Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ed's Top Twenty Films of 2009

It's so very difficult trying to sum up an entire 12 months worth of film-watching in such a restrictive form as the standard Top 10 format, so I'm going to make things slightly easier on myself by trying to sum it up in a Top 20.

These have been listed alphabetically so the order should not be construed as indication of which ones I think are better than others. These are all fine films in their own ways.

Adventureland (dir: Greg Mottola)

Greg Mottola, who had previously directed Superbad, made a much more personal film for his follow-up and, whilst it didn't make anywhere near as much as its predecessor, it is a far superior film. Jesse Eisenberg plays a young man who gets a job at a theme park when his trip to Europe has to be cancelled and falls in love with Kirsten Stewart. A sweet, funny and honest film that will resonate with anyone whose ever had to work a job they hate or who has ever fallen in love.

*Review pending purchase of it on DVD.

A Serious Man (dir: Joel and Ethan Coen)

The Coens returned after the lacklustre Burn After Reading with one of their most bizarre and personal films to date. Drawing upon their own experiences growing up as part of a Jewish community in the Midwest in the 60s the Coens created a darkly hilarious film about a man failing to come to terms with the collapse of his marriage.

Read my review.

Broken Embraces (dir: Pedro Almodovar)

Though it lacks the emotional punch of his more recent works, Almodovar's latest is a sumptuous film full of beautiful imagery and infused with a deep love of cinema. Penelope Cruz gives one of her best performances and Almodovar uses colours and textures like the master that he is.

Read my review.

Bronson (dir: Nicolas Windig Refn)

Tom Hardy's performance as Michael 'Charles Bronson' Peterson, Britain's most dangerous prisoner, would be enough to warrant a place on this list for Bronson, but the combination of a brave and terrifying performance with artful, exciting direction from Refn produces an unforgettable film.

Read my review.

Coraline (dir: Henry Selick)

Animation fans are often antagonistic whenever it comes to discussion the merits of the different forms that make up the medium, with defenders of old-school animation, such as cel or stop-motion, being dismissive of computer animation and vice versa. Coraline stands as a glorious example of how different kinds of animation can augment each other as it combines lovingly crafted stop-motion with computer effects to create a world that young and old alike can get lost in.

Read my review.

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (dir: Phil Lord and Chris Miller)

This was a complete and joyous surprise for me. Adapted from the children's book of the same name, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs provided a heady mix of stunning visuals, a surprisingly affecting father-son dynamic and an unrelenting assault of gags. Easily the funniest film I saw all year.

*Review pending purchase of it on DVD.

The Cove (dir: Louie Psihoyos)

Much like that other great modern documentary Man On Wire, The Cove distinguishes itself by choosing to tell its fascinating story using the language of a heist film. By presenting its creators attempts to expose a secret cove in which dolphin's are slaughtered as an Ocean's Eleven-style thriller, the film is able to get across its worthy message in a way that makes for one of the most exhilarating and frustrating films of the year.

Read my review.

District 9 (dir: Neill Blomkamp)

There has been a relative dearth of fun and original sciene fiction films over the last couple of years and District 9, directed by Peter Jackson's protegee Neill Blomkamp after he was prevented from directing the Halo movie, was a wonderful exception. Mixing a slightly hamfisted Apartheid analogy with some inventive action and a gritty aesthetic, the film made for one of the most interesting and enjoyable blockbusters of the year.

Read Neil's review.

Fish Tank (dir: Andrea Arnold)

Quite simply one of the most uncomfortable films I've ever seen. The combination of an incredibly intimate style with a story of sexual attraction between a man and a 15-year old girl creates a film that is uniquely discomforting, yet ultimately uplifting.

Read my review.

The Hurt Locker (dir: Kathryn Bigelow)

Many people have made films about the way in which wars can destroy the psyches of those who fight them, but few have ever contemplated whether or not the people having their psyches destroyed actually like it. The Hurt Locker is one such film.

Read my review.

In The Loop (dir: Armando Ianucci)

The history of British sitcoms transferring to the big screen is chequered, to say the least, but Armando Ianucci's puerile and hilarious series The Thick of It made the transition smoothly when this big screen spin-off was released. A satire of war and politics that warrants and deserves comparisons with Dr. Strangelove.

Read my review.

Let The Right One In (dir: Tomas Alfredson)

The vampire movie may be a genre that is over-subscribed nowadays - there are two of them in my Top 20 - Let The Right One In managed to stand above pretty much all of them. A story of social isolation, friendship and urban decay that is as touching as it is chilling.

Read my review.

Looking For Eric (dir: Ken Loach)

The combination of master social realist Ken Loach and footballing legend Eric Cantona may not seem like the most natural of partnerships, yet when this odd couple came together for Looking For Eric the results were magical. Cantona plays himself as a sort of spirit guide who helps Manchester United-supporting postman Steve Evets get his life back together. A film with a strange concept but which is anchored very much in real emotions.

*Review pending purchase of it on DVD.

Ponyo (dir: Hayao Miyazaki)

A new film from Miyazaki, the Japanese animation legend behind Spirited Away the second-best film of the decade, is always a delight, but Ponyo was even more delightful than most. A new take on The Litte Mermaid, Miyazaki creates a beautiful, colourful world in which a magical fish, who gradually turns into a girl, falls in love with a young boy and, in the process, almost destroys the entire world. It says something about Miyazaki's capacity for magic that he makes a film that features the apocalypse seem so charming.

*Review will go up when the film has its UK theatrical release

Star Trek (dir: J.J. Abrams)

During a summer that seemed doomed to offer nothing beyond the lunkheaded stupidity of Transformers and Terminator: Salvation, Lost and Alias creator J.J. Abrams' reboot of the venerable sci-fi franchise was a breath of fresh air. Its blend of smart thrills, playful dialogue and winning performances was sorely missing for the rest of the summer.

Read my review.

Thirst (dir: Park Chan-Wook)

The other great vampire film of 2009 and one that stands in stark contrast to Let The Right One In; whereas Let The Right One In is a story of a chaste friendship, Thirst is about a Priest who gives into his desires for blood and sex in dramatic fashion once he is turned into a vampire. Violent, funny and tragic.

Read my review.

Up (dir: Pete Docter)

Pixar continue to be one of the most consistently brilliant and original studios out there. What other studio could take the story of an old widower flying in a house attached to thousands of balloons and turn it into a deeply moving, hilarious and exciting adventure AND make it one of the biggest hits of the year? I am in awe.

Read my review.

Where The Wild Things Are (dir: Spike Jonze)

In the run-up to the release of Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book, people asked how anyone could turn a 10 sentence book into a 90 minute film. I'm betting that no-one expected that Jonze and his co-writer, Dave Eggers, would turn those 10 sentences into a beautiful, fun and sad film about childhood. A real achievement made all the more special by the fact that, thanks to the relative failure of the film, Jonze will probably never be given the sort of budget and freedom he was given that resulted in such a great film.

Read my review.

The White Ribbon (dir: Michael Haneke)

Michael Haneke turns his unblinking analytical eye onto Germany's history of violence, asking whether or not there is something in the German character that would allow the atrocities of the Second World War to occur. A deeply unsettling journey into the broken psyche of a nation, albeit one that is slightly warmer than Haneke usually is.

Read my review.

Zombieland (dir: Ruben Fleischer)

Horror comedies are one of the trickiest kinds of films to make - if they're too scary the humour will suffer, if they're too funny then the comedy will suffer - and Zombieland, rather than risk an imbalance, went for straight comedy and made for one gleefully gory and silly romp. Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg (he loves to be in films with the suffix 'land') make a great comic pairing and TV veteran Fleischer injects the action scenes with wit and excitement.

*Review pending purchase of it on DVD

Special Mentions:

Antichrist (dir: Lars von Trier) - For reminding me that you should never judge a film until you have seen all of it. And showing me that horror films can still be surprising, even if the surprise is something you wish you hadn't seen and hope never to see again.

Crank: High Voltage (dir: Neveltine/Taylor) - For sheer energy and lunacy. Probably the most fun I had watching a film all year, definitely the one that had me saying "What the fuck?" the most.

Funny People (dir: Judd Apatow) - For being one of the more interesting films of the year, even if what was interesting about it wasn't necessarily what was good about it.

Inglourious Basterds (dir: Quentin Tarantino) - For reminding me how good Tarantino can be (the opening 20 minutes) as well as how bad he can be (the rest of the film).

Paranormal Activity (dir: Oren Peli) - For making me afraid to be alone in my house for weeks afterwards.