Special to The Dagger
With the close of the year, I thought I would follow the lead of every self-absorbed movie critic and run down the best and worst movies I’ve watched this year, whether or not they were actually made in 2010. As you might know, one has to sift through an immeasurable amount of crap to find a few nuggets of quality. I’ve limited the “worst” pile to just five selections. On the other side, I’ve expanded the “best” list to 10 choices to shine a light on the better side of the film world.
I’ve purposely omitted new releases, since this column is a reflection of my DVD watching, which tends to the obscure. Credit is due to IMDB for providing the plot summaries.
The Best of 2010
Director: Kurt Kuenne
Plot Summary: A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend’s ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.
My Take: The difference between a film developed from passion and a film developed for profit has never been more clear. A heartbreaking documentary on love, friendship, and loss that has a devastating twist harder to bear than any fictionalization.
Director: Louie Psihoyos
Plot Summary: Using state-of-the-art equipment, a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, infiltrate a cove near Taijii, Japan to expose both a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.
My Take: Ric O’Barry shows us guerrilla activism at it’s finest. An insider’s look at the dangers and triumphs of one man attempting to set right the wrongs of his past. This is another documentary that is hard to watch at times, so please unload the Red Rider BB Gun before viewing.
Director: Ursula Meier
Plot Summary: Life for an isolated rural family is upended when a major highway next to their property, constructed 10 years before but apparently abandoned, is finally opened.
My Take: Meier’s debut film takes a rather quirky approach at addressing mental illness and the effects of urban sprawl. Almost dreamlike in pacing, with many levels of complexity it compares to “Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind” in achievement.
Director: Ole Christian Madsen
Plot Summary: A drama centered on two fighters in the Holger Danske World War II resistance group.
My Take: A gritty war film that plays out as a noir-drama. Double agents, traitors, and interpersonal revenge all play a role in an excellent narrative.
Director: Glenn McQuaid
Plot Summary: A grave robber reflects on his life of crime.
My Take: A horror comedy with visuals reminiscent of a comic book. Excellent writing, casting, and acting by all involved.
Director: Julian Schnabel
Plot Summary: The true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffers a stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body; only his left eye isn’t paralyzed.
My Take: A brilliantly conceived script places you inside the mind of Bauby during the torment of being trapped in his own body. For a story that revolves around a man blinking out his memoir, it is poignant and engaging.
Director: Terry Gilliam
Plot Summary: A traveling theater company gives its audience much more than they were expecting.
My Take: Gilliam provides a lush landscape of imagination for Heath Ledger’s final film. A cerebral approach to the abstract parts of a person’s soul is reflected not just in the script, but in the friendship presented by Ledger’s close friends as they fill in for his role after his untimely death.
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Plot Summary: When her grandson is kidnapped during the Tour de France, Madame Souza and her beloved pooch Bruno team up with the Belleville Sisters—an aged song-and-dance team from the days of Fred Astaire—to rescue him.
My Take: Abstract animation with virtually no dialogue and an impressive soundtrack tells a simple story while keeping the audience riveted. The most unique film I have seen this year.
Director: Michael Haneke
Plot Summary: Strange events happen in a small village in the north of Germany during the years just before World War I, which seem to be ritual punishment. The abused and suppressed children of the villagers seem to be at the heart of this mystery.
My Take: Haneke delivers a masterpiece that certainly would have topped anyone’s Best of 2009 list. In his trademark stern frankness, no character is left clean of the sin consuming the town. Stark and haunting, one of my favorite directors creates a maelstrom that leaves you guessing at every turn.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Plot Summary: Oscar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire.
My Take: I reviewed the film in full previously, but it bears repeating: this is the definition of the new horror classic. Dark and cold in both mood and setting, this film may single-handedly save the vampire franchise from the sparkly fingers of “Twilight.”
The Worst of 2010
Director: Nina Paley
Plot Summary: An animated version of the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw.
My Take: I truly wanted to enjoy this film, which has great potential that falters on execution. Where “The Triplets of Belleville” succeeds by being a singularly unique animation, this fails by trying to be too many unique visions. Disjointed and continually morphing into a new style, it never hits a steady pace.
Director: Tommy Wirkola
Plot Summary: A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace: Nazi zombies.
My Take: You would think that “Nazi zombies” would have been a warning sign of the awfulness of this one. While horror fans will be quick to defend the campy aspect of the film, it seems like a pretty serious endeavor by the filmmakers. They really want this Nazi zombie thing to work and it simply doesn’t.
Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Plot Summary: Two actresses who have auditioned for one part, sharing the same apartment with opposite personalities equals a night which either neither of them will forget – if they survive!
My Take: What could have been a psychological thriller quickly devolves into slasher / anime / Japanese girl-on-girl. I’m not sure why they bothered with a script, as this could have been summarized as “two girls don’t get along; attempt to kill each other.” It is an extreme stretch to claim that this film is making a universal statement about Japanese culture. Perhaps by intent, but not by execution.
Director: Ron Carlson
Plot Summary: Follow 10 contestants as they compete for 1 million dollars in prize money.
My Take: You know your movie is bad when it makes the “Jackass” series seem high-brow. I went in with low expectations and discovered that I was still aiming too high. I did learn one thing: Gary Coleman is not dead. Who knew? Reload the Red Rider BB gun before it is too late.
Director: Tom Six
Plot Summary: A mad scientist kidnaps and mutilates a trio of tourists in order to “reassemble” them into a new “pet”– a human centipede, created by stitching their mouths to each others’ rectums.
My Take: For those of you wondering what could top “Midgets vs. Mascots,” let me present “The Human Centipede.” It’s a movie so bad that Roger Ebert refused to review it, and for good reason. The opening scenes are so horribly acted that I found myself actively rooting for the actors mouths to be sewn to each others’ rectums so I wouldn’t have to listen to them strangle the dialog. We are then subjected to roughly 30 minutes of the abomination being trained to act as the scientist’s pet. Possibly the greatest sin is that this might have worked as a campy horror comedy, but it attempts to be deadly serious. You couldn’t even enjoy this while pleasantly drunk. Believe me, I tried. Of course, a sequel is due out in 2011.