Sometimes The Best Ones Are The Ones You Don't See
As a result of my own misanthropy and fear of crowds, I don’t get to the theaters very often. Most of the films I review are either direct-to-DVD/Netflix fair, or smaller films that had limited releases overseas, but never made it into US theaters (or had limited runs in small festivals or select cities). But, that said, there are some damn fine, if not occasionally imperfect movies that came out this year, many of which never saw the inside of the local multiplex. So as part of our year-end round-ups, here are the Ten Best Non-Theatrical Films of 2010.
Note: Some of these were 2009 releases in other countries, but hit the US in 2010. Don’t bitch.
10. Bran Nue Dae: In the end, Bran Nue Dae, despite impressive receptions at the Melbourne, Toronto, and Sundance festivals, is not a great movie. It’s fun, to be sure, but it has moments that drag, and its absurdity sometimes comes off as a little too carefully orchestrated. However, that doesn’t make it insignificant. Its musical numbers are lively and enjoyable, there are some genuinely enjoyable performances to be mined out of it, and its subtle yet scathing commentary adds another layer to the already complicated history of its native country. Bran Nue Dae will likely be hard to find stateside, but worth the effort if you do.
9. Batman: Under The Red Hood: Batman: Under The Red Hood is easily one of DC’s best efforts, which is high praise indeed. It features top-notch animation that we’ve become accustomed to, and clever, slick writing and direction. There’s not a weak spot to be found among the voice actors, and it features an excellent assortment of classic and new characters — in addition to Batman, Robin, Nightwing, the Joker and Alfred, it also features appearances by The Riddler (voiced by Bruce Timm himself) and Ra’s al Ghul (the suitably menacing Jason Isaacs). It’s yet another solid entry into the animated pantheon, and this particular Batman fan found it to be resoundingly satisfying.
8. Operation Endgame: Once one dumps the pointless explanations, the film is actually rather fun. No one is armed, as they’re all forced to surrender their firearms whenever they check in, so the film delights the viewer by having the cast off each other in gorily creative fashion using whatever tools they find around the office. That’s where the film succeeds in spades. Think of it as Office Space meets Final Destination. Give screenwriter Sam Levinson credit for coming up with some truly innovative, not to mention goddamn brutal ways for them to hack each other up. Death by paper shredder, chair leg, pencil-stabbing, staple removers, and flaming four-iron (to name but a few) — all accompanied by gushing blood and screaming brawls. It is some seriously grisly, twisted shit, and it is fucking hilarious. If, you know, you roll that way (which I do). The other bonus is that the story provides absolutely no idea as to who’s going to survive — don’t go thinking the big names will come out at the end — maybe they will, maybe they’ll get a pair of scissors in the brain pan.
7. The Horseman: The Horseman is a small, unknown film that will likely never garner any kind of mass appeal in the U.S. — it was released in very limited markets last fall. Even in Australia it’s hardly a blockbuster — it won best film and best director at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, but that’s the extent of its accolades. Regardless, it’s a strangely beautiful film — it’s just marred by an excessive, bloated ending. Yet The Horseman is worth enduring that ending for the sake of seeing some amazing performances, solid directing and a film that despite its harshness and unrelenting violence, feels uniquely human.
6. Mutants : Of course, the other side of that coin is that Marco is not dying. He’s transforming, and when that transformation is complete, they both know that he’s going to become something unrecognizable and remorselessly tear the woman he loves apart. Therein lies the other emotionally bracing bit — his sickness isn’t going to kill him, it’s going to kill her, and she can’t bring herself to do what must be done. You’ll of course find yourself asking the same questions — questions which I honestly refuse to answer. This decision to focus on just two characters and their relationship is what makes Mutants so effective. Renaud and de Fougerolles are both excellent — desperate, normal people who have to make horrible decisions and are paralyzed by their own love and struggling with the truth amidst the nightmare surrounding them. Both know what has to be done, but they also know that these are their last days and hours together, and can’t make that first cut.
5. Triangle: Triangle becomes a bizarre, convoluted story that tosses in several different ideas, thoroughly confusing the viewer until the very end (and even after that). It’s a story that shouldn’t be ruined, though to be honest I don’t think I could write a coherent synopsis even if I wanted to. The film focuses on Jess, but it quickly devolves into a clustered mindfuck of a story, involving time loops, dopplegangers, haunted sea vessels, masked gunmen, dead bodies piling up and lots and lots of blood. If you think you can glean the plot from that, you’re wrong. Triangle is a riveting experiment in genre-bending and chaos, a visceral, gripping blow to the head flick that I was going over days after seeing it — in fact, I watched it again, from start to finish, two days later.
4. Cracks : Cracks surprised me. It was a last second decision to see it at the festival, and one I don’t regret in the least. It’s a gorgeous film on its surface, but a deeper exploration reveals a deeply intelligent film, full of rich symbolism and a breathtaking look at both the beauty and ugliness of the human condition. It’s a movie about young people that honestly exposes their fears and emotionalism, and shows the consequences of exploiting those fragile psyches. It’s that very honesty and raw exposure that will likely doom it to limited release, but that also shows that director Jordan Scott and her cast of remarkable young women have great potential.
3. Monsters: That journey is a fascinating one, and what’s perhaps most striking about Monsters is that it is very much not a monster movie, but more an emotionally-based socio-political road movie — that has monsters in it. The film is more about Andrew and Samantha’s characters, how they interact with each other, how their feelings and emotions — not just about each other, but about the world around them — evolve and change, just as the world is fretfully trying to evolve around these new lifeforms. It’s a carefully thought-out, introspective piece that takes its look at interpersonal relationships and geopolitics with surprising gentleness. While the immigration and xenophobic themes are fairly obvious, they’re tackled with a deft subtlety and aren’t even particularly critical, merely contemplative.
2. Bass Ackwards: Bass Ackwards is a subtle, almost deceptive film. It’s uncommon to see a film where so little happens, yet so much of what does happen is critically important to Linas’s emotional growth. It’s a gently lovely film, as he meets and interacts with various people, while trying to keep the van alive and figure out what the hell he’s doing with his life. What’s so remarkable is that it is clearly a road trip movie, yet it avoids all of the conventions and tropes of the genre. He doesn’t get robbed, none of the strangers he meets (even the really strange ones) end up being some sort of crazy. He doesn’t get chased or have wild sexual escapades. Instead, he learns a little bit more about life and himself with each successive experience.
1. Endgame : I said that I might be the wrong person to review this kind of film because I sometimes worry that I’m simply too close to the subject matter — despite a lack of sentimentality and cloying emotion, I still found myself stirred by it. Overall, Endgame succeeds because of its performances, and because of its steady, unpretentious and unobtrusive direction. It covers a little-known piece of history that paved the way for the more famous historical events to take place. It’s a true political thought piece that requires patience and attention, but that ultimately pays off.