The Best Movies I Saw In 2009.

Dec 04 2009 Published by Benito Vergara under notes


Is it that time of the year yet? I thought I’d post my picks early, with two disclaimers:

1. My list isn’t limited to movies made or released in 2009, but to the ones I only saw this year. (The not-always reliable IMDB seems to date movies according to production and not release (in the US at least), so it looks like Zombieland was my favorite movie of 2009, which isn’t exactly true. It’s a damn fun one though.)

2. I actually didn’t see very many movies this year — got sucked into “The Wire”, some big novels (Mieville, Vollmann and King were to blame) and lots of Xbox 360 time. RevancheThe RoadInvictusUp in the AirThe White RibbonPreciousMoonPontypoolSin NombreAnvil!A Serious ManTwo Lovers, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Messenger — they’ll have to wait. Besides, I kind of have an aversion to watching something next week and pronouncing it “best of 2009″ a few days later.

The links below are to my reviews; one day I’ll write about the others.

In alphabetical order, by title, the best movies I saw in 2009:

- Nagisa Oshima, Boy (1969)
- Nagisa Oshima, Death by Hanging (1968)
- Kazuo Hara, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987)
- Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker (2008)
- Fernando Eimbcke, Lake Tahoe (2008)
- Hirokazu Kore-eda, Still Walking (2008)
- Olivier Assayas, Summer Hours (2008)
- Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Tokyo Sonata (2008)

And some runners-up:

- Denisa Reyes and Mark Gary, Hubad (2008)
- Lee Isaac Chung, Munyurangabo (2007)
- Hayao Miyazaki, Ponyo (2008)
- Koji Wakamatsu, United Red Army (2007)
- Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland (2009)

And some other random tidbits:

Biggest disappointment: Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst

Best short film on YouTube: Bang-yao Liu’s Deadline (YouTube link)

Best exit music: a tie between the Yayhoos’ “Baby I Love You” at the end of James Gunn’s Slither, and Los Parientes de Playa Vicente Veracruz’s “La Lloroncita” at the end of Lake Tahoe

Best movie experience: a three-way tie between the entirety of Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition at the PFA; Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather 1 and 2 at the Castro; and Ken Jacobs’ Nervous Magic Lantern performance, Towards the Depths of the Even Greater Depression, also at the PFA

A movie I kind of conked out to and really wished I hadn’t: Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman

The most overhyped “intelligent” summer film that gets dumb really fast, but I still have very high hopes for the sequel: Neill Blomkamp’s District 9

The absolute worst movie I saw all year, even more terrible than anything with mega-sharks or sword-wielding Immortals that used to be from another planet but are now from a “very long time ago” instead in it: Ron Howard’s Angels and Demons

The movie that gave me a headache: a tie between Jean-Luc Godard’s 2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her (a good headache) and McG’s Terminator: Salvation (a bad one, but that was because of the decibels; see below)

A startling and perhaps indefensible confession: I liked Terminator: Salvation more than I liked J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek

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Olivier Assayas, “Summer Hours” (2008).

May 04 2009 Published by Benito Vergara under review


Olivier Assayas’ exquisite new film, Summer Hours (L’heure d’été) began, at least for myself, almost frighteningly like a generic Miramax French family drama: a sun-dappled lawn, a picture-perfect al fresco meal, children playing gaily on the grounds, and a cast, cardigans draped on shoulders, looking like they just finished a fashion shoot. (The most well-known actress here is the lone daughter Adrienne, who is played by Juliette Binoche — her hair still dyed blonde, I like to imagine, from The Flight of the Red Balloon.) The family has gathered together at their summer house for the 75th birthday of their mother Hélène, played by the elegant Edith Scob.* But such a happy milestone nonetheless provokes thoughts of mortality, and so she confides in her eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling, something of an Assayas regular now) about the disposition of the summer house and its contents after her death.

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Olivier Assayas, “Boarding Gate” (2007).

Aug 30 2008 Published by Benito Vergara under review

About 20 minutes into the annoying Boarding Gate, I was wishing Olivier Assayas had made something like Hal Hartley’s Fay Grim instead. The two films really aren’t all that dissimilar, working within the form and generally limited grammar of the crime / thriller genre. (Assayas did tell the audience, before the film started, that he wanted to make a B-movie with a “French independent movie budget”. I’m sure the French have different conceptions of what a B-movie is like, though.) All the right elements are intact in Assayas’ film — the gun in the handbag, international airports, the shadowy company that traffics in vague semi-legalities, the package of drugs hidden in the furniture, a chase that involves scurrying through the warrens of a restaurant’s kitchen — and, most important, “a woman in trouble”, as David Lynch would put it. (The said girl in peril comes in the form of a disappointingly greasy-looking Asia Argento, who looks sleep-deprived for most of the film.)

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