for this week’s TRIBUNE : 2010 top ten

Shannon / Sevigny : My Son, My Son…

2010: a year when British moviegoers flocked to sequels like Toy Story 3, Harry Potter 7, Shrek 4, the third Twilight picture (Eclipse), second helpings of Sex and the City and Iron Man, plus relative “originals” Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, Inception, How To Train Your Dragon and Alice in Wonderland. And a year when critics lavished praise on The Social Network, Winter’s Bone, A Prophet, Wild Grass, Dogtooth and The Headless Woman.
   With apologies to their many admirers, not one one of the above make it into my personal top ten of the year – though I must confess that I missed most of the sequels (even Toy Story!), as attendance at foreign film-festivals restricted my ability to catch more than half of the new releases.
   So it’s perhaps not much use my recording the fact that the best “new” movies I saw for the first time in 2010 – i.e. those which world-premiered either this year or last – were, as the more assiduous readers of these pages may recall from my festival-reports, Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Symbol, Marcin Wrona’s The Christening, Thomas Arslan’s In the Shadows and Pietro Marcello’s The Wolf’s Mouth.
   Hopefully a year from now the majority of these gems will have found their way into British commercial release (The Christening and In the Shadows haven’t even played at any UK film-festivals yet) and can therefore appear in Tribune‘s “best of 2011” rundown. Given the general timidity of distributors, however, especially with regard to subtitled (non-Francophone) fare, these might be titles that you will have to seek out on DVD rather than on the big screen for which they were intended.
   So, restricting myself to movies which did obtain theatrical distribution after January 1st – even if that was restricted to a single week on a single London screen – I humbly present my very subjective run-down (with apologies that at the time of writing I’ve yet to catch such critical favourites as Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Still Walking and the aforementioned Toy Story 3.)
   There were six especially notable near misses, all of which are emphatically worth tracking down. In alphabetical order, they are Mike Leigh’s Another Year, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Easier With Practice, Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Sebastian Silva’s The Maid and Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes.
   Leigh and Nolan are British directors who need no introduction – but what was particularly heartening about 2010, in a year of considerable sturm und drang around the funding and future of UK film, was the achievement of three debutant writer-directors who make it into my top ten. At #2, Gareth Edwards’ Monsters (still in cinemas) is a sci-fi romance shot on a relative shoestring, but which thanks to Edwards’ prodigious skills with CGI looks at least as good as anything Hollywood has ever produced in the alien-invasion sub-genre.
   At #3 we find the chap who bills himself ‘J Blakeson’, and whose budget on The Disappearance of Alice Creed was, if anything, even more restricted than Edwards’. A tense, deliciously twisty thriller featuring only three actors, Alice Creed – which had premiered on the festival circuit back in 2009 -garnered a small but devoted cult following on its limited cinematic release, and is becoming a word-of-mouth success on DVD. That fate would also be belated justice for my #10, Crying With Laughter, by Scots TV veteran Justin Molotnikov – a darkly humourous and cleverly-constructed tale of a severely dysfunctional stand-up comic (played by Stephen McCole in what was one of the year’s rawest, most affecting performances.)
   The fourth Brit on my list is – for now – much better known than Messrs Edwards, Blakeson and Molotnikov: Matthew Vaughn, whose Kick-Ass stands as my #7, is married to supermodel Claudia Schiffer, was formerly a close collaborator with Guy Ritchie, and had scored commercial successes with Layer Cake (2005) and Stardust (2008). But with the deliriously enjoyable Kick-Ass he left all of his previous achievements far behind, boosted by marvellous supporting performances from child-star Chloe-Grace Moretz and the rather better-known Nicolas Cage.
   Cage moved centre stage – and how – for my #6, Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant, an in-name-only “remake” of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 original which had first appeared under the more accurately ridiculous title The Bad Lieutenant – Port of Call: New Orleans at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. As did Herzog’s long-awaited collaboration with David Lynch, producer on the genuinely disturbing – and nightmarishly hilarious – true-crime melodrama My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, my #4, its manifold eccentricities anchored by a literal tour de force performance from Michael Shannon (pound for pound, just about the finest actor in American cinema just now.)
   These twin peaks show that Herzog, nearing 70, is in startlingly good form – while his making-of-Fitzcarraldo diary Conquest of the Useless, published in English for the first time, was one of the most distinctive and insightful film-books for many years.
   It was rather a good year for maverick visionaries, on balance – Apichatpong Weerasethekul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (my #8) was a “surprise” winner of Cannes’ Palme d’Or, though not much of a shock to those who’d followed the Thai auteur‘s steady, stealthy progress over the past decade or so (a decade where his 2008 Syndromes and a Century topped more than one poll as the period’s best feature). In terms of audacious – some would say self-indulgent – commitment to one’s personal artistic expression, another notable success was Luca Guadagnino’s suffocatingly opulent I Am Love (my #5), detailing the psycho-sexual hangups of a wealthy Milan clan, showcasing the latest in what’s now a long line of adventurous, challenging performances by Tilda Swinton.
   That just leaves two of my ten, both of which – as it happened – took an inordinate amount of time to reach UK cinemas. Ronnie Bronstein’s near-unbearably bone-raw 16mm paean to dysfunctional misanthropia Frownland (my #9), featuring an irresistibly horrible central performance from newcomer Dore Mann. world-premiered at Austin’s SXSW festival in March 2007, then this July popped up for a brief run at London’s ICA.
   And there was a two-year gap between the festival debut of Swedish writer-director Ruben Östlund’s glacially piercing study of modern interpersonal etiquette Involuntary and its eventual whistlestop tour of selected arthouses. The wait was worthwhile – while falling just short of masterpiece level (of all the new movies I saw in 2010, the only one I’d slot into that category is Matsumoto’s aforementioned Symbol), Involuntary just edges out Monsters and The Disappearance of Alice Creed to take my personal Palme:

Neil Young’s Top 10 UK new-releases of 2010  
1. Involuntary (2008) Ruben Östlund
2. Monsters (2010) Gareth Edwards
3. The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009) J Blakeson 
4. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009) Werner Herzog 
5. I Am Love (2009) Luca Guadagnino
6. Bad Lieutenant (2009) Werner Herzog
7. Kick-Ass (2010) Matthew Vaughn
8. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) Apichatpong Weerasethakul
9. Frownland (2007) Ronnie Bronstein
10. Crying With Laughter (2009) Justin Molotnikov

11th December, 2010