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.

22 Responses to “The LiC 2009 Top 10”

  1. Top ten? Me thinks, that’s too few for such a strong year.

    I like your list Craig, only seen four of those listed within it but all of them make my own current top twenty-one. The rankings will no doubt fluctuate over time and alter as I encounter the many 2009 movies that still await me. The hardest to rank was Avatar, on certain criteria it would be tops but on balance I’m more deeply and resonantly affected by less populist fare.

    Un Prophete
    Summer Hours
    Bright Star
    The White Ribbon
    35 Shots of Rum
    Flame and Citron
    Broken Embraces
    Fish Tank
    The Watchmen
    Tokyo Sonata
    Lorna’s Silence
    The Hurt Locker
    Inglourious Basterds

    Older films I saw for the first time in 2009 and thought wonderful:

    The Flight of the Red Balloon (Binoche version)
    Inland Empire
    Memories of Murder
    A Christmas Tale

  2. Well, it’s both an ecclectic and distinguished lot, and just about every type of film is represented. But as I have been following your blogsite all year, I’ve seen first hand the passions that have swirled around films like SUMMER HOURS, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, TOKYO SONATA and FANTASTIC MR. FOX among others. It was a genuine affinity, and it strongly resonated, even with the late-year surge of films, which never supplanted some of those early gems. (and rightfully so)

    It’s true, I’m no fan of THE LIMITS OF CONTROL (I think Jarmusch is overrrated for the most part) nor of THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, but both have come up numerous times on ten-best lists. I applaud the discipline you excercised in sticking with ten choices, as I had to go with twelve myself. I do share your love for SUMMER HOURS, FLAME AND CITRON, TOKYO SONATA, A SERIOUS MAN and EVERLASTING MOMENTS, and four of those made my own list.

    But you have been the lamplighter for the Assayas film all year, and my hats off to you. It’s a lovely Number 1 choice.

    Our friend from New Zealand has also enjoyed a banner and disciplined year at the movies, and his list is magnificent, one I can both appreciate and show much aggreement with.

    Sartre, I had to expand my own list to 12, and here is what I posted at my own site today:

    1 Bright Star
    2 Avatar
    3 35 Shots of Rum
    4 Up
    5 A Single Man
    6 Police, Adjective
    7 Everlasting Moments
    8 A Serious Man
    9 Summer Hours
    10 Tokyo Sonata
    Of Time and the City -three way tie-

    I am happy that I have been in agreement with you and Craig on many vital artistic films, despite the well-publicized disagreements! LOL.

    Terrific work here!

  3. My feeling is that a Top 10 is a Top 10. There were certainly more than 10 good movies this year – I found myself drawing from a pool of about 30, but I honor the tradition. 10 is 10. No ties, no runners up. Once you start fudging the parameters, it’s chaos. Dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

    Have said that, here’s a further list of 35, any one of which could’ve slid into one of the bottom spots depending on my mood.

    Two Lovers
    Red Cliff
    35 Shots of Rum
    Broken Embraces
    Where the Wild Things Are
    A Single Man
    The Hurt Locker
    Me and Orson Welles
    Goodbye Solo
    In the Loop
    Lorna’s Silence
    You, the Living
    The Damned United
    The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
    No Impact Man
    District 9
    Land of the Lost
    Bright Star
    Drag Me to Hell
    The Informant!
    The Maid
    The Road
    Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
    Food, Inc.
    Girl from Monaco
    Five Minutes of Heaven
    It Might Get Loud
    Medicine for Melancholy

  4. Sam we’ve disagreed pretty strongly this year about some of our biggest passions, but it’s nice to see where our lists overlap.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I pretty much get why Limits of Control is so reviled, and I have to admit had it been otherwise, I might not have been so tempted to squeeze it into the bottom slot. It was a defensive move in part, but I really did find it to be one of the more captivating experiences at the movies. I believe David Edelstein said it was more like being held captive and he’s not alone!

  5. Wow, your and Sam’s best of lists certainly underscore how many more well-regarded 2009 films there are ahead of me. My most anticipated are A Single Man, A Serious Man, Mr Fox, Wild Things, The Maid, Bad Lieutenant, The Road, Orson Welles, Red Cliff (which I own on blu ray but have yet struggled to convince the wife we should give it a spin), Two Lovers, Everlasting Moments, and Police, Adjective.

    I’m not sure I can ever bring myself to watch Land of the Lost due to the weight of prejudice I carry against the genre and I loathed one of Terence Davies’ earlier films and that one-trial aversion experience leaves me phobic about the prospect of ever viewing another of his films.

  6. I don’t want to cast you or LotL in a bad light, but I can see how it might not be your cup of tea, but then I wouldn’t have thought it was mine either.

    We’re on the same page with Davies. Much as Sam despised Inglourious Basterds, Time and the City was one of my least favorite movies of 2009.

  7. I’m not a fan of Jarmusch, but every now and then he makes a film I really dig (Stranger than Paradise and Dead Man). The Limits of Control is not one of them. It’s not actively repugnant–it’s beautiful to look at and De Bankole exudes cool–but it felt like a waste of time. Nothing engaging or particularly interesting. A blank slate of a film. I’m also iffy on Inglourious Basterds and Girlfriend Experience.

    All that said, your top two is hard to beat. Both are films that spoke to me on an emotional and philosophical level this year and I’m glad to see I’m not alone.

    There’s still a few ’09 films I’m looking forward to, but for now, this is how my list shakes out.

    1. A Serious Man
    2. Hunger
    3. Summer Hours
    4. Silent Light
    5. In the Loop
    6. Sugar
    7. The Hurt Locker
    8. Thirst
    9. Up in the Air
    10. District 9 or The Messenger or Three Monkeys (undecided)

  8. Damn, I forgot Three Monkeys. It makes my long top 2009 films list too.

    I want to see Hunger but the prospect of a harrowing experience, no matter how ultimately rewarding and well crafted, keeps me postponing.

  9. I wouldn’t describe Hunger as harrowing, sartre. It’s not an uplifting film in the broadest sense of the word, but it’s an incredibly humane one. So much more so than, say, Inglourious Basterds. There is just as much violence and graphic material, but its characters are always human beings. There’s one scene in particular between Sands and a visiting priest that is awe-inspiring in how closely it comes to tapping into the human condition, in understanding the value and purpose of life.

  10. That’s good to hear W.J. I’ll take an opportunity to check it out soon.

  11. “Flame & Citron” was interesting – I mostly liked it – but while we got a sense of who these guys were, we never got an idea of where they fit in the scope of the resistance. The film makes them appear as pawns and occasionally unqualified and superfluous in the grand scheme of things, yet in the end, we’re told that they are/were renowned figures, almost mythical. I never FELT that while watching it.

    Thure Lindhart, though: one underrated performance.

  12. The problem for me this year is that I can’t really enjoy other peoples’ Top 10 lists — much less compile my own — because I suspect many of the cited films are either yet-to-be-available foreign fare or films that quickly opened and closed before I found time to see them.

    To attempt my own list at this point would leave me to choose, in large part, from the easy-to-catch, long-running releases and films that opened since November. So, in the meantime, I’m dealing with the haunting realization that Up in the Air was quite enjoyable to me if not an unmitigated cinematic thrill.

  13. “The film makes them appear as pawns and occasionally unqualified and superfluous in the grand scheme of things, yet in the end, we’re told that they are/were renowned figures, almost mythical. I never FELT that while watching it. ”

    For me Chase, that was an expression of a major theme of the film. The difference between the morally and politically complex reality of what they did and were part of and how such figures and the resistance as a whole were mythologized, sanitized, and morally simplified in an official and popular cultural depiction that re-imaged them and the politics of the resistance in only heroic patriotic terms. They were pawns then, and posthumous pawns too.

  14. WJ, I honestly get where you’re coming from in Limits of Control. In fact, I have a harder time explaining why I liked it than understanding why people don’t….if that makes any sense.

    Having said that, I feel about Silent Light almost exactly the way you feel about Limits of Control.

    As for Hunger, that scene you mention between Sands and the priest is where the movie suddenly clicked for me.

    Chase, that’s a fair point about F&C, though for me the characters were meant as stand ins for a bigger idea…the kind of people who devoutly believe they’re doing the right thing and convince themselves that their bad actions are good in context, but who ultimately realize the futility of that.

    I see now Sartre expressed a similar thought.

    And yes. Lindhart was fantastic, but I’d also include Mikkelsen.

    Pierre, rather than rushing to make your own Top 10, use others as an opportunity to discover some things you might have missed. Lots of these are available on DVD or will be soon. I don’ t know if you’re a Netflix customer for example but Summer Hours is available for streaming on your computer.

  15. I’m kind of with Pierre on this one, though I did have the chance to see all of your top ten (I only saw 6). I’ll be late again with my list probably the last week in January. Sadly I don’t have a clear cut #1 right now.

    I like that you stayed strong behind Summer Hours all year, too. It didn’t hit me much on first viewing but I know there is a lot more there and I’d like to see it again. I think part of the problem was that I was watching it On Demand and my attention wasn’t where it could have been in the theater. Coincidentally, I think the same thing happened with A Christmas Tale last year. Maybe something about these French movies makes them best experienced in a theater.

  16. “Maybe something about these French movies makes them best experienced in a theater.”

    Conversely I have a soft spot for all things French (bread, toast, movies, women, kissing, movies…) so it’s possible I’m being soft on both Summer Hours and A Christmas Tale…the latter I know didn’t find much love in these parts.

  17. Nice rundown of French things. I’d add fries and silk pie. And more movies, especially from last year.

  18. Jeez, how could I forget fries and pie??

  19. Oddly the only French movies Craig is a bit cooler on are the ones from Bresson.

  20. How unpatriotic of you all – it’s Freedom Fries!

  21. What about the Freedom kissing, sartre?

  22. Free Dumb

    Sam, Bresson is so austere, he might as well be German!

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