It’s the second week in a row that a horror film nabs the top spot in my best of the year list. The third if you include my very first post in a project I’ve begun just a little over a month ago. To be honest, this recurrence comes as a bit of a surprise since I’m not particularly fixated on the genre, or at least not more so than any other. But there’s no denying the brilliance behind Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. Every minute of the film is as unsettling as the mysterious crimes committed in this small village set during pre-WWI Germany. From the rigid Protestantism enforced by the townspeople down to the social gatherings of the children, who, you know, you’d think would act like children and stuff, something always appears to be lurking beyond the corners of the frame. Of course, this foreboding tension is never fully realized but why would you want it to when the dread of it all stays with you long after the credits roll. That Michael Haneke can continuously tread familiar territory (i.e. Funny Games, Code Unknown, Caché) and still manage to present a new and disturbing angle towards his philosophy is a merit to his talents as a true auteur, perhaps the best working in the industry today. And so The White Ribbon situates itself as my number one in a year that presents a mixed bag of movies that are as assuredly uncompromising in their vision as they are in their eclecticism.
1. The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke)
2. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
3. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
4. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)
5. Bright Star (Jane Campion) and An Education (Lone Scherfig)
6. I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino)
7. Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)
8. White Material (Claire Denis)
9. Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu) and The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
10. Wild Grass (Alain Resnais)
Snuck a couple more in there that I just couldn’t ignore. An Education is another picturesque British period piece that, like Bright Star, tackles young love in a unique and vibrant way, not to mention bestowing the film world with a spunky Carey Mulligan whose as light and frothy in the role as a catchy French tune from the early 60’s. Then there’s The Hurt Locker and its well deserved accolades as a raw and relentless portrayal on a subject that all too often gets muddled in the cinema (and just about everywhere else). Tarantino delivers one of his most honed, and therefore one of his best, while the Coen Brothers indulge in what appears to be a passion-piece after the astounding success of their previous efforts in No Country for Old Men.
For those that didn’t make the ranks, 2009 was also a wonderful year for animation. Who would have thought that Disney could have delivered an even more idiosyncratic story in Up than Wes Anderson’s jab at stop-motion? But Fantastic Mr. Fox is indeed fantastic. And so is Avatar, that box office phenomenon which loses more than its scope when viewed on a small screen, especially when compared to the unwavering originality of Dogtooth or the complex moral gradations of Police, Adjective, big screen or not.
And the heavies? Andrea Arnold had Fish Tank, revitalizing the British kitchen sink realism from yonder years. Tom Ford had A Single Man, which is a gorgeously photographed drama that never attains the reach it originally sets it eyes on. And Martin Scorsese had Shutter Island, a film I wish I liked better than what I truthfully did. Add two foils from Soderbergh, The Informant and The Girlfriend Experience, Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans, and Pedro Almodóvar’s luscious Broken Embraces, and you’ve got yourself a year. Oh, and Antichrist too, whose first ten minutes gave me just enough of an inclination about the rest of the movie to not really want to finish it. And believe me, I’ve heard the stories.
Next Week: 1952. What a glorious feeling!