Part three of our four part series cover the movies that shocked in 2010. All five of these movies could have been garbage, and no one would have blamed them. I expected these, as most people probably would, to be average at best. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, and they have earned another mention in my year-end awards. Enjoy.

Top 5 Biggest Surprises of 2010:

Honorable Mentions: Daybreakers, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Manson, My Name is Evil, Trick’r Treat

5.  Population 436 (2006) – 8
The Movie Files Comments
Rent on Netflix
Check Out Population 436 on Amazon
This was a random Netflix Instant Queue viewing that managed to be quite memorable, mostly because Fred Durst (the Limp Bizkit lead singer) was not only “not bad”, but pretty darn good. In Population 436, Steve Kady, a census taker played by Jeremy Sisto, is sent to Rockwell Falls to determine why the population has seemingly miraculously stayed 436 for the last 100 years. Not long after his arrival in the small town, Kady can tell that something isn’t right, and the town doesn’t want him to leave. Fred Durst plays Deputy Bobby Caine, the young lawman who was put in charge because the elders in the town figured he would be easy to control. Durst is the stand-out actor in this film mostly because he has the most intriguing character. Population 436 manages to be an unsettling film that tells an interesting story, and is absolutely worth a rental. If you can find it under $5, I would recommend purchasing it.

4.  The Canyon (2009) – 7
The Movie Files Comments
Rent on Netflix (Instant Streaming Available)
Check Out The Canyon on Amazon
I must’ve said this a dozen times this past year on The Movie Files, but I am going to repeat it again: I enjoy survival films. Bridgette and I put on The Canyon because we thought it was a different movie (A Perfect Getaway; a fine film, but nothing more). Had it not been for this mistake, there is no way I would have given this movie a chance. Fortunately, I’m an idiot, and we got to enjoy a beautiful tale of two newlywed’s survival in the Grand Canyon. Nick (Eion Bailey) and Lori (Yvonne Strahovski) decided that an excursion to the Grand Canyon would be a dream come true for their honeymoon. They turn to a veteran guide (played excellently by Will Patton) to show them some spots that most tourists miss. Tragedy strikes as a viper bite takes out the guide, leaving the young couple on their own, in the middle of this foreign canyon, fighting against the wilderness to survive. Baily and Strahovski work well together, and the story pulls at the heartstrings. Another one that I highly recommend renting, and now that it’s available on Netflix Instant Queue, it is a no-brainer.

3.  Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) – 8
The Movie Files Comments
Rent on Netflix
Check Out Hot Tub Time Machine on Amazon
Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel that this comedy went a bit under the radar this year, coming out at the end of March, the same day as the very popular animated film How to Train Your Dragon. Missing it in theatres, I picked it up on a whim when it released on Blu-ray, and had a great time with it. Adam (John Cusak), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Lou (Rob Corddry) are 40-somethings who are all disappointed with their lives. In order to find some of the excitement they all shared when they were younger, they head to their old hangout: a winter resort. They drag Jacob (Clark Duke), Adam’s nephew, along for the trip. Thanks to a mixture of vodka, energy drinks and a time traveling hot tub, the foursome is magically sent back to the 1980s. They now need to find a way back so that Jacob can be born, and their lives go back to the way they should be. Hot Tub Time Machine has a moronic plot that manages to work really well. The 80s nostalgia factor will be there for some viewers as an added benefit, but the best part about this movie are the relationships between the characters. Clark Duke does a good job once he stops trying to be a mix of Superbad’s Jonah Hill and Michael Cera about halfway through the movie. Cusak, Robinson, and Corddry do a great job as well, but some of the jokes seemed force. This doesn’t kill the movie’s momentum, which manages to be a fun ride all the way through.

2.  Punisher: War Zone (2008) – 8
The Movie Files Comments
Rent on Netflix
Check Out Punisher: War Zone on Amazon
Towards the end of the summer last year, The Movie Files went on a action flick craze, and most of them were a blast. The biggest shocker of the group, though, had to be Punisher: War Zone. After seeing the 2004 version of The Punisher (with John Travolta and Tom Jane), my expectations for this version, given the lesser known cast and director, were pretty low. War Zone makes the 2004 Punisher look like a Disney film, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Taking the inspiration from Christopher Nolan’s Batman series (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), Punisher: War Zone is the adult Punisher movie that fans have been waiting for. Pulling no punches, Frank Castle kicks ass from start to finish making this one of my favorite action films I watched in 2010. In Punisher: War Zone, Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) attempts to take down crime boss Billy Russoti (Dominic West). In doing so, he disfigures him, creating the Punisher’s toughest enemy to date: the psychotic Jigsaw. Wayne Knight (of Seinfeld and Jurassic Park fame) co-stars as Frank’s handyman and weapons expert, and does an excellent job. Stevenson is relentless as the Punisher, and West is sadistic as Jigsaw, making this cast shine. There is one shot at the end of the film that is outstanding, and one of the most memorable images of last year. Punisher: War Zone was a shocker, but not quite the biggest of the year. This is a must-own for fans of the comic book, and actioners in general.

1.  The Children (2008) – 8
The Movie Files Comments
Rent on Netflix
Check Out The Children on Amazon
There are a couple of reason why The Children stands out as the #1 biggest surprise of last year: one, The Children is sold at Walmart in the budget Blu-ray section for about $5 (usually the mark of a wonderfully bad film); two, it is part of the Ghost House Underground series, known for their less-than-stellar horror movies. The kids in The Children make the kids of Children of the Corn look like a group of misunderstood youth. Set in England at Christmas-time, Elaine (Eva Birthistle) and Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore) drive their five kids to visit Elaine’s sister’s house. They meet up with Chloe (Rachel Shelley), her husband Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield), and their two kids (that makes four adults and seven kids for those keeping score). Everything seems normal, even the arguing children, until some of the kids’ behavior starts to change. One by one, the children get meaner, and their motives become murderous. There are problems with the plot (such as answering “why” or “how”) but the pacing of the film, and the characters themselves are enough to suck the viewer in. The Children finds an excellent “creepy” factor – probably because of the use of evil kids, which are innately eerie – and had some nice cinematographic choices, including the beautiful, snow-cover English countryside (which looks even better covered in blood). The ending leaves room for a sequel, and The Children deserves as much. The sequel could answer most, if not all, of the questions the first movie left open. This is an example of an independent crew getting horror right; because that’s so rare, it always shocks the hell out of me.

I love sticking movies in my Blu-ray or DVD player that look like garbage, but then manage to take me on a 90+ minute joy ride. This is what every film fan looks for when they put on a film: to be taken away. When this ride comes from an unexpected source, it sticks in his or her mind that much longer. All five of the films above gave me that special feeling, and it is only fair to share that with you.

Were there any movies that managed to surprise you this past year? I’m always looking for comments, and would love to see some of my readers top lists of the year. Look for part 4 of the Best/Worst of 2010 series coming later this weekend.

Thanks for reading.

Branden Chowen
Editor-in-Chief at Cinefessions
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn't until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor's and master's degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.