Friday, March 5, 2010

(My) Best of 09: Picture.

10. Where the Wild Things Are (read my review)

You can be the biggest cynic on earth and you will still let out a big "aww" the second Karen O's enchanting score appears accompanying the studio logos which Max (Max Records) has scratched and made his own.
When seconds later we meet the hyperactive child we can't help but fall in love with his ambition to make the world his own. As he travels to the island of monsters unaware of the creatures he will meet we're reminded of times in our childhood when nothing made us afraid and life was an adventure waiting to be conquered.
How Spike Jonze made a film that penetrates the armor of childhood while examining the bittersweetness we carry on to adulthood is a wonder upon itself.
An exercise in nostalgia that still manages to refresh our days in unimaginable ways.

9. Police, Adjective (read my review)

Like Steve McQueen's "Hunger", this Romanian film might become known for a bold setpiece that has the camera fixed while three characters talk inside an office.
Police officers Cristi (Dragos Bucur) and Nelu (Ion Stoica) sit in opposing chairs while Captain Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov) questions them about the ongoing case they've been working on.
Up to that point in the film Anghelache has only been a ghost who Cristi tries to avoid and when we meet him we understand why.
With a single sentence Anghelache shatters Cristi's idealistic methods and questions Nelu's stoicism, then in the film's most controversial moment dedicates more than ten minutes to a dictionary entry!
But then and there director Corneliu Porumboiu establishes that his film is not the pretentious nod at academia it often seems to be but a dark comedy that mocks the power language has obtained in our societies.
Its examining of the absurd however has utterly terrifying repercussions.

8. Antichrist (read my review)

Despite Lars von Trier's efforts to make "Antichrist" something everybody would squirm, cry and complain about, the film might very well be the most moving and personal work he has done to date.
Those willing to see beyond the mutilation, bloodied genitals, talking foxes, poetic deaths and medieval allegories will find themselves peeking at the psyche of a man who likes to call himself the greatest director in the world but is filled with as many doubts, insecurities and problems as the rest of us.
The obvious facade of "Antichrist" perhaps is saying that he might be all bark and no bite, but take the time to peel its layers and you will see a courageous attempt at dialogue with the divine.

7. Bright Star (read my review)

Watch how Jane Campion turns this...

"I almost wish we were butterflies
and lived but three summer days
three such days with you
I could fill with more delight
than fifty common years
could ever contain"

...into cinema.

6. The Hurt Locker (read my review)

Before it became an awards juggernaut and the center of ridiculous claims, "The Hurt Locker", like some of the best films of 2009, was a small picture that reminded us of the power that lies in genre.
Action flick expert Kathryn Bigelow refreshed our notions of the war action film as something that can be profound without losing its thrills.
In the process proving Michael Bay, Clint Eastwood, chauvinism and war mongers were all wrong.

5. Broken Embraces (read my review)

Who knew Michelangelo Antonioni's infamous tennis ball could take on the shape of Penélope Cruz? Apparently Pedro Almodóvar did and in "Broken Embraces" he uses his muse to break our hearts and open our mind's eyes to the notions of what's real and what's not.
Unlike the cold Antonioni, Pedro proves that intellectual stimulation can also be warm and affective as he frames his theories in a melodramatic plot that recalls "Notorious" and "Voyage to Italy".
The film's title is an homage to neorealism but its structure and reach couldn't be more postmodernist if they tried.

4. Vincere (read my review)

What's the best way to tell a story that deals with rumors about the life of a historical figure? To answer this question Marco Bellocchio looked back at art history and came up with three influential movements that used aesthetics to dig into larger truths.
"Vincere" therefore is a romantic melodrama inspired by silent films, expressionist opera and Eisensten-ian editing.
Bellocchio is able to keep these currents from clashing and succumbing to their own grandiosity, like a masterful conductor using a storm to make music he makes "Vincere" thunderous and big but keeps it from sinking under its own weight.

3. A Prophet (read my review)

Speaking of genre as a way to connect to more profound subjects, Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet" may look like a gritty gangster flick at first glance-and it sure works like one-but the underlying themes of racial empowerment, spiritual search and criminal coming-of-age at its center are worthy of discussing with your shrink your social worker and your priest.
But the movie is never as "Officer Krupke" specific as that description, Audiard makes the story of Malik (Tahar Rahim) mean something different to whoever's watching and while some will be inspired to call it the best thing since "The Godfather" others will be more intrigued with figuring out the theological meaning of the title cards Audiard inserts throughout the film.

2. Up (read my review)

An adventure film in the very essence of the word, Pete Docter's "Up" is another winning entry in the Pixar canon that makes the studio the most consistently brilliant factory in Hollywood or a good luck streak waiting to crash.
The creativity in this film makes it seem more like the former though, especially in the way the screenwriters and director make the oddest elements work like magic.
Beyond its obvious homages to classic cinema, Buck Rogers and Indiana Jones, "Up" owes its most precious moments to the machinations of old studio Hollywood where people seemed to sit around a desk, throw things inside a giant pot and come out with a film that had romance, drama, comedy, adventure and even room for various analytical readings.
"Up" is the rare kind of movie that still happens to have it all.

1. The White Ribbon (read my review)

If "The White Ribbon" is the year's coldest film, it-ironically- might also be the most inviting. Long gone are the days when going to the cinema was an interactive experience in which the filmmakers and the audience made the movie together.
We have grown used to sitting in the dark, munching on our pop corn and leaving all the problem solving and idea digesting to the people up on the screen and behind the camera.
Leave it to Michael Haneke to bring this sort of event back with a film that might seem like an over analytical allegory at first but also happens to be the most delicious mystery of the year.
One which we're invited to participate in because it reaches beyond the film.
The strange crimes occurring in the German village are enough to keep our brain working throughout the movie looking for clues and suspects but Haneke makes sure we also have fun on the way back home from the theater and makes us see that despite our universe being in true color, it might just be an extension of the black and white world we've just left.
The burning of that barn we saw might be that mysterious explosive that just blew an Afghan building halfway across the world and the bullying of a young disabled child might explain why certain kids grow into violent adults that solve everything with violence.
"The White Ribbon" might work as a prequel to every movie Michael Haneke has ever made but it also works as warning to the world we've yet to see.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I still can't get into Up. I just find it fine but unremarkable. I feel so embarrassed that I've only seen half of your top ten.

Luke said...

Up!! Yet again, so close. I feel like you intentionally put all my favorites in second place just to torment me. :)

Jose said...

That's too bad Andrew [about "Up] but I guess to each their own, you don't have to like every Pixar movie, I'm not in love with "Ratatouille" as most people are. Hmm I've no idea which ones you haven't seen yet but I'm obviously biased and will endorse them haha!

I swear I'm not doing that on purpose Luke lol.

Castor said...

Wow Red just gave an A+ for this movie and it's your #1 of 2009. I really need to check this out this weekend...

Jose said...

I would insist you did Castor! It's really worthy of your time, such an excellent movie.
I wish it had crossed over more like this type of films did in the 1960s and 70s.