It's been an exceptionally Godardian year, even if my
favorite release of the year is a 40-year-old JLG romance requiem not enough
critics saw, and which absolutely no one but me considered a viable 2009
list-maker in any case. I walk away stuffed and satisfied (even though I did
not see Haneke's "The White Ribbon" in time), thanks largely in part
to a handful of obsessive global filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino, and the persistent
idea that commercial animation can be interesting, metaphorically loaded and
uniquely textured, and not just a cash-hungry showbiz monstrosity. And, a toast
to Jean-Luc, without whom we wouldn't be having quite this conversation.
1. "Made in U.S.A." (Jean-Luc Godard,
France, 1966) Godard's "Waste Land,"
a restless, allusive, enigmatic jaunt about modern emptiness that is also, not
incidentally, an expression of real if philosophical grief for the
Godard-Karina symbiosis. It is, of course, one of the 15 essential rockets
Godard launched that made the ‘60s his and his alone, and discovering it this
year in the U.S.A., where it was finally released, was either a privilege for
you or you don't care about movies. Not counting it as a 2009 release, by the
way, means allowing the vagaries of distribution, money, lawyering and greed
dictate your idea of cinemania for you.
2. "The Headless Woman" (Lucretia Martel, Argentina) Ultra-realism framed like a bad dream of
amnesia and regret. Off-screen space becomes a terrifying second movie you can
almost see, but fear.
3. "Inglourious Basterds" (Quentin Tarantino, US)
My sigh-heavy case made for this beloved screamer, here. (http://www.ifc.com/news/2009/12/the-anti-blockbuster.php)
4. "I'm Gonna Explode" (Geraldo Naranjo, Mexico) Goosebumps.
A modern, real-teen remake, kinda, of Pierrot le Fou, done with panache,
precise wit, a glorious lack of pretension, and a hot love for ballistic youth
so genuine it could singe your eyebrows.
5. "Hunger" (Steve McQueen, Ireland) A
subject potentially vulnerable to cheap piety gets a double-barrel load of
filmmaking wisdom - you never know how the film's physical ordeals are going to
come at you, as elliptical shrapnel or as blockbuster bombs. The best debut of
6. "The Baader Meinhof Complex" (Uli Edel, Germany)
White-man terrorism and recent Euro-history, as sexy, runaway-train, rock n'
roll action film. How could anyone resist this movie, or neglect the head-shaking
case it makes for fightin' the power? Am I a sucker for insurrectionism, or
7. "Up" (Pete Doctor, US)
Pixar's most inspired movie, and the saddest nine-figure Hollywood
8. "Night and Day" (Hong Sang-soo, Korea)
Like a Rohmer with a Godard in his pants, Hong returns again to his New Wavey
triangulated-romance template, but now in Paris, and with his usual tank full
of potentially combustible lies, narcissism and lonesomeness.
9. "You, the Living" (Roy Andersson, Sweden) Andersson's achingly distanced style goes
sad-funny instead of apocalyptic, and there wasn't a more hypnotizing use of
long takes anywhere else this year.
10. "Three Monkeys" (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey).
Noir in structure but Ceylanian in its secrets and high-pressure silence.
Runners-up, in order: "Paradise" (Michael
Almereyda, US), "Bronson" (Nicolas Winding Refn, UK), "The
Sun" (Alexander Sokurov, Russia), "(500) Days of Summer" (Marc
Webb, US), "Cargo 200" (Alexei Balabanov, Russia), "Up in the
Air" (Jason Reitman, US), "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (Wes Anderson,
US), "Thirst" (Park Chan-wook, Korea), "Still Walking"
(Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan), "Julia" (Erick Zonca, US), "Cloudy
with a Chance of Meatballs" (Phil Lord/Chris Miller, US), "District
9" (Neill Blomkamp, New Zealand/South Africa), "Anvil! The Story of
Anvil" (Sacha Gervasi, US), "24 City" (Jia Zhangke, China)
10. Watchmen -Star Trek and District 9 could have been here, but Watchmen has a dark visual
signature akin to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.
9. Inglourious Basterds - Tarantino cooks up an
indulgent WWII western and it sticks.
8. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans -- not a sequel
to Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant so much as a re-envisioning that is whacky and
surprising in its own right.
7. Summer Hours - a somber, profound
contemplation about a family going in different directions.
6. Anvil! The Story of Anvil -docu about
heavy metal hanger ons has teeth and wit.
5. Of All the Things - 70's
songwriter, Dennis Lambert's resurrection tour of the Philippines is
bittersweet and moving.
4. Broken Embraces - Pedro Almodóvar
turns his camera onto the psyche of the filmmaker.
3. La Danse -
Frederick Wiseman's portrait of the Paris Opera Ballet engrosses with every
2. Up In the Air - Jason
Reitman skewers those who do the firing for a living, but it's Clooney's cast
mates, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick that make it take off.
1. Hurt Locker - the best film about the Iraq War, by
far. Great performances and masterfully directed.
The Bottom 5
1.I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell - Tucker Max, your 15
minutes of shame are up.
2.Transformers 2 -
brass balls on a ‘bot? The series has jumped the shark.
3.Year One -
is there an expiration date on Jack Black?
4.Friday the 13th -a tiring and
5.Sorority Row -
serial bore, even with the pillow fight.
More to come!