My best of the year are in no particular order with the exception of I Saw The Devil, which was far and away the finest piece of cinema I saw in 2010. For me, it was a very good year for film. I’ve seen a few lists where critics have stated they struggled to compile ten favourites. Truth is, I struggled to whittle it down to ten. I saw a lot I enjoyed, made some pleasing discoveries and had moments of genuine amazement. I also saw a fair deal of shit, but thankfully the good cancelled out the bad. Intro over. Let’s get on with it.
I Saw The Devil
On paper this was never going to live up to my expectations. Kim Ji-Woon is one of my very favourite directors, and his re-teaming with Lee Byung-Hun from their masterpiece A Bittersweet Life, plus throwing the Oldboy himself Choi Min-Sik into the mix had my excitement levels high. A simple story of a cop chasing down the serial-killer who took the life of his fiancé, this film took the characters and the audience into some very, very black territory. A shocking rape and murder and the destruction of everything on screen, both physically and emotionally, left me genuinely disturbed, and the redemption and resolution towards the climactic scenes are some of the most thrilling cinema I’ve seen in a very long time. I’ve often stated that Korea are releasing some of the finest films in the world and this may be their crowning achievement. Like all of Ji-Woon’s work it’s technically flawless. It far exceeded my expectations, and left the more obvious shockers like A Serbian Film lying in it’s blood-splattered wake.
Enter The Void
On the basis of this psychological and sexual mindfuck Gasper Noe may be the best visualist working today. It’s a beautiful and terrifying exploration that follows the spirit of a dead drug dealer searching for his sister and his past amid the neon streets of an LSD-styled Tokyo. Noe keeps his favourite topics of graphic violence and extreme sex and creates a movie pretty much unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. Critics talk about game-changing cinema but in this case the term can actually be levelled at Enter The Void. This is a film that translates a directors pure, uncut imagination directly to the screen and in the process provides a difficult but brilliant viewing experience. A trip to be taken time and again.
Let Me In
The biggest shock of my 2010 is that this is on my list. I wanted to hate this. The Swedish original Let The Right One In is one of my favourite films of all-time, for me a genuinely perfect film. Everything I’d seen in the run up to the US remake hadn’t looked good. It didn’t need to be made, simple as that. So I saw it on the opening weekend with the express intention of trashing it afterwards. The problem was Matt Reeves made a fucking great movie. By keeping the elements that made the original film and source novel so strong – the blossoming teen love and subsequent tragedy between the two young outcasts – and by casting the brilliant Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee the film, almost, matched the original in places. That’s about as higher compliment as I could give. It also marked the return of the legendary Hammer Films to the world of horror. Seriously, they could not have found a better picture to come back with.
Australia couldn’t put a foot wrong this year, and their horror output was exceptional. I try to keep abreast of everything that comes out but The Clinic totally sneaked up on me. I only saw it two weeks ago and it has stayed with me since. To reveal a synopsis is to destroy a film that offers genuine surprises, but it takes that old horror staple of the Australian Outback and has a man and his pregnant wife driving through it and into all kinds of trouble. It’s got the inventiveness of low-budget but it never looks cheap, has an utterly cool plot twist and gets very odd indeed. This it’s an unpredictable, shocking and a generally fantastic little horror film that is in dire need of an audience.
The Loved Ones
Once again from the land down under. I’d heard this movie described as Pretty In Pink meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and on that basis I was sold. One of the best things about Sean Byrne’s brilliant film is it’s ability to completely show it’s influences and still manage to remain fresh and original. Starting out like a teen horror flick, it’s swiftly pulls the rug from under your feet and gets gritty, dirty, nasty. The violence is brutal, and the movie establishes the villains as people to hate and the main characters as people you genuinely care about. Brilliant performances throughout, especially from Xavier Samuel. A star in the making. The Loved Ones has been dealt a shocking distribution hand – unseen in the US, already on DVD in the UK – but this is highly recommended and well worth tracking down.
We Are What We Are
A film that took everyone by surprise at this year’s Frightfest. A deep and complex examination of a family of cannibals living in the slums of Mexico, this film was genuinely unsettling and has put me off travelling south of Tijuana for life. Scenes of family drama are intercut with strong violence, this is the Chainsaw family updated for modern times. An at-war Brother and Sister, a crazy Mother, all seriously unhinged and deeply in love with one and other. Director Jorge Michel Grau is a real talent to watch. It was also great to see Mexican horror again. Been too long.
Vampires and post-apocalyptic films have been everywhere in the last couple of years, but nothing has come close to the brilliance of Jim Mickle’s Stakeland. You know how some films take an age to establish the right mood and the right tone? Some never manage it at all. Stakeland does it within the opening five minutes as a vampire hunter called Mister rescues a young kid after his family are killed and eaten, and together they start a journey through the wasteland to a rumoured New Eden. It’s one of the best openings I’ve ever seen. Rules are broken when you see a vampire grab the kids sister, pull her up to the roof rafters and drain her blood before throwing her aside. This is a little girl. It may not be the grossest moment in 2010, but it could well be the bleakest, and it sets the standard for the remainder of the film. It is brilliantly shot, meticulous in detail and completely heartbreaking. It’s also the best American horror film I saw this year.
Red White and Blue
The most graphic film of 2010 without being the most gruesome, Simon Rumley understands what a lot of filmmakers don’t – adult content isn’t merely about sex and violence, it’s about asking the complex questions and moral issues we choose not to examine on a daily basis. This movie is brave because it’s a slow-burner, taking time to establish mood and character, a rarity in this modern flash-cut-MTV era, but Red White And Blue is all the better for it. It’s made a classic by the performances of Amanda Fuller, who as Erica is out to fuck whoever she can just so she can feel something human, and from Noah Taylor as Nate, who ends up living with Erica and is one of the only people who has genuine feelings for her. He’s got a bad past and is trying to make amends for it. And then things get bad, and a revenge triangle ensues with some horrible violence that makes sense on all sides. Is it a horror film? Absolutely. It’s also a hardcore examination of the emotional ties that bind us, and the lengths human beings will go to keep them. Brilliant.
A film about an elderly Korean woman who practices illegal acupuncture and lives with her adult, mentally simple son. The son is accused of the killing of a young neighbourhood girl based on wild speculation and the police close the case. Mother knows he’s innocent, but no-one will listen, so she starts to investigate the death herself. From there the plot twists into all sorts of brilliant knots, and the film itself is excellent. Mother has nothing in the world but her son and will do anything to keep him safe, even if that means putting herself in peril. Being as this is Korean and from the excellent Bong Joon-Ho you know things are going to get pretty damn dark. And they do. The story is small and intimate, different but still as good as Joon-Ho’s previous Memories Of Murder and The Host, and follows a path that you will not be able to predict.
The Last Exorcism
There a several reasons this made my cut. Firstly, it’s damn hard to make a film with any derivative of the word exorcist in the title without immediately being compared to Friedkin’s classic. The Last Exorcism never once made me look to the past. Secondly, because of a truly outstanding performance from Ashley Bell, who twisted, screwed and pretty much killed herself on camera for the sake of art – in a serious and just world, Bell and Natalie Portman would be in a two-girl race for an Oscar. Thirdly, because it took the docu-horror genre and made it once again fresh and, here’s an important thing, frightening. And finally, because it dared to have an ending that totally fucked with the audience, knowing full well it would alienate some and delight others. Daniel Stamm and Eli Roth remembered that movies are all about misdirection, and like the very best magic trick it led you in one direction and then totally hit you from the blind side. For that reason alone it deserves a huge amount of acclaim.