Friday, December 25, 2009

My five fave flicks of 2009

It always sucks putting together a "best movies of the year" list in Canada.

For starters, a lot of the movies that were nominated for last year's Oscars actually didn't come out in Canada until 2009 - so are they 2008 or 2009 films? Most Canadian critics play both sides of the fence, including "whatever films they like" in their lists.

I don't mind it when that happens, but it seems weird to see something that cleaned up at the previous year's Oscars suddenly showing up in a list almost a year later. "And the best film of 2009 is...Titanic!"

Complicating matters, I'm a huge fan of foreign films - I always say that the best movies of the year are actually the nominees for the Oscar in the "Best Foreign Film" category.

(By the way, if you don't see a film because it has subtitles or it's in black and white, I'm sorry, but you're depriving yourself of broad sweep of film and life, and I can't be your friend anymore. Please give me back my Jar Jar Binks action figure. So, there.)

My favorite film of the last decade is easily the Lives of Others, which came out in Germany in 2006, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2007 (against Water and Pan's Labyrinth!), and I didn't see until 2008. So, what year did it make my list? No year, because I didn't know where the hell to put it. So, here's to the best film of the decade: watch it today!

Disclaimer: I haven't yet seen Precious, Avatar, Moon, or the Hurt Locker. Everyone loves them, though, so go see them. I will too.

With that in mind, here are my top five films of 2009, all listed here because they took my jaded heart and actually made it feel something - and, I'm happy to point out, no movie starring "Mudflaps" or "Skids" made the list:

1. District 9

I know that some people hated this film, but it constantly surprised and delighted me; I had no idea that I was really, really needing the British edition of the Office (which I loved), Independence Day (which I hated), and a critique of apartheid (which, we can all agree, sucks) to come together in one, great movie that made me laugh and cry at the same time.

Yeah, the fight at the end was somewhat anti-climactic, but I forgive it for the very last shot of the film, which gave us closure and left us hanging at the same time. No sequel, please - it would never live up to what I imagine happens next...

2. The Class

Here's what I said when I first reviewed this film:
Every teacher is in charge on the first day of school.

But, as every teacher knows, if you truly give your students the education they deserve, at some point they will reject your authority as part of their blossoming confidence and independence; it's normal, just like when a child reject's her parents' authority the first time she stays out past her curfew.

The key, though, is that the rejection has to come at the right time: on the last day of school is better than, say, the second week of the semester.

This is what the great French movie, the Class (Entre les murs), is about: the subtle and not-so-subtle power struggle that happens between teacher and students in any classroom.
A must-see for thoughtful teachers and students everywhere:

3. 12

In another "who would've thunk it?," one of my favorite films of the year was a Russian remake of the classic 1957 film, 12 Angry Men.

Twelve Russians locked in a high school gym consider the fate of a boy accused of murdering his stepfather. Through monologues and flashbacks punctuated by symbolism (I still don't know what "the dog" means), racially charged outbursts, and votes that swing from guilty to not guilty and back, we get a gripping meditation on the universality of justice and prejudice, which becomes all the more powerful when considered alongside the classic American film.

If you haven't seen either one, I envy you; rent both and make a day of it. Afterward, Norm Larsen will stop by your house and read his book out loud.

4. Star Trek

Yes, there is room on my list for this, the most exciting Star Trek in ages and the best prequel of all time: perfect action, casting, and writing, but for one misstep: couldn't William Shatner have at least recited the famous Star Trek mission statement at the end of the film? Throw the guy a friggin' bone already...

5. Summer Hours

Grandma dies, and the kids and grandchildren are left behind to figure out what to do with "her stuff."

From this simple premise, we get a film that ponders the meaning of life, art, beauty, value, and worth - monetary, sentimental, and otherwise.

So, what do you do? Sell the house? Sell the stuff? Keep it? Take Indiana Jones' advice and "put it in a museum? " But which of the stuff is "art" and which of the stuff is "memories of grandma?" Which is more valuable and why?

Also awesome:
The Damned United
Tell No One
The Counterfeiters
I've Loved You So Long
Food Inc.
I Love You Man


  1. Loved, loved District 9 and Star Trek. Really want to see The Class and 12. Hadn't actually heard of Summer Hours but it sounds interesting. Adventureland and I Love You, Man were both pretty good as well. The rest on your "also awesome" list are all movies I really want to see.

    Great list! I have to get on mine at some point soon.

  2. Can't wait!

    I really should've done separate documentaries, mainstream movies, and foreign films list, but I'm too lazy!

    I have the same problem with books: too many to list!

  3. Ninja Assassin was the best movie this year, hands down. Avatar was neat, but too long. I thought the Christmas Carol with Jim Carey was amazing, brilliant actor, and Up in the air was very good as well.

  4. I still need to see Up in the Air as well!


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