Monthly Archives: December 2010

My Favourite Films of 2010 (Part 1)

With 2010 over, it’s time to look back at the best films I saw this year. Due to circumstances in my life, I’ve had not had the money to go out to the cinema with any great regularity, so the amount of films I’ve seen this year has taken a big drop from last year’s figure. Still, I managed to see some great films, and want to give them their due. Here’s my top ten, in ascending order.

10. I Am Love

Dir.  Luca Guadagnino (Italy, 2009)

120 minutes

Tilda Swinton’s years-in-the-making collaboration with Guadagnino is a clear throwback to filmmaking styles of yesteryear. It’s an old-fashioned melodrama, with gorgeous interiors, extended wealthy families, forbidden love, and capital-A acting. On first viewing it earlier this year I wasn’t too impressed, but since then, memories of the wonderful cinematography and Swinton’s towering performance have only grown in my mind. Sirk-meets-Visconti may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a pleasure seeing a film this beautiful, confident, and assured.

9. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Dir. Werner Herzog (USA, 2009)

122 minutes

From an initial lukewarm reaction to the trailers, I was won over by the go-for-broke exuberance of Herzog and Nicolas Cage’s remake-in-name-only of Abel Ferrera’s grim cop drama. It’s an inspired fusion of run-of-the-mill procedural and off-the-wall Herzogian insanity, all held together by Cage’s unhinged performance as a drug-addicted detective cracking under the strain of keeping a million plates spinning at once. Val Kilmer and Xzibit try to keep up, but really, it’s Cage’s show, and that’s what makes it such a wild ride.

Standout scene: Cage pays a visit to an old lady and her live-in nurse, looking for information. Unorthodox interrogation techniques ensue.

Standout line: “Who put these fuckin’ iguanas on my coffee table?”

8. Monsters

Dir. Gareth Edwards (UK, 2010)

94 minutes

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this low-budget debut from Edwards. There were comparisons to Cloverfield, but also talk of it as an indie film. The result is closer to a free-form road movie, but one that happens to take place across alien-infested territory.

Scoot McNairy plays Kaulder, a photographer charged with escorting his boss’ daughter Sam (Whitney Able) home to the US. But when conventional routes are shut for the season, the two must undertake a hazardous trek through the “quarantine zone” in Mexico.

Monsters is an excellent-looking film. Shot on the fly during the filmmakers’ travels in Mexico, the footage was then manipulated in the editing suite to insert the scenes of destroyed settlements and brief glimpses of the aliens. The shots of abandoned villages and gigantic concrete barriers are devastatingly familiar in our world of natural disasters, post-Katrina urban breakdown and fortress-like borders between the First and Third Worlds. The improvised dialogue feels natural and unforced, and McNairy and Able give a touching and convincing performance as a young couple slowly growing close to each other.

The narrative surrounding Monsters is one of how small crews and commercial cameras, editing and computing equipment can beat the studios at their own game. But independent projects like this can also foreground elements that big Hollywood wouldn’t touch. Here’s to more like it.

Standout scene: Kaulder and Sam’s first glimpse of the US border wall, from the outside.

7. Enter The Void

Dir. Gaspar Noe (France/Germany/Italy, 2009)

137 minutes

Gaspar Noe’s hallucinatory exploration of death and afterlife as the ultimate drug trip features more pure cinematic innovation than almost any film I’ve seen this year. Taking the POV of Oscar, a young drug dealer in the last few minutes of his life, Noe never releaxes this exacting technique even after his protagonist is  shot dead by the police. We see through his consciousness as it flits over Tokyo, visiting the people he leaves behind and travelling back into his past.

Is it a hallucination caused by the last neurons firing before brain death? Is it a genuine afterlife? A nightmarish purgatory? A chance to take stock of his life before reincarnation? Whichever interpretation you pick, there’s no disagreeing with the visceral power of Noe’s images, whether recreating Tokyo as a neon-lit playground, diving inside the human body or the darkest recesses of memory.

As I said in my review, it’s a true cinematic experience; one that aims to create images and sensations that have rarely ever been experienced via the medium. It may be sleazy, perverted and self-indulgent, but it’s also wildly inventive and ambitious.

Standout scene: The car crash in Oscar’s childhood, as seen from his POV. Or, Vagina-cam. (If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

6. Four Lions

Dir. Chris Morris (UK, 2010)

97 minutes

(Earlier review by me here.)

Chris Morris is famed for his scabrous humour and contempt for the euphemisms and distortions of official language. But in his debut feature film, he settles for a classic buddy-comedy setup, following a bumbling gang of would-be terrorists as their bickering and general incompetence threaten to derail their murderous plans. Amid some laugh-out-loud hilarious scenes, Riz Ahmed provides the heart of the ensemble, as a loving and devoted family man prepared to give up his life for the cause (his conversation on the subject with his young son is particularly chilling).

Morris and his scriptwriting collaborators, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong of Peep Show fame, truly get the dynamics between young men egging each other on to do bigger and dumber things. The arguments and shifting personal dynamics will be familiar to anyone who’s ever been in a group of young male friends, or even watched a sitcom.

In the end, what stands out from Four Lions is compassion. The platitudes of religion and politics are idiotic, and our humanity (and ability to laugh) is the only thing worth valuing above all others.

Standout scene: The conversation between two police snipers over whether they’ve shot an innocent man (revolving around whether or not the Honey Monster is a bear).

Standout line: “Fuck Mini Baby Bels!”

Coming soon: the Top Five…

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My Top 15 Albums of 2010

And now, the albums list. I’ve tried to put across how I feel about each album, but I’m well aware that my descriptive abilities fall short when I’m writing about music. But I feel the songs in the links speak for themselves. Please feel free to comment and let me know if you agree, disagree or want to share something new.

15. Tame Impala – Innerspeaker

Mixture of propulsive bluesy guitar riffs and ethereal FX-heavy oddness. Manages to sound wound-up and off-hand at the time – a bit Animal Collective, a bit Beatles, a bit Stooges. Good stuff all round.

Essential Tracks: It Is Not Meant To Be, Lucidity, Jeremy’s Storm

14. The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

Big-hearted, hoarse-throated bar-room rock’n’roll anthems about the promise and disappointment of American mythology.

Essential Tracks: American Slang, Bring It On, The Queen Of Lower Chelsea, The Spirit Of Jazz

13. Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

Swelling, sprawling orchestration combining with a knack for neat and concise songwriting make this album a rare treat that packs epic tracks into small packages.

Essential Tracks: World Sick, Art House Director, Meet Me In The Basement

12. The Roots – How I Got Over

The Roots deliver another essential slice of sharp, socially conscious lyrics over impeccable musicianship. The album as a whole feels like a journey through a long dark night of the soul, from despair through resolution to optimism and determination.

Essential Tracks: Now Or Never, How I Got Over, The Fire

11. The Drive-By Truckers – The Big To-Do

Gritty Southern rock retooled for the 21st Century.

Essential Tracks: Birthday Boy, (It’s Gonna Be) I Told You So, Santa Fe

10. The Hold Steady – Heaven Is Whenever

My FAVOURITE BAND EVER make another great album about, growing up, nostalgia, disappointment, and the power of rock music.
Essential Tracks: The Sweet Part Of The City, Soft In The Centre, The Weekenders, We Can Get Together

9. Fang Island – Fang Island

Masters of upbeat guitar wizardry deliver progginess sans pretentsion.
Essential Tracks: Daisy, Treeton, Welcome Wagon

8. Best Coast – Crazy For You

Inspired, charming mix of 60s surf-rock and Phil Spector production soundtracks the summer.

Essential Tracks: Boyfriend, Happy, When I’m With You

7. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

A sprawling, messy sort-of-concept album about celebrity, self-loathing and the oversharing mania of the internet age. Also, it’s really awesome to listen to.

Essential Tracks: Power, All Of The Lights, Hell Of A Life

6. Big Boi – Sir Luscious Leftfoot

The often-overlooked half of Outkast serves up an excellent melange of bass-heavy rap, funky experimentation and lightning-fast lyrics.

Essential Tracks: Daddy Fat Sax, Follow Us, Shutterbugg, Tangerine

5. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The Brutalist Bricks

Politically tinged pop-punk for a bruised but hopeful time.

Essential Tracks: Ativan Eyes, Even Heroes Have To Die, Bottled In Cork, Bartolomeo And The Buzzing Of Bees

 

4. The New Pornographers – Together

More impeccable chamber-pop loveliness from Canada’s greatest supergroup.
Essential Tracks: Moves, Crash Years, Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk

3. Janelle Monae – The Archandroid

Ceaselessly inventive pop-futurism that fuses diverse influences to create something completely new. Check out the review I wrote back in the summer.

Essential Tracks: Faster, Cold War, Tightrope, Wondaland

2. Superchunk – Majesty Shredding

Uplifting, catchy rock anthems set at the point between youthful optimism and adult disillusionment, learning something from both states

Essential Tracks: Digging For Something, Slow Drip, Learned To Surf

1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

As sprawling as the location it studies, Arcade Fire’s latest tells a bleak story of how the past we create in our shared spaces can disappear in front of our eyes. Its instrumentation and lyrics are cranked up to deliver Springsteen-level epics of youthful alienation, even as they hope for something more.

Essential Tracks: Ready To Start, City With No Children, Suburban War, Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

 

Best Of The Rest: 5 albums that didn’t make the cut

Yeasayer – Odd Blood

Villagers – Becoming A Jackal

The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack

Two Door Cinema Club – Tourist History

Marnie Stern – Marnie Stern

 

 

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My Top 50 Tracks of 2010

It’s been an incredible year for music. And thanks to Spotify, and the internet in general, I’ve been able to take in more music than I ever have before. There have been so many excellent releases that I’m still struggling over the order of my Top Albums of 2010 list. But in the meantime, here are the 50 best tracks I heard this year. I’ll be editing as I go, to include links to listen to the songs so you can judge for yourself. Enjoy!

50. The Magnetic Fields – You Must Be Out Of Your Mind

49. Frightened Rabbit – Swim Until You Can’t See Land

48. Band Of Horses – NW Apt.

47. Lights On – Red Lights Flashing

46. The Futureheads – Heartbeat Song

45. Admiral Radley – I’m All Fucked On Beer

44. Broken Bells – The Ghost Inside

43. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Round And Round

42. The National – Bloodbuzz Ohio

41. The Fresh And Earlys – Waterfall

40. MGMT – It’s Working

39. Admiral Fallow – Squealing Pigs

38. The Fall – Bury Pts. 1 + 3

37. Laura Marling – Devil’s Spoke

36. Grinderman – Worm Tamer

35. Beach Fossils – Desert Sands

34. Civil Civic – Run Overdrive

33. Kings Go Forth – Get A Feeling

32. The Morning Benders – Excuses

31. Rohnert Park – Into The Wayside Part I/Sick

30. Two Door Cinema Club – Cigarettes In The Theatre

29. A Classic Education – Gone To Sea

28. Villagers – That Day

27. Local Natives – Wide Eyes

26. Jenny and Johnny – My Pet Snakes

25. Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar

24. The Soft Pack – More Or Less

23. Drive-By Truckers – Birthday Boy

22. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Back In The Saddle

21. Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeroes – Home

20. Magic Kids – Hey Boy

19. Holy Fuck – P.I.G.S.

18. Yeasayer – O.N.E.

17. The Tallest Man On Earth – Burden Of Tomorrow

16. The Gaslight Anthem – The Spirit of Jazz

15. Marnie Stern – Transparency Is The New Mystery

14. Tame Impala – Lucidity

13. Surfer Blood – Swim

12. The Roots – How I Got Over

11. Fang Island – Daisy

10. Best Coast – When I’m With You

9. Broken Social Scene – Art House Director

8. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – Even Heroes Have To Die

7. The New Pornographers – Moves

6. Big Boi – Follow Us

5. The Hold Steady – The Weekenders

4. Kanye West – Power

3. Janelle Monae – Cold War

2. Arcade Fire – Ready To Start

1. Superchunk – Learned to Surf

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