2009

November 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Decade One | Leave a comment

I can say that I enjoyed almost every film I saw this year.  This year I saw 63 films.  In 2006, I disliked more than a third of the films I saw.  This year I would only skip the bottom 11 films and none of them were as bad as my worst films of previous years.  There was nothing that I absolutely hated (like “Bottle Shock” or “300”).

Over the past 10 years of movie viewing (and reviewing), there are definitely years that were very strong for great films (2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 & 2008, specifically).  Ultimately, this was not one of those years and did not produce a single film that will end up on my best of the decade list.  Perhaps that is because this year has just passed and I have not had a chance to sit with any of these films.  Maybe you’ll see them on my best of the century list…

 

The Top 10:

 

1-       Still Walking (34) – This is the 2nd film I have seen by Japanese director, Hirokazu Koreeda.  The first film, “Nobody Knows,” was ranked #2 on my list in 2005.  I love the stillness of the film; it let’s moments unfold so realistically, with all their prolonged, awkward silences.  When something is revealed it’s devastating and you can feel the impact ripple through the rest of the film.  Nothing in this movie is trite, nothing trivialized, no emotion rings false.  I like many different types of films but I do love realism and Koreeda is a master of it.

2-       A Serious Man (40) – On the other hand… A Cohen Brothers’ film is many things but it is not realism (though they can tease you with the veneer of realism).  Their films have an epic quality to them, as though they are trying to say something big about LIFE.  A Serious Man feels like the expression of what it means to them to be Jewish in America.  It is visually rich, bawdy, slapstick, intentionally provocative, and sometimes deeply moving.  I know many people have accused it of stereotyping but I think the only real difference between a stereotype and an archetype is the respect you have for your characters.   Some may disagree but I think the Cohen’s love these people (well, the guys, at least).  And, it has an amazing ending.  Amazing.  One of the best I have ever seen.

3-       Precious (42) – This film is far from perfect.  Lee Daniels is a young director and his inexperience shows over and over in the framing of scenes, the heavy handed use of certain symbols, and in a lack of focus.  However, each character had such truth in her: the burned-out social worker, the earnest young teacher, each of her students, Precious herself and, of course, her mother.  They were all so real and so like people I have known.  The plot was heavy handed and overwrought at times.  Though I have known girls who have had every one of Precious’s experiences happen to her, the film might have felt more real had it not tried so hard to overwhelm.  In the end, this film is #3 for one reason: Mo’nique’s stunning performance; without a doubt one of the best I have ever seen.  Her final monologue is breathtaking.  I always considered Laura Linney’s monologue at the end of “MysticRiver” as one of my favorites but this blows hers away.

4-       The Road (44) – Another Cormac McCarthy laughfest.  If you can’t stomach bleak, don’t watch this film.  It is endless anxiety, fear, hopelessness and devastation.  And I loved every minute of it.  It could not work if it weren’t for the two lead actors, Viggo Mortensen and some young boy.  You can feel the constant anxiety and fear the boy has in every scene and his father’s desperate attempt to instill some hope, some reason to keep living.  It is touching and heart-wrenching.  In the end, the film works because it is a character study and both actors are up to the job.

5-       In The Loop (26) – This film would be the opposite of “The Road.”  It takes nothing seriously; it is outrageous, profane and laugh-out-loud funny.  However, you must have an appreciation for filthy, shocking humor.  If you don’t enjoy a line like, “Within your ‘purview’? Where do you think you are, some fucking regency costume drama? This is a government department, not some fucking Jane fucking Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horses cock” (said with a Scottish accent, no less), then this is not the movie for you.   FYI.

6-       The Hurt Locker (23) – My movie list this year appears to be about extremes: extreme anxiety or extreme stillness.  Well, this film manages to masterfully have both.  Its real brilliance lies in its ability to put you in the moment with the soldiers, tensely waiting for something to happen.  Will it?  Now?  Or now?  Or now?  Instead of fireballs, screaming, and gore, we are given long silences and tense waiting.  I have no idea if this is what war is ever like, but I love the fact that tension in this movie comes from nothing happening and not from everything happening at once, as it does in so many war films.

7-       Il Divo (12) – A visual and aural explosion.  I’m not sure how else to describe this Italian film about the rise and (sort of) fall of corrupt Italian Prime Minister and Senator for Life, Giulio Andreotti.  Besides putting forward a convincing argument for the failures of coalition governments, I’m not really sure I even followed much of the plot: bad men were doing bad things and getting away with it.  However, I could not take my eyes off the screen.  Some scenes were so beautifully framed, perfectly lighted, and with inspired music that it was like film as poetry.  I had to see it twice just to take it all in.  This story is irrelevant; it is all about the view.

8-       An Education (38) – I had to include this film in my top 10 based largely on Carey Mulligan’s performance.  She was so earnest and the feelings she felt were so genuinely present that it was a pleasure to watch her.  I can’t wait to see what she does next.  Alfred Molina was also brilliant as her father.  In a film that could be heartbreaking, in parts, he was a welcome comic relief who was able to bring a silly, slapstick sort of humor without disrupting the rhythm of what was, in the end, a very earnest the film.  Not an easy task.

9-       Zombieland (36) – Again, with the humor.  I just loved, loved, loved this film.  It was silly and over-the-top and had me laughing my ass off by the opening credits.  It’s not quite as good as “Shawn of the Dead” but it isn’t far off and you can never have too many zombie comedies.  Well, maybe you can.  But there is definitely room for two.

10-   The Lemon Tree (14) – This under-rated and largely ignored Palestinian film is a real gem.  It deals with the intrusion of an Israeli Minister’s home onto the lemon orchard that had been owed for generations by a Palestinian family.  The story focuses on the matriarch of that family, her struggle to save her orchard and her relationship with the minister’s wife.  This is a small movie telling a simple story, without adornment or fuss.  The two women and how they struggle with their circumstances make it worth watching.

 

Other Movies I Loved:

 

11-   Unmade Beds (9) – Very indie film from Argentinean director Alexis Dos Santos about a German boy looking for his long-lost father in London.  Amateur acting but very sweet and with some provocative images.  Similar to his last film, “Glue.”

12-   Anvil: The Story of Anvil (6) – A great documentary about the almost famous heavy metal band.  Touching and very funny.  It made me root for them.  In fact, it almost made me want to buy a heavy metal album.  Almost.

13-   A Single Man (49) – Based on the beautiful novel by Christopher Isherwood about a gay man dealing with the death of his lover.  The book is much better but you can hardly blame a movie for that.  Perhaps to his credit, first time director, Tom Ford, goes in a radically different direction than the book.  I think it works, as long as you let the movie stand on its own.  In other words, see the movie first.  It is visually gorgeous and every scene is lush and worth pausing just so you can enjoy it.  However, Ford struggles from the same inexperience Daniels does; he tends to be heavy handed in scenes, trying to milk emotions from the audience when he should rely on the stellar acting.  He also does this weird-ass thing with color, which gets so distracting and (again) heavy handed that I found myself laughing in serious scenes.  Not a good thing.

14-   La Nana (the Maid) (43) – A Chilean film about a woman who has given her life to being a maid for an upper middle class family. She is deeply unhappy and ready to explode but has no idea because she is so emotionally shut down.  The film is an interesting look at class issues in Chile.  The lead actress does a phenomenal job and she manages to do cruel things but you still root for her.  Nothing violent happens; this is not a Hollywood film.  You watch a woman struggling on the edge and you feel for her and everyone else around her.

15-   (500) Days of Summer (25) – I had forgotten how charmed I was by this film until I saw portions of it again at my video store (just one more good reason to not do Netflix).  It is often silly, referential in its humor, and full of its own cleverness, but in all the right ways.  I liked the non-linear way the story was told.  It could have seemed forced but it worked well for me.  I found the romance charming and the outcome was completely believable.  In the end, I loved this film for where it went and how it got there.

16-   Fantastic Mr. Fox (45) – Beautifully animated.  Funny.  Sentimental with a wink.  Biting but not in a mean-spirited way.  In other words, a Wes Anderson film.

17-   Avatar (48) – Again, another group of stellar performances.  Just kidding.  You know why this movie made the list.  Spectacle.  Nothing wrong with that.

18-   The Watchmen (3) – I don’t think this film got the appreciation it deserved.  It is my favorite “superhero” film to date.  It’s darker, more violent and with less of the school-boy morality that weights down most films in this genre.  And who wouldn’t love seeing Billy Crudup’s big blue penis?

19-   Up (16) – Pixar does it again.  This film was lovely, sweet, and beautifully animated.  It showed Pixar’s willingness to not infantilize their audience the way Disney can. This film dealt with death, old age, a miscarriage, and evil dogs (sorry, Russ, they do exist).

20-   Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon ) (57) – German film.  Black and white.  Visually stark and beautiful.  The story was slow moving but tense at times.  There were some beautifully drawn out scenes that built tension in silence much as “Still Walking” and “The Hurt Locker” did, although to less effect than either of those films.  Not for everyone.  As the woman three seats down from me said loudly when it was over, “I don’t mind long films and I don’t mind slow films but I hate long and slow films!”

21-   Crazy Heart (55) – Both Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal were fantastic; broken, scared, vulnerable.  Their characters had depth and truth to them.  The only reason this film isn’t higher on my list is that I have seen versions of this many times before.  It is basically, “The Wrestler” and that really was a much better movie.

22-   The Last Station (63) – This movie finds its place on my list almost entirely on Helen Mirren’s performance and the witty dialogue.  It was well cast and everyone did well.  The scenery was beautiful.  It was funnier than I thought it would be and quite touching in parts.  But, in the end, it was just a good movie, not a great one.

23-   Up In The Air (46) – Again, this is a film that makes the list based on the strong performances of women.  George Clooney is, well, George Clooney.  However, the two lead actresses do a great job of playing two very different women in his world.  I also liked that this movie didn’t do what I was afraid it would do.

24-   Departures (19) – A film about a man, his wife, his father… all against the back drop of Japanese funeral rites.  Unfortunately, the story was lazy and relied on convenience to give the audience a closure that felt false to me.  However, it was also a graceful movie that was sometimes stunningly beautiful.

25-   Adventureland (8) – I think the best word to describe this movie is “sweet.”  Coming-of-age, working at the amusement park during the summer of your senior year, falling in love, you get the picture.  I just really enjoy the young actor Jesse Eisenberg (“The Squid & The Whale,” “Zombieland”).  He is clearly a tweaking, basket-case in real life but I find that charming to watch on screen.  Oh, and Ryan Reynolds was also great; the guy you hate but also feel sorry for.

 

Movies I Really Enjoyed:

 

26-   Good Hair (65) – Seen after the list was sent.  Chris Rock documentary.  I’ll never see black hair the same way again.

27-   Fish Tank (62) – An interesting look at a low income, dysfunctional British family.  Hey, not so unlike an American one.  The young actress who plays the 15 year old gives a raw, angry, vulnerable performance that was a joy to watch.  I hope we see more of her.  The story fumbled a bit for me, I don’t know why.

28-   Panique au Village (A Town Called Panic) (61) – Weird French film.  Animated action figures of a cowboy, an Indian and a talking horse.  ¾ of the way through the film, a guy got up, walked out and yelled back into the theatre, “that movie sucked!”  The audience was mostly the elderly and teenagers.  Go figure.

29-   It Might Get Loud (32) – Interesting documentary.  I learned to appreciate Jack White.

30-   Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (24) – The best since “Prisoner of Azkaban.”

31-   The Damned United (64) – Seen after the list was sent.

32-   Revanche (18) – I barely remember this French film. Slow, stark, tense.  Something bad happened, I think.

33-   Sin Nombre (4) – Pretty good. Well acted but, as with Crazy Heart, I’ve seen this all before.

34-   Julie & Julia (58) – Cute but not that cute.

35-   Where the Wild Things Are (39) – Visually beautiful but too slow and emotionally empty.

36-   District 9 (30) – Follows in the vein of “Cloverfield.”  Good premise.  Stumbled at the end.

37-   Away We Go (60) – The new 30-somethings.  Anxious.  Nerdy.  Not naïve or jaded.  Hip.

38-   Star Trek (11) – Bright.  Colorful.  Fun.  But ridiculous plot holes.  Of course, who cares?

39-   Capitalism: A Love Story (37) – Glad I saw it but it didn’t tell me anything new.  Just made me mad.

40-   Coraline (2) – Beautiful animation and a clever story.

41-   The Unmistaken Child (21) – Documentary about finding the reincarnation of a Lama.

42-   The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (56) – Just like most of Gilliam.  Beautiful but unfocused.

 

Movies That Were Okay:

 

43-   Broken Embraces (54) – I’d have liked it more if I had understood all the inside jokes.

44-   Inglourious Basterds (31) – Some brilliant scenes (like the 1st) but there were parts I truly hated.

45-   Julia (41) – Required too many coincidences and unlikely, stupid choices to propel the plot.

46-   The Informant! (35) – Just a bit too odd.  But nice try.  Damon does a good job.

47-   Brothers Bloom (17) – Felt like Wes Anderson was trying too hard to make a Wes Anderson film.

48-   Moon (20) – It started out with more promise than it could deliver on.

49-   Paranormal Activity (52) – Not scary.  A bit creepy.   Not bad for such a small budget.

50-   Duplicity (5) – Run of the mill caper movie.  Roberts and Owen made me smile a couple of times.

51-   $9.99 (22) – Australian movie.  Interesting stop-gap animation.  But incoherent story.

52-   Rudo y Cursi (13) – I love Bernal and Luna but this soccer movie was aggressively average.

53-   Taking Woodstock (33) – Cute fluff.

54-   Public Enemies (27) – Just a big Hollywood exercise w/ phone-it-in performances.  Nothing new.

 

Movies I Could Have Skipped:

 

55-   Sunshine Cleaning (51) – Looked like a comedy but was really quiet somber.  Nothing worked.

56-   Gomorrah (10) – I was too excited and expected too much from this Italian film.

57-   Michael Jackson’s This Is It (53) – It was exactly what it looks like.

58-   Three Monkeys (59) – Sorry Troy.  A beautiful final scene but, overall, really really boring.

59-   The Hangover (50) – I laughed for the first half hour.  It was all down hill from there.

60-   X-Men Origins: Wolverine (7) – The next 5 films are interchangeable.

61-   Terminator Salvation (15) – Ditto

62-   G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (29) – As above.

63-   Inkheart (1) – Ibid.

64-   Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (28) – Etc.

65-   Twilight Saga: New Moon (47) – “I’m in love w/ a werewolf and a vampire. What should I do?”  Suicide.

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