The Best and Worst of 2010

2010 comes to a close with the traditional "Best & Worst" list. I have listed my favourites in no particular order here, but if I must pick one above all the others, it would be the sublime French prison drama A Prophet. Jacques Audiard’s powerhouse saga of how a young criminal works his way up the pecking order in a tough prison had me gripped from start to finish. As has become the barometer of these things, over the years, it is the only film I watched again in a cinema after seeing it at a press screening.

The rest of the Best:

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

(Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)
Spellbinding and mystifying in equal measure, Apichatpong continues to invent new forms of narrative cinema.

(Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece)
Disturbing, bizarre and utterly compelling, this study of extreme familial dysfunction is a deadpan black comedy about paranoia, fear and freedom.

(Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
Korean director Bong’s brave and assured Oedipal thriller took brilliant characters, placed them in immersive locations and had them do fascinating things. He makes it look easy, but it really isn't.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
(Werner Herzog, US)
Herzog remade Abel Ferrara’s stomach-churning New York cop movie as a lurid psychodrama in sweltering New Orleans and extracted a late-career best performance from a deliriously loopy Nicholas Cage.

The Secret In Their Eyes
(Juan José Campanella, Argentina)
There’s not a note missed or a breath wasted in this richly scripted, involving thriller; a gripping story of love and death centred on an unsolved crime in 1970s Buenos Aires.

Samson & Delilah
(Warwick Thornton, Australia)
The bleak lives of two aboriginal teenagers are depicted in Thornton’s emotionally honest, visually stunning and semi-improvised drama.

(Christopher Nolan, US)
Christopher Nolan’s mesmerising metaphysical head-scratcher was devilishly complicated but beautifully shiny and new.

The Social Network
(David Fincher, US)
Top marks to Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher for making a vital mainstream studio film from the most unlikely subjects; the internet, business ethics and the legal process. A true Geek tragedy.

His & Hers
(Ken Wardrop, Ireland)
Wardrop’s deceptively simple and beguiling documentary was a series of sweet interviews with Irish women about the men in their lives and a word-of-mouth success at the box office

I Am Love
(Luca Guadagnino, Italy)
A sumptuous, floridly erotic Italian opera with a powerhouse performance from Tilda Swinton and the finest production design of the year.

Another Year
(Mike Leigh, UK)
A talented cast, made up of happy and unhappy characters, come together over the course of a year in Leigh's finely observed comedy drama.

Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, US)
Scorsese's hallucinatory homage to the B-movies of his childhood.

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, US)
Woody and the gang wave goodbye in this funny and poignant series-ending sequel from Pixar.

Exit Through The Gift Shop
(Banksy, UK)
A sly, uncertain documentary about street art and bullshit artists.

The Worst Films of 2010

Mercifully, Matthew McConaughey did not appear in a film in 2010. If he had done, it would be listed in this space.

Sex & The City II
(Michael Patrick King, US)
Carrie and her superannuated chums reprised their hymn to conspicuous consumption just at the time when the money ran out.

Leap Year
(Anand Tucker, US/Ireland)
If the economy hadn't collapsed so spectacularly, this unwatchable collection of Oirish stereotypes would have been the greatest disaster to befall this country in 2010.

(John & Kieran Carney, Ireland)
If there was a joke here, I didn't get it, no matter how often it was repeated.

Vampires Suck
(Jason Freidberg, US)
If the Twilight franchise wasn’t anaemic enough, this lazy spoof was entirely bloodless. Proof that shooting fish in a barrel is tougher than you’d think.

The Collector
(Marcus Dunstan, US)
The last whimpers of the torture-porn movement. Nobody will miss it.

The Last Airbender
(M Night Shyamalan, US)
M Night Shyamalan made a kids movie. Poor kids.

Enter The Void
(Gaspar Noe, France)
The first hour of Gaspar Noe’s psychedelic point-of-view odyssey could easily have made the “Best Of” list. If only he had stopped there.

All About Steve
(Phil Traill, US)
Sandra Bullock follows her Oscar win with a dreadfully mistimed comedy about a mentally challenged woman stalking a news cameraman. Oh, the humanity.

(John Luessenhop, US)
A flashy menswear catalogue brought to life as a forgotten episode of Miami Vice.

The best film book I read this year was Steven Bach's saga about the making of Heaven's Gate, Final Cut (even if I was a little late in getting round to it). I also really enjoyed Simon Louvish's definitive double-biography of Laurel and Hardy, Stan & Ollie: The Roots of Comedy and Ruth Barton's temperate biography of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in Film. The worst film book, by some distance, was Kevin Smith's semi-literate masturbation diary, My Boring-Ass Life which, like his recent films, is just awful. My song of the year was Wayne Smith's 'Under Mi Sleng Teng', an early-80s electro reggae track which featured on the soundtrack to Shane Meadow's tv series This Is England 86.

And that's it. Happy New Year!


What began as a fake trailer inserted in the middle of Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s failed hymn to the glories of exploitation cinema, Machete (the exclamation mark is implied) has now been expanded by writer and director Rodriguez into a real movie. He mightn’t have bothered; it was better as a two minute spoof.

In his first starring role in a 25 year career, leather-faced Danny Trejo plays a former Mexican policeman nicknamed Machete who is hired to assassinate a Texan politician (Robert De Niro) by a wealthy political fixer (Jeff Fahey). The fixer, in turn, is working for a Confucius-spouting drug lord (Steven Seagal) who is in league with a crooked white-supremacist sheriff (Don Johnson).

Helping Machete overthrow the devils oppressing his immigrant countrymen are his brother, a heavily- armed parish priest (Cheech Marin) and a twinned pair of scantily-dressed all-action women, a revolutionary truck-stop café owner (Michelle Rodriguez) and a sympathetic FBI agent (Jessica Alba). Later, Lindsay Lohan defies casting to type in a cameo as a dumb blonde, strung out on drugs, taking her clothes off on the internet “to please her fans”. When Machete’s mission goes wrong and he becomes a wanted man, he connects with the secretive immigrant underground in order to hatch an elaborate revenge.

What follows is essentially an extended elaboration on the same tittering exploitation themes Rodriguez really should have gotten out of his system after Grindhouse. Told in a series of breathlessly camp and eye-wateringly violent scenes of random butchery, sleazy nudity and grisly visual humour, Machete is realised as a live-action cartoon, albeit one strictly for grown-ups. The thin plot unfolds exactly as you might expect; a blizzard of crosses and double-crosses, beheadings and dismemberments, shootouts and standoffs.

Trejo has an unforgettable face but he makes for a less than charismatic leading man. His blazing eyes and rolling shoulders carry tremendous threat but he lacks the range to turn his sleazy angel of vengeance into anything other than a caricature of a mangled tough guy. Almost silent and dripping with knives, Machete beats the lining out of every man he encounters while every woman falls swooning at his feet. Rodriguez also employs his outcast anti-hero as the conduit for a series of pointed political messages, among them a parody of the recent attempts in Arizona to build an enormous fence along the border with Mexico and a racist election campaign television advertisement, which imagines illegal immigrants as scuttling cockroaches beneath the heel of the senator’s cowboy boot.

These moments of social commentary, studded throughout the wider narrative, are where Rodriguez finds the room to do what he does best: quipped one-liners, cynical visual jokes and self-consciously shabby, home-made special effects work. The director is less successful in sustaining his thinly-sketched characters as they jump through the various hoops in the story, with the result that when his film isn’t being randomly entertaining, it’s deathly dull. With a running time of just under two hours, perhaps the surprise is not that Machete wears out its welcome but how quickly it does so.