It was a year of outer-space spectacles and inner-city dramas, animated delights and sombre period pieces. Critical acclaim may yet swirl around flicks like Crazy Heart and The Messenger, but they won’t hit local screens until 2010. Thus, the following is how the best of this year’s celluloid lot stacked up for our movie reviewers. The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, and Up in the Air scored the most accolades with our critics, with An Education and District 9 coming in a close second.
One of the oldest Christmas adages suggests that good things come in small packages. Increasingly in Vancouver, the most interesting motion pictures play for only three or four days, about half the standard minimum commercial run of one week. In protest against such “time tyranny”, this year I’ve decided to start my list with the best of these “small packages”. In similar fashion, I have placed aesthetics ahead of entertainment value. I might have had more fun at Pirate Radio than I did at Lorna’s Silence, but that doesn’t make it a better film.
Watch the trailer for 35 Shots of Rum.
35 Shots of Rum
Once again, Claire Denis and her inseparable cinematographer, Agní¨s Godard, have found new ways to demonstrate the truth behind Sergei Eisenstein’s belief that sound cinema should be far more than just talking theatre. This small, intimate drama about a Parisian railroad engineer and his academically minded daughter manages to touch our hearts and ravage our senses in a myriad of tiny ways. In its muted fashion, worth at least 150 blockbusters.
Integrating his own failed psychoanalysis with a 21st-century take on a 1922 classic directed by fellow Dane Benjamin Christensen (Hí¤xan: Witchcraft Through the Ages), Lars von Trier managed to outrage audiences around the world with a psychodrama that many critics saw as nothing more than a pornographic, misogynistic, cabin-in-the-woods horror movie. This is far from being his masterpiece, but compared with most of the features released last year, it’s still a knockout.
Belgium’s Dardenne brothers have built their career on neorealistic themes shot with Bressonian austerity. Their latest effort pivots on the difficult moral choices that must be made by a female Albanian immigrant.
A chillingly dry, almost scientific look at the Italian underworld syndicate that makes the Sicilian Mafia look like the Sally Ann by comparison.
How things are in French schools of today, where most of the students’ ancestors were not “the Gauls”. This multiple prizewinner could have done with a bit more visual panache, but that doesn’t make it any less of an eye opener.
Steve McQueen’s harrowing account of the 1981 IRA protest against conditions in Ulster’s infamous Maze prison will probably best be remembered for star Michael Fassbender’s near-suicidal weight loss during the production but it really has more to do with such contemporary hells as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
From Norway came the most “hangdog” comedy of last year.
John Woo might not be in Zhang Yimou’s league yet, but the Guangzhou native’s momentous return to his homeland still resulted in the best martial-arts epic of 2009.
Hansel & Gretel
The only South Korean horror flick of last year stylish enough to shoulder Park Chan-wook’s darkly comic Thirst out of the running.
Che: Part One
Steven Soderbergh deliberately tried to make the two halves of his massively long biopic about Argentina’s greatest rebel stylistically independent of each other. Pity.
View all critic's picks on a single page.