Sam’s Top Ten of the Year

You can listen to us discussing these films at length on the podcast on the show, but please do check out the list below for perpetuity. Sam’s list is annotated and included below, Tom’s is not annotated and its right here. This just means you will have to check out the podcast to hear Tom’s viewpoints. So check out Sam’s choices after the jump, along with a few choice thoughts and honourable mentions. Enjoy!

10. Fish Tank

Andrea Arnold’s excellent second film is not quite the match of the stunning Red Road, but the performance from Katie Jarvis and the touch of the director in the interpersonal scenes elevates this to somewhere that the script doesn’t quite merit, notably given the slight overcooking towards the end. Some amazing scenes, however, and some beautifully constructed and openly-interpretive moments between characters make this nigh-on unmissable.

9. Star Trek

Easily the best blockbuster of 2009, this film is not far off perfect, outside of the terrible scene involving the original Spock. Delete that and you have an indecently entertaining film with, perhaps, the best ensemble cast of the year. The character moments, especially those involving Chris Pine’s Kirk and Karl Urban’s McCoy, are charming and packed with charisma and comedy. Unexpectedly, a Star Trek movie was the most accessible and entertaining action film of the year.

8. Up

Though it’s somewhat messy for the most part, the first ten minutes of this film are enough to give it a solid top ten spot. The ‘life’ sequence at the start, wordless and annotated only by music and tiny personal moments, is completely breathtaking but the rest is a rag-tag road movie with a terrific sense of adventure, just a slight lack of focus. The character moments are sweet and touching, the story itself, focusing on the Pixar-favoured topic of fatherhood, is perfectly pitched and the animation, and imagination involved in that, is wonderful. Forgetting Cars, will they ever truly misstep?

7. Let the Right One In

A very Swedish take on the vampire movie, this was another driven by likeable characters and a sweet romance, but oh so much more bite and existential interest than that other abominable vampire movie. The performances from the two child leads are perfect, but the best thing here is Alfredson’s filmmaking, his camera retaining a stillness throughout which mean that the explosions of violence and disturbing themes are allowed to breathe enough to get under the skin of the audience.

6. Funny People

I wasn’t completely alone in loving this film, but I might be completely alone in loving the film as much as I did. Adam Sandler gives a great performance in this sprawling, hyper-personal exploration of comedy by Judd Apatow. Sandler’s character seems oddly close to his own life, which Apatow is intimately familiar with, and is used to examine the psychological make-up of comedians and the mindset they hold which prevents them from truly connecting. It’s not about all comedians per se, but it explores that mindset held by those who need to keep misanthropy a part of their act. Beyond that, the character interplay is perfect and there are just plenty of fascinating, emotionally open scenes. It’s Apatow’s passion project and, for whatever reason, I just connected completely.

5. Fantastic Mr Fox

Unexpectedly, a huge return to form from Wes Anderson. Ostensibly taking Roald Dahl’s tale as a starting point, Anderson imprints his own style on the source material without losing the overall spirit of the original. The voice performances are perfect, especially the great Jason Schwartzmann, but the star of the show is Anderson’s directorial choice-making. Plenty of great jokes and, in the stop-motion, the best choice he has made in his whole career, completely suited to his minutiae-fetishism on one level and just so aesthetically-pleasing on another. It’s also the first of his films since Rushmore where he seems to genuinely like his characters, a difference which is so important in how much love you can build up for the film.

4. Synecdoche, New York

I love achingly personal filmmaking and this, from the cavernous mind of Charlie Kaufman as both writer and director, is self-examination to the point of borderline insanity. The film drives from meta level to meta level, getting further and further lost inside itself but never, for me, losing the neurosis at its centre: the need to be remembered for something great. It evokes the madness of attempting to create great art, the subjectivity of the world which prevents this from ever being truly possible and the intense need and desire to achieve something, whatever it may be, before death.

3. Where the Wild Things Are

A mad mess of ideas and inspiration, Spike Jonze proved himself once more to wholly understand the spirit of his story, creating a narrative which takes Maurice Sendak’s book and expands it into a swirling, mad imagination picture. It captures the moment when children begin the journey to adulthood, when they realise that they are no longer the centre of the world and have to compromise to the needs of others. Max may well be a disturbed and troubled young child, but I think the feelings and thoughts that he has just capture those that most children would have at that age in his situation, just more vividly than may would perhaps have liked. It’s slightly self-indulgent in places, but it evokes and engages with childhood in ways that modern movies simply never even try. All that and the soundtrack is the absolute best of the whole year.

2. The Wrestler

Low-key and often too close to stereotype in the script, this is a film elevated an enormous amount by the amazing performances, direction and cinematography. Aronofsky shifted away from the insane ambition of The Fountain to deliver and measured, appropriate directing job to prove his versatility, Marise Alberti’s cinematography captures the cold isolation of the characters and the supporting players, notably the ever-brilliant Marisa Tomei, are superb. But, come on, the star of the show is Mickey Rourke. His performance goes somewhere beyond acting onto a meta level that suggests this will be a once-in-a-lifetime role. If that’s the case, he took his chance with both hands and booked his place back amongst the greats after all those year’s in the wilderness.

1. The Hurt Locker

Iraq filmmaking has proved itself a difficult art. The shift has gone from those explicitly exploring the experience of soldiers with a heavy political stance to those exploring the soldiers coming home with a heavy political stance. None of them have been absolutely awful (outside of Redacted and Stop-Loss) but none have managed to explicitly understand the experience of soldiers from an entirely apolitical viewpoint. The Hurt Locker is not only the most exciting, tense film of the year, but it’s understanding of the psychology of the soldier, and its focus upon this, captures what is actually important about Iraq. This was Jarhead with a boatload of action and without the showy visuals, though the visual style here is gripping. Kathryn Bigelow should and hopefully will win the director Oscar this year, not just for the construction of scenes and her understanding of space, but for her focus on the relationship between the lead characters and subsequently their relationship to the warzone. Emotionally and physically, this is a breathless film.

Honourable Mentions

District 9 – Thrilling allegorical sci-fi, only let down by reliance on genre traits.

Milk – Stately and finely-tuned biopic, excellent acting, slightly ponderous in some places.

Slumdog Millionaire – Overrated undoubtedly but still extremely entertaining and sweet. Superb direction.

(500) Days of Summer – Arrival of a talent in Marc Webb and career-best performance from Zooey Deschanel.

Moon – Lovely, charming sci-fi with immense central performance and best performance by Kevin Spacey in years.

Zombieland – Hugely fun and rollicking zombie ride.

Rachel Getting Married – Career-maker for Anne Hathaway, only dips because of hyper-long wedding sequence.

Bronson – Tom Hardy’s performance dominates but Winding Refn’s work is, as always, bracing.

In the Loop – Satire at its highest, only let down because it never quite reaches the Strangelove-ian heights it’s going for.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil – Heartfelt, sweet hair metal homosocial love story.

Doubt – ACTING! And more ACTING!! Stagey at times but otherwise nye-on perfectly judged.

Drag Me to Hell – Raimi returns to horror with fun, cheeky ride with great horror performance from Alison Lohman.

A Serious Man – Obtuse, uber-Coen exploration of Book of Job. For fans only, maybe. If you’re a fan though, world class.

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