Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2009 Revisited- My "Best of"

Here at the end of January, I am finally getting around to saying a bit more about the 2009 films that I most liked. In no particular order...

(still from Treeless Mountain)
TREELESS MOUNTAIN was simply a delight. It's a pensive rich tale of two child sisters in Korea, their relationship, dependence on and responsibility for one another for lack of adults. Quiet and tender and wonderful. So Yong Kim, who made the excellent In Between Days a few years ago, is really establishing her perfectionist distinct style and it will be exciting to see what she comes up with next. 

Carlos Reygadas' gorgeous SILENT LIGHT opens with one of the most beautiful sunrises captured on film. It's as though the story comes to life with this awakening in the sparse and vast Mexican countryside. All of the actors are non-professionals, which makes the film seem like a documentary. A shocking, scandalous, yet still tale of Mennonite adultery.
(still from Silent Light)

Another film set in Mexico that made a great impression on me is SIN NOMBRE by Cary Fukunaga. Rarely do we get to see with gritty realism what migrants from the south go through to get to the US, and Fukunaga went to great lengths to make this story authentic. The in depth look at gang life, the migratory process and an ill-fated love story make this film layered and rich.

(still from Munyurangabo)
Shot in Rwanda in only 11 days on a super-16mm camera, Lee Issac Chung's MUNYURANGABO is like no film I've ever seen. Also using non-professional actors and made by a non-native (coincidentally Asian American) director, it's kind of a miracle that this film turned out so perfectly. The first feature film in the Kinyarwanda language, it's a wonderful story of impossible friendship, unlikely forgiveness, and unexpected reconciliation.

With all the hype of Lee Daniels' PRECIOUS, I wasn't sure what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised that it blew me away. Incorporating elements that we've seen before but never in this context, Precious was extremely effective and moving. The film has raised concerns about race and storytelling (Jenn shared this article by Malkia Cyril that I liked). But I was deeply impressed, physically impacted, and I think this is an infinitely valuable film.

(still from Sita Sings the Blues)
Probably my favorite film of the past few years is SITA SINGS THE BLUES (Nina Paley). A gorgeous, brilliant and fantastically fun animated film, there's nothing else like it.  You can watch it here for free. But I strongly urge you to see it in a theater if at all possible (it's playing at IFC in NYC last I checked). Or buy a DVD. It's well worth it and is one of those films you can watch again and again with great enjoyment, lend it out etc. 

I would not have thought that I would include Lars von Trier's ANTICHRIST on a list like this. But the fact is that this movie has stayed with me like no other. I think it would take a lot of work for me to entirely deconstruct it for myself, were that at all possible. Charlotte Gainsbourg's performance is one of a lifetime. And the issues raised are poignant and rarely handled with such intensity and courage.

Another film set in Mexico that deeply impressed me this year was Alex Rivera's SLEEP DEALER. I've been a fan of Rivera as a humorous culture critic video artist for years, so it was exciting to see he was coming out with a narrative feature (like when Miranda July made Me and You and Everyone We Know). But Sleep Dealer exceeded my expectations. I am not a fan of science fiction, but work dealing with race and class and futuristic situations is exciting, like an Octavia Butler book. Sleep Dealer way out-Avatars Avatar.

(still from Sacred Places)
We see far too few images of life in Africa and SACRED PLACES (Jean-Marie Téno) is simply a treat in this respect, fantastic candy for a film programmer and microcinema organizer who dreams of exhibiting film in Africa. Téno's documentary leads us through the streets of the acclaimed Cameroonian director's native Ouagadougou, peeking in on how his countrymen interact with cinema.

I was disappointed with Jane Campion's BRIGHT STAR when I first saw it. I knew I was going to see a period piece and perhaps this film dwelled too much in that realm. But in retrospect the inevitable beauty of a Jane Campion film stays with me, I see fields of flowers full of life, and this alone is a wonderful thing. Abbie Cornish's performance as Fanny Brawne is absolutely outstanding as well, and that too will not leave me.
(still from Bright Star)

There is little I like more than a good documentary that blows my mind with new information and changes the way I live my life. FOOD, INC. (Robert Kenner) is such a film. I'll never look at corn or beef or anything that I regularly eat the same way again.

1 comment:

g6 said...

thanks for giving me a list of films to see. much beauty awaits, apparently.