Enter the Void (Entertainment One): Visually stunning drama about a drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown) in Tokyo who dies and witnesses his sister (Paz de la Huerta) and the city as a ghost. Directed by Gaspar Noe, it is a master class in cinematography, visual effects and editing, although some will be put off by the grimy setting. [Buy it on DVD] [Read our full review here]
Ballast (Axiom Films): A powerful drama about the lives of various characters living in a rural Mississippi Delta township. A fine debut from writer/director Lance Hammer, it features some excellent performances from non-professional actors, including Michael J. Smith Sr., Jim Myron Ross and Tarra Riggs. It won Best Director and Best Cinematography at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and achieved deserved critical acclaim. [Buy it on DVD]
Les Diaboliques (Arrow Video): Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic 1955 thriller, about a headmaster (Paul Meurisse) who becomes the target of a murder plot by his long-suffering wife (Vera Clouzot) and latest mistress (Simone Signoret), gets the hi-def treatment. Still a masterclass in suspense, the disc features an audio commentary by author Susan Hayward, a lengthy interview with French film scholar Ginette Vincendeau new writing and a re-printed interview with Clouzot by Paul Schrader with illustrations by Léon Barsacq. [Buy the Blu-ray/DVD combo]
Animals United (EV) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition with 2D Edition] Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (Sony Music Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror – Live at the Newport… (Sony Music Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Burlesque (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal] Chatroom (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Street Wars (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] The New York Ripper (Shameless) [Blu-ray / Normal] The Tourist (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
An epic escape from a Russian gulag during World War II forms the backdrop for Peter Weir’s first film in seven years.
Loosely based on Slavomir Rawicz’s book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” (more of which later), The Way Back begins with an soldier named Janusz (Jim Sturgess) being sent to a remote Siberian prison camp on trumped up charges of spying.
After enlisting the help of inmates to escape, including an ex-pat American (Ed Harris) and a tough gang member (Colin Farrell), the group venture on a massive trek across Asia where they meet an orphan (Saoirse Ronan), struggle to survive and attempt to reach the safety of India.
Weir shoots everything with convincing detail: the prison camp is believably hellish and the landscapes form a frequently stunning backdrop as the prisoners venture across sub-zero Russia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas on their way to India.
Visually, the film feels grittier than one might expect, with D.P. Russell Boyd appearing to use a lot of natural light and the splendour of the landscapes are frequently intercut with shots of blisters and the physical cost of the journey.
The performances all round are solid: Sturgess and Harris stand out as the two lynchpins of the group; Farrell is charmingly gruff; Ronan has presence and depth and Mark Strong is believably seductive as a prison camp veteran with his own agenda.
As a narrative experience, the initial tension of the prison break quickly becomes a fight for survival as the group struggle to eat, stay warm and avoid all manner of hardships involving the harsh landscape.
This means that it lacks conventional tension, but there is a certain pleasure in the gruelling sprawl of the story as they keep moving across a bewildering variety of landscapes and adverse weather conditions on their 4,000-mile trek.
Sequences that particularly stand out are the initial prison break in a blizzard, a lake infested with mosquitoes, a harsh desert which drives them to the brink and the latter stages which involve some famous Asian landmarks.
For the most part it is absorbing and features well drawn characters, even though it occasionally suffers from the problem of mixing English and native dialogue, which in the modern era diminishes the overall authenticity of the film.
The film hinges on the central character’s desire to get back home (hence the title) to see his wife, which we see in a recurring vision, and it is hard not to be moved by the climactic depiction of the personal set against the historical.
But although The Way Back is an undeniably powerful experience, there is a problem at the very heart of the adaptation which directly relates to the original book that inspired it.
Although Rawicz’s account was acclaimed for a number of years, in 2006 the BBC discovered records that essentially debunked his version of events, even though there is evidence to suggest that the journey may have been undertaken by other people.
Peter Weir was fully aware of the controversy surrounding the book when he made the film, hence certain key changes, and overall it demonstrates the taste, tact and intelligence that has informed his career.
But given the extraordinary nature of the journey there is something dispiriting about finding out the truth about Rawicz, even if the actual trek may have been done by someone else.
It remains a powerful and handsomely constructed piece of cinema but also suffers from the shady origins of its source material.
As usual these are my favourite films of the year in alphabetical order (just click on each title for more information).
THE BEST FILMS OF 2010
Animal Kingdom (Dir. David Michôd): The outstanding debut feature from director David Michôd is a riveting depiction of a Melbourne crime family headed by a sinister matriarch.
Another Year (Dir. Mike Leigh): A moving, bitter-sweet drama about relationships, filled with great acting, is arguably the peak of Mike Leigh’s career.
Biutiful (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu): Searing exploration of life and death in a modern European city, featuring a tremendous central performance from Javier Bardem.
Black Swan (Dir. Darren Aronofsky): Swan Lake is retold with glorious intensity, channelling Polanski and Cronenberg whilst giving Natalie Portman the role of a lifetime.
Carlos (Dir. Olivier Assayas): Scintillating and immersive depiction of a 1970s terrorist with a tremendous performance by Edgar Ramirez.
Enter the Void (Dir. Gaspar Noé): Technically dazzling depiction of a dead drug dealer that also features what is possibly the greatest opening title sequence of all time.
Exit Through The Gift Shop (Dir. Banksy): An ingenious and hilarious hall of mirrors which is brilliantly executed and so much more than a ‘Banksy documentary’.
Inception (Dir. Christopher Nolan): The ingenious puzzles of Christopher Nolan’s early films were given the scale of his blockbusters in this hugely ambitious sci-fi actioner.
Inside Job (Dir. Charles Ferguson): Devastating documentary about the financial crisis which plays like a heist movie, only this time it is the banks robbing the people.
Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris): The media feeding frenzy surrounding a bizarre 1970s sex scandal provided Errol Morris with the raw material for one of the most entertaining documentaries in years.
The Fighter (Dir. David O’Russell): A boxing story which follows a familiar path but remains energetic, inspirational and funny, with Christian Bale on career-best form.
The Kids Are Alright (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko): A perfectly pitched comedy-drama that explores modern family life with genuine heart and humour.
The King’s Speech (Dir. Tom Hooper): Wonderfully crafted period drama with two brilliant lead performances and a moving story filled with hilarious one liners.
The Social Network (Dir. David Fincher): The inside story of Facebook is a riveting tale of ambition and betrayal, which sees Fincher, Sorkin and a young cast firing on all cylinders.
Toy Story 3 (Dir. Lee Unkrich): The ground breaking animated series gets a worthy final chapter whilst maintaining Pixar’s impeccable standards of story and animation.
127 Hours (Dir. Danny Boyle) Blue Valentine (Dir. Derek Cianfrance) Catfish (Dir. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost) Four Lions (Dir. Chris Morris) Let Me In (Dir. Matt Reeves) Restrepo (Dir. Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger) Somewhere (Dir. Sofia Coppola) The American (Dir. Anton Corbijn) The Ghost Writer (Dir. Roman Polanski) The Illusionist (Dir. Sylvain Chomet) Winter’s Bone (Dir. Debra Granik)
The Town (Warner Bros.): Ben Affleck’s second film as director is a satisfyingly lean crime drama about bank robbers, set in the Charlestown district of Boston. Adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel ‘Prince of Thieves’, Affleck plays the leader of a gang who play cat and mouse with a local FBI agent (Jon Hamm) keen to bring his crew to justice.
After a heist goes slightly wrong, they fear that a hostage (Rebecca Hall) may have recognised one of them behind their masks. To complicate matters further, Affleck’s character soon falls for her which creates tensions with his fellow gang member and friend (Jeremy Renner).
Whilst not as strong as Affleck’s directorial debut, the quietly brilliant Gone Baby Gone (2007), it establishes him as a confident storyteller who can evoke a strong sense of place (most of it was shot on location in Boston) and a very capable director of actors.
After screening at festivals in Venice and Toronto, it built up momentum and topped the US box office last weekend, scoring great reviews in to the bargain. British critics will probably be cooler on it, but audiences may be keener as word of mouth spreads. Warner Bros may be quietly confident that this could do better than expected and give Eat Pray Love a run for its money. [Nationwide / 15] *Read a longer review here *
Eat Pray Love (Sony Pictures): Adapted from the best selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert about a woman (Julia Roberts) who reboots her life by going on a journey around the world, which takes her to Italy, India and Indonesia. Along the way she meets various people, eats food, prays and falls in love (as the title might suggest).
Directed by Ryan Murphy (who is also the creator of Glee), it co-stars Javier Bardem, James Franco, Viola Davis and Richard Jenkins. Aimed firmly at the female cinemagoer, it opened to mixed reviews and respectable box office in the US last month. Sony will be expecting this to top the box office this weekend although it will face competition from The Town. [Nationwide / PG]
The Hole (Entertainment One UK): A thriller about a family who discover a mysterious hole in the basement of their house, which appears to be a scary bottomless pit.
Directed by Joe Dante, this is the director’s first film since Looney Tunes: Back In Action (2003) and stars Teri Polo, Chris Massoglia and Haley Bennett.
This is a rare thing these days, a family-orientated suspense film that touches on the horror genre, with nods to Stephen King and The Twilight Zone. Whether the 3D will help or hinder its box office chances is an open question and the absence of stars might also be a drawback. [Vue West End & Nationwide / 12A]
Enter the Void (Trinity Filmed Entertainment): The first film from Gaspar Noé since the controversial Irreversible (2002) is a strange and hypnotic set in contemporary Tokyo. When a young American drug dealer (Nathaniel Brown) is killed he becomes a disembodied soul, observing his sister (Paz de la Huerta) and other acquaintances like a ghost.
Ambitious and technically dazzling, it is ultimately a disjointed exploration of life after death. Although at times grandiose and clumsy, generally the level of craft here is something to behold and the sheer visceral assault on the senses is unlike anything in recent memory.
It has had a troubled journey to the screen, with various cuts shown to different festivals over the last year, suggesting even Noé might have got lost inside the material. It will be strictly for arthouse audiences – and will probably divide even them – but still features some of the most interesting cinema you will see this year. [Curzon Soho & Key Cities / 18] * Read a longer review here *
World’s Greatest Dad (The Works): A black comedy about a teacher (Robin Williams) who is also a struggling writer and frustrated father to his teenage son (Daryl Sabara).
When something drastic happens, he finds himself as an unlikely celebrity and gets the attention he always craved. Although the poster might suggest a much more commercial film, this is actually a genuine independent that screened to considerable acclaim back at Sundance in 2009.
Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, the presence of Williams in the lead role is initially misleading as this is a darkly funny and subversive film, which will probably get a more appreciative audience over time. [Odeon Covent Garden & Key Cities / 15]
Frozen (Momentum Pictures): A horror about college students who encounter some problems at a ski resort. Directed by Adam Green, it stars Emma Bell and Shawn Ashmore. [Empire Leicester Square, Ritzy Brixton, Screen on the Green & Key Cities / 15]
Peepli Live (Artificial Eye): A Hindi satire about farmers’ suicides and the subsequent media and political response starring Omkar Das Manikpuri and written and directed by Anusha Rizvi. [Curzon Renoir, Empire West End, Genesis Mile End & Nationwide / 15]
True Legend (Optimum Releasing): A Chinese-Hong Kong martial arts film about a Qing dynasty general (Man Cheuk Chiu) who retires in order to pursue his dream of a family and his own martial arts school. Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping, it also stars Vincent Zhao, Zhou Xun, and Michelle Yeoh. [Curzon Soho & Nationwide / 15]
The Wildest Dream (Serengeti Ent/National Geographic): A documentary which intersects the stories of George Mallory, the first man to attempt a summit of Mount Everest, and Conrad Anker, the mountaineer who finds Mallory’s frozen remains 75 years later. Directed by Anthony Geffen. [Apollo Piccadilly Circus, BFI IMAX & Nationwide / PG]
Budrus (Dogwoof): Drama about a Palestinian leader who unites Fatah, Hamas and Israelis in an unarmed movement to save his village from destruction. Directed by Julia Bacha. [Empire West Gate, Clapham Picturehouse & Key Cities / 15]
Confucius (CineAsia): A Chinese biographical film directed by Hu Mei, starring Chow Yun-fat as the famous Chinese philosopher. [Key Cities / 15]
Dragon Hunters (Stealth Media): An animated film about two dragon hunters, directed by Guillaume Ivernel and Arthur Qwak. [Selected Key Cities / PG]
From Here To Eternity (Park Circus): A re-release for the 1953 World War II drama, based on the novel by James Jones, which explores the troubles of soldiers in Hawaii before Pearl Harbour. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, it stars Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine, Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed. [BFI Southbank & Key Cities/ PG]