Ten bests, five worsts, part II

Two more distinguished colleagues weigh in on the year's best and worst:


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. (

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 the year.

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 what?

7. "Up" (Pete Doctor, US) Pixar's most inspired movie, and the saddest nine-figure Hollywood behemoth ever.

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)


 Top ten:

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 frame. 


 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 pointless remake.

5.Sorority Row -  serial bore, even with the pillow fight.

More to come!

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