As I prepare to present my favorite films of our past decade, I feel the need to visit the last year of the 2000s. The best films list you make at the end of a year is never the same list a year later. New films are seen, and so these lists are living things, changing and reforming based on your tastes at the moment and altered by new cinema. I wrote up an ambitious 50 Best Films of the 2000s in 2009, and one day I’ll revise that list, but I thought to present a revised and updated 2009 list would be a great way to lead into our examination of the decade. Here are my thoughts on the fifteen films I find to be my favorites from 2009.Continue reading “Best of the 2010s: My Favorite Films of 2009”
In the Loop (2009)
Written by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, & Tony Roche
Directed by Armando Iannucci
In the UK Minister for International Development Simon Forster makes an off the cuff remark that “war is unforeseeable” when questioned during a radio interview about the Middle East. This does not mesh with the company line coming out of Downing Street and the Prime Minister’s communications head Malcolm Tucker is more than happy to ream Forster out over this. Toby is new to Forster’s staff and, to make a good impression, he gets a spot in a meeting between the UK’s foreign office and a US delegation from the state department. This leads to another verbal flub from Forster and Tucker’s eventual solution to send him to Washington D.C. on a “fact-finding” mission. Problems snowball until all parties, those for and against war end up in a race to head each other off.
Fast & Furious (2009)
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin
Five years have passed since The Fast & The Furious, and Dominic Toretto has set up shop in the Dominican Republic. His girlfriend Letty and partners, including Han from Tokyo Drift, are hijacking fuel tankers for money. The heat has increased too much, so the crew disbands and Dominic decides he will leave Letty to draw the heat off of her. Months later, while working Panama City, he learns that Letty has been killed and returns to Los Angeles to attend her funeral in secret. At the same time, Brian O’Connor has inexplicably been allowed to become an FBI Agent despite a continued pattern of lawbreaking. He is pursuing an arms dealer named Braga who wouldn’t you know it, is connected to Letty’s death. Plus, Brian and Mia rekindle their relationship from the first film, because he super serious didn’t mean to betray them all and really loves her.
I Killed My Mother (2009, dir. Xavier Dolan)
If you look up the many articles and interviews about Xavier Dolan, you will likely get a picture of an arrogant young artist. These would not be wrong, but I would challenge that this portrayal is negative particularly in cinema. Dolan represents a strong, re-interpretive Millennial energy that was inevitable in film. In the same way, the French New Wave and the iconoclastic American 1970s filmmakers made their mark in the form; Dolan is doing that same type of work. Does he indulge? Damn straight he does. But I challenge anyone to find a single auteur who doesn’t indulge constantly.
Dolan’s first feature, I Killed My Mother is the story of Hubert Minel (played by Dolan), a 16-year-old gay man, still closeted to his mother and who engages in the most vicious arguments and conflicts with this central caretaker. Dad stepped out when Hubert was seven and left Chantale, the mother (Anne Dorval) to raise the boy on her own. Hubert is two months into a relationship with a classmate and looking towards a career in the arts, encouraged by a supportive teacher (Suzanne Clément).
Dolan is a filmmaker influenced by the medium. No moment in I Killed My Mother is simply a moment; they are accented by flourishes of style from Goddard-like framing (off center and with both conversants in the frame), slow motion almost from a perfume ad, black and white confessional close-ups, and myriad of other touches that add emotion to a relatively typical story of parent-child conflict. He also knows the importance of establishing character through setting, as seen in the very opening close-ups of his mother’s tchotchke-filled home. We also learn volumes about her through her hairstyle, clothing, even the manner in which she eats breakfast. And all this if before she even has a modicum of dialogue.
While Dolan is the composer and conductor, Anne Dorval as Chantale is the star player. It would have been very easy for Chantale to slip in caricature, but Dorval does gritty work to keep the character faceted and obscured. In moments of high tension, she will begin to follow the same type of script I imagine all of us remember from our adolescence, which is underscored by Hubert calling her out on this same repetition. She shuts him down in the same manner that frustrated us all and drove many teenagers to those primal, guttural ARGHs! There is a moment near the end of the film where her role as a single mother is blamed as the reason why Hubert is struggling academically and exhibits such rebellious behavior. This is the moment where Dorval lets Chantale crack through the thickly layered makeup and sequined floral outfits. Chantale’s love for her son is beyond the question of outsiders, and she makes that known.
Dolan made I Killed My Mother at the age of 20 and has not tried to hide the fact that it is heavily biographical. He has stated that this is a film he couldn’t have waited decades to make, that it needed the raw emotion of being only steps away from adolescence. And he is completely right. A forty-something making the film in deep retrospect would have let nostalgia slip in between the cracks. There is no wistful memory manifesting falsified beauty here. Through the ugliness of this relationship, we see Beauty and Love. We don’t fight and scream with this level of fervor at people we hate, the type of anger glimpsed in the film born out of intense love and need. It is the attempt to communicate love but failing to do so because the language does not possess the vocabulary to do so.
Hubert states in one of his bathroom confessionals on camera that he doesn’t love his mother like a mother, but he loves her nonetheless. During a late night conversation, Hubert fueled by ecstasy and barging home full of elation to speak to Chantale; he states, “I love you. I am telling you this so that you won’t forget.” This is the moment where the nature of the relationship changes, not profoundly, but both characters redefine the bond. Hubert is no longer the dependent glimpsed in the Super 8 home movies at the old house by the lake. He is an individual coming into his own, intellect, a sexual being, a partner in a relationship, developing complex ideas and emotions. Chantale is reticent to accept that, but by the end of the film, they come to an unspoken understanding. Their relationship will never be what they both remember and wish it could be, something new will form and in that they will find a place for their love.
I happened upon two very different, but equally stylish French horror films recently and these really show up the dull slasher flicks that American horror cinema has devolved into.
I Am Love (2009, dir. Luca Guadagnino)
Starring Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini
I Am Love is attempting to tread the same territory of Italian cinema in the late 1950s and 60s, in particular I was reminded of Visconti’s The Leopard. They were films about the aristocracy and the secrets that lied beneath the clean and constructed surface. I Am Love brings modern elements into its plot, but still manages to evoke a sense of the classical. Swinton is perfectly cast as a Russian-turned-Italian via marriage. And the cast around her does an excellent job in their roles. The plot is fairly straightforward, there are only a few twists, but its the cinematography and music that really raise the picture above the rest.
Emma Recchi (Swinton) is the matriarch of an Italian family who has made its fortune in textiles, even during the time of Mussolini, an element that plays a bit part sub-textually in the film. Her husband and son have inherited the business from the elderly father and a tension exists, as Emma’s husband believed he would be the sole inheritor. Emma has recently met her son’s friend, Antonio, an aspiring chef. Emma’s son is helping fund Antonio’s first venture into the restaurant business and so she and the young man become more acquainted, eventually starting an affair.
You will be an awe of the camera work in this film. It is some of the most lush and gorgeous work I have ever seen on film. Director Guadagnino is able to pull the warmth right out of his bright spring scenes and bone chilling cold from the winter ones. This is a very sensual film, constantly focused on sex and food, and to get those themes across you need powerful cinematography just like this. In addition, the choice to use musical pieces by John Adams was brilliant. Adams’ contemporary orchestral music helps to create momentum and then a sense of urgency, especially in the film’s surprisingly frantic finale. A great overlooked picture that every fan of good foreign cinema should check out.
A Town Called Panic (2009, dir. Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar)
This is a singularly unique French language animated feature that highlights something I have always loved in French animated movies. They are able to construct an elaborate and rich universe in a little over an hour. A Town Called Panic is a surreal and bizarre picture that is using a style of stop motion animation that is hard to describe. The characters are designed to look like toy figurines of cowboys, Indians, farmers, and other people. There are no moving mouths and no facial animations, simply very frenetic body movement and voice acting that nails the weirdness of this world.
The appropriately named Town Called Panic is a place where crisis is an everyday occurrence. In one large house lives Cowboy, Indian, and Horse. Horse is the level headed of the trio and in love with a fellow equine who teaches music as the conservatory in town. Its Horse’s birthday, so Cowboy and Indian order 500 bricks to build a barbecue, however, a typing error makes that 5 million. The result is that their house is crushed by bricks. Every day they rebuild, but every night the entire house disappears. They stakeout one night and discover the weird truth behind things.
These are all hyperactive and manic characters, save Horse who keeps a level head. Part of the humor are Cowboy and Indian’s sudden leaps from passivity to complete and utter chaos. They scramble about trying to cover their errors but inevitably make things worse. There’s also a lot of humor from moments where you would expect characters to panic, that Cowboy and Indian are surprisingly unphased. Its comedy that doesn’t have any profound message or point, its akin to early Looney Toons where stories were given over to chaos and insanity.
The jokes never become vulgar or profane, so its a suitable substitute for typical maudlin family fare. In many ways I saw similarities to The Triplets of Belleville, both films created very specific characters that are richly detailed while using broad strokes. It’s also a statement against the current domination of CG animated features. At the end of the day, its not the bells and whistles an animated film can lay claim too but the creativity and inventiveness working behind the scenes.