With a cast of one man in Ryan Reynolds appearing on screen, director Rodrigo Cortes brings about an intense thriller set within a makeshift coffin used to keep alive Reynolds' Paul Conroy in order for a king's ransom to be paid. Oblivious to where he actually is within Iraq, it's a frenetic piecing together of every clue that tries to make sense of his predicament, and a definite psychologically horrific piece to be creatively set within constricted confines, relying on Reynolds to deliver one of his best, if not THE best performance of his career to date. This is the reason why a film with a limited budget can still be made, with a little bit of innovation and a rock solid, simple story on its side.
Confessions (Kokuhaku / 告白)
I'll let slip that this would be amongst the top three films of the year should I have followed the numerical ranking rather than a grouping of the best films of the year. Confessions by Tetsuya Nakashima grabs you by the scruff of your neck and never lets go, meandering through different viewpoints of characters all interlinked through the murder of a teacher's child, and her focused determination to exact the coldest form of retribution and revenge ever. This film shines for its technical brilliance, its shifting narrative form that unravels like a whodunnit and a whydunnit, and providing that added flair and freshness to the revenge genre without skipping a beat, leaving you breathless as it sprints at top speed to the finale.
Amongst the three Khans of Hollywood, I have always felt that Salman Khan films lagged behind that of the other two, until now. His Robin Hood Pandey, a corrupt beat policeman blessed with fantastical fighting prowess, entertains on a lot of fronts, from beating robbers and corrupt politicians in their own games, to romancing a headstrong woman who seems to be able to successfully resist his charms and exaggerated swagger. The satire here is thick, the storytelling uniquely Bollywood, and the theme of Dabangg (Fearless) totally apt in the attitude Salman Khan had brought to the film. Word is that this box office champion is poised to have its sequel made, so let's hope that it actually materializes.
Echoes of the Rainbow (歲月神偷 / Sui Yuet San Tau)
Nostalgia is the keyword here, as this film like many others that have come out of Hong Kong this year, takes a look back in the tumultuous formation years of the colony's rule under the British. With thespians Simon Yam and Sandra Ng in dramatic roles, I had wondered about the film's popularity at the Hong Kong box office after winning at the Berlinale, and after watching the film myself I fully understood why. It's heart-warming, yet heart-wrenching at the same time, and the film offered a snapshot of decades long narrative spun to bring back some memories of growing up, and the unique challenges faced over the years. Acting accolades were well deserved for both Yam and Ng, and this film also launched Aarif Lee's star and had gone on to star as Bruce Lee in Bruce Lee, My Brother.
Fish Story (Fisshu Sutôrî)
Taken the Japanese Film Festival this year by surprise, Fish Story wowed with a rocking great soundtrack, and its story on how seemingly a series of unrelated sequence of events can finally come together to make bigger picture sense. Who would have guessed that a film that opens with an impending apocalypse delivered something that's full of comedy, drama, lip syncing and some superhero moments even, that if there's any film that spells a lot of fun this year, then Fish Story it is without a shred of doubt.
Gallants (打擂台 / Da Lui Toi)
The film that made my trip to the Hong Kong International Film Festival this year worthwhile, Gallants assembled the very best actors from Hong Kong cinema's martial arts films of the past, dripping this with a nostalgic flavour for genre fans to get together and celebrate the big screen experience with their beloved stars all over again. A pity that this didn't make a theatrical screening in Singapore, because it has wonderful comedy, awesome fight choreography done old school style sans CG and wirework bullshit, and a sublime theme about fair play and never giving up when the going gets tough, which is always apt for any society going through various external challenges that threaten the established status quo. I haven't been much of a fan of Teddy Robin, but his superb performance here as a martial arts master just woken from a coma and is severely out of touch in the modern world, has won me over.
Christopher Nolan continues to burn up the box office to deliver cutting edge psychological thrillers, and Inception turns out to be one heck of a ride with an A-List ensemble cast assembled for an assault into dream worlds and corporate espionage. Some had clued in that the success of this film had already been seeded into our minds, boasting no less than 4 dream landscapes on which Nolan paints his epic on, providing reasons to rewatch this over and over again as we ponder over what's real and what's not. Infiltration and espionage can't marry together in any better fashion, throwing up a number of surprises along the way, together with an absolutely kinetically challenging topsy-turvy battle sequence ever to be put on screen. Without the aid of a computer I may add, which is so easy to blunt efforts, innovation and ingenuity.
Love in a Puff (志明與春嬌 / Chi Ming Yu Chun Giu)
While Edmund Pang's other offering of the year Dream House will unlikely make it here, his Love in a Puff is a delightful comedic romp and shows again why the young HK director has a knack for creating stories that resonate. Watching this during its world premiere in Hong Kong helped in not marring that first experience with a badly dubbed Mandarin soundtrack (the one providing the voice for Miriam Yeung should be shot), as we're taken through a relationship built upon a chance meeting at a smoking corner, gathering points for smokers as authorities almost always come up with more restrictions to curb their addictive hobby. A Hong Kong romantic comedy cannot get more topical and contemporary than this, with snappy dialogue and an eclectic soundtrack.
The Social Network
The phenomenon of our very recent age that fused the technological with the social, providing that push to a more personal yet open, social internet that just about everyone with an email account had embraced. This is the one-sided tale of the beginnings of Facebook, but under the hands of scribe Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher, they had delivered a very smooth piece of storytelling that engrosses from the get go, providing very stiff competition when it heads toward Oscar season.
Summer Wars (Samâ Wôzu / サマーウォーズ)
My choice for the best animated film of the year, beating the likes of Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon hands down. I still think Japanese anime throws up some of the best in recent years without the need to resort to 3D gimmicks, focusing its energies to the strength of the story. This animated film probably threw everything but the kitchen sink (maybe it did too) onto a sprawling digital landscape as it unfolds on both the worlds within and outside of the digitally connected realms. Think TRON, with a better deal to its story. Mamoru Hosoda is the name you must watch out for!
And here are the rest which deserves an honourable mention, being the next 20 on my list:
The Book of Eli
Bruce Lee My Brother
How to Train Your Dragon 3D
I Love You Phillip Morris
The Last Exorcism
Hallelujah / Le Missionnaire
Sweet Little Lies
Toy Story 3
Up in the Air