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Archive for December 31st, 2009

Inspired by a blog that was inspired by a comment on blog! Here are my top ten actors and actresses of 2009

Actors:   

Best Actor 2009

  1. Jeremy RennerThe Hurt Locker
  2. Sam Rockwell – Moon
  3. Jackie Earle HaleyWatchmen
  4. Christoph WaltzInglourious Basterds
  5. Johnny DeppPublic Enemies
  6. Frank LangellaFrost/Nixon
  7. Michael SheenFrost/Nixon & The Dammed United
  8. Matt DamonThe Informant
  9. Clint EastwoodGran Torino
  10. Robert Downey JrSherlock Holmes

Actresses:   

Best Actress 2009

  1. Anne HathawayRachel Getting Married
  2. Katie JarvisFish Tank
  3. Melanie LaurentInglourious Basterds
  4. Amanda SeyfriedJennifer’s Body
  5. Penélope CruzVicky Cristina Barcelona
  6. Marion CotillardPublic Enemies
  7. Eva GreenCracks
  8. Melissa GeorgeTriangle
  9. Kristen Stewart Adventureland
  10. Diane KrugerAnything For Her

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I finalised this list over Christmas and set in to auto-publish on new years day. Unfortunately my impatience has got the better of me. So here it is a day early, my top ten films of 2009:

  1. Let The Right One In: The grim and gritty feel give the film a sense of realism despite the supernatural subject matter. The title (abbreviated to Let Me In, in some countries) refers to the aspect of the vampire myth that says a vampire can not cross a threshold without being invited. Going a step further than other films it shows what happens when a vampire comes in uninvited. It isn’t pretty but it is effective! Just like the films photography, using mainly fixed cameras and no noticeable steadicam instead opting for simple pan and dolly tracking. Although not particularly violent or gory, it is brutal in places. There is a certain amount of ambiguity of the androgynous young cast and the morals of their actions. A strangely beautiful film that may be about kids but it certainly isn’t a film for kids.
  2. The Hurt Locker: By far the best film about the war in Iraq. Shot on 16mm the film has a certain documentary realism without ever making you think you are watching a documentary, the style is reminiscent of Cinema Vérité. Many of the scenes are long and drawn out getting more and more intense as they play out. These scenes are genuinely breathtaking with dramatic tension and not tension manufactured by fast editing. The plot is very simple; the film actually plays out as a set of stand alone scenarios that together work as a character study of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal tec’s (bomb disposal team to you and me). Breathtaking is an overused word in film reviews, watching The Hurt Locker you really do have to remind yourself to breath.
  3. Inglourious Basterds: For the liberties it plays with history and the large brushstrokes implying that all German soldiers where Nazi’s I really wanted to hate this film. But when I sat down and watched it I couldn’t dislike it because it was plain and simply a brilliant film. We have seen Tarantino have fun with the English language for years but now he has the audacity to have fun with French, German and Italian. Although many people disagree with me I think Tarantino is having a swipe at films like Valkyrie where British and American actors speak English with their own accents whist playing German characters. If I am giving him too much credit or not the dialogue of the film is a marvel to behold, once you get over the fact that the film is a fantasy (not a great stretch as it starts “Once upon a time”) you will soon realise it is a beautifully shot, intelligently conceived and superbly acted movie.
  4. Watchmen: Based on the much revered graphic novel that appears on Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels list. Set in an alternate 1980’s: America have won the Vietnam War and is moving towards a seemingly inevitable nuclear war with Russia. A symbolic doomsday clock is set just before 12 and the end of the world as we know it, Glasnost is not a word used in this films reality. So more than twenty years on is the story relevant? Fossil fuels and world finance are mentioned keeping the film up to date but it is relevant for a far simpler reason. The film is not about world politics, it is about people. More specifically it is about heroes and villains. That is the geniuses of the film or more to the point the graphic novel it is based on. Who is a hero and who is a villain? That is easy, Batman and Superman are heroes and The Joker and Lex Luthor are villains. In Watchmen it isn’t that simple the heros are villains and the villains are heros.
  5. Gran Torino: Made around the same time as Changeling, I believe Gran Torino is a better film. Eastwood’s character Walt Kowalski is a cantankerous old man who seems to be the sum of all the characters he has played throughout his career. What I wasn’t expecting is just how funny the film would be. I have heard suggestions by people who have taken quotes from the film out of context that it is a racist film. I actual fact although it does have a few things to say on the subject it is far from racist if anything it is the opposite. It deals with many other topics including: life, death, love, loss, hate, age, race, religion and identity. I said after seeing it that it was the first must see film of 2009, as the year has panned out that has proven more true than I expected. Gran Torino offers a glimmer of hope for society and has a moral compass that films like Harry Brown and Law Abiding Citizen lack.
  6. Slumdog Millionaire: Although you wouldn’t typecast Danny Boyle in a particular genre of film you wouldn’t expect him make a feel good movie set in India. Slumdog Millionaire uses flashbacks in a simple but clever way. Jamal is a young man who grew up in the slums of Mumbai, he finds himself one question away from wining the Jackpot on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” As the program finishes for the evening Jamal is arrested and questioned as the host suspects him of cheating. What unfolds as he is questioned are the incidents in his life that gave him the knowledge to answer the questions to get to this point. The scenarios are dramatic, tragic and comic and all add to the flavour of the film and the depth of the characters. What also develops in the flashbacks is the relationship between Jamal, his brother Salim and Latika a young girl they befriended and Jamal’s reason for being on the program. The three main characters are played by three different actors each allowing for different ages. All do a really good job in what for most of them is their first film. The photography is stunning making full use of the locations. The editing and direction are sharp and fast keeping the viewer interested and emotionally involved with the characters. This is a film that most people will enjoy but there are some disturbing scenes before you get to the feel good ending.
  7. Drag Me to Hell: After most of the decade being taken up by making family friendly superhero movies Sam Raimi is back to doing what he does best, horror with a comic twist. The story of a young woman who becomes the victim of a supernatural curse that threatens to drag her to hell is relatively new territory but the execution is reminiscent of his early greats. Its helped by the perfect casting of Alison Lohman in the main role. The film has some truly tense scenes as well as some cheep make you jump scares but the thing that makes it great is the fact it is at times devastatingly funny. So its funny, scary and shocking, best of all has no Lycra clad superheroes, everything a Sam Raimi film should be. All it lacks is Bruce Campbell.
  8. Public Enemies: Only covering a small part of John Dillinger’s life with no back story or flashbacks, Public Enemies is a very slick satire for want of a better word! The film explores and deconstructs the myth and the iconic status of the depression era bank robber. The public of the time didn’t know who he was other than what they saw in the newsreels and in the newspapers and that is what the film is all about. How the media created the myth and the man live/played up to it. Johny Depp and Marion Cotillard light up the screen in the way movies and movie stars used to, in the way that movies and movie stars should! I am not totally convinced by the use of clinical digital video over warmer film but the production design more than makes up for that giving us a beautiful and sumptuous movie that is the perfect remedy for all the CGI that has been taking over our cinema screens recently.
  9. Rachel Getting Married: The main character Kym is ultimately a miserable, selfish, narcissistic bitch but she also comes across as vulnerable, funny and sometimes even likable, that is the strength of Anne Hathaway’s performance. Just a warning for those looking for a light rom-com like the couple in front of me in the queue and sat behind me in the cinema. They wanted to see the “the wedding film with the girl from The Devil Wears Prada” and thought they where going to see Bride Wars, they couldn’t understand why it was so different to the trailer! I went to see this as there was nothing else on (other than Bride Wars), it actually turned out to be one my films of the year.  
  10. Zombieland: Zombieland has a plot reminiscent of Night of the Comet, most of the population have turned into zombies. Not wasting time with a complicated explanation or build-up we jump straight into survival and zombie killing. The pinnacle of zombie comedy (or horror comedy in general to be honest) in recent years is surly Shaun of the Dead. With cricket bats and vinyl records they found some new, inventive and comic ways of killing zombies. But none of these are going to win “Zombie Kill of the Week”. The simple fact is that Zombiland is considerably funnier that Shaun of the Dead. I can not express just how funny the film is. The last time I was this presently surprised by a comedy was In Bruges last year. Don’t get me wrong this is still a zombie film and is a bloody and sometimes as violent of any other zombie film. So is it a comedy about zombies or a zombie film that is funny? I would probably go for the former rather than the latter as the film really doesn’t have much to say for itself and has no subtext. This isn’t a criticism a comedy can be as shallow and disposable as it likes as long as it is funny and this is extremely funny!

A note on the selection. All films selected went on general releases in UK cinemas between the 1st of January 2009 and the 31st December 2009. I saw all of them in the cinema during that time and have seen some of them again on DVD since. Some of the films came out in other countries (America and Canada in particular) in 2008. I had to draw the line somewhere so decided UK release dates were the simplest way to do it.

At the end of a list like this you expect to see an “honourable mentions” list of all the films I loved but didn’t make the top ten. I have chosen not to do this, not through lack of films to choose from but because I have a follow-up post tomorrow. I have seen just over one hundred new releases this year. I have ranked them all and will be posting the results tomorrow.

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