I realized something this year: unless I am working a 9-5 job that allows me a) regular income to spend on movies and b) plenty of evenings to catch up on everything released in a year, or I’m working at a video store that includes free viewings of said releases, I don’t get to see everything, or even a good amount of everything. At this point in my life, trying to wait until I’ve gotten a firm grasp on the majority of film releases for a year before compiling a favourites list is useless. It’s taken me a year, but I’m finally getting around to 2008’s leftovers (turns out The Wrestler really was good). So, this list is not comprehensive at all, and is merely a preview of the longer list I will publish in, oh, say, 2012.
As of the end of 2009, these are my eight favourite films to receive Canadian theatrical distribution. If Letters To Father Jacob, which I saw at VIFF, had been seen in such a way, it would probably be #1 or #2. Festival or not, it was my single favourite cinematic experience of the year.
1. Where The Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze) – Outside of my festival experience, this was the most exhilarating thing I saw in a movie theater. Messy, difficult, dark, frustrating – all that, orchestrated to provoke one of the most extraordinary emotional climaxes I have ever seen in a Hollywood picture. It is a masterpiece, one that is angsty but honest, uplifting but true.
2. Public Enemies (Michael Mann) – The more I think about this film – and I’ve been thinking about it a lot – the more I’m convinced it’s Mann’s best work since The Insider. Bold and transcendent, with a powerhouse finale. The most formally refreshing American film released this year.
3. Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas) – Masterful, refreshing, and deeply-thought provoking. Of the films on this list, I think this one will prove to have the longest legs. The only reason it isn’t higher is due to the emotional (and in Mann’s case, formal) sledgehammer that those two films deliver.
4. Up (Pete Doctor) – You’ve already heard it a million times, but I’ll say it one more time: the opening montage is a feat unto itself. The rest of the movie is no slouch, either.
5. The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow) – A penetrating study of men at war, anchored by Jeremy Renner’s magnetic performance. An intimately focused companion piece for Black Hawk Down.
6. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino) – I’m well overdue for another look at this, but few films I’ve seen this year proved so effortlessly entertaining. I’m not convinced the film is as morally sound as I want it to be – as I thought during the screening, I want to think that Tarantino is exposing our own culture’s bloodlust, but it’s not an open-and-shut case, hence the need for another watch – but I can’t deny that, on a formal level, this was the most satisfying of the year.
7. The Road (John Hillcoat) – There is a great film lurking outside this very good one; let’s hope for a longer cut. My favourite male performance of the year, by Viggo Mortenson as a loving father trapped in hell on earth.
8. Moon (Duncan Jones) – For once, a story that truly surprises, envisioned with care and economy and a great performance from Sam Rockwell . Refreshing in its use of practical special effects to support the narrative, not create the reason for it.
Not the whole deal, but worth remembering: The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (Werner Herzog), District 9 (Neill Blomkamp).
Non-2009 Films I’m Glad To Have Caught Up With (in the order in which I watched them):
- All That Heaven Allows (1955) Douglas Sirk
- Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) Elia Kazan
- Floating Weeds (1959) Yasujiro Ozu
- Rachel Getting Married (2008) Jonathan Demme
- Au Hasard Balthasar (1966) Robert Bresson
- Miami Vice (2006) Michael Mann
- Night and Fog (1955) Alain Resnais
- Black Girl (1966) Ousmane Sembene
- Overnight (2003) Tony Montana & Mark Brian Smith
- Do The Right Thing (1989) Spike Lee
- Strangers On A Train (1951) Alfred Hitchcock
- O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) Joel & Ethan Coen
- Ace in the Hole (1951) Billy Wilder
- Baraka (1992) Ron Fricke
- Koyaanisqatsi (1983) Geoffrey Reggio
- How Green Was My Valley (1941) John Ford
- Youth of the Beast (1963) Seijun Suzuki
- Don’t Look Now (1973) Nicholas Roeg
- Contempt (1963) Jean-Luc Godard
- M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) Jacques Tati
- The Third Man (1949) Carol Reed
- The Virgin Spring (1960) Ingmar Bergman
- Alphaville (1965) Jean-Luc Godard
- Foreign Correspondent (1941) Alfred Hitchcock
- Cloak & Dagger (1984) Richard Franklin
- Alice (1988) Jan Svankmajer
- Gosford Park (2001) Robert Altman
- Faust (1994) Jan Svankmajer
- Seven Up (1964) Paul Almond
- 7 Plus Seven (1971) Michael Apted
- Capturing the Friedmans (2003) Andrew Jarecki
- The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) Carl Theodor Dreyer
- Man Hunt (1941) Fritz Lang
- Elephant (2003) Gus Van Sant
- The Rules of the Game (1939) Jean Renoir
- The Thin Man (1934) W.S. Van Dyke
- Babette’s Feast (1987) Gabriel Axel
- A History of Violence (2005) David Cronenberg
- Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1973) Werner Herzog
- Manhattan (1979) Woody Allen
- Mon Oncle Antoine (1971) Claude Jutra
- Videodrome (1983) David Cronenberg
- Grizzly Man (2005) Werner Herzog
- Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai (2000) Jim Jarmusch
- The Haunting (1963) Robert Wise
- Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) Zacharias Kunuk
- Silent Light (2008) Carlos Reygadas
- Eastern Promises (2007) David Cronenberg
- It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra
- All About Eve (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
- In America (2003) Jim Sheridan
- The Wrestler (2008) Darren Aranofsky
2010 beckons, and with it, a best of the decade list. But shucks, I’m going to miss 09. This was a good year.