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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!