Top Ten Films of 2009

6 January 2010

Balibo

Instead of writing the usual apology or disclaimer for creating a Best Of list, I’m just going to confess that I love creating these lists as they provide a snapshot of what films I was most immediately impressed by from the year that has just finished. As time passes many of these films will fade from memory while some continue to resonate and establish themselves in film history so it will be nice to be able to refer back to such a list and remind myself of films that may be forgotten.

Top Ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australian in 2009

  1. Balibo (Robert Connolly, 2009)
  2. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)
  3. Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
  4. Genova (Michael Winterbottom, 2008)
  5. Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
  6. Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009)
  7. Up (Pete Docter, 2009)
  8. Two Lovers (James Gray, 2008)
  9. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)
  10. Every Little Step (Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern, 2008)

Rachel Getting Married

The film that left the biggest impression on me in 2009 was Balibo, which left me initially feeling completely shattered and later left me in awe of how skilfully crafted it is with its combination of human drama, international politics and historical detail. The only two films I saw twice in the cinema in 2009 were Rachel Getting Married and Avatar; films at almost the opposite end of the spectrum to one another in representing what cinema can achieve. The ultra small scale Rachel Getting Married provided a deeply emotional examination of family dynamics and my love of cinema that captures a sense of place and something deeply human is further reflected by my inclusion of Genova, Samson and Delilah, Two Lovers and Every Little Step. The extravagant spectacle Avatar created one of the most immersive cinema experiences to date and my love of cinema as a visual art form is further reflected by my inclusion of Antichrist, Up and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Honourable mentions

Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008)
The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)
Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in, Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)
Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)
Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
Gomorrah (Gomorra, Matteo Garrone, 2008)
Summer Hours (L’Heure d’été, Olivier Assayas, 2008)
Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)
The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch, 2009)

Top Ten unreleased films (in Melbourne)

Love Exposure

While Melbourne is a tremendous city for film, especially with cinemas such as Cinema Nova that are very much committed to independent releases, a number of exceptional films still miss out on getting general theatrical releases. Fortunately for the Melbourne based film lover there is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and what seems like an endless stream of film festivals picking up the slack. For this reason I’ve separately listed films screened in Melbourne in 2009 but not given a general theatrical release (and to date not scheduled for a 2010 release).

  1. Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, Sion Sono, 2008)
  2. 35 Shots of Rum (35 rhums, Claire Denis, 2008)

  3. Paper Soldiers (Bumazhnyy soldat, Aleksei German MI., 2008)
  4. Thirst (Bakjwi, Park Chan-wook, 2009)
  5. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom, Kim Ji-woon, 2008)
  6. Public Enemy Number One (Part 1) (L’instinct de mort, Jean-François Richet, 2008)
  7. Mother (Madeo, Bong Joon-ho, 2009)
  8. Bronson (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
  9. JCVD (Mabrouk El Mechri, 2008)
  10. T Is for Teacher (Rohan Spong, 2009)

Dogs in Space

Melbourne also benefits from a wide range of retrospective screenings and in a year that was already spectacular for Australian cinema it was an added bonus to have screenings and then long overdue DVD releases of Richard Lowenstein’s 1986 masterpiece Dogs in Space and Ted Kotcheff’s ‘lost’ 1971 classic Wake in Fright. Watching a newly restored print of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (C’era una volta il West, 1968) at The Astor Theatre was another highlight on the cinematic year as was visiting ACMI’s Dennis Hopper and the New Hollywood exhibition. The Melbourne Cinémathèque once again provided a terrific program in 2009 and it was great to finally catch-up on some previously unseen films by Ingmar Bergman and Samuel Fuller as well as discovering for the first time the under-appreciated cinema of Frank Borzage.

Also appears here on Senses of Cinema, Issue No. 53, 2010.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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Film review – Genova (2008)

3 November 2009

genova - stills 338297

Joe (Colin Firth)

Prior to playing the role of a grieving husband in Genova, Colin Firth gave what had been his strongest performance to date in Anand Tucker’s And When Did You Last See Your Father? playing the role of a grieving son. Perhaps the challenge of expressing such complex and painful emotions brings out the best in an actor as in Firth’s case it has certainly now demonstrated again just how fine a performer he is. In Genova he plays Joe, a man whose wife Marianne (Hope Davis) tragically dies in a car accident. Joe is left to look after his two daughters, 16-year-old Kelly (Willa Holland) and his younger daughter Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) who is feeling an oppressive degree of guilt about the accident that caused her mother’s death. Joe relocates his family from the USA to the northern Italian seaport city Genova, after receiving an invitation from an old university friend, Barbara (Catherine Keener) to teach at the local university. While learning to adjust to an entirely new way of life Kelly’s emerging rebelliousness and sexuality places her in increasingly vulnerable situations while Mary begins to have visions of her mother wandering through the labyrinthine streets.

Genova is a beautifully measured film about family, loss and moving on with life. With a skilled director like Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland, The Claim, 24 Hour Party People, A Cock and Bull Story, A Mighty Heart) at the helm you can be assured that it will never delve into cheap sentiment. Winterbottom is a director of such integrity that he restrains all potential indulgences that would have been tempting to give into, considering the subject matter, to instead focus on small moments of great resonance: the awkwardness of hugging somebody at a wake while holding a plate of food, the momentary sigh of frustration a parent gives when woken by a crying child before they leap out of bed to provide comfort. Winterbottom is not a cold or detached director but he is an incredibly thoughtful one who makes sure that moments that do provoke an intense emotional response are deserved and genuine.

genova - stills 098329

Mary (Perla Haney-Jardine) and Kelly (Willa Holland)

Surrounding the beautiful character dynamics at play in Genova is the titular city. Winterbottom’s now trademark use of handheld digital cinematography, along with the ambient sound, perfectly captures the light and atmosphere. The dense city streets, buildings covered in scaffolding, grief theme and gradual introduction of Marianne as a ‘ghost’ in the story somewhat evokes Nicolas Roeg’s Venice set thriller Don’t Look Now. However, the comparison is only superficial and audiences expecting a supernatural horror from Genova are going to be disappointed. In fact, the true nature of what exactly it is the Mary sees is left deliberately ambiguous and while Genova may not conclude with a traditional narrative climax, it emotionally delivers all the way to the end. Genova is an incredible film that you won’t want to let go of. Winterbottom is one of the greatest living directors and Genova demonstrates this. Again.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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