My Top Ten Genre Movies of 2010

I was able to see more movies during the year than this guy. To honor him, I’m going to run down my favorite Genre Films of 2010. As top-ten lists rain down upon us, a general consensus emerges and recurring titles get chewed over like regurgitated cud. So while I greatly admire The Social Network (#2 on my year-end list here), I feel no need to spill more metaphorical ink over it. What doesn’t get recognized during the awards season hullaballoo are the disreputable action/sci-fi/horror movies that earn profits and low Rotten Tomatoes scores. I’m using the colloquial definition of “genre films”, of macho flicks with b-movie scenarios, but in reality everything that’s produced slots into one genre or another (David Bordwell persuasively argues that even the art film is one). So forgive my semantic fudging for the sake of headline-writing brevity. In any case, anonymous disfigured corpse from The Crazies, this is for you.

In Alphabetical Order:

Buried, directed by Rodrigo Cortes

Buried is a horror movie about thought processes, how the mind continually attempts to work itself out of danger, constantly running scenarios that will lead to the healthiest outcome. In this case, the problem is a casket, as Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) has been buried alive by an Iraqi insurgent looking for ransom money. The camera never leaves the casket for the entire running time, and manages to sustain the tension of Conroy’s plight, endlessly cycling through possible rescue plans. Provided with a cell phone to stump for the money to be paid, he triangulates between family, work and the law as his desperation rises, marking up the wood panels with strategies of survival. In the end, it’s a tour-de-force about the limitations of technology and of thought itself.

***

Centurion, directed by Neil Marshall

Remnants of a slaughtered platoon of Roman Soldiers navigate their way back home through Northern Scotland while fighting their way through the rebellious Pict natives. Director Neil Marshall (The Descent) is a reliable hand for cogently framing bloody mayhem, and the climactic battle between the splinter of Romans and Pict warriors is smartly choreographed. The central battle stakes Michael Fassbender against Olga Kuryenko, and the final blow is established in wide shot as Fassbender somersaults toward his victim. Then in two percussive inserts Marshall ends the secondary fight (a spear to the undercarriage) and the main one, as Fassbender places downward pressure on the sword after his sprightly evasive maneuver. The way in which Marshall creates a rhythm and clarity to this sequence, out of boilerplate material, is indicative of the film’s scrappy ingenuity.

***

The Crazies, directed by Breck Eisner

A relentless remake of George Romero’s 1973 original, it outlines the chaos that ensues after a biological weapon crash lands in a small mid-western town, turning its residents into psychotic murderers. I prized this one for its pared down screenplay, which strips away backstory, revealing character only through action. The narrative is constantly pushing forward, just like Sheriff David Dutten (Timothy Olyphant), who tries to spirit his wife out of the newly quarantined hot zone. Olyphant has perfected a thoughtful stoicism in his work, playing heroes who do the right thing, but whose pauses and mutterings imply that he wishes doing good wasn’t so much goddamn work.

***

Devil, directed by John Erick Dowdle

Slightly roomier than Buried, this M. Night Shyamalan produced potboiler takes place almost entirely in an elevator. A group of abrasive city-folk get stuck in a lift and start turning on each other. So far, so realistic, but there’s a metaphysical morality play tacked on to justify the underlying savagery. While this is a bit of a cop-out, I’ll forgive anything to watch DP Tak Fujimoto wend his SteadiCam around a neon-lit office building, tracing the paths of fate.

***

From Paris With Love, directed by Pierre Morel

This ridiculous concoction is the jokey B-side to Taken, Morel’s humorless revenge drama from 2009. Instead of a brow-furrowing Liam Neeson, it’s a face-pulling John Travolta, who plays CIA agent Charlie Wax like a macho Jerry Lewis (his yammers are punctuated by nasal screams, and he leaves destruction in his wake, except with Travolta it’s intentional). The fight scenes have the physics of a Loony Tunes short and the plot is totally improbable. In short, it’s almost perfect. If only the lead-footed Jonathan Rhys Meyers subplot hadn’t kept diverting things from the aria of Charlie Wax.

***

Frozen, directed by Adam Green

Frozen is a fine lesson in theme and variation. The plot is minimal, three dopey college kids stranded on a ski lift, but writer/director Green elaborates an escalating series of reasons for his characters to be terrified. The calculus of escape shifts from avoiding frostbite to stanching blood loss to avoiding death-by-wolf over the course of the first hour. It is the patience with which Green allows each new variation to sink in, to allow the morbid thought processes of each vapid character to be drawn out, that nicely ratchets up the tension of this minimalist bit of indie-horror.

***

Resident Evil: Afterlife, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

On a purely visual level, one of the most impressive films I saw this year. Fully embracing 3D technology, Anderson sets up shots to emphasize depth, from the multi-layered, multi-planar Umbrella headquarters to the relative simplicity of a hole in the ground (which Joe Dante also explored in 3D in his still-undistributed The Hole). In the opening sequence, the background and foreground planes of action are so clear there is no need for cross-cutting. And Milla Jovovich continues her superb run as Alice, working the stoic hero territory as well as, say, Timothy Olyphant.

***

Splice, directed by Vincenzo Natali

A disturbing entry in the mad (but adorable) scientist sub-genre, it finds Adrian Brody and Sarah Polly gene-splicing their way to unwanted parenthood. Their little lab-creature develops a major Electra complex, and soon ignites the relationship anxieties simmering below the surface. They explode in psycho-incestual images that are hard to shake.

***

Undisputed 3, directed by Isaac Florentine

Direct-to-video but none the worse for it, this is the third part of a series initiated by Walter Hill in 2002 (I wrote about the whole series back in June). It refreshes the fight tournament scenario by capturing a variety of attacking styles with a high-speed camera, from capoeira to taekwondo, and hires athletes rather than slumming actors. Marko Zaror steals the show as the villain, a Garcia Lorca-reading heroin addict who is my pick for cinematic asshole of the year.

***

Unstoppable, directed by Tony Scott

The pleasures of motion, rendered with lucidity. There’s a runaway train, and Denzel Washington and Chris Pine have to track it down. The forward movement is not just over lines of track but through lines of communication.  Scott’s nimble cross-cutting between CEOs, middle-managers and station chief Rosario Dawson lays down the social strata that Denzel and Pine are burning through in order to do their jobs. It is within this shorthand class structure that slam-bang montages of speeding trains raise the pulse and recall the original cinematic thrill of the Lumiere Brothers’ L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cUEANKv964&fs=1&hl=en_US]

 

 

16 Responses My Top Ten Genre Movies of 2010
Posted By Bryce : December 28, 2010 2:33 pm

Nice list. Good insights on Centurion in particular.

But man was I the ONLY genre movie fan to have some serious love for The Book Of Eli? It feels that way sometimes.

I mean come on, Tom Waits, Gary Oldman in full EVERYYYOOONNEE mode, Denzel Washington ducking back into the shadow with the line “He’s in shock. I think he meant kill him.” Michael Gambon as a cannibal, The Hughes brothers orchestrating some serious mayhem.

What’s not to like?

Posted By Bryce : December 28, 2010 2:33 pm

Nice list. Good insights on Centurion in particular.

But man was I the ONLY genre movie fan to have some serious love for The Book Of Eli? It feels that way sometimes.

I mean come on, Tom Waits, Gary Oldman in full EVERYYYOOONNEE mode, Denzel Washington ducking back into the shadow with the line “He’s in shock. I think he meant kill him.” Michael Gambon as a cannibal, The Hughes brothers orchestrating some serious mayhem.

What’s not to like?

Posted By charlesdotlyons : December 28, 2010 3:32 pm

Of the five of these I’ve seen (Unstoppable, The Crazies, From Paris with Love, Splice, Frozen), I only came close to loving one of them (the spectacularly entertaining Splice, despite 3rd act problems), but the other four certainly held viable genre thrills in their own, respectable rights. Good list, great write-ups.

Posted By charlesdotlyons : December 28, 2010 3:32 pm

Of the five of these I’ve seen (Unstoppable, The Crazies, From Paris with Love, Splice, Frozen), I only came close to loving one of them (the spectacularly entertaining Splice, despite 3rd act problems), but the other four certainly held viable genre thrills in their own, respectable rights. Good list, great write-ups.

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : December 28, 2010 5:01 pm

Bryce – I haven’t seen BOOK OF ELI, but I’ll add it to my queue. I also heard that DAYBREAKERS was surprisingly good. And as an addendum, the most disappointing genre film for me was LEGION, which is a tough slog despite its spectacularly absurd set-up.

Posted By R. Emmet Sweeney : December 28, 2010 5:01 pm

Bryce – I haven’t seen BOOK OF ELI, but I’ll add it to my queue. I also heard that DAYBREAKERS was surprisingly good. And as an addendum, the most disappointing genre film for me was LEGION, which is a tough slog despite its spectacularly absurd set-up.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 28, 2010 6:03 pm

I saw and enjoyed Unstoppable, Splice and Frozen. I enjoyed Unstoppable for its seemingly realistic effects. If there was any CGI it was minimal and effectively understated. It was also tense, as good action thrillers should be. Frozen is an underseen, barely heard of gem starring- TA DA -Iceman from the X-Men movies. I could not, and hope to never, understand the idea of one character to jump from a ski lift 40+ feet in the air, thinking I would be alright. The wolves were well cast too. Ha ha. Splice was very good to a point, yes, that point being the creepy, icky, “Ewwww”-inspiring third act.

I also liked The Book of Eli and think it lost its way because of comparisons to The Road, which came out a month or so before. Eli wasn’t as depressing as that movie and had some good action scenes in it.

I was so looking forward to seeing Buried in theaters, but if it came to Jacksonville I blinked and missed it. I hope to see it on DVD soon.

How frightened were audiences by the Lumieres’ train speeding toward them in 1895? I wonder.

Posted By dukeroberts : December 28, 2010 6:03 pm

I saw and enjoyed Unstoppable, Splice and Frozen. I enjoyed Unstoppable for its seemingly realistic effects. If there was any CGI it was minimal and effectively understated. It was also tense, as good action thrillers should be. Frozen is an underseen, barely heard of gem starring- TA DA -Iceman from the X-Men movies. I could not, and hope to never, understand the idea of one character to jump from a ski lift 40+ feet in the air, thinking I would be alright. The wolves were well cast too. Ha ha. Splice was very good to a point, yes, that point being the creepy, icky, “Ewwww”-inspiring third act.

I also liked The Book of Eli and think it lost its way because of comparisons to The Road, which came out a month or so before. Eli wasn’t as depressing as that movie and had some good action scenes in it.

I was so looking forward to seeing Buried in theaters, but if it came to Jacksonville I blinked and missed it. I hope to see it on DVD soon.

How frightened were audiences by the Lumieres’ train speeding toward them in 1895? I wonder.

Posted By Thomas Krul : December 28, 2010 6:43 pm

Thanks for reminding me of the insane number of great movies I’ve forgotten to watch this year. But man, watching that famous arriving train reminds me how completely unrealistic and trumped up even the best period pieces are these days. Women in full puffed-sleeved hooped-skirted dresses RUNNING around like chickens rooting for the best spot at the seed trough? Totally unrealistic.

Posted By Thomas Krul : December 28, 2010 6:43 pm

Thanks for reminding me of the insane number of great movies I’ve forgotten to watch this year. But man, watching that famous arriving train reminds me how completely unrealistic and trumped up even the best period pieces are these days. Women in full puffed-sleeved hooped-skirted dresses RUNNING around like chickens rooting for the best spot at the seed trough? Totally unrealistic.

Posted By Chris Fitzpatrick : January 3, 2011 1:26 am

Just watched THE CRAZIES yesterday. I really enjoyed it and really enjoy Timothy Olyphant in this film and on the FX show JUSTIFED. Really well made that improved on the original. Cannot wait to see CENTURION.

Posted By Chris Fitzpatrick : January 3, 2011 1:26 am

Just watched THE CRAZIES yesterday. I really enjoyed it and really enjoy Timothy Olyphant in this film and on the FX show JUSTIFED. Really well made that improved on the original. Cannot wait to see CENTURION.

Posted By Doug Bentin : January 7, 2011 4:51 pm

Is Shutter Island out of the hunt because of budget? Or what? And no love for Red? Or my favorite of the year, Piranha 3D. As Louis Armstrong said about jazz, if you have to ask you’ll never know.

Posted By Doug Bentin : January 7, 2011 4:51 pm

Is Shutter Island out of the hunt because of budget? Or what? And no love for Red? Or my favorite of the year, Piranha 3D. As Louis Armstrong said about jazz, if you have to ask you’ll never know.

Posted By Underground Film Links: January 2, 2011 | Underground Film Journal : April 29, 2013 6:02 pm

[...] Emmet Sweeney of TCM’s Movie Morlocks has his Top 10 Genre Movies of 2010, of which I’ve only seen The Crazies and thought was great as [...]

Posted By Underground Film Links: January 2, 2011 | Underground Film Journal : April 29, 2013 6:02 pm

[...] Emmet Sweeney of TCM’s Movie Morlocks has his Top 10 Genre Movies of 2010, of which I’ve only seen The Crazies and thought was great as [...]

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