Top Ten Films of 2009 by Tom Nixon
by TOM NIXON
10. In The Loop
You may not believe that, and I may not believe that, but by God it’s a useful hypocrisy.
9. Inglourious Basterds
The basement, the dinner, the opening, the climax – what is there to say? Laurent is great enough, but did anybody else find Christoph Waltz kind of fairly decent as well?
8. The Hurt Locker
Every familiar trope is dissolved into a hallucinogenic haze in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, a war film set in Iraq which not only dodges sentiment and never, ever feels like it’s pandering, but revolves around a man addicted to war and thrives on breathless set pieces, knife-point tension and exhilarating action – as well as doubling as a tragic Wrestler-esque character study.
7. Observe and Report
Wrongly accused of pulling punches by some, this indescribably fascinating revisionist Rogen-com is a razor pressed down just enough to tickle and hurt at the same time, far more unsettling, deconstructive and revelatory in walking the line between lighthearted manchild lewdness and horrifying pathology than morphing into an exclusively serious character study would allow. Superbad and chums have been irrevocably transformed by this beast – the laughs can only stick in the throat.
The European art-house’s most insufferably pretentious provocateur released his most absorbing work in a good while in 2009… but enough about Michel Haneke. Lars Von Trier is pretty much my go-to guy if I wanna be put through the ringer, and his films are so rigorously, knowingly, relentlessly pretentious that they come back full circle to un-pretentious. A fox looking at the camera and saying “chaos reigns” is something all right, but not pretentious. I don’t know what it is. What I do know is that this thing is something like Don’t Look Now filtered through the language of Tarkovsky, and it swept me up in its brutally intense examination of grief and gender relationships.
5. Treeless Mountain
Of a piece with Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows, Treeless Mountain is another live-action response to Grave of the Fireflies concerning two young girls in the aftermath of parental abandonment. Never has a film so perfectly evoked a child’s world, and the way in which it revolves around the presence (or absence) of a parent.
4. Where the Wild Things Are
A visual, emotional and thematic feast only sentimental in a snatched way that feels dangerously, exhilaratingly temporary, Spike Jonze’s bizarre adaptation of the classic bedtime story mingles images of creative and destructive forces to achingly articulate what it is to be born into the world naked and alone, and the process of coming to terms with the same. The allegory’s hammered home with a couple of overly obvious motifs, and there’s a few too many pointers as to the emotional state of our young protagonist, but the film’s slight distrust of its audience evaporates into what must be the bleakest, most bittersweet mess of a climax in years.
Gotz Spielmann and his superlative star Johannes Krisch methodically chop the revenge genre apart with an axe, revealing all the sticky little emotions and niggling hesitations trembling beneath the surface of these macho exchanges. The result ends up feeling like the best Hamlet adaptation in a good while.
Possessed by a sprawling noir sensibility which seems to have been spat right out of the amoral ‘70s, Julia is driven by the amazing performance of Tilda Swinton as the titular alcoholic anti-hero, a mess of wired tics, steeled resolve and scrambled greed who improvises an opportunistic kidnapping scam with maniacal desperation. Impossible not to inhabit her completely as she lurches from one persona to another, worming her way out of tight spot after tight spot; the stakes are real and oh so high, and the authentic down and dirty location-shooting helps to pump a palpable sense of disorder and decay into every scene. It’s an exceptionally ambiguous film, never more so than during a languorous chase over the rocks that has its claws deep in my brain.
1. Two Lovers
Ed Gonzalez of Slant perfectly describes James Gray’s Two Lovers as follows: has the feel of something bygone, an ambered tone poem of unusually striking eroticism and ambiguity that derives its beauty from its hypnotic feeling for location, and accumulation of seemingly off-the-cuff details that speak wondrous profundities about its main character’s eccentricities and defense mechanisms. I can only add that it’s one of those rare films where an archetypal screenplay is made to seem like the freshest thing in the world by the romance of the direction and the intensity of the performances. Joaquin Phoenix can fire out clichés like ‘I love you so much’ or ‘you’re so beautiful’ and there’s this tone of fumbling desperation in his voice that gives the impression that he’s desperate to say something more profound but his feelings are beyond the scope of language. Not coincidentally, my favorite film of the year contains my favorite performance of the year.
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