As the summer winds down, I decided to make my list of my ten favorite films so far in the year. With TIFF and Oscar season on their way, there’s a good chance that only half these films will make my top ten come the end of the year, but I felt the need to champion them one more time.
#1- Inglourious Basterds
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s Pierrot Le Fou, his 8 1/2, a movie about cinema and quite possibly his most sophisticated entertaining and exhilarating film to date. The film’s climax has an image worth waiting a career for, one that evokes the timeless power of cinema – a force that Tarantino works to harness, at risk of alienating an action-hungry audience. Regardless, it’s a distinctive piece of American pop art and somewhat of a transition for the director. Inglourious Basterds is Tarantino’s war film but more importantly his love letter to cinema. Tarantino’s passion comes through in every frame and love him or hate him, he makes the movies he wants to make and enjoys every minute of it.
#2- The Clone Returns Home
Directed by Kanji Nakajima
Clone is certainly one of the more cerebral films found on the genre festival circuit this year. Director Kanji Nakajima is Japan’s answer to Andrei Tarkovsky – the similarities between Nakajima’s piece and the Russian master’s work is uncanny, be it the extremely strong water motifs (including one scene where it rains inside a room, a la Stalker) or with the replication of a deceased relative and the confusion and inner conflict it produces in those close to the clone (think Solaris). At the same time Nakajima states that his film deals with completely different metaphysical issues that, he hopes, inspires the audience to contemplate the meaning of family, science, religion, and ethics. It’s a think piece that will raise some interesting questions about the human soul. With his first film, the young director can be labeled a master of Japanese cinema.
#3 – Love Exposure
Directed by Sion Sono
Over its four-hour running time, Love Exposure unfolds an extremely bizarre odyssey revolving around an unusual love triangle, advanced techniques in upskirt photography, Japanese Catholicism, perversion, guilt and obsession amongst another dozen or so motifs. Masterfully directed by Sion Sono (Suicide Club, Hair Extensions), proving once again that he is one of the most innovative, unique and daring filmmakers working today. It’s a cinematic oddity which never seems to drag despite its marathon running length. Accompanied by an eclectic soundtrack, slick editing and wise direction, the film leaves you feeling somewhat hypnotized. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the screen. Love Exposure is a must see for any movie buff.
Directed by Duncan Jones
Unlike the majority of Hollywood sci-fi films, Moon is about something more than explosions or endless, mind-numbing action sequences. Moon boasts a slow, deliberate pace, focusing more on character study while tackling issues of identity, individuality, isolation, abandonment alienation and the very idea that mankind will always wrestle with the very nature and value of his own existence. First time director Duncan Jones lets the film ask questions without directly asking them and more importantly he allows his audience to draw their own conclusions without ever spoon-feeding them.
#5- The Children
Directed by Tom Shankland
The concept of killer kids is nothing new, but The Children can safely join the list of great horror movies like The Omen, Home Movie, The Exorcist, The Innocents and Village of the Damned. The film is directed by Tom Shankland who also adapted the script form a story by Paul Andrew Williams the director and writer of London to Brighton and The Cottage. Shankland delivers a simple film, with a simple set up and a simple pay off. What’s not simple are his sublime directorial flourishes. Shankland might add a few jump scares, but avoids genre clichés and wisely chooses an effective slow burn. The journey is unnerving, relentless, packed with suspense with a terrifying and brutal atmosphere. Easily one of the best horror films of the decade and destined to become a Brit Classic.
#6- Drag Me To Hell
Directed by Sam Raimi
The story is basic and the gimmicks familiar, but Sam Raimi is so confident with what he’s presenting, that it becomes apparent he is laughing with us, and more often than the audience. Mixing in comedy and gross-out horror as well as genuine, expert tension. Raimi delivers a fine feature that deserves to become a franchise player in its own right. With just the right shade of sinister dark comedy, old-school puppetry and prosthetic makeup Raimi rarely relies on CGI. He has an uncanny knowledge of what the audience feels and wants and does a superb job building up the tension. The pacing is pitch-perfect, fitting in everything he needs at just 99 minutes and not wasting a second. Raimi’s trip to hell proves to be anything but a drag.
#7- Star Trek
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Sci-fi origin stories tend to be disappointing whether the subject is Luke Skywalker, Batman, or Wolverine; since we already know where we’re going and thus the getting there can be tedious and boring. J.J. Abrams avoids those problems and crafts an exciting origin story the successfully blends the hip and classic, with a perfect cast, dazzling effects, the best action sequences of the year and just enough humor to make you laugh and heart to make you care.
Directed by Na Hong-jin
A massive success in its native South Korea, The Chaser is an odd but effective thriller which holds no mystery and purposely reveals its secrets right from the start. The brilliance behind this approach is in the way it avoids tiresome clichés and the need to include ridiculous plot twists and disappointing cimaxes. First time director Na Hon-jin mounts his tension not on shocks and revelations but strictly on emotion, keeping the audience frustrated and aggravated with the police force who are more concerned with public image than public safety. Hong Jin delivers an amazingly assured crime thriller debut revolving around the grisly deeds of a real life serial killer who claimed more than twenty victims. Not quite a masterpiece like Memories of Murder, but on par with a film like Seven.
#9- Life Is Hot In Cracktown
Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo
Writer and director Buddy Giovinazzo has successfully adapted his collection of the 1992 short stories into a full-length feature film. Similar to Magnolia, Giovinazzo’s movie intercuts between four groups of people who all reside in the same ghetto overrun by crime, drug abuse and poverty. The film is dark, truthful and violent, so much so that there is only one print left worldwide that hasn’t been cut. Often compared to Last Exit to Brooklyn, the indie gem is populated with one of the most talented groups of unprofessional actors who deliver in spades with groundbreaking and extraordinary performances. It does suffer from one too many characters including a security guard/married man whose character arc is never closed, but barring that minor issue, Cracktown is definitely worth a viewing.
#10- The Hurt Locker
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
The subject of The Hurt Locker is simple yet riveting. Its loosely structured narrative unfolds carefully, pacing itself with a slow burn followed by outbreaks of violence. Director Kathryn Bigelow delivers a tense, well-crafted motion picture, an adrenaline-pumping experience that boasts some of the most unforgettable scenes of 2009 with extraordinary patience and panache. One of the greatest war films ever made, and even more impressive is The Hurt Locker may be the first movie set against the backdrop of the Iraq War with absolutely no political agenda.
Please note: Three films not on my list that I have not had a chance to see yet are Black Dynamite, District 9 and Bronson. All three have a chance in making my end of the year round up.