Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Top 40 Films of 2009 (10-1)

File this under "Better Late Than Never." Just in time for the end of 2010, here are my picks for the Top 10 films of 2009.

10. Adventureland (Greg Mottola, US, 2009)

9. Up in the Air (Jason Reitman, US, 2009)

8. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins, US, 2008)

7. Hunger (Steve McQueen, UK, 2008)

Read my review here.

6. Night and Day/Bam gua nat (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2008)

5. Desert Dream/Hyazgar (Zhang Lu, Mongolia/China/France/South Korea, 2007)

4. You, the Living/Du levande (Roy Andersson, Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark/Norway, 2007)

3. Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina/France/Netherlands/Germany/Spain, 2008)

A man working on an industrial freighter asks for leave while his ship is docked at port to return home to see his sick mother and the daughter he has never met.  Having been away for a very long time and essentially abandoning his family, he receives a decidedly chilly reception, especially from his father.  He gives his daughter some money, and takes off again, this time perhaps for good.  This is pretty much the entire plot of Liverpool, the latest (and greatest, so far) film by Lisandro Alonso, a stalwart of a crop of immensely talented filmmakers coming out of Argentina in recent years.  Alonso, to my mind, is perhaps the most intellectually and aesthetically rigorous of them all, his framing and editing as precise and as perfect as any I’ve seen.  His films, the previous ones being La Libertad, Los muertos and Fantasma, are not exactly the most accessible, although Los muertos possesses a frightening and mesmerizing intensity.  They make great demands on audiences, requiring them to pay careful attention to subtle details, and to stick with seemingly monotonous, mundane details, and trust that they will lead somewhere.  Liverpool represents the apotheosis of this strategy, compelling us to stick with the journey of its initial protagonist, a silent, solitary figure who interacts very little with others, and whose most constant companion is a vodka bottle he frequently takes swigs from.  His face is an impassive, impenetrable mask – he undoubtedly lives a harsh, lonely existence, but his expression gives us nothing.  He is a man resigned to his fate, and seems unwilling or unable to do anything to change it.

The film has a binary structure, and the second part of the film begins when the man we have been following disappears again from his daughter’s life, and from the film itself, which now refuses to follow him.  Instead, we stay with the man’s family, and their life on the farm.  The daughter seems to be mentally slow, and has a slight stutter.  The only thing she says to her father is, “Are you going to give me money?”  No emotional reunion here – it’s not that kind of film.  But the film ends on an exquisitely beautiful moment of tenderness.  Without giving too much away, I’ll say that it’s Alonso’s version of “Rosebud.”

2. My Dear Enemy/Meotjin haru (Lee Yoon-ki, South Korea, 2008)

1. 35 Shots of Rum/35 rhums (Claire Denis, France, 2008)

Read my review here.

One of the film's major highlights -- the beautiful dance scene late in the film: