The Year In Film 2009. Part One.

The problem with simply listing my favourite films of the year is that, as usual, that I haven't seen half of anything which has been released. So instead I've decided, over the next few days, to offer a capsule opinion of all the film I have seen from this year according to the directory printed in this month's Empire Magazine. It should be longer. Let's begin ...

Angels & Demons
Not quite as pantomime entertaining as The Da Vinci Code and mostly consists of Hanks and co running from church to church before the kind of fake out twist M Night would disapprove of. But the anti-matter explosion is Baroquely awe-inspiring and not even Hitchcock developed a suspense sequence based around trying to escape from a malfunctioning library microclimate.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
It was impossible not be swept along by the sheer injustice of seeing these apparently influential musicians eeking out an existence while their once cohorts continued to have exciting careers. Hopefully the filmmakers continued their association and we'll be able to see a sequel that investigates this mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the, you know, harsh face of stardom.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Impressed by taking the modern filmmaking techniques in make-up and CGI and marrying them to script and direction with an old Hollywood sensibilities, even if Brad Pitt’s performance as Button mostly consisted of him regressing through his different screen personas right back through Thelma and Louise.

The Damned United
Not knowing anything about football and particularly Brian Clough, I was able to watch this without prejudice and simply enjoy a large collared, rose-tinted study in hubris and friendship which demonstrated that you can never assume anything is permanent because it can all too easily be taken away and that loyalty is just as important as success.

A fairly good demonstration of my theory that any play will work on film if it's shot simply and you use some decent, committed actors (see also Neil LeBute's The Shape of Things). Some criticised its lack of pace and moralistic tone. I revelled in the pleasure of seeing a compelling three-hander that actually gave its participants space to act, the camera resting upon their faces, and which offered no easy answers. Revealed Amy Adams as an actress with some range and depth and a potential successor Streep who, if she’s not careful, will spend the rest of her career playing jagged matriarchs.

Battling with The International as the best Clive Owen film of the year, like Benjamin Button this recalled old Hollywood in its treatment of character, its curious mix of screwball comedy, espionage and unreliable exposition not sitting well with some critics, especially with that ending. I loved it, though the rather prosaic approach to slipping between timeframes grated after a while. Soderberghian wipes would have done just fine.

Fireflies In The Garden
Which I gave twenty minutes of my time before deciding that writer/director Dennis Lee didn’t know how to structure a script, that he wasn’t going to have anything new or interesting to say about families and that it wasn’t worth sitting through the rest. We didn’t need to see the older Julia Roberts in the opening. Better to have her living totally in the flashbacks as a memory; it makes her character more significant. Also, if Ryan Reynolds is your viewpoint character, why cut ahead to his destination?

Feels like it was released about ten years ago, which was probably writer Peter Morgan’s intention. Cleverly turned the interviews into a kind of boxing film, with the build up to the fight, the pre-show sparring and the consequences for loss stacked up against each of the participants. It would be interesting at some point to see Sheen not playing a celebrity or overtly character based role; the idea of seeing him in a romantic comedy has its attractions, not least in imagining who would be his co-star. I suppose Miranda July would be out of the question [full review].

The Girl Cut in Two
Or Sky weather girl Lisa Burke turns up in the middle of Harold Pinter’s Sleuth and starts romancing Larry Olivier or Michael Caine depending on which version you’re watching. An expression of what’s wrong with film distribution in the UK, Chabrol’s film took two year to cross the channel from France. But to be fair the terse characterisation probably didn’t help in trying to package film or the wild vacillations in tone, between May-to-December romance and psychoanalytical pseudo-erotic thriller. Fun.

Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince
Still not as a good as Azkaban and mostly set-up for The Deathly Hallows, this instalment was the creepiest of the series so far, especially the scenes in the swamp and in the retrieval of the memory. Other than the first two, I’ve only watched each of these films once. I’m looking forward to taking in the epic sweep of narrative in one go when the dvds of the finale have been released, watching the kids grow-up into fine young actors.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
In an ideal world, like Woody Allen, studios would be throwing Gilliam money every year to produce a new film, knowing full well that the result will at least be out of the ordinary and different to anything else on the market as a way of demonstrating that they are still interested in funding independent voices. Instead, Gilliam has to scrape around to get the money together, never has enough time, has to deal with studio interference and unforeseeable happenstance which results in films which always just fall short of expectation but you love them anyway. Every single time [full review].

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