Thursday, December 31, 2009

Black Sheep's Top 10 of 2009

I sit before my computer on the last day of 2009. In a matter of hours, there will be so much going on that I will not be able find two minutes together to accomplish anything really so it's best that I get this done now, when I can give it the attention it truly deserves. 2009 was a great year for me and the movies. Early on in the year, I began publishing a regular monthly column on The Movie Network's "Movie Entertainment" magazine's website and it has since been picked up by The Movie Network itself. In April, I attended the Tribeca Film Festival for the first time and ended up meeting and interviewing one of my favorite director's, Steven Soderbergh. My interview with him about THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE would go on to be published on CBC's website. In May, I left my day job and prepared to move to Toronto, which I did in July. The summer was a great time to be unemployed and I managed to sustain myself on zero incoming cash until just after the Toronto International Film Festival. This year, I saw nearly 20 films at the festival, compared to a scant five the year before. I also had the chance to sit and interview the star and director of this year's indie success, PRECIOUS. I have had to return to working my day job now but 2010 awaits and I'm closer now than ever before.

Alright, so that's me. Now what about the movies? I knew all year that I was going to be leaving my day job at some point so I was able to get excited about a lot of the movies that were coming out this year. And a lot of them did not disappoint. As per usual, my full list of best performances and films will be coming soon with the announcement of the Mouton d'Or awards in January but the following is my Top 10 films of 2009, in alphabetical order. Even as I write these very words to you, I have a short list of eleven titles and I'm still not sure what will make it and what won't. The suspense is killing me! Anyway, here goes ... (click on any title for the full Black Sheep review)

Directed by Marc Webb

I've seen this film three times and it makes me smile and feel good about everything every time. This anti-love story is so infectious and so enchanting that it somehow ignites my personal quest for love while simultaneously breaking down all the myths about love I've subscribed to all these years. The adorable Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are the cutest couple of the year!

Directed by Neil Blomkamp

When I first saw this film, I was floored. It was original; it was exciting; I was completely convinced that South Africa had been overrun with alien life. It isn't every day that you catch a film that is visually remarkable, action packed and socially conscious at the same time with absolutely no trace of compromise. I was also pretty floored because the moment it ended, I knew it was going to find its way on this list.

Directed by Lone Scherfig

This film was the toast of TIFF and I could not get in no matter how hard I tried. It was well worth the wait. Its classic style and subtle screenplay brought new perspective to the feminist plight. Star, Carey Mulligan carries the ecstasy of a first love with the jubilance of a little girl and the weight of the consequences to dating an older man with grace and restraint. I for one definitely felt like I learnt something.

Directed by Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is a particular taste and I was thrilled to see that taste make a successful transition into the realm of animation. Watching this adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic is a constant delight. It truly digs its own path, striking the perfect balance between adult insight and childlike excitement throughout. In a world where Pixar owns the monopoly on satisfying adult animation (and rightfully so), it is refreshing to see that others out there can not only pull it off too but bring something new as well.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

By now, you've no doubt seen this film on every Top 10 list in the world. It is an obvious choice but it is also the right choice. Bigelow managed to craft a highly explosive film about trying to make sure bombs don't go off. The film is naturally tense but all the more so because Bigelow sneaks us into this military bomb squad in Iraq by shooting from as many different perspectives as possible. Perhaps this is why it is the least judgmental Iraq war film to date.

Directed by Lee Daniels

From a filmmaking perspective, this one is certainly uneven at times but its boldness is so striking that it certainly earns its place amongst the best of the year. This story of a young woman, overweight, pregnant, illiterate and abused, is the most unlikely of success stories. It is fueled by some of the most brave performances of the year from one of the most eclectic casts of the year. It is Daniels though who deserves the biggest applause here for getting people to stop ignoring this girl and see her for who she is inside.

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Who knew that the Coen Brothers could get so personal and still feel completely disassociated? Michael Stuhlbarg's incredible performance as Larry Gopnick allows this tale of misfortune to transcend its Jewish roots and become a tale for unlucky folks everywhere. Watching his life is like watching a train wreck just get worse and worse but somehow all the while, thanks to that special Coen touch, deep, genuine sympathy is inspired aplenty.

Directed by Cory Fukunaga

I cannot say enough good things about this first feature from Cory Fukunaga. Two complete strangers end up on the same journey to cross the Mexican border into the United States and neither their lives nor ours are the same for having the experience. Each of their characters is going through their own individual struggles but the solace they find in each other makes every hardship they suffer worth it. Fukunaga is a bold new voice.

Directed by Tom Ford

Fashion designer, Tom Ford's directorial debut, is just plain stunning. It's 1960's design is authentic and exquisite and the performances from Colin Firth and Julianne Moore are fresh and exciting for each of them. By adapting Christopher Isherwood's novel of the same name about a man coping with the death of his longtime lover in a world that doesn't acknowledge that love, Ford has made more than a film; he has also made a very compelling argument for gay marriage and the rights that should be afforded gay men and women everywhere. And naturally, he did it in style.

Directed by Jason Reitman

Films that are decidedly adult in theme and tone have struggled recently to connect with audiences but this one is so perfectly executed that it is not only reaching its audience but going far beyond it. The zeitgeist factors in this film, from the crumbling economic backdrop to the increasingly guarded approach towards love and human interaction, make it easy for most to identify with it. The entire cast (George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick) is lovely; the tone is respectful; and thanks to Reitman, the whole thing soars.

Directed by Steve McQueen

OK, so I found a way to cheat the Top 10. Don't hate on me. I did not include this film in the actual Top 10 as it is considered a 2008 entry but as it did not play in Canada until this year, it warrants mentioning. This 2008 festival favorite went unnoticed in North American cinemas this past spring but that doesn't shock me. Hunger strikes and graphic prison violence are not exactly crowd pleasers. If you are up for it, you must see this film. It will turn your stomach but it will furiously turn the wheels of your mind as well.

There you have it folks. These were my favorite films from 2009. Here is to an excellent 2010!

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