Out of the thirty plus films I’ve seen that played Fantastic Fest this year, picking only ten favorites was a surprisingly difficult task. Given more time to digest, this list could change, but as it stands these are my Top 10 Fantastic Fest 2010 Movies.
10. The Troll Hunter (2010)
Think of it as the Bergen Troll Project. The biggest surpise of all the secret screenings this year was this Norwegian found footage film about a group of nosy college students who start out making a documentary about bear poaching and wind up with conclusive proof of the existence of trolls and the government’s conspiracy to cover it up. “The Troll Hunter” may be constructed in a familiar way, but once the trolls show up this film takes off and remains captivating, hilarious, and thoroughly entertaining.
9. Bunraku (2010)
While this uniquely stylized film often runs the risk of having its individual parts exceed its sum, Guy Moshe’s love letter to Westerns, Samurai films, comic books, and puppet shows is ultimately triumphant. Aside from striking visuals and thrilling fights, “Bunraku” also features Josh Hartnett’s best role outside of “The Virgin Suicides,” and the long awaited cinematic reteaming of Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Kung Fu and just about every other detail of this film, you could think of it as “Indecent Proposal 2.”
8. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Santa Claus is real, he just happens to be a monster who used to punish naughty children to death until he was trapped by fed up villagers. When Pesky Americans attempt to free him from his icy prison, it’s up to the one boy who has it all figured out to save his small Finnish community. In what feels like the best film Spielberg never produced, this dark but mostly family friendly comedy finds a crowd pleasing way to tell its unusual story. Its almost like “Jurassic Park” but with Santa Claus filling in for the dinosaurs. In other words, “Rare Exports” is awesome.
7. Cold Fish (2010)
When a timid father is befriended by a pushy, yet oddly likable businessman, it seems like things are looking up for him and his dysfunctional family. But soon the father is manipulated into being an accomplice to an escalating series of crimes, including murder. Going in without reading anything about the plot of this film, the twists it took were a welcome surprise. I should have expected as much from Sion Sono, the Japanese writer/director most famous for “Suicide Club” and who had a hit at last year’s Fantastic Fest with the epic “Love Exposure.” Darkly comic and brutal, “Cold Fish” is a bit like a Japanese “Fargo” crossed with Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs,” which its poster pays homage to.
6. I Saw the Devil (2010)
This relentless, bloody South Korean thriller from Kim Ji-Woon (“The Good, The Bad, The Weird”) starts as a typical thriller about a serial killer, but quickly diverges into a very bizarre yet poignant tale about obsession and vengeance. Seeing two efficient, determined killers hunt and toy with each other is both disturbing and oddly gratifying. Its rare for a movie to simply not be concerned with making its protagonist likable or redeemable, but that is precisely what makes “I Saw the Devil” so tragic and affecting.
5. Golden Slumber (2010)
Even though their plots sound similarly violent, this Japanese film plays out like the antithesis of “Cold Fish,” and “I Saw the Devil.” Framed for the assassination of the Prime Minister, a good-natured man goes on the run to try and either clear his name or at least stay alive. Along the way he’s assisted by both old and new friends, including the world’s most adorable serial killer. The follow-up to “Fish Story” and the third film directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura that was based on a novel by Kotaro Isaka, “Golden Slumber” is a warm hug of a film that is both sweet and exciting.
4. A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010)
This wonderful Norwegian film about a convicted murderer trying to live a normal life after prison is one of the best comedies of the year. Tonally, it most resembles the Alexander Payne films “About Schmidt,” and “Citizen Ruth.” Like those films, “A Somewhat Gentle Man” finds cathartic laughs in awkward and borderline absurd social situations and uncomfortable sexual encounters. In their third collaboration, director Hans Petter Moland finds the perfect rhythm to showcase Stellan Skarsgard’s brilliantly restrained and charming performance as the ex-con Ulrik.
3. Red (2010)
It takes a lot of effort to feel this effortless, but the totally winning comedy “Red” finds the perfect balance between humor, plot, and action. Bruce Willis leads a group of retired spies as they try and find out who wants them dead and why. The endearing all-star cast and sure-footed direction of Robert Schwentke combine for that rare mainstream movie that is irresistibly charming and endlessly rewatchable, along the lines of “Midnight Run,” or “Gross Pointe Blank.”
2. Sound of Noise (2010)
On the trail of a group of musical terrorists, a tone-deaf cop may be the only one who can stop them. But should he? Considering its sheer volume of unconventional ideas, it’s a good thing this Swedish Comedy relies on a conventional detective story framework to tell its quirky tale. “Sound of Noise” is that special brand of clever and weird that George Harrison’s Handmade Films used to produce but that we don’t see much of these days.
1. Rubber (2010)
Far and away the best movie ever made about a sentient, psychokinetic, serial killing tire, “Rubber” brilliantly satirizes slasher films, road movies, and filmmaking in general. It’s a quirky, gory comedy that defies classification like it defies propriety. Its writer/director Quentin Dupieux may be better known as French musician Mr. Oizo, but with his first feature in English (and second overall) he has demonstrated a mischievous wit and uncommon authorial voice that portends a bright future. This film is not for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. Not only was it my favorite of this year’s Fantastic Fest, it has quickly become one of my favorite movies of all time.