Critics' choices: the films of 2009

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Time Out's film critics pick their five best (and one worst) offerings from the year in movies, from talking foxes to the cheekiest gay Austrian ever

Dave Calhoun, Film editor



Hits

1
The White Ribbon (Dir Michael Haneke, Aus/Ger/Fr) We were proud to present Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner as the Time Out film at the London Film Festival because it’s smart, troubling, good-looking and full of meaning. It’s set in 1913, but its ideas about domestic repression and public violence are as modern as anything he has made.
2 35 Shots of Rum (Dir Claire Denis, Fr)
Claire Denis’s poetic study of a Parisian train-driver father living with his just-adult daughter is subtle and touching and reveals its wisdom slowly and tenderly. It also contains one of the year’s most spine-tingling scenes: Denis’s cast dancing in a late-night bar to the Commodores’s ‘Nightshift’.3 Milk (Dir Gus Van Sant, US)Gus Van Sant emerged from the laboratory where he’d concocted his last three films to fashion this more accessible but no less wise tale of the rise and death of 1970s San Francisco gay activist Harvey Milk. All hail Sean Penn.4 Il Divo (Dir Paulo Sorrentino, It)Paulo Sorrentino’s portrait of much-accused former Italian PM Giulio Andreotti is a grotesque carnival with Toni Servillo playing a heightened version of the politician, with creepy prosthetic ears and an inscrutable face.
5 Fish Tank (Dir Andrea Arnold, UK)
This sun-drenched story of a mixed-up Essex teenager’s fight to find her place in the world confirmed Andrea Arnold as a sympathetic humanist and one of Britain’s rising filmmaking talents.

Misses


T
he Boat That Rocked (Dir Richard Curtis, UK)Richard Curtis’s insistence that his comedy about a 1960s offshore radio station should be so long didn’t help. But our critic Wally Hammond captured its lack of humour, charm and direction when he retitled it ‘The Ship That Sank’.

Geoff Andrew, contributing editor


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Hits

1 The White Ribbon (Dir Michael Haneke, Aus/Ger/Fr)
Arguably the finest film yet from a misunderstood giant of cinema. Perhaps now, Haneke’s detractors will notice the quiet, unsentimental compassion – not to mention the discreet beauty – that marks his work. A movie for our times.

2 In the City of Sylvia (Dir José Luis Guerín, Sp/Fr)
Catalan auteur José Luis Guerin had been ploughing his own favoured and very fertile plot of filmic territory – situated somewhere between fiction, documentary and homage – for two decades before catching our attention with this sunny, sexy and slyly funny gem about a flâneur in Strasbourg. 3 A Serious Man (Dirs Ethan & Joel Coen, US)The Coens offer an uncompromisingly Jewish, consistently audacious and frequently hilarious fable about… well, man’s absurd capacity for everyday suffering and the terrifying uncertainty and mystery of existence.

4 Shirin (Dir Abbas Kiarostami, Iran)
Abbas Kiarostami’s bold experiment in storytelling focuses throughout on the faces of more than 100 women watching an old movie based on a Persian legend. Or were they? An extraordinarily open, even liberating experience, and surprisingly moving.

5 Cloud 9 (Dir Andreas Dresen, Ger)
Andreas Dresen’s warm but utterly unsentimental account of an adulterous affair is one of the few great fiction films about old age. Admirably forthright and frank, frequently witty and finally quite devastating, it was (despite mostly favourable reviews) perhaps the most unfairly neglected release of the year.

Misses

 


Antichrist (Dir Lars Von Trier, Fr/Ger/US)
Von Trier’s philosophical/ psychological thriller is short on both logic and suspense. His foray into gothic fable came across as silly, self-indulgent, childishly provocative and pretentious.

Derek Adams, Film writer

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Hits


1 District 9 (Dir Neill Blomkamp, US/SA)
Neill Blomkamp’s almost believable docu-style sci-fi drama was the most innovative film of the year. Like having all your favourite sci-fi movies rolled into one, it’s thought provoking, emotionally captivating and utterly compelling. It blew me away.

2 The Hurt Locker (Dir Katrhyn Bigelow, US)
Set on the streets of Baghdad, Kathryn Bigelow’s electrifying tour de force takes documentary-style filmmaking to new heights. Few films are as heart- palpitatingly realistic as this.

3 Inglourious Basterds (Dir Quentin Tarantino, US)
I’m out on a limb here, but Tarantino’s slice of irreverential wartime claptrap was the year’s most entertaining film. Harking back to the Mickey-taking World War II films of the 1970s, it’s tense, violent and a whole lot of fun.

4 Bruno (Dir Larry Charles, US)
The boldest film of the year. Aimless, yes, but often enormously funny, hugely embarrassing and très risqué.

5 Antichrist (Dir Lars Von Trier, Fr/Ger/US)
There are enough twisted thought processes on show to satisfy an entire conference of psychologists. Although not a film to enjoy, I couldn’t help but feel deeply affected by some of the imagery unleashed in Lars Von Trier’s occasionally beautiful but mostly dark and disturbing horror show.

Misses


Angels & Demons (Dir Ron Howard, US)
It wasn’t the year’s most terrible film, as there were far worse kids’ flicks. It’s just that Ron Howard’s Dan Brown adaptation used such a simplistic join-the-dots, signposted structure that it could easily have been followed by a three year old. And I’m older than that.


David Jenkins, Film writer

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Hits

1 Wendy and Lucy (Dir Kelly Reichardt, US)The hints of genius revealed in Kelly Reichardt’s 2006 film ‘Old Joy’ came to full fruition in this masterly follow-up, a survey of life below the American poverty line as depicted in the story of a young woman (Michelle Williams) searching for her missing dog.2 A Christmas Tale (Dir Arnaud Desplechin, Fr)Arnaud Desplechin waltzes his camera through a family fracas in this delicious examination of generational and gender conflict. 3 In the City of Sylvia (Dir José Luis Guerín, Sp/Fr)Catalan director José Luis Guerín offers an autobiographical search for a lost lover in Strasbourg that delights in the textures of the city while picking apart the mechanics of the romantic ‘chase’. 4 Sleep Furiously (Dir Gideon Koppel, UK)The year’s best British film arrived in the form of an unassuming yet artful documentary paean to antiquated Welsh farming practices from debut director Gideon Koppel. Wistful, charming, ironic and sad all at once. 5 Fantastic Mr Fox (Dir Wes Anderson, US/UK)Wes Anderson found his form again after the ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ with this stop-motion marvel which recasts Roald Dahl’s wily fox as a fop voiced by George Clooney.

Misses


Watchmen (Dir Zack Snyder, US)A bloated fanboy behemoth that went some way to prove that hype and marketing budgets have little heft when you’ve got a dud in your mitts.

Tom Huddleston, Film writer

Up.jpg













Hits


1 Up (Dirs Pete Doctor & Bob Peterson, US)
No other film this year came close to matching Pixar’s achievement: this is their first masterpiece. Coming on like Herzog adapting ‘Winnie the Pooh’, ‘Up’ is heartbreaking, hysterical and daft.

2 Rachel Getting Married (Dir Jonathan Demme, US)
Jonathan Demme’s tearjerker cast Anne Hathaway as a reformed pill-popper set loose at her sister’s wedding. Mostly improvised and featuring a cast of friends, stars, musicians and bit-players, this is like truth, only better.

3 Wendy and Lucy (Dir Kelly Reichardt, US)
Another monumental female performance both grounds and elevates ‘Wendy and Lucy’, Kelly Reichardt’s bleak tribute to America’s economic migrants. Michelle Williams has come a long way from her TV roots.

4 Burma VJ (Dir Anders Østergaard, Den)
This bloody bulletin from the streets of Rangoon is a heartfelt tribute to the power of collective protest and individual heroism.

5 Watchmen (Dir Zack Snyder, US)
Many miss the subtleties in Alan Moore’s novel of superheroism run amok: one of them is director Zack Snyder, whose cackhandedly literal approach to Moore’s achievement is intellectually inert. Yet it’s also awe-inspiring, rendering Moore’s prose in enthralling, eye-popping colour, fashioning an unwieldy, wrongheaded masterpiece despite his best efforts.

Misses


The Boat That Rocked (Dir Richard Curtis, UK)
Richard Curtis’s rambling, turgid, self-satisfied maritime misadventure pulled off the feat of being even less funny than ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers’, which at least didn’t include a comedy rape scene.

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