Over to Colin first:
5. TRON: Legacy (2011)
Yes, yes – I know it’s not officially a 2010 release this side of the pond, but I’m just so gosh-darn excited about the release, I can’t help but mention it. It’s been so long coming, it could have feasibly been titled ‘28 Years Later’ and with budget running at an eye-watering $300 million, it had better be unrelentingly awesome. In the original TRON of 1982, hacker Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), in an attempt to prove that his company stole his ideas, breaks in to their corporate system and – to cut a long story short – gets sucked in to the system and forced to compete for his life in gladiatorial games. Fast forward to 2010 and his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund), investigating his father’s mysterious disappearance, does exactly the same thing. Father and son must escape the clutches of the computer holding them prisoner, and this is essentially all TRON: Legacy is about. I frankly don’t care if it’s light on story – the original was a joy, and I’ve waited so long for the sequel I’m going to like it even if it’s utter hogwash. So there.
4. The Expendables
I secretly hoped that this would not be very good, just so I could sit back with a smug expression, twisting my moustache and saying: “I told you it would be rubbish”. It wasn’t. Sure, it’s not going to win awards for story complexity or character depth but I don’t think for a moment that was ever up for discussion. Sly Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren and many other movie tough guys – including a short appearance from a certain California governor – are a guns-for-hire band of men who do other people’s dirty work for them, usually with explosive consequences. Throw into the mix a pair of foxy ladies (Giselle Itié and Charisma Carpenter) and you’re pretty much guaranteed a box office return. I won’t insult your intelligence by outlining the story, but you know what to expect. If that’s your thing, you’ll love The Expendables. If not, don’t bother – simple.
Quite apart from the novelty of seeing Nicolas Cage finally make a decent movie, this is a well-made romp in good old comic book style. Modelled on the Marvel Comics character and including the now-obligatory cameo appearance by Marvel supremo Stan Lee, this story follows the elevation of an ordinary schoolboy Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) from nobody to renowned super-hero. Unlike Defendor (see my number-one choice), Kick-Ass plays purely for laughs and action. Kick-Ass – by dint of the fact that he’s really not very good at the whole superhero thing, picks up a partner in crime-fighting, Hit Girl (Chloë Moretz) and her father, Big Daddy (Cage), who have more than a few tricks up their sleeve. A good, solid comedy action flick with its tongue firmly in its cheek.
I suppose no roundup of 2010 would be complete without giving Inception a mention – even if it’s only because it’s directed by Christopher Nolan, and there’s no new Batman film to get all excited about. A positively stellar cast (Pete Postlethwaite, Michael Caine, Marion Cottilard and many more) do a first-rate job of bending reality in this story set in a dream within a dream. A confusing premise, but expertly handled by all, managing to be intelligent without being too clever and delivering some fast-paced thrills and spills. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense halfway in, but you’re rewarded at the end with a quite marvellous denouement.
Practically nobody saw this film, which for me constitutes an utter tragedy. The only big name on the credit sheet is Woody Harrelson, who delivers what is for me one of his finest roles to date. Harrelson plays Arthur Poppington, the archetypal mild-mannered man who has a secret identity as the champion of the unfortunate and the nemesis of criminals – Defendor. It is essentially a comedy, but the sheer heart that Harrelson puts into his role, and some solid support from the likes of Kat Dennings and Sandra Oh raises this movie way above expectations. Burlesque, often dark and sometimes moving, this debut by Canadian writer/director Peter Stebbings really is a must-see. The holiday season is upon us, so put it on your gift list.
And now James:
5. The A-Team
This is my fun choice, OK? Fun, fun, fun, because it’s great to see a remake come together. Director Joe Carnahan (Smokin’ Aces (2006)) first-time writer (Brian Bloom) and an ensemble cast led by Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith combine to offer an action flick that engages guts, brains and funny bone.
4. Let Me In
And a horror remake, praise the Lord, that more than does justice to the original, Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) (2008), itself a brilliant riff on the vampire genre – Cloverfield (2008) director Matt Reeves delivers a tale of puppy love with real bite that’s subtle, scary and tender.
3. Green Zone
Ahead of the number one film, another that had no problem pointing the finger at those in power, and quite right too – Matt Damon delivers his most adult performance to date as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, who’s in the field following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, looking for the much-touted ‘weapons of mass destruction’, whose purported existence provided President George W. Bush with the only excuse he and Tony Blair needed for US and UK involvement. But, after a third raid on a target that’s cited as being a WMD ‘hot’ spot turns up nothing, Miller starts to do his own research, and finds that turning over stones can be very risky. Director Paul Greengrass manages the rare feat of combining exciting action-film sensibilities with docu-drama intensity, and the result is a refreshingly honest and intelligent examination of the heights and depths of corruption.
And this so nearly took top spot – nobody really believed that Pixar could extend their most succesful franchise’s charm for a third episode, but that’s exactly what they did, with this hilarious and deeply moving account of what happens when the toys finally get put away for good, from Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 2 (1999)), along with writers Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine (2006)) and John Lasseter (Cars (2006)) If you don’t cry at the end, you’re not human.
1. The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski’s back, and he’s not taking any prisoners, political or otherwise. This was a trenchant and remarkably powerful study of just how dangerous things can get behind the scenes in the corridors of power – Ewan McGregor is ‘The Ghost’ of Robert Harris’s adaptation of his own novel, who’s assigned to knock the memoirs of former ‘craze’ prime minster Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) into shape and who quickly realizes that a great deal more than his reputation may be at stake. It lifted six major-category gongs at the 2010 European Film Awards, and your ‘pundit par excellence’ would hazard a guess that it won’t do too bad come Oscar time, either. Not sure whether Roman will thank me for that prediction, but I am certainly grateful to him for what was easily the year’s best film.