Top Ten Films of 2009

6 January 2010


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 – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

26 October 2009
Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer)

Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer)

Terry Gilliam is one of the boldest, most reckless and daring directors working today, with a back catalogue that includes his 1985 masterpiece Brazil, and his excellent 1990s films The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. After the horrible miscalculation that was Tideland (2005), the disappointing The Brothers Grimm (2005) and his failed Don Quixote film (as documented in the 2002 film Lost in La Mancha) it is wonderful to see Gilliam in full form again with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The Imaginarium is part of a travelling vaudeville show run by Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), a man whose immortality and ability to guide the imagination of others have come with a price that a mysterious figure named Mr Nick (a.k.a. The Devil himself, played by Tom Waits in an ingenious piece of casting) soon wants Parnassus to make good on. Parnassus’s only hope is to make one last bet with Mr Nick to see who will be the first to seduce five souls. Along with his daughter and two assistants, Parnassus must encourage people to enter the Imaginarium while Tony (Heath Ledger), the latest member of Parnassus’s troupe, does his best to lead people through their imagination down the path of light and joy. However, Tony may not be quite so noble as he seems.

Tony (Heath Ledger)

Tony (Heath Ledger)

As well as having a reputation as an incredible visual craftsperson, Gilliam is also somewhat known for his extraordinary bad luck with getting his films to fruition. During the making of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Gilliam suffered his most tragic blow to date – the unexpected death of his lead actor Heath Ledger. Ledger had completed all the scenes as Tony set in England but was yet to do the scenes set inside the Imaginarium so Gilliam created the concept that when a person goes inside the Imaginarium they are physically transformed. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell literally donated their services to play Tony in his three key scenes inside the Imaginarium and the result is quite profound. Not only does the final film feel as if it was intentionally designed for the role of Tony to be played by the four actors, but the film functions as a tribute to Ledger. Depp, Law and Farrell channel Ledger brilliantly and during Depp’s segment he gives a strangely moving speech about dead icons being forever young.

Mr Nick (Tom Waits)

Mr Nick (Tom Waits)

Nevertheless, while The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus for many will be known as Ledger’s last film, this should not overshadow the fact that it is a glorious film in its own right and a testament to Gilliam’s uncompromising vision. The dark whimsical story, hyperactive cinematography, flurry of sound and extraordinary production design are all combined to generate a classic Gilliam serving of cinematic excess taking ideas and motifs from the painting of Salvador Dali and René Magritte, the literature of William S. Burroughs and Lewis Carroll, and the theatre of Bertolt Brecht. The scenes set in everyday England around the carnivalesque travelling show are outlandish enough but when we are taken into the Imaginarium absolutely anything goes. Gilliam embraces the beloved dream logic of the surrealists to an astonishing degree in these scenes and the results are truly spectacular.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a wild, surreal and uninhibited unleashing of Gilliam’s imagination. Yes, it is often muddled, bewildering, chaotic and confusing but it is a film of such power that its sheer visual audacity transcends anything that would have dragged down a lesser film to make it a dream-like experience that you will happily lose yourself in.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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Cinema Autopsy is taking a break

13 April 2009

Hi everybody

I’m going to take the next week or so off so there won’t be any updates on Cinema Autopsy until the week beginning Monday 20 April. Check back as one of the things I’m going to post soon is a transcript of a terrific interview I did with Warwick Thornton, the director of the extraordinary Australian film Samson and Delilah.

In the meantime I’ve decided to be completely indulgent and post links to the trailers for a bunch of films coming out over the next 12 months that I’m looking forward to. This is by no means a definitive list, just some clips I stumbled across while wasting time on YouTube one day. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any trailers available yet for John Hillcoat’s The Road as that is one film that I am incredibly excited about. But for now I hope you enjoy wasting some time with the following clips.

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