First off a fair comment, I have not seen; King Kong, Walk the Line, Syriana, the Chronicles of Narnia (not that I am likely to), or any of a half dozen other flicks that might have cracked my list. So if it seems incomplete, well, mea culpa, these are the films I actually saw.
10 – High Tension
You read my original review here. A blood soaked exercise in grindhouse horror and Freudian repression it was novel for being both lesbian and Gallic in the flavour of its excess.
Bonus points for the scene where the villain has oral sex with a severed head.
9 - Mr and Mrs Smith
Surprisingly breezy romantic comedy had a light touch throughout, plot holes the size of the Arizona meteor impact crater, and two of the most supremely beautiful leads ever cast in film. I liked it despite all the Hollywood baggage it carried (the unrelenting hype, the endless action set pieces, the insistence on punctuating every scene with an explosion, etc.). In the end though, it had such a care-free heart at its core that I couldn’t help but enjoy it.
8 – Batman Begins
You can read my original review here. The franchise got rebooted in 2005 and none too soon. Taken away from the Hollywood crowd that had turned it from a campy exercise in 60’s kitsch (Adam West), into a darker but still quirkily gothic version that cruised on visual style as much as anything else (Tim Burton), into a creatively bankrupt toy selling machine where the intellectual juice ran so low that Batman’s suit had nipples and both the future governor of California as well as Jim Carrey make movie killing appearances (Bruckheimer) - the latest version was crafted to be smarter, slicker, and more psychologically complex than the previous entries combined. Christian Bale brings exactly the right amount of handsome blank expression and internal suffering to the role, and even the lamest villains from Batman’s catalogue of enemies (the Scarecrow and Ras Al-Ghul) turned out to be excellent. All in all, a ripping new beginning for the franchise.
I still could have done without the tank-like Bat-mobile though.
7 – Ong Bak, the Thai Warrior
Tony Jaa blows up on the screen with terrific charisma, and dynamic physical skills. Jaw dropping stunts and high energy fight scenes are dotted throughout. At least part of the success for the film is due to Luc Besson’s recutting of the flick to Western tastes, and this did compromise plot in favour of action – but when you see Tony Jaa leap through a ring of barbed wire (he did all his own stunts), you know it’s not really about plot anyway.
The end was a tad disappointing given the excellent action sequences that lead up to it, but at least they had the good sense to stage the final battle in front of a giant statue of Buddha, creating some impressive visual elements to round out the film.
Still the flat out the best martial arts flick I’ve seen in a while.
6 - Serenity
I am not, and have never been a big fan of ‘Firefly’, the TV series that the movie is based on. That said, having seen the film I am now willing to go back and give the series a try.
Sure some of the plot points bothered me; the ‘Reavers’ seem to be completely homicidally insane – yet they are apparently high functioning enough to have a fleet of ships they raid others with, the lead character gets into a fight with the villain – a programmed killing machine and yet he holds his own, and don’t get me started on the suspension of logic required with the whole ‘we need to get to Mr. Universe’s lab to disseminate the truth’ thing – that was just bad (indeed it was so bad that I myself have written a short story with a similarily poorly thought out solution), but more often then not I found myself impressed by the sly ways that Joss Whedon teases out of his characters a full range of grace notes, the subtle humour, the libertarian perspective, and of course, the action sequences which had more snap and drive than the last two Lucas SW films combined.
Bonus points - Joss isn’t afraid to kill off characters.
5 - The Aristocrats
If you don’t laugh at the joke when George Carlin delivers it in the first 10 minutes, you can safely turn off this film – it is simply not for you. If you laugh out loud (as I did), you’ll find that the rest of the flick is pretty hysterical as well. My favourite was the ‘Amish version’ discussed around the mid-point.
My vote for funniest movie of the year, hands down.
Bonus points: one of my heroes, the magician Penn Jillette, is executive producer.
4 - Box 507
A Spanish film noir, I picked it up with low expectations and left thinking it was one of the best movies of the year. After I brought it back to the office and discussed it with the RV purchasing staff, they were convinced to give it a second (actually first) look, and it went from a title not being purchased at all to one that should be available in the next month at your finer RV stores across the country.
The premise is simple, a bank mgr is held up and locked into his own vault. Within he discovers a box (of the title) and in it some papers, papers that make some very dangerous and powerful people extremely nervous. From then on the mgr’s story runs parallel with a hitman (the owner of the box) who is trying to get the papers back.
It’s rare to get a movie with this much tension and intelligence, and even more rare that it would be flying so far under the radar.
Bonus points: The ending is simply off the hook good.
3 – Oldboy
My biggest surprise of the year was this nasty little film from Korea. You can read my original review here.
I don’t want to say too much else, except it’s a cross between ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Kill Bill’ – a film noir revenge flick with a brain.
Definitely check this one out.
2 – Sin City
Stylistically this is easily the greatest achievement of the year. The original black/white look they create pops off the screen in a way no other film has before. As an adaptation of the comic book, it is excellent (in no small part due to the fact that Frank Miller, the author of the comic, was brought in to co-direct), making it one of the most successful translations of comic book to screen ever.
The film is not without some flaws. The opening part of the trilogy is by far the strongest, and the last one is by far the weakest, but as a whole they work magnificently together.
Mickey Rourke is also a revelation, giving depth and meaning to his character, he disappears completely into the role of ‘Marv’.
Exceedingly violent, dark, amoral and even cheerfully debauched, it was also easily one of the best flicks of the year.
Bonus points; Rutger Hauer as the cannibal priest, and Elijah Wood as a suped up serial killer. Sweet.
Extra bonus points: The beginning and end sequences may well be the strongest of the film overall, despite their brevity.
1 – A History of Violence
The original (and overly gushing) review is here.
Cronenberg’s mainstream breakthrough is also a comic adaptation, though the graphic novel it was based on was never as big a deal as the Frank Miller Sin City series was. DC however, takes the otherwise routine plot of the film and layers on levels of meaning.
What is genuinely masterful about DC’s telling of this story (which is the most simplistic plot he’s engaged in since ‘Shivers’), is that the last scene, where the wife is confronted with the question of whether to take the lead character back, and the answer is left unresolved – forcing the movie viewer to parse out the different moral ramifications of the violence that has taken place to see whether the answer lies within the film itself.
Simply put, AHOV is a work of calculated genius, and was by far my favourite movie of the year.