Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Top Ten Films Of 2009

As I’ve trumpeted on about for some time now, I was aiming to view (at least) a total of 400 films this year. I broke through that and comfortably reached a final total of 407, which I think (although can’t say for certain) is the most I’ve ever watched in a year. Some have commented that this includes repeat viewings within the year as well as films I've seen before. This is true and it doesn’t really concern me. I was really just looking to record the amount I watched and a film watched is a film watched, whether or not I’ve seen it before. For the record 323/407 (practically 80%) were films I watched for the first time.

So, a bit of housekeeping first by way of a brief refresher of my self-imposed (and somewhat lax) rules. I’ve tightened them slightly this year as I’m now classing a ‘Film Of 2009’ as one on general release in that year. So, if I saw it at a film festival or preview and it wasn’t on general release in 2009, I can’t include it. However, if it was released in every other country across the globe in 2008 or earlier but didn’t hit the UK until 2009, I can still include it. This should go some way to redressing anomalies like ‘Let The Right One In’ and 'Slumdog Millionaire' appearing last year when few people here had heard of them - and subsequently being absent from this year’s list.

I’ve struggled more with this list than previous years but I can’t really fathom why. It generally seems to have been a pretty good year but one that, for some reason, doesn’t seem like it was. Although I’ve managed to compile this list, it doesn’t really seem there was a true standout film amongst them, which is why I’ve possibly wrestled with this more than other years.

Anyway, from 10 to 1:

10) Avatar - Every inch of me is telling me this shouldn’t make it to the top ten. There’s a lot ‘wrong’ with it from the hackneyed story to the cringeworthy scenes to the neon wonderland. I’m maybe even convincing myself as I write this that it doesn’t deserve a place but, against all my better judgement, it is going in – and that’s entirely down to the fact I was completely carried along with the film. 162 minutes flew by and I almost felt I had battled and flown and gasped a lungful of Pandoran air. I was willing to overlook a lot of the misgivings I felt afterwards because for the duration of the film I was gripped and gawping at the world in front of me with unblinkered awe. Do I think it’s the ‘game changer’ we were promised? No. Do I think this has proven that 3D can provide more than a cheap effect? Probably. Did I enjoy it? Yes.

9) Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee - No-one could accuse it of being epic at a mere 71 minutes but, in spite of its slightness, it manages to maintain a decent laugh ratio from the mostly-improvised script. This tale (actually, ‘tale’ is maybe overselling) of Paddy Considine’s roadie trying to get his protégé a support slot for the Arctic Monkeys is something I’ve been looking forward to for years since seeing the early Donk shorts and knowing this filmed way back in summer 2007. It’s great to see that Shane Meadows seems able to turn his hand to most things, all the more so seeing as this was filmed over just 5 days.

8) Star Trek - Having never been a big Trek fan or particularly well-versed in Starfleet lore (aside from the obvious elements of which everyone with even the most cursory awareness of pop culture must surely be aware), this served as a fine hors d’oeuvre to what I hope will be more adventures in this final frontier. All the cast seemed well suited to the roles, particularly the cocksure Jim Kirk and especially Karl Urban’s crotchety ‘Bones’. Was I the only one who thought that, despite not being accurate, there was a ring of authenticity to Simon Pegg’s turn of phrase as Scotty? I enjoyed it a lot; breezy, fun and exciting – probably the most overall satisfying blockbuster of the year.

7) A Serious Man - This is one which still has me stumped. Sure, I understood it but I’m equally sure I’d get even more from repeat viewings. The Coens show scant regard to goys with their immersive take on a Minnesotan Jewish community and a man struggling with the fact that he’s seemingly ‘doing nothing’. I’m a massive fan of the Coens and this is among their more personal films, closest in spirit to some of the tales from Ethan Coen’s 1998 book, Gates Of Eden. The ending is absolutely blinding.

6) Mesrine: Killer Instinct (L'instinct De Mort) - Vincent Cassel has long been a favourite actor of mine and it’s a joy to see him finally get a meaty role which depends upon him carrying the entire film. Biopics have never been my favourite genre but true-life criminals (Henry Hill, Chopper, Bronson) seem to be the one exception to this loathing, maybe because their lives seem so removed from anything approaching my concept of reality. This is an energetic rise through the ranks of France’s underworld of the 50s and 60s. Treating this as separate from Public Enemy No. 1, part one of the two was marginally the better film, dealing with Jacques Mesrine’s ascent before the inevitable fall and relative shoe-gazing of part two.

5) Fish Tank - I thought Red Road was great and I thought this was just as good. What, on paper, reads like a bog standard council estate drama is elevated by great direction, cinematography and performances from Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender. It really is hard to define but there’s an uplifting core among all the foreboding grime.

4) Inglourious Basterds - Tarantino completely wrong-footed me with this. For all the pre-release ‘QT does The Dirty Dozen’ hype and focus on Brad Pitt’s macho drawling mumble, it really was more talky than I expected – and all the better for it. I really shouldn’t be surprised at a dialogue-heavy film from him but it really shocked me how little action there was in what I assumed to be Tarantino's take on the action film. It does play out as more a series of vignettes than anything else, without even the interweaving narrative device he’s relied upon before. However, the scenes all have satisfying arcs within themselves and the tension is palpable. ‘La Louisiane’ stands as possibly the finest scene he’s ever done. All in all, I’d say it’s a bingo.

3) The Wrestler - Who’d have thought that Mickey Rourke would ever give a performance that actually touched on an emotional level? It really is a film based pretty much on performance alone and, much as it looks good and I admire him, I don’t see a lot of Darren Aronofsky in it. The tale of this ‘one trick pony’ seemed to allow Mickey to draw from his own time in the wilderness so that I was able to overcome some of the film’s clunkier shortcomings and really feel for this character.

2) The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band) - Certainly the best looking film of the year. The digital black & white cinematography lends an eerie contemplativeness to the measured way in which the film plays out. Set in 1913 rural Germany, the villagers of a baronial estate are plagued by mysterious tragedies but being a Michael Haneke film this isn’t the starting point for an investigative thriller. The performances are uniformly excellent and the evocation of a time and place I’m completely unfamiliar with is completely alien and austere. I’m still not sure I fully understand it but I’m looking forward to re-watching this and completely immersing myself in that community again.

1) In The Loop - Some may argue it’s not particularly cinematic but I watched this 5 times throughout the year at fairly regular intervals and I never began to grow weary. It does ramp things up a bit and the scope is certainly more grandiose than its televisual counterpart. Endlessly quotable and more-and-more rewarding with each viewing, it masterfully balances the profane outbursts of Malcolm Tucker with the pathos of Simon Foster stuck between trying to make a difference and crushing inevitability. I’ve not seen a more flat-out enjoyable film this year despite the harrowing feeling that it’s also depressingly accurate.

These are the next ten, in roughly ascending ranking order. The first two here were in strong contention for the top ten proper. Honourable Mentions: Doubt, Coraline, Anvil: The Story Of Anvil, Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, Moon, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Gran Torino, Drag Me To Hell, An Education, Antichrist

As it says on the tin, and in no particular order, Worst Films Of The Year: Lesbian Vampire Killers, Halloween II, Seven Pounds, Marley & Me, Fast & Furious, Tormented, Doghouse, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, The Time Traveler's Wife, I Love You Beth Cooper, Gamer, Couples Retreat, The Fourth Kind, Dead Man Running

A new category. In no danger of being in contention for ‘best of the year’ these were, despite expectations otherwise, pretty good. Biggest Surprises: Orphan, Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, Last Chance Harvey, Adventureland, Julie & Julia, Triangle, Me And Orson Welles

These aren’t necessarily awful, or even bad, films but they certainly disappointed me on some level whether it be due to previous respect for the talent involved, a love of the source material or generally just not living up to the hype. I think most controversially, something I could never have contemplated has happened. The latest Pixar film was only my 4th (!) favourite animated film of the year. After a wondrous opening act, I just never bought why people were quite so enamoured with it – above even its other (in my opinion, far superior) stablemates. These are the Biggest Disappointments: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Public Enemies, The Invention Of Lying, Up, Watchmen, Terminator Salvation, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Brüno, Sherlock Holmes

In the interests of full disclosure, below is a link to the full list of the year's films with a rudimentary mark out of 5 for each. Feel free to take issue with anything contained within:

1 comment:

  1. 1 out of 5 for Boxing Helena? I think you're being a little harsh.