Friday, February 05, 2010

The Golden Trousers '09: 20 Movies

And so we arrive here, at the inevitable. The moment nobody was waiting for! MNPP's 20 favorite movies of the year 2009. The usual caveat remains - ask me on another day and this list would probably shift all over the place. And I maintain that anybody saying 2009 was a bad year for movies just didn't go to enough movies. I love all these films deeply that I'm about to spout off about, and there's another fifteen that are sitting there in this list's shadow, glaring at me, pulling the razor blade out from under their tongue... I'm sorry, me loves! You are all mine and I am yours, forever... but no, it must be done. Choices must be made. Babies must be thrown out with bathtubs! Or... um... yeah... anyway...

And with that, here at last are
MNPP's Top 20 films of 2009

Observe and Report (d. Jody Hill)

It seems to be impossible to talk about this film without addressing in a way that's aimed at how other people reacted to it. And it's not that I feel a sense of superiority to those of who don't appreciate the film, but I do feel a mounting sense of exasperation when I try to defend it. Like, how can everyone not get it and love it? In the end it is a comedy that stops being funny and morphs into a portrait of a bunch of characters no one in their right mind would want to spend any time with, ever. But its merciless blackest-of-black take on The Way We Live Now (Pills! Malls! Perverts!) rings truer to me than any of that gobbledygook that Up in the Air's hawking.

Ask me tomorrow and Mary & Max could've switched into FMF's spot. I went back and forth on it and even just typing it now is making me wonder... but then I think of the wondrous whimsy Wes Anderson stuffed into every frame and the toe-tapping voice-work of everyone involved and I smile anew and my choice seems of a reasonable sort. Just a total delight, first to last frame; it's everything I hoped it would be. A perfect storm of creator and material and methodology. Deeeelight.

Taking Woodstock (d. Ang Lee)
(my original review)

Like I said in my review, I went into Woodstock expecting disappointment and came out enlivened by the film. Ang took this huge generation-defining event and made it seem personal, intimate even. And it's the tails to Brokeback's heads (or the top to Brokeback's bottom, if you must... and you must) - where that film examined the stifling confines of the closet, this one gets its gay lead laid and an audience applauds for him. Bravo!

Summer Hours (d. Olivier Assayas)

It's been months since I watched Assayas' familial dirge and as I glanced through photographs from it for here it all came rushing back to me. The little tensions between siblings, husbands and wives, children and grandparents. The unwrapping of gifts, the way the house looked when everyone left and she sank into her chair. The desk sitting in the museum at the end, sterile and distant. The teenagers party in the empty rooms, bringing a final burst of life to the things that are gone, or almost so. My mouth swollen with the taste of small regrets, lingering and final.

Ponyo (d. Hayao Miyazaki)

My favorite Miyazaki since Spirited Away. And like that film (well, like all his films), it's all about the little details he sticks into the giant canvas on which he paints. The vast array of sea creatures swarming on the underwater ship. The grins on the faces of the crazy-eyed wave-fish. Strands of hair swimming upwards. The dinosaurs looking beasts drifting down country roads. It's all taken an ice-cream scooper and carved itself a forever place inside my brain.

Julia (d. Erick Zonca)
(my original review)

A lot of people claim that Tilda Swinton's performance in this film is this film. That her performance - admittedly the best performance given by anyone this year, so naturally snubbed by the places that are meant to measure such things - is far and away the most interesting thing going on. And while... hell, it's hard to argue with the sheer force of blessedly gratuitous Tilda going on here... while all that's storming around front and center, blasting us with awesome, well I think the film itself is unjustly ignored. Zonca knew what he had going on here, the magic he was capturing via Miss Swinton, but the progression he takes her through, the sheer unrelenting stuttering hell her has her swing herself into with full drunken force, well it manages to be both harrowing and humorous. Much like Julia herself.

Away We Go (d. Sam Mendes)
(my original review)

I don't know how we got to live in a world where Sam Mendes is accused of making cold or condescending films, but I will stand tall against such accusations, and this film will be my light-saber battling them back. Kapow! The warmth (blessedly unsentimental) that radiates off of John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph's characters is something I could and will wrap myself in again and again. These are people we all ought to aspire to be, and the lessons they learn on their circuitous road-trip are ones I'm thankful for the film giving.

Sin Nombre (d. Cary Fukunaga)
(my original review)

It all seems so real, so natural, until the train comes. The night is dark, the tracks littered with living bodies. The light pouring off of it is immense, unnatural, scary. A plume of smoke surrounding it. The bodies scatter, slowly, waking up from their better dreams. This is reality after all, and this unfriendly behemoth doesn't care whether you get out of the way or not. It will slice through bodies itself before it is finished, and those on-board will follow suit.

A Serious Man (d. Coens)

Where Joel & Ethan once told us "You can't stop what's coming,"
now they seem to be saying, "You can't argue with it either."
And that ending! Hypnotic and gut-punching all at once.

The Informant! (d. Steven Soderbergh)

His wig is filled with secrets! Seriously, with the exception of a film soon to come, there was no other movie more deliciously off-kilter this year than this monstrously underrated gem from Mr. Soderbergh. Every time you think you know the extent of the lunacy another shoe falls and it all spirals off into something even harder-to-believe-yet-apparently-entirely-true. Its hard to even pin-point how everything works so magically here - Matt Damon's delightful performance, the phenomenally inappropriate score, all the stony-faced supporting cast. It all adds up to something more insane, and greater, than you ever think it can.

Avatar (d. King of the world)
(my original review)

Oh what am I gonna say to defend this making my top 10? How can I possibly? Every single criticism that's been aimed at the flick I completely get. It's totally stupid and it's kinda racist and the "story" it tells was paint-by-number fifty years ago. Once the special effects it's captured the cultural imagination with become routine, will we all look at this flick as something to be embarrassed about? I don't know. But I can tell you that the moment Jake's avatar jumps on his dragon's back and flies down the side of that cliff-face, I got teary-eyed both times, and thinking back on it it's as if I can feel wind pushing on my face. It's immersive in a way nothing before has ever been. And it never feels cynical to me. James Cameron doesn't want to hit you in the face with an explosion - he just wants to give you a good old-fashioned cutting-edge night at the movies. He wants your wow.

Broken Embraces (d. Pedro Almodóvar)
(my original review)

Weeks later and I'm still at a loss to put into words the way this film moved me. It sneaks up on you. It doesn't take the straight route. It goes the long way around. It's halfway over and you realize you're completely enraptured. The images blossom into those distinct Almodóvarian bursts of color only in retrospect. I don't know why so many people seem to have missed the film's spell. It lingers here.

Precious (d. Lee Daniels)

Just how loony a film is this? I think that's one of the points that gets too glossed over with all the talk about the depressing inner-city saga of welfare and handicapped babies and illiteracy at its heart - what about running down the street with a stolen bucket of chicken, cramming it all down your face, and then throwing up? Where's the talk of that joy? I mean for the love of fuck's sake, there's a subtitled black-and-white homage to Vittorio De Sica's Two Women starring Mo'Nique in the middle of this movie. That's enough for me, yo.

Best Worst Movie (d. Michael Stephenson)
(my original review)

This is one I wasn't sure I ought to include as it's still only played festivals, but as I'm not sure when it will or even if it will get a proper release, unlike Life During Wartime which is out in theaters this Summer, so I just said to hell with it. This is the second most enjoyable experience I had watching a movie this year (the first most enjoyable experience I had is coming up next), and like I first said when I saw the film it's not only due to my love affair with the film Troll 2, which this documentary is about. There were people at the screening I attended that'd never seen Troll 2 and they were just as into it as the rest of us. It just effortlessly captures that Ed-Wood-ian vibe of good intentions writ stupendously wrong, with nobody aware of their folly until too late. And the film is just bursting with affection for its inhabitants.

Drag me To Hell is my #2 horror film of 2009

I've already seen this film more times than any of these others - five times, to be exact - and in the end I'll doubtlessly watch it the most of anything from this year. It's just a great time. I watch this movie like a crazy person, whooping and hollering at the screen with abandon. It is a perfect boo machine, flinging dentures and maggots and embalming fluid in our face - if only it'd been in 3D! It's relentlessly silly in that wonderful Raimi way. It's the most damned fun I had in a theater, and in front of my TV, all year long, and when I'm watching movies on my pinkie-nail 10 years from now it'll probably be the most damned fun I have doing that to. PORK QUEEN.

Like I said in my write-up of Michael Shannon's performance in this film, the thing that I don't think has been spoken enough about this movie is how goddamned funny it is. It will get you laughing so hard that suddenly you'll have toppled over and shaken your head around and it will all start making complete sense. That's a feat Herzog's Bad Lieutenant with Nic Cage went for as well but I really felt him stick the landing here. This movie made me feel like an absolute lunatic. Go back and read my review! Insane. And I adore it for that. I adore the way the camera stops and everyone stares at us. I adore everyone's stilted delivery, as if they aren't sure we can hear them, and then aren't sure if they ought to speak up louder so we can hear them.

Martyrs (d. Pascal Laugier)
(my original review)

Martyrs is my #1 horror film of 2009

What the hell can I say about Martyrs? I don't know that I could possibly convince anyone to see it who wouldn't have already had the notion. It's a brutal film, impossibly horrific. It starts as one movie and before the end it's become twelve, shooting down a straight path you never would've even imagined at the start. It's got more guts than you ever think it might, and more brains than you'd dare to imagine it could. I watched the entire thing in terror that it would inevitably falter, and not only did it prove such thoughts wrong but it blew any expectations I might've had outta the water. It deconstructs the entire genre in one deranged swoop, and it carries us, skinless, into the light.

The Headless Woman (d. Lucrecia Martel)

I normally have one romance that I fall in love with every year, be it Punch-Drunk Love or Eternal Sunshine or Once and so on, but this year it appears to be all murky thriller-types. The closest to romance we've gotten is Sin Nombre's doomed pair or the country-scouring parents-to-be in Away We Go. But murky thriller-types of films do me just fine and (save my #2 choice, up next) they didn't get much more delightfully (or is that disturbingly?) murky than this film right here. It's as if the film itself crumbles alongside our protagonist, and it's an astounding trip. As the ghosts begin to build up and trail off, so goes our understanding of what's happening in front of us. Nothing slides off into something, not nothing, a question mark followed by a period.

The White Ribbon (d. Michael Haneke)

You know who did it? Who beat the boy and tripped the horse and hung the old man and destroyed the crops and gave birth to the future fuhrers of this stern black-and-white land? That fucker Michael Haneke did, and he's rubbing your nose in it! Arrest that man!

Where the Wild Things Are (d. Spike Jonze)
"Will you keep out the sadness?"
Just thinking about this movie can reduce me to tears. An ocean of instants that I'll cherish forever flood back, and it's with the high highs and the low lows intact. Yes we ran through woods and deserts and alongside a beautiful sea, we threw dirt clods and tore off arms and built forts as tall as the sky itself. But just as importantly we sat and stared at our feet and we cried when our snow fort tumbled down on our head and we watched out mother fall asleep across the table from us, happy to have us home and safe at last. This is a movie written out of my life. My memories and my imaginings and everything I've built myself off of. It hit me in a primal, personal way. Spike took a book I've adored since as far back as I can remember and he turned it into even more - it's like he scraped up not just the book but everything inside myself that's attached to its memory and he spilled it out on the screen, a torrent of beautiful and horrible feelings and thoughts, jumbled up like rawest adolescence itself.


And that's that! My 2009.



Glenn said...

I'm so with you on Julia and Precious. Julia does something so rare these days in that it is a modern-day thriller that doesn't revolve around the sort of ticks that Tony Scott or Michael Bay or whatever music video director that's making movies these days are fond of. It's so efficient and even at over 2hrs long it's so remarkably tight. Swinton, of course, is just phenomenal.

And Precious, I don't think it gets enough praise for how easily it makes the whole story to digest. I mean, the film flies by (that editing Oscar nod was so deserved) and by the end it doesn't feel like I've been hit by a big giant truck. And Mo'Nique is just phenomenal.

Iggy said...

I'm completely on your side regarding Broken Embraces. I fell madly in love with that movie, and nobody seems to share my love.

And just for the sake of it, and because I found it looking for something else. Here's a short clip from Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón. It's called General Erections. It's obviously NSFW, but a bit disappointing if you go by the title. Funny, anyway. And as I think that movie never got a DVD American release. Why am I justifying myself?

(PS. Bad sound quality but subtitled in Italian)

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Anonymous said...

I never will understand why no gay guy ever mentions that extremely hunky guy who gets that infamous popcorn death scene in Troll 2. I have never ever ever seen any gay guy mention him yet I salivated over him when I saw him on screen the first time I saw the sequel yes its the worst fucking movie in so many ways but the seduction scene him being pushed down on the bed and that incredibly hot part where she put him in a trance and let her fingers linger on his wet soft lips was the hottest scene id ever saw in any movie. The dude was a hunk his body was still buff but not crazy buff he was just a hot stud. Amazing in 2013 ive still not found one gay dude who felt the same about that guy as I STILL do to this day.