Hilleke’s musings on 2009’s film offerings – almost a list but not quite

Alright, 2009 is over and done with and twenty-ten is well under way. I’ve been staring at my blog draft for The best films of 2009, rapidly renamed to The Top 5 ‘Top 10 films of 2009 lists’ and now living in limbo without a title until I finish writing this post and am forced to make one up.

The idea of making a ‘best films’ list is very tempting, but is also, inevitably, flawed. Because I am not a film critic or even a film reviewer. I don’t get sent along to see films for free, or even paid to see them (wouldn’t that be nice though?). So the films I see come with built-in bias. They’re almost always films that are well-publicized, happen to be playing near me and happen to be playing when I have money to go see them. They also have a slight sci-fi slant to them, courtesy of Mr T who loves watching these on the big screen, are very rarely serious dramas (which we save for watching at home on DVD so we can cry with wild abandon… but then never actually get round to watching because we’re too busy) and tend to be recommended by our favourite reviewers (Harry Knowles for Mikey and Roger Ebert for both of us).
So within these constraints, I shall endeavour to come up with my favourite films of the year, and my list of why-haven’t-I-watched-these-yet? films which should or could also be on the favourites list. My judging criteria are simple: good, fun, original entertainment, or epic adventure, or any other film that sticks well to it’s genre and does what it says on the tin – with some added spark. Basically something that can guarantee two (plus or minus) hours of escapism and leave you feeling better off afterwards – not too hard you’d think?
Okay, so the easy stand outs for me this year, because they’re memorable, obviously brilliant and I’ve seen them recently (old age, memory loss, you know…) are Up and Where the Wild Things Are. Yes, they’re ‘kids’ films but they’re also very much adult films.
Up is the most touching story I’ve seen in a long time, and has amazing CG, it’s beautiful, inspired, inspiring. It makes you want to be a kid again! It’s full of adventure and excitement. Full review here…
Where the Wild Things are does the same but in a completely reversed kind of way. It reminds you how tough it is to be a kid. Yeah the kids a brat… or is he? Maybe we’re just in denial that we were like that too (my parents sit behind their monitors nodding sagely as they read this). It’s tough being a kid – noone understands you, everyone expects more of you than you know and they never spell out what they want. You’re ignored, harassed and lonely… and then to top it all off you have to go do your chores! WTWTA understands this, and adapts the very short picture-book in a way that helps you understand it too. Because despite all the hardships of ‘growing up’ it can also be a wonderful thing – as long as you look for ‘the wonder’ in the right places. Mike puts it into words better than I can in his review, found here.
I might as well wrap up the animated/kids films now with Coraline. Coraline was my most anticipated film of 2009. And although it was brilliant, and I enjoyed it, Coraline is what the above two flicks aren’t – a true kids film. It was criticised for being too dark and scary, but I’d argue that kids can handle dark and scary better than we can. And they understand the line between fiction and reality better than we think they do. So I’d say watch Coraline with your (or someone else’s) kids and you’ll enjoy it. Watch it by yourself and you’ll think you’ve just seen a really good kids film. More from me here.
Growing up now… and moving to NZ.
Avatar and District 9 both get honourable mentions (aren’t they all just honourable mentions?), not just because they were made in NZ, or friends worked on them, but because they’re both good fun entertainment. Well, District 9 gets pretty gruesome at times, but wins me back with it’s originality. Whereas, Avatar may not be a terribly original story it won me over with it’s shear beauty and style. More here for Avatar and District 9.
The two stand out films of the year were Let the Right one in (not technically 2009 but viewed in that period so it counts) and Moon. Both are simply amazing films. They tick all the boxes and then some. Original stories, amazing cinematography/effects, well-acted, haunting and creepy where needed, amazingly memorable and leaving me wanting to watch them again and again. (Damn, I should have made this list before Christmas – I don’t have either on blu-ray yet!).
Let the Right One in is being re-made this year in the US (original was Swedish) and re-titled with the more correct translation ‘Let Me In‘. One to watch out for if you don’t fancy sitting through two hours of sub-titles – although I will frown on you and shake my head disapprovingly if you don’t give the original a go first. It is a testament, however, to the quality of the original that they are willing to re-make it so soon, simply to have it appeal to the rather large market in the US who don’t want to read sub-titles.
Moon director, Zowie Bowie – oops, I mean Duncan Jones, of course – is working on his second feature, a Blade Runner inspired tale set in future Berlin called Mute, which will also be released in the coming year(s). As well as rumours of Moon sequels. Another one to watch out for.
Finally, to end on a more cheerful note, although again technically not a 2009 film, we watched it and went there in 2009 so it will do. In Bruges was possibly the best subtle/dark comedy I’ve seen in a long time. Very well-acted, original and quite brilliant. If you haven’t watched it check it out. It’s not necessariy laugh-out-loud funny (unless you have a creepy dark sense of humour like me) and gets quite bloody, not to mention the foul language (there’s a bonus feature on the DVD highlighting the monotonous vocabulary of some characters), but it’s good fun. Try it.
Honourable mentions go out to:
Milk, Watchmen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Inglorious Basterds, Harry Potter 6(? Is it 6? well, whatever one came out this year. I lose count), and The Hangover.
Special mention to: Rudo y Cursi (which is a small indy Mexican film, worth a watch if you can get your hands on a copy).
Dishonourable mention to:
Transformers 2, Twilight and Angels & Demons – for lowering audiences expectations and giving Mike something to rant about.
Look at me, I could totally be handing out awards at a prize-giving…
And finally the very very long list of amazing (I hope or have heard) films which I haven’t seen but want to:
The Hurt Locker, The Lovely Bones, Away We Go, Men Who Stare at Goats, Zombieland, Paranormal Activity, Coco before Chanel, The Informant!, New York, I love you, Amelia, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Vicky Christina Barcelona, The Wrestler, Ponyo, 9 (the animated film, not ‘Nine‘ the musical), The Princess and the Frog, The Road, Invictus and Fantastic Mr Fox.
(Consider this a shopping list for future birthdays and Christmases! Mike can probably add a few more to this…)
Righto, I am done. Now I have to think up a title for this post…
postscript of sorts:
For those who want a broader opinion, can I direct you to:


Harry from Ain’t it Cool


If you’re still with me, go back to Roger Ebert for his best 10 films of the decade!

And finally the people (or US teenage film geeks with too much time on their hands) vote over at IMDb.com, who have published their best films of the 2000’s list.
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