Generation Film’s Top 20 Films of 2009

20. In the Loop- Armando Iannucci’s raw and potent political satire In the Loop remains tactful in its criticisms of government, the media, and war by not being too forceful while remaining consistently funny. It’s a fictional farce and has an excruciatingly sharp criticism of government bureaucracy and exaggerates all of the flaws of government in a witty fashion. Playing off of the audience’s expectations and familiar plot structure In the Loop surprises and humors any viewer from beginning to end with its cleverness and, of course, ironic British humor.

19. The Damned United- Tom Hooper’s elegant and stylish direction aids this intriguing tale of egoism and obsession surrounding the 44 day tenure of Brian Clough managing Leeds United. This brilliant script written by two time Academy Award Nominee Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) provides an incredibly multi-faceted character and explores his deeper flaws that aided and abetted his rise and fall in the world of British soccer. Michael Sheen gives a riveting performance (much better than Morgan Freeman’s for Invictus) that made The Damned United a far better sports drama this year than Clint Eastwood’s undeveloped and bland project about rugby.

18. Goodbye Solo- the simplistic and realistically felt tale about a Senegalese taxi driver trying to make a living in Winston-Salem entitled Goodbye Solo proves that filmmaker Ramin Bahrani can make an engaging and interesting drama of mystery that builds quite smoothly. Bahrani’s technically innovative work is quite intimate and really allows the film to delve deep into the characters of the film making you sympathize and follow them with interest. It’s difficult to make a subtle film that allows characters individual mannerisms and dialogue giveaways guide a film but Goodbye Solo does this in an extremely interesting way that doesn’t disappoint.

17. Departures (Okuribito) – the unique and visually enthralling tale of a struggling cellist taking a job at a morgue to prepare the dead for their funerals is known as Yojiro Takita’s beautiful film entitled Departures. This beautiful and methodically paced film follows a man who learns to respect himself through respecting the dead and the off putting process of preparing the corpses for cremation. Departures is a poetic film that balances incredibly complex characters with a nuanced and striking tale that makes for an incredibly unique and moving piece of drama.

16. A Prophet- Prison dramas have become rather predictable in the last couple of decades but fortunately some minor gems find their way to escaping mediocrity and Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet about a Muslim prisoner in a French prison is definitely one of those gems. This tale about adaptation is a riveting drama of crime, human survival, and paints a fascinatingly raw portrait of life in prison. A Prophet transcends the typical prison genre’s familiar attributes and makes a film that is visually unique and artistically epic.

15. Sin Nombre- Sin Nombre is a riveting tale of two teenage immigrants and their attempt to find a better life in the U.S. and the challenges that occur on that journey of hope. This incredibly moving tale demonstrates the passionate human quality of striving for something better and is done in an incredibly realistic way by director Cary Fukunaga. Sin Nombre is a visually delectable film that offers an engaging tale that is gripping, haunting, and unpredictable making for a unique narrative film experience.

14. Inglorious Basterds- Quentin Tarantino finally returned with a more than decent film that put his last three attempts of filmmaking to shame. While the American soldier’s moral high ground is eliminated from Tarantino’s revisionist World War II drama entitled Inglorious Basterds there is something visually gripping and thematically engaging about the interwoven tales of a fleeing French girl and a group of American Jewish soldiers hell-bent on delivering equal terror on the Nazis. Humorous and occasionally violent, Inglorious Basterds continues the Tarantino brand of cinema with interesting dialogue, suspenseful build ups, and well developed characters.

13. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans- Werner Herzog’s revision of the 1991 Bad Lieutenant starring Harvy Keitel is redesigned this time in the barren moral wasteland known as post-Katrina New Orleans with a complimentary off putting performance by Nicholas Cage as a drug addicted Lieutenant of the New Orleans Police Department. Herzog’s ability to show sympathy for character’s immediate vices is taken to its limits here through Cage’s drug induced subjectivity including his moral and mental capacities. The film contemplates the nature of law and order or more appropriately cause and effect, how one’s negative actions that deserve consequence doesn’t necessarily mean they will come about, whether they are good or bad individuals. The moral ambiguity that Herzog explores here is incredibly realistic and the film is fully convincing through all of its manipulative elements including its direction, story, and acting.

12. Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos)- Pedro Almodovar can certainly be described as a unique filmmaker and his presence and originality is quite present in his latest piece Broken Embraces, which is a thrilling romance noir thriller. Acting as a tribute to women in cinema Broken Embraces is vibrant and fascinating tale that is accentuated by this talented director’s abilities to draw the audience into his unique presentation of the world notably in a particular time and place. A true artist and expert in filmmaking Almodovar makes another riveting piece of cinema with the help of a great cast including his regular star Penelope Cruz.

11. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus- Terry Gilliam’s exploration into the nature of creation using a beat up Theater Troupe led by the aged and tired Doctor Parnassus, a man with a story to tell and no one to hear, allows people the opportunity to bring their inner most desires to life at a price. The eternal struggle between man and the devil is personified here as the Imaginarium forces people to make a decision between good and evil in a gamble that is as old as time itself. Gilliam finishes off a horrid decade full of trials and tribulations to show a personal piece on how originality, perception, and the urge for creation can be arduous and at times deadly. The film’s message is timeless and it’s personification of the devil and how even he has limits to modern man’s manipulations and egoism is a concept worth contemplating and will most likely be further interpreted for years to come.

10. The Road- John Hillcoat’s first film The Proposition launched him into his own category of beautiful yet brutal filmmaking and continues his reputation in an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This visually mournful film, along with uncomfortable and shocking moments, will certainly stay with you long after you’ve left the theater as it depicts a colorless post-apocalyptic world filled with cannibals. Following a father and son as the representation of a continuing moral order amongst chaos shows Hillcoat’s ability to make alienating material beautiful and worth depicting.

9. The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band)- Austrian Director Michael Haneke has always been pushing the limits with his films and his methodically paced film about the physically abused and mentally tormented children of a Protestant town in Northern Germany in the early 1900s will shock, disturb, and alienate you with it’s pitch perfect clarity and haunting cineamtic beauty. Haneke’s films are always comparable to thesis essays that focus on societal problems and White Ribbon is a focus on political and religious terrorism, forcing and brainwashing individuals to adhere to certain standards and principles making this essay in favor of freedom of expression, religion, and having the opportunity for a blank slate incredibly resonant.

8. Black Dynamite- By far the best comedy of the year was Scott Sander’s parody on blacksploitation cinema entitled Black Dynamite. Never succumbing to witless and wasteful exaggeration, Black Dynamite remains a marvel in modern comedies in how a smart and well written script with a clear intention can definitely be a hilarious endeavor. Some criticized it’s over the top third act, but the film is aware of its own silliness and works in its favor delivering a memorable and classic comedy that will influence many more to come.

7. (500) Days of Summer- Marc Webb’s realistic romantic comedy about two different perceptions on one relationship has charm, heartbreak, artistic experimentation, and narrative originality making it one of the best romantic comedies in the last decade. It’s an original script that presents a struggling man coping with a recent breakup in memory, hopeful naivete, and dabbles in his wishes, subjective perceptions, and sorrows. Coming from the music video world Marc Webb brings his unique visual style to give this romantic comedy a fresh delivery and a charming aura.

6. District 9- In a year full of space operas, including Star Trek and Avatar, where there is only an exploration in entertainment rather than on the identity of man and its significance or lack therof, there were a few science fiction gems that braved the territory of high concepts including Neil Blomkamp’s thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking District 9. Layering societal criticism with aliens in an apartheid state with human perseverance and selfishness, District 9 was also able to provide high octane action sequences with original weapon designs, violence delivery, and on your seat excitement. If the summer offered more blockbusters made like District 9 than the summer would be an extraordinary place for quality entertaining cinema.

5. An Education- The tale of a girl on the brink of womanhood and her struggles with living a life preconstructed for her or fulfill her dreams of a life of culture is Lone Scherfig’s unique film An Education. It is unchallenged in its explored territory of a girl in a specific time and place but holds quite the significance on life itself and how life’s treasures are not simply given to us nor are life’s hardships a guarantee that we will obtain them. Some great use of subtle acting and a well written script by Nick Hornby make An Education a must see of films this year.

4. Pixar’s Up- Pixar has yet to make a bad film (including its sub par film Cars) but this years Up was an exceptional piece on upholding promises made in the bonds of love. The beautiful and heart warming relationship created in the beginning of the film hinges the adventure, charm, and entertainment that proceeds throughout the rest of the film that successfully combines humor, deep emotion, and well developed characters. Equally a light hearted animated adventure as a moving portrait of a man coming to a realization of what is important in life, Up continues Pixar’s legacy as a distributor of unique and heart felt stories.

3. Duncan Jones’ Moon- The low budget science fiction character study on the nature of human identity and the contemplation of the human condition known as Duncan Jones’ Moon was quite a surprising film this year. Its narrative was unique while also being visually memorable and emotionally resonant making Moon by far one of the more original science fiction tales in the last year let alone the last decade. Sam Rockwell’s performance is a tour de force enough to make this film resonate after a viewing but the film’s intricacies hold much more after multiple viewings due to its complex message and thought provoking ideas.

2. A Serious Man- The Coen Brother’s have made another unique and multi-layered film that retells the Old Testament tale of Job and the sufferings he betook by the hands of God. Yet this man seeking answers doesn’t blame nor attribute his suffering to God but instead wants to know why suffering happens to all good people and the film brilliantly puts together humanitarian, theological, and cynical points of view and humors our frailty to attempting to find these answers. Perhaps looked over for its original yet cynical delivery A Serious Man is by far one of the most unique films in the last decade and definitely stands out in the last year as an inventive and darkly humorous narrative of human suffering.

1. The Hurt Locker- Kathryn Bigelow’s best work since her late 80s horror piece Near Dark is her latest film that follows an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in 2004 Iraq. This kinetically exciting action film contains on the edge of your seat suspence and mentally invigorating action sequences that will surprise you in it’s artistic integrity, non-political honesty, and mind breaking tension building. Using a portrait of three very different soldiers, in intention, purpose, and beliefs, The Hurt Locker is an exceptional film that defines the war in Iraq as a particular war of people and not using it as a political staging tool to spout out bias taking away the humanity that is at play in the terrain of war. Guaranteed to be the most original, suspenseful, charming and energetic film you would see in the 2009 lineup that is flawlessly put together in all of its technical and narrative elements.

3 Responses to “Generation Film’s Top 20 Films of 2009”
  1. I haven’t been to the cinemas much this year, so I haven’t seen any of those films. Good list, but I can’t make one myself.

  2. Juan Carlos says:

    My favorite movie this year was Moon. It was so interesting.
    One film that didn’t get that much attention it seemed was “A woman In Berlin”. If you read the book then you could withstand all of the graphic scenes in the film.

  3. Movie Buff says:

    Wow! I suppose I missed a lot of great cinema last year. Thank you for the list 🙂

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