It’s that time of the year yet again: My favourite (and not so favourite) films of 2009, chosen among the sixty-one features I watched in a movie theatre (picking up from my last year’s dismal less-than-weekly film-going).
Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married felt unique among all the films I’ve watched in 2009. It didn’t feel like a movie at all, instead I left the theatre feeling I had attended that wedding and met all the characters. Demme’s use of improvisation and Anne Hathaway’s performance gave the film a truer feeling than perhaps a documentary about a real misfit attending a real wedding could (and there lies the genius of it). And then there’s the soundtrack. Loved that soundtrack.
Ursula Meier’s Home was a film with a simple concept. A family lives next to an unfinished motorway, and have all the fun people do when they’ve got a large area of asphalt all for themselves — eg. playing hockey. But one day the motorway opens for traffic. What used to be one kind of paradise became traffic noise hell, and slowly the family falls into madness and despair. It’s a simple idea that proves you don’t need sophisticated situations and villains — a family fighting against the lack of silence will do for one of the most engaging films I’ve seen.
Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. A prime example of the stupidity of portuguese film distributors is that I had to go watch what is perhaps the prime contender in the coming award season in a shitty screen in an expired mall in the suburbs of Gaia (itself a suburb) because it was the only screen in all of northern Portugal showing this movie. But it was perhaps appropriate I watched The Hurt Locker in a shithole I had last went to watch Starship Troopers (that was twelve years ago), because this is no glossy picture. It’s a raw depiction of the daily life of a bomb squad in Iraq, and a soldier-centered portrait of war addiction. Parts of this film are so unexpected that I honestly felt as watching some kind of bizarre Wile E. Coyote cartoon, except the characters are real people and that ACME stuff is massively deadly. I disagree with the Slashfilm critic that said Avatar was a far superior (metaphorical) film about the Iraq War. James Cameron knows very well Avatar’s audience is very wide-ranging so he did make not-so-subtle points about war and imperialism, which is fine by me. But The Hurt Locker is another kind of movie, presumed to be watched by people who know all that and appreciate a movie that skips the too-obvious criticism. This is Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket territory.
Between watching RocknRolla on January 1st and Sherlock Holmes last Saturday (the two Guy Ritchie films being nice-but-not-great bookends to my film-going year), there were many other films I found great in 2009:
Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler made the 1980s feel like an entire lifetime ago. Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a fun pleasant surprise. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen didn’t disappoint in its adaptation of my favourite comic book. Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino felt like a perhaps-somewhat-premature farewell to Clint-the-actor, and could perhaps do without the singing in the end credits. Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity was a good caper — and I do love capers. Steven Soderbergh’s two-volume fighting diary of Che delivered some great filmmaking while showing the man in your t-shirt did kill people, demistifying the argentine revolutionary. Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control was a cool film — and that’s all I wanted, really. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s little film about revenge Five Minutes of Heaven delivered exactly what its director set out to do. Public Enemies showed yet again how much we as an audience tend to assign meaning to a movie’s technical medium, and that Michael Mann’s a genius in the way he teaches us to stop envisioning the past in black and white, documentary truth in handheld video, night time in saturated blues. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds was an orgasm of alternative history. Gianni di Gregorio’s Pranzo de Ferragosto was a lovely little comedy, and perhaps the best I’ve seen all year. James Gray’s Two Lovers was a solid drama to start the Fall season. Tom Hooper’s The Damned United was a pretty unique sports film — a real story about a 1970s English football manager — which I still can’t tell whether I really liked it that much. I found Duncan Jones’ Moon among the best science fiction films of the decade, and surely the best of the year. I welcomed Tetro as a good comeback from Francis Ford Coppola after his last film’s utter debacle. And finally, James Cameron’s Avatar, despite being a very predictable Pocahontas in space (the Disney version), is well worth the (3D) ticket price, just for the visual gorgeousness of it.
Finally, in a year I didn’t catch many bad or mediocre films, there was one undisputable Champion of Suckiness, with the potential to start a flame war just for saying so: J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Let’s just say that I can warm up to blue natives riding dragons over floating mountains. But time-travel and parallel universes (exploited by writers that show no guilt in weaving Deus Ex Machinas into the story) make me mad!