An incredible cinematic year as highlighted by the presence of 68 films from a total of 27 countries. 43 of the 68 films (63%) came courtesy of film festivals with Rotterdam & CIFF providing more than half of the 43 film tally. Only 16 titles (24%) received a theatrical release in my city and 9 were found on DVD (13%).
I have decided to break things up into three categories to reflect a subjective ordering -- Gold (Favourites), Silver (worthy viewing), Bronze (Honorable Mention).
Gold (20 titles) -- in order of preference
1) Kill the Referee (2009, Belgium, Y. Hinant/E. Cardot/L. Delphine)
Carlos and The Social Network worked hard to recreate reality whereas Kill The Referee captures real images viewed by millions of people and manages to turn them on their head. The film provides a fly on the wall perspective to referee committee meetings with UEFA officials and allows us to listen to on-field conversations between referees, linesmen and the players. The effect of this audio is as ground breaking like watching a talkie for the first time after only seeing silent films for decades.
The documentary also provides some of the best acting performances of the year. People who claim soccer players playact on the field will finally have proof with this film but the most surprising aspect is to discover that some referees are aware of cameras and can put on quite a show. Roberto Rosetti and Howard Webb are well knows refs but this film shows they would make worthy film actors as well.
This soccer documentary offers plenty to chew on for non-soccer fans and highlights how in the hands of the right directors/editors, documenting a game can provide plenty of drama, emotion and tension that scripted cinema can sometimes never capture.
2) Liverpool (2008, Argentina, Lisandro Alonso)
Lisandro Alonso’s free moving camera allows us to soak in the beautiful country side while providing a haunting tale. Messi & Argentina may not have won the World Cup this year but this Argentine film won my 2010 Movie World Cup.
3) El Pasante (Argentina, Clara Picasso)
Clara Picasso's sublime film cleverly uses a Buenos Aires hotel setting as a springboard to examine wider issues, such as male-female power games and the thin boundary that exists between private and public life. Not a single minute is wasted in the film's brisk 64 minutes.
4) The American (USA, Anton Corbijn)
5) R (Denmark, Tobias Lindholm/Michael Noer)
One of the most brutal and dark films of the year!! The tag 'dark film' is easily thrown around but in the case of R, the tag is entirely justified. Besides being completely savage, R is intelligent and that is demonstrated by a clever perspective shift two-thirds of the way into the film.
6) Manuel De Ribera (Chile, Pablo Carrera/Christopher Murray)
This visually stunning film is a fascinating mix of Lisandro Alonso and Bela Tarr yet is completely original.
7) The Robber (Austria/Germany, Benjamin Heisenberg)
A highly entertaining yet intelligent film. The two highs of running and robbing give Johann’s life meaning and as a result, the entire film is defined by fast movement, shown by Johann's marathon runs or his perfectly timed car getaways.
8) Carlos (France, Olivier Assayas)
9) Shutter Island (USA, Martin Scorsese)
A riveting throwback to the cinema of the 1950’s/60's when heightened music foreshadowed impending danger awaiting characters. Martin Scorsese has made a perfect Hitchcock tribute.
10) The Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009, Serbia, Mladen Djordjevic)
11) Ocean of an Old Man (2008, India, Rajesh Shera)
12) Woman on Fire Looks for Water (2009, Malaysia/South Korea, Woo Ming Jin)
13) Valhalla Rising (Denmark/UK, Nicolas Winding Refn)
14) Incendies (Canada, Denis Villeneuve)
A beautifully crafted film that packs a mighty emotional punch. The film starts and ends in Canada but the rest of the film dives deep into the Middle East and is the kind of cinema that Canada needs more of, films that use second generation Canadian characters as a launching pad to explore their complex cultural background.
15) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand co-production, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Joe latest brew manages to blend dreams, spirits, reality, past and future in a single flowing work. Plus, there are some images that stay long in the memory. Red Eyes. Spirits at dinner table. And that catfish.
16) The Social Network (USA, David Fincher)
All about a girl and a drunken night of coding. Ah the endless possibilities of university life when everything is within reach. Sometimes, those possibilities work out for a select few while others sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
17) Tony Manero (2008, Chile/Brazil, Pablo Larraín)
A chilling film that shows that sanity cannot exist in a brutal dictatorship when individual survival and happiness blinds people.
18) Waste Land (Brazil/USA, Lucy Walker)
19) Scott Pilgrim vs the World (USA/UK/Canada, Edgar Wright)
A living breathing video game that humorously depicts the baggage a new relationship can sometimes bring. Ofcourse, not all relationships require killing 7 ex’s but strange things can take place in the Canadian snow.
20) Road, Movie (2009, India, Dev Benegal)
Dev Benegal’s film may feel heavily inspired by the wonderful Brazilian film Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures but Road, Movie manages to adapt perfectly to the Indian landscape. Plus, the added love for Indian cinema certainly makes this a wonderful treat.
Silver (27 titles) -- in no particular order
Avenida Brasilia Formosa (2009, Brazil, Gabriel Mascaro)
A vibrant documentary that gives an insightful look at a Recife arrival city and the subsequent relocation of its residents to a squeaky clean yet isolated apartment complex. The film shares some ground with Pedro Costa's In Vanda’s Room and Colossal Youth with the one difference being that Gabriel Mascaro pulls his camera back to give us overhead shots of the arrival city thereby putting the plight of the residents into perspective.
Black Swan (USA, Darren Aronoksy)
A complex physiological battle is rendered in a simple accessible visual manner where reality and nightmares occupy the same frame.
The Japanese Wife (India, Aparna Sen)
Aparna Sen’s most accomplished visual film is also a tribute to a time when hand written love letters provided people with hope and sense of purpose.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (USA/UK, Banksy)
A humorous hoax that raises some valid points about the true price of art. Interestingly, this film is also the first time where the identity of the director is a mystery. Yes, the director is Banksy but good luck at seeing his face.
Curling (Canada, Denis Côté)
Denis Côté has gone with the bold choice to give Curling a cold chilly look. As a result, it takes a while to warm up to the material but once one gets past the cold exterior, then one can admire the tale of a father's resolve to raise his daughter away from society. In a way, Curling is a cousin of the Greek film Dogtooth in showing how incorrect parental decisions can alter a child’s life.
Winter’s Bone (USA, Debra Granik)
A powerful film that shows if one’s own blood is willing to kill their kin, then one has no need for enemies.
A Useful Life (Uruguay, Federico Veiroj)
This Uruguayan feature does not feel like fiction at all but instead feels like a documentary reflecting the sad state of our times when independent/art-house theaters and cinematheques are on the verge of extinction. The beautiful ending sequence clearly evokes the French New Wave. A must see film for cinephiles.
Ishqiya (India, Abhishek Chaubey)
Wonderfully acted and has the bonus of having the single best song of any Indian film in 2010.
Certified Copy (France/Iran/Italy, Abbas Kiarostami)
Burma VJ (2009, Denmark co-production, Anders Østergaard)
Woman without a Piano (2009, Spain, Javier Rebollo)
The Secret in Their Eyes (2009, Argentina/Spain, Juan José Campanella)
Inception (USA/UK, Christopher Nolan)
The Fighter (USA, David O. Russell)
Like you know it All (2009, South Korea, Hong Sang-Soo)
Sebbe (Sweden, Babak Najafi)
Crab Trap (2009, Colombia/France, Oscar Ruiz Navia)
Band Baaja Baaraat (India, Maneesh Sharma)
Win/Win (Holland, Jaap van Heusden)
Inside Job (USA, Charles Ferguson)
Kinatay (2009, Philippines, Brillante Ma. Mendoza)
Hunting & Zn (Holland, Sander Burger)
Lucky Life (USA, Lee Isaac Chung)
Steam of Life (Finland, Joonas Berghäll/Mika Hotakainen)
The Maid (2009, Chile/Mexico, Sebastián Silva)
The Illusionist (UK/France, Sylvain Chomet)
Mesrine 2: Public Enemy #1 (2008, France/Canada, Jean-François Richet)
Bronze (21 titles) -- in no particular order
Heartbeats (Canada, Xavier Dolan)
Xavier Dolan's second feature is playful, funny and manages to neatly tuck in cute cinematic homages especially to the French New Wave.
Despicable Me (USA, Pierre Coffin/Chris Renaud)
It is difficult to raise kids but that task is made harder when one has ambitions to shrink the moon and conquer the world!
You Are All captains (Spain, Oliver Laxe)
Between Two Worlds (2009, Sri Lanka, Vimukthi Jayasundara)
Mundane History (2009, Thailand, Anocha Suwichakornpong)
Monogamy (USA, Dana Adam Shapiro)
Pelada (USA co-production, L. Boughen/R. Fergusson/G. Oxenham/R. White)
Taylor’s Way (2009, Canada, Rene Barr)
Oki’s Movie ( South Korea, Hong Sang-soo)
Harishchandrachi Factory (2009, India, Paresh Mokashi)
Love, Sex Aur Dhoka (India, Dibakar Banerjee)
Scheherazade Tell Me a Story (2009, Egypt, Yousry Nasrallah)
The Light Thief (Kyrgyzstan co-production, Aktan Abdykalykov)
Nora's Will (2008, Mexico, Mariana Chenillo)
Lola (2009, Philippines, Brillante Ma. Mendoza)
The Tiger Factory (Malaysia/Japan, Woo Ming Jin)
Bioscope (2008, India, K.M. Madhusudhanan)
Striker (India, Chandan Arora)
Guest (Spain, José Luis Guerín)
Peepli Live (India, Anusha Rizvi)
The Ghost Writer (France/Germany/UK,Roman Polanski)
If I were to remove film festival & foreign DVD titles from the equation and only depended on local theaters to see movies, then I would be left with only a handful of worthy titles every year. So viva film festivals!
Note: I am including 9 DVD titles, most of them being 2008/09, because these films never received a theatrical release in my city.