17 January 2010

Au revoir 2009!

It is already the middle of January and I thought that it was about time that I look back at my favourite films of 2009. Crazy Heart is the only film from 2009 that I have not seen that will be nominated for an Academy Award, as most experts are predicting Jeff Bridges to win Best Actor. My list of the top ten films is extremely personal, of course, and does not include Avatar, Star Trek, or District 9 (which I have not seen). I am disappointed that Woody Allen's Whatever Works was one of his more mediocre efforts, but I have hope for his upcoming effort, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, which stars Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins and Josh Brolin. I feel that it was a very good year for films in general, and I was lucky to see many great films.

These may not be the ten best films of 2009, but they are my favourite:

10. L'Heure d'été (Summer Hours)
Starring Juliette Binoche and produced by the Musée d'Orsay, l'Heure d'été tells the story of three siblings brought back together by the death of their mother. The film is quietly beautiful, and like many of my favourite films the most breathtaking scenes exist in silence. I love French cinema and wish that more films were screened in Toronto. I agree with Roger Ebert, who said that the film "[refuses] to be a tearjerker, always realistic." Juliette Binoche is a talented actress and it is wonderful to watch her in French.

9. The Hurt Locker
The Hurt Locker has won more critics awards this season than any other film, and while it is a brilliant film I cannot say that it is the absolute best. Is its success due to its unique take on the war in Iraq? It is a film that gained a lot of film festival attention but failed to connect with audiences, as it only earned $16 million in theatres. I was originally put off by the shaky cam in the film, and it made me quite nauseous. Seeing it a second time at home made it much easier to watch. The acting is terrific, as is Kathryn Bigelow's direction. One of the more interesting Oscar races this season may be former spouses Bigelow and James Cameron facing off against one another.

8. In the Loop
In the Loop is the funniest film that I saw this past year (even if that was only a few days ago). This political satire features a brilliant cast, but the true star of the film is its screenplay. It is easy to want to compare the film to Jason Reitman's satire Thank You For Smoking, but the two films are quite different. In the Loop is a must-see film this year and to catch all the brilliant jokes it will probably have to be seen multiple times!

7. A Single Man
Tom Ford's directorial debut is an incredibly fascinating film that left me astounded and amazed. A Single Man is a beautiful work of art, with mesmerizing performances by Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Tom Ford has a true gift for filmmaking and his use of colour on screen is absolutely remarkable. It is an art film and it will not please everyone, but I was captivated from beginning to end by Colin Firth and I can only hope that Tom Ford makes a second film.

6. Where the Wild Things Are
Other than maybe Wes Anderson there is probably not another director who could have made Where the Wild Things Are into a more fascinating film. Spike Jonze, whose film Being John Malkovich is disturbingly brilliant, took one of my favourite books from my childhood and made it into a visually amazing film. It was bound to alienate some viewers who would not want to see the book made into a film and its use of life size puppets rather than CGI made the film a lot darker. This is a film for adults who were children when they read the book, and not for children who have no bond with Maurice Sendak's story.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Spreaking of Wes Anderson, who is one of my top three film directors, Fantastic Mr. Fox is an absolute treasure. While I did not grow up reading Roald Dahl's story, I have read and loved James and the Giant Peach since I was young. I have never been a true fan of animated films and have grown tired of Pixar's monopoly (which may be why I hated Up), but Fantastic Mr. Fox is a real accomplishment. The characters are so brilliantly created and voiced. This may be more of a kids film than Where the Wild Things Are, but it is still a Wes Anderson film at heart. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is crazy and neurotic, and there is tons of family drama, but the film is so beautifully conceived and a joy to watch.

4. A Serious Man

It seems unfair that the Coen brothers' newest film has been absent from late-season awards discussion. A Single Man is a great film, much different from the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men and the exceptional Fargo. It is wonderfully funny and expertly crafted, but the Coens success at the Academy Awards two years ago is probably the film's downfall. The main reason to see the film is Michael Stuhlbarg's performance, the real winner of the film.

3. Inglourious Basterds
Admittedly, I am a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino. Two of his films are in my personal top ten. The dialogue he writes is perfect, and one of the greatest experiences of his films is listening to the dialogue. Inglourious Basterds is not his best film (I would rank it fourth), but it is still an exceptional one. I have seen the film multiple times, and each time it gets better. Christoph Waltz is incredible as Colonel Landa, and should deservedly win an Oscar. But the real star of the film, for me at least, is Mélanie Laurent, who is the heart and soul of Inglourious Basterds.

2. Los Abraz
os Rotos (Broken Embraces)
Pedro Almodóvar's Los Abrazos Rotos has been described as his version of Hollywood noir. It is a wonderful film that is beautifully drenched in vibrant colours. It features a superb performance by Lluís Homar, and a very strong performance from one of my favourite actresses, Penélope Cruz. Though she is not as dynamic as in Volver or Vicky Cristina Barcelona, she is beautiful and mesmerizing. As a noir it is very different from one of the most successful noirs in recent years, L.A. Confidential, but its story is compelling and the acting is incredible.

Up In The Air
Are you really that surprised? This is above and beyond my favourite film of 2009. The acting, directing, screenplay are superb.

Other films worth seeing from the past year:
(500) Days of Summer - a surprisingly enjoyable anti-romantic-comedy, with a lovely Zooey Deschanel.
An Education - Carey Mulligan owns the screen in this film about a young girl's sexual enlightenment.
The Brothers Bloom - a fun and enjoyable con film starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz.
Crazy Heart - Jeff Bridges in a career-best performance that showcases his immense talent.
Julia - Tilda Swinton takes the role of a pathetic alcoholic and helps make
Julia a thrilling film.
The Messenger - Woody Harrelson in one of his best performances.
Moon - Sam Rockwell stars in this sci-fi film that is engrossing from beginning to end.
Precious - While Mo'Nique's performance may seem less impressive to me because of her attitude about promoting the film, it is nonetheless a provoking film and worthy of being seen.

Biggest disappointments of the year:
1. Nine - the star-stuffed film is poorly directed and edited, unworthy of the talents of the actors that fill the screen.
2. It's Complicated - it is unfortunate that a film with three great actors can be so incomplete, but Nancy Meyers' film is lacking in so many areas.
3. Julie & Julia - Meryl Streep is perfect as Julia Child and I hope she wins an Oscar, but the film is ruined by the uninspiring story of modern day Julie (Amy Adams).

Let's hope that 2010 has just as many exciting moments to experience on screen!

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