Top Ten Films of 2011

28 December 2011

As 2011 comes to an end, I’ve once more looked back at my personal highlights of the cinematic year. For the first time I did a count of how many films I saw during the year to discover that while I watched over 300 films, only half of those were new films released in Australian cinemas in 2011. I also saw several films more than once, which is unusual for me, but extremely rewarding. The result was a very satisfying year that wasn’t guided by what did or didn’t hit the multiplexes. Nevertheless, in order to create a top ten list that makes any sort of sense, won’t need revising and is the most relevant to the majority of my readers (who are Melbourne based and don’t go to advance media screenings), I’ve once again restricted myself to only including films that were given a theatrical release in Melbourne during 2011, even if only on one screen for a limited season.

Top ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australia in 2011

1. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

The Tree of Life

“A cinematic poem of extraordinary scope and ambition.”

Rarely has picking a favourite film of the year been as straightforward for me as it was this year. I returned to the cinema to see Malick’s The Tree of Life a second time within a week of first seeing it to once more have it engage my mind, stir up my emotions and touch my soul. An all too rare cinematic work of art that dares to be so much more than what most people can even imagine cinema to be.

2. We Need to Talk about Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)

We Need to Talk about Kevin

“This is sensory and visceral cinema at its most compelling and expertly crafted.”

One of the most confronting films I’ve experienced this year was Lynne Ramsay’s intensely subjective and impressionist film, which like The Tree of Life was also a complex representation of memory.

3. Certified Copy (Copie conforme, Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)

Certified Copy

“Its beauty, nuanced performances and grace give it the emotional and dramatic weight that make it rise far above being simply an intellectual exercise.”

My most unexpected highlight of the year was this cerebral and charming film where every single element in it contributed in some way to exploring its central question of how do we measure authenticity in art and life.

4. Pina (Wim Wenders, 2011)

Pina

“The whole range of human emotion is expressed and experienced during this film, making it a sublime visual accomplishment.”

This tribute/documentary/dance film uses 3D to almost revolutionise cinematic space to convey the power of Pina Bausch’s choreography. As somebody who had previously been sceptical about contemporary dance, Pina made me see the light.

5. Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)

Never Let Me Go

“A beautiful and satisfyingly melancholic story of mortality, destiny, love and loss.”

This strange and sad film overwhelmed me. The melancholic film style stunningly expresses the novel’s themes of fate and inevitability, without explicitly stating them.

6. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)

Drive

“A gorgeous fusion of pulp genre cinema with an almost abstract approach to characterisation.”

I admittedly had reservations about Drive the first time that I saw it, but it lingered in my mind enough for me to revisit it. The second viewing removed all doubt and I succumbed to this gloriously stylistic and minimalist neo-noir.

7. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, 2011)

Take Shelter

“One of the most captivating and overwhelming portrayals of mental illness in a domestic setting since John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence.”

A film that stayed with me long after seeing it, Take Shelter is a tense yet compassionate study of how mental illness can manifest and how it affects not just the sufferer, but also the people around them.

8. Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010)

Another Year

“A tribute to kindness, family and friendship without sentiment, easy answers or judgement.”

This has possibly become my favourite Mike Leigh film. The central couple are two of the most wonderfully likeable characters to ever appear on screen.

9. I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)

I Love You Phillip Morris

“Manages to walk a line between hilarity and tragedy throughout, with unexpected moments of sadness that are not undermined by the comedy surrounding them.”

After seeing this at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2010, I was so pleased for it to finally get a brief, albeit small, cinematic run this year. This romantic-comedy with its ultra-dark undertones is the funniest film I’ve seen in years.

10. 127 Hours (Danny Boyle, 2010)

127 Hours

“While 127 Hours celebrates the achievement of an individual under extreme duress, it is also a critique of individualistic behaviour.”

Danny Boyle pulls out every trick in the book to convey the range of emotions and thoughts experienced by Aron Ralston. The resulting film is a thrilling survival story, cautionary tale and character study.

Honorary mentions

Selecting my top ten films was relatively easy this year, however, finding another ten films to list as honorary mentions was extremely difficult given that the standard of cinema that I saw this year was extremely high. Nevertheless, in alphabetical order, here goes:

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard (Lynn-Maree Milburn and Richard Lowenstein, 2011)

Hanna (Joe Wright, 2011)

The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)

Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, 2010)

Mad Bastards (Brendan Fletcher, 2010)

Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux, Xavier Beauvois, 2010

This Is Not a Film (In film nist, Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, 2011)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Loong Boonmee raleuk chat, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010)

This Is Not a Film

This Is Not a Film

Top ten unreleased films

Many of my highlights from the year are from films that were either only screened at festivals (in my case mostly during MIFF), during special seasons or went straight to DVD. The follow films are the best films that I saw this year, which weren’t given a full theatrical release and to the best of my knowledge aren’t scheduled to receive a general release in 2012.

How to Die in Oregon (Peter Richardson, 2011)

Inni (Vincent Morisset, 2011)

The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011)

Michael (Markus Schleinzer, 2011)

Polisse (Maïwenn Le Besco, 2011)

Restrepo (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger, 2010)

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Matthew Bate, 2011)

Surviving Life (Přežít svůj život, Jan Švankmajer, 2010)

Tomboy (Céline Sciamma, 2011)

The Turin Horse (A torinói ló, Béla Tarr, 2011)

Inni

Inni

Top ten retrospective screenings and re-releases

While these lists are obviously personal, this next list is more so since it is dependant on what screenings I happened to make it to out of the many to choose from. To try and narrow the field down somewhat, I’ve restricted myself to films given full re-releases in their own season, films shown as part of a special event and films shown as part of curated seasons (for example those shown at the Melbourne Cinémathèque in what I think was one of their best years and I wish I attended more). Some of these are films that I was revisiting for the umpteenth time and some were new discoveries, listed alphabetically:

American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973) at the Astor Theatre

Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941) – my highlight of the Melbourne Cinémathèque’s Sophisticated Madness: Classics of American Screwball Comedy season

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) at the Astor Theatre

Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954) – my highlight of the Melbourne Cinémathèque’s You Can’t Go Home Again: The Ballard of Nicholas Ray season

King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) – screened at the Astor Theatre’s 75th Anniversary

Last Year at Marienbad (L’année dernière à Marienbad, Alain Resnais, 1961) – my highlight of the Melbourne Cinémathèque’s The Garden of Forking Paths: The Films of Alain Resnais season

Offside (Jafar Panahi, 2006) – Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne Film Festival charity/protest screening for the imprisonment of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof

Once Upon a Time in China (Wong Fei Hung, Tsui Hark, 1991) – my highlight of the Melbourne Cinémathèque’s Phantoms & Fireworks: The Incredible Adventures of Tsui Hark season

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) at Cinema Nova and the Astor Theatre

Veronika Voss (Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1982) – my highlight of the Melbourne Cinémathèque’s Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder season

Last Year at Marienbad

Last Year at Marienbad

And there you have it, 40 films – 30 new and 10 old – that most fuelled my passion for cinema during 2011. I was pleased to have been able to write full reviews about nearly all the new films and the three major re-released films I listed, so please click through to those reviews for more details about why I embraced those films to the extent that I did. This year I also particularly enjoyed writing reviews of Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh, 2011), A Serbian Film (Srpski film, Srdjan Spasojevic, 2010) and The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994), as well as penning my love letter to Dogs in Space (Richard Lowenstein, 1986).

Thank you to everybody who has read this blog over the year as well as subscribed to it and shared links from it. The readership and number of page views has grown considerably over the year (more than anticipated) so that’s been wonderful. Most pleasing has been the generally high level of discussion that has started to regularly appear in the comments so I’m very grateful for that and I hope in the future I’ll get better at responding to everybody.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks in mid January 2012 when Hugo gets released in Australia, so see you then!

Thomas

PS Debate and difference of opinion are as always very welcome under my reviews, but for this post I’d like to keep things celebratory and focus on the positive cinema experiences from the year just gone.

Also appears here on Senses of Cinema.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Top Ten Films of 2010

31 December 2010

Top ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australia in 2010

Inception

Inception

1. Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010)
This almost clinical and mechanical representation of the human subconscious facilitated an extraordinary exploration of cinematic space in order to deliver an intriguing heist story with wonderfully thrilling action sequences. This year’s masterpiece.

2. Enter The Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
This mesmerising assault on the senses by the director of Irréversible was a strange, brilliant and audacious first-person head-trip into drugs, death, sex and the neon lit metropolis of Tokyo.

3. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
Martin Scorsese’s latest film was a typically brilliant example of subjective filmmaking, but where the point-of-view belongs to an unreliable protagonist. A sophisticated exercise in film style dressed up as a pulp thriller. So much more than a spot-the-twist film.

4. Animal Kingdom (David Michôd, 2010)
The Australian film to receive the most hype this year was also the most deserving. The low-key filmmaking resulted in a tense, gritty and at times horrifying crime drama.

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3

5. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)
The combination of tight writing, powerful sentiment, humour and characters with so much heart delivered one of the greatest animated films ever made. Possibly the most perfect resolution to a trilogy too. Not a dry eye in the house.

6. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
An extraordinarily empathetic film about the everyday and commonplace tragedy that love doesn’t always prevail. Contains the year’s strongest performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

7. The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Juan José Campanella, 2009)
The surprise winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, this Argentinean murder mystery/romance contains hidden depth. A thrilling and intriguing genre film in its own right but also a moving representation of Argentina’s history of political turmoil.

8. The American (Anton Corbijn, 2010)
To reduce this to merely a generic hit man film ignores how immaculately crafted Corbijn’s second film is. The rich use of style and homage offers multiple rewards for a visually literate audience.

9. The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
Another great example of subjective filmmaking where the film gets increasingly deranged as its psychopathic protagonist increasingly loses his grip on reality. A superb adaptation of Jim Thompson’s hardboiled novel featuring some incredibly upsetting acts of violence.

10. Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
It wasn’t an old-school David Cronenberg film but the glorious blend of science-fiction, horror, melodrama and psycho-sexual thriller made it feel like one. Transgressive wicked fun.

Honourable mentions

11. The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
12. Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
13. The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)
14. Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010)
15. Crazy Heart (Scott Cooper, 2009)
16. The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2009)
17. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright, 2010)
18. The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)
19. A Prophet (Un prophète, Jacques Audiard, 2009)
20. Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

Top ten unreleased films

Son of Babylon

Son of Babylon

(Films with either very short seasons or only festival screenings, and to the best of my knowledge aren’t scheduled for a general release in 2011).

1. Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
2. I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
3. Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010)
4. The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
5. Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010)
6. Nobody’s Perfect (Niko von Glasow, 2008)
7. William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, 2009)
8. When You’re Strange (Tom DiCillo, 2009)
9. World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009)
10. The Army of Crime (L’armée du crime, Robert Guédiguian, 2009)

Other

Tim Burton: The Exhibition

Tim Burton: The Exhibition

1. The Red Shoes (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 1948) at the Astor Theatre.
2. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) with a live orchestra at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
3. Tim Burton: The Exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
4. The Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and Jacques Demy seasons plus the Max Ophuls and Tod Browning nights at the Melbourne Cinémathèque.
5. The experience of seeing The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003) as part of the on-going Cult Cravings program at Cinema Nova.

Also appears here on Senses of Cinema.

An earlier (and since revised) version of the top ten film list originally appeared in the December 2010 edition of the Triple R magazine The Trip (online here).

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010


Top Twenty Films of the 2000s

25 March 2010

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I’ve been wanting to put together a best films of the 2000s list for a while now but felt it was appropriate to allow some distance before doing so (plus I’ve been a bit slack). I also wanted to catch up on many of the important films that I had missed over the past decade but I quickly came to my senses and realised that was an almost impossible task as the list of films that I must see is forever getting longer rather than shorter. After creating a short list of 100 possible films I was able to get down to a list of my personal favourite twenty films from the past decade.

My methodology was to simply list all the films that I’d given 5 or 4½ stars to and go from there. I tried not to pay too much attention to how I preferentially ordered films in my yearly best-of lists as my feelings about films do change upon reflection and repeat viewings. In the end the films that I included are the films that have long continued to linger in my mind, compelled me to watch them again or simply get me excited just by thinking about them.

Mulholland Dr.

Apart from one or two left-field selections I am aware that my list is hardly revolutionary but in the end I went with personal choices rather than attempt to make an all encompassing list of the most significant, important or influential films, which has been done very impressively elsewhere. So here are my top twenty films from the 2000s:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
2. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch, 2001)
3. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
4. Irréversible (Gaspar Noé, 2002)
5. The Proposition (John Hillcoat, 2005)
6. Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, 2000)
7. Balibo (Robert Connolly, 2009)
8. Hero (Ying xiong, Zhang Yimou 2002)
9. Lost In Translation (Sophia Coppola, 2003)
10. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
11. No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 2007)

12. Russian Ark (Russkiy kovcheg, Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002)
13. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002)
14. Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001)
15. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)
16, Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)
17. Conversations with Other Women (Hans Canosa, 2005)
18. Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki, 2004)
19. Hunger (Steve McQueen, 2008)
20. Waltz with Bashir (Vals Im Bashir, Ari Folman, 2008)


Kill Bill: Vol. 1

Even though in 2004 I originally listed Irréversible above Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Irréversible was released late in Australia) subsequent repeat viewings of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind established it for me as a masterpiece of modern cinema. It’s a film that I can engage with on a deeply emotional and critical level as well as being able to appreciate just how well crafted a film it is.  To an extent the same can be said of all films on this list.

Mulholland Dr, Kill Bill: Vol.1, No Country for Old Men and Eastern Promises aren’t the best films by their respective directors but nevertheless reflect the incredible ongoing contribution that those directors have made to modern cinema. Unexpectedly Paul Thomas Anderson is the only director to appear twice with Punch-Drunk Love that, along with Lost in Translation, Donnie Darko and Mysterious Skin, represents the remnants of the 1990s American indi at its best while There Will Be Blood reflects a bold throw back to the grand narratives of classical Hollywood cinema.

Irréversible

Australian cinema peaked twice in the 2000s with The Proposition representing the middle spike and Balibo representing the incredible spike right at the end of the decade. Dancer in the Dark is von Trier’s masterpiece, Hero was the pinnacle of the ‘art house martial arts’ films and Control is the best musical biopic ever made (although I will admit to my heavy bias due to my love of Joy Division). Finally, some of the most distinctive cinema from the 2000s are the films that successfully did something original and daring with film form and style and they are represented on this list with Irréversible, Russian Ark, Conversations with Other Women, Hunger and Waltz with Bashir.

Here are the remaining 80 films from my shortlist, ordered alphabetically:

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile, Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

24 Hour Party People (Michael Winterbottom, 2002)
28 Days Later… (Danny Boyle, 2002)
Amelie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003)
Antichrist (Lars von Trier, 2009)
Artificial Intelligence: AI (Steven Spielberg, 2001)
Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007)
Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
Birth (Jonathan Glazer, 2004)
The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007)
Bowling for Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)
Bridge to Terabithia (Gabor Csupo, 2007)
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005)
Broken Flowers (Jim Jarmusch, 2005)
Café Lumière (Kôhî jikô, Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2003)
Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005)

Capturing The Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki 2003)
Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)
Closer (Mike Nichols, 2004)
Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)
Code Unknown (Code inconnu, Michael Haneke, 2000)
The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher, Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2007)
The Cremaster Cycle (Matthew Barney 1995-2002)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, (Wo hu cang long, Ang Lee, 2000)
Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino, 2007)
The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)
Downfall (Der Untergang, Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004)
Elephant (Gus Van Sant 2003)
Every Little Step (Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern, 2008)
Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, 2002)
Flags of our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, 2006)
Forgiveness (Ian Gabriel, 2004)
Genova (Michael Winterbottom, 2008)
Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (Scott Hicks, 2007)
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney, 2008)
High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000)
The Hours (Stephen Daldry, 2002)
I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Terry Gilliam, 2009)
In My Father’s Den (Brad McGann 2004)
INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)
Inside Man (Spike Lee, 2006)
The Jammed (Dee McLachlan, 2007)
Japanese Story (Sue Brooks, 2003)
Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence, 2006)
The Last King of Scotland (Kevin Macdonald, 2006)
Last Life in the Universe (Ruang rak noi nid mahasan, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang 2003)
Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2006)
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Peter Jackson, 2001)
Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, Shion Sono, 2008)
Lust, Caution (Se, jie, Ang Lee, 2007)

Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005)
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
Men’s Group (Michael Joy, 2008)

Monster (Patty Jenkins 2003)
Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, 2003)
Nightwatching (Peter Greenaway, 2007)
Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley, 2008)

OldBoy (Park Chan-wook, 2003)
Once (John Carney, 2006)
Ong-bak (Prachya Pinkaew, 2003)
Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno, Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
The Piano Teacher (La pianiste, Michael Haneke, 2001)
Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme, 2008)
The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002)
Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009)
Sideways (Alexander Payne, 2004)
Silmido (Kang Woo-suk 2003)
The Spanish Apartment (L’auberge espagnole, Cédric Klapisch, 2002)
Spider (David Cronenberg, 2002)
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (Bom yeoreum gaeul gyeoul geurigo bom, Kim Ki-duk 2003)
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton, 2007)
Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (Boksuneun naui geot, Park Chan-wook, 2002)
The Tracker (Rolf de Heer, 2002)
Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)
Two Lovers (James Gray, 2008)
Up (Pete Docter, 2009)
WALL·E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

[EDIT 8/1/11 and 2/10/11: Since creating this top twenty and shortlist I have seen several films that in retrospect I would have included. Rather than re-editing the lists and running the risk of endless tweaking, I’ll simply list those new films here:

Enter The Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos, Juan José Campanella, 2009)
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
Still Walking (Aruitemo aruitemo, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2008)

Enter the Void would have probably made the top twenty.]

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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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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Top Ten Films of 2008

28 January 2009

Catching up from 2007

For my top ten films of 2008 list I’ve decided to only include films given a theatrical release in Australia in 2008. So I would like to first mention the following films that I finally saw in 2008, which I would have included on my 2007 list had I seen them in time:

No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, 2007)
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)
The Jammed (Dee McLachlan, 2007)
Noise (Matthew Saville, 2007)

While there is not much for me to say about No Country for Old Men and 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days that hasn’t been said already, it was tremendous coming back to Australia mid way through 2008 and discovering that films of the calibre of The Jammed and Noise were being made and getting the acclaim that they deserve.

Top Ten films released theatrically in Australia in 2008*:

1. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) from There Will Be Blood

Every new Paul Thomas Anderson film is somehow better than last and There Will Be Blood is his greatest triumph yet. While Anderson’s previous films have a distinctive American independent film feel to them, There Will Be Blood takes on the grand narrative of a classical Hollywood epic but is closer in tone to the maverick spirit of Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941). In the final scene, the low angel shot of Daniel Day Lewis charging down the bowling lane is a spine tingling moment of perfect cinema. This is probably the only film released in 2008 that will eventually be regarded as a classic.

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Top Ten Films of 2007

1 January 2008

Contribution to the 2007 World Poll

Some of the films here probably should have gone on my 2006 list and there are probably some missing that will wind up on 2008’s list. Nevertheless here are my top ‘new’ films that I happened to see in 2007 (which were all released theatrically somewhere during 2007 for the first time!)

Top 10

1. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007)
2. Control (Anton Corbijn, 2007)
3. Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007)
4. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006)
5. Jindabyne (Ray Lawrence, 2006)
6. INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)
7. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
8. Once (John Carney, 2006)
9. The Counterfeiters (Stefan Ruzowitzky, 2007)
10. I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007)

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Top Ten Films of 2006

1 January 2007

Contribution to the 2006 World Poll

My Top Ten this year reflects the limited number of films that I was able to see in 2006 as I am an English-only speaker and for the majority of the year I was living in a non-English speaking country. So due to different release dates not working in my favour and a lack of English subtitles I was prevented from seeing many films that would have probably made it onto my list. I am also ashamed to say that I saw no Australian films at all.

So my list of favourite films (in preferential order) that I happened to see for the first time in 2006 is as follows:

1. Conversations with Other Women (Hans Canosa, 2005)
A film that challenges conventional film style by being entirely in split screen, which becomes integral to the story. Beautiful performed and a genuinely painful film about regret and love lost.

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