Thursday 23 December 2010


We have reached a point in mainstream American Cinema in which original thought is now more often than not being looked past for brand recognition. In over 100 years of cinema, there has always been remakes, adaptations, and sequels. However, times have changed and in order to make money (it's called show business for a reason) the Hollywood machine are now really playing it safe. Looking at the top ten grossing movies of this year you will find that only two (Inception and Despicable Me) are based on original ideas. Ten years ago there were five. The change is only slight but still speaks in volumes. I mean just ten years ago there was more of a chance of an original screenplay being put through the machine right?

Well the answer to me is an awkward yes and no. It is more likely for me to get a draft of a 3D, sequel of a reboot optioned in this day and age over say my roman gladiator in space idea. On the flip side of this, are that many people actually going to watch the original ideas that are managing to slip though the cracks? I mean this honestly because we see a lot of big talk on teh tinterwebz from faceless commentators bemoaning the state of movies today. Usually quick to crap on the news of the next remake. Fair enough they can get frustrating. However, it was a bizarre feeling going up to the cinema on a Saturday afternoon with my girlfriend, her friends and my podcast co-host (total of five people) going to watch Whip It and being the only people in the screen. Granted it's primary target market is a particular one but it still didn't stop the film from being one of my hidden gems of the year. It's not just Drew Barrymore debut getting shafted. Here in England there's always talk about how crap (enter u.s film here) but a good search around and you can also see that they didn't really give a shit about the UKFC being scraped either.

It's not as clear cut as the half-baked reasons I've just placed above. When certain films come out they dominate more than one screen, pushing smaller films out the way. Also marketing has a huge hand in the process. Don R Lewis tweeted this about Tron: "The greatest trick the Disney ever played was making you think you ever gave a sh*t about Tron". To point I agree as Tron: Legacy is based on a 28 year old modest hit/cult movie, has no discernible entry point for new viewer with a poor storyline to boot. However with it's $200 Million had to be everywhere as it's not allowed to be an expensive flop. There's also the hilarious factor that most films are being made and targeted at the age of "young uns". But that's another story.

With all this said it is still down to Joe Six-pack to make the choice on what they're going to watch and to me the choice of many is quite simple. When you want to be entertained, are you going to take a risk and increase the chance of disappointment? Or do you go with what you know? So yes while 2010 has brought the amount of remake/reboot/sequel titles to critical amount and we can bitch about the lack of ideas as much as we want, we do enjoy the safety of what we know. We're not waiting for Bond 23 for no reason are we?

Here is my Top Ten Favorite movies of the year which features four adaptations and one semi-remake. Interestingly enough the trends within the ten are ones of fractured mindscapes, unreliable narrators with a couple of anti-heroes thrown in. As with last year, these are personal favorite choices so telling me that I'm wrong is folly as I don't do "best of the year".

Rambling over. Here we go:

Before I saw Inception I considered that this was the finest acting I've seen from DiCaprio. Looking back I still think it is. He is dominant here and it's through his performance he takes us through the wringer. The breakdown of DiCaprio's Teddy is heightened by the gorgeous visuals, deceptive editing and bombastic classical soundtrack. But it's the graceful melding of these elements by Martin Scorsese and his ability to tell a story that did it for me.

An OTT, comical semi-remake of Abel Ferrara grim character study. A subversion of the police procedural which makes full use of its outlandish humor and hallucinogenic imagery. Cage's cartoonish performance becomes hypnotic as you watch to see how just how much of the barrel Lieutenant Terence will scape with his bare hands.

I love Chris Morris' work because he captures the absurdity of our moral panics so accurately. His Brass Eye pedophile special (and the hilarious angry commentators in its aftermath) craftily show how quickly we can take things out of context and propagate our own fears in a blink of an eye. Four Lions is a cinematic extension of this; taking the touchy subject of terrorism and displaying it as the confused and stupid thing it can can. Morris (with help from the peep show writers) not only taps into the alienation and misplaced anger (and not the religious heretic)  that bestows many extremists but also reminds us that our fear-fueling world helps hide how truly random something like suicide bombing can be. It also helps that i found it constantly quotable and consistently funny.

Does it matter if Banksy's film takes you round the houses? It manages to say more about the state of art, be it graffiti, hip-hop or movies themselves than than it should. Toying with the idea of art as identity and how commerce and celebrity can distort such things. I found Banksy's "documentary" holds the same reckless spirit that his street art has.

It's lead performance is a stoic and selfless one from Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays a heroism that needs to be seen more often in female driven movies. The surroundings are barren and the family "community" within it almost make the Texas Chainsaw family look homely but Lawrence's Ree Dolly fights on no matter what the odds in this Ozark mountain based fable. The outcome is much like the films screenplay: sparse, uncomplicated but quietly touching.

I know it's cheating (it's released in the U.K next year) but I had to rebel a bit as this film gave me the most visceral impact this year. The techniques may hint towards the Wrestler but Arononfsky decides to direct things towards psychological horror. The naive performance; perfectly articulated by Natalie Portman leads us into a dark, claustrophobic tale of sexual awaking, social isolation and grueling routine. The early reviews have a touch of the marmite to them, but this film made it hard for me to stand up afterward.

Speaking of Marmite...Not everyone liked this clearly cult, hyper-active, sugar fueled, little upstart of a movie. Hell, it wasn't even caught at the cinema by most people! I however did manage to catch this on the big screen and fell in love with it instantly. Scott Pilgrim's rapid firing dialogue, dazzling visuals and bold ambition bowled me over, while it's game cast had me grinning like a loon without. As a teen comedy, I've seen nothing like it.

Playing out like an absurd, European Clockwork Orange, Dogtooth plays out like a mixture of Haneke and Palahniuk. Thing is...the weirder it got the more absorbing the film became. Hilariously deadpan with some provocative imagery, Dogtooth is one of those off the beaten track movies that I urge those who are into the films that are truly nuts should try and watch once.

The moment Trent Reznor's pulsating soundtrack kicks after an unflinching and brutal break-up, I knew the "facebook" movie wasn't going to be just a flash in the pan product. Fincher's Rashomon-like feature; plays out it's power plays and pride filled arguments with glee, but is ultimately tells the story of how one of the worlds most social web based program built it's foundations out of the blood, sweat and tears of other peoples fractured relationships. The ensemble cast are immense, the screenplay is zippy and the direction of story is as razor sharp as Fincher gets. It doesn't matter how much of it is true as it's damn fine fiction.

So much has been said about this little film that it's worth keeping this as short as possible. I do wonder that in a another world where more original screenplays were given the backing and trust that Nolan gained, would we be ranting an raving over this one? I do believe that we would. It's not just the amount of ideas that flow through the movie that make it so interesting, but also the execution, the visual scope and the general thrill that I (and many others) felt when watching the movie. It's interesting that so much emphasis was placed on how complex the film is. It's not, but it's ability to take themes what could be considered as lofty and make them palatable and enjoyable for a general audience? That's a skill.

Damn Fine Honourable Mentions:
Toy Story 3