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Graduation Date: The Top 10 Films Of 2009

 

One of my favourite parts of any day is the moment when I lie in bed and first put my head on the pillow.  The day is complete.  I’ve given it all that I can and now I can rest and relax.  Any troubles fade away as I slip into the world of unconsciousness.

 

I kind of have that same feeling when putting together my list of the year’s best movies.  I’ve reached the end of a long journey and this is the last thing I must do before saying good-bye to the movie-going year.  I can then close the book, take a quick break and then charge myself up for a fresh year, filled with new adventures. 

 

I love putting together my top 10 list each year for two reasons.  Firstly, it’s a way of honouring and recognising these wonderful movies.  They have provided me great satisfaction and if anyone subsequently watches them based on my recommendation, I felt that I’ve done a service to the filmmaker.

 

Secondly, it provides a record of what the year was like in terms of movies.  Given that I’ve been reviewing seriously for more than a decade, I’ve now got plenty of lists to look back upon. The films from some years have definitely aged better than others.  It’s hard to believe that my first top 10 list, including such “classics” as Romeo & Juliet and The Ice Storm, was something I prepared 14 years ago.

 

On that note, here’s the quick honour role of my top films by year – Romeo & Juliet (1996), Titanic (1997), The Sweet Hereafter (1998), Being John Malkovich (1999), Billy Elliot (2000), Requiem For A Dream (2001), Mulholland Dr. (2002), Chicago (2003), Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004), Million Dollar Baby (2005), Capote (2006), The Lives Of Others (2007) and Juno (2008).

 

I need to point out that there’s no right or wrong answers when it comes to compiling a top 10 list.  We’ve all got different tastes and no two lists will ever be the same.  There’ll be some out there who will agree with most of my selections and there’ll be some who think the exact opposite.  That’s part of the reason why I love going to the movies.

 

I had some fun talk back calls on 612ABC just over a week ago when I went through my top 10 list.  You can listen by clicking here and you can also find it on the front page of my website.

 

Before I get to my top 10 for 2009, I have to name a few honourable mentions.  They were great movies but I couldn’t squeeze them into my list.  They are The Reader, Whip It, Changeling, Doubt, The Class, The International, Duplicity, State Of Play, Mary & Max, Let The Right One In, A Serious Man, Coraline, Up, Eden Is West, I Love You Man, Paranormal Activity, Drag Me To Hell, Balibo, Public Enemies, The Hangover and Where The Wild Things Are.  Wow, that’s a lot.

 

In all, I’ve seen 235 movies this year.  That’s my second best effort behind 2006 (when I saw 238 movies).  Without further adieu, I present the graduating class of 2009…

 

10.  Elegy

 

This is a deeply affecting film about life, love and loss. Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz give brilliant performances. I actually had the chance to see it twice at the cinemas and I loved it just as much the second time.  It just squeezes into my top 10.  

 

9.  An Education

 

An Education is a beautiful coming of age story. It's about a conservative girl in her final year of school who is swept off her feet by a much older guy. He opens her eyes to an exciting world outside her comfort zone. I went through every emotion watching this one and I think it’ll pop up at next year’s Oscars.  Star Carey Mulligan, who was in Brisbane to promote the film, is the front runner for best actress.

 

8.  Milk

 

Milk won 2 Oscars earlier in the year and brings to the screen the real life story of Harvey Milk, who in 1977 became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. He was assassinated one year later.  Sean Penn gives an incredible performance and I really enjoyed the movie for what it has to say.  Director Gus Van Sant placed me in a time-machine, took me back 30 years, and opened my eyes.

 

7.  The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

 

I only saw this film a few weeks ago and it’s a doco which looks at the lives of Jools and Lynda Topp - a yodeling, folk singing comedy duo to come out New Zealand. This is pure, joyous entertainment. I had a smile on my face the whole time. Their songs are terrific but we also see some of the great work they've done in their roles as political activists. This is the year's best documentary.

 

6.  500 Days Of Summer

 

Romantic comedies are usually my least favoured films but 500 Days Of Summer flips the genre on its head. The boy (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is the emotional character who believes in love at first sight. The girl (Zooey Deschanel) is the care-free character with a fear of commitment. Told creatively through flashbacks, this is a terrific film with an awesome soundtrack.

 

5.  Departures

 

Departures was an uplifting tear-jerker about an unemployed cellist who finds work in a funeral home. He helps prepare the dead for whatever lies beyond. This Japanese film won the Oscar for best foreign language film earlier in the year and now I know why. Softly directed and deeply moving. Just incredible.

 

4.  Summer Hours

 

Summer Hours was a beautiful French film about three siblings who have some tough decisions to make following the death of their elderly mother. It makes you think about how much we really know our own families and the way in which we feel a connection with material possessions.  Reflective, comforting and thought provoking.  Director Olivier Assayas has done well.

 

3.  Revolutionary Road

 

Revolutionary Road stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as a young couple in the 1950s having some serious marital problems.  I loved the intricacies of the characters but boy, this was heavy going.  It’s dark and depressing.  Watching these two characters argue so heatedly on screen made me very sad.  But this is a compliment and it shows just how powerful a movie can be.

 

2.  Avatar

 

Avatar has raised the bar in terms of action movies. This is the most spectacularly visual film ever seen on a big screen. It made me feel like a kid again. The "critic" side of my brain was switched off - I just sat back and immersed myself in this epic adventure. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has loved it and I think this is going to be high atop of the box-office charts for a few weeks.  Can it win the Oscar?  I’ve now seen it twice and think it’s a big chance.

 

1.  The Wrestler

 

The Wrestler was released way back in January but all year I’ve had an inkling that it’d be my number 1 film of the year.  As the credits started to roll, I wanted to stand up in my seat and cheer.  Mickey Rourke plays a semi-retired wrestler who tries to resurrect his career and repair his relationship with his teenage daughter.  It highlights the harsh realities of professional sport but it’s ultimately a movie about a broken man trying to find a purpose for his life.  I won’t easy forget it.

 

 

The Film Pie banner on my website has been updated to show an image from these 10 films – a tradition I’ve adopted for the last five years.

 

As this is my final blog of 2009, I’d like to wish everyone “a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, a Krazy Kwanzaa, a Tip-Top Tet, and a solemn and meaningful Ramadan.

 

I look forward to a great year of cinema in 2010.  See you at the movies!