I have decided to split my favourite films into two distinct groups. The first group is a list of the films that I have particularly enjoyed this year but which were not made or released this year. It is a longer list than the other and because it is more a reflection of what I have seen than anything else, it will have a touch less impact. However, for those interested, here are some of my favourite films of the year.
1 – Orlando (1992) : Sally Potter’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s tale of historical immortality and gender-switching. The film looks incredible, Potter produces a version of the Elizabethan age which, though not historically accurate, somehow feels right (especially the decision to cast Quentin Crisp as the old queen). Tilda Swinton is also astonishing in the lead role, she is not so much icy as simply otherworldly. I also loved the inclusion of a child-like surrogate for Potter at the end, as though Potter’s right to work as an artist is somehow down to previous generations of women and men who refused to stay in the gender roles assigned to them.
2 – The Tenant (1976) : I wrote about this film back in April but the film continues to throb at the back of my mind. It is full of such wonderful ideas and demented vistas.
3 – The Consequences of Love (2004) : I saw this soon after I saw Il Divo and I was amazed at how well Sorrentino managed to combine a starkly modernist and almost Ballardian vision of the world with a yearning for something more, something emotionally real. The film not only looks incredible and has a wonderful plot, it also has a brilliant soundtrack.
4 – Before I Forget (2007) : Jacques Nolot remains one of my favourite film-makers. His works are always insightful, always intelligent and always intensely personal. Before I Forget is probably his most intimate film yet, it even outdoes the genuinely inspired and transgressive Chatte a Deux Tetes. I wrote about the film back in February.
5 – The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) : Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Alan Stilltoe’s novel remains to this day a classic and for entirely understandable reasons. The film is full of simmering anger over the British class system. Not merely the inequity of the inequalities that underpin it, but the cultural aspects of it too and how something that gives pleasure can all too easily be turned into a way of exerting control. The film is a beautiful reminder of how political it can be to simply say “No”. I did not write about the film directly, but it did rather inspire my take on a particularly loathesome video game.
6 – The White Diamond (2004) : Werner Herzog not only makes wonderful feature films, he also makes incredible documentaries. While I very much enjoyed this year’s Encounters at the End of the World, I found it less coherent a film than something like Grizzly Man. However, The White Diamond is pretty much everything you can expect from a Herzog documentary : It is beautiful, it is intelligent and it is filled with larger-than-life characters at the very edge of human capability.
7 – Irma Vep (1996) : Along with Claire Denis and Sally Potter, Olivier Assayas was one of the directors I was most happy to discover in 2009. I wrote about both Irma Vep and Demonlover but I think the warm-heartedness and humour of Irma Vep ultimately carried the day over the more brutally aloof Demonlover.
8 – Elephant (2003) : I have not always been the greatest admirer of Gus Van Sant’s work. I thought very little of the overly worthy and overly mainstream Milk and bounced right out of Last Days, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues and the re-make of Psycho. However, Elephant struck the right chord with me. I watched it on Christmas morning and was completely won over by the interlocking narrative, the elegant long takes and the little cinematic flourishes that brought moments of emotional clarity so sharply into focus.
9 – Nous Ne Vieillirons Pas Ensemble (1972) : Reviewing this film sent me into something of a Nouvelle vague frenzy as I plowed through much of Pialat’s early work and much of the work of his contemporary Claude Chabrol too. For a long time I had help many of these French ‘relationship’ films in quiet contempt but the power of We Won’t Grow Old Together completely took my breath away.
10 – Sunset Boulevard (1950) : I watched quite a few works of Film Noir in the course of 2009 but despite the talent involved in many of those films, none of them struck me quite as hard as Billy Wilder’s story of fading beauty and the carnivorous nature of fame. The dialogue is genuinely second to none and the film has a razor-tipped lack of sentimentality that is actually quite chilling even to this day.