Un Prophète (A Prophet)
In recent years the ‘best thing since The Godfather’ tag has been banded around with such frivolity that the commendation has all but lost it’s meaning.
Particularly with European cinema, comparisons to Coppola’s Mafioso masterpiece are rife. Mesrine and Gomorrah are two such films to have made these claims and both fell short of the qualities which make Un Prophète the greatest cinematic release of 2010.
Un Prophète is the first film in a decade that comes anywhere close because beneath all of the visceral violence and compelling tales of corruption it is a very human, very relatable work of cinema presented in a sensory mix of breathtaking elegance and astounding power.
Tahar Rahim who plays Malik, the film’s protagonist, brings the role of a Mob-apprentice a captivating realism and such naturalistic touches that you will indeed find yourself making comparisons to the young, naïve Michael Corleone of part 1.
The film also balances perfectly between art cinema and mainstream crime thriller. There are gems of artistic genius and yet the arcs of plot and character throughout sit firmly within the realms of gritty crime saga. Not only does Un Prophète stand as my top pick of 2010 but makes my top ten of the decade without question.
Don’t let the Hollywood thrills and spills fool you into thinking Inception is just another superficial action export. What Christopher Nolan has created with Inception, a film that has taken the British auteur over ten years to fully conceive and bring to fruition, is a deeply philosophical, intricately intelligent exploration of some of cinema’s most intriguing themes. Everything from hyper-reality to deep-seeded human ethics bubble with intensity under the surface of what some could see as a straight-forward Hollywood heist movie.
DiCaprio and Cotillard, the two tortured lovers, play their roles with depth and empathy to such an extent that it not only comes to define the film’s plot but define the film for the audience too. Many a director with such a mega-budget would have become preoccupied with the stunts and special effects and sidelined the real heart of the story, the tale of heartbreak between Cobb and Mal. That said, many a director could never write, direct or simply envisage such an intelligent and thought-provoking film.
Nolan is one-of-a-kind and Inception delves into the depths of Nolan’s philosophical and cinematic interests in unforgettable and fascinating fashion.
A relative late-comer to the best-of-2010 list is Monsters and it storms its way up the list to make the top three for sheer ingenuity, originality and mind-boggling value-for-money.
The micro-budget feature, which was written, directed and produced by Gareth Edwards, a refreshingly promising young British filmmaker, is a character drama set within the framework of a Monster-movie.
The film is a testament to the possibilities of low-budget movie-making with a reported budget of around £10,000. Shot beautifully in and around Mexico and South America the story of how the film was made is perhaps as interesting as the film itself. Unscripted and with just two principal cast, Monsters was made in a gap-year style travel experience with Edwards, his editor and two actors travelling, stopping, shooting and leaving with the footage.
Comparisons to Mike Leigh style exploration of character relationships might seem superlative but Monsters really is an understated yet touching tale of human survival told through the characters’ unspoken feelings for one another.
2010 has without doubt been DiCaprio’s year. With Inception smashing into the all-time box office books a second cinematic outing of such class and precision was a treat. Released a few months before Nolan’s dream-state thriller, Shutter Island had the added excitement and anticipation of being directed by the one and only Martin Scorsese. Shutter Island also marks a noticeable diversion in story and genre for the mob-film master as it delves deep into psychological thriller territory.
Based on the best-selling book by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island is a film with potential for re-viewing two, three or even four times over and is packed with enigmatic subtleties which will have you thinking it over and over for hours after the credits have rolled.
DiCaprio gives yet another performance of psychological torment and angst, that is of course, after the gentle nuances and telling directorial nods reveal that he is himself the escaped inmate he has been searching for.
With some truly unforeseeable shocks and scares along the way, hidden amongst the admittedly predictable ones, Shutter Island brings the intelligence of the novel and its twisting plot to the silver screen faithfully. Scorsese has retained the audience’s position as the investigator and feeds you enough information to draw you in before whipping it out from underneath you in the climactic finale.
Like Inception, Shutter Island finishes on the most ambiguous of endings, leaving you to draw your own conclusions, something which will have you re-watching time and again with intrigue.
Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 had a huge weight on its shoulders to live up to the two benchmark animated features that preceded it. Toy Story was the first fully CG-animated feature film ever and Toy Story 2 is arguably one of the only animated sequels not to be a complete flop.
The zany animation gurus at Pixar therefore had a huge task to try and achieve the widely-unachieved; a faultless trilogy, and in true Pixar style they did, introducing new characters to a cherished franchise as if they had always existed in the world of Toy Story and setting Woody, Buzz and the rest of the now-three dimensional gang on an original and exciting journey.
With the exception of Avatar and select few, 3D has seemed more gimmick than gain in 2010, particularly in animated features where at times it only serves to gloss over and distract the viewer from the weakness of plot and character. Toy Story 3 didn’t take the bold decision not to use 3D but instead used it sparingly and in the right moments, in the right way.
The wonderfully imaginative opening five minutes features a child’s playtime brought to life in gloriously vivid digital 3D as Woody and Buzz chase an evil Mr. Potato Head bank robber. Here the three dimensions add real life and excitement to the image. Throughout the rest of the film thereafter the 3D element adds hints of depth and perception where needed and remains rightfully sidelined where it isn’t.
Toy Story 3 works brilliantly as it retains that all-important animation balance between child and adult humour, plot and spectacle and best of all seems like a logical end to the trilogy seeing Andy leave for college. At times it is heartwarming and in others heart-racing and will leave you feeling a touching sense of nostalgia.
2011 saw the release of two hugely popular comic book adaptations. One was the repetitive and superbly over-hyped Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, a repetitive and formulaic comic book-come-teen comedy and the other was the far superior, infinitely more intelligent and observant Kick Ass.
Jane Goldman, formerly referred to simply as Jonathan Ross’ wife, penned a uniquely quirky and original take on the now-saturated comic-book movie market. Kick Ass features a career-best performance from Nicolas Cage who ditches his typically southern, simple accent, playing a rogue ex-cop out for carefully crafted revenge. Training his daughter, the inimitable “Hit-Girl” (Chloe Moretz) as a deadly but adorable assassin, “Big Daddy” (Cage) team up with the self-styled protagonist “Kick-Ass” (Aaron Johnson.)
The film is a direct product of a genre of film that seemed simply exhausted. It is refreshing to see such a novel and original take on the super-hero flick, especially in light of the disappointingly wayward sequels in the form of Iron Man 2 and the biggest sinner Spiderman 3. It’ll have you in a state of shock and fit of laughter all in one go as the film’s tone treads a delicate tightrope between glorifying violence and powerful pastiche.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Europe and America really sat up and took note of the extraordinary talents of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki and his animation goliath Studio Ghibli. Spirited Away was released almost a decade ago, with its vibrantly rich, detailed animation yet dark, brooding subject matter and it deservedly won critical acclaim and exploded into the Western market.
Ponyo arrived in the UK earlier this year after a 2008 release in Japan and 2009 release in the US and made the long wait worth it. Marking the return of Hayao Miyazaki, having not released a film since the equally stunning Howl’s Moving Castle in 2004, Ponyo tells a fantastically imaginative story of a young boy who inadvertently meddles in the delicate balance of the ocean.
With the American version voiced by Noah Cyrus, Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon the film remains accessible to everyone and at its heart is a coming-of-age tale. ‘Ponyo’, a goldfish who yearns to become a human girl meets a young boy Sosuke and the film’s warmth comes through their friendship with one another. In true Ghibli style the visuals are simply stunning. The vividness of the colour and detail of every frame, drawn by hand, is enough to leave you speechless in some scenes. For fans of Pixar or Disney Miyazaki’s work is as original as it gets and you’ll be hard pressed to name a recent cell-animated feature with as much heart as this.
Due Date, from the makers of the surprise comedy corker The Hangover, is a similar story of a race against time to get from A to B. This time the characters are not best buddies, in fact far from it. Thrown together in an unfortunate misunderstanding at the airport, Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Jnr. play two road-trippers heading cross-state together.
Downey Jnr. plays an up-tight businessman, void of personality and patience whilst the ever-quirky Galifianakis plays a cup’s half-full character on a mission to give his late father, whose ashes reside in a coffee tin for the duration, a well-earned send-off. The two naturally collide in comically explosive fashion.
The beauty of Due Date is that whilst it admittedly follows a very similar formula to The Hangover in the sense that the characters seem destined for disaster as soon as they cross paths, it still feels as fresh and as unexpected as The Hangover. It’s Galifianakis’ film through-and-through as Downey Jnr. tries his best at comedy but fails to light up the screen like his zany counterpart.
In a very literal sense too, the beauty of Due Date is in the way it is shot. As with The Hangover the stunning scenery of their adventures, or rather misadventures, take it to a whole new level. Watching these films is like tagging along for the ride rather than simply observing their misfortunes along the way. Aside from a few more interesting side-characters (Jamie Foxx feels wholly misplaced) there’s not a lot to fault in this light-hearted comedy road movie.
The Social Network
It was never going to be long before somebody wrote a screenplay based around the Internet phenomenon of Facebook. The way in which The Social Network tells the story however, a fascinatingly true one at that, is far more intriguing and entertaining than one might have thought, like a suspenseful espionage thriller
Facebook wasn’t thought up by a media conglomerate, for example, but instead by a drunk Harvard student by the name of Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg. However, that’s where the motivation for the film’s friction comes in, a dispute around who actually created it.
The Social Network retreads the story of how Zuckerberg, a student who drunkenly created ‘Facemash’ (a website that allowed Harvard students to rate female classmates online) allegedly stole the idea for Facebook from two entrepreneurial brothers.
The thing that makes The Social Network fantastic is that it’s not just a movie for the Facebook-generation. Anyone could watch it, whether you use Facebook or not, and find the story of how a small idea conceived in a college dorm room exploded into a multi-billion dollar business. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg with a perfect balance of stubborn tenacity and charming wit so that you find yourself questioning his credentials to be the protagonist.
It’s a marvelously balanced account of the story of Facebook and David Fincher, one of Hollywood’s best working directors today, brings a dark undertone to it with a hint of humour for all round entertainment.
The Other Guys
Will Ferrell hasn’t exactly been on-the-money with recent releases. Since the brilliance of Anchorman and Zoolander there have been rare glimpses of such comedic prowess but hardly a laugh out loud classic. Step Brothers showed promising return to form for the Saturday Night Live veteran but remained caught between ridiculous odd-ball comedy and light-hearted coming-of-age (despite being 40) story.
The Other Guys certainly didn’t manage to fill Ron Burgundy’s shoes nor Derek Zoolander’s but it did present us with one of the only outright, outrageous films of 2010. A brilliant turn from Mark Wahlberg as the short-tempered partner of pen-pushing Alan Gamble (Ferrell) marked the film as a surprising comedy outing this year.
From the bizarre to the slapstick The Other Guys covered all its bases where gags were concerned and some classic comedy gems, including the stunning Eva Mendes as the wife of nerdy, outcast Gamble, made it a film to enjoy over and over again. In a year where quality comedies were hard to come by The Other Guys brought a breath of fresh air to cinema screens.