Brick

Recent years have seen seemingly exhausted classic genres being reinvigorated by big name directors and classy films, just look at the recent slew of westerns, or the amount of pictures throwing back not just their topics, but how the films have been made to more classic times. Hell, this year’s Oscars were dominated by a silent film and a film about the birth of cinema. Yet one classic genre remains relatively untouched, possibly because in 2005 first time feature director Rian Johnson updated the film noir template so pitch perfectly that no other films have been needed.

With closed eyes, Brick could quite easily take place amongst a myriad of smoke-filled bars, pool halls and rain-lashed phone booths, yet the action here has been transposed to a modern day high school, and in place of a perma-smoking Humphrey Bogart we’ve Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Brendan, finding his ex-girlfriend (Lost’s Emilie de Raven) face down in the mouth of a tunnel, and he is eager to find out why, regardless of how beaten up by jocks, thugs and car doors he becomes. Granted, there’s not really enough rain for it to be a traditional noir, but there’s plenty of secrecy, rich beautiful dames with brandy decanters in ostentatious mansions, moody shadows and an easily dismissed average Joe acting as gum shoe, sticking his nose in where most feel it has no business.
It’s not short on laughs – JG-L flounders like the best of them and his conversation with the principal is comedy gold, played spot-on like a detective berating his chief of police, and the final act wrap-up is gratefully received, for much of the highly quotable dialogue is sometimes too dense to catch.
Choose film 8/10

Inception

Apparently the concept of Inception began when director Chris Nolan, he of the Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento and the upcoming Dark Knight Rises, the most anticipated film of 2012 (tied with the Avengers and the Hobbit), wanted to make a film in which several climaxes are all occurring simultaneously. Most directors would then structure a plot in such a way as to have different characters in different locations, all partaking in various climactic events and cutting between them, but Nolan, in what I’m going to assume was an evening rife with alcohol, narcotics and some rare kinds of cheese, opted instead to make a film predominantly set within the world of dreams.

Taking an already interesting, fantastical premise – secrets can be obtained by stealing them from people’s dreams via extraction and spinning it on its head, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s master extractor Cobb and his team – Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy and Dileep Rao, are enlisted for one last job, to plant an idea in Cillian Murphy’s dream by business rival Ken Watanabe. By using this world of dreams, Nolan has released literally all limitations as to where the plot can go, and opened up the door for some thoroughly original set pieces, the standout of which is Gordon Levitt’s taciturn Arthur fighting armed goons in a corridor with an ever-changing, and disappearing, centre of gravity. This, combined with a rain-lashed chase through busy city streets and a Bond-inspired snowbound explosive finale adds up to one of the most thought provoking action movies in recent years.

The plot is sometimes lost amid the spectacle of the dream worlds and the new logic required to understand it – in a dream, time travels 12 times slower with each level you go down, your subconscious can flare up against you but you can bend the environment around your will – so at times you forget just what they are fighting to achieve. Nolan also appears to have paid attention to the naysayer accusers who believe, not unfairly, that his films lack a required heart and emotional depth, as the addition of Cobb’s deceased wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) appears in his subconscious, eager to turn the dream worlds against him, and the entire plot takes place just so Cobb can be reunited with his kids. Both these points seem tacked on and superfluous to the overall plot, other than adding a motive and antagonist that, although not asked for, do not overly deter.

Under close scrutiny some of the dream logic is inconsistent and doesn’t quite hold up, with some questions remaining unanswered – how exactly does Tom Hardy’s scene-stealing Eames transform into other people as the teams forger? – but the performance, cast (also including Michael Caine, Tom Berenger and Pete Postlethwaite), effects and sheer scale of the project make this unmissable, and my best film of 2010, although it makes my dreams look utterly pathetic in comparison.

Choose film 9/10