Daybreakers has some of the strangest and goofiest moments I’ve seen in an ostensibly serious horror/action film, largely courtesy of Willem Dafoe, but that just makes it all the more entertaining. It almost seems like a big budget B-Movie, aware that taking itself too seriously will destroy the audience’s suspension of disbelief. I’ve never before seen a scenario where the genocide of humans is replaced by relative order, and a society of vampires seems to work fairly well, with new problems of supply-and-demand, healthcare and law and order taking the place of human problems. Plus, it’s just nice to see vampires acting like vampires, and not sparkling or moping around. It was close between this film and Let Me In for the number 10 spot, but this eked it out by being one of the earliest genuinely entertaining films I saw this year.
9. Tron: Legacy
The most recent entry on this list, it was always going to be difficult to make a sequel to a film nearly thirty years old, but Tron: Legacy, despite its paper-thin plot and (literally) extremely dark settings, provides a worthy successor to the original. The original, while classic, was not high art, and this film could almost be seen as a kind of remake, re-treading alot of the same ground, and updating the action segments. Particularly impressive are the modernised games, brought to life with brilliant special effects and more modern concepts, even something as simple as the disc battles. The “plot twists” will surprise no-one, but entertainment is never far off. While the film is too dark, the visuals are incredible, with the city of the grid being particularly impressive. And finally, as always Jeff Bridges is brilliant, capturing the dated speech and laid back manner of the character he first played in 1982.
With so many lacklustre sequels to the original Predator, Nimrod Antal finally gave us a worthy follow-up, far from perfect but engaging and well-made. The film smacks of the testosterone-bloated action films of the 1980s, and follows the original film’s plot very closely, though with enough of a difference to mark this as its own story. Adrien Brody is playing dramatically against type as the grizzled and muscle-bound commando, but he manages well, as do the entire cast (even the criminally under-utilised Danny Trejo, though perhaps not the irrelevant role of Laurence Fishburne). Thankfully the film utterly ignores the abysmal Alien vs. Predator films, as well as the average 1990 Predator 2, and barely even seems to be the same genre, swapping out plot-hole-riddled stories for simple action and minimal complexity. The best thing to come out of the Alien/Predator franchise in years.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
There has been a positive epidemic of films based on comic books in the past few years, from the highs of The Dark Knight to the lows of The Spirit, but I think Scott Pilgrim is the closest one of these films has come to actually resembling a comic book. We are treated to ridiculously ostentatious and fluorescent special effects, strange little non-sequiturs and superhuman feats performed by a gaggle of normal twenty-somethings. This is pure, dumb fun, with a plot that jumps all over the place and lack of consistency. The characters are all well-defined and endlessly entertaining, particularly Alison Pill’s Kim, and the action sequences are fantastic, offering some of the best fight choreography I’ve seen for some time. Edgar Wright has been one of my favourite directors since the first time I saw Spaced, and this shows that he is well-capable of creating something fun and exciting that doesn’t feature either Simon Pegg or Nick Frost.
Monsters is inspiring for any person who wants to make movies, given its incredibly simple behind-the-scenes genesis. With a laughably small budget of under $500,000, this film makes critical acclaim and fame seem within the reach of even us mere mortals. Monsters creates a world fairly similar to ours, but with the notable difference of resident aliens, with a similar air as District 9, dispensing with flashy special effects for a gritty and realistic take on alien occupation. This is not to insult the special effects, which were all created by one man, director/writer/cinematographer Gareth Edwards, and add the kind of “the-same-but-different” look that this alternate Earth needs. Usually it is a bad sign when you see one man occupying so many credits on a film, as egos tend to get in the way, but in this case it is simply because of the Spartan nature of the production, and definite praise is in order. This is essentially a love story/road movie with monsters, and the main characters, portrayed by Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able, are a couple both in-film and in reality, which lends a real credibility to their relationship, and helps to endear the characters to the audience. This is a low-budget science fiction classic.
Kick-Ass taps into hidden desire that I’m sure has crossed the mind of many a nerd as they’ve sat at home on a Saturday night with nothing but a pizza and a Superman box-set for company – Wouldn’t it be cool to be a superhero? Well, it turns out that you’ll end up with a body full of metal pins holding your bones together, beaten half to death and being upstaged by a psychotic little girl (though in films you’ll get the girl, unlike the comic book). The story may be fairly thin, mostly made up of satire of the classic superhero movie, its the characters that make this a must-see. Aaron Johnson is spectacular as our earnest hero-in-training, Nic Cage Adam-Wests his way through his role as veteran hero Big Daddy, but the star of the show is Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl. I defy any critics who complain that she is either sexualised or glorifies violence as an utter prude, as she is arguably the most normal character in the film, merely wanting to spend time with her beloved father and make him proud. It just so happens that she is fighting gangsters while doing it. Admittedly Kick-Ass himself gets somewhat lost in the story when Big Daddy and Hit Girl arrive, but every character (with the obvious exception of Mark Strong’s big-bad gangster crime lord) has alot of humanity and an instantly memorable persona.
4. Four Lions
It saddens me that this film will never get a look-in at any awards, and that many people outside of Britain might never see this incredibly non-PC satire. The basic description “a black comedy about suicide bombers” might make this seem like the British equivalent of the dire Postal, but this is a film with a tremendous amount of heart. You find yourself very nearly sympathising with a group of men planning to commit mass murder, especially Kayvan Novak’s Waj and his child-like ignorance and misplaced trust in his militant cousin. But the most heart-breaking scenes are those where protagonist Omar (Riz Ahmed) explains his jihad to his young son by means of a Lion King-based bedtime story. But this is primarily a comedy, and refuses to pull a single punch as we watch a group of incompetents try to pull off a synchronised bomb attack. Controversy should stop no-one from checking out this instant contemporary classic.
3. Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese needs no introduction as a director, of course, and has found quite the partner in Leonardo DiCaprio, spanning from Gangs of New York through The Aviator and The Departed. Shutter Island continues the high standard of these films, with a tense and chilling atmosphere as we follow DiCaprio into a world of insanity and deception, with nothing as it seems. This is probably the kind of film that isn’t quite as good the second time around, but I can testify that seeing this for the first time in the cinema was a great experience. It has been noted that many of the peripheral characters are played by actors famous for portraying villains, notably Ben Kingsley, and this helps to create a near-subconscious mistrust in the mind of the viewer. DiCaprio is impressive as ever, as is his steadfast and loyal sidekick Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), and all-in-all this is how a psychological horror should be – nothing supernatural, just a thick atmosphere of fear and the manipulation of primal human fears.
2. Toy Story 3
A film about sentient toys who make child-friendly jokes should not be able to call forth the kind of emotion that can lead to deep introspection and genuine tears. But this “children’s” film delves into some very heavy themes, from the obsolescence that comes with age, blind hope that things will turn out okay, and even mortality itself in the heart-pounding climactic scene. Toy Story 3 is more than just a worthy sequel to Pixar’s best creation, but it stands as the best of the three, taking the usual emotional manipulation of a Disney product and ramping it up to eleven, but never seeming unfairly depressing. It’s a natural progression in the story, and takes account of the increased age of the audience who saw the first two films all those years a go. And still it remains incredibly funny, charming and enjoyable for all ages, and is a must see for anyone who has ever claimed that films geared towards children are just mindless noise-fests with no real substance.
So much has been said on this film already, but for me this is the best film of the year for one simple reason – It’s an original piece of science fiction. Avatar was lauded last year for being a tent-pole in the world of science fiction, but its pedestrian and uninspired plot looks amateur next to Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster. Inception was one of the most hotly-anticipated films of the year after Nolan’s last project The Dark Knight, and he has delivered again, presenting the best film he has ever made, which is saying something when you look at his filmography. The exploration of dreams and the mile-a-minute plot can seem very intimidating to the casual movie-goer, but those willing to pay close attention will be treated to an exploration of the human mind that deals with the internal neuroses of people and the nigh-unlimited imaginative power of the brain. It just goes to show that while science fiction so often looks outward, towards the stars, for interesting and concepts with infinite scope, equally rich (and perhaps richer) pastures can be found if we look inward, into the still mysterious human mind. A truly great film is a film that can spark passionate and exhaustive discussion in the audience, and while too much analysis can ruin some films, Inception demands that people delve deeper into the concept and will remain a hotly-debated artwork for years to come.