Thursday, March 11, 2010

The 10 Best Films of 2009 - Part 2

I'm finally getting around to posting my top ten films of last year. Here's 10 - 6, and now below I present the top five!

5 - Up in the Air

You know that old chestnut about how it's never too late to change your life for the better? How, at any point, you can make a positive choice about changing the way you interact with others and it will vastly improve your life? Well, here's a film that, while on the surface it appears to be charming and breezy, presents a reality that we often don't want to acknowledge; sometimes, it is too late. There's a time limit to certain things in life. And George Clooney's disconnected Ryan Bingham is forced to consider that question in this incredibly enjoyable, impeccably crafted film. It got a bit of a backlash thrown at it after opening earlier in the year to great guns, but that's not really fair; it may seem light, but that's deceptive. One of the major problems facing us all in this technological age is the growing lack of actual, face-to-face, community. This film attacks that issue head-on, and it's surprisingly moving. Clooney has never been better.

4 - Up

There's something in the water over at Pixar. They just can't make a bad movie. Cars is the closest they came, in my opinion, but even that film wasn't bad, it just didn't quite live up to incredibly high standard set by the studio. Up is no exception, and it may even be their best film, joining the ranks of WALL-E and The Incredibles. The story is crafted perfectly, using an incredibly affecting silent montage to immediately draw the audience into the story and get them behind their main character, who takes a journey that is supposed to be the end of a life and turn it into a reason to revitalise himself. It's a very touching film, and one that, like the Disney classics of old, immediately gains a beloved place in our hearts.

3 - The Hurt Locker

The phrase "hurt locker" refers to being in a place of incredible pain or injury. All of the characters in the film are in different Hurt Lockers, but the most profound pain belongs to the film's troubled main character, Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner, in a star-making, Oscar nominated performance). He has become totally accustomed to the adrenalized, terrifying circumstances he lives in during his combat rotations. While this makes him an effective, if reckless, leader of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit, it also means that he really doesn't feel alive in any other situation. The scenes of his return home to his wife and family are heartbreaking, as he tries to assimilate, but finds that reality for him has become war. The things he is supposed to want to get back to hold no interest for him any longer. This is a common problem with soldiers, especially those whose tours have gotten longer and longer, and who have been "stop-lossed" back into active duty far past their original terms of service. This is the reason why there has been an increase in soldier suicides upon returning home. The Hurt Locker comments on the whole fucked-up mess that are the modern wars America has entered into, and all without overt speeches or melodrama. It is lean, powerful, and compelling.

2 - Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire

There were critics who saw Precious as nothing more than "victim porn", a film so dedicated to dragging the audience through an absolutely horrific experience as to traumatize them into feeling they have seen a great film. There were others that felt the film did a huge disservice to the perception of African-American life; that is was a con job that showed all the most awful stereotypes possible. I feel both those views miss the ultimate point of the film. Yes, the main character goes through some of the most horrible and hugely tragic hardships ever visited on a protagonist in American film, but what we are watching is not meant to be an exploitative experience in degradation, but rather a moving depiction of the reclamation of a human soul. Yes, the things that happen to Precious are almost too much to take, but do things that bad happen to kids in real life? Sadly, I think it must be said that they do. But these kids are not lost unless we let them be lost. Precious finds, through education, through exposure to people who love her and (more importantly) find value in her, a way to be more than what the circumstances of her life have given her. And as such, it is a film of rare power and truth.

1 - The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke, the director of this masterful film, is a polarizing figure. Some consider him more pedagogue than visionary, more lecturer than artist. But, no one can deny the power of his latest film, an attempt to examine how seemingly ordinary societies can produce things like the Nazi horrors, terrorism and brutal repressions of all stripes. Some have focused too strongly on the Nazi angle to the film, while this is the closest and most personal analogy for Haneke, the film can easily reflect any society that finds itself growing more and more cruel in the its need to be safe and secure. As the town in the film is best by seemingly random and completely mysterious acts of violence, its hierarchy becomes less and less humane, descending into repression and intolerance. The only redemption seems to comes from individuals. Haneke seems to have absolutely no faith in systems or authority, but he does present fleeting glimpses of beauty and kindness; in the sweet courtship of two characters, in the gentleness of a little boy, in the recognition of the stifling nature of her community by a mother. These moments seem incredibly fragile, and yet keep the film from total gloom. Perhaps the most out and out beautifully shot film of the year.

Hope you enjoyed this look back!

No comments: