TC’s Ten Best Films of 2010

If it weren’t for the expected heady delights of Zach Snyder’s Sucker Punch, it would be quite feasible to imagine a 2011 where I don’t bother going to the movies. We all but abandoned that this year, the previous issues of increasing cost, decreasing quality of cinematic experience and the rise of alternatives, all combining to work against it. With a broad seam of “treasures” from previous years waiting to mined from sites like Cinemageddon, why bother with new movies? The does make the creation of a list like this difficult, since the number of films which qualified as “2010” was probably an all-time low, even with a deliberately-vague rule on what counts. Next year “of” may be be replaced by “watched in”.

The split of how the ten were obtained is interesting. One was seen at the cinema; two were DVD screeners; two were part of our film festival; and the other five were… Well, for legal reasons, let’s just go with “not”, shall we, and I won’t say which was which. As an aside, I note that the most-pirated movie of 2010 was Avatar…which was also the most-bought DVD of 2010, with sales numbers basically the same as the most-bought DVD of 2009. And, even if you reckon every single one of those downloads personally cost Jim Cameron $10, the total amount lost was less than 6% of the film’s worldwide gross. Yeah, piracy really is bankrupting the movie-industry, isn’t it? </rant> And with that, let’s move on, shall we?

Here’s the list of my ten favorites from the year just past. Links go to the appropriate review: titles marked with a * are over on, so those reviews will pop open in a new window.

The Shadow Within

10. The Shadow Within
I said this quietly understated horror flick “reminded me of Sapphire & Steel,” but I probably should have clarified, to avoid any confusion, that this was a good thing. Most low-budget horror films tend to go for the basics, like slashers, so it was nice to see one that had a spot of invention to give the viewer. Summary: “Managed to overcome the obstacles and deliver something that’s generally successful and occasionally quite chilling.”

9. Harry Brown
This Michael Caine vehicle likely got some quality rub-off from having watched Get Carter earlier in the year, as it feels like an unofficial sequel: Jack Carter, forty years on, now an OAP, yet still capable of being an ultimate bad-ass when necessary. Caine is always a pleasure to watch; like Sean Connery, he is now such an iconic figure, he really doesn’t need to bother. But, unlike Connery, Caine still does. Summary: “Shallow, fearmongering exploitation with a heart”.

8. Inception
The jury is still someone out on this one: when I get round to seeing it again, it’s possible the film could move up the list, if I appreciate its depths, or drop off entirely, as I realize it is pretentious bollocks. It was certainly nice to see a full-on Hollywood blockbuster that spends $200 million to fuck with the audience’s head. David Cronenberg is wondering where he went wrong. Summary: “Nolan is playing with chess pieces, shuffling them around a board of dreams.”

7. Mutant Girls Squad*
Part of the new wave of uber-splatter that has been coming out of Japan: this and last year’s top-10 entry, Machine Girl, share a similar gleeful level of completely mad inventiveness, painted with a firehose of arterial spray. This one plays like a Pythonesque version of X-Men, featuring a hiddem race possessing powers that are largely utterly ludicrous e.g. a chainsaw that comes out of your butt.  Summary: “Impossible to take any of it seriously, even as it is played completely straight-faced.”

6. The Countess
The most unexpected surprise of 2010 came on the heels of the sub-mediocre Bathory, covering the same historical biography. The difference is that Julie Delpy nailed it with her performance, playing a character often depicted before, but never really portrayed. One of the biggest serial killers of all time becomes almost sympathetic, which is quite an impressive feat. Summary: “While not exactly soft-pedalling the brutality, it’s more of a tragic love-story than anything else.”

5. SexyKiller*
And speaking of amiable serial-killers, here comes Barbara, part-time bubble-headed student of medicine and dedicated follower of fashion, part-time cold-hearted psychopath. But just when we’re getting used to that, the whole thing becomes a zombie film, in what must be the most abrupt right-turn since From Dusk Till Dawn. Summary: “I just loved the unashamed nature of it all: Barbara is perfectly comfortable with who she is, and is in no need of redemption.”

4. La Horde
The zombie movie truly is international, and this French entry got back to basics: a bunch of ill-fitting companions, thrown together in a confined space, thanks to and having to deal with the presence of ravenous hordes of undead. If slightly too derivative of Romero’s original [especially at the end], I thoroughly appreciated the stripped-down approach. Summary: “Drawing the characters efficiently, in a few short brush strokes, and then getting on with the horror and action.”

3. You, the Living
One of those films which largely defies description, this makes Inception look like two hours of  webcam footage, in terms of interconnected narrative. Scenes start in the middle, stop in the middle, and link into each other with the kind of logic that only appears in dreams. It should be enormously irritating as a result, yet there’s a genuine sense of human warmth pervading it. Summary: “When it works, it works beautifully, with a deadpan sense of dark humour that feels similar to Aki Kaurismäki

Bitch Slap

2. Bitch Slap*
Chris bailed entirely on this, 20 minutes of sarcasm e.g. “Would you rather watch this alone?”,  into this grindhouse beat-em-up, with the throttle stuck open. It’s closer to Faster Pussycat than anything else, as three women head out to the desert for a stash of treasure, only for their relationship to fall apart in brawls and treachery. Summary: “Alcohol will probably help the neurons go in the correct direction, as will an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop culture, and tolerance for trash at an industrial concentration.”

1. Shellter
If you look at our number ones for the past couple of years – Martyrs in 2009, and 2008’s Sick Girl – you’ll notice both are hardcore horror with a philosophy, and Shellter is cut from much the same cloth. It doesn’t pull its punches and is often difficult to watch; yet it forces you to confront uncomfortable realities about humanity in general, and yourself in particular. How far would you go? Summary: “It’s probably no coincidence that the director has a master’s degree in psychology – and that’s why I say the film has a philosophy. This is what lifts it up above its retarded cinematic cousins.”


Incredibly Bad Film Show: Dr Who and the Daleks

Dir: Gordon Flemyng
Star: Peter Cushing, Roberta Tovey, Roy Castle, Jenny Linden

The revival of Dr. Who by the BBC, beginning in 2005, has been one of the most spectacular successes of recent years. It resurrected a series which had, for all practical purposes, been dead and buried since 1989 – the previous reboot, in 1996 with Paul McGann, having been a one-shot TV movie flop. But McGann wasn’t the only person to play the Doctor outside the well-known regulars from the series. Indeed, if you add in Comic Relief spoof, The Curse of Fatal Death, and the list includes Richard E. Grant, Joanna Lumley, Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Grant – all of whom would have been interesting choices as the permanent incumbent.

Back in the 1960’s, Peter Cushing played the Doctor in two spin-off movies. The potential here was huge: after all, Cushing had already become the canonical Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing, as well as, arguably, Winston Smith and Sherlock Holmes. The concept of him playing a stern, Frankenstein-styled Doctor appealed enormously. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got: rather, the words “disastrous misfire” come to mind, particularly for the first movie.

I can’t categorically state this is not due to my expectations having been radically revamped by the new series. Much as I loved Tom Baker growing up, I haven’t dared watch any of the earlier series since we fell in love with the reboot – it could be a disaster, in line with the re-viewing of Blake’s 7, which only succeeded in shattering forever, my fondly-held teenage illusion that it was a good programme. Certainly, it seems likely the sixties Who was aimed more directly at kids, not the general audience for the new version. But even so… Sheesh, this is pretty bad.

And it’s bad, right from the opening credits. Excuse me, where is the Dr. Who theme? Y’know – OOO-weeee-ooo… Instead, we get some smooth jazz, over which it was just about possible to fit the “real” theme, if you hummed it loudly. And, trust me, we did. When we get to the Doctor, things get even worse, for he is simply a doddery old human, reading a comic in his arm-chair. Hello! Alien? Two hearts? Gallifrey? Time-lord? Not here. Cushing was only in his early fifties, but plays the part about twenty years older. And “Who”? Here, it’s his family name. I’ll repeat that: it’s his family name. Pause to roll eyes. Though unfortunately, his grand-daughters are named Barbara (Linden) and Susan (Tovey), rather than Cindy-Lou.

There is still the Tardis, here invented by the Doctor, and it whizzes the three of them, along with Barbara’s boyfriend, Ian (Castle), off to a distant planet, after Ian sits on the lever which operates it. That’s basically his role: to be a clumsy, inept and generally useless sidekick, and this may be the way in which the film differs furthest from the current series. The planet has largely been destroyed by a nuclear war, with the two races then diverging. One has retreated inside a city, donning metal suits to avoid the radiation and rolling around as the Daleks. The others, the Thals (above right), appear to have reverted to a culture based on a Las Vegas floor-show. They have a medicine allowing them to withstand the radiation; the Daleks want that, and when they discover it doesn’t work on them, prepare to explode another nuclear bomb that will jack the radiation up to lethal levels.

The Daleks are, frankly, a bit crap, and I speak as someone terrified of them as a child.  A major plot point is that they get their power through the floor, like dodgem cars, so have all the mobility of Scalextric models and can be stopped by pushing them onto anything insulated. When the humans works this out, it leads to Ian climbing into one, though the Doctor and Barbara then have to drag him around by the exterminating nozzle. It still proves capable of fooling the other Daleks. One wonders how they ever conquered the universe, since slopes and open lift shafts also prove… troublesome.

They… speak… very… very… slowly… and don’t even redeem themselves by yelling “Exterminate!” Their taste in interior design is interesting, with the decor including flanges made out of gold tin-foil and, of all things, lava lamps. Yes, lava lamps. As the screenshot above shows, we’re not kidding. We wondered if, perhaps, they also had one of those swing chairs and a few Roger Dean posters elsewhere in the complex.

Of course, this Doctor and his companions are a match as far as sharpness goes. After they escape, they head back to the Tardis to leave, everyone completely forgetting – teehee! – that a key component was still in the possession of the Daleks, having been taken when they “searched” the Doctor following his capture. Quotes used advisedly there, since it doesn’t even qualify as a cursory patdown from a bored night-club bouncer at the end of his shift. In their defense, you can’t do much, when you have a sink plunger and a pincer instead of opposable thumbs.

They team up with the Thals, who need to be convinced they must fight the Daleks. Again, this runs absolutely counter to the modern Doctor, to whom violence is abhorrent, to be avoided at all costs. Here, not so much: Cushing basically calls them a bunch of fags and makes clucking sounds until they agree to attack. Just in time, too, as the Daleks have started their 100-second countdown to exploding their nuclear weapon.

Two things stand out here. Firstly, it’s very accommodating of the Daleks to use Earth units – heck, they label their control panel in English, too. Secondly, what follows is the longest 100 seconds in cinematic history, the timer apparently only working when the camera is on it. The countdown runs for a full five and a half minutes before Ian causes the Daleks to turn all their weapons onto their own control panel, destroying both it and themselves. Oops. Like I said: how the hell did this lot ever become the terror of the universe?

Undaunted, much the same team created a sequel the following year, Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 AD, whose main distinguishing feature is that it doesn’t entirely suck. The storyline is better thought out, some of the flying saucer special effects are surprisingly good (except for the crash at the end, which is clearly about eight inches high), and the supporting cast is helped by stalwarts such as Andrew Keir and Philip Madoc. There’s a nice resonance with the current series, in that one companion is Bernard Cribbins, who plays the grandfather of new companion Donna Noble for the reboot. Mind you, I could really have done without seeing him and Cushing in black PVC catsuits (left). That sort of thing needs to be strictly reserved for Honor Blackman.

Even by the low standards of mid-sixties science fiction, they are marginally tolerable at best, and the intervening near half-century has not been kind. Often reaching the jaw-droppingly bad level, it’s no wonder both films are treated with contempt bordering on loathing by Whovians, with the series canon denying their existence, due to the changes made to the beloved series. I’ll close with this exemplary example, from Invasion Earth, demonstrating how you can dispose of a massively-superior alien threat.