There were many dark days in the cinema in 2009, and a lot of times during which it was permissible to fall asleep. However, it also saw some great ones, with the top two or three at least being absolute masterpieces. This year, ashamedly, only one foreign language film makes the grade.
10. Glorious 39. This one was an oddity, causing murmurs of “worst film ever” when the lights came up. It’s a clever throwback to the suspense war-era films of Hitchcock, with a supporting cast full of famous faces. Apart from Bill Nighy, it was a great success, harking back to the old classics while not forgetting to keep it’s pace moving forward. One of the most entertaining films of the year, though it remains unclear how seriously Stephen Poliakoff wants you to take it.
9. Me And Orson Welles. It will be remembered as the film in which Zac Efron proves himself, though not entirely on the acting front. It is infectious fluff that will definitely put a smile on your face. Efron excels as a song and dance man bouncing through life whatever problems come his way. Christian McKay was terribly overlooked during the awards season, his Orson Welles is fantastic.
8. A Serious Man. The Coen’s surprise yet again, turning a simple story of a man finding himself out of step in life, the universe and everything. A disarming oddity with a fantastic ending-one of those ones that will spawn a collective “huh?” from the people around you-and a big hit. Saying everything whilst being almost entirely meaningless, it, like Me And Orson Welles, is a simple film whose motto is: c’est la vie.
7. The Hurt Locker. Forgetting the Oscar wins, the hype and its stance on war, you are left with what is a fine example of a suspense movie. The early dispatch of one of the film’s main stars helps create a palpable sense of anyone-anytime. Not every set piece adds up, but it is an adrenaline-fuelled war film about an adrenaline junkie who can’t get enough of war. An interesting spin, a mainstream Crash with bombs.
6. In The Loop. Another superlative comedy, this one with some of the best insults ever written, honed through the talents of Peter Capaldi and others. Mixing Yes, Minister satire with a heavy dose of swear words, In The Loop makes you laugh and think in equal measure. It is also a comedy with courage behind its convictions, refusing to ignore the dark undertones beneath the comic wordplay, making for a rather sombre but brilliant close. Getting very close to Dr. Strangelove stature, In The Loop is one of the best comedies in a long, long time.
5. Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. A kid’s movie to cherish whole-heartedly. Not because its imaginative (which it is), not because its beautifully designed (which it is) and not because its hilarious (which it really is), but because it neither patronizes kids nor pander to the adults in the sub-par post-Shrek mode of post-modern kid’s films. You will laugh until you cry in one of the few imaginatively stimulating films of this decade. A charming little oddball of a movie.
4. Moon. It may have a slow start, but stay with it. Moon is a cheap little science fiction film that dared to be more about the inner turmoil of its main character (it’s only character, played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell) than about big special effects. It is a dark film filled with remorse and existential worry, and it’s a deeply moving.
3. Up. Continuing with the theme of deeply moving films, Up strikes the perfect balance between an entertaining and funny kid’s movie and a deep and profound adult’s film. Pixar continues to impress, moving up a gear from Wall. E, delivering a film about the adventure that is life. It is cheesy, but it works, which is a tribute to either the writing or the animation, or probably both as, here, Hollywood is firing on all cannons.
2. The White Ribbon. A pleasant surprise as this comes from Michael Haneke, responsible for one of the most pretentiously smug and downright infuriating of recent films, Funny Games US. Here, he uses his all too evident talents with almost impossible directorial precision to present an exercise of sheer cinematic unease. It is not pleasant viewing but its subtle allegory of a society on the cusp of war and ruin is invigorating. The spectre of innocence and Nazism exudes a potent sense of evil and a carefully constructed sequences keeps you continually uncomfortable. It won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and should have won everywhere else. It’s main competitors, A Prophet and The Secret In Their Eyes, don’t hold a candle to it.
1. Creation. Only just making it to the top spot is a melodramatic biopic about Charles Darwin and the troubles that effected him during the writing of his groundbreaking book “On The Origin Of The Species.” It is Oscar Drama material but what raises it beyond that limited field (despite being an emotionally involving experience with great acting all round and at least two tearful sequences) is its thematic and philosophical weight. It is more Herzogian than the recent output of that Bavarian auteur, with profound questions of life, the world and our place on it and the meaning of ideas. Fantastic stuff.
Other notables include an engrossing slice of British realism Fish Tank, rite of passage comedy drama Adventureland, Terry Gilliam’s creativity turned up full in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the odd and original vampire romance Thirst, the less original but entertaining and romantic New Moon and Lars von Trier’s pseudo-arthouse horror drama Antichrist.