Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Vic's Top Ten Films of 2009

For me, 2009 was one of the worst years for films in a long time (since the 90’s), with very few films that will break into my top 100. Many films disappointed me this year, particularly the big sci-fi films (Star Trek, District 9, Avatar), all of which I enjoyed but should have been much better (i.e. had much less action/violence and more dialogue). I also had too high expectations (I know - always a mistake) for the latest Pixar film, so Up also disappointed (though it was also very enjoyable).

It was, however, an outstanding year for war films (three in my top seven), which ranks low among my favourite genres. Honourable mention this year goes to a great documentary that was too disturbing and different to get into my top ten, but is nonetheless a very well-made expose with a very important message: The Cove. I should also mention that I was unable to see Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, which, from all accounts, would have made my top ten.

And now I’ll count down my top ten films of 2009:

10. Up in the Air - I’m a George Clooney fan, so I knew I was going to enjoy this intelligent quiet drama from Jason Reitman, who gave us Juno a couple of years ago. Up in the Air is about a man who lives in the air, flying all over the U.S. to fire people as he works toward being one of only a few people to get ten million miles with American Airlines. This film is about the meaning of life and work in the 21st century. It’s a great discussion film, both sad and hopeful at the same time, and it’s the kind of film that prevents complete despair with all things Hollywood.

9. Moon - The only sci-fi film of the year which did not disappoint, Moon is another quiet intelligent film, this time a low-budget indie from a rookie director (Duncan Jones) with a fascinating premise and lots of suspense. Virtually a one-man show, Sam Rockwell acquits himself well. This is what sci-fi is all about.

8. Nine - What can I say? I have a soft spot for musicals. For me, musicals are the most entertaining thing on the planet (I know, there goes my credibility) and I thoroughly enjoyed this one from Rob Marshall (who gave us Chicago). If you are not a Fellini fan and have never seen Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), then this film might seem very weird. But as I am a Fellini fan, and was not worried about whether this film captured the magic of 8 1/2 (after all, this is a musical based on a play loosely based on 8 1/2), I very much appreciated the Fellini style, the Italian feel and location, and the great acting (some of my favourite female actors starred and sang in this film, including Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman and my choice for the best female actor of the decade, Marion Cotillard, who was the best actor in this film, as she was in this year’s Public Enemies).

7. Inglourious Basterds - Another quirky film from Quentin Tarantino, this is basically a foreign language war film (one of two WWII films in my top seven). It’s worth watching just for the magnificent performance by Christoph Waltz (who deserves an Oscar along with his Golden Globe). Basterds has great dialogue, great cinematography, a great score and one memorable scene after another. Of course, it’s a Tarantino film, so not for everyone (violence warning).

6. 500 Days of Summer - Sorry, Walter, while I mostly agree with your negative comments about the message and characters in this film, I did not go in with high expectations and thoroughly enjoyed this quirky romantic comedy (i.e. I was able to forgive most of its flaws because it was a romantic comedy that actually held my attention throughout instead of making me gag throughout, like the most popular and critically acclaimed comedy of the year, that hugely overrated mess called The Hangover).

5. Anything for Her - This French suspenser caught me off guard. It’s a very flawed film but the drama behind the suspense played just the right notes for me, making me feel complete sympathy for the irrational protagonist. And the unusual balance of bizarre coincidences confounded me in a good way.

4. Looking for Eric - It’s so sad that this film will never be seen in North America. This is a gentle amusing film about one man’s struggle with depression and how British football helped him. It’s both sad and funny, dark and light, and a beautifully-acted intelligent film from Ken Loach, one of the UK’s best filmmakers.

3. The Hurt Locker - The WOW film of the year for me, Kathryn Bigelow’s documentary-style film about what’s happening in Iraq defies any labelling. It’s a work of pure cinematic art that humanizes all sides of the occupation. Great stuff (I hope it wins the Academy Award for Best Picture instead of Avatar, which is not in the same league)!

2. Katyn - This WWII epic from Polish directing giant Andrzej Wajda (now 83) is what good old-fashioned filmmaking is all about (and it’s so rarely seen these days). Katyn tells (exposes) the true story of the massacre of Polish officers in WWII with just the right amount of sentimentality (which is to say: very little) and perfect filmmaking in every department.

1. An Education - Another example of perfect old-fashioned filmmaking, An Education took me completely by surprise (coming-of-age stories usually rank even lower than war films, though the 60‘s London setting helped a lot). In particular, the performance by Carey Mulligan blew me away (easily the best performance of the year for me and I hope she gets an Oscar for it) and made me care in a way that very few romances have done in decades. Nick Hornby’s screenplay is brilliant and gives us all much to think about. Lone Scherfig’s direction is flawless, as is the acting, cinematography and score. This is what going to the movies used to be about, but so rarely is anymore. And it would be great, and deserving, if An Education won the Oscar for Best Picture, but it ain’t gonna happen.


  1. I would just like to note, with some satisfaction, that just hours after I identified An Education as my favourite film of 2009, the BAFTA awards gave it more nominations than any other film. Maybe it has a chance at the Oscars after all.

  2. First of all - I'd have to agree: this year was a dud for movies. I was tempted to keep my top ten list shorter than ten as a protest.

    Second - I've only seen two movies in your list. This is not entirely because of a lack of opportunity. I'd have to say that I had pretty much decided not to bother with your #1-3 and 7-9. Looking for Eric and Anything for Her I would like to watch sometime. I've even reluctantly decided I'd probably watch Inglourious Basterds if a perfect opportunity fell into my lap. As far as An Education goes - can you convince me that this picture doesn't somehow promote or at least pretend it's not somehow kind of sick for this old guy to date this sixteen year old. I just can't stomach the thought.

  3. All I can say is that it's based on true story. It was difficult to watch at times for exactly the reason you describe, but the great acting made it work (and I think it's SUPPOSED to make you feel uncomfortable).

  4. Perhaps unfortunately for me, I have seen none of the movies on your top 10 list. I do not have a soft spot for most musicals, generally don't get excited about Quentin Tarantino films, and on principle dislike coming of age films (I don't think I'll be able to get past the age differences in An Education). However, I do WANT to eventually see Moon and The Hurt Locker. Maybe even Looking for Eric, but mainly because your review sounds intriguing. I had never heard of Moon until the review here, which encouraged me to see the preview. It is on my list of 'see sometime soon' movies. Thanks for the reviews!