My Top 10 Movies of 2009
This isn’t a full-on dissertation like the Top TV Shows stuff turned out to be, but here’s a few quick thoughts on my top ten of the year.
10 – Paranormal Activity
I’m a huge fan of Blair Witch, and I loved this too. Paranormal Activity was only the second movie – after Cloverfield – since the post-Blair Witch flood, that found a fresh angle on the whole found footage gimmick. The anxiety I felt when the night scenes kicked in is similar to the tension of writing this paragraph knowing that I’d have to mention night-vision, and wondering how I’d manage to crowbar in yet another reference to Paris Hilton half-heartedly sliding up and down on a luminous green wang.
9 – Zombieland
Super-slick and stylish, and with the air in late-2000’s Hollywood thick with the rotting mortuary stink of too many not-that-great zombie movies, Zombieland was as much of a fresh lungful as Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead was in 2004.
8 – District 9
Really inventive and fun, the political subtext wasn’t overbearing, the action scenes were tremendous, and I really dug the documentary look. CJ and the other prawns, bearing in mind what a relatively small budget they had, showed just how far we’ve come since Jar Jar ruddy Binks.
7 – The Memory Thief
Before I’m accused of cheating, as imdb claims this came out in 2007, it had a really limited release and didn’t hit DVD until this year, so go chew my chocolate. The Memory Thief tackles something that’s never really been addressed in film, that is, the mawkish over-empathising with grief, the ownership of this pain, and at what point does NEVAR FORGET cross the line into out and out tragedy porn. The framework of a man who becomes obsessed with the testimonials of Auschwitz survivors makes this the most meta-Holocaust movie ever put to film, and it’s a chilling spiralling descent into madness the like of which we haven’t seen since Taxi Driver.
6 – Bronson
If there’s one thing Brit cinema loves to do, it’s ‘ardman crime movies, and 99% of them are utter shit – everything Nick Love does, 2009’s Awaydays & Cass etc. Thankfully, Bronson was an inspired way of tackling such a biopic, with technicoloured to-the-gallery theatrics that are fitting for those often tall tales of celebrity criminals. Killer performance from Tom Hardy too.
(I know Refn isn’t a Brit, but c’mon, FUCK NICK LOVE, right?)
5 – Moon
Loved this. You know a movie’s got you emotionally invested when it’s got you shedding a tear over an emoticon. If there’s any justice in the world, Sam Rockwell would get the Oscar. There isn’t though. Boo.
4 – Ink
Since the trailers popped up on Youtube what felt like a thousand years ago, I’d been dying to see this. Visually it’s highly inventive, with somewhat of a Gilliam/Dark City/Jean-Pierre Jeunet feel, and a Gilliam-esque collision of dream and reality. For a no-budget indie, it’s inspiringly ambitious, eschewing the common (and easier) indie route of people talking in rooms or hipster mumblecore for an original fantasy mythology with the ethereal, effects heavy look of something with far greater resources at its disposal. As far as the storyline goes, I don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining someone’s first viewing with spoilers, but to pick a favourite moment, the pathfinder scene was one of the most original things in a long time, and perfectly executed.
There is a negative, and it’s a big one. Ink is almost killed stone dead by wildly over-zealous editing. It calms down a bit by the second half, but it’s so needlessly frenetic, you’re watching a short scene with two guys in an office and it’s cutting between shots three times a second. This isn’t an MTV slasher, just let the shots breathe. It’s a terrible shame that a lot of ‘real world’ scenes are rendered nearly unwatchable by the overcutting, and if not for the excitement I’d had over the trailers, I would have just given up. However, the editing does get better (or seems to, maybe I was just into the film so much I stopped noticing), and the last ten minutes especially are absolutely sensational and pretty much undid all the rage I was feeling over those early scenes. Jamin Winans, who wrote, directed and scored the movie is obviously incredibly creative and driven (unable to secure distribution, he took screenings on the road to independent cinemas), and I’m awed by what he did with Ink, it’s just that editing isn’t his strong point.
Don’t be put off by the negative comments, overall it’s totally worth checking out, (it’s my #4 movie of the year after all) and Winans should be applauded for the demolition ball sized testis of the sheer audacity to stretch a tiny budget across such a set of big ideas. If it hadn’t worked, it would have been a disaster, but it did, and he’s really created something unique that, while not perfect, shows Winans as someone who deserves to be ‘discovered’ and afforded the chance to make more movies. Hopefully Ink finds its audience, or gets championed by someone with name value, so he can be pulled out of Indie films that struggle to get distribution and into mainstream Hollywood. If it can happen to that useless chattering fuck Kevin Smith, surely it can happen to this guy.
3 – Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans
Herzog is, to my mind, the greatest living artist in any form, and I adore Nic Cage. He’s so great when he’s just being Nic Cage, freaking out about bunnies in boxes or karate kicking Leelee Sobieski while wearing a bear suit. The combination of the two is one of those perfectly balanced fusions, like deep-fried Mars Bars or Ellen Page and Natalie Portman in a fireside lesbian embrace. Here, we have Cage just Caging non-stop for two glorious hours with increasing madness. It’s the finest cinematic portrayal of mania since – non-coincidentally – Herzog directed Klaus Kinski.
Cage is absolutely out of his mind throughout, saucer-eyed and billowing crack smoke like a sweating Ivor the Engine, at one point going into a rest home and pulling the oxygen tube out of an elderly lady’s nose while waving a gun around and calling her a C. As Cage’s character gets crazier – more drugs, less sleep – the whole film follows suit. Everyone is insane, and the second half of the movie is like watching GTA cut-scenes filtered through heroin withdrawal flu-dreams. There’s one part in particular (“his soul is still dancing”) that’s the cracked-out deadbeat brother to Stroszek’s famous chicken scene. I know I’m making a lot of just how unhinged this movie is, but don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not a “so bad it’s good” car crash that can only be enjoyed as a celebration of the fucked up; the storyline is coherent, everything works, and it’s a genuinely fantastic piece of moviemaking from beginning to end. Herzog/Kinski was the greatest collaborative pairing in cinema history, but the potential of future Herzog and Cage projects is incredibly exciting.
2 – Where the Wild Things Are
A kid’s movie for adults, in the sense that you can appreciate the deeper subtexts like you do when you go back and watch the movies you wore the tapes out of when you were growing up, and realise how creepy they are in retrospect, while still feeling that childlike sense of wonder despite being a hollow, broken 30 year old who’d respond to the smile of a new-born baby by roaring “The fuck you looking at?!?” into its howling little face.
I have no idea why the story of a lonely boy who retreats into fantasy would resonate with me so deeply. On a similar note, I’m glad I watched it alone, because I was weeping the whole way through in a thoroughly wretched manner. Magical.
1 – Inglourious Basterds
As an unashamed Tarantino fanboy, I was expecting to like this, but man alive, it blew me out of my seat. It’s funny that the trailers painted it as a cocks out action movie, when there are three or four straight up dialogue scenes that run 15+ minutes apiece, and I wondered how the people who thought they were going to a sweary Call of Duty-esque flick felt when they realised they were settled down for two hours of subtitles. That dialogue, incidentally, is Tarantino’s best, and during the basement scene, I was more tense than I’ve ever been during a movie. Landa instantly became my favourite bad guy of all time. He’s like an anti-semetic take on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Childcatcher, and could probably sniff out David Baddiel at 500 paces. It’s an astonishing performance, and in 4 languages too. Unreal.
Part of the reason why I loved this so much was the preceding decade’s worth of talk from Tarantino about how he’d written anything up to a 300 page screenplay, and what it was about at any given time, and just assuming it’d never see the light of day. When he ditched everything to start from scratch, then announced the day he handed the script in that it’d premiere in exactly one year, it seemed unlikely that it’d be anywhere near the quality you’d hope for, let alone the best movie of the year – but it absolutely was, and I’ll take a Bear Jew swing with a stale baguette at anyone who disagrees.
Southland Tales had most people wondering which was the fluke, that, or Donnie Darko – although the terrible tell-don’t-show Darko director’s cut should have been the clue – and The Box answered that decisively. A complete mess, the first thirty minutes was promising and starkly reminiscent of the 70s paranoia thrillers it was aping, then it all went tumbling down a wacky rabbit hole filled with discarded highschool English stories where it was all a dream, and the earth is really a big alien zoo. Kelly needs to never be allowed to direct from his own script again, but judging from The Box’s overlap of themes from his previous two movies, he may already be out of ideas.
I’m a big fan of Office Space, and I think Idiocracy is wildly underrated, so it pains me to say that Extract, supposedly Mike Judge’s return to Office Space-form, was just awful. Directionless, jokeless, meandering, dull. Fantastic cast too, but a huge let-down.