And so it’s come to this.
I’m doing an unplugged version of my Top 10 this year with no apologies and no elaborate justifications. All I will say is that for me 2009 was a pretty great year. The big Hollywood studios served up more than the usual number of disappointments (only one major made my top 10 list this year), but there was plenty to get excited about in independent, semi-independent and foreign cinema.
10. The Limits of Control. Dismissed as boring and pretentious by the lazy cinerati, Jim Jarmusch’s film is instead a beautiful and hypnotic mystery experiment. The most criminally underrated film of the year will one day be remembered as one of the director’s finest. Mark it down.
9. Tetro. Still pushing himself in his 70th year, Francis Ford Coppola delivers a lovely, meditative, fugue-like ode to family and brotherhood. Dreams fuse with reality, the present merges with the past and the lines between characters blur. By the end, the narrative has folded in on itself into a Möbius strip-like puzzle that is simultaneously universal and personal.
8. Everlasting Moments. The best thing about Jan Troell’s lyrical character drama is how it gets inside the souls of the people on screen and reveals them to be fully human. Whether they’re good people or bad, they’re still people.
7. Flame & Citron. Plunging you into a quiet war at home, director Ole Christian Madsen reminds us of the inevitably excoriating moral effects of any conflict no matter how just the cause. What good are notions of right and wrong when there is death and destruction on all sides?
6. Tokyo Sonata. Kiyoshi Kurosawa peels back a conservative society’s layers of repression to expose the lurking anarchy beneath and asks whether one family is strong enough to withstand the consequences of the uncontained maelstrom.
5. The Girlfriend Experience. Steven Soderbergh turns a cold eye on the real cost of a modern world where everything is business, nothing is personal and you are what you sell.
4. The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Wes Anderson’s ostensible kids’ flick is one of his most genuine and emotionally satisfying forays into the ins and outs of father and son relationships. Funny, gentle-hearted and pleasingly rendered in a distinctly lo-fi stop-motion animated style, its an antidote to the usual shrill and jokey kids’ fare.
3. Inglourious Basterds. By making the good guys a bunch of blood-thirsty louts and making the bad guys eloquent and honorable gentlemen, Quentin Tarantino turns the appealing notion of revenge on its head. A long, slow-burning, morally ambiguous fuse punctuated by spasms of extreme violence, Inglorious Basterds also takes my prize for the most purely entertaining movie of the year.
2. A Serious Man. If God really does have a plan for everyone and everything, Larry Gopnick would like to know what the hell He is thinking. Joel and Ethan Coen’s dark and bitterly funny return to their own roots at first appears to take solace in the traditions of organized religion before turning on them with a cold sneer in the final frames. If God does have all the answers, you’re probably not going to like what they are.
1. Summer Hours. A note of grace in an increasingly fractured world, Olivier Assayas’ film is a sublime rumination on loss, on family, on memory and on the meaning of the things we leave behind. It’s also easily my favorite movie of 2009.
Filed under: Top 10 Lists