Looking through my notes of what I liked in the past year I realized that showing me something new in a quality way won my heart. Sure there's a place for the BIG drama with families at each others throats as they struggle with BIG life issues. But show me a kid on a dragon while making me laugh and I'll sing your praises at year's end. Today's list is more eclectic than past in part because I think the more I go to the movies the more I want something truly unique, and not just another great performance about something miserable. I suppose heroin addicts may feel similarly in terms of needing a bigger and bigger hit to get that original experience back OK, I'm not going to ponder that point further.
So here's the start of my list of lists, I hope you find it helpful in some small way. Today we begin with my favorites of the year past. No, I will not limit it to ten. Sorry.
Subsequent posts will include my "guilty pleasures" of the year past, as well as the least favorite (aka worst) things I've seen in 2010. I plan to revisit this post on our about Jan 1, 2011 as I hopefully haven't seen everything I'm going to see by the end of the year - and things may move about some.
My faves (in no particular order ... really)
- Au Revoir Tapei (Taiwan) - Sadly, I suspect few audiences in the US are going to get a chance to see this gem of a film. Just about the perfect little sweet film for a day at the movies. If you want black comedy, painful relationships, aching over life regrets, suicide, slavery, or abuse of children/animals/pop-music go elsewhere. Boy gets dumped by girl, gets mixed up with mobsters, and wanna-be mobsters channeling Pee Wee Herman. And dumplings, my lord the dumplings. Just see it by any means necessary.
- Exit Through the Gift Shop - pretty awesome. Allegedly a documentary. Not sure any of it is true, but still worth seeking out. The less you know the better. It has something to do with famous street artist Banksy and a guy who gets way too into documenting the worldwide street art scene. Beyond that just go and be entertained and educated.
- Solitary Man - Michael Douglas in a great role, as a not so great guy. In what was for me a very memorable film.
- Fatso (Norway) - This anti-romantic comedy really stuck the landing for me. Way ahead of any other 2010 film in category of masturbation scenes per minute and likely unique in casting horny rhinoceros alter-egos for the movie's lead.
- How to Train Your Dragon - If 3D dragons coasting through the air in animated flying sequences that were at least the equal (and probably better than) Avatar's weren't enough this picture brings the all around entertainment in a big way. I can see how one could have missed this film. Don't let that condition persist too much longer. With the exception of Step Up 3D probably no film better employed 3D in the past year than How to Train Your Dragon. The only valid reason for one of those newfangled TV sets that I can conceive of.
- Monsters - Aliens are taking over in Mexico. They're illegal, but then again, they're also from outer space. Onto this new world order the film makers have grafted a more classic relationship / road movie bringing a little bit of something for everyone. Much of the film's pre-release story was about its micro-budget. If you didn't know I don't think you can tell. Would have made my list if they'd spent millions on it instead.
- Nothing Personal (Netherlands) - A traveler with issues stays at the home of a widower in Ireland, trading work for food and board. Sounds like a snoozer but this quiet, slow film wowed me at Palm Springs back in January when I saw it. I could say a lot more, but as the male lead of the film is fond of saying, "talent knows when to quit"
- Cold Weather - This is a film that defies easy characterization. Except that it's really, really good. It's a unique (far as I can tell) mash-up of a chatty relationship slice of life drama centered around twenty something characters shot in a natural style and a whodunit mystery. Yet it's not really fully either, and the sum is greater than the individual parts. Sort of a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys adventure for the mumblecore crowd.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - Based on a comic that if it's half as cool as the film I truly should read. Boy meets girl, girl like boy. To date her, boy must defeat her seven evil exes. Whaaaaa??? Yep, that's the premise, straight out of a side-scrolling fighter video game. From the 8-bit pre-film's opening credit to the creative visual effects this was a fun film - especially if you have any videogaming in your background. First half's writing was dead on. By the end film slacked a bit (there were seven exes to get through) but still solid and original enough to make my top films list.
- The Social Network - the origin story of Facebook. Or an introduction to why overly enforced "intellectual property" rights law and litagation may be stiffling technical innovation. You be the judge. Sorkin's dialog and the actor's delivery may be more clever than actual Harvard students though together they make for a very watchable flick.
- Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (Canada) - Hillbillies at their fixer upper vacation home are having a fine old time until a bunch of annoying college kids show up and start killing themselves on their property. A nice reversal of the hill people horror flick where the country folk turn out to be totally misunderstood and the stereotype loving frat boys create all the problems. Plus a love story both of the bromance and hetero varieties mixed in for good measured. All delivered in a very tight 90 minute package I think many folks will get a real kick out of. Now if only the film would get a reasonable theatrical run in the states...
- Rubber - On one hand Rubber is an entirely familiar exercise a stalker/killer road movie genre film spanning a desert road trip filled with classic elements right down to the girl watched by the villain in shower during a motel stop. Though it stretches the conventions of the form somewhat by casting the killer as a discarded tire who becomes sentient with the psycho-kinetic powers to make people's head explode. Yes, a tire - as in the thing on your car. And that's not the most unusual part of the film...
- Inception - What to say that hasn't already been said about this film - and by much better writers? Probably not much. It was a fabulously fun ride - though I might differ with some of those same writers on whether it was really any more deep a meditation on the meaning of reality vs. dreams and their relation to our collective humanity than a strangely similar episode of Ally McBeal.
- Rammbock (Germany) - because every list deserves a zombie movie. And this was the most interesting one I saw in 2010. Far less gore than the usual zombie fare - but all the scares you've come to expect (or at least hope for).
- A Somewhat Gentle Man (Norway) - Guy out of prison struggling to find his path. The picture combines a satisfying conclusion, black comedy, and some of the most uncomfortable sex scenes this side of The Room.
- We are What We Are (Mexico) - I believe I can say both with an extreme lack of actual knowledge of the subject yet oddly strong conviction that We Are What We Are is the deepest cannibalism themed movie made in the last decade or possibly forever. There is indeed some gruesome content makes you want to turn away violence - but making a family drama masquerading as a hardcore genre flick (and doing it well) seems deserving of special mention
- Winter Vacation (China) - The one film on my list that I think many people would hate. And on a different day than when I saw it, in a different mood I could have ended up on the other end of the spectrum. Not much talking goes on, certainly no action, and I don't think much really happens overall. Which is likely the entire point. It's hard to explain how the nothingness of the film's slacker teenagers and oddball adults was so entirely appealing. I will say no more - but if you want to take a leap of trust in my taste - give it a try. Your mileage may indeed vary.
- Four Lions (UK) - The comedy about terrorists that made me laugh, think and cringe. And laugh again. 'nuff said.
- Marwencol - Documentary about a man who'd been savagely beaten in an attack - so badly that he'd lost his memory and suffered other negative results. And that for some reason he'd taken to building an elaborate village filled with dolls dressed up as WW-II era soldiers that was incredible in it's detail. It's quite fascinating and beautiful - as the village itself is a great example of fantastic art arising as self therapy. If we had national health care it's likely the world of Marwencol wouldn't exist - which is one of the most solid arguments against a single payer system that I can really think of.
- Broken Embraces - OK, so this came out last year. But I saw it after Christmas and it didn't make any of my lists. So sue me, I'm adding it this year...