Dave’s Top Ten Films 2009
2009 has been business as usual really but another busy year for cinema with a vast array of good offerings that have been thrown at us left, right and centre! And just as well because the weather has been awful! Hollywood waged war with epics such as Avatar and Transformers 2 with maximum CGI and mega profits and indie films have seen a little bit of a boost. Films such as Moon, Paranormal Activity and District 9 have all recieved some good attention from audiences. 2009 has also been an important year in the development of 3D movies. The film industry has gambled millions in 3D movies as a way for cinema to move forward; 2009 has seen it grow in popularity, but is it really the future of cinema? Well just ask James Cameron as he is swimming ‘Duck Tales’ style in his profits from Avatar! The fact that I only have one 3D movie in this list lets my opinion speak for itself but nevertheless 2009 will be remembered as the year 3D became a real presence in our theatres. This was also a year in which the very best movies went pretty much under the radar; some of which I missed were Antichrist, An Education, Let the Right One In and Coraline (Shocking I know, but some of us have lives dammit!) which I imagine would have been contenders for the list. Well, here is a top ten selection of films that I think are a very fine bunch in the 2009 crop! Drop us a line and let us know what you think or let us know what your top ten would be? Hope you enjoy, Dave.
10. Star Trek
This was an unexpected surprise of 2009 as I am hardly a Trek fan but J.J Abrams’ revamped version of the most enduring TV series of all time was a treat for fans and newbies alike. Although the story is a bit patchy and the direction a little sloppy, there were few flaws in this new gun-ho, flashy but smart rebirth of the original Star Trek story. J.J Abrams achieved the perfect mix between the retro look of the original and the new CGI enveloped world which makes Star Trek one of the most visually stunning films of the year. The casting was flawless as all the new actors slotted into their predecessors places perfectly and added a real air of authenticity to the film. It is very apparent that J.J. put a lot of thought into the film and refused to tinker with Gene Rodenberry’s original ideas; this proves to be its’ greatest asset. Star Trek is an entertaining and exciting revamp that has reinvigorated the series after a rash of ho-hum recent outings. Perhaps I’m being a bit generous but I feel that if you are looking for an action-packed and fun adventure, look no further than here.
Moon is another low budget success of 2009 but there is so much more to Moon than being an exciting and interesting SF thriller like District 9. Moon is a sort of homage to some of the great SF films and TV shows of yesteryear but it maintains an interesting plot and one of the best acting performances of the year! We see elements of Tarkovsky’s Solaris (Not the horrible George Clooney remake!) and 2001 in here mixed with a good dose of paranoia and insanity. Sam Rockwell is a lone employee working on the Moon, supervising the automated mining of its’ surface for a new energy source being used by the people of Earth. His three year stay on the remote base is only two weeks from ending and for Bell it can’t come soon enough as the solitary confinement has taken its toll on his mental state. Pretty soon he starts hallucinating and ends up in a near fatal crash outside the base. Mysteriously he awakes in the base but is greeted by a man who looks suspiciously like himself. Moon is a thoroughly intriguing and disconcerting psycho-drama that benefits greatly from a few viewings. This is yet another great small film to have come out of 2009 and is a truly relieving sign that Hollywood has not grappled the film industry. Who needs Hollywood when smaller films of this quality are being made?
8. District 9
District 9 was a true winner of 2009 as despite its measly $30 million budget it grossed an estimated $203,600,000 worldwide! It has signalled a resurgence in the popularity of low budget films and proved that you don’t need a bottomless pit of money to make a visually stunning and exciting blockbuster. District 9 has reignited the cinema world with a new freshness and originality which has inspired others to followed suit, most notably Paranormal Activity which was made for even less but has also attained huge success. As a result I believe it earns a place among the best films of the year due to its great influence. The film itself is thought provoking and thrilling throughout. It follows the story of an alien race, known to us as ‘prawns’, who are stranded on Earth due to their ship being inoperable. Pretty soon hatred and anger spreads amongst the human population and the aliens are segregated – harking back to the times of apartheid in South Africa. It dwells on some very disturbing and bleak themes but remains gripping and exciting to the end. What makes District 9 fall short is its second half. The first half appears to be where all the main themes reside and where the real thought behind the film lies but come the second half it turns into an all-out action film of extreme proportions! Although very exciting and totally spectacular it left me confused as to what they were really aiming at while it gradually lost its initially compelling storyline. That aside it was definitely one to remember from 2009 and well deserved of a place on the list.
7. Where the Wild Things Are
Sendak’s novel is translated beautifully to the big screen by veteran director Spike Jonze and sums up a great year for kids’ movies. It tells the story of a young boy named Max who runs away from home after falling out with his family for his behaviour and their apparent ignorance. He escapes to a magical land filled with monsters intent on some carefree fun! Max becomes their leader but soon realises that his task of making them happy could be a lost cause as every attempt at making them happy ends in failure. It is a sad but touching story of a boy learning to grow up. WTWTA is a treat for the eyes and ears as well with a brilliant soundtrack and stunning visuals. The way the monsters interact with real-life Max is almost seamless – no Star Wars prequel-ish, staring into space moments from the live actors! The creatures also look stunningly realistic. This is another fine achievement that has emerged from 2009 that stands with Mr Fox as a very faithful but at the same time unique version of a classic kids’ novel.
Pixar’s latest offering has proved to be one of its very best and a truly classic kids film. It is a colourful and eclectic mix of classic themes with a wildly original plot. Carl Frederickson is a lonely widower who decides, after being forced to leave his home, to fly it to him and his wife’s lifelong dream – Paradise Falls. It is a grand fairytale with great depth and poignancy. The opening 10 minutes of the film, which portrays Frederickson and his wife’s life together, is truly one of the greatest film openings I can remember. It reminds me of a great scene from Kurosawa’s Madadayo that shows a husband and wife living in their small shack in which a whole year passes in literally 3 minutes. I saw the 3D version and I can safely say this has got to be one of the most visually amazing films I have ever seen! I’m not a big fan of the 3D and Up doesn’t use it to any great extent but it does compliment the surrounding environment and give it a bit of life, however you wont go wrong with 2D as it will still look amazing.
Up is beautifully executed and shows Pixar don’t just make amazing kids’ films, they are true achievements of modern cinema. It can never match the likes of Toy Story unfortunately but it is pretty close, I think.
5. Synecdoche, New York
Although released in America mid 08’ it didn’t hit British screens until March 09’ so that’s what I’m going by! Certainly the most bizarre film I have seen this year but also the most compelling and intelligent one. Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a tortured soul, gifted writer, ambitious director, schizophrenic and relentless narcissist who, after winning a genius grant to spend on a play, decides to base his latest work on himself. He starts to recreate scenes from his life to find out why these things are happening to him. Ultimately his quest for realism drives out of control and he attempts to build an authentic world around his set. Unlike his wife Adele, who expresses her artistic vision through delicately made miniature portraits, Caden takes the opposite approach and eventually envelopes himself in his massive, artificial world. His narcissistic ambitions quickly become his undoing and his grand creation begins to merge with reality in very disturbing ways.
It is amazing brain food and has an on-form Philip Seymour Hoffman who is blindingly good as Caden. It is a fantastical and absurd journey into the possibilities of art and into Jungian psychology that is engrossing and very original. The only flaw with Synecdoche is that you have to be in the mood to watch this one so ultimately didn’t make the top spot. All the same it is brilliant piece of work.
4. Fantastic Mr Fox
Yes it’s Foxy again! You’d think with the amount I’ve written about it that it would be number 1! It is not sadly but this is one of the funniest and original films of the year and deserves a place in the top ten. Wes Anderson’s visionary style brings this classic tale to life and adds in even more brilliant touches of his own. With a great cast, design and sharp humour it is one that can’t be missed! One issue with it however is finding its audience; some of the humour is clearly not aimed at younger kids but generally it should appeal greatly to most. However, it is one of the few Wes Anderson films that is widely accessible and it looks absolutely fantastic! A good shout for anyone’s dvd collection.
3. In the Loop
Armando Iannucci’s burning and jagged political satire ‘In the Loop’ was a real dark horse in 2009. Iannucci mutated his popular BBC TV show ‘The Thick of It’ to the big screen in style with the film losing none of the shows mixture of snarling political bite mixed with subtle humour and pop references. Tom Hollander plays MP Simon Foster who during a supposedly innocent political interview claims a war in the Middle East is ‘unforseeable’. This unfortunately coincides with a visit from important US politicians and sets off a chain-reaction of political exchanges that ultimately sows the seeds of war. Peter Capaldi once again steals the show as the vicious Malcolm Tucker the PM’s chief spin-doctor; the character supposedly based on Tony Blair’s right-hand man Alastair Campbell. He is brought in to try and influence the bewildered Simon Foster and use him as a tool in the government’s case for war. While a piece of utter comedy genius it does make serious references as to what might have happened during the Iraq war fiasco and gives a gritty and uncompromising insight into the dog-eat-dog world of politics.
2. A Serious Man
A Serious Man is another late entry that really surprised me and got so close to being number 1! The Coen’s latest effort was not exactly billed as the new No Country For Old Men or Big Lebowski and only received minimal attention in the US and Europe. Critics have also seen this film as a bit of a hit-and-miss effort from the acclaimed duo. I believe this was an absolute success and a really bizarre, but brave step for the Coen’s. The story is bordering on morbidly bleak territory (Not Synecdoche bleak, but getting there) and has the Coen’s trademark black humour out in full force. I have not laughed harder in any other film all year so on that basis alone it truly deserves to be number two. The storyline is about a series of odd and unfortunate events occurring to the luckless Professor Gopnik that are beyond his control. The common protagonist in the Coen Bros’ films of the sensible, everyday guy being screwed over by the incompetent and ignorant people around him is a recurring theme in their films. Like John Malcovich in Burn After Reading he loses the plot completely (Minus the axe rampage) and begins to question his faith and god’s treatment of him or lack of. A very grim but essential film to watch as it is the Coen’s at the very top of their game and a sure sign that the best is still yet to come from those two.
1. The Wrestler
Darren Aronofsky’s latest effort is a sublime masterpiece and truly deserving of the coveted and prestigious status of ‘David’s film of the year’, hold the applause. It is a classic underdog tale about ‘Randy the Ram’ (Mickey Rourke), a down and out wrestler who has seen his best days but continues to wrestle in various tournaments and holds up a mundane supermarket job during the week. Behind on his bills and sleeping in his van, he slowly begins to realise his time in the ring is coming to an end. A heart attack, following a particularly brutal match involving nails guns and barbed wire (Ouch, by the way!), seals the deal and is told he can’t wrestle again. The film is essentially about him being forced to find a life outside of his first and only love, wrestling.
Thanks to Aronofsky this film looks near perfect and every scene works perfectly, not a moment of the film is wasted or dragged out. Some simple but effective camera techniques and terrific use of the handheld cam bring a truly realistic feel to the film as well as accentuate the visceral nature of some of the scenes. The story itself sounds like an odd topic but it is a very interesting insight into the world of wrestling entertainment. We all know it is fake but The Wrestler truly shows how fleeting and fragile fame tends to be in this business regardless of ability and dedication. Despite this Randy realises that wrestling is his way of escaping reality but discovers that above all else he is an entertainer, and his love for wrestling is ultimately all that keeps him going. With punchy humour and a truly career defining performance from Mickey Rourke and you have a truly great piece of work.
Sadly in this brief overview I’ve only scratched the surface on this fine achievement but overall The Wrestler is my pick of year because, despite it not being particularly different or revolutionary, I believe it to be a fine example of the perfect film.