by HELEN GEIB
This post is not the best films of 2009, although some of the best films of the year are on this list. It’s also not my favorite films of 2009, although some of those are on this list too. This post is the year in review: a look back, month-by-month, at the state of moviegoing in 2009, in Indianapolis – fly-over country in microcosm.
A few weeks ago I wrote (ranted?) about the good and bad of list-making and specifically, year-end “top 10” lists. One of the good things about list-making is the opportunity it affords to reassess and reevaluate. This post is partly my attempt to put the year in movies into perspective. I was disappointed by some of the films I saw and some films I really wanted to see never played here. I also saw some really great films, there was more variety on the big screen than I often give my city credit for offering, and there was no month in which I didn’t see at least one movie that I really enjoyed (although one month came disturbingly close). This isn’t an exhaustive list of the year’s good movies by any means, not even with the “honorable mentions” included.* Think of it as a representative sampling of the movies that kept me going to the movies week in and week out.
Another good thing about list-making is the opportunity it affords the list-maker to promote, and the reader to learn about, some of the many good films that practically no one has heard of. There are a few hits and one certified blockbuster on this list, but most of these movies were not widely seen; probably some of them never even played where you live, just as more than a few critical favorites never played where I live. I encourage you to give one or two or more of them a try on DVD.
The titles are linked to the Commentary Track reviews. Not coincidentally, most of them are mine, and I pretty well agree with the others (except for the review of Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I liked way more than Tom). Read the full reviews for all the reasons you should see these films.
January: Chandni Chowk to China
Bollywood musical-comedy meets Hong Kong kung fu cinema. I loved it. A big shout out to the expatriate and second generation Indian moviegoers who sustain the near-weekly theatrical distribution of new Bollywood films in Indianapolis.
February: The International
Don’t be fooled by The International‘s Hollywood pedigree, its status as a top-notch suspense thriller, or the fact that it contains the best action sequence of the year bar none. This is a clear-eyed, uncompromising expose of the moral decay besetting the international financial system.
March: Waltz With Bashir
An animated film for adults, and only for adults, Waltz With Bashir employs several distinct animation styles to explore questions of memory and responsibility – personal and collective – arising from the Israeli army’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
Honorable Mention: Watchmen
An exceptionally difficult to watch and exceptionally rewarding film from Italy. Gomorrah documents the activities of the Camorra, the organized crime syndicate that controls Naples and much of rural southern Italy, and the corrosive, inescapable hold it exerts on the material and psychic life of its members, clients, and victims.
Honorable Mention: Fast and Furious
May: Star Trek
The certified blockbuster on the list and the epitome of a great Hollywood “summer movie.” I know there are naysayers out there and some of them have even tried to explain to me what they object to, but I simply don’t get how anyone could not like this movie… when it’s just so much fun!
Honorable Mention: Up
June: The Proposal
June was the easiest month to pick a movie for this list: I only saw four movies in the theater in June and The Proposal was far and away the best of the lot. It would probably have been my pick for the month even if the competition had been stronger because a) it was a good romantic comedy, b) I love a good romantic comedy, and c) it was the only good romantic comedy I saw in 2009.
July: Sita Sings the Blues
A movie I know almost no-one saw in the theater because it only played on the festival circuit. Unique is an overused word, but this film really is unique. I’ve never seen anything like it and I don’t expect to ever see anything like it again. It’s wonderful and you should see it too. Buy it on DVD or download it for free – and legally – from the film’s official site. See the review for more information.
Honorable Mention: Public Enemies
A heartfelt and lovely Japanese drama about a man who discovers profound emotional meaning in a profession not spoken of in polite society. Theatrical distribution, albeit limited, courtesy of winning Best Foreign-Language Picture at the 2008 Academy Awards.
Honorable Mention: The Hurt Locker
September: O’ Horten
I haven’t written a review of O’Horten because frankly, it intimidates my inner critic. Like Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer’s Kitchen Stories (which I had to see more than once a few years apart before I felt ready to tackle it – the result is here), O’Horten has a definite, but elusive charm. A delicate warmth and – dare I say it? – unique sensibility. Maybe I’ll feel up to the challenge after the next time I watch it. Don’t wait on my review to try it out for yourself.
October: Where the Wild Things Are
I read an interview with writer-director Spike Jonze in which he described Where the Wild Things Are as a movie about childhood, not a movie for children. That’s an apt summary of a film about a boy who escapes into a fully realized imaginary world populated by creatures who embody – in fractured pieces – his own inchoate longings for familial love.
November: Bright Star
Bright Star is a compelling romantic drama of the passionate and tender love affair between John Keats and his fiancee Fanny Brawne. It is also a credible historical drama and a remarkable expression of Romanticism through visual filmmaking.
Honorable Mention: Fantastic Mr. Fox
December: The Princess and the Frog
Old school Disney is a wonderful thing. The animation in The Princess and the Frog is splendid, the New Orleans-inflected original music is great, the voice acting is phenomenal, and good triumphs and evil goes down in flames, or should I say is dragged to Hell and no mistake. Plus those frogs are darn cute. And funny. Very funny.
Honorable Mention: Sherlock Holmes
* On that note: I decided to disqualify movies that showed up on last year’s Top Ten Films list even if I saw them in 2009. Blame the crazy quilt of U.S. theatrical distribution for the non-appearance on this list of The Wrestler and Sword of the Stranger.