Saturday, January 2, 2010

The year's best films? Nah. But how about a list of the year's most "special"?

John Malkovich in DISGRACE: our choice for,
out of what we've seen, the top film of the year.

Are you growing increasingly tired of those titular "Best" lists -- a misnomer if ever there was one -- with which we are inundated at this particular time of each year? How can you know the best until you have seen them all? Yet not a single critic out there has done that because of the number of films released each year (not to mention all those seen at festivals which are not released). Still, those Best Lists keep appearing, so think of them as shorthand for "my personal favorites out of what I've managed to see." That should take a little wind out of the pomposity that comes from using the "B" word.

TrustMovies has spent the past few days going over his posts -- here and at GreenCine's Guru site -- and remembering other movies that he did not have time to write about and post. In the process he's compiled his own list: movies that brought something different to the table or, even when it proved somewhat the same ol' same ol', was handled in a manner unusual enough to make the movie worth a special commendation. Herewith: the 2009 Special List, compiled in roughly the order in which I saw these films. The list is long. But take heart: The descriptions are short.

Doris Dörrie's CHERRY BLOSSOMS: East meets west and life meets death, as Ms Dörrie takes us places we haven't been via feelings that may also seem oddly new.

Terence Davies' OF TIME AND THE CITY: There's no one quite like Terence, and it was so good to have him back in all his poetry, memory and -- yes -- anger.

Eric Daniel Metzgar's LIFE. SUPPORT. MUSIC. was hands-down the year's best "functional family" movie, an inspirational documentary in so many ways.

Morgan Dews' MUST READ AFTER MY DEATH: As dysfunctional as the above movie is functional, this is one of several fine docs that broke new ground in form and content.

Matteo Garrone's GOMORRAH and Paolo Sorrentino's IL DIVO: Italy, the western world's weirdest "democracy," get a great going over -- from Garrone, as high-level movie journalism, and from Sorrentino, as the year's finest piece of movie art (below).

Astra Taylor's EXAMINED LIFE: This documentarian takes philosophy and makes it fascinating and oh-so-applicable to our lives today.

Emmanuel Mouret's SHALL WE KISS: A French romantic comedy that manages to be both conservative and liberal in the loveliest, most honest of ways. It's funny, too.

Rahmin Bahrani's GOODBYE SOLO: Bahrani makes character studies/situation dramas like nobody else. And he gets better with each film.

Steve McQueen's HUNGER: A movie I admired more than liked, but there is no denying McQueen's unusual film-making abilities.

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL: This doc covers a heavy metal duo in a manner that is as moving and funny as it is real. One-of-a-kind.

Olivier Assayas' SUMMER HOURS: People and possessions -- how they link and what they matter -- handled in a remarkably subtle but accessible way. Assayas' best? (shown below)

Bruce MacDonald's and Tony Burgess' PONTYPOOL: Finally. Two Canadians reinvent the zombie movie with originality, humor, fright and intelligence.

The Fields' ONE-EYED MONSTER: A killer-alien movie about about the making of a porno film, this "original" is a loopy, silly delight.

Mark Tonderai's HUSH
: Maybe the years' best thriller -- tight, bright, believable and scary.

Moreau & Provost's SERAPHINE: One of, perhaps the finest film about an artist I've ever seen.

Matthew Newton's THREE BLIND MICE: From Australia, about the shore leave of three sailors, shown below, this small film is a gem in every way.

Jonathan Glatzer's WHAT GOES UP: An odd mix of humor, satire, sadness and teen-age angst; though flawed, it remains in a class by itself.

Agnes Varda's THE BEACHES OF AGNES: How much longer will this great filmmaker be with us? Not that long, it would seem, so this very personal compilation of her own life and work is a must.

Mike Jacob's AUDIENCE OF ONE: one of the great god-told-me-to documentaries in which subject and filmmaker mesh perfectly to help sink organized religion.

Boaz Yakin's DEATH IN LOVE: A crazy, risky Holocaust-&-sex movie that manages things that few other movies come near (or might want to).

Fernando Eimbcke's LAKE TAHOE: One of the quietest films on my list, but a keeper nonetheless. Very special.

Sarmiento/Harel's DEAD GIRL: This genre-jumper takes misogyny to new heights/depths -- and knows it -- forcing you to think, as well as wince.

Armando Iannucci's IN THE LOOP: Smart and funny political satire about our and England's latest war and how we got there.

Chris Mason Johnson's THE NEW TWENTY
: This ensemble piece, shown below, about friendship and love of all kinds is itself lovely, sharp and deeply-felt.

Psihoyos/O'Barry/Stevens' THE COVE: An immediate classic, this dolphin doc simultaneously informs, activates and entertains.

Issa López's CASI DIVAS: America hasn't seen a mainstream Mexican movie in a long while, and this one is grand, funny, sweet and inclusive fun.

Lucrecia Martel's THE HEADLESS WOMAN: The terrors of being "entitled" in Latin America, with Ms Martel working at a high level.

Robert Siegel's BIG FAN: The obsessive sports fan movie par excellence. Patton Oswalt is brilliant in the lead role.

Claire Denis' 35 SHOTS OF RUM
: Quiet, lovely film about family, caring and leave-taking. Denis near, maybe at, her best.

Cary Fukunaga's SIN NOMBRE
(scroll way down after clicking on the link): At this point (haven't seen 'em all, of course) it's my choice for runner-up for the year's best film: riveting, important, and amazingly well-done. (Shown below)

Ehrlich/Goldsmith's THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS: a model documentary about a man who's turned out to be a model citizen.

Jacobs/Monticelli/Coetzee/Malkovich's DISGRACE
: South Africa under the microscope, this movie takes you places you have not been -- unless you've lived there, and even then you were probably able to avoid coming to terms with what we get here. Of what I've seen, my choice for year's best.

Russell Brown's THE BLUE TOOTH VIRGIN: That rare film about writers and writing that gets close to the heart of the matter. Features a couple of "therapy" scenes that are classic.

Sally Potter's RAGE: Because this one opened via iphone and then went straight-to DVD, few saw it. A shame, for it's a funny, blistering "take" on the way we live, work -- and communicate -- now. And, oh, that cast!

Antonio Campos' AFTERSCHOOL
: A look at how our kids, high-school level, live now and about how we're educating them, this hugely disturbing film-about-a-film is also a surprisingly mature work.

Florent Emilio Siri's INTIMATE ENEMIES: The French in Algeria and the best war film in several years, as thoughtful as it is riveting. (Shown below)

Jay DiPietro's PETER AND VANDY: 500 Days of Summer may have stolen the spotlight for time-scrambled love stories, but this is the superior film: deeper and more real, important and original -- and not nearly as glib.

Lance Hammer's BALLAST: This one divides critics, it seems, but I liked it a lot. A very real, un-pushed, deep look at an extended black family slowly working its way back to functionality.

The Cohen's A SERIOUS MAN: One of, maybe the brothers' best: quirky, funny and very serious.

Sebastián Silva's THE MAID
: An amazing work -- character study, social study, and class study and how these come together to impact each other. Funny, moving and real. Another runner-up for best film.

Margot Benacerraf's ARAYA: A half-century old and just now getting a theatrical release, this black-and-white wonder about salt harvesting on the coast of Venezuela is the year's most gorgeous movie.

Karin Albou's THE WEDDING SONG: Two young girls -- one Jewish, one Arab -- in WWII North Africa. I guarantee you'll not have seen a movie quite like this one. (Shown below.)

Anthony Fabian's SKIN: A memorable and true tale about the meaning of color in South Africa. If the film-making does not come up to the level of its subject, it's still good enough to render the movie unforgettable.

Yoav Shamir's DEFAMATION: Intelligent, controversial documentary about Anti-Semitism that forces you to think -- and maybe even disagree with yourself.

Sebastian Gutierrez's WOMEN IN TROUBLE
: For my money, the year's giddiest, goofiest guilty pleasure. Such fun!

Aleksandr Sokurov's THE SUN: Chances are a Sokurov film will always be among the films on my list, and this one -- so unusual and quiet and special -- is a shoo-in.

: Miller's best yet, and also the best ensemble acting we saw all year.

Aubier/Patar's A TOWN CALLED PANIC: The most inventive animation of the year (shown above), and yes, we did see UP (loved it, but the last hour-and-a-quarter simply couldn't live up to those first brilliant few minutes; not unlike last years' Wall-E and its first-half-vs-last-half problem).

Corneliu Porumboiu's POLICE, ADJECTIVE: Low-key in the extreme but unlike anything else on this subject you're likely to have seen.

Megumi Sasaki's HERB & DOROTHY: the odd couple of art in a movie that does them -- and the viewer -- justice.

Ang Lee's TAKING WOODSTOCK: The sweetest, most encompassing trip back to the 60s in quite some time.

James DeMonaco's STATEN ISLAND (shown above): Lyricism permeates this strange, lovely and cruel tale of mobsters and strivers in New York's outer borough. Beautifully conceived and acted.

Michael Haneke's THE WHITE RIBBON: Germany pre-WWI. It makes up in craftsmanship and beauty of conception and performance what it lacks in originality.

Having only recently (12/30/09) seen Kathryn Bigelow's THE HURT LOCKER, I must now add it to my special list.  Because there have already been many fine narratives and documentaries about our mid-east war(s), I can't help seeing this film as a kind of  touchstone for them all: the one that can act as their surrrogate.  In winning all the awards that it already has (not to mention what may come), the film becomes a kind of "thank you" to all the moviemakers -- DePalma to Broomfield to Burger and more -- who spent their time and effort to help us see what was happening from different perspectives. What Ms Bigelow has done is to make the war into an excellent action film -- leaving out any political agenda, which, at this point, is fine by me, as only infants or the infantile can not have made their minds made up about the origins and justness of these ongoing disasters.  The director succeeds in creating characters and events that hold us rapt and, by the by, make us think. If the section in which one of three comrades goes missing (and our hero just seems to "know" what happened to him) beggars belief, most of the movie does not. The Hurt Locker is strong, smart, brawny filmmaking.

Just finally saw Duncan Jones' MOON last night (1/12/10) and so must now add it, too, to my "special list."  How long has it been since we've had a really intelligent sci-fi film, one that stacks up favorably against 2001 and Blade Runner -- but on a minuscule-by-comparison budget?  Too long.  Moon addresses that need, being a crackerjack story, as well as a smart, sad critique of Capitalism, among other subjects such as memory, love and help.  At last Sam Rockwell (below) should get some deserved and overdue recognition for his fine work here.

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