Friday, January 1, 2010

Chris' Top 10 for 2009

These aren't all 2009 theatrical releases, but all made their DVD debuts in 2009.

01. Up. Pixar has been going from strength to strength of late, though if the first released clip of this summer's Toy Story 3 is any indication, the trend is about to be broken. So even though I would be happy with any of my top three as the #1 movie on my list, I'm giving the honour to Up, as the peak of a golden era of "family" movie-making. Most of the time, when we say that a kids' movie can be enjoyed on another level by adults, we usually mean there are references to bad 70s and 80s TV. Up is genuinely a success on two levels: a colourful, hilarious, fanciful adventure; and also as a moving meditation on mourning lost love ones. This summer, the most mature movie going was the one being marketed to tykes.

02. Inglourious Basterds. I'm really going to have to stop expecting each new Tarantino film will be the one that finally disappoints: it hasn't happened yet, and my suspicion that Basterds is his best yet hasn't wavered one bit. It's not at all the film the Weinsteins marketed it as - Pitt and his Nazi killers figure in less than one third of the running time, with the peerless performances by Melanie Laurent and (especially) Christoph Waltz the latest, maybe greatest examples of QT's casting skills.

03. A Christmas Tale. The world surely doesn't need anymore dysfunctional-family-celebrate-the-holidays movies, but Arnaud Desplechin's so rich in comic observations, fascinating characters, and unpredictable turns that it doesn't even feel like an entry in a tired sub-genre. Casting the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, and Emmanuelle Devos doesn't hurt either.

04. Summer Hours. Olivier Assayas' lovely meditation on how time changes the value we place on objects and heirloom, both material and emotional. Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier are all fine as the siblings who must make the big decisions upon a death in the family. Lovely to see Franju muse Edith Scob again, as their mother.

05. Let the Right One In. When I recommend this to customers, 50% shut off as soon as I say "Swedish vampire movie". Too bad; they're missing on of the year's finest arthouse delights, a sweet tale of early adolescent alienation that pays off as satisfyingly as any Hollywood crowd pleaser.

06. Lorna's Silence. Belgium's Dardenne brothers are so consistent in their turning out of moving, socially conscious yet utterly undidactic dramas, that I worry I'm starting to take them for granted. Lorna is one of their best.

07. The Headless Woman. Lucrecia Martel's drama opens with an absolutely riveting sequence as fate causes two socially disparate people to literally collide - or does it? The uncertainty - and fleeting pangs of conscience - an upper-class Argentinian wife feels when she thinks she may have struck and killed an aboriginal boy with her car are presented to us from her point-of-view. The effect is unsettling, occasionally disorienting, but always mesmerizing.

08. Coraline. Another top-notch effort missed by many who ignore kids' movies (to be fair, 99% of the time they're absolutely right to). Amidst the deluge of crappy-looking CGI films, the patient, meticulous stop-motion work of Henry Selick is like a cool drink of water in the middle of the desert.

09. The Chaser. Tense, merciless Korean thriller about a onetime cop turned pimp who spends a long night trying to track down one of his girls, not suspecting she's in the clutches of a notorious serial killer. Gruesome, to be sure, and but the film's ultimate power is entirely emotional - the pain we feel in the film's most unpleasant scene is despair rather than disgust. Not for everyone, folks.

10. Elderly French new wave auteur 2 pack: The Story of Marie and Julien / The Romance of Astrea and Celadon. Not the greatest recent work of either Jacques Rivette (Marie) or Eric Rohmer (Astrea), but their insightful, completely distinctive voices are a welcome tonic amidst so many flashy flashes-in-the-pan.

11. Bonus title that would be #1 if it were actually a new film rather than a recut, slightly inferior edition of an old favourite: Ashes of Time Redux

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