Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Best Imports of 2010

The following are my favorite foreign films from this past year. I am aware that some of these had their original overseas release in 2008 or 2009, but I am basing my list on those that landed Stateside in 2010. Please comment and let me know if you have other suggestions!

10. Enter the Void (Dir: Gaspar Noé)

It is occasionally difficult to watch, not unlike Noé’s other films, but it is also thought-provoking and visually interesting. It follows a young man who moves to Japan and becomes a junkie. His lifestyle gets him killed, and what follows is presumably him seeing his life “flash” before his eyes, and then him watching over his sister and friends from the afterlife. It is a slow-moving film, and may make you reach for the fast-forward button once in a while. Hell, if you can make it through the opening credits without having a seizure, consider yourself prepared. In terms of length and pacing, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey comes to mind. But like that movie, it is a wild visual ride and makes you think.

9. Animal Kingdom (Dir: David Michôd)

A gritty Australian crime drama about a young man trapped in a dangerous family of criminals. As the police close in on busting the family, young “J” has no choice but to talk to the cops, which puts him in the crosshairs of his unstable Uncle “Pope.” The film has some incredible performances, especially Jackie Weaver as the methodical grandmother figure, “Smurf.” The way she can kiss you as easily as kill you is downright scary throughout. She will go to any length to protect her sons, embracing the criminal lifestyle like it’s nothing. The film can be a bit slow, but when it gets moving, it is tense and powerful.

8. Red Hill (Dir: Patrick Hughes)

Another bleak Aussie thriller, this time largely inspired by American westerns. Ryan Kwanten plays Constable Shane Cooper who is moved from the city to a small one-horse (literally) town. Almost as soon as he arrives, infamous criminal Jimmy Conway escapes from prison and rides into town seeking vengeance on the cops who put him away. Cooper finds himself in the middle of a firestorm as Jimmy indeed wreaks havoc on the small town and unveils some of its dark history along the way. The script may use some familiar western clichés, but it is taut, well-written, and steeped in Australian history. The cinematography is beautiful, and all the performances are great. I hope the rumor is true that this is only the first film of a trilogy.

7. Mother (Dir: Joon-ho Bong)

Mother is the story of a quiet, old Korean woman who lives with her grown, but mentally slow son. When a young girl is brutally murdered in town, the woman’s son is connected to the crime. She sets out to prove her boy is innocent, and to find the person who is framing him. This murder mystery is engaging and full of twists and turns. It is a sad, powerful film, but it is not without its own dark sense of humor. As the titular mother, Hye-ja Kim is fantastic. Director Joon-ho Bong (The Host) continues to impress.

6. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Dir: Jalmari Helander)

This is a strange little Christmas movie, but it could definitely become a holiday classic if only it could reach a larger audience. A team of researchers unearths something in a Finnish mountain. The young protagonist Pietari believes it to be Santa Clause but not the jolly Old Saint Nick we all know. This Santa is one of lore, where he has horns and kills naughty children. As children in the town begin to disappear, Pietari and his father unintentionally capture a creepy old stranger who may or may not be the infamous Santa Clause. Rare Exports has the feel of a 80s kid-centric adventure such as The Goonies, only scarier and a bit gorier. It lost me a bit toward the end, and I think they could have done more with the concept, but it is still one of the better holiday flicks to come out in years.

5. [Rec] 2 (Dir: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza)

The original [Rec] was an incredible horror film, which was surprising because it fell right in the middle of that annoying first-person-camera trend. So my expectations were even lower for the sequel. Well, I was wrong. [Rec] 2 is a faithful sequel and a good stand-alone horror film. In this one, the apartment is still under quarantine and a team of SWAT is being sent in, along with a Department of Health official to collect specimens for an antidote. Yes, the story is a bit Aliens-esque but not overtly so. The sequel extends the themes of the first film but also takes the story in a very different direction. The scares are still great and the filmmakers get very creative with their use of the POV camera so it never gets boring.

4. Micmacs (Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

With Micmacs, Jeunet delivers his usual quirkiness and charm. This one is about a man who survives a bullet to his brain, but is rendered homeless and jobless. He joins up with a group of misfits, who ultimately help him take down the weapons companies responsible for his predicament. What follows is a lighthearted heist flick unlike any other. The characters are as eccentric and colorful as the visuals, just as we have come to expect and love from this filmmaker. The story is solid, too – it is uplifting and fun despite its dark subject matter.

3. The Square (Dir: Nash Edgerton)

Yes, another Australian crime thriller. What can I say, they are good at what they do. This one is a bit of a noir, as well, and strongly recalls a Coen Brothers flick. Raymond Yale engages in an extramarital affair with Carla, who herself is married to a dangerous criminal. One day, she sees her husband bring home a bag of money and decides she is going to take it and run away with Raymond. To cover their tracks, they hire an arsonist to burn the place down but inevitably the plan backfires. As the situation spirals out of control, Raymond goes to extreme lengths to keep his secret. Written by brothers Nash and Joel Edgerton (who also co-stars), the script is very strong and suspenseful. If you like films like Blood Simple or Fargo, this is a must-see.

2. Four Lions (Dir: Christopher Morris)

This one is from the writers of last year’s brilliant political comedy, In The Loop. This film takes it to the next level with a story about would-be Islamic terrorists plotting a London attack. And it’s a comedy - seriously. Some surprisingly hilarious situations arise from the efforts of these wannabe terrorists. At the same time, the film parodies both religious extremism and prejudice against Muslims. It has a bold, brilliant script, great performances, and will keep you laughing until the end (even when you feel like you shouldn’t be laughing). There is even a surprising amount of genuine emotion mixed in. Terrorism is not an easy topic to tackle, but Morris and the screenwriters handle it with tact and fairness, while never sacrificing honesty or humor.

1. Terribly Happy (Dir: Henrik Ruben Genz)

Here is another Coen-esque drama/noir, this one from Denmark. Robert is a cop who makes a mistake and gets transferred from Copenhagen to small rural town. He is dismissed as an outsider but soon begins to notice something is rotten in Denmark, so to speak (har har). He falls for a local woman and is drawn deeper into the town’s secrets and lies. The film is well-written, beautifully shot, and has a dark, quirky sense of humor. There are great performances, especially from Jakob Cedergren as Robert and Kim Bodnia as the abusive husband of Robert’s love interest. Director Genz is joining the ranks of other great Danish filmmakers (i.e., Bornedal; Refn) and I cannot wait to see his next effort.

Runner-Up: The Loved Ones (Dir: Sean Byrne)

I did not have room for this one on the list but I wanted to mention it, as it is one of the better horror films I have seen in a while. Another Aussie entry, this one is about a teenage boy with a tragic past who gets kidnapped by a psycho girl who has a crush on him. With the help of her equally insane father, the girl throws her own twisted prom in her house. Robin McLeavy portrays the crazy chick, and she is hilariously nuts. The movie is gory, funny, and although it recalls films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it does not feel derivative.


HitmanDJ said...

Awesome read, I really need to see the ones on here I haven't already, and this is making me check the dates for when the ones I have seen come out so I can buy them because I want to see them all again. Great films.

Sean D. said...

Another good read! I'm proud I've seen the majority of your picks. I only need to watch "Micmacs", "The Loved Ones", and "Enter the Void." If I made this list, I think the biggest difference would be putting "Red Hill" higher. I will say you did pick some very good films ahead of it though, including one I haven't seen. I just really liked "Red Hill" a lot. It was my favorite movie we saw at Philly Film Fest. What can I say, I'm a sucker for noir and good westerns. That movie was a double win, heh. I really hope those trilogy rumors are true too. I want that as bad as I want the rumored "RocknRolla" trilogy.

As I was reading your list I realized I've read about "Enter the Void", but I've never actually watched the trailer. Just when I forget you said what's-her-name is in the movie, she gets slammed in my face, heh. I was able to tolerate her on Boardwalk Empire, but she does seem much more annoying in this... and I only saw like 20 seconds of her, haha. The movie looks like it has some wild visuals. I've read about that, but now I've gotten a look. I've never actually seen a Noé film, so this is new to me. I already have "Irreversible" in my queue.

Did you ever see "Vahalla Rising"? I heard it's disappointing, which is a bummer since it's Refn and Mikkelsen reunited. I was just wondering if you left it off because it's not that good, or because you haven't watched it yet. If you haven't seen it, it's instant watch on Netflix right now.

Heather said...

@Sean, yeah I think you and DJ are just about equal, as you both always are with me at these movies :P

I've had Valhalla Rising for a while, but lost interest in seeing it after poor reviews. I'll watch it eventually.