Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Top 10 Films of 2010

During my two and half months living in New York I have been lucky with the movies that have hit the big screen. Overall it has been a good year and I have gone to the cinema more than I have in recent years when I just buried myself in DVDs at home. As I am finding it extremely difficult to decide on a countdown of the years best films I am going to chicken out and just list off the top 10 in no order. I personally prefer the excitement of the countdown, but as I said it is proving to be quite tough. However I do have a number one spot that I believe to be the best movie of the year, which I will leave to last. This list is what I consider to be the best movies of this year. You are welcome to disagree.

"Mother" (Bong Joon-Ho). No matter what he does Bong Joon-Ho will never be able to surpass his masterpiece "Memories of Murder", but we can all enjoy watching him try. "Mother" is a fine film and it is evident that he is a master of the mystery/thriller genre and he never holds up with the dark humor. South Korean murder mysteries are funnier than most Hollywood comedies these days. Joon-Ho's craft is impeccable in his thrillers and he repeats the rural environment that he utilized in "Memories of Murder", which creates a chilling atmosphere. 

"Buried" (Rodrigo Cortes). Now here is an extremely impressive film that was able to keep audiences on the edge of their seats even though they were trapped in a grave for 94 minutes. Not only is this an excellent thriller, but it also takes a humorous inspection of the modern devices of communication and the absolute frustration that comes with them. The humor doesn't last though as Cortes portrays the most depressing conclusion I have seen in years.

"Shutter Island" (Martin Scorsese). Although Scorsese doesn't need to prove his directing skills to anybody he still tries new and interesting projects. This time he makes an attempt with a psychological thriller with a gothic ambiance. He pulls it off of course with great style. We all know what to expect, but we enjoy the mystery ride anyway with support from great dream and flashback sequences.

"Somewhere" (Sofia Coppola). Not the greatest plot of the year, but Coppola does what she is best at and that is documenting characters and character relationships. Indeed it does take patience, but it is well worth it as we witness these characters and relationships unfold. In an age where we are subjected to rapid cuts every few seconds it is nice once and a while to simply go steadicam and concentrate on one scene or character. "Somewhere" demonstrates a simply crafted piece of work that follows the life of a movie star, who has no idea what his purpose is. Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) has the money, fame and any woman he wants, but he is incapable of receiving pleasure from anything, anyone or any act. He is depressed. This film follows the same premise as the excellent "Lost In Translation"- big movie star, depressed and isolated in a nice hotel, but is portrayed in more documented format.

"127 Hours" (Danny Boyle). Similar to "Buried" Danny Boyle's "127 Hours" focuses on a man trapped, however this is a survival story and not a mystery/thriller, but an in depth look at human nature. James Franco plays the real life mountain climber Aron Ralston and deserves an Oscar nomination if not a win. Ralston goes through stages of guilt, sorrow, delusion and hope, which is expressed during an intense 95 minutes. Not only does Boyle convey a startling portrayal of survival and human drive, but lets the audience witness visually stunning shots of Utah's Canyon Land. Ralston is trapped, but has been isolated for some time before his accident and this disaster has given him time to reflect and we follow him in his physical and mental journey.

"Inception" (Christopher Nolan). "Inception" incorporates fantastic effects, great action, a complex narrative that all help create a superb heist movie set in the sub conscious. It took Nolan years to develop the script and it is evident why. This isn't your run of the mill action, heist or even psychological thriller. It is an excellent take on lucid dreaming and the architecture of dreams. What I found to be so intriguing about this film were the amount of layers our protagonists wage through in order to complete their mission. 

"Black Swan" (Darren Aronofsky). Ballet has been portrayed as a psychological terror before (see The Red Shoes) and Aronofsky re- establishes that concept in this unsettling thriller that mashes reality and fantasy with the help from a great performance by Natalie Portman (Nina). Vincent Cassel plays Thomas, the director of Swan Lake, who attempts to use his intensity to bring out Nina's. He wants her to play the Black Swan as well as she plays the White, but it is Lily (Mila Kunis) who proves that she is perfect for the part. There is also the uncomfortable and unsettling relationship between Nina and her mother (Barbara Hershey). This movie keeps the audience guessing and has them on the edge of their seat and sometimes makes them jump out of it. This is my favourite Aronofsky film to this date and thats really saying something following "The Wrestler". 

"The Social Network" (David Fincher). Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" mirrored the economic crisis of society in 2009, and in 2010 "The Social Network" reflected how we are beginning to perceive each other in contemporary society. It is too early to know if it is a crisis or not. Facebook is a global phenomenon that has influence society tremendously. I previously noted that I had a slowly developing script that focuses more on the affect Facebook has on society, but this movie explains why and how it all began. It is an excellent biopic of this phenomenon and Time Magazine's 2010 "Man of the Year". That man is Mark Zuckerberg. Not only is this a riveting story that has compelled huge interest, but it is also wonderfully directed by Fincher and his style that was put on the map after "Fight Club" is marvelously incorporated into his latest work making it a film for these times.

And the best movie of the year according to me is:

"The Ghost Writer" (Roman Polanski). From a new way of telling a story to the oldest way, Polanski proves that he is a master of his trade and produces a fantastic thriller. In a time where we constantly see fast images, big explosions through CGI it is hard to believe that a great thriller like "The Ghost Writer" can be made anymore. No hype or gimmicks, but simply a great story that unfolds through the images we see on screen. Hitchcock and De Palma were avid fans of the visual, which Polanski expresses brilliantly at the conclusion. I must admit that I am biased as this is my favourite type of film, but it is unbelievable how underrated this movie is. Possibly to do with Polanski's personal life, as if that should have any affect on audiences of this movie. For me "The Ghost Writer" holds up as a positive because even though I am not against mindless movies that portray mediocre narratives or CGI effects, I am happy to see that authentic filming methods are still relevant in Hollywood and world cinema. It still works.

Honourable Mentions:

Jackass 3D
Pirhanna 3D
Death at a Funeral
Hot Tub Time Machine
The Crazies
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
True Grit
The King's Speech
Morning Glory 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Great Christmas Movies

Growing up we all have had the pleasure of watching festive films that enhance the Christmas atmosphere. Here are my favourite festive movies that help me count down the days to Christmas:

"Bad Santa". Here is a brave performance from Billy Bob Thornton, who plays a drunk, vile, depressed, mall Santa during the weeks leading up to Christmas. His reason for doing this? To rob the mall with his midget/elf accomplice, Marcus (Tony Cox), but in reality Willie (Thornton) doesn't real have a goal. He hates himself and the world around him. That is until he comes in contact with the simple naivety of Thurman (Brett Kelly), who clearly is a dependent and needs Willie, who eventually becomes a father figure to him. That's the sweet part, which takes a slow pace to reach. Until then we witness Willie's train-wreck of a life that proves to be extremely hilarious in  a dark fashion. Bernie Mac and John Ritter (the mall's authorities) are excellent supporting characters that provide very funny dialogue. Although this is a comically dark film it concludes with an uplifting spirit.

"Christmas Vacation". A classic Christmas movie that many people can relate to. Everyone tries to keep up old traditions by trying to perfect Christmas nostalgia and of course it always fails horribly, but that is what is so great about the holiday season and this movie. Chevy Chase continues his role as the all-American dad, who attempts to create the perfect family moment. This time it is Christmas and everything that can go wrong does with very amusing consequences. The carnage begins when the relatives arrive with their bombarding problems and habits and they keep the family busy until the "beastly, bulging" Eddie arrives with his RV and hick family. We follow the massacre until the grand finale on Christmas Eve, when Clarke (Chase) cracks and tirades through the house dressed as Santa Claus with a chainsaw. Their are also some moving moments such as the when Clarke gets trapped in the attic and watches old Christmas home movies and his conversation with his father after he breaks down. Everyone has their own interpretation as to what Christmas means to them, which Clarke poignantly points out at the climax of "Christmas Vacation".

"The Santa Claus". No other Christmas movie that I know of has ever gone into to history or mythology of Father Christmas as well as 1984s "The Santa Claus". John Huddleston gives the greatest portrayal of Santa Claus on screen ever and the smarmy Dudley Moore and wickedly funny John Lithgow give brilliant supporting performances as the shamed elf and the evil corporate tyrant. This is how I visioned Chris Crinkle when I was a child.

"Die Hard". Not only one of the greatest action pictures of all time, but also a damn fine Christmas classic too. The first of the John McClane excellent trilogy that inspired hundreds of imitators, places McClane (Willis) in a tricky spot of trouble that includes enough action and explosions to make Al-Quada blush. Alan Rickman is superb as the terrorist antagonist Hans and supporting characters such as Sgt. Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason), and the sleazy coke sniffer Harry Ellis (Harry Bochner). Great one liners, cliche action scenes and Christmas cheer in this one.

"It's a Wonderful Life". The quintessential feel-good Christmas movie that provides the greatest performance in any Christmas movie and possibly any movie pre-Brando. Jimmy Stewart is one of my favourite actors of all time and I believe he could hold up his own against any great actor of any time. The story is quite simple as it really is an American re-enactment of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", but delves a bit deeper into the human condition. George Bailey (Stewart) isn't a "Scrooge", but through sqaundered dreams and financial difficulties he soon becomes a suicidal Scrooge. "It's a Wonderful Life" has some really great scenes, such as when George and Mary (Donna Reed) are drawn together during a phone call to a mutual friend, when George lashes out at Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore) or when he falls into a drunken depression and begins to contemplate suicide. This isn't just simply a Christmas movie, but stands as an ageless American piece of art. Director Frank Capra and James Stewart had both returned from their service in WWII and set out to make a movie about normal American citizens with real problems and accomplishments and until this day it expresses that wonderfully.

"Trading Places". Now this is a great comedy and brilliant idea, as John Landis forces wealthy commodities broker Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) and street bum Billy Valentine (Eddie Murphy) to swap lifestyles through a wager by the the extremely wealthy Duke brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche). Besides from making excellent horror movies (American Werewolf in London), Landis also concentrates on themes such as culture shock and class systems (also check Coming to America). Not only is this a great festive flick it is one of the best comedies of the 1980s. Perfectly cast. I mean look who is on screen together here: two of Hollywood's up and coming comedy stars placed against two Hollywood veterans in their closing years and they all click perfectly together. Not to mention great performances by Jamie Lee Curtis (the whore), Denholm Elliott (the butler) and Pail Gleason (the tough). First time Curtis exposed her cans on screen and they're not too shabby at all. Again, great story with a hilarious depiction of class diversity. 

"The Santa Clause". Absolutely absurd, insane, funny and sometimes gay, "The Santa Claus" is one of the best family Christmas movies of its time. It incorporates the whole Miracle on 34th Street mind games (is he real/is he not...just believe), but much more humorous and hysterical. Without Tim Allen and possibly Judge Reinhold this movie would be a disaster, but fortunately they were cast and help deliver a Christmas classic.

"Home Alone". John Hughes actually didn't direct two of his produced and written films on this list, but both "Christmas Vacation and "Home Alone" don't need a directing credit to know that they came from the mind of Hughes. I said it before about Hughes being the Sinatra of filmmaking because he can make everyone feel like they are in a cozy home while watching his movies and I stand by that especially for "Home Alone". The movie that made Macauley Culkin  a household name that drove him to not leave his own house. Ironic that the boy from the fiction of "Home Alone" became the man from the reality of actually been home alone. Regardless of what critics might say this is a classic holiday film that conveys a priceless, heart warming, family classic. Hughes always focused on family life and its importance during childhood and adolescence; here he conveys just that in a wonderfully ridiculous way.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Black Christmas

Psycho sparked it, Halloween laid down the rules for it, but somewhere in between Black Christmas (1974) ruined Christmas and originated the concept of what audiences refer to today as a slasher. A bunch of  college sorority girls are picked off one by one in Bob Clark's darkly, disturbing Holiday nightmare flick, which has come to be recognised as the movie that started the countless number of low-budget, exploitation slasher films. It originated the "pick off game" and also introduced the female presence that cannot not be related to the modern slasher movie.

Clark builds up the suspense and delivers with great cliche shock material that leaves the audience on the edge of their seat, but he also conveys a dark and creepy aura that is very effective. It is also delightfully humorous with the help of Marian Waldman as Mac, Margot Kidder as Barb and Doug McGrath as the slow witted Sgt. Nash. John Saxon pulls off his typical performance as a stern, but comforting police detective. Quite disturbing for its time with the use of schizoid, perverted crank calls by the killer and though the death scenes are not too violent, the manner in which the bodies are found are very unsettling. 

Clark borrows from the classic Rio Bravo format in that we witness a bunch of individuals trapped in a claustrophobic set piece that are forced to rely on and question those around them. This is now a staple in the slasher genre that portrays a fun situation for the audience as they place themselves in the characters shoes and imagine what they would do. The Christmas atmosphere funnily enough fits perfectly into this terrifying predicament. What is so wonderfully frustrating about Black Christmas is that even though Clark provides the standard shocks and death scenes he refuses to pay us off at the end and rather just lets the camera zoom out away from the sorority house and into the cold winter night.


Tony Scott has made a career of stylish action motion pictures that surpass your average extravagant blockbuster. However with Unstoppable he doesn't quite pull of his usual sleek, vigorous narrative. It is not Scott's technical or natural skill for the action genre that fails to deliver necessarily, but rather it is Mark Bomback's screenplay that falls short. 

If we take a look at Scott's previous work it is evident that his latest movie starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine lacks any clever dialogue or witty remarks. Scotts collaboration with Quentin Tarantino for True Romance conveyed a superbly directed action film with a fantastic story. It also contained one of the greatest scenes in the past 25 years between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper and a poignant ending. The Last Boy Scout written by Shane Black and Greg Hicks brought about a great array of one liners and is Scott's funniest movie. 

I was really excited for Unstoppable and even though it was obvious that it could never compare to the enthralling suspense of Jan de Bont's Speed, I still was expecting some clever dialogue or even smart one liners, but unfortunately I was disappointed. The casting of Washington and Pine seemed like a superb choice, but the story moves to fast to let them to really quarrel or grow to respect each other in a pace that felt right. Their relationship moved too fast for any real character development. Bruce Willis and Damon Wayons' characters in The Last Boy Scout was an excellent display of conflict and uniting between two strong personalities. The last fourty-five minutes was quite exciting with the two protagonists attempting to stop the "unstoppable", but the characters and dialogue is just too timid and plain. The humour was too cringing, where as with a movie like Speed we are given cheese because we are willing to except that in order to get a real thrilling experience.

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Top 10 Albums of 2010

10) James Blake: CMYK EP

9) Gorillaz: Plastic Beach

8) Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest

7) Big Boi: Sir Lucious Leftfoot-The Son of Chico Dusty

6) Das Racist: Sit Down, Man

5) LCD Soundsystem: This is Happening

4) The-Dream: Love King

3) Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today

2) Titus Andronicus: The Monitor

1) Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

2010 has proved to be an ambitious year for music with new artists giving listeners original material to enjoy (James Blake, Das Racist), and older (veteran in the case of Big Boi) creating their best work to date. R&B proved to be a genre that still can produce great music and voices with a big hand from The-Dream. The Gorillaz re-imagined their image and style to bring us an excellent cross-genre album, Big Boi finally was able to release his long awaited Sir Lucious to no disappointment and James Murphy continued his rock/dance propaganda, which is no easy feat especially having to compete with his own Sound of Silver.

As excellent and thoroughly pleasurable it has been listening to these great artists it was Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that has stole the show. It is funny how some people can still not get over the fact that this man is a egotistical, moaning, often pretentious, prick. They are missing the whole point. These people that repel him seem to be more concerned with his persona than his actual music, which is unfortunate because his new album is an excellent piece of work that caters to pop, hip-hop and world music listeners. It is short and sweet for a hip-hop album with no skits and no bad or mediocre tracks. The opener Dark Fantasy follows a West routine with an uplifting chorus, but introduces a RZA co-production that gives his verse a sharper edge. West the continues to prove that his lyricism has improved over his career on the vocal distorted Gorgeous. 

POWER is a confident retaliation to all public controversies that he has faced the past year, yet ends with a suicide thought that comes off as a nice release. Possibly the best track on the album, All of the Lights, takes some of the biggest pop names out there today and allocates them to minor roles that creates a grandiose event. West, Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Drake, The-Dream, Alicia Keys, Fergie all drop by to do their part. Hell even Elton John gets in a "I tried to tell you, but all I could say was...". Monster is a chaotic rap anthem for 2010, so much going on and when Nicki Minaj makes her presence known its game over (Is everyone else as turned on by her psychotic shouting as I am). Too bad Jay-Z made an appearance, he seems out of place on this track, definitely not a monster here. He should take note of Raekwon and Ghostface-be proud of your age and stop trying to be "forever young" it is embarrassing and people are beginning to talk.

Hell of a Life is the most interesting song in that West criticises porn star critics and imagines his life with one of these fine actresses by recognizing her as a worthy wife, who isn't a product of what society deems "good".  Blame Game is West's most personal song to date, it almost feels like we shouldn't be listening to it, especially near the end when he admits "I heard the whole thing". Chris Rock's appearance at the end can't even give the track an ease. The closer, Lost in the World, is another pop extravagganza that climaxes with a few words of strong reality from Gil Scott-Heron that help us escape from West's Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My Top 20 Tracks of 2010

20) Erykah Badu: Window Seat

19) Emalkay: When I Look at You 

18) The Knife: Colouring of Pigeons

17) Jay Electronica: Exhibit C

16) Gil Scott-Heron: New York is Killing Me

15) Gorillaz:Stylo

14) Kanye West feat Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Bon Iver: Monster

13) James Blake: CMYK

12) How to Dress Well: Decisions

11) Robyn: Dancing on my Own

10) Katy Perry: California Gurls

9) Kanye West: POWER

8) Joker: Tron

7) LCD Soundsystem: All I Want

6) Rihanna: Rude Boy

5) Alicia Keys: Un-thinkable (I'm Ready)

4) Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Round and Round

3) Big Boi: Shutterbug

2) The-Dream: Yamaha

1) Kanye West feat Pusha T: Runaway