Until I sat down to write this list I thought 2009 had been a subpar year far film. Clearly, that impression is very wrong. The cinema is alive and well and each of these titles made my 2009 pretty great. Every one of them is a small, intelligent, masterful work of art.
1. Hunger (dir. Steve McQueen, UK)
Formalist beauty mixed with an exploration of the dichotomies of self-sacrifice. Fassbender gives a performance to rival any this decade, and video artist Steve McQueen makes a masterful feature debut.
2. Revanche (dir. Götz Spielmann, Austria)
A thriller as it might exist with real characters and emotion. A simmer of a film that doesn’t ruin itself by ever boiling over.
3. The Informant! (dir. Steven Soderbergh, USA)
“It’s just like a Crichton novel!” The year’s funniest film, with brilliant interplay between the diegesis of the story and of the character.
4. Two Lovers (dir. James Grey, USA)
Sad, funny and painful. A grown up’s film about romance and compromise.
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson, USA/UK)
Joyful and exuberant like a child’s pride in a school project. Anderson’s most fulfilled film since Tennenbaums.
6. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (dir. Werner Herzog, USA)
A deliriously weird experience of a film, most interesting in the ways it’s only incidentally a police procedural. Herzog and Cage having a ball.
7. A Serious Man (dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen, USA)
The ur-Coens movie? Charmingly odd and bleak, plus it’s leagues better than the overrated No Country For Old Men.
8. Antichrist (dir. Lars von Trier, Denmark)
von Trier’s dark night of the soul. A self critiquing put-on of a film, and the height of the strand of LvT’s work dealing with the pain of creation.
9. You, The Living (dir. Roy Andersson, Sweden)
It’s not Songs from the Second Floor, but there may not be a director in the world more capable of creating an artificial beauty than Andersson.
10. Adventureland (dir. Greg Mottola, USA)
The smartest and most emotionally honest coming of age film since the heyday of John Hughes.
Once again I feel bad for all the films I haven’t seen (looking your way, Headless Woman, Julia, 35 Shots of Rum, etc). I’d also like to point to two films that in their own ways might be the most fun movies of 2009: Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (at least it came to prominence this year) and JJ Abrams’ shockingly good Star Trek (because seriously I’ve hated everything he’s been associated with before this).
Can’t wait for 2010.