2 January 2010

2009- The Mad Prophet's Top Ten Favourite Films

With the bad stuff out of the way, there's some time to recognise that last year really wasn't so bad. I've complained on numerous occasions that the summer of 2009 was pretty lousy on account of the writers' strike finally catching up with Hollywood. The only two standout films of the summer had actually been pushed back from their respective release dates at the end of 2008 by panicking accountants at the studios. Appreciably though, there were some real gems in 2009. Indeed, so many that I'm going to give honourable mention to numbers 11-20 below so you can see what happened to some of the glaring omissions from the top 10...

20. Frost/Nixon
19. Watchmen
18. Gran Torino
17. Inglourious Basterds
16. Drag Me To Hell
15. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
14. (500) Days of Summer
13. Star Trek
12. Me and Orson Welles
11. Let The Right One In

Moving onto numbers 10-1, I get to present the much-mooted special project in all its semi-botched glory. Below is a video compilation of my top 10 favourite films of 2009 for your perusal and enjoyment. As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion on here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Or... for those who want to forego the slight technical problems and missing narration of that video, I'll give you a breakdown of the list. Starting with number 10!

10. A Serious Man

As you might guess from the calibre of the films that made my top twenty, I had to give some thought to what would make it to number ten on my list. Many people will say that A Serious Man is a film that's too complex, too bleak or indeed, too Jewish for them. But the Coen Brothers elevate audience discomfort to a high art and just bombard any and all expectations. It made number ten purely because it stuck with me so long after watching, especially that alarming final shot of the film. It's a comedy that's remarkably close to tragedy, and you have to think about it a little bit- the trouble is that you won't be able to stop thinking about it.

9. District 9

Following the most lacklustre summer film schedule in recent memory, District 9 was a shining light. Adapted from director Neill Blomkamp's own short film Alive in Jo'burg, the film was made for a mere $30m, an amount that the likes of Michael Bay routinely fritters away on exploding tits or something. And yet despite the relatively small budget, the visuals are just as strong as the script. There's also a terrific breakthrough role by Sharlto Copley, shrieking every iteration of the word fuck that you can possibly imagine. This is what a summer blockbuster should be- it doesn't treat you like an idiot, but you don't have to think too hard about it either.

8. In The Loop

Every now and then a TV series will make the leap to the silver screen, usually with a feeble cry of “Let's set it in America!”, and it ends up being absolute rubbish. This is not just any TV series though, this is Armando Iannucci's big screen iteration of "The Thick of It", and it's absolutely hilarious. The plot may become a little inscrutable towards the end, but that's really obscured by the always marvellous Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, doing some real world-class swearing for Queen and country and trying to hold everything together through the political shitstorm his bosses have landed themselves in.

7. An Education

Carey Mulligan is quite rightly making waves as a result of her lead performance here as Jenny, in this truly remarkable coming-of-age story about a young woman who is seduced away from her studies by a charming playboy. It's always baffling to me that Twilight does such huge business when this is a much more subtle and competent portrayal of first love and its intensity than Stephanie Meyer could ever hope to create. Sadly this didn't play in even half the number of cinemas that New Moon did, and so you'll have to keep an eye out for it when it arrives on DVD in March. You won't forget it because it's sure to whip up a storm during awards season. A terrific ensemble and an engaging script together make An Education one of the best British films of the year.

6. Zombieland

Many zom-coms have followed Shaun of the Dead in the hopes of recreating its success and few have even come close. That Zombieland comes just a hair's breadth from matching the genius of Shaun is the highest compliment that I can afford it. Like Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright before him, director Ruben Fleischer has made a film about how people deal with the zombie apocalypse rather than about the zombies themselves, and the result is very original for a zombie film, as well as enjoyable and incredibly funny. There's plenty more to enjoy in Zombieland, so give it a look if you haven't already.

5. Moon

The bluster and spectacle of Avatar aside, the real comeback for science fiction this year was mustered between District 9 and Moon. Duncan Jones wrote and directed this loving throwback to 1970s sci-fi such as Silent Running and 2001, and it's a consummate piece of filmmaking that shows a lot of promise for Jones' future projects. It's essentially a two-hander between Sam Rockwell and a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey, but it's also one of those films where to explain the plot is to ruin it. You really have to see this for yourself, because Sam Rockwell is utterly spell-binding in it- Moon is an enjoyable nostalgia piece that still breaks new ground without bombarding its audience with CGI. It's about ideas, rather than spectacle, and revives the sci-fi genre in a big way.

4. Up

Join in if you know the words- Pixar can do no wrong. Having seen their latest effort no less than four times in cinemas (in 2D of course), I can vouch that Up stands up on repeat viewings as a terrific film for all the family. It's sad, funny, compelling and utterly brilliant. The characters are all perfectly drawn, and more than that, it has another in a long line of extremely creative plots from Pixar- an old man flies his house to South America and ends up picking up a boy scout and a talking dog before starting a feud with his childhood hero. I defy you to find me a more innovative premise this year than the one that Up has going for it. It's just an utterly delightful film, and at the same time, it's more mature than most so-called grown-up films.

3. The Hurt Locker

Entirely on the opposite end of the scale to Up, this is Kathryn Bigelow's arse-clenchingly tense character study of a bomb disposal expert in Iraq. This is the only film in which I can honestly say a windscreen-wiper made me jump out of my seat- it is an utterly exhausting film to watch because you're never allowed to sit back and relax in your seat unless you want to jump out of it a few minutes later. One of the great things about this is that Bigelow cast largely unknown actors- she clearly didn't want to have Shia LeBeouf play a soldier just so the film makes more money. Those actors that are recognisable are used sparingly, and the central performance by Jeremy Renner is just a tour-de-force. The Hurt Locker is by far the best film around about the current conflict in Iraq, and it's not really about the current conflict in Iraq. It's about the bomb disposal guys, and why they do what they do, and you'll struggle to find a more gripping action film than this.

2. Is Anybody There?

Based on director John Crowley's own childhood experiences, this is the story of a young boy who is obsessed with the hereafter as a result of living in an old folks' home. Michael Caine plays a retired magician who might hold some of the answers, and this film showcases some of his best acting ever. I'm a huge Michael Caine fan, measuring at about 6'5 last time I checked, so I don't say that lightly. More than that, he has a terrific dynamic with Bill Milner, who is hands down the best child actor working today. They have a great script to work with too, with dark comedy and a heart-wrenching conclusion. It's simply marvellous, and it's the biggest shame of the year that it was eclipsed by having simultaneously opened with both Wolverine and Hannah Montana, meaning that approximately no cinemas showed it. Is Anybody There? is doing the rounds on DVD, and it's down to you, the filmgoing public, to make sure this overlooked gem gets more recognition.

1. Slumdog Millionaire

This was one of the first films released in 2009, and it's also my favourite of the year- it just works on every level. I'm not entirely sure it's the feel-good film it's painted to be, what with the child slavery and general misery going on there, but Slumdog Millionaire is incredibly directed, acted and written. To even stage a film shoot in the hectic Mumbai area is amazing, but it's also a gripping romance and coming-of-age story at the same time. Danny Boyle holds the narrative at a moderate distance from melodrama or cheesiness, and the result is infinitely watchable. The only bad thing to come out of this film is that bloody Jai Ho remix, which has been assaulting me in the earholes all year now. Even that I can tolerate, because Slumdog Millionaire is truly an achievement in cinema, and for me, it sits at the apex of 2009 cinema.


I hate to end on a bum note, but I have to report that I've seen St. Trinians 2, and a review will be up in the next few days. I went to see it under the same duress as I saw the first one and am beginning to feel like James Woods in "Family Guy". But for now, I hope you enjoyed the countdown, if not the video- there'll be a more well prepared version for the top 10 of 2010, I promise.

The future looks bright in any case, with Kick Ass, Iron Man 2 and Toy Story 3 amongst the films the cinema has to offer this year. But similarly, there's another Twilight film and a film from the writers of Made of Honour, this time set in Ireland. No rest for the wicked, eh.

Until the end of the year, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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