Monday, February 8, 2010

Blake: Top Ten Movies of 2009

Blake: Top Ten Movies of 2009
This year was a difficult one for me in film. I felt let down by Hollywood, whose offerings were underwhelming, and pushed back release dates, and last minute changes were more distracting than the films themselves. However, this forced moviegoers to look harder, and in places we're not used to, which actually provided some great film experiences, so I can't find myself complaining too much. Here are my picks for the Top Ten Movies of 2009.

A Single Man

A Single Man weaves its story with a slow, but confident pace. The emphasis is not simply on a plot arc, but is an examination of a tortured man. Using the word ‘tortured’ brings to mind cliches and worn out devices. I promise, this is not the case here. First time director Tom Ford shows a remarkable amount of promise. His well placed instincts are served best by his cast, of whom he gets the most. One of the film’s most remarkable scenes plays out between George and his friend Charly (Julianne Moore). A quiet dinner, between two lonely souls who’ve had too much to drink, allows a brutal honesty to rage before quickly hiding itself again behind tact and manner. It’s a prime example of all the emotions running just below the surface through the length of the movie, just dying to be set free.

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The Hurt Locker

Katheryn Bigelow’s direction style gives The Hurt Locker the feel of a documentary. To some, this will feel inflammatory, and invasive. The point of the film should be clear, some will say. But Bigelow’s film has managed to transcend any sort of classifiable definition. If it feels real to life, it seems to have served its purpose. At the same time, it doesn’t leave the viewer feeling like he was just preached to for two hours, they’ve experienced something real, and authentic, and, perhaps, something a little uncomfortable. At the same time, the entertainment factor never falls by the wayside. It earns its R rating, but isn’t exploitative.

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The White Ribbon

While it's difficult for many to find worth in Michael Haneke's grim storytelling style, the beauty of this masterpiece can not be skipped. The cinematography is poetry on screen. This is a sort of character study on a mass scale that turns this type of genre on its head. Haneke's ability to force his audience into a little introspection is far beyond any director working today, and The White Ribbon is his masterpiece.

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Hunger is stylistically perfect. If the first draft of the script looks anything like the shooting copy, it must have seemed extremely risky. The first half of the film is nearly wordless, with any spoken dialogue basically playing the role of white, or background noise. It then takes an extreme change in pace as it focuses on a conversation between Sands (Michael Fassbender) and his priest (Liam Cunningham). This conversation takes up about twenty four minutes, and features a jaw-dropping seventeen and a half minute single shot of non-stop dialogue. I shudder to think of the number of takes that took. After this dialogue-intensive scene, the style of the film reverts to action-based. All the while, the pacing never skips a beat.

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An Education

Cautionary tales warning young women against smoothing talking, handsome men that seem too good to be true are a dime a dozen in literature, film, and almost all other mediums. Lone Scherfig took this cliche and turned it into a stellar film, that seems neither familiar, or worn out. Her remarkable cast helped, no doubt. Especially that by new-comer Carey Mulligan. But it's Scherfig's confident hand that guides this film into one of the most fascinating and entertaining films of the year.

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Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino really out did himself with Inglourious Basterds. His characters were most certainly some of the most colorful to come out of 2009. His ability to rewrite history with a story so spellbinding, without leaving his audience feeling like they were cheated by a script that took the easy way out, is nothing short of miraculous. Not to mention he had the balls to cast someone like Michael Meyers, and the talent to make it all work. This is the latest in his overwhelming oeuvre that proves why he's still kind of cinema.

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Where the Wild Things Are

The feel of the film is so perfectly and beautifully lachrymose, it’s impossible not to get sucked into Max’s imagination. The script (which Dave Eggers had a monumental task of taking the short children’s story to a feature-length film) wasn’t pretentious or obtrusive, it was charmingly hilarious and, when it needed to be, poignant and touching. Records is a fantastic actor. I can’t imagine any other child actor working today that could have outdone him in this performance. While all the wild things were great, Lauren Ambrose really managed to steal the show with her voice acting.

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The Road

Author Cormac McCarthy claims that you can't be a serious writer without addressing death. This was his intention with The Road, and he succeeded in a blindingly mesmerizing way that John Hillcoat managed to translate onto the big screen. Viggo Mortensen, as the nameless father uses all of his considerable skill to bring this muted post-apocalyptic tale to life, and engage audiences with a solemn gravitas that only appears in cinema every few years.

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Each of the three short films that make up this piece provides something for the viewer. Some are easier to swallow than the others. Strangely enough, this doesn’t seem to shed any positive light on the city of Tokyo itself. It’s more veiled criticism than it is anything else. If nothing else (and I think it’s much more than this), Tokyo! is thought-provoking and an interesting cinematic experience.

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Two Lovers

The film is seriously stylish. Camera angles, fantastic shooting locales, perfectly paired background music give the story a feel that’s just right. The dialogue isn’t particularly witty, but leaves plenty of room for realism that will haunt you in every relationship you have now, or ever. Gwyneth Paltrow finally makes a good career move, moving away from those quirky girl roles she’s been stuck in like Running With Scissors. Vinessa Shaw plays a minor role, but steals all the attention in the screen time she’s given. It’s nice to see a pleasantly-aged Isabella Rossellini in a role that doesn’t involved her masturbating in front of Dennis Hopper. The star of the show, however, is Joaquin, whose performance is pitch perfect in every aspect.

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Honorable mentions:

The Red Riding Trilogy (Red Riding: 1974, dir. by Julian Jarrold; Red Riding: 1980, dir. by James Marsh; Red Riding: 1983, dir. by Anand Tucker)

The Clone Returns Home (Kurôn wa kokyô wo mezasu), (Directed by Kanji Nakajima)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (Directed by Wes Anderson)

Paranormal Activity (Directed by Oren Peli)

Moon (Directed by Duncan Jones)

(500) Days of Summer (Directed by Marc Webb)

The Hangover (Directed by Todd Phillips)

Watchmen (Directed by Zack Snyder)

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