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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

16 Best Movies I Saw in 2009

Here is a list of the 15 best movies I saw last year, in no particular order. The best of the best are in bold. These movies didn't necessarily come out last year; that's just when I saw them:

1) Milk - In many ways a typical biopic, but I knew little of Harvey Milk before seeing it and it was a very well acted, entertaining way to learn about an important political figure in the movement for gay rights.

2) Hamlet 2 - I thought I'd had enough high school comedies, but Andrew Fleming was perfectly bizarre enough to flip the whole genre on its head without even mucking much with the formula.

3) Frozen River - My favourite kind of movie: simple, well-told story (about two desperate women who get involved in human smuggling across an Indian reservation straddling the USA and Canada), with plenty of suspense.

4) God Grew Tired of Us - Emotionally powerful, sometimes funny documentary about some of the "lost boys of Sudan," who in this case make it to the USA and experience tremendous culture and economic shock in the land of excess.

5) Che Part 1 - Documentary-style story of Cuban guerillas fighting their way to take the capital, led by Che Guevara as portrayed by Cannes best actor Benicio Del Toro. It has a similar feel to Battle of Algiers - raw realism without a lot of Hollywood drama, so despite its being a war movie the violence is sudden and shocking. A clear example of show-don't-tell. (Part II will likely be on next year's list.)

6) The Wrestler - Micky Rourke's comeback vehicle got me good - he may be nothing but a busted up piece of meat making bad decisions and big mistakes, but his character rings true and sympathetic, and the tension of his story escalates right to the cliffhanger ending.

7) Pan's Labrynth - This movie creates a convincing world for the young protagonist to rejoice and suffer in, and to grow in ways she can't in the real world of the Franquist repression. Although it is a fantasy with a happy ending, it does honest justice to the hardships and cruelties of the real world, without any cheap preaching.

8) The Tiger Next Door - A heart-breaking movie about a crazy man who raises tigers in Indiana, and sees himself as some kind of animal saviour while keeping them in cages where they get sick. Sadly, he is one of many. The doc lets the viewers judge for themselves.

9) Moolaade - Story of a Burkino Faso village in which young girls and women resist genital mutiliation, heroically fighting cultural tradition and patriarchy. It is a story of heroism that resists the oversimplicity of a good v. evil motif.

10) Darjeeling Ltd - Deadpan funny story of three brothers traveling through India in search of their mother, trying to patch the wounds of their relationships with one another and deal with the death of their father. The deepest of Wes Anderson's movies, except maybe that animated one, called:

11) The Fantastic Mr. Fox - An animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's children's novel. The movie seems geared more to adults, but then Dahl tended to write pretty darkly, and with sophistication, for a children's author. The movie, to me, is a great allegory about the downside of civilization, how it has tamed us at the cost of our sense of place in the world, and our freedom.

12) Goodbye Solo - Straight story of an old guy in Winston-Salem who wants to die, and a Senegalese-American cab driver who wants to be his friend, and maybe stop him from killing himself. The movie is very character-based and shows so much about culture clash, and the joys and regrets of life and living.

13) Jesus Camp - Scary documentary about pentecostal fundamentalists in North Dakota, and their use of a children's camp to indoctrinate. There's very little editorial - the filmmakers just show you the craziness as anti-abortionists and other devout republicans visit the camp and tie politics to religion. It's a fascinating look at the lives of people in the American far-right Christian movement, and how they pass their message on to the next generation.

14) We Feed the World - A documentary about farmers and fishermen, and how the globalized industrialized food system is eating up their livelihoods and their knowledge and their ways of life, and torturing and destroying our food in the process.

15) Bruno - Once again Sacha Baren Cohen made me very uncomfortable, and made me laugh very hard. Making people uncomfortable is his gift, and the viewer gets to see how people react in comic and often twisted ways. We criticize because we know he's showing us how shallow and intolerant we really are, when we'd rather pretend we're not.

16) Addicted to Plastic - Great documentary follows plastic around the world from cradle to grave, including the massive "plastic islands" accumulating in our oceans. It stays with you and makes you re-consider every purchase.


Charles Gramlich said...

I saw Pan's Labryinthe. Liked that. I didn't see FAntastic Mr. Fox. It certainly looked like it was completely different from the book. The rest of them I hardly even recognize as names. I'm not a movie person. My wife watched Bruno. I took a pass.

Furbottle said...

Oddly, I've seen roughly seventy percent of the movies you've recommended. Quite enjoyed them all as well. That's far a greater percentage than you'd expect from chance. We must be Movie Brothers or something.


Furbottle said...

BTW, the "Anonymous" post above looks a whole lot like spam, no? It might better be removed and blocked. I'm just sayin' eh.