TC’s Ten Best Films of 2013


Just over 300 films seen in total during 2013, though not all were eligible for inclusion here – some were too old, even by the somewhat loose definition of “2013” that I’m using again. [Pretty much anything which had its first US distribution this year, in some way] Feels like the standard this year was somewhat lower, probably affected by us not having our film festival, so there were virtually no submissions – three of those made the top ten last year. I think I also mined rather more old films this year, or perhaps it just seems that way. Certainly, cinema-going remained at a premium, with probably only a handful of actual trips at most. Netflix likely helped fill in the gaps, along with TV shows – we discovered Game of Thrones this year – and the “unofficial sources.”

Previously, I’ve generally ordered the films simply by rating, but this time, I have adjust certain rankings, because some of the films have stuck in my mind more than others, and that should probably be recognized. Right, enough rambling. Into the top 10.

10. Riddick. I think this is likely one which will repay repeated viewing, even if it’s never going to be anything approaching great art. It’s simply two hours of Vin Diesel returning to his roots, and doing what turned him into a star i.e. being a total bad-ass. You’re either with this or you’re against it: Diesel probably doesn’t give a damn either way, and we’re right there with him there.  What we said: “Diesel is entirely at ease with his character by this stage… a simple pleasure, yet certainly a satisfying one.”

9. GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I always like wrestling documentaries, because of the multiple levels – real people, pretending to be fake people, pretending that what they’re doing is real. Drawing the boundaries is often difficult, and that’s some of the appeal. This was a fascinating and poignant portrayal of what happen once your 15 minutes of fame have gone. What we said: “A thoroughly satisfactory snapshot of a pop-culture element from another era. “

8. Violet & Daisy. All the more poignant due to the death of James Gandolfini, this tells of two young assassins (top) sent to kill him, only to find him waiting to offer then, literally, tea and cookies. As things unfold, we discover the reason why, and also some hard-to-swallow truths about the girls’ relationship and employment. Not what you’d expect from the screenwriter of Precious, to say the least.  What we said: “An engaging and effective action heroine film too, and one which doesn’t rely purely on adrenalin and cleavage.”


7. Maniac (2013). A horror remake that doesn’t suck, or even have you going “Meh”? Hello, good to see you – it has been a while, hasn’t it? Here, we go deep into the head of a serial killer, with much of this filmed in brutal first-person style. There’s no shrinking away, and the results are a disquieting update on what was already one of the sleazier entries in the grindhouse genre. Missed the shotgun head-blast though. What we said: “Packs a nastier wallop than the original, with more depth, and doesn’t sacrifice the rawer elements to do so.”

6. The World’s End. The Cornetto trilogy comes to its conclusion, with another global apocalypse against which a small band of friends must make a stand. There may be a pub involved. 🙂 Still, it’s a fully-satisfying finale, which shows how both Pegg and Wright have grown since Shaun. Mind you, this still isn’t quite as good: sometimes, becoming more mature is a double-edged sword. What we said: “Such an entertaining and smart ride, possessing both brain and heart, that its flaws are absolutely forgiveable.”

5. The Attacks of 26/11. It’s easy to forget in the West that there are places where terrorism is far more common that here; the assault on Mumbai in 2008 is among the worst anywhere since 9/11. Being reminded of this is no bad thing, and this well-crafted reconstruction of events also proves beyond doubt that there’s more to Bollywood cinema than pretty costumes and elaborate dance numbers. What we said: “A very solid and engaging piece of work, shining light on an incident not as well-known in the West as it should be.”

4. Escape (Flukt). Straightforward and to the point: in medieval Scandinavia, a girl is kidnapped, but escapes, and has to make her way to safely, pursued by the single-minded (and borderline psychotic) leader of the tribe. With its bow-wielding heroine (below), plays like a more up-close and personal version of The Hunger Games, unfolding against a spectacular Northern landscape,  What we said: “Hardly an ounce of fat in the form of wasted moments, on its lean Scandinavian frame.”

3. Star Trek Into Darkness. This is one I think I over-rated at the time. Sure, it was very good, and Benedict Cumberbatch made for one of the best villains in the entire series. But how much of this can I honestly say stuck in my mind? Surprisingly little, resulting in its lowered position, at least pending a re-view and re-calibration. Certainly slick, and considerably better than our other cinematic outingPacific RimWhat we said: “If there are any better big-budget movies this year, I can’t wait to see them.”

2. The Last Days. It’s nice to see a film that can take a genuinely-new concept for the global apocalypse, and develop it in a fully-formed manner. Who needs zombies when you have claustrophobia? The modern world is so shut-in by default, it’s easy to forget the need to emerge every now and again. But turning that in to the enemy is a fascinating twist, and the resulting deserted city is brilliantly depicted. What we said: “One of the most engrossing apocalypse movies I’ve seen in a long time, and certainly more emotionally satisfying than World War Z.”

1. Europa Report. It goes to show how the landscape of SF has changed so dramatically, that something which is virtually pure, “hard” SF can seem completely revolutionary. What it lacks in “star power” is made up for in solid science and storytelling. The best film of the genre I’ve seen in a while, though disclaimer: we have not yet seen Gravity, so we’ll see how that stacks up. What we said: “Refreshing, well-constructed and an intelligent entry in a genre that is not often known for that of late.”

Top 10s: 1998-2013

Incredibly Bad Film Show: Witchcraft X, Mistress of the Craft

Dir: Elisar Cabrera
Star: Wendy Cooper, Kerry Knowlton, Stephanie Beaton, Eileen Daly


It’s been a long while since I’ve done one of these – more than 18 months – but when I re-watched this, as part of our exhaustive survey of the entire Witchcraft series, I knew there was no way I could truly do this justice in a couple of hundred words. The other entries in the series are a mix of light occult shenanigans and heavy petting, set in Los Angeles. But for the tenth entry, they shifted things to London, and apparently threw everything you knew out of the window on the flight there. The results are all an Incredibly Bad film should be: it contains laughable concepts, pathetic production values and some performances that would disgrace a school Nativity play. Yet, it’s certainly more memorable and, dammit, I’d say entertaining than any of the nine preceding installments.

The core here is a British government department, Bureau 17, who have been charged with investigating any paranormal shenanigans. Their tiny staff (I blame budget cut-backs: perhaps governmental, more likely by the film’s producers) have captured Hyde (Knowlton), a mass murderer with Satanic tendencies, and are holding them pending the arrival of Detective Lutz (Beaton) from Los Angeles, who’s going to extradite him back to the States. However, the vampire Raven (Daly) and her minions, break Hyde out, because she needs his help to translate a tome that will allow her to summon the demon Morshenka, who will give her unlimited power. It’s up to white Wiccan detective Celeste Sheridan (Cooper), Lutz and the other members of Bureau 19 to stop them.

If that sounds kinda cool to you, it does to me as well, actually, and with a respectable budget and some cast changes, it probably could have been. However, here? Well, I don’t use the words “woefully inadequate” often, but this film will probably provide my entire 2013 quota. It’s apparent almost from the start, where London is reduced to some quickly shot footage from Soho, and stock footage from a packed night-club, before cutting to the sparsely-populated (it’s those cutbacks, I tell you!) location where Raven’s conveniently-bisexual minions chow down on some poor guy. We then move to Bureau 17’s headquarters, which is even more the product of poverty-row film-making, with no effort spared made to make it look like a functioning building, except for lobbing a few unrelated photos on the wall.

That’s where Hyde is being interrogated, and let’s pause to discuss the acting here, because there is truly something for everyone. At the top of the pile is Cooper, who is genuinely good, despite having to handle dialog and her powder-blue PVC costume, which are constantly battling over the title of “Most Ridiculous Thing in This Movie.” I’m calling it a tie. In contrast so sharp you could slice your wrists with it (and will probably want to, at various points) is Knowlton, Apparently a pro-wrestler, I get a more emotive reading from the text-to-speech program on my Kindle; stunningly, his acting is not the least of his contributions to the movie, as we’ll see later.

In contrast, there’s Daly, who appears to have been the recipient of all the emotion which is completely missing from Knowlton’s performance, overacting ferociously for every line, enunciating each Syll-A-Ble like it was a newly discovered Shakespeare soliloquy. Is it appropriate? Hmm. The jury is still out on that. Is it entertaining as hell? F’sure. The best scenes are when she and Knowlton play opposite each other, it’s a contrast in styles of epic proportions:
Raven (chewing scenery like a crack-crazed Tasmanian Devil): “Have you ever heard of a ceremony of… Walpurgis?”
Hyde (reciting share prices): “Walpurgis? The stuff of myths. Walpurgis belongs in a story book about demons. I serve Satan, the only true master.”


The rest of the cast fall somewhere between those extremes. Beaton is solid enough, but doesn’t have enough to do, except wander round with her shirt tied loosely under her voluminous cleavage, as shown on the left. Seems a bit informal for any supposed police detective on an international mission. There’s a bit where she gets scratched by one of the vampires, and initially, it seems this is going to go somewhere. My notes actually say, “somewhere interesting,” but even by this point, about 25 minutes in, I was doubtful that was going to happen. Although it does lead to her sitting in the bath, soaping her breasts with the enthusiasm and care usually found only in a vintage car-club owner, waxing the bodywork of his Jaguar.

That comes as part of a triple-dose of nudity, which suddenly pops up, as if the makers realized they were falling short of the statutory quota of breasts. So we simultaneously get Raven bonking Hyde (as in their dramatic scenes, she does all the work, while he just lies there), Celeste making love to her boyfriend, and Lutz in the bath. Of course, it was during this Nipplepalooza that our son wandered upstairs, though it’s a tribute to him being so inured to my viewing of crap, he was more concerned as to whether or not I was going to eat that other Hot Pocket. This question answered, I explained that she’s a witch, that one’s a vampire and the lady in the bath is an LA detective, to which he replied “It sounds like the best version of Being Human ever.”

“Best,” is entirely relative, I think we’ll find. Instead, there is so much “wrong” here. Even when Lutz and B17 Agent Dixon (Sean Harry, looking like a concussed Hugh Grant) are driving through London, they are shown in short order going East along Piccadilly, then North towards Piccadilly Circus, West through Trafalgar Square and finally North at the Houses of Parliament.  I speak for everyone familiar with central London when I say: “What?” The audio mix is even more incomprehensible, with dialogue which is often inaudible, and sound effects which should charitably be described as occupying the same postal-code as the actions they accompany. Still, it’s nice to see the disabled getting work, and I trust the deaf guy was appropriately grateful. [Actually, see here for some background on this aspect]

Remember I said above that Knowlton’s performance wasn’t the worst thing about his work on the film? He’s also credited as a “fight director”, alongside Frank Scantori. Scantori enjoys multiple credits on this, as an actor (playing the head of B17), co-producer, first assistant director, casting director and for transportation, so at least has the excuse of spreading himself a bit thin. On the other hand, Knowlton, being a pro-wrestler, would seem well suited to stage fake violence and make it look real, or at least credible. So you’d think, anyway. Counterpoint:

YouTube video

The above is just one of many moments which will have you cackling maniacally. My favourite was probably Raven bringing Hyde back to her lair, where the decor consists of a table-lamp and a badly-hung sheet.  He compliments her on having “exquisite taste,” which would be pure, undiluted sarcasm, except Knowlton does nothing to suggest he can reach such dramatic heights. Other moments include: the vampire minion trying to run away in stilettos, resulting in more of a stagger away; poor editing giving the impression of someone being decapitated with a stake; Hyde wandering round a field for no reason at all; Celeste having the ability to project her image astrally, then later using a pay-phone to call in; and vampires who, for some reason, walk like zombies. Maybe that’s also due to the stilettos.

This is truly a film which keeps on giving: even though there are many aspects that are tedious, there’s easily enough which are amusing, lunatic or simply baffling to keep you watching. Just when my enthusiasm for the series was running low, this completely reinvigorated it, and I’m ready for the final stretch.


TC’s Ten Best Films of 2012

Let’s by giving props to four films seen this year, which would have made the list, but were just a little too old to qualify (even in our new, looser definition!) for a ‘Best of 2012’ article. Topping those – and it would in all likelihood have topped the entire list – is Confessions. Probably among my favorite Japanese movies of all time [maybe behind Bird People of China, maybe not], we said it was “tragedy on an intense, Shakespearean level, that packs an enormous wallop in a way you can’t see until too late.” Hardly any less impressive was Elite Squad, a Brazillian action-thriller, with cops that redefine “zero tolerance.” Also worthy of an honorable mention are Tell No One and Eden Lake.

Also worthy of an honourable mention are the following, which did come out this year, and were enjoyed, but didn’t quite make the top 10 list. [Entries are in chronological order of when we say them, the links go to our review, or, as appropriate!] Haywire, ID:A, Special Forces, The Devil’s Rock, Claustrofobia, Blooded, Naked Soldier, Zero Killed, Rec 3: Genesis, Mother’s Day, Grabbers and Resident Evil: Retribution. And with those two groups out of the way, let’s move on to the top 10…


10. The Cabin in the Woods. The best film with which Joss Whedon was involved this year, easily blowing away the bloated (if mindless fun) Avengers. Quite why that became the #1 film of the year, while this was sat on, I’m not sure. For this had much more invention and wit, not relying just on large-scale spectacle [though it certainly had its share of that, especially toward the end]. The less you know, the more fun this will be. What we said: “The further this goes on, the further it diverts off-track, providing a fascinating alternative explanation for more or less the entire genre.”


9. The House With 100 Eyes. The pseudo-snuff movie has been done before, with results that could kindly be described as “inconsistent”. But this succeeds because it has a couple of very solid performances at its core, in husband-and-wife psychopaths Ed and Susan, and a defiantly twisted sensibility that helps turn its low-budget nature into a strength, rather than a weakness. What we said: “An impressively sick and twisted creativity at work here, with elements which will stick in the mind for a lot longer than many of its colleagues.”

8. Iron Sky. Two words: “Space Nazis.” A brilliant concept, that almost certainly could only have been fully realized outside the Hollywood system – not least because of its acerbic attitude towards America, which is not always shown as morally superior to the Moon Reich. It’s even more impressive that it was largely created “by committee”, with a lot of the work involved being parceled out and crowd-sourced. Might this be the wave of the future? What we said: “Does a much better job of living up to the trailer than I could have hoped.”

7. The Holding. The first of two British “rural nightmare” films to make the top ten, this starts off a lushly-pastoral piece. But the beauty of the English countryside rapidly becomes a contrast to the creepy stalkerness which unfolds as an itinerant farm-hand decides to take up permanent residence, and turn the single mother trying to run the farm and raise her kids, into his own family. However, he will eventually find out that hell hath no fury like a mother… What we said: “A slick, yet still uniquely British, twist on survival horror.”

6. God Bless America. A deeply-held, passionate scream of anguish about the current state of American culture and life in general, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the equally-unPC Falling Down. But beneath the shock tactics is a movie with a brain, and one that doesn’t shy away from asking questions that we’d rather not answer. Events this year, e.g.  the Colorado cinema shooting, have perhaps given this film additional sick resonance. What we said: “The tension between the likeable lead characters and their extremely unlikeable actions makes for a thought-provoking experience.”


5. Inbred. Yeah, I’m biased (the director was a guest at our wedding reception!), but this is such a gleefully excessive piece of horror, it’s impossible not to love it. Alex Chandon’s aim was to make a throwback to the days of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, a splatter flick to watch with mates and plenty of beer – that target is basically nailed in the bulls-eye. Contains as many FM!RT! moments (such as the one shown on the left) as any flick in recent memory. What we said: “Plenty of originality on view, and the technical skill on view is remarkable, especially given almost all the effects are in-camera rather than CGI.

4. The Raid: Redemption. I love a straight-forward, hard-core action flick, and this is one of the best examples I can remember. It plays like a first-person video-game, and I mean that in the best ways, as the hero fights his way up a tower-block against an apparently endless stream of bad guys, taking damage and acquiring power-ups. More crunchy violence than a Fist of the North Star box-set, and puts the “hits” in “Greatest Hits.” What we said: “in terms of pure, undiluted kickassishness… up there with anything the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen or Tony Jaa have ever delivered.”

3. Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell. I didn’t actually review this, because it’s more stand-up than feature, or even documentary; it’s Smith’s one-man show, filmed in Austin, Texas, and is the fifth such film he has done. This one concentrates on the making and subsequent furore around Red State, as well as his dealings with the Westboro Baptists who were one of the inspiration. It’s simply fascinating, marvellously honest and funny as hell: there aren’t many people whom I could just sit and listen to talk for hours, but Smith is right up there, alongside Henry Rollins. What we said: nothing.

2. ACAB – All Cops Are Bastards. If Elite Squad couldn’t quite qualify due to its age, this is a more than admirable replacement, depicting with wonderful balance the thin line separating, but also the difference between, maintaining the law and dispensing  justice. To me, the latter is much more important, and so Cobra and his Italian police colleagues have a truly heroic quality that is easy to buy into, thanks to some excellent performances. What we said: “A very eye-opening look at life on the ground, where the pointy end of law-enforcement meets those who’d challenge its power.”

1. Skyfall. Right up there with Goldfinger and Goldeneye in my personal favourite Bond films, this rejuvenates the franchise in a way the first two “reboot” attempts didn’t manage, because this both re-invents Bond and is thoroughly loyal to what has gone before. It’s the first time that I’ve felt Daniel Craig really became 007, rather than going through the motions, and he also has a memorable villain to go up against in Javier Bardem. Add in more emotional depth than any Bond since OHMSS, and it’s almost entirely undiluted win. What we said: “Mendes delivers some truly kick-ass action sequences, but doesn’t forget time with the characters.”

Incredibly Bad Film Show: Los Canallas

Dir: Federico Curiel
Star: Mil Mascaras, Regina Torné, Fernando Osés, Claudia Martell
a.k.a. Ángeles Infernales

Mexican wrestling movies are a different breed entirely. Sure, WWE wrestlers make movies, and to a large extent, the characters they play are simply an extension of their in-ring personae. John ‘Hustle, Loyalty, Respect’ Cena? Get him to play an ex-marine in…er, The Marine. Demonic hell-spawn Kane? Psychotic serial killer: See No Evil [though Glenn Jacobs, the man responsible, has a degree in English literature, is a former third-grade teacher, and supports Ron Paul] But the key difference is that none of these movies include any actual professional wrestling.

Contrast the Mexican versions, where Mil Mascaras (or Santo, Blue Demon, etc.) is a crime-fighter – but one whose day-job is as a wrestler, and that comes first. Everyone is comfortably at ease with this, both good and bad. For instance, the villains break their leader out of jail on Friday night because “everyone will be at the match.” And when they do, said leader takes on Mascaras in not one, but two wrestling matches. It’s as if, at the end of The Marine, Robert Patrick challenged Cena to a Falls Count Anywhere bout. The forces of good are just as wrestling obsessed. When they realize one of their number has apparently been kidnapped by the Infernal Angels, they don’t exactly rush to her aid, saying “Let’s wait until the first fall is over.  Mil Mascaras will tell us what to do.” One fall later, he airily tells them, “I’ll be done soon, wait for me in the dressing room.” Like I said: wrestling first; rescuing your friend from torture and being slowly dipped into an acid-bath…later.

But I’m getting ahead of myself with the plot. Mil Mascaras flies in to land in his little private plane, on his way to take part in a wrestling show that afternoon. However, as he drives off, Cadena (Torné, who 24 years later, would be one of the leads in Like Water For Chocolate!) and her minion lob a smoke-bomb into his convertible. Rather than, oh, pull over, Mil makes an ill-advised attempt to continue driving which ends with him smashing into a wall a cut to the expensive automobile, completely undamaged, parked neatly on top of a pile of rubble beside a wall.

Turns out Mil was responsible for sending her boyfriend Rocco (Osés) to jail, and Cadena is implacably set on both breaking out her boy, and bringing Mascaras down. She has taken over the Infernal Angels, the gang Rocco ran, and she makes various attempts on the wrestling legend, such as trying to unmask him – only to be foiled, because Mascaras appears to have foreseen this eventuality and wears a second mask underneath the first. Brilliant! She has minions armed with a range of interesting devices for administering slow-acting poisons to her enemy, so he will lose or be easier to beat up. The idea of using something lethal instead, never seems to cross her mind.

Despite the drug-induced haze, Mascaras remembers Cadena’s ‘deep, cold voice full of hate,’ and that clues his friends in to the Infernal Angels being involved. Estrella (Martell) knows one of the gang members, and she agrees to go undercover, joining the Angels to find out what Cadena is up to. This involves a strange occult initiation rite (above), which resembles H.G. Lewis’s Egyptian feast, as re-imagined by Paul Verhoeven for Showgirls, albeit without the nudity (this being 1968). Estrella’s pal describes it as “cruel and difficult,” but that description applies mostly to the poor viewer who has to sit through this entirely inappropriate musical number. Mind you, Cadena also shakes her thang in the opening scene, for no apparent reason there either, and one wonders if this was some strange, Bollywood lucha co-production.

Cadena is successful in breaking Rocco and his cell-mate Hook – named because he has a hook in place of one hand – out of prison. She does so by giving them a transistor radio which a) functions as a walkie-talkie and contains something like thermite wire, which she activates remotely in order to burn through the prison bars. Really, this woman’s talents are sadly wasted, she should have been working for Q Branch. Like all good Mexican boys, he heads home to his mother, only to find her rather less than maternal. This might be because she’s just been visited by the police. Or the result of her realizing she’ll have to hand back the money Rocco gave her husband “for safekeeping.” Moral ambivalence at its finest.

I’ve reviewed some other lucha movies before, but this was the first one to reach the deliciously-loopy standards necessary for Incredibly Bad status. Perhaps the finest moment is when Mil has the chance to discover the Angels’ hideout. He declines the offer of help, saying “No, I’ll go alone to avoid suspicion.” This doesn’t work quite as well as hoped, since less than one minute later, minions are reporting to Cadena that Mil Mascaras is outside. There’s a very good reason for this, because the image below shows what his idea of “avoiding suspicion” involves walking up the front-door dressed as shown:

So, in addition to the ever-present mask, that’s a shiny gold shirt, powder blue pants with matching boots and a package which appears to suggest that Mil is very pleased to be fighting crime. It seems there is no word in Mexican for “undercover”. After another failed attempt by Cadena to seduce and poison him (using a ring apparently capable of containing the entire annual output of Hoffman La Roche), Mil escapes, though leaves a messy souvenir behind. If ever I become an evil overlord, I will instruct my underlings to check the contents of oil-barrels before machine-gunning them repeatedly, to ensure they contain my enemy and not one of their colleagues.

After 65 minutes with no mention of this whatsoever, it is revealed that Rocco is actually the Black Hood – another masked wrestler – who was apparently scheduled to fight Mascaras in the next show. Good job he broke out of prison then. Estrella tells Mil this, but rather than going to the police with this information about a notorious fugitive, he decides to play along, on the dubious assertion that “I’ll try to unmask him in the ring so he can be taken away by the authorities in front of an audience.” Yes, never mind the moral responsibility or safety issue – think of the ratings!

The first match ends in a no-contest, Mascaras being taken to the hospital after being snogged by one of Cadena’s minions wearing poisoned lipstick, and a “mask vs. hood” match is declared for the following week – the loser has to reveal his true identity. It’s during this contest that they realize Estrella’s is about to go for a really deep skin cleanse – but, as noted above, that can wait until Mascaras has won his match. Fortunately, there’s discord in the Angels, with Hook making a play for Cadena, and getting into a brawl with Rocco – a fight which, unfortunately, knocks a burning brand against the rope which is keeping Estrella out of the acid.

Naturally, Mascaras shows up just in time to save her, though I was disappointed no-one falls into the acid, which seems like a breach of B-movie etiquette rule #47: “He who sets the acid-bath, gets the acid-bath.” We’re left with Rocco’s mother bemoaning the fate of her son, and the final lines provide the moral to this masked fable: “Having a child represents a serious responsibility. Those that don’t meet it will suffer the consequences sooner or later.” Have to say, that’s probably not quite the final thought which will stick with me from this one.


TC’s Ten Best Films of 2011

I’ve changed things up somewhat this year, loosening the restrictions as to what counts as a “2011” movie. It could be listed in the IMDB any time back to 2009, but it just needs to have strayed in to my consciousness in some way this year. Might be a cinema release, DVD release somewhere, or even showing up on cable. My theatrical experiences have remained light, so it’s more likely a film won’t get a chance until it becomes available by some other route. I’m thus a bit more flexible, simply because I’m aware of a risk some great movies might miss out on recognition, for fairly spurious reasons.

There are, of course, a few which still missed out exactly because they did not stray across my retina in a reasonable time. Leading the way is À l’intérieur (Inside), which was probably the best horror movie I saw in 2011. However, since it came out on DVD in the United States in April 2008. that was just too much of a stretch. Two others that were similarly eliminated were Onechanbara: The Movie, and Five Fingers.

Before we get to the list, here are eight honorable mentions, which ended up getting to the final round before being eliminated. Not without some heartbreak and much agonizing, it has to be said. These are, in alphabetical order: Attack the Block, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Last Exorcism, Page Eight, Point Blank, Red State, Restrepo, Toy Story 3. And with that, on to the actual top ten. Links go to the full review on TC or as appropriate.

10. We Are The Night
Having endured the Twilight trilogy this year, it was gratifying to be reminded that vampires don’t have to sparkle, emote or… Well, suck. The Lost Boys tagline – “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” – could be applied every bit here. Except it’s a philosophy expressed as, “We eat, drink, sniff coke, and fuck as much as we like. But we never get fat, pregnant, or hooked,” with a gang of female vampires making Berlin their playground. Sure, there’s not much new here in terms of plot, but the execution is supremely slick. Summary: “A glossy, shiny movie, set in a world that looks like a car advert, where the streets are perpetually wet and the only light is neon”.

9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A very pleasant surprise, opting to enliven a story – that, let’s face it, we know how it’s going to end – by telling it from the monkeys’ point of view. Andy Serkis proved, once again, why he’s the go-to guy for simians, putting over more emotion without words than most actors could manage with a dictionary to work from. Ok, mostly without words, the exception resulting in the cinematic moment of the year. While not skimping on the action, the script and performances give it a emotional foundation before the monkey mayhem breaks free. Oh, that all big-budget blockbusters took such care in their execution. Summary: “Probably the finest praise I can give this, is that it actually makes sense.”

8. Dossier K
Belgium. Land of Stella, Front 242 and surprisingly-good movies, going all the way back to Crazy Love. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film from there I didn’t enjoy, and this was no exception, a crisply-plotted police procedural that shows how even a society with a general reputation for tolerance is nowhere near ‘integrated’. In this case, the Albanian culture of honor killings sits very uneasily in today’s Brussels, but its the kind of story which you could see happening in any big city with its “new ghettos”. Summary: “That’s where the film excels, painting all the participants in shades of grey: there’s no “bad guys”, as such, just people operating by different moral codes.”

7. Sint
We move a little further up the North Sea coast for the next film, a twisted fairy-tale which takes a character beloved by children and turns it into the stuff of nightmares. Which is exactly what the Brothers Grimm intended originally. Director Dick Maas brings a gleeful sense of fun to his psychotic Santa, even if I had to explain to Chris why it’s perfectly normal for packs of Dutchmen to put on blackface and roam the streets. It’s a throwback to the straightforward slasher pics of a bygone era, yet possesses a knowing self awareness and characters you don’t mind spending time with. Summary: “I’m thinking this will replace It’s a Wonderful Life as a festive favourite, at least in TC Towers.”

6. Darfur
Yep: a Uwe Boll film makes it into a ‘Ten Best’ list. That can’t have happened often. But it’s difficult to deny this one a place because of Boll’s spotty track-record. When he stays off the video-game adaptations, as here, he shows that he can be a more than competent film-maker. What’s delivered here is a million miles from House of the Dead, basically 90 minutes of being punched in the gut and reminded of how just wrong people can be to each other. I don’t think I’ve been so shaken by a film based on real events since Men Behind the Sun, though the shaky-cam approach sent Chris scurrying for the office. Summary: “Even if the “entertainment” value here is low, there’s no denying this packs an immense wallop.”

5. Eaters
Most zombie films are about the outbreak or the relatively short-term aftermath. One of the twists which make Eaters stand out, in a recent glut of such movies, is that some time appears to have passed, and a new anarchically feudal structure seems to have showed up. It kinda works…and kinda doesn’t, and that’s where the plot gets its impetus. Heroes Igor and Alen are the only semi-sane inhabitants in a land of the totally dysfunctional, and make for appealing anti-heros, whizzing round the countryside in search of scientific subjects and singing Wham! songs. Summary: “Likely the best zombie flick to come out of Italy since Cemetery Man.”

4. Sucker Punch
I get the feeling history will prove kinder to this one than contemporary critics, who flayed director Zack Snyder alive for a “greasy collection of near-rape fantasies and violent revenge scenarios disguised as a female-empowerment fairy tale.” Well, I wouldn’t have said it was that good…and I note that men and women have rated it exactly the same score on the IMDB (a respectable 6.2). But it’s impeccably imaginative, in a way no other movie managed this year, and was unsurpassed in terms of producing cinema as an imaginative, visual spectacle. It’s the only Blu-Ray DVD I bought this year. Summary: “For all its undeniable flaws, this is a rare beast: an action film where women [rather than a singular woman] take center-stage.”‘

3. 36th Precinct
It plays somewhat like a Gallic version of Heat, with Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil butting heads as shady and scrupulous cop respectively, battling for a promotion in their department. In the short term, it seems that the former gets ahead, with the good guy losing everything in the process. However, the morality is not quite as cut and dry as it seems, and that lends the change of fortunes in the final act, an almost Shakespearean air of tragedy. Great actors, going head-to-head in a well-written script, is always a pleasure, and this is no different, with two of France’s finest delivering the goods. Summary: “Karma, c’est une biche.”

2. Hobo With A Shotgun
The faux-grindhouse film has become something of a pseudo-trend of late, but it takes more than a few digital scratches on the high-def print to resurrect the genre. Machete, while fun, largely fell short. Hobo, on the other hand, hit all the marks, led by Rutger Hauer’s most memorable performance since… ooh, Split Second in 1992? But even more of a revelation was Brian Downey as evil mob-boss The Drake – having only seen him as uber-wimp Stanley Tweedle in Lexx, this was a stunning bit of casting against type. It has the exploitative elements, but most importantly of all, it has the right ‘tude. It was the sole film we saw as the short-lived but much missed Mesa Royale. Summary: “Eisener is deadly serious, and the film is all the better for it.”

1. Four Lions
Who knew? Chris looked at me sideways on seeing the synopsis of the movie I’d DVR’d: “The inept members of a jihadist cell in England try but fail to carry out terrorist attacks”. Doesn’t exactly scream comedic gem, doe it? But I’d forgotten about the godlike satirical genius of Chris Morris – understandably, since the last thing of his I saw was Jam, back in 2000. This has moments of similar surrealism e.g. the cell’s method of avoiding surveillance cameras, but remains more grounded, only engaging in relatively minor exaggeration for comedic effect. But it’s a very human movie too, that manages to point out the lunacy of extremist beliefs, without turning them into sneering caricatures. Well played, Mr. Morris. Summary: “Genuinely funny, far beyond what you’d imagine possible.”