Film picks of the year
Here’s Paul Whitington’s pick of what was worth watching – and what definitely wasn’t
2010 won’t go down as a vintage year for cinema. Vaunted blockbusters such as The Lovely Bones and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood were underwhelming, along with rom coms Eat Pray Love and The Rebound. But things improved late in the year, when Hollywood came up trumps with the likes of The Social Network.
Best Action Films
In a bad year for action flicks, Paul Greengrass's Green Zone impressed with its extended chase sequences and fancy camera work, but wasn't a particularly good film. The Predators revival was fun, but faded from the memory fast. Altogether more substantial was Ben Affleck's stylish heist thriller The Town, which featured some scintillating chase sequences. Probably the most enjoyable mainstream action movie was Tony Scott's bright and breezy thriller Unstoppable (above). But the best action film of the year was Christopher Nolan's mind-bending sci-fi saga, Inception.
Mike Leigh hit his very best form in November with Another Year, a darkly funny and searingly honest drama about the relentless kindness of an ordinary English couple. Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island was an intriguing journey into madness, and Leonardo DiCaprio was excellent in the starring role. Jason Reitman's Up in the Air caught the disconnected mood of our time, and John Hillcoat's The Road (above) was a gruelling examination of our deepest, darkest fears. But the drama of the year was David Fincher's The Social Network, a superbly realised biopic based on the adventures of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with a brilliant and witty Aaron Sorkin script.
In a poor year for comedy, Russell Brand further enhanced his golden balls status in Hollywood with a very funny turn as a debauched rock star in the summer hit Get Him to the Greek. Jay and Mark Duplass's indie film Cyrus was a nicely creedy black comedy, and Jim Carrey's performance as a hopeless romantic gay swindler in I Love You Phillip Morris didn't get the credit it deserved. Another neglected gem was Bobcat Goldthwait's jet-black comedy World's Greatest Dad, which featured Robin Williams' most affecting performance in years. But my favourite comedy of 2010 was Noah Baumbach's Greenberg, in which Ben Stiller (below) played an ageing misanthrope.
In Toy Story 3, Pixar succeeded in creating a sequel worthy of its illustrious predecessors, while Disney proper returned to winning ways with the more traditional but deeply pleasing The Princess and the Frog. Veteran Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki struck a chord with Ponyo (above), the story of an over-inquisitive goldfish who's transformed into a little girl. Australian filmmaker Adam Elliot explored the dark side of stop-motion animation in the excellent and touching Mary & Max. But the most winning animation of 2010 was the sweeping, jazz-fuelled Cuban melodrama Chico & Rita.
Best Family Films
Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll seemed like a marriage made in heaven, and so it proved in Burton's exquisite adaptation of Alice in Wonderland that was faithful to the spirit rather than the letter of the original text. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska was excellent as Alice, Helena Bonham Carter (above right) was perfectly cast as the nutty Red Queen, Stephen Fry provided the voice of the Cheshire Cat and Johnny Depp played the Mad Hatter as Hamlet, a doomed and misunderstood victim of his own insanity.
It was probably a better year for documentary than it was for any other genre, and among the most outstanding 2010 documentaries was Restrepo. American journalist Sebastian Junger and English photographer Tim Heatherington spent a year embedded with a US infantry company in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, and created a compelling film out of the experience. Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson's Mugabe and the White African should not be forgotten, but it was a great year for Irish documentary as well, with the plight of the north American honey bee explored in Colony, and the Rossport saga laid bare in Risteard O Domhnaill's The Pipe. Howerver, the documentary of the year for me was Ken Wardrop's delightful tribute to Irish womanhood, His & Hers (above).
Best Foreign Films
A special mention must go to two French films with a spiritual theme, Jessica Hausner's Lourdes and Xavier Beauvois' Des Hommes et Des Dieux, a fact-based account of the lives and deaths of a group of Trappist monks caught in the crossfire of the Algerian Civil War. There were shocks aplenty in the Greek drama Dogtooth (below right). Warwick Thornton's Samson & Delilah pulled no punches in its depiction of the Aboriginal experience in Australia's Outback. My favourite foreign film, though, was probably A Room and a Half, Andrey Khrzhanovsky's delightfully playful and inventive biopic of the poet Joseph Brodsky.
Most Overrated Films
Chris Morris has never been lacking in courage, and some overexcited critics proclaimed his film Four Lions as a brilliant satire on the plague of Islamic fundamentalism. But while not without its moments, it was everything but funny. Similarly overrated was Kick-Ass (right), the superhero skit written by Jane Goldman and directed by Matthew Vaughn, which set out to shock and sometimes did but was mainly a flashy, vulgar parody. Scott Pilgrim vs The World was pretty innovative too, but when you got beneath its cartoon style there was nothing very substantial or interesting going on.
Pick of the Worst
This is always an oversubscribed category, and 2010 is no exception. A horror film starring Benicio del Toro and based on the classic werewolf films of the 40s might have sounded like a good idea, but The Wolfman was a ghastly, shambolic mess that reminded me of those sketches Dave Allen used to do on the cheap. Grown Ups was possibly the worst film Adam Sandler's ever made (no mean boast), and the slushy Julia Roberts vehicle Eat Pray Love (above) was objectionable on many fronts. M Night Shyamalan continued his descent to the bottom of the barrel with the overblown fantasy The Last Airbender, and Hollywood went all Oirish in the thoroughly dreadful rom com Leap Year. But no one does bad films better than the Irish, and Brian Lally's 8.5 Hours reduced the entire Celtic Tiger experience to the memorable metaphor of a property-induced blowjob.