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Reality Rain Check

Festival de Cannes

I am slightly ashamed to admit that many of 2009's more lauded pictures have passed me by. Whether by circumstance or design I shirked away from such heavyweights as "A Serious Man," "The Hurt Locker" and "District 9." Upping my game, I took in almost 30 films in October at the Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival and Raindance Film Festival in what was truly a joyous month.Both festivals were brimming with gems, although sadly 99 percent of what I saw is not scheduled for release until 2010, which by the way looks like it's shaping up to be a vintage year.

So back to 2009, which for me personally was a far from classic cinematic year; it's particularly telling that of my top 10, the two standouts were documentaries and that four were comedies. So I bid farewell to a limp(ish) 2009 and welcome 2010 with open arms. It should be a standout year, but for now here's the best I bore witness to in 2009:

Alex Beattie's Top Movies of 2009

AN EDUCATION If ever an individual could elevate a film from the good to the excellent, it would have to be Carey Mulligan in her outstanding turn as the naïve Jenny. A shoo-in for every awards shortlist in 2010, Ms. Mulligan’s performance is mature, intelligent and supremely confident. A delectable supporting cast and Nick Hornby’s sharp, witty script meant there was much else to admire in Lone Scherfig’s period coming-of-age tale.

GENOVA Michael Winterbottom’s moody modern ghost story did the festival rounds in 2008 and was deservedly given a wider release in 2009. Mr. Winterbottom’s atmospheric, beautifully-shot and understated familial portrait was a breath of fresh air, with Colin Firth excelling as the troubled Joe, a widower trying to forge a new life in Northern Italy.

I LOVE YOU, MAN A guilty pleasure of sorts, “I Love You, Man” brought bromance to the mainstream. Paul Rudd could well be the most underrated comic actor working today, following up his spot-on turn as slacker surf dude Chuck in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and with a terrific portrayal of Rush-obsessed romantic no mates Peter Klaven. Jason Segel cements his reputation as a fine comedic actor as new BFF Sydney Fife, whilst director and screenwriter John Hamburg deserves props for finding room for Lou Ferrigno a k a the Incredible Hulk.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious” may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, and while it can be castigated for being disjointed and overlong, it confirmed to one and all that he can seemingly turn his hand to any genre and emerge with undoubted credibility. The fact that it also contained one of the year’s standout acting performances by Christoph Waltz as scheming Nazi Hans Landa and a fantastically over-the-top Tarantinoesque denouement ensured that “Inglourious Basterds“ was one of 2009’s most original, innovative and daring pictures.

LOOKING FOR ERIC A bromance of a very different sort, Ken Loach’s charming tale of middle-aged postman Eric Bishop’s (Steve Evets) midlife crisis. Mr. Loach’s comedic drama is tinged with humor and pathos, but it’s an ultimately heart-warming tale of the importance of friendship and family.

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS A lesson in how to trivialize psychological torture while still finding time to take a swipe at America’s belligerent foreign policy, Grant Heslov’s interpretation of Jon Ronson’s book of the same name keeps tongue firmly wedged in cheek. A superb ensemble cast, headed up by the consistently brilliant George Clooney, revels in this smart comedy that lurches away from politics in favor of belly laughs a plenty.

STARSUCKERS The most important and relevant film of 2009 was Chris Atkins’s insightful and indeed terrifying documentary “Starsuckers.” A damning indictment of the power of the media has never seemed more pertinent with Mr. Atkins’s refreshing direction taking aim at everything from P.R. companies to the tabloid press and reality television while simultaneously exposing the gullibility and malleability of our consumer culture. “Starsuckers” is essential filmmaking.

THE INFORMANT! With “The Informant,” Steven Soderbergh achieves the seemingly impossible by making corporate corruption funny. A plump Matt Damon absolutely nails the role of corporate grass Mark Whitacre, a delusional big-shot who dares to take on his employers without first ensuring his charge sheet is whiter than white. It’s a witty, stylized picture that’s both effortless, pithy and a tremendous amount of fun.

TRIANGLE The sole horror movie on my list, “Triangle” is by no means the best horror film of the year, but is fully deserving of a place of in my top ten for its inventiveness and originality. Christopher Smith’s convoluted psychological thriller horror is an intelligent and considered tale that touches on issues of karma and Sisyphean tasks. Yes, it’s flawed; but at least Mr. Smith shows that’ he’s trying.

WE LIVE IN PUBLIC This fascinating portrait of Internet pioneer Josh Harris is both timely and relevant. Ondi Timoner’s documentary reveals Mr. Harris to be way ahead of his time, setting the stage for reality television and social networks more than a decade ago. As we lurch into the next decade, it would be hard to argue against the assertion that Mr. Harris’s ideas have come to define our connected world. An engrossing and appropriate bookend to the noughties.


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