Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Ten

You may have been reading a whole bunch of 'best of the year lists' recently - or you may not have. For what its worth, here is my list of the best films of 2009:

1. Avatar

Yes, it is that good. I have a few problems with its pacing (it gets a bit bogged down in the middle) and its tone (slightly on the sentimental side, but hey, I can go there), but if you happen to believe that cinema is about taking you to new places and showing you sights you had never seen before, Avatar succeeds - and then some. The special effects are truly out of this world (sorry - couldn't resist) and the money it has made probably means that 3D is here to stay, at least a little while longer. However, one still fears the formula this might prompt executives to follow. What makes Avatar work is what cannot be replicated, the personal vision of the director, James Cameron.

2. Moon

First time Brit director Zowie Bowie - son of David - or Duncan Jones to his mates, revives the science-fiction-about-ideas genre, from the late 1970s and early 1980s, for at least the duration of this film. By turns mysterious, eerie and brutal, this love-letter to the science fiction Jones watched as a kid manages to bring something new to the party, in no small part, as a result of a bravura performance by Sam Rockwell.

3. District 9

More science fiction and another first time director. This story about an alien encampment on the outskirts of Johannesburg, with its obvious political conotations, is probably a more origanal vision than Moon, with another terrifically tortured central performance. The film misses out, however, because of its formulaic ending - when films are this good, I tend to demand even more.

4. Let the Right One In

The unlikely story of a picked upon pre-pubescant Swedish boy and the girl next door, who, while she looks normal enough, is in fact an ancient creature of the night. A somber European take on vampire mythology which makes the swaggering American Twilight saga look very tame indeed.

5. Star Trek

Star Trek in the 21st century is young, shiny and exhuberant. Not as demanding or challenging as some of the other films on the list, but in terms of pure spectacle and enjoyment - I love it.

6. Inglourious Basterds

Yes, its baggy. Yes, its too long. Yes, its over-indulgent. Guys, its a Quentin Tarantino movie! This is the guy who reminded us movies are allowed to be fun, back when things were getting all Sundance-serious. And he has made a World War II movie as only he can, with instantly iconic characters, dialogue, and oh-so-clever set pieces.

7. Telstar

One that most probably missed. Telstar tells the very strange true-life story of Joe Meek: a gay, half-deaf, record producer - with an ear for the cosmos and an obessesion with the occult - who worked on some of the biggest selling pop records of the lat 1950s. A uniquely British story, written and directed by Nick Moran - one of the leads in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels - in the vein on 24-Hour Party People. I, for one, am looking forward to more highly-imaginative but ever-so-slightly drab British musical high-jinks with Andy Serkis portrayal of punk legend, Ian Drury, in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, coming in the new year.

8. Slumdog Millionaire

Cast your minds back to the now foggy reaches of early-2009 and there was just one film to rule them all - the tale of Mumbai slumkids who defy the odds to arrive at a happy ending. As a somewhat-squeemish liberal westerner, I still feel uncomfortable unpacking some of the film's cross-cultural baggage, but its hard to deny that the experience itself is one hell of a ride.

9. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Overshadowed by the tragic death of its leading man, the film never quite fulfils on its promise. But it is still great to see another Terry Gilliam film made largely on his own terms. For a story about hope and damnation that features the devil as a character, it never really theatens the audience's sensibilities enough. But, as a story about the adventurous possibility of the imagination and the importance fantasy in a modern context, I would still recommend it to anyone.

10. A Serious Man

The Coens rarely dissapoint. Apart from with Burn After Reading. That was rubbish.

Now, I know for a fact there are various films I have not seen that I would have liked to, and I probably missed a few gems as well. But, of the stuff I have seen, this is the best of it.