Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The best and worst of 2009

As the annual commercial hoop-la of award-season hoves into view, I thought I'd add my tuppence-worth with the conventional and more unconventional annual Bina007 Best of and Worst of list. And, given that award-givers typically reward melodrama rather than comedy, with start with the laughs. After all, as Sullivan found in that Preston Sturges masterpiece, there's nothing wrong with just trying to make people laugh, especially in a year as ball-shrinkingly grim as 2009........

Funniest movies of the year: by far the funniest was Armando Ianucci's scabrous political satire IN THE LOOP. We already knew that Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker was the filthiest, most evil of spin doctors, but Tom Hollander was a delight as the incompetent junior minister who indirectly led Britain to war. I was crying with laughter for pretty much the entire first twenty minutes of this film.

The second funniest film of the year was the Paul Rudd vehicle ROLE MODELS. The genius was in the casting: Ken Jeong as the narcisstic little bitch warrior king; Bobb'E J Thompson as the foul-mouthed little kid; and Jane Lynch as the former crack-addict turned mentor. Pure Comedy Gold. Funnier than PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and I LOVE that film.

And continuing the warm-hearted tone, here's some praise for films that I didn't really expect too much from. It's moments like these that I live for: the reason why I watch so many movies: the capacity to be genuinely entertained and surprised. First up, its Bryan Singer's hammy Hitler-assassination thriller, VALKYRIE, was better than it should've been, and such was Tom Cruise's fervour, I almost believed he was going to take Germany! Second is Alex Proyas' Nic Cage sci-fi flick KNOWING. It had all the hallmarks of Nic Cage schlock but somehow won me over with the sheers balls-out bravery of taking the movie to its logical conclusion.

The movie that made me cry the most, but in a good way, was MILK. Sean Penn's Harvey MILK was simply inspiring, and the love affair with James Franco's Scott so convincing and beautiful. But most of all, I felt so very deeply for Josh Brolin's repressed, twisted, vulnerable Dan White. The real scenes of the candle-lit march had be blubbing like a little girl.

The most beautifully imagined movie I saw, and the movie that most perfectly encapsulated the wonderful mystery of cinema - why show and tell is so powerful - was THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS.

The most believable lovers were Meryl Streep as Julia David and Stanley Tucci as her supportive husband in Nora Ephron's semi-biopic JULIA & JULIA. There perfectly matching eccentricity left me wanting more Parisian craziness and less contemporary whining.

Of course, not all movies can be unique, beautiful, brave and intelligent. But it's all the more disappointing when good directors do bad things, movies that were less than they should have been:

David Fincher takes an elegant little F Scott Fitzgerald and turns it into a pretentious bloated movie that wants to be profound but ends up being just one damn thing after another. The only good thing about THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON was that Tilda Swinton cameo.

John Patrick Shanley's award winning play turned movie, DOUBT, starring premium-cut actors and featuring the photography of Roger Deakins turned out to be over-acted, over-written and over-directed hammy pretentious nonsense with not one elegant or original thing to say.

Zack Snyder's heartfelt but ultimately flawed adaptation of Alan Moore's genius graphic novel WATCHMEN featured both the most astounding opening titles of any film of the year but also the most excruciating sex scene and the worst wig. Ultimately, Snyder's shooting style also mitigated against the point of the film - the superheroes do not actually have superpowers (Doc M excepted) and so shouldn't be shot as though they do.

Michael Mann's turgid John Dilligener biopic PUBLIC ENEMIES failed to catch-a-fire, despite a sterling cast, and beautiful production design. Washed out DV visuals didn't help either.

Finally, and most heart-breakingly, Pedro Almodovar's latest, BROKEN EMBRACES just didn't match up to the recent brilliance of VOLVER or BAD EDUCATION. And yet, and yet, isn't a re-examination of early Almodovar better than 99% of what plays the cineplex?

The movie I'm ashamed to admit I was happy was a failure: THE SOLOIST: over-hyped British director Joe Wright finally made a movie so irredeemably bad that even his typically fawning press couldn't ignore it.

Most balls-out insane: Werner Herzog's simply inexplicable, high-camp, purely insane, iguana-obsessed BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL: NEW ORLEANS. A movie so large, so insane, that even Nic Cage is left laughing at the camera wondering what the fuck is going on. A noble winner in the face of strong competition from Park Chan Wook's insane priest-turns-vampire love story, THIRST and Lars von Trier's leg-crossingly excruciating ANTICHRIST.

The Francis Ford Coppola Memorial Award for Alpha-Gamma Film-Making: Nicholas Windig Refn, director of the unique, brutal, beautiful biopic BRONSON featuring a mesmerising performance from Tom Hardy, as well as the bizarre, momentum-less elongated howl, VALHALLA RISING.

And now to the conventional awards:

Best Film: Nicholas Windig Refn's visually stunning, brutal biopic, BRONSON

Best Animated Feature: Henry Selick's wonderfully dark children's horror, CORALINE

Best Foreign Language Feature: Michael Haneke's strange, enigmatic, disturbing drama, DAS WEISSE BAND

Best Documentary: Serge Bromberg's loving restoration of the the movie that almost killed Clouzot: HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT'S INFERNO

Best Director: Tomas Alfredson for his hauntingly beautiful LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

Best Actor: Sam Rockwell as Sam in Duncan Jones' astonishingly assured, provocative and moving debut feature, MOON

Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin terrifying vulnerability as Dan White in MILK

Best Actress: Carla Gugino's complex relationship to her own past as The Silk Spectre I in WATCHMEN

Best Supporting Actress: Both Mo'nique and Mariah Carey as tyrant-mother and patient social worker respectively in the moving drama PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Tom Ford's delicate, elegant, compelling adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's romantic tragedy A SINGLE MAN.

Best Original Screenplay: Armando Ianucci for IN THE LOOP - a movie that made me laugh more than all the others combined.

Best Production Design and Art Direction: The wonderfully cluttered, antiquated and tactile world of the THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS

Best Cinematography: Eduard Grau's honey-toned California sunshine in Tom Ford's impeccably put-together A SINGLE MAN.

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