Last year, I had about 20 movies that I would feel comfortable placing in my top 10. This year, I struggled to even FIND 10. While I obviously like all of my choices, it’s pretty damning of the year’s genre output that I had fairly major issues with most of the movies on my “best” list, with only the top 3 really being movies that I was thinking “best of the year!” when I saw them. Ideally they would all be A-movies, but some of these barely register as Bs. The worst list was much easier – barely a week went by without me being massively disappointed with something. And 2011 doesn’t look to be too much better; if I had included films I saw at festivals (i.e. unreleased as of yet), my list wouldn’t really change much. There’s just way too much mediocrity out there as of late, and looking over this list and next year’s schedule, I fear a 90s style wasteland may be fast approaching. Try harder, studios and filmmakers.
Let the flaming begin!
If you took Halloween or any other great home-set suspense driven slasher, and replaced the masked killer with a tiger, you’d have Burning Bright, a lean, refreshingly straight-forward thriller that does no more, no less than what is promised in the synopsis: a girl (Briana Evigan, yay!) and her little autistic brother trapped in their home with a tiger. Illogical? Sure, but so are most horror movies – and those don’t feature Meat Loaf cameos or the single best “heroine loses her cell phone” scene in horror movie history.
If not for a puzzling midway perspective shift that kills the momentum it had built up thus far, this would place even higher. Hilariously building itself around the plot element that the worthless (otherwise shot for shot) remake ignored, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró further cement their status as Spain’s most exciting genre filmmakers, and delivered a kick-ass sequel that perfectly complements the classic original (which oddly ended up at #9 on last year’s list, now that I think about it).
While not as great as the underrated previous entry, Saw 3D was a fitting denouement to the landmark (and Guinness World Record winning!) franchise, providing some of the series’ most splatter happy kills (likely due to the 3D), a few tied up loose ends, and the return of everyone’s favorite oncologist (whose appearance would have been even more triumphant and amazing if it had been saved for the end of the film, but oh well). If this is truly the last one, it ended on a higher note than most of the franchises, pre-reboot (i.e. Halloween: Resurrection, Hellraiser: Hellworld, etc).
Daniel Stamm proved there was still life in the crowded found footage genre with this surprisingly fun and even occasionally scary Exorcist-lite tale. The lead performances by Patrick Fabian and Ashley Bell (who was nominated for a Spirit Award for her work!) are some of the best a genre film has offered in years, and Stamm admirably keeps the guessing game of “is she possessed or crazy?” up for quite a while. Only a weak ending mars an otherwise terrific late summer offering.
At long last, this gory and goofy German import hit commercial release in the US, though sadly in very limited release before it hit DVD. Part of the fun (for me) was seeing it with a crowd, where the humorous moments played far better than they do at home. Plus it’s always fun to see folks get grossed out or walk out. An excellent “party” movie choice!
“The Shyamalan Groan” was not an urban legend, I was witness to it on several occasions. It’s a shame that it became more popular than the movie itself, which was a terrific nail-biter, ably directed by John Dowdle and almost entirely devoid of Shyamalan’s usual bullshit. Add in a great performance by Chris Messina and you have a movie that didn’t deserve its unfortunate fate of being associated with a guy whose name value has long since been rendered worthless. Hopefully future “Night Chronicles” will live up to Devil and convince him to stick to producing.
After the debacle of Midnight Meat Train, it’s a shame that the next Clive Barker film ended up more or less in the same hands (Lionsgate plays a big hand in After Dark distribution). Not that the film would have ever gotten a 3000 screen release, but it’s a bummer that this intelligent psychologically driven thriller would be lumped in with the ADF, which isn’t exactly known for highbrow entertainment. Silver lining – it actually plays even better at home, where the claustrophobic and terrifying opening and closing scenes feel all the scarier. Great soundtrack too.
Like Devil, Frozen has a seemingly unfilmable premise (in this case, three people trapped on a chairlift) but ultimately becomes one of the year’s most suspenseful films. Star-making turns by Shawn Ashmore and Emma Bell, an uncompromised production (none of the film was shot on green-screen or faked – the actors were really suspended 50 feet above ground on an actual chair lift, even for close-ups), and touching dramatic moments (if you don’t cry at the puppy story – you’re soulless) combine to deliver Adam Green’s best film yet.
Tim Olyphant – you are forgiven for Live Free Or Die Hard. It may not win any awards in the script department, but Breck Eisner’s redo of George Romero’s more dramatically-leaning original is an adrenaline-fueled rush from start to finish, with some great setpieces (the car wash, the farmhouse) and kick-ass action hero heroics from Olyphant – I defy anyone to say that the “knife in the hand” bit wasn’t the year’s most cheer-worthy kill. Of all the Romero remakes, this is the only one I can claim was an improvement.
Adrien Brody’s wardrobe is pretty much the only problem I had with this otherwise superior “science gone awry” movie, which was much more Cronenberg-ian than the trailers suggested. The scene where they present their experiment to a room full of investors and other highbrow types is one of the most jaw-dropping “holy shit” moments in ages, and the crazy sexual overtones in the 3rd act elevated the film from being an above average sci-fi horror into a great original. Kudos to Warner for taking a chance on releasing it in the summer, but it’s a shame it failed to catch on. Hopefully DVD will help fans find out what they missed.
BONUS: The “It’s Not Really Horror” Award: A four way tie between Shutter Island, Monsters, Black Swan and Buried, all of which are better than most of the films on my top 10, but for one reason or another I had trouble considering full-blown horror. Monsters comes closest, due to the uh, monsters, but calling it a monster movie would be like calling The Wolfman a Max Von Sydow vehicle. Regardless, all terrific films that genre fans should check out just so they can say they saw a great movie that day.