Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Top of the Scots 2010: The Best Movies

The introductions are all taken care of, so no messing about today; let's get right to it! 

So we're gonna get this train a-rolling talking movies.

The Best of the Best

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
dir. Edgar Wright

Between Kick-Ass, The Losers and this, it's been a year of weird comic book adaptations coming to the cinema, hasn't it? There've been a couple more traditional medium-to-medium translations, I suppose - the nonsense that was Jonah Hex springs unbidden to mind - but none have done decent box office, none have had the crossover appeal the various studios had hoped for (guess it's back to straight-faced superheroes from here on out, huh?) and none, in the end, have really been worth writing home about.

Not a one... except for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, a movie which often felt like it'd been written specifically for me. From sound design lifted right out of The Legend of Zelda through a couple of stellar action sequences, and from a wickedly acerbic sense of humour through an assortment of attractive moody ladies I'm sure no-one complained about - oh, and Michael Cera in his best performance since I first noticed him in Juno - Edgar Wright's latest mightn't quite stand the test of time alongside Shaun of the Dead, say, but I sure had a hell of a time with it all the same.

4. Ondine
dir. Neal Jordan

I find myself feeling more charitable about Ondine half a year on than I did watching it in the first place, which is odd. For me at least, it's odd. Usually, the more I think on a thing, the more it tends to come apart in my perception - little flaws accumulate to become something substantially more problematic - but that's not been the case with this very Irish fable. A moody and endlessly atmospheric selkie fable led by strong and admirably restrained performances across the board, Ondine succeeds on a number of levels: as a tragedy, as a love story, as a tale of a family coming apart like so much twine unraveling. As a film, it's mostly marvelous.

It has its hitches, however. Particularly in the late-gate, which seems to go against all The Crying Game writer/director Neal Jordan had worked so tirelessly to establish to begin with, Ondine flounders, but nevertheless I've come to think very fondly of this film in the six months since I saw it.

And newcomer Allison Barry is a joy to watch as Colin Farrell's brave, disabled daughter. Did I mention that in my review?

3. The Social Network
dir. David Fincher

I expected to despise this film.

You know, because it's about Facebook - and I despise Facebook. Twitter is my sole social media allowance. That and, uh... the blog. But let's gloss over that! Facebook in particular leaves me with a foul taste in my mouth.

Alas, thanks to David Fincher - a favourite director of mine (I'll still stick up for Alien 3, just try me!) - and Aaron Sorkin, scriptwriter extraordinaire and the mastermind behind the likes of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The West Wing, this powerful biopic boasts more class and smarts than every social network slapped together, and I had to watch it, didn't I?

Well, ultimately, I'm glad I did. Witty and barbed, assiduously intelligent and tense beyond belief, The Social Network plays its cards hard and fast. When at last Fincher reveals the extent of the hand he's been dealt, the effect is no less than flooring.

Now... if only we could trick Fincher into coming back to the fold which so scorned his initial efforts. With this and Benjamin Button, two for two, don't you all wish you'd been a little nicer way back when?

2. Inception
dir. Chris Nolan


Far and away my most highly-anticipated film of 2010, and perhaps a wealth of impossible expectations played some part in my disappointment with Inception, but I don't know.

"Disappointment" is of course a decidedly relative term here. Even on a bad day, a Chris Nolan film is sure to be something else, and indeed, Inception blew a lot of folks' socks off. For myself, I enjoyed the two and a half hours I spent watching it in the theatre, but I don't know that it surprised me in the least. Right through to the last twist of the knife - the last spin of the top, I should say - I saw so many of the story beats coming, and the whole affair was just so... so cold, you know? So distant, emotionally speaking. The characters were cool, sure, what's-her-name's always great (Ellen Page) and DiCaprio's just knocked me for six this year. And the set-pieces, the vastness of the imagination behind them, they were brilliant. I'll suspend my disbelief for the least little thing - give me a high-concept advert, go on - but I found it difficult to engage with Inception the way it surely wanted me to.

So Inception didn't explode me inside or out. Not the way The Dark Knight did, nor Memento or The Prestige - this Nolan fellow sure has had his wicked way with me, over the years! - but I don't mean to downplay its many achievements. I wouldn't be surprised if this comes by consensus to be recalled as THE film of 2010.

For me personally, however, that honour goes to...

1. Shutter Island
dir. Martin Scorsese

Feels like I'm going way back with this one, doesn't it? Well, not so much: Shutter Island did indeed come out this year, however long ago it might seem after the grand old year we've had.

Martin Scorsese's finest film since Goodfellas, you think? I know I do. Come to that, though I full well understand Goodfellas' place in the canon of great cinema, I personally enjoyed Shutter Island a great deal more than that mobster masterpiece: its ghost-story roots in that old Dennis LeHane novel struck just the right chord, Scorsese and his screenwriter embellished the film's source material perfectly, and however much I've appreciated the various movie aforementioned, none have resonated with me in quite the same way as Shutter Island did. "A real mindfuck of a movie [...] simply sublime," I called it back when the grass was greener and all that.

And would you believe I didn't even review it? Shutter Island came out right when I was trying to get TSS off the ground and up, up and away; it kind of got lost in the shuffle of suddenly feeling like I had to read (not to mention write about) two or three books a week rather than the one I might have done Before Blogging.

Any old way, clearly that's something I'm going to have to remedy in the very near future. I smell... a rewatch!


Surprising the heck of out me, this Halloween a sequel I had precisely no expectations of managed to work much the same magic which made its surprise smash-hit predecessor such a deluge of spooky goodness. Paranormal Activity 2 neatly ties into the mythology of the original film and offers its own brand of jolts and jitters. I mean, I've officially been there and done that now - the inevitable third film's going to have a lot of work to do to convince me there's more story needing told - but the dynamic of the dog and the baby in particular won me over to this shockingly considered cash-in's cause.

Oh, and that moment in the kitchen, with all the cupboard doors? Priceless.

Honourable Mentions

So I finally got around to watching the Watchmen. A fine film, I thought. Not the equal of the graphic novel, no, but come on, was it ever really going to be? I find myself with little to no sympathy for all the whiners who insisted Zack Snyder's adaptation was a travesty. To think I steered clear of it for this long because of your moaning!

Last time I trust the internet...

Meanwhile, I'd be remiss not to mention one of the best indie films I saw this year: Pontypool (review). Sure, it got a bit silly towards the end, but otherwise, this chamber house comment on genre made much of its miniscule budget. Pontypool stands as an example of all that independent filmmaking should aspire to.

Oh, and it has zombies. If I had my way, all indie films would.

Biggest Disappointments

Long-time TSS readers might recall my other hot tip for film of 2010: second only to Inception, my anticipation for this Summer's Splice (review) knew no bounds. As an avowed fan of Cypher and Cube director Vincenzo Natali, I had high hopes for this purported parable of genetic engineering... hopes Natali could only crush into so much slapstick snuff as he descended down the rabbit hole a hot alien-looking lady appeared to present him with.

Oh well.

Glaring Oversights

As to another of my most anticipated films of the year, One Hour Photo director Mark Romanek's oft-acclaimed adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, well... despite its release in the States months ago, the damn thing's still not out here in blighted Blighty.

To which I say, having summoned every inch of maturity I can feasibly muster: no fair!

Whereas part the first of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I've no such excuse about not having seen yet. I'm just going to take a pass on it, I do believe, till the concluding chapter of the concluding chapter sees release next Summer. Shameless they'd simply slice a movie down the middle like that. Well, no alarms and no surprises; and I'm in no great rush anyway.

Final Thoughts

So 2010...

Not the best of years for movies, I don't think. A slim picking of great and a handful of good, fun flicks came and went, but only a few truly timeless films have stood out from the crowd these past twelve months - at least, only a few that I've seen.

And perhaps that's the overriding issue here. I haven't been watching even half as many movies as I used to. A guy's only got so much time to spend, you know? And I've spent a lot more of it with my nose buried in one book after another (after another) this year than ever before. I wouldn't have had it any other way, but alas, all the same... alas.

Must try harder!

Anyway, that's it for the year in film. Stay tuned - there'll be more Top of the Scots tomorrow.


  1. I can't stand Michael Cera. He plays the same whiny, penis-less character in every single movie. I never read the source material, but I abhor black and white comics so that's no oddity there. I thought the movie was pretty good, but I cannot understand the comic and film nerd community's lust for this film.

    And by the same token I couldn't understand their utter disdain for Watchmen. That adaptation seemed to be universally hated by internet fan boys, and I thought it was great.

    I really, really liked Ondine. I couldn't find many faults with it, but it has been a bit since I've seen it.

    Shutter Island surprised me in a very good way, and I thought Inception was really good, but completely over-hyped.

    Never Let me Go and Harry Potter? Outstanding films.

    Have yet to see Splice or The Social Network.

    Nice post.

    Kristopher A. Denby
    The Sound and Fury of Kristopher A. Denby

  2. Someone else who'll stand up for Alien 3? I thought such a thing was the stuff of myth!

    But as of the films I've seen this year, I thought Inception met my carefully lowered expectations and not much more. Like you, I didn't see anything groundbreaking or truly brilliant in it.

    SPvW, however, blew me away. It was more complex and nuanced on both a shallow level (a lot of little visual and sound cues littered throughout; lots of small jokes that are easy to miss) and on a thematic level. Pity it was such a financial failure, apparently on DVD as well as in the theaters.

  3. @Chris - Oh, it was? Well balls. Par for the course I suppose; The Losers and Kick-Ass both met similarly uneventful fates. Shame. I like these comic book adaptations a damn sight more than what Hollywood's been putting out before now...

  4. As good as Scott Pilgrim was, the comic adaptation which I enjoyed most was Red. John Malkovich. Morgan Freeman. Badass Helen Mirren being badass. Sure, it was barely recognisable as the Warren Ellis comic, but with such a cast it was always going to be good.

  5. Badass Helen Mirren was totally bad ass. And the rest of the cast were lots of fun too - kind of like in The Expendables, it was a pleasure just to see so many familiar faces in one place, and faces I'm pleased to be familiar with.

    But Red didn't really grab me otherwise. Haven't read the Warren Ellis, I confess... keep hearing how different the two Red are. Perhaps I just saw the movie too soon after hearing Kevin Smith tell his long-ass gut punch of a Bruce Willis anecdote in Too Fat For 40? Haven't been able to look the guy in the eye since.

  6. I was also disappointed with 'Splice', given the past credits of Vincent Natali. Ahh well, it had its gloopy and gory moments though.

  7. You should have seen Monsters, it was brilliant!

  8. I couldn't agree more that Shutter Island is the best of the best this year, followed closely by Inception. Both are films I could re-watch with enjoyment despite knowing the endings.

    I thought Scott Pilgrim was a visual feast, brilliant in nearly every frame. But I found the story to be a huge disappointment, largely because, by the end of it all, I wasn't sure I really liked Scott Pilgrim. I don't think he treated either of his love interests very well and I certainly didn't find anything endearing about it. I'll give it props for its uniqueness, I just wish that would have been paired with a more worthwhile story.