Monday, December 28, 2009

Best Films of 2009

A pair of "children's films" and "documentaries" end up at either end of my top twenty-five this year. The top pair are both adaptations and expansions of beloved, slim children's literature by critically controversial directors popular with a younger cult of moviegoers, and the bottom pair a set of stylistically refined documentaries by revolutionaries in the medium. Spike Jonze's adaption of Maurice Sendak's book Where the Wild Things Are and Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox both stray somewhat from their source material, but out of them create new works of art, as distinctive and ready to be loved for as long as their print counterparts have been. The documentaries challenge the notion of what a documentary is. In Moore's Godardian essay film Capitalism: A Love Story he argues passionately that the American dream, the ideal that propelled this country from the second world war to the present is bringing about its collapse. Moore's films have always been eclectic, containing comedic stunts, stories of small town families and ironic use of archival footage, but never has Moore argued more passionately and urgently as he does here. This is also the first of Moore's films to be what his others have only obliquely been, a call to action. Conversely, Frederick Wiseman's La Danse contains less overt commentary on its subject. Wiseman refines the style he's maintained since his earliest work like High School, setting the camera down in a corner of a space and watching the events unfold. Earlier in his career, this was dubbed "direct cinema," but Wiseman wisely rebuffs at the term, because the very act of making a film and the act of editing that film is its self a commentary. Sure, there are long takes in this nearly three hour film, where there is no cutting occuring, but what Wiseman focuses on and when it appears in the film gives you all the commentary needed. Without a point of view, the running time would be interminable, but because Wiseman is so adept at sequencing events and capturing them in an intriguing way, the film is engaging, and when it wants to be, moving and funny. Most of all though, it's fascinating, and the same can be said for all of the films in my list, from the Coen brothers' masterpiece A Serious Man, to the Korean-American directed no-budget Rwandan film Munyurangabo, to Steven Soderbergh's pair of digital video experimentations. There was no shortage of great cinema from around the globe this year, you just had to find it.

Special consideration for Michael Haneke's masterpiece The White Ribbon and Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum.

Another 10 (in order):
Observe and Report
The Messenger
Two Lovers
Face (Visage)
Fish Tank
Somers Town
Funny People
Taking Woodstock
The International

Also (in order): Air Doll, Bruno, Frontier of The Dawn, Police, Adjective, Still Walking, Summer Hours, Hunger, Goodbye Solo, The Beaches of Agnes, Revanche, The Road, Coco Before Chanel, Invictus, The Hangover, Big Fan, Mother, Sin Nombre, Everlasting Moments, Tell Them Anything You Want, A Christmas Carol, Drag Me To Hell, Adventureland, Crazy Heart, Julie & Julia, Up in the Air, Julia, Rudo y Cursi, Avatar, and Humpday.

Others (not in order): A Single Man, Mary and Max, 500 Days of Summer, Nymph, The Boat That Rocked, The Limits of Control, The Invention of Lying, Zombieland, Whip It, Knowing, Treeless Mountain, The Brothers Bloom, Coraline, Watchmen, Gommorah, Departures, Visioneers, Whatever Works, Cold Souls, An Education, and The Men Who Stare At Goats.

Ten Worst (in order): Silent Light, Explicit Ills, Gigantic, Amelia, New York, I Love You, The Marc Pease Experience, The Box, Night and Day, Brothers and Year One.

Biggest disappointments (not in order): The Limits of Control, The Invention of Lying, Thirst, and The Soloist.

NOT YET SEEN: 35 Shots of Rum, The Headless Woman, The White Ribbon, Of Time and the City, and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.


  1. 1. Un Prophete
    2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
    3. Up In The Air
    4. The Brothers Bloom
    5. A Serious Man
    6. Up
    7. The Hurt Locker
    8. Inglourious Basterds
    9. The White Ribbon
    10. In The Loop

  2. I enjoyed looking over your list. I also have Up in my top 10. My favorite film from that year was Sin Nombre. The rest of my list is here: