Monday, January 3, 2011

2010: A Year of Extremes

2010 is over. A Kraken was released. A totem was spun. 3 people ended up not heeding Dante's warning & were attached ass to mouth. Dirk Diggler decided he was not gonna fight for you, you or YOU. Even the Dude himself wanted to channel his zen through a daft punk lightshow. It seemed that waiting for a good movie to come along was almost as futile as Mark Zuckerberg waiting for Erica to accept that friend request.

Last year, limiting it to only 10 movies was a bit of a challenge. This year I had a hard time putting in 10 worthy films.

I'm wondering why I bothered with 3/4 of what I ended up seeing in the theater this year. I miss having a great theatrical experience. & two out of a handful of times that happened this year were from the theatrcial re-releases of The Exorcist & Back to the Future. Films that sweep the floor with what most of this year had to offer.

Here's to hoping that 2011 will be a cure for the diseases that 2010 brought us.

Youth In Revolt, The Book of Eli, The Wolfman, Shutter Island, Kick-Ass, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Human Centipede, Iron Man 2, Splice, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Ghost Writer, Toy Story 3, A Prophet, Inception, Dinner For Schmucks, The Other Guys, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, The Expendables, Machete, The Town, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Mother, The Social Network, Jackass 3D, 127 Hours, Black Swan, Tron: Legacy, The Fighter, True Grit, Leaves of Grass, The King's Speech

This list is incomplete as there are still a number films yet to be seen: Animal Kingdom, Dogtooth, Blue Valentine, I Love You Philip Morris, Trash Humpers & Rabbit Hole.

1. The Social Network
A social network created by a someone who does not know how to communicate properly in the real world. The oil that makes this whole film run is perspective. We are given multiple views on what actually happened instead of one concrete view. Fincher & Sorkin never favor one over the other and lets the audience make up their own minds as to what really happened. Something that is drastically missing from cinema these days. Along with that he brings a restrained style and lets Sorkin's beat-perfect scripting take the reigns.

2. A Prophet
The stylistic choices that director Jacques Audiard employs (freeze frames, names of characters on screen) should not deter one's enjoyment rather enhance it. The most intense moment I've experienced from a film released this year goes to a scene involving the lead character Malik and a razor blade. You'll know it when you see it.

3. Black Swan
Repulsion meets Mulholland Dr. dressed up as The Red Shoes? That's what some people seem to be saying. Swan cuts deep. A spiritual successor to The Wrestler. If that one was from the heart, this is from the mind.

4. 127 Hours
The time compression of 127 hours to a mere 95 minutes taking place in a single setting may sound like a daunting task. Boyle managed to ratchet it up enough to make a story we already know the ending to seem riveting.

5. Enter the Void
'That was fucking trippy.'

6. Mother
Bong-jon hoo continues his perfect track record with a harrowing thriller chock full of heart wrenching scenes.

7. Toy Story 3
By far the darkest film Pixar has put out. Yet there is a warm sentimental vibe that is inviting.

8. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
As a longtime Rush fan, this doc had me grinning from ear to ear. They may not be the hippest band out there. Rolling Stone & the Rock N' Rill Hall of Fame shamefully snub their noses at them. But let's be honest. Why should they try to adapt to the mold when they got a good thing going for them already?

9. Best Worst Movie
A look into the lives of those responsible for Nilbog. It was quite revealing seeing people's reaction to fame in this light.

10. Shutter Island
Seeing the director dabble on the 'genre picture' canvas is something to be highly admired. Not without its flaws but good nonetheless.


(Decided to do a little something extra this time around. Hopefully it will kindle one's interest toward these directors.)


I got hit hard with the film bug this year. It's sting is still being felt as of this moment and it looks like there will no curable diagnosis anytime soon. As a result I went out of my way to look for filmmakers that lurk beneath the radar. While the year in film may not have been very good, these filmmakers made it more than worthwhile when digging into their back catalogs. A first was discovering directors who have yet to tackle a feature and have only done shorts. Short films are usually forgotten or pushed to the side. Yet within a compressed amount of time, some of them are able to pull just the right amount of punch that a full feature does.

Early on in the year, horror/exploitation became a big obssession. Pretty much from January straight through April. Delved further into the Giallo subgenre to discover D'Amoto & Bava (both Mario & Lamberto) along with some classic Val Lewton films from the 40's. Opened the crimson stained door to French horror to discover some truly gruesome cinema. Inside & Martyrs among them. One could say I opened the door a little too wide in terms of horror.

Morbid curiosity got the best of me this year. I was steered in two directions for the first half of the year: experimental & extreme horror. The former involving the discovery of some truly mindfucking experiences. Begotten & Gozu in particular. In Begotten's case, it's hitting your head on the ceiling of how far surrealism can go. This may be a bold statement, but it just may be more surreal than Eraserhead.

Then there's extreme horror. The problem here is, testing the limits of what one can endure. Mine was sure as hell tested in 2010 more than any other year. Thanks in part to straying along some paths leading to some really grisly stuff. Wanting to knock out all the sickest stuff out there. Only to find a big bright sign marked DEAD END. & I'm not talking Cannibal Holocaust. That's a film I admire, as brutal it may be. There we ever some really effective shorts I came across. Most notably: Cutting Moments. The problem I'm talking about is crap like August Underground. Because honestly, everyone has a breaking point. Not so much in tolerance of the stomach, but in tolerance of the mind. You can only go so far until you end up becoming a parody of yourself. I got to thinking: Do I really need this in my life right now? Why look to the bottom of the barrel for a possible goody when there are so many great things at the top of it. Exploration need not be in just one direction but several.

I can only point to the things leading to it. Curiosity. We all have fears. Chances are people who are afraid of the dark turn off all the lights in their house. Or people who are afraid of heights want to go up in skyscrapers. We want to understand our fears in an attempt to decipher a better understanding of ourselves. In the process of doing so, our will is put to the test. So we dive further. Into an almost Neitzschean realm of our subconscious. Failure to extract anything new in our quest of discovery is the lynch pin of the whole thing. & it's what ultimately led me to a dead stop in this futile process of discovery for this particular genre of cinema. Telling as it may be, the films that furthered my adoration to the art form (the Kieslowskis, the Finchers, the Kubricks) helped put me on a correct path. To be sure, exploitation is not entirely dead to me. I still love the Coffys & the Pieces. Besides, lovers of exploitation watch a film like 5 Fingers of Death for one reason: entertainment. I enjoy gliding along the edges of fringe cinema. Hopefully I won't make the same mistake and fall off the deep end again. I'm looking at you Serbian Film.

Note: From the Fringe will become a regular feature on this blog. Where I hopefully introduce you dear reader, to some of the offbeat films of the underground.

Here is a list of Non- 2010 films I saw.


Some of these directors will put your limits to the test. Some will subtly comfort you. One thing cannot be denied: It impossible to go through these director's works unscathed.

Call it more of a rediscovery. I had seen El Topo before, but didn't really get big into his stuff until earlier this year. If you think Lynch is as weird as it gets, go watch The Holy Mountain and get back to me on that. His films are for fans of the surreal. So Lynch fanatics, good news for you. What differentiates Jodoworsky's work from Lynch however is an almost fantastical presentation of images. The colors seem more prescient. Jodorowsky's films stick to your subconscious like hot tar.

Good news for fans of Jodoworsky in 2011: the out of print Santa Sangre will be released on DVD & Blu-Ray by Severin Films on January 25th.

Not just that "other Canadian director". Egoyan has crafted some of the more critically acclaimed films to come out of Canada. Along with Cronenberg he is showing that above us, we have some true artists at work. He's also probably the only sane director on the list with the exception of David Gordon Green. Well....make that three sane directors if ya count the next one.

Once a music video director for the likes of Radiohead, Glazer took his stylized vision and infused it into his films. Sexy Beast is pretty much The Limey of heist films insofar as being a bold stylistic experiment. Birth took it one step further with incredibly Kubrick-like direction. It breathes like a cross between Eyes Wide Shut & Barry Lyndon. Interested in his next feature for sure.

Most may know him from Pineapple Express, but his earlier films (George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow) have a striking small town feel to them. His films have been called the best films Terrence Malick never made. Being a Malick fanboy & after seeing Shotgun Stories as per the recommendation of Hare Media, it was inevitable that I'd watch the rest of the catalog. You feel like you know some of the characters in the world of DGG. In addition, he captures a Southern gothic vibe in the regions he films in. The last two efforts including the upcoming Your Highness may be a bit more mainstream, but I would love for him to get back to his indie roots again.

Their short films are a true testament to showing just how far stop motion has come since Ray Harryhausen. Principle among their works is a fascinating short called Street of Crocodiles. Anyone who wants to get into stop motion animation, these are the directors you put at the top of your list. The identical twins Timothy & Stephen are able to tap into a collective unconscious through a fascinating yet deeply unsettling mix of visual, musical and cinematic influences.

Recommended DVD: Phantom Museums.

All I can say is, watch Survive Style 5. It's a trip. Think Snatch on acid. Ichi the Killer's Tadanobu Asano stars in one of the four stories. As does Snatch's very own Vinnie Jones. Another one that may be a little hard to find as the copy I have is an import. It's not a 5 star knockout in my book but it's the type of film you need to see at least once just to witness the manic energy put forth by this director.

The 4 hour Love Exposure was described by Mitch Davis (co-founder of the Fantasia Film Festival) as "a hurricane of adoration and hysteria, poetry and perversion, humor and horror". Can't really put it any other way. Sit down. Press play. Get lost in its beauty. If you have a multi-region DVD player your hunt for this DVD will be rewarded.

For those disappointed in Iron Man 2 this year (i.e. everyone), I offer a much more satisfying alternative-- Tetsuo: Iron Man. It is described as Videodrome meets Eraserhead, so naturally I couldn't resist. Tsukamoto's films simmer with an almost mechanical like vibe to them.

From his short film alone, Morgan has proved to be an immense talent. You can also find The Separation on the fantastic short film compilation Small Gauge Trauma that was released through Synapse Films.

Which finally brings me to the weirdest discovery of 2010. You're probably thinking, how the hell can it get any weirder than the above films? Well....

There are sequences (particularly the opening) which include some of the most stomach churning and nightmare inducing things that you couldn't possibly imagine. It takes a lot to affect me when it comes to horror films, but this one damn near scarred me.

Worst film I saw in the theater: A Nightmare On Elm Street. What can I say, I'm an Elm Street completist. This movie exemplifies everything that is wrong with horror nowadays.


1. Breaking Bad
Season 3 proved to be an incredible intense and dark ride. The stakes were raised as was the drama with a potency that is as pure as the crystal meth processed by Walt & Jesse. The twin cousins should hands down be named villians of the year.

2. The Walking Dead
Instant love with a series after only seeing a Pilot is rare with me. This one did it. Some storylines could have been dropped. (i.e. the one group taking care of the elderly) Fantastic score by Bear McCreary.

3. Lost
Say what you will about the finale. The one question that people looking for everything to be tied up in a neat little bow should be asking themselves is just that: Why am I watching a show that thrives on mystery? It was a Rorschach test for people who love ambiguity. It will be missed.

4. Boardwalk Empire
Sopranos scribe Terence Winter takes on Jersey again but from a different perspective-- prohibition-era. Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Michael Pitt & A Serious Man's Michael Stuhlberg are all given time to shine and in the case of the last 3 actors, show that they are seriously undermined talent in Hollywood.

As The Stranger would say, that about does 'er. Here's to a great 2011.

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