Before diving into my nine favorite films released in the rapidly expiring year of two-thousand-and-nine, I ought to make the following confession: I haven’t seen very many movies that came out this year, relatively speaking. I mean, I have, but I haven’t. The following are films that I likely won’t get around to watching until next year, all of which would’ve had more than a fighting chance at cracking this list (or even at expanding it to—dare I say it—ten films): The Headless Woman, The White Ribbon, Antichrist, The Frontier of Dawn, Police, Adjective, White Material and 35 Shots of Rum, 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup, Wild Grass, A Prophet, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Ne change rien.
Anyway, without further ado:
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox – I addressed this one just last week. I could go on and on about how charming and irresistible and endearing it is, but instead I’ll say that it’s the one film on this list that absolutely anyone would love; however, what’s most impressive is the fact that it manages to be so undeniably lovable without compromising even the slightest bit of its aesthetic integrity, its slightly exclusive wit or its overwhelming will to please and to challenge. It’s not really within my jurisdiction to evaluate Wes Anderson’s status as a self-conscious auteur—only because I don’t care to—but it’s readily apparent that someone, or rather a group of someones, is trying to forge a bond with the viewer throughout this film, trying to externalize a meticulously designed vision for public consumption, trying to slip a philosophical roofie into the viewer’s cinematic rail mixer. For my money (literally), this is the most effective movie of 2009.
2. The Limits of Control – Though it’s been months and months since I even thought about Jarmusch’s latest, it still strikes me as the sort of flick that can’t help but leave an anvil-sized impression on its viewer’s tabula rasa. The Limits of Control fits in nicely with a string of films released over the course of the last decade—films such as Denis’s The Intruder, Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. and INLAND EMPIRE, and most of Weerasethakul’s output—that aim to confound the viewer in order to induce certain modes of consciousness. Jarmusch name-checks Rimbaud during the film’s opening sequence, a rare instance of directorial intentions surfacing without undermining the purity of the film as a cinematic experience. This is the year’s most phenomenologically exhilarating movie; probably helps to see it in a theater, though. I never would’ve guessed that Jim Jarmusch would be responsible for such an abstract masterwork.
3. Two Lovers – The dialogue is often grating and insipid, the emotional swerves tend towards a tiresome strain of melodrama, and the two leads’ star presences frequently threaten to disrupt the impenetrable high that Two Lovers otherwise effects; nevertheless, this was, in many ways, the year’s most visually impressive release. It reaches a new plateau of tragedy. Despite the high praise that this film initially received, I honestly didn’t expect to like it. Turns out I did (quite a bit, in fact).
4. The Hurt Locker – Find my DC review reproduced here. I stand by most of what I said about this film last summer, but I think it’s also worth noting that I’ve felt no desire to see it again, despite countless opportunities to do so—such was the first viewing’s intensity, potency and general unpleasantness. In other words, as far as films about war go, it’s perfect.
5. 24 City – Neither as involving as Jia’s two best of the decade—Unknown Pleasures and The World (I haven’t seen Platform)—nor as exhaustively dreary as Still Life. The year’s most formally significant film, I reckon. Not quite documentary and not quite fiction, not quite gleaned and not quite fabricated: somewhere at the heart of this fourfold resides the essence of cinema. I think. Can’t wait to see what Jia churns out next.
6. A Serious Man – My DC review can still be accessed rye heeyah. In a year featuring several films that addressed the question of Jewish identity in a direct and serious (golden word) manner, this was probably the funniest and the most sensitive and, paradoxically, the most implausible. Never let it be said that there isn’t something to be said for implausibility.
7. The Beaches of Agnès – I won’t bother trying to build upon my remarks from last week, but don’t you dare forget that this one is currently playing at the Orpheum.
8. Summer Hours – One of the two ensemble-centric films that left a big impression of me this year. At the risk of sounding like a disingenuous cornball: see this one with a family member. My only real concern is that the maturity displayed throughout is kind of elephantine, but what can you do?
9. Goodbye Solo – Possibly the most universally agreeable film on this list. The hype surrounding Bahrani is (mostly) legitimate and this is far and away his stickiest work yet. Funny how melancholy manages to lurk both on the periphery and at the core of this film. I’d never seen what Winston-Salem looked like until I saw it from the rear windshield of Solo’s cab. This film deserves a healthy slab of credit for not being as painfully obvious as it easily could have been.