Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Best Films Of 2009

2009 was a disappointing year cinematically for me. In a lot of ways I think Film Criticism is still recovering from the 2006 2007 one two punch, where masterpieces where so thick on the ground it wasn’t even funny. 2008 couldn’t help but look a little Anemic in comparison, but even it had a few films that I believe added itself to The Canon. 2009 provides none, save a few editions to my own personal one. There simply weren’t a lot of great movies this year. And with a month to go (I’m doing this early so I can focus on my best of The Decade list my plans for which rank somewhere between large and Hero in A Herzog film ambitious. Hope you'll join) only Up In The Air and The Lovely Bones look to have any shot of changing that. The fact that a full half of my favorite films this year where Children movies should tell you something of what I felt about the state of “adult cinema” in America.

But it’s best not to be too churlish. There was a lot to like in 2009 if not to love. 2009 proved that a lot of my favorite directors can still make great movies when you leave them the hell alone, always a heartening message. It brought new diversity to and unheard of respect for American Animation. And it released two seemingly doomed Passion Projects from two of our most valuable filmmakers into the wild completely unscathed. While it might not be a banner year, it was a personally rewarding one. And I have not yet turned into such a Scrooge that I can’t feel real joy when I’m given a gift.

But first a bit of throat clearing.

Most Conflicting Experience Of The Year: Toy Story 3D Double Feature: On one hand it was unbelievably great looking, and convinced me that 3D might actually be worth a damn. On the other hand the reanimation was extensive, going far beyond restoration, or smoothing out the animation (Though there’s plenty of that.I just watched a VHS version of the film and the animation on Spud in the first movie doesn’t even look like its from the same film). That would be bad enough, Why Pixar would want to hide the continuity of its art is beyond me. But it tread into even murkier waters by actually covering up more UnPC stuff (Sid’s Dad is no longer an alcoholic he just loves grape soda so much he drinks it till he passes out). Pixar did do this once before reanimating the tit jokes out of Knick Knack. This was more understandable, as the original was basically a tech demonstration, while the revamped version would be playing in front of Millions of Children. But this is much more troubling. What’s the point Pixar? The movie was already a G, it wasn’t like the MPAA was going to revoke your rating if you left in the beer. And even if they did, so what. You’ve released PG movies before haven’t you? You just did one this summer and I seem to recal it went quite well. All in all it’s a small gripe about what was on the whole an amazing experience, but its also the first time that I’ve used the words “uneasy” and Pixar in the same sentence. And that gives me pause.

The Worst Movie Of The Year: As a film goer I really am a jovial creature. Though I’m a cynical bastard in real life, at the cinema I’m still something of a romantic, thinking the best about everyone I meet. My whole point in starting this blog was I got tired of reading dismissive criticism that started off automatically above the movie. Why this year I gave love to plenty of flops, both critical and commercial. So for a movie to really sour my Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm like disposition and get me to get the knives out takes a lot. But dear sweet Christ this one pushed me too far.

The Fourth Kind is a stupid insulting movie. Made with a mystifying incompetence. This is the kind of movie that made me feel like you were touched in your no no place, because the child molestor director believed you where too stupid to tell anyone. The bitch of it was he was right. A lot of people lined up to get abused by Milla Jovovich and her magical invisible Merry Go Round in The Woods. I was dumbfounded by the deep wells of tolerance people have found for this film. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Really? Remember I'm the guy who found nice things to say about fucking Push and Knowing.

Dishonorable Mention Goes To: Friday The 13th Nu Metal Edition: My demands from a Friday The 13th film are not high. This managed to sink beneath them.

The 2nd Annual Southland Tales Award For Movie I Like For No Good Goddamn Reason: The Box Fittingly the annual Southland Tales Award goes to poor Richard Kelly who apparently cannot catch a fucking break. Despite surprisingly kind reviews, and a conscience and too my mind successful effort to mainstream his style (if you didn’t get it you weren’t paying attention) while retaining his voice The Box ended up tanking.

I’ve written about the film at length, and thus won’t regurgitate what I said before. I don’t think it’s a perfect film. Far from it in fact, more or less nothing in the second act works for me. But its an ambitious, stylish and heartfelt one, with a tremendous supporting performance by Langella. And more people saw The Fourth Kind. What The Fuck?

I hope Hollywood doesn’t keep Kelly in director jail too long for this one. Despite his flaws he remains an interesting and unique voice in American cinema, and I for one find the theaters a happier place with the knowledge he has a new film in the works.

Honorable Mention: Watchmen In a lot of ways I feel as though Watchman was a cinematic kidney stone a film that had to be made despite the fact we knew it would hurt. It was the greatest cinematic What If? Terry Gilliam’s, Aronofksy’s, and Paul Greengrass’s versions will all be perfect because they remain ideas. And as another Alan Moore creation once observed "Ideas are Bullet Proof, while Flesh is easily stabbed and blown up" (I might be paraphrasing that last part) In a lot of ways Zack Snyder ended up taking one for the team. Passing this lofty ambitious movie into the world and only receiving a shredded urethra for his troubles.

So you know what? I’m not going to say anymore about what the film did wrong. There’s a lot. We know there’s a lot but that’s not the point. The point is this movie somehow exists. The point is the moments it does right have the sort of sweetness, that artistic rightness to them that allows you to see something you’ve watched a billion times with fresh eyes.

And for that I can’t be anything but grateful.

10. Ponyo

I still haven’t completely sorted out my feelings on Ponyo. Saying that I feel like it indulges Miyaziki’s worst aspects is like complaining that Santa’s enjoyment of cookies is endangering his health while he brings me a present. It makes me sound like I’m being an asshole to someone whose trying to bring me something wonderful.

And make no mistake, Ponyo is something wonderful. Something really really wonderful, a testament to the beauty of animation (Do you realize that there’s no CGI in this film? None. Not even computer coloring. I know right?) So despite the fact that Miyaziki’s panache for abrupt ending reaches some kind of dizzying heights here. Or the miscasting of Liam Neeson (Way too butch for the role) I cannot help but be anything but thankful for this incredible display of artistry, gentleness, and wonder.

9. Drag Me To Hell

Still the most fun I’ve had in a theater this year. I’ve written about this one at length a couple of times, and don’t have too much more to say. Save the fact that there are few pleasures as grand as watching a favorite filmmaker smack one right the fuck out the park. Anarchic and rude in the best Raimi fashion with an ending that still makes my jaw hit the floor.

8. A Serious Man

See above.

7. Up

I didn’t write about Up. Mainly because I didn’t like it as much as the last two Pixar movies (meaning I thought it was magnificent rather then utterly transcendent) and didn’t feel like being a troll. Because Up is a fantastic film, one of the most fully human movies, beautiful in its design, stunning in its imagination, gorgeous in its animation (compare the movements of Dug to Spud in Toy Story and prepare not to believe the shit you are seeing) and utterly lovely in its storytelling and gentle humanism. Pixar actually out Miyazikied Miyaziki this year. Its enough to make y-SQUIRREL!

6. The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Lets start with that opening shot, the book held in front of a blank yellow wall looking for all the world like the exact one that I used to check out my library. Turn to page 52 and I’m sure you’ll see the chocolate stains that I put there from reading it with cookies on a long rainy day. People always talk about Anderson’s tendencies as a modelist as though it’s a distancing factor. But to me it makes his films so lived in, so completely cozy, that I can hardly think of a style more welcoming.

So even if I wish that Clooney’s Fox where a little more fantastic and a little less neurotic
I can’t help but love the film that captures the droll spirit, if not the letter of Roald Dahl’s work.

After all there hasn’t been a children’s film this dark, alive and nasty since well Nicholas Roeg’s adaptation of Dahl’s The Witches. (Let us set aside a moment here to thank the movie God’s for being so kind to Dahl, that most exquisite of writers has never had a bad film made from one of his books. When you look at the way that his estate is handled compared to say Seuss’s well it frankly breaks your heart). What with Willem Dafoe unexpectedly playing the reincarnation of Bobby Peru (No I’m fucking serious. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what he’s playing. He might not ask Jason Schwartzman to mouth “Fuck Me” but otherwise…) and Michael Gambon playing a character that frankly scarred the shit out of me. There’s always a certain nastiness to whatever role Gambon plays (which is why I think he makes such an unsuitable Dumbledore) and here its taken to the ninth degree.

Its all because the film is so delightfully handmade. Stop motion animation is probably the most artificial medium in all of cinema. But here it feels natural. In a weird way its maybe Anderson’s least artifice filled film.

Hysterical (It’s the strangest gags that make me laugh, for some reason Badger whipping out the tape and then playing the children’s song makes me laugh hysterically), beautiful, and oddly touching, Fantastic Mr. Fox ranks among the best of Anderson’s work.

5. The Hurt Locker

A film on the level of the very best of Peckinpah and Fuller. Brutal, unmerciful, and a masterpiece.

Sheer cinematic bliss. I still marvel at the film’s construction, and moments of pure cinematic pleasure. The most audacious film of the year. HUGO STIGLITZ.

3. Coraline

I’m thankful that a movie as odd and beautiful as this exists. I’m thankful that Neil Gaiman finally has an adaptation that more then vaguely resembles something he wrote (Its not like Stardust wasn’t entertaining but come on). A painstaking (painstakingly beautiful) film. It’s a real treasure.

2. Where The Wild Things Are

The best film about Childhood since the 400 Blows and This Is England. With a lyricism of The Little Prince (Without that books nigh unbearable cloyishness) Powered by a Karen O soundtrack that doubles as my favorite album of the year. It had me enraptured from the Title Screen (one of my favorites) on. The kind of movie that makes me want to chain Spike Jonze to a movie camera and never allow him to stop making movies ever.

1. Brothers Bloom: I loved Brick Rian Johnson's debut film, but it didn't prepare me for this. I was lucky enough to attend the screening of this film with Johnson in the audience. Afterwards I stumbled out of the New Bev, and told him kind of numbly that "I really fell in love with his movie." I went home and promptly freaked right the fuck out about it. But even I didn't realize how heavily I'd fallen until I just kept going back to the Theater. Realizing with an increasingly giddy rush that it wasn't just first viewing hyperbole, that I really did love the movie that much.

I debated with myself whether or not to put this at number one. But I have to be honest with myself. There may have been better films released this year, there may have been objectively greater ones, but none that I loved half so much as The Brothers Bloom. A fairy tale, a love story, a trifle, one that broke my heart and rebuilt it again, all with a sly sense of style and grace. Rian Johnson conned me and I played right into his hand like the big dumb mark I was.

Surely one of the most perfectly cast films in existence. It’s the small moments that keep getting to me, The freeze frame that occurs when the youngest Bloom peers over his shoulder at the life he’ll never had at the end of the introduction. Mark Ruffalo’s greatest trick. The suicidal grafitti, Bang Bang's third word of English, out of nowhere Conrad references, and the crashing Lamborgini which is one of the most perfect sight gags I've ever seen.

I’m reminded of what Chuck Klosterman wrote in his defense of Chinese Democracy, to paraphrase “Rian Johnston makes movies the way I like movies to be". Brothers Bloom snuck past all the usual defenses and dogma and hit me in the middle of my film based pleasure centers in a way that is nearly narcotic. I can't wait to see what he does next.

So if all goes according to plan (famous last words) I'll be here tomorrow to post the first bit of my End Of The Decade Hoe Down. Then off to Austin to bask in the glory of BNAT. Its going to be a good weekend.


Ryan McNeil said...

Great list! I've seen six of the ten you chose (I'm behind on PONYO, BLOOM, HELL, and CORALINE), and many of them are easily gonna factor in to my own year end best=of list.

By the way - thanks for mentioning how UP felt great-but-not-life-changing...I was starting to think that I was the only one who liked WALL-E better. It's still awful good, it just doesn't have that little extra sump'n sump'n that the other tw -SQUIRREL!

Again, great post. Can't wait to read the decade run down.

deadlydolls said...

"My demands from a Friday The 13th film are not high. This managed to sink beneath them."

My thoughts exactly!!! Well said.

Bryce Wilson said...

Thanks for the kind words guys.

Bryce Wilson said...

I Just want to add I have no idea how the fuck I forgot about District 9 while I was doing this list.