2009 has been, by my estimation, an excellent year in film. In the wake of the recession, many people are moaning about the collapse of mid-range budgets (leaving only Avatar and Paranormal Activity). This may well prove to be true but I suspect that the UK will not feel the cinematic bite of the recession until this year as we tend to be months behind the pace when it comes to releasing smaller films. This time slippage also means that some of my favourite films of 2009 were in fact made in 2008 or even 2007.
In no particular order…
1 – Let The Right One In (2008) : At a time when vampires have come to dominate the genre landscape, the need for new and challenging interpretations of the vampire has never been greater. However, the rise of the vampire as a fusion of sexless bad boy and gay best friend only made Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Låt Den Rätte Komma In (2004) seem that little bit more piquant as the sexless bad boy was reinvented as a fusion of transgendered femme fatale and predatory paedophile. A genuinely brilliant film that I wrote about at greater length elsewhere.
2 – In The City of Sylvia (2007) : I had heard some good things about this film but I was sceptical. After all, it’s just a film about a guy wandering around a city right? Well… yes, and therein lies the beauty. At its best, the film works as an ode to people watching, to the minute changes of expression and posture that people broadcast in public but which relatively few people pick up on. The averted gaze. The smile that never quite reaches the eyes. The couple who face away from each other despite sitting together. The claims that the film is somehow misogynistic seem valid up to a point as the main character is undeniably creepy. In fact, I suspect the film would have received an entirely different critical reaction had the protagonist been an obese black man rather than an pretty little artist with soulful eyes. I wrote about the film at greater length elsewhere.
3 – 35 Shots of Rum (2008) : Claire Denis is a film maker who can be incredibly abrasive. Her story-telling can be evasive, her themes confrontational and her characters unsympathetic. 35 Shots of Rum reverses all of these tendencies demonstrating quite how powerful and aesthetically ruthless a film-maker Denis can be when she choses to play by recognisable rules. The film itself is a moving study of emotional paralysis. Of relationships that should have been allowed to die and relationships that should have been allowed to be born. It features some wonderful performances (particular by Denis’ muse Alex Descas. I have written about it at greater length elsewhere.
4 – Il Divo (2008) : Paolo Sorrentino’s vicious attack on Italian politics and the character of former prime minister Giulio Andreotti completely blew me away when I first saw it at the cinema. It contains many of the quirks of Sorrentino’s film making including an acute architectural awareness, people moving at strange angles and a memorable soundtrack but uses all of these elements to examine a world full of corruption, compromise and expediency as well as devout religious faith. Toni Servillo’s Nosferatu-like performance is flawless.
5 – The Limits of Control (2009) : Much like In The City of Sylvia, Jim Jarmusch’s Limits of Control is a film full of walking and people silently sitting in cafes. However, Jarmusch deploys those tropes as part of an inspired deconstruction of the spy genre. Instead of Bond Girls we have a woman who is perpetually and incomprehensibly naked. Instead of Bond-style glamorous backdrops we have the spy going out of his way to visit local landmarks. Instead of a vaguely political tale of conspiracy, we have a battle fought over the need to control. Jarmusch also takes his queue from the spy genre by peopling his film with self-consciously weird characters. In fact, at the end of the film, when the job is done, the lead character takes off his distinctive shiny suit and changes into normal clothes, thereby exiting the world of spies. A funny, visually impressive and weirdly clever film that I enjoyed very much indeed.