This year, British moviegoers flocked to sequels such as Toy Story 3, second helpings of Sex and the City and Iron Man, plus relative originals Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland. 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 of them makes it into my top 10 of the year – although I missed most of the sequels, as attendance at foreign film festivals restricted my ability to catch them. The pick of the bunch I saw on my travels include Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Symbol, Marcin Wrona’s The Christening, Thomas Arslan’s In the Shadows and Pietro Marcello’s The Wolf’s Mouth. I hope these gems will get a British commercial release. Given the general timidity of distributors, however, especially with regard to subtitled fare, they may be restricted to DVD.
So, restricting myself to movies which did obtain theatrical distribution – even if that was restricted to a single week on a single London screen – there were six notable near-misses to recommend, 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 José Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes.
While Leigh and Nolan are British directors who need no introduction, what was particularly heartening about 2010, in a year of considerable turmoil around the funding and future of British film, was the achievement of three debutant writer-directors who make it into my top 110.
Gareth Edwards’ science-fiction romance Monsters was shot on a relative shoestring, but thanks to the director’s prodigious skills with CGI, it looks at least as good as anything Hollywood has ever produced in
the alien invasion sub-genre.
The chap who bills himself as “J Blakeson” had a budget on The Disappearance of Alice Creed that was, if anything, even more restricted. A tense, deliciously twisty thriller featuring only three actors, Alice Creed 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 Crying With Laughter by Scots televison veteran Justin Molotnikov. This was a darkly humorous 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 Matthew Vaughn, whose Kick-Ass was a commercial hit. Formerly a close collaborator of Guy Ritchie, he scored successes with Layer Cake (2005) and Stardust (2008). With the deliriously enjoyable Kick-Ass, he left those previous achievements far behind. He was boosted by marvellous supporting performances from child-star Chloe-Grace Moretz and the rather better known Nicolas Cage.
Cage moved centre stage for Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant, an in-name-only “remake” of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 original. 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 was another of the year’s great pleasures. Its manifold eccentricities were anchored by a tour de force performance from Michael Shannon – just about the finest actor in American cinema just now. These twin peaks show that Herzog, nearing 70, is in startlingly good form.
In fact, it was quite a good year for maverick visionaries. Apichatpong Weerasethekul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was a “surprise” winner of Cannes’ Palme d’Or, although not much of a shock to those who have followed the Thai auteur’s steady, stealthy progress over the past decade. His 2008 Syndromes and a Century topped more than one poll as that period’s best feature.
In terms of audacious – some would say self-indulgent – commitment to personal artistic expression, another notable success was Luca Guadagnino’s opulent I Am Love, detailing the psycho-sexual hang-ups of a wealthy Milan clan and showcasing the latest a long line of adventurous, challenging performances by Tilda Swinton.
Ronnie Bronstein’s near-unbearably bone-raw paean to the dysfunctional and misanthropic, Frownland, featured an irresistibly horrible central performance from newcomer Dore Mann. 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 whistle-stop tour of selected art-houses. The wait was worthwhile. Involuntary just edges out Monsters and The Disappearance of Alice Creed to take my personal Palme.
So my top 10 of 2010 is: (1) Involuntary
(3) The Disappearance of Alice Creed
(4) My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
(5) I Am Love;
(6) Bad Lieutenant
(8) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
(10) Crying With Laughter.