera pantyshots, budgie worshipping cults, priests who resort to whipping their children, and love eternal. It also has the best soundtrack of the year, some of the best performances of 2008, an outrageous script, and Sion Sono directs like there’s a nuke down his pants. If there’s any film on the list most people won’t have seen it is this, and it is an absolute must-see.

1: Battle Royale (2000)

I knew the first time I saw this that it was going to be one of my all time favourites and that my mission for the next month was to make sure as many people as possible saw it. I held screenings in my house almost every day and forced everyone I knew to watch it. I argued that it should be shown in every school in the country. And then The Hunger Games came along, diluted and for the masses, and became a huge hit. I like The Hunger Games and as bloated as it became it remained sort of entertaining. Much of that was down to Jennifer Lawrence – take her out and it’s just forgettable popcorn YA fluff. Battle Royale is seminal in every way and every frame oozes a vitality which most films can’t achieve in their entire running time. It has over the top violence, it has anger, it has heart, action, comedy, scares, it’s heart-breaking, and it has a fantastic cast. I can’t gush too much about it and I find it a shame that so many people either haven’t seen it or will go into it having already seen The Hunger Games. Battle Royale is Buffy, The Hunger Games is Twilight – BR is The Godfather, THG is Mickey Blues Eyes. There isn’t a single better movie in the last twenty years than Battle Royale.

Let us know in the comments what your favourite movies of the 2000s are!