Benjamin Strong’s Best (and worst) Films of 2009
35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis)
Denis charts new territory in humanist filmmaking in this deceptively modest tale of a father and a daughter, and their neighbors, in a Parisian banlieue. And whereas Summer Hours, Olivier Assayas’s similar take on the relationship of globalism to family, restricted itself to the bourgeoisie, Denis burrows deeper, exploring the quotidian lives of France’s post-colonial working class.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
Finally striking the sweet spot between art direction and the megalomaniacal manchildren he loves to indulge, Anderson makes good on his promise with a story about the dangers of hubris. The funniest comedy of the year (co-written with Noah Baumbach) and an instant classic of the stop-motion technique, Fox also has the merit of George Clooney, who as an unrepentant thief and troublemaker sets a new standard for voicing animated characters.
24 City (Jia Zhang-ke)
Some have cried sell-out, but in this oral history of a Mao-era factory—his first movie subject to Mainland approval—Jia is up to his usual tricks, straddling the boundary between the fictional and the documentary.
The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh)
SS’s best picture since 1999’s The Limey was widely criticized for having the nerve to be a comedy, though all this movie about Clinton-era corporate malfeasance was doing was demonstrating the Marxist principle that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce.
Tyson (James Toback)
Giving, in a sense, the performance of the year, the former heavyweight champion sits on a couch and opens up about his demons—showing us both his intelligence and his humanity, but also his blind spots.
Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze)
I don’t know what all those critics hating on Jonze were doing when they were kids (presumably they were indoors reading André Bazin) but Wild Things vividly captures the anger, naiveté, and above all the physicality of boyhood, at least as I remember it.
Two Lovers (James Gray)
Moody as a teenager, unstable as its medicated leading man, this emotionally risky Brooklyn love triangle is all the more affecting for its imperfections.
Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi)
Relieved of Spidey duty, Raimi returns to his forte, the comical horror film. A less confident director would have flinched, but Raimi understands he’s conveying a morality tale, and in the final scene he goes for broke with our sympathies.
Red Cliff (John Woo)
They quite literally don’t make them like this anymore, mostly because they’re so fucking expensive. The priciest movie in Chinese history has a cast of thousands, led by a typically badass Tony Leung. Even in its cut-in-half U.S. theatrical version, Woo’s old-fashioned epic is the year’s best action movie, the anti-Avatar.
Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu)
The oft-overhyped Romanian New Wave grows up with Porumboiu’s second-feature, a policier about his country’s misguided war on drugs. American viewers should be able to relate.
… and the worst:
Avatar is way too obvious a choice, The Girlfriend Experience too slight to warrant the attention, and the better half of Julie and Julia was a decent enough film. Let’s give this one to Antichrist. Lars von Trier was, after all, asking for it.