THE time has come to pick my films of the year and 2009 has certainly provided a bumper crop.
Of course, every reader will have their own favourites, so don’t be surprised if I haven’t included all (or any) of yours.
I’m not going to rank them from one to ten, just urge anyone who hasn’t seen any of the films listed to make sure they catch them on DVD.
So here, in no particular order, are my top ten of 2009…
In the Loop: Perhaps not as brilliant as its sister TV series, The Thick of It, but still laugh-out-loud and cringe-makingly mirthful by turns, Armando Ianucci’s comedy take on the work of spin doctors and politicians in the run-up to a war in the Middle East is unmissable stuff.
Inglourious Basterds: A real return to form for Tarantino after a string of self-indulgent and wilfully grim films, the deliberately-misspelled comedy bloodfest is hard to watch at times but always absorbing. Features Christoph Waltz in what could be a breakthrough performance as the thinking man’s SS fixer.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: The second Brad Pitt film on the list, this multi-layered drama is so richly-produced you can just feel the quality. It’s a bit of a weird one but its peculiarity is what sets it apart. Both Pitt and co-star Cate Blanchett are excellent.
(500) Days of Summer: Loved and reviled almost in equal by measure by the critics, 500 Days revolves around the sparky dialogue of lovers (or are they just friends?) Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Self-consciously quirky but genuinely romantic and easy to lose yourself in. Even the noisy teenagers in the screening I witnessed soon became absorbed, and there can be no clearer stamp of quality than that.
Frost/Nixon: I admit I missed this at the cinema but I caught up with it on DVD and am glad I did. A small-scale masterpiece, this docu-drama about journalist David Frost’s interviews with a disgraced but defiant Tricky Dick is at its best in the quieter moments—Frost’s private reflections on his own weaknesses, Nixon’s horror on being finally confronted on camera with his guilt and the bizarre presentation of a pair of Italian shoes.
The Reader: Another Oscar winner for Kate Winslet and, blubbing speech apart, well worth it. Winslet is fantastic as withdrawn former concentration camp guard Hannah Schmidt, but she is matched by future star David Kross as the schoolboy with whom she forms a distinctly unusual bond. As Holocaust stories go, this is as thoughtful and compelling as they come.
Looking for Eric: Little seen but loved by practically all who did, Ken Loach’s drama says as much about friendship, family and mental illness as it does about football in general and Cantona in particular. Those who avoided it for its sporting background missed out because the star of the show is not King Eric but his downtrodden-postie namesake. Superb performances, great writing and a wonderful climax—what more could you want?
Milk: Sean Penn in stellar form as gay pride politician Harvey Milk. A tremendous supporting cast including Josh Brolin, Diego Luna and Emile Hirsch provide great backing to Penn’s sympathetic (and Oscar-winning) portrayal of the shopkeeper who turned San Francisco politics upside down. Gus van Sant’s rehabilitation from the unwanted Psycho remake is complete.
Slumdog Millionaire: Absent from many lists as it was completed and released Stateside last year, Slumdog only came to UK cinemas in January this year, so it qualifies as a 2009 film in my eyes. And what a film. Great-looking, compelling, emotional and dramatic, Danny Boyle’s tale of a quiz show champion from the slums is indisputably brilliant and should be in any true film lover’s DVD collection.
State of Play: The conspiracy thriller is alive and well, with Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and particularly Russell Crowe eminently watchable in a timely study of the murky links between politics and big business. Transported across the pond to Washington from the London setting featured in Paul Abbott’s TV original, Kevin Macdonald’s drama ratchets up the paranoia level and keeps you gripped throughout.
And the worst…
New In Town: Renee Zellwegger phones it in as she ends up as far away from her Oscar-winning peak as possible. Zellwegger is the high-flying exec dumped in a one-horse town. Fill in the blanks yourself. Sub-Bridget Jones slapstick, endless cliches, a vomit-inducing ending and some unfunny mocking of the bumpkin natives abound. It all adds up to a wasted 90 minutes. Less “fish out of water”, more dead on arrival. Avoid at all costs.