2009 list

Now that the movie year is officially coming to a close, it is time for me to post my favorite movies of the year (also known as ‘the top ten’ list). This year’s list, like most, has more than ten movies. I watched 145 movies from 2009, so you’ll have to permit me to really like more than ten.

The obligatory top ten:

*Antichrist (Lars Von Trier/Denmark)
*Ddongpari/Breathless (Yang Ik-Joon/South Korea)
Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino/US)
Julia (Erick Zonca/France/UK)
*The Messenger (Oren Moverman/US)
Moon (Duncan Jones/UK)
Un Prophète (Jacques Audiard/France)
Sin Nombre (Cary Fukunaga/Mexico/US)
*Two Lovers (James Gray/US)
*Das Weiss Band/The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke/Germany)

and a second ten:

*Los Abrazos Rotos/Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodóvar/Spain)
Chéri (Stephen Frears/UK)
An Education (Lone Scherfig/UK)
*Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold/UK)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam/UK)
Martyrs (Pascal Laugier/France)
Orphan (Jaume Collet-Serra/US)
*Passing Strange (Spike Lee/US)
Sugar (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck/US)
*The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh/US)

And a special mention all on its own, for all of its perverted 237 minutes :
Ai no mukidashi/Love Exposure (Shion Sono/Japan)

Some of these movies I’ve already written about here (they have an * before the title), others I just didn’t make the time to sit down and write (or wasn’t sure what to say). Notice these are in alphabetical order, because ranking completely different films is a ridiculous task.

Some general observations about my lists:
Many of my favorite films from 2009 have a strong, single performance; the films cannot be separated from their performances. Rather than the actor eating up the screen; where the film is only about the performance (like say, Tom Hardy in Bronson), I think many of these films are extraordinary in building the story around the character. I suppose it’s a bit chicken-and-egg, in that the films cannot be great without the performances, but the films themselves have more going for them than just the actors’ delivery. The Hurt Locker is conspicuously absent from this list, partly because I saw it last year in 2008 and partly because Jeremy Renner‘s performance is, in my opinion, simply so much more superior than the film itself (easily one of my favorites of  either year). I’m still not entirely sure about Julia. Tilda Swinton is so amazing, it kind of blinds me to the (perhaps many) faults of the film. The title character in this film cannot be separated from the progression of the film; her addictions and her situational decision-making fuel everything that happens and why it happens the way that it does. This is different than, say, Penelope Cruz‘s performance in Broken Embraces. Almodóvar literally fashions the character into who she is and is not, making her larger than her specific part in the story through his direction (and, of course, writing). I think this may be why some people are not quite recognizing her brilliance in this film. She is controlled and directed, but she embodies that within her character; her character is defined by her own singular ability as an actress to capture our gaze. Similarly, the performances by, say, Ben Foster in The Messenger or Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist provide an emotional through-line for the entire film, whether it is his restrained sense of anxiety and loss or her controlled ascent/descent into hysteria. Michelle Pfeffier is so great in Chéri because she (and Stephen Frears and Christopher Hampton) uses a period story to, among other things, comment on (her own) aging beauty (something many of her decent performances have been plagued by). She literally embodies the character, hyper-aware of this specific moment in life where everything is, in the realm of the superficial, all downhill from here. I won’t even try to get into why Sam Rockwell is so amazing in Moon (I mean, the man made Gentlemen Broncos entertaining!)…

I forced myself to cut my second list to ten for the sake of synchronicity (it was closer to 20). I noticed that it was heavily favoring horror, with selections like The House of the Devil (Ti West/US) and Linkeroever/Left Bank (Pieter Van Hees/Belgium) ultimately not making the cut, because I felt like I personally liked the films (and the genre) more than I thought of them as good (though they are that too). Left Bank, especially, has one of the most inventive endings I have seen in quite awhile…
As for the two I’ve left (in addition to Antichrist); Orphan and Martyrs, these two films couldn’t be more different. Orphan should be celebrated as a return to form for the classic Hollywood horror/thriller (also due to excellent actors); it uses a minimum of gore or flashy visual effects to convey an atmospherically controlled, well-crafted yarn. Martyrs, on the other hand, is an assault to both the senses and conception (and, perhaps more importantly, structure) of the modern horror film. There are countless tirades for and against this film, whether or not you think its brutality outweighs its seemingly (perhaps easily dismissed) pretentious ‘argument’, it is a film to be reckoned with (cognitively and morally).

I kind of regret not posting anything about Inglourious Basterds previously. Let’s just say that even though Tarantino is an idiot savant of film references, he is maturing into a filmmaker who actually has ideas (as opposed to just a filmmaker with images). Aside from the obvious cinematic influences, I see a lot of thematic similarities drawn from Chan Wook-Park‘s vengeance trilogy. I won’t even attempt to get into the whole revisionist history stuff (though I’m interested in J. Hoberman‘s suggestion that this is a sci-fi film as much as it is a revisionist western or ensemble war film. Any way, it is a feast, regardless of the blood involved.

I could keep going, but I’m tired. If anyone wants to know anything else about any of these movies, let me know.


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