L Critic Picks for Best (and worst) Films of 2009

12/24/2009 4:00 PM |

Nicolas Rapold’s Best (and worst) Films of 2009

With 35 Shots of Rum and Summer Hours, Claire Denis and Olivier Assayas give two different, elegant, moving models for getting the feel of family, home, and time’s passage, in milieus that together span the local and the global, tradition and change.
Profound confusion reigns in the minds of The Headless Woman and A Serious Man (though in the latter case, the title is a knotty proposition). Each courts viewer alienation with its strange cosmos, yet in separate ways Lucrecia Martel and the Coen Brothers took us deep into fascinating states of psychological and existential irresolution.

Mystery-man protagonists of a different sort drive The Limits of Control and The Informant!. One was an exquisite trance-like journey with an art-appreciating, anticapitalist hit man; the other an often goofy but vexing portrait of jawdropping chutzpah.

In Night and Day, Hong Sang-soo lets loose another man (played by Kim Yeong-ho) mortifying himself in romance and life, this time in Paris; meanwhile, in the Brooklyn of Two Lovers, James Gray lets loose another guy (Joaquin Phoenix) to throw himself about, make declarations, agonize, and do many of the same things. And just as Hong and Gray are willing to send us toppling forth awkwardly with these men, so do the best parts of Where the Wild Things Are sketch out difficult not-yet-worked out childlike emotions (and difficult people) with an under-your-skin intuition.

Fantastic Mr. Fox brought the compromises of marriage, tragic compulsion, and sibling rivalry to a delightful and funny Roald Dahl adaptation, while Coraline pulled off the alternate-world fantasy of a young girl with the necessary scariness intact. Ponyo dazzles with riotous color that transcends age.
A gangster legend gets an otherworldly, even Brechtian treatment in Public Enemies, which brings together Michael Mann’s career with macho gunplay, period detail, and pushing-to-abstraction digital aesthetic. In Police, Adjective, Corneliu Porumboiu does something just as radical with the police procedural.

Before, during, and after: White Material (coffee farmer Isabelle Huppert digs in before impending revolution), The Hurt Locker (bomb squad ritualizing danger and death), and The Messenger (new friendship in the shellshocked aftermath) burrow deep into moods, moments, and terrifying suspension imposed by war.

Despite fatigue setting in after a hyped decade, the possibilities of documentary were on full display, including: a Wiseman special in La Danse and its exploration of dance and dancers, art and its institution, the moving and hilarious friendship depicted over the sad-sack arc of Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Peter Greenaway’s dense investigation of a painting he calls Rembrandt’s J’Accuse, an only slightly shrill précis of established research and systemic analysis in Food, Inc., and the more-than-meets-the-eye memoir-essay-compilation of Varda’s The Beaches of Agnes. (And where does 24 City fit in?)

Randomly selected rep-house pleasure from the hat inexplicably containing titles of old movies I have seen:
any number of the double and triple takes across the Jerry Lewis series at Anthology Film Archives.

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