FILM SPECIAL: Top 20 Films of 2009

Onto the movies, but why twenty? Well, simply because there were more than ten films which were pretty much equally as good as each other. So while this list is in a sort of an order of greatness, a degree of shuffling up and down could easily take place. But let’s lock it down as this for now, shall we? I’ ve included mini-musings on each of the 20 – they’re not overviews or summations, just thoughts that cropped up when compiling the list together.

For the point of comparison, this should cover every film released in 2009 in the UK that I saw. That way you can see those that didn’t make the cut and a vague opinion on them, and why I might have omitted someone else’s favourite film of the year (because I didn’t actually see it). So, the pick of what was actually a very fine year for cinema.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Makes a good underdog documentary double bill with King of Kong. Hysterically funny and incredibly touching.

In The Loop
Ultimately rather depressing when you think about it. Loads of LOLs and swears though! Malcolm Tucker on a big screen = terrifying.

Drag Me To Hell
Thank you Mr. Raimi! Like the most fun Spook House ride you can think of, and as close to a new Evil Dead as you could hope for.

Sam Rockwell gives the best performances of his career. A simple story elegantly and economically told. Lovely models and miniatures too.

The best vampire film of the year. Also, it’s rare to see a film about blood-suckers that actually makes you feel quite so giddy from all the red stuff as this manages. Park Chan-Wook’s best since Oldboy.

Let The Right One In
The other best vampire film of the year, it’s chilling, it’s creepy, it’s a little bit weepy. Uncomfortable viewing in the best possible way.

The Wrestler
More than just The Meaty Mickey Show, the film itself is remarkably well directed. More nods deserved for all concerned.

District 9
The most amount of body-popping to be found on the silver screen since Electric Boogaloo 2, I was pleasantly surprised just how much of the film was focused on the aliens as much as the humans. Especially the intergalactic tag-team buddy break-in of MNU. Best film based on a video game that doesn’t actually exist.

The Hurt Locker
Like the gripping finale to an action film over and over again and increasingly tense each time. Effectively a two-hour game of Russian Roulette. Sub-plots were a bit ill-fitting though.

Inglourious Basterds
Ludicrous but easily one of the most entertaining and rich pictures of the year that revels in its rollicking rambunctiousness. The best of QT’s post-Jackie Brown trilogy of self-indulgence.

Star Trek
The only big summer block-buster of the year that was any good whatsoever, but it more than made up for everyone else’s shortcomings by being so much fun. Like a big silly sugar-rush fireworks display, it should have been awful but was anything but (a couple of weak cast members and dafty plot notwithstanding).

Where The Wild Things Are
Best kids film of the year not really made for kids and amazing it ever got made, let alone finished. But it’s great that it exists and will grow and grow as time goes on. If Max crying in the ruins of his crushed igloo doesn’t get to you, you have an impenetrable soul.

Bit of a cheat counting them as one film, as each part definitely has a different feel and focus. If I had to pick, I do prefer the first part, if only because a rise is more fun, if not necessarily quite as deep and interesting, as a fall. Vincent Cassel makes it super-watchable (even during the nasty bits).

Fantastic Mr. Fox
The other best kids film of the year not really made for kids. And the stuff I liked the most wasn’t even in the original material (the relationship between Ash and Kristofferson). I hope kids who see it now will revisit it again and again and each time find something new.

Crank: High Voltage
It’s Crank TIMES 2. Or Crank SQUARED. The ante is upped in every aspect, so while it’s not better than the original, it’s the only possible way forward for Chev Chelios. Also, I think the guys get it just as bad as the girls when it comes to excessive nudity and violence to their person.

Slumdog Millionaire
The Little Movie That Could to most people. Another Danny Boyle film to the rest. But Danny Boyle films are always cause for some celebration. So what better way to celebrate than watch Slumdog Millionaire?

Red Cliff
Need to see the full 2 movies rather than the conjoined mish-mash cut-down released at the kinoplex. But hey! It’s a good John Woo movie for a change. Actually, a great one. Big historical war epics can often leave me cold, but this is tonnes of fun, and I’ll watch Tony Leung and/or Takeshi Kaneshiro in pretty much anything.

A Serious Man
Possibly their weirdest work since Barton Fink, and maybe even as upsetting as No Country For Old Men in a strange way. True moments of brilliance throughout though, and excellent performances from relatively unknown actors. Hard to find a more peculiar ‘comedy’.

Not Pixar’s finest. Not by a long shot. And despite the set-up, ultimately disappointingly conventional and obvious. But disappointing from Pixar is usually still pretty great, and when it’s at full tilt, it’s stirring and magical like few others of its ilk.

Gran Torino
Like Up with less balloons. I’d like a Walt Kowalski action figure. Squeeze him and out comes a racist grumble! Comes with shotgun and can of beer, with titular vehicle sold separately.

As for future films I saw last year, if they were to be included The Road and Mother would absolutely rock into the top 10; Capitalism: A Love Story would certainly not. The Room would trump all three as well (it had it’s first cinema screening in the UK this year, so I guess it counts?). Also, The Brothers Bloom would be somewhere towards the top too (if only it’d come out over here – what is the hold up?).

Other films I liked (in rough order of decreasing likeness):
Adventureland, Watchmen, The Box, Antichrist, The Good The Bad The Weird, Synecdoche, New York, Zombieland, Frost/Nixon, (500) Days of Summer, Public Enemies, Punisher: War Zone, The Hangover

These were all a bit “okay, I guess”. Still, they had their moments (with most meh at the bottom):
Bruno, Coraline, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Triangle, Harry Brown, Departures, Gamer, Tokyo!, Three Miles North of Molkom…, JCVD, Religulous, G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra

The rest were all pretty bad, some very much more so than others (especially at the end), but all hard to recommend:
My Name Is Bruce, Franklyn, Resident Evil: Degeneration, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Terminator Salvation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

And that’s the lot. I know there’s still quite a few to catch up on, but that’s how it looks for MMIX for now. What did I miss?


FILM REVIEW: Drag Me To Hell

I was fortunate to attend a special preview screening of Drag Me To Hell, presented by FrightFest at the ICA, with director Sam Raimi and stars Alison Lohman and Justin Long in attendence for a Q+A session afterwards.

While Drag Me To Hell is a homecoming of sorts for Sam Raimi to the horror genre, that is not to say he had given up on ‘terror pictures’ altogether. Through his production company Ghost House Pictures, he’s released a bunch of fright flicks, from the remake of The Grudge to 30 Days of Night, with varying degrees of success. As director though, there were clearly hints of his earlier work in the Doc Ock operating theatre scene in Spider-Man 2, but a full-blown Raimi horrorfest was not forthcoming while the webslinger was top priority. Having finally broken free of the money-spinning web-spinner, if only for a brief moment, it was time to get back to the genre that made his name, calling the shots on a self-penned script (with brother Ivan) originated circa Darkman. And not only does Drag Me To Hell mark the return of one of horror’s favourite sons, but the return of horror as just purely enjoyable entertainment.

When bank clerk Christine Brown (Lohman) turns down an extension on a home loan for Mrs. Ganush (an incredible Lorna Raver) in hope it will get her a promotion, she is confonted by the elderly lady and a curse is placed upon her: in three days time, she is going to hell. Tormented by demonic forces, she enlists the help of spiritualists and her cynical boyfriend (Long) to try and break the spell before its too late. Not an exactly original premise, and one that seems archaic in contemporary horror cinema, but with Raimi in charge it makes for exceptional entertainment.

First things first, this isn’t scary. There are plenty of jolts and jumps, and the central conceit of being literally dragged to hell isn’t exactly a pleasant one, but this is horror as thrill-ride. The screams are as much those of laughter as they are of fear. In fact, Drag Me To Hell may be one of the funniest films of the year. There are moments of pure hysteria on screen the likes of which haven’t been seen since Braindead (not that this is anywhere near as gory, but two scenes in particular, one involving a dead body and another a Meet the Parents-esque dinner date, owe something to Peter Jackson’s masterpiece), with lots of gross-out gags and splat-stick. Although some yuks don’t work as well as others (thanks to a couple of CG mis-fires, though this is largely, and thankfully, a practical effects showcase), Raimi’s gift of the funny remains in the film’s dark sense of humour, with the lengths Christine will go to save her soul, and some zingy dialogue.

But what really makes the film such a joy is just how much of a spiritual successor to the Evil Dead films it feels while remaining totally accessible to those introduced to Raimi through Spider-Man. References abound, but not in such a rib-diggingly obvious way that generate groans nor do they confuse or befuddle non-seasoned viewers. Certainly, the seance sequence is practically Evil Dead II taken out of the cabin and into a grand hall, Mrs. Ganush herself is every bit a malevolent she-bitch, and the classic Oldsmobile makes its customary return, but the little touches, be they intentional or just wired into Raimi’s film-making blood, speak volumes to fans. While Raimi’s trademark twirly camera tricks are not as wild or as prevalent as in the past, the content remains undeniably his work. Even the poster is reminiscient of the original poster for The Evil Dead.

Some may decry Drag Me To Hell as a little goofy and it’s not exactly going to give you any nightmares, but it was simply one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences I’ve had. Just as Star Trek reminded everyone that sci-fi blockbusters didn’t need to be plodding operas drained of all character (ahem, Star Wars prequels), so too does Drag Me To Hell remind you that horror needn’t always be gritty, torture-filled and excessively gory. Instead, they can simply be a hell of a lot of fun.