Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: The Best Films of the 00s: 2009

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Best Films of the 00s: 2009

by Tony Dayoub

2009 proved surprisingly robust in its cinematic offerings. It yielded two films which you'll see tomorrow when I wrap this up with my look at the Best of the Decade. In the meantime, this should prove to be a highly debatable list, as these lists often are when they are created so soon before any serious critical consensus has been achieved. Some reminders: I cannot judge movies I haven't seen, so if you feel a film you like was unjustly left out, it might be that I haven't seen it; also, I've included a link back to the original review for each film.

And now, in alphabetical order, the best films of 2009...

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, director Werner Herzog - Review here. Here is a film in love with its own absurdity. Or is it the lead actor's? Or its director's? Whatever the case, Herzog (Grizzly Man), Nicolas Cage, and the story's unsettling post-Katrina environs form a sort of "perfect storm" of insanity that is a pleasure to watch. Cage is typically at his best when the movie built around him is as overheated as his performance is, and in this regard, the lurid movie doesn't disappoint. The great supporting cast knows when to step back and let the lead do his thing, all except Val Kilmer... and that's okay, too.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, dir. Wes Anderson - Review here. In one of the more exciting trends in recent cinema, auteurs are taking a shot at directing animated films. Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and Tim Burton (Corpse Bride) were among the first, with Cameron stretching the medium to its limits in Avatar. So it is enormously satisfying to see Anderson (The Darjeeling Limited) do it best, retaining his inimitable style as he directs a very small-scale, personal adaptation of his favorite Roald Dahl book.

L'Heure d'été, (Summer Hours), dir. Olivier Assayas - Review here. Assayas' film is an understated look at the effects of globalization on the internal dynamics of a family after their matriarch passes away. With her offspring spread across the globe, heirlooms in her once valuable family art collection now hold little sentimental or monetary significance for all but one child, the one still living in France who can hardly afford to hold onto them. It's ending is often misinterpreted, but viewed with some care, it offers a glimmer of hope to traditionalists.

The Hurt Locker, dir. Kathryn Bigelow - Review here. As Glenn Kenny and others have pointed out, in an earlier time this film would have been just another action film playing at the multiplex. It is telling then, that it is now arthouse-worthy. Bigelow (Point Break) masterfully keeps tensions running high in this Iraq war thriller that could just as easily been adapted into the story of any major city's bomb disposal unit in order to reach mainstream audiences. Except that mainstream action flicks today—with their constant pursuit of one-upmanship—are ignorant of how political context can be another element used to elevate the stakes, allowing Bigelow's setpieces to achieve a certain level of elegance with their simplicity.

Inglourious Basterds, dir. Quentin Tarantino - Review here. This postmodern fusion of the spaghetti western with the WWII B-movie offended some, even one notable critic I greatly respect. But it is Tarantino's best film since the sublime Jackie Brown (1997). The reason is simple. Hidden in plain sight among its acts of noisy cinephilic exhibitionism is a cogent, politically charged examination of violence, its excesses, and the bloodthirsty audiences who never seem to satiate their desire for more of it.

The Limits of Control, dir. Jim Jarmusch - Review here. The maverick director lovingly crafts a fascinating tribute to the existential loner archetype so prevalent in cinema. A visual feast that still manages some subtle political commentary.

La Nana (The Maid), dir. Sebastián Silva - Review here. Catalina Saavedra's portrayal of a woman at the end of her tether is a tour-de-force of minimalism. Director Silva expertly creates the unease associated with the sociopathic character type often seen in American horror films, without ever descending into the contrived histrionics depicted in those formula pictures.

A Serious Man, dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen - Review here. Those who see this film as just another example of the directors' penchant for nihilism miss the point of the film. Actually, it is a love letter to the Sisyphean search for meaning in the universe; an acknowledgement that though clear answers in that quest are rare, the need for faith is important and can be seen as a virtue unto itself.

Two Lovers, dir. James Gray - Review here. In what only seems to be a retread of a traditional formula picture (the guy caught between the right girl and the girl of his dreams) Gray confounds audience expectations by simply going for realism: Joaquin Phoenix's mensch deals with an overbearing mother who actually turns out to be right most of the time; Gwyneth Paltrow's sexy sprite is about as flighty as such a nymph can be; Vinessa Shaw's quiet, stable alternative is really the better bet.

Das weisse band (The White Ribbon), dir. Michael Haneke - Review here. This Bergmanesque meditation on the cycle of violence in a turn of the century German village deliberately leaves its audience at an emotional distance; the better to project the outcome of its legacy on the country, and indeed the world, effects of which are still felt today.

Honorable Mention: Adventureland, Bright Star, A Christmas Carol, Duplicity, Public Enemies, Serbis, Star Trek, Up

Most Overrated: Antichrist, District 9, Drag Me to Hell

Most Underrated: Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces), Terminator: Salvation

Best Unreleased Films: Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard), White Material

For more of this ongoing series, click here.


Jake said...

Wow, except for the two films I didn't get to see (The White Ribbon and The Maid), everything you listed made my top 15, and all but Bad Lieutenant actually made it in my top 10 (EDIT: oh wait, I didn't have Fantastic Mr. Fox in my list, but it was close). Although, after revisiting Where the Wild Things Are and Adventureland a few more times, I might have to re-arrange the list. I might go back and do a series of lists like the one you did, and place films like Summer Hours and Silent Light into the years in which they premiered abroad, thus freeing up some space to re-arrange my lists.

Kevin J. Olson said...

Wow. You weren't kidding a few months ago when you said your list was a virtual duplicate of mine. I'm really glad to see Two Lovers and The Limits of Control on here. The only major differences between our lists is that I haven't seen Summer Hours or The Maid or The White Ribbon. I really want to see the Chilean film...I remember Philips and Scott talking about it on At the Movies and it looked interesting.

I'm also glad to see Adventurelan (#5 on my list) and Public Enemies (#2 on my list) on your honorable mentions. The one film really high on my list that I would recommend you see as soon as possible is Disgrace (#3 on my list)...a film I think you would really like.

This has been a great series, Tony. I can't wait for the best of the decade list, and who may inspire me to actually get my own list done.

Sam Juliano said...

With the exception of Jarmusch's film, Tony, I can't question your selections here at all, though as much as I did love THE MAID, it missed out on my Top Ten list. Ditto for FANTASTIC MR. FOX and BAD LIEUTENANT. I liked TWO LOVERS and THE HURT LOCKER too, but they missed.

Here is my own round-up:

1 Bright Star (Campion)
2 Avatar (Cameron)
3 35 Shots of Rum (Denis)
4 Up (Doktor)
5 A Single Man (Ford)
6 Police, Adjective (Porumbiou)
7 Everlasting Moments (Troell)
8 A Serious Man (Coens)
9 Summer Hours (Assayas)
10 Tokyo Sonata (Kurosawa)
Of Time and the City (Davies)
Seraphine (Provost)
three-way tie
I do like DISTRICT 9 and ANTI CHRIST, but not enough to make this list.

Mike Lippert said...

Great list Tony. Was Limits of Control even released to theaters? If it was it didn't come to my part of town and if you can find a movie in Toronto, where the heck in Canada do you have to go to see it? I'm also excited to see Summer Hours which will be ondemand for me soon. Glad to see you liked it.

Tony Dayoub said...


Never saw SILNT LIGHT.


I'll look for DISGRACE. I hope you do get around to a listing of your favorite films of the decade. Thanks for commenting.


You really love BRIGHT STAR, huh? It fell just short of my top 10, but I think it's a wonderful film. I regret still not having seen the Denis film, POLICE, ADJECTIVE, and OF TIME AND THE CITY.

LIMITS OF CONTROL played here in Atlanta for quite a while. I know it played in NYC and LA, as well.