tongue-tied lightning

20 Best Films I Saw in 2009
December 31, 2009, 10:20 PM
Filed under: film

And here we are again.  I saw 317 films this year, 227 of them for the first time.  90 of them I had seen before and felt compelled to revisit.  I will be excluding 2008 and 2o09 releases because in all likelihood they are on my best of 2008 list (viewable here) or they will be on my best of 2009 list in a month or two.  This year I am ranking them, for no particular reason.

20. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Grand Guignol at it’s finest, and the two lead performances are both fantastic.

19. On the Waterfront Why Marlon Brando is Marlon Brando.  The late Karl Malden is quite good as well.  Sometimes the allegory is a bit too on the nose, but a powerful piece of filmmaking nonetheless.

18. The Iron Giant Brad Bird was making great animated films prior to his tenure at Pixar, on par with the best films Pixar, Disney and Miyazaki put out in the 90s.

17. The Best of Youth All I had ever heard about this film was how long it was.  Well, it’s good too, in fact it gets progressively better as it goes on.  Some great lead performances, and impressive how the actors believably portray the characters over 40 years.

16. Hail the Conquering Hero

15. Christmas in July  Two great comedies by the incomparable Preston Sturges.  People don’t write comedy like Lubitsch and Sturges used to anymore, and it’s a shame.

14. Smiles of a Summer Night A great comedy by Ingmar Bergman, someone usually hailed as a great dramatist.  It’s certainly comparable to the work of Lubitsch and Sturges and it’s a shame he didn’t do more work in this vein.

13. Make Way for Tomorrow Leo McCarey somehow found the time to make both this AND The Awful Truth in 1937.  It’s coming out on Criterion soon, pick it up and check it out.  A wonderful depression era drama.  On par with any of Capra’s films of the era.

12. The Decalogue A great piece of, somewhat eclipsed by Kieslowksi’s work in the 90s, but no less great for that.

11. The Thin Blue Line A powerful piece of cinema.  One of few works of art that actually changed things.  Unfortunately, the death penalty is still in existence.

10. Black Narcissus I’ve seen a few Powell/Pressburger films since The Red Shoes and this is the first one that’s come close to hitting me in the same way.  Wonderful performances, wonderful cinematography, wonderful film.

9. Hell’s Hinges One of my absolute favorite Silent dramas.  Reviewed here.

8. Miami Vice Unfairly maligned, the theatrical cut is likely Michael Mann’s best film.

7. Kings and Queen Arnaud Desplechin is easily my favorite cinematic discovery of 2009.  Kings and Queen might not be quite on par with A Christmas Tale, but that’s like saying Casablanca isn’t quite as good as Citizen Kane.  Watch it, these films have made Mathieu Amalric is my favorite working actor.

6. In a Lonely Place Both my favorite Nicholas Ray film and my favorite Humphrey Bogart performance.  A stunning film, one of the few 50s noirs that can hold it’s own with the best of the 40s.

5. Alan Zweig’s Mirror Trilogy Vinyl, I Curmudgeon and Loveable form a strangely moving triptych.  A man’s examination of his own obsession, misanthropy and inability to find love, perhaps all rooted in self-loathing.  Films that are very of their time.  I wrote this piece and could write much more.

4. Brand Upon the Brain! Introduced me to the wonderful world of Guy Maddin, and to date it’s my favorite of his films.  A wonderfully demented story I feel the need to watch again and again.

3. Friday Night This was my first Claire Denis film and it’s really unbelievable.  I’ve never seen passion so tangibly translated to the screen.  Great performances and wonderful surreal touches take it over the top.  God did I love this film.

2. My Dinner With Andre Let’s not play down Andre Gregory because he is really fantastic in this film, but the really awe-inspiring part is how Louis Malle makes two people talking to one another cinematic and adds dynamism to the pacing.  Absolutely stunning.

1. Paris, Texas The one film I saw this year that would undoubtedly be on my all-time top 10.  I’m almost afraid to watch it again, I don’t want to mess with how perfect my first viewing was.   I can’t put into words how much I loved this film.


4 Comments so far
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Criterion will release “Paris, Texas” on DVD in January.

Comment by Tom Farrell

I’m very pleased with your number 1.

Comment by vonsamuel

I played the Screaming Man on the bridge in Paris, Texas.” It was good to work with Wim Wenders and Harry Dean Stanton.

Comment by Tom Farrell

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