My take on the best films of 2009. Please note that these are movies that I saw in Australian cinemas in 2009 (except REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, which I saw in Japan).
1. Let The Right One In
This story of a boy falling in love with a vampire is a rare film in that doesn't feel like it begins or ends, but rather is a slice of reality that was occurring before you began watching and will continue after you leave the theatre. Reading John Ajvide Lindqvist's book (he also wrote the screenplay) after watching the film made me admire the film even more - it is by omission of backstory that character's histories are enriched by leaving them to our imagination.
Single mother Christine Collins returns from work one day to discover her young son Walter is missing. After several desperate weeks spent waiting for his return, the police one day announce they have found Walter - but Christine is convinced that the boy returned to her is not her son. One of the most intriguing premises I have heard for a story is perfect for director Clint Eastwood - like Brian Helgeland's script for MYSTIC RIVER, it is a wonderful marriage of material and filmmaker. Way better than that shit he made about a man and his car, which would sit atop my ten worst of the year.
3. Sampson and Delilah
An uplifting indigenous love-story takes us to the depths of an Australian cultural tragedy and back. Great performances and sumptuous Australian landscapes shot by writer/director Warwick Thornton.
What if a mysterious illness one day struck everyone blind? If you could bottle tension and sell it like perfume, this Lord of the Flies-esque tale of social disintegration within a quarantine facility could serve as a 2 hour advertisement for the fragrance.
5. Inglourious Basterds
More like a six or seven long, wonderfully-written scenes, I'd actually been drinking pretty heavily before (and during) this, but I seem to remember liking it. A more sober repeat viewing will occur once I buy it on Blu-Ray.
6. The Wrestler
Randy Robinson is wrestler "The Ram" on weekends, deli assistant Robin Ramzinski on weekdays in this story of a once-great contender twenty years past his prime, struggling to recapture a sense of past glory. A lot has been made of Mickey Rourke's triumphant comeback performance in this film but I think the most interesting struggle is that of director Darren Aronofsky (PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE FOUNTAIN) who by insisting on casting Rourke in the lead, set himself up for his fourth successive uphill battle to retain his vision in the face of every financial constraint.
7. Drag Me To Hell
Director Sam Raimi (EVIL DEAD, SPIDERMAN 1 & 2) has named his production company Ghost House Pictures and it's apt that they are producing fare like this. The story of a woman attempting to undo a gypsy curse initally sounds naff, but watch it and you'll soon find that it's really great, hilarious and gross fun.
Meryl Streep is wonderful as mistrustful principal Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley's (MOONSTRUCK, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO) adaptation of his own play. When Streep's conservative nun butts heads with Phillip Seymour Hoffman's progressive parish priest over the running of the St Nicholas Church School, a suspected indiscretion gives her what she believes to be leverage over her superior - but without proof, is her faith strong enough to allow her to destroy a man's repution?
Anthony LaPaglia's performance as journalist Roger East was a little disappointing given what he delivered previously in LANTANA, but this (true?) story of murdered Australian journalists was very affecting nonetheless and was certainly the second best Aussie film in a year where I saw plenty of Australian cinema.
10. Revolutionary Road
What at first promises to play out like a protracted, uncomfortable feud between a husband and wife (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in utterly convincing performances) takes some very interesting turns as a bad marriage turns good, then almost hopeless in Sam Mendes' (AMERICAN BEAUTY, JARHEAD) best film.