From Iceland — The Good, The Bad, And The Disqualified

The Good, The Bad, And The Disqualified

Published January 26, 2011

The greatest Icelandic films of the decade

The Good, The Bad, And The Disqualified

The greatest Icelandic films of the decade

The decade has ended and it was a great one for Icelandic filmmaking. More people are making movies and becoming better at making them. Choosing the five best films of 2001-2011 was everything but easy. After days of painful brainstorming and internal debate, I chose five films that I consider the best of the decade. Of course, my top film was released in late 2000 (a discovery made three seconds before sending the article) and therefore automatically disqualified. I’m forced to add a new film to the Top five. I present to you:

5) ‘Astrópía’ [2007] Directed by Gunnar B. Guðmundsson

bornonesheetGunnar Guðmundsson’s directorial debut is a respectful ode to geeks and role-play. TV-personality/actress Ragnhildur Steinunn plays Hildur, a fun-loving girl whose boyfriend gets arrested. Hildur needs to find a job and starts working at a comic book store. This wonderful film shifts back and forth between mundane everyday life and spectacular fantasy-sequences where knights and elves fight witches and ogres.

4) ‘Brim’ [2010] Directed by Árni Ásgeirsson

brim_poster.aiVesturport is the LA Lakers of theatre groups. Their hit play ‘Brim’ (written by Jón Atli Jónasson) was made into a feature film that the critics loved. Brim is about a small group of people on board a semi-haunted fishing vessel. After a member of the crew kills himself, a young woman (Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir) takes his place and causes great disturbance in The Force. Top-notch performances from a great cast, and director Árni Ásgeirsson is clearly destined for greatness.

3) ‘Brúðguminn’ [2008] Directed by Baltasar Kormákur

BrúðguminnJón (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) is a middle-aged philosophy teacher who is just about to marry one of his students. His first wife was a mental patient and eventually committed suicide. ‘Brúðguminn’ tells two parallel stories about the same man, on the same remote island (where the wedding is to take place) but with two different women, his wife (past) and his wife-to-be (present). Some might see that as an overused storytelling gimmick, but Baltasar does this extremely well and Brúðguminn is arguably his best picture.

2) Reykjavík-Rotterdam [2008] Directed by Óskar Jónasson

Reykjavík-RotterdamA solid entry in the thriller-genre and probably the only Icelandic film ever to accomplish that. ‘Mýrin’ was close, ‘Köld slóð’ was way off, but ‘ReykjavíkRotterdam’ is right on the money. Baltasar Kormákur (the director of film number three on this list) gives one of his best performances as a former alcohol smuggler on parole who gets tempted by the “one last mission and then retire”-cliché and goes to Rotterdam to pick up some booze. All hell breaks loose (of course) and Iceland is officially a contender in the world of clever thrillers. Currently being remade in the States as ‘Contraband’, with Baltasar Kormákur at the helm and Marky Mark playing the smuggler.

1) Nói albínói [2003] Directed by Dagur Kári

Nói albínóiAs much as I hate being predictable, ‘Nói albinói’ really is the greatest Icelandic film of the decade. It’s a beautiful tale of a strange little dude trying to escape his dreadful hometown somewhere in the snowy fjords of Iceland in hope of a better life with a visiting city girl. I don’t want to ruin what will be an enjoyable arthouse evening, but if you are at all interested in Icelandic cinema, this one is a must-see.

The disqualified: ‘Íslenski draumurinn’ [2000] Directed by Róbert I. Douglas

Íslenski draumurinn

Yup, this is the one that had to go. From first prize to nothing. ‘Íslenski draumurinn’ is an exceptional piece. Shot in the “shaky home camera”-style and supposedly didn’t cost much to make, but tells a story of a (stereotypical) man every Icelander knows all too well: Braskarinn” (The wannabe-businessman). This gut-wrenching docu-dramedy is full of well-constructed characters, hilarious lines of dialogue and perfect performances from everybody. It’s satirical, it’s romantic, it’s avant-garde, and it’s almost the greatest Icelandic film of the decade.

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