Wednesday 20 September 2017

Top Ten Movies of 2009

2009 was a provocative year to say the very least. Granted any year in which sees Lars Von Trier, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Haneke and Yorgos Lanthimos releasing movies in the same year but even they seemed to be trying extra hard to break through boundaries and shock their audiences. All in all though that was for the best as 2009 wasn’t exactly a great year, especially for commercial cinema. There were some bright spots but it’s hard to escape the overbearing shadow cast by the piles of garbage that were ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ and another ‘Twilight’ movie (I can’t remember which one, they’re all the same to me)

Luckily though the only negative for when it came to my top ten list was that I didn’t have too much trouble narrowing down my favourites of this year. That being said there were also plenty of honourable mentions. As I said blockbusters were lacking somewhat but we were still treated to some films that managed to do well on the critical front as well as the box office. JJ Abrams managed to revitalise a franchise for a whole new generation with ‘Star Trek’ whilst Neil Blomkamp managed to use a science fiction fable to offer important (if not entirely unsubtle) social commentary in ‘District 9’.

This was also a fantastic year for animation, in many different forms and styles. Pixar managed to deliver a deeply heartfelt movie (so in other words they made a Pixar movie) with ‘Up’. ‘A Town Called Panic’ may be the most nonsensical film of the year but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hilarious. ‘Mary and Max’ was the visually expressive yet emotionally raw animated film of the year. But my favourite of them all was Wes Anderson’s infectiously charming and brilliantly crafted ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’.

Going back to live action there’s ‘(500) Days of Summer’ providing a wonderfully bittersweet, enjoyable and inventive romantic comedy. ‘Up In the Air’ may have been marketed as a romantic comedy but what we actually got was a terrific character study boasting a great performance by George Clooney. Speaking of great performances there’s also Jeff Bridges in ‘Crazy Heart’, Carey Mulligan in ‘An Education’ and Abbie Cornish in ‘Bright Star’.

10: Antichrist

I have no hesitation in saying that Lars Von Trier’s sadistic horror film ‘Antichrist’ is the single most disturbing movie I have ever seen. No other movie this year, or any year for that matter, has left me with a greater sense of dread hours after it has ended. It’s for that reason that I can’t really recommend it but I can profess to how masterfully made it is. No one can question whether Von Trier made exactly the kind of movie that he wanted to or if it created the intended effect, which was to horrify anyone who watches it. The cinematography is simply stunning and when combined with Von Trier’s meticulous framing creates a claustrophobic yet oddly beautiful display of images. The movie deal with themes of pain and depression so it doesn’t pull punches, I believe Von Trier was trying to project a sense of visceral discomfort onto his audiences that reflects the torment his characters are feeling, who are portrayed brilliantly by the powerful performances of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

9: Goodbye Solo

Having crafted two excellent films in the form of ‘Man Push Cart’ and ‘Chop Shop’, Ramin Bahrani brings forth his most emotionally resonant movie yet. It pairs together two characters of completely opposite nature, from their background to their age as well as their whole outlook on life which drives the main plot and thematic weight of the movie. It’s within these characters that Bahrani grounds his film and makes their specific characteristics feel absolutely essential to the way the plot unfolds. Those two main characters are perfectly embodied by the two actors who play them, each bringing such terrific depth and distinctness to each role. The film digs deep beneath the surface and seeks to convey the full breadth of everything it discusses.

8: A Prophet

Jacques Audiard’s crime film is a brilliant example of why execution matters. Though the premise of ‘A Prophet’ is intriguing, it doesn’t scream masterful. But that is where Audiard’s impeccable attention to detail, grasp of tone and dynamic sense of energy. But what is remarkable is how these stylistic touches never detract from the movie’s care for character development. The film endears its audience to the main character and then proceeds to make the development of the characters flow seamlessly with the movie’s unfolding plot. It also helps that the main character is brought to life terrifically by a breakout performance from Tahar Rahim. The movie never fails to make you feel the urgency of each situation, carrying a constant sense of tension throughout as the protagonist is always one slip away from being uncovered.

7: A Serious Man

Though the Coen Brothers story of a midlife crisis and struggle to cope with the randomness of life has been divisive among audiences, I found to be another superb effort from the directing duo. It’s amazing how the Coens have such a capable grasp of tone that they can tackle themes of existential dread but inject it with an element of humour that not only makes it engaging to watch but also never allow one sensibility to undercut the other. But it’s not just the tone that the Coens weave into their narrative brilliantly, it’s also the underlying themes of their story that feel peppered throughout whilst never being too obvious that they detract from the main narrative. ‘A Serious Man’ may not be the Coens at their absolute best but it does represent a more mature form of filmmaking that is not only refreshing to see them venture into, but also to see them execute it this well.

6: Moon

One of the most inventive and emotionally resonant science fiction films in recent memory. ‘Moon’ is a deceptively brilliant piece of cinema, presenting itself as a futuristic fable but being, at its core, a deeply humanistic story of identity. Despite being made on a budget of just $5 million the movie never feels underdeveloped as far as its production design goes. It really is a credit to director Duncan Jones that ‘Moon’ manages to look more professional than most of the blockbusters released in the same year. Sam Rockwell delivers a performance that instils paranoia but also deep empathy and as much as I would love to describe what makes Rockwell particularly brilliant here, it would risk spoiling the mystery that is set up at the start of the film. ‘Moon’ is a movie of big ideas but set on an intimate stage that sets it apart as one of the most intelligent movies of the year.

5: The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke has always dealt with moral quandaries throughout his career, on the surface ‘The White Ribbon’ may appear to be a less strenuous ordeal but on a thematic level it paints a deeply oppressive portrait from which neither the audience nor the movie’s characters can escape. It’s a deeply atmospheric work, partly due to its bleak cinematography that matches the overall tone of the movie. ‘The White Ribbon’ says much about how violence is built into human society and has to wonder if it is inescapable, highlighting the way an environment can shape its inhabitants into something much more immediately dangerous. The cast are fantastic on every level, even from the young performers. Its narrative is patient but Haneke possesses such a mastery of framing and composition that every single shot of the movie feels as involving as it is poetic.

4: A Single Man

The fact that ‘A Single Man’ is a debut feature almost defies belief. Tom Ford’s film displays such an involving and expressive visual style without ever detracting from the main narrative. Through visuals alone Ford manages to place the audience directly within the mind set of his protagonist, his daily struggles, his outlook on life and the tiny details in which he finds value. All of that being said, the fact that an internationally renowned fashion designer is capable of assembling some pretty shots isn’t too remarkable, what is remarkable is how Ford so perfectly enthuses that style with the substance of his story. It’s furthered all the more by a tremendous performance by Colin Firth that, like the direction, finds great emotional power through the smallest of nuances. It’s honestly kind of amazing that Firth didn’t win the Oscar for Best Actor, as much as I adore Jeff Bridges I have to say that the academy made a mistake on that front.

3: Dogtooth

It’s easy to focus on the disturbing subject matter of ‘Dogtooth’ as well as it’s uniquely inventive style, but what struck me most about it was Yorgos Lanthimos’ magnificent control over image and tone. Every piece of his movie feels like a deliberately constructed aspect, one that ties into the greater themes of the movie as well as its highly original narrative. He shoots the film in a method that combines elegant compositions with off kilter framings that never fails to elicit a sense of unease. As Roger Ebert put it, the visuals almost resemble a family photograph where something is a just a little, but obviously, wrong. The performances are unnervingly in tune with the rest of the movie, completely embodying Lanthimos’ vision of control and manipulation. It’s odd that a film as bizarre as ‘Dogtooth’ can also feel so frighteningly realistic, but that’s mainly because it is. This is a filmmaker taking truth and exaggerating it to make it cinematic, and it’s about as masterfully made as they come.

2: The Hurt Locker

The way ‘The Hurt Locker’ goes about dissecting its subject is so nuanced that you might miss it upon first viewing. It paints a portrait of a soldier who is incapable of functioning outside of a war. Like the bombs he disarms, Sergeant William James is explosive and temperamental but also very good at what he is designed to do. All of those characteristics are brilliantly embodied by Jeremy Renner’s stoic lead performance, which is punctuated by shocking bursts of energy. But the most valuable player is, by a long way, director Kathryn Bigalow, who achieves such a mastery of suspense that it would be easier to list the moments with ‘The Hurt Locker’ that are not seaming with palpable tension. Ona technical level the film is beyond perfect, with the sound design, special effects, production design and every nuance of the environment being impeccable. Even amid the chaos Bigalow finds clarity both in how she presents the action, but also how she taps into the deeper meaning of the movie and never loses focus on what this story has to say.

1: Inglourious Basterds

Hitchcock once said that suspense is two people sitting at a table, unaware that there is a bomb underneath them. Quentin Tarantino’s war epic begins with a scene in which a group of Jewish people hiding from a Nazi Colonel as he sits at a table, conversing with the man sheltering them. In this case, the audience and the characters all know there is a “bomb” under the table, and yet Tarantino is able to use it to create one of the most masterfully tense pieces of cinema I have ever witnessed. The film that follows is bold, brutal and entertaining on a level nothing else could match this year, but also punctuated the evidence of a filmmaker in complete and utter control of his medium. Tarantino’s hyper stylised blend of violence, humour and subversion takes the war genre and frames it as more of a western. But in the process he finds dozens of brilliant performances (the standout being Christoph Waltz), too many amazing scenes to count and dialogue that’s so good it could have been written by Quentin Tarantino, which it was. It’s a film that one can appreciate for its craftsmanship but also adore for its entertainment value, both of which only improve all the more every time you revisit it.

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