Slant Magazine's Best Films of the Year

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Postby Zahveed » Mon Dec 14, 2009 12:15 pm

I'm happy to see Inglourious Basterds and Fantastic Mr. Fox doing so well, and to finally see Where the Wild Things Are acknowledged.
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Postby flipp525 » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:23 am

Sabin wrote:3. Julia. A 21st-century bookend to Erich von Stroheim's Greed, Julia gazes into the skuzzy soul of an incorrigible, prototypically American schemer, searching for something, anything to admire. Delivering an impressive career-defining turn, Tilda Swinton preternaturally inhabits the titular, booze-addled screw-up, who hitches her last-chance wagon to a desperate kiddie-snatching scam. Whether hard-selling the plan to an incredulous chum retired from la vida loca, sparring with her soulful AA sponsor, or ludicrously shit-talking real gangsters in Erick Zonca's convincingly money-mad, post-moral landscape, Julia is all decaying, feline self-preservation and exposed nerves, a forever-battling loser often as sympathetic as the child she shamefully snatches, and in Swinton's masterful peaks, more so. RS

I watched this just yesterday and any list of the top female performances of the year without hers' on it is incredibly suspect.

Playing a gritty, foul-mouthed and unapologetic drunk, Tilda Swinton dives into a pool with no water and emerges swimming. In an unflattering, unflinching, no-holds-barred performance, she is delirious, green-eyed and pale and fiercely defiant against the obsequious shackles of male domination; she is a hideous viper, conning her way in and out of situations, and crudely, desperately in it until the end. And goddamnit, if I wasn't rooting for her the whole way through (especially when she's, quite convincingly, turning the tables on various Mexican crimelords). This film recalls the best character studies of the late 70's and early 80's. The performance is certainly better than the, at times, ludicrously-plotted film (did I miss the scene where the boy's mother disappers?), but Swinton proves again why she's one of the best actresses working today. What a fucking ride.

Edited By flipp525 on 1260827938
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Postby Damien » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:16 am

That's just silly.
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Postby Sabin » Mon Dec 14, 2009 3:11 am


Defying critics to once again trot out lazy "down-year" grousing, 2009 delivered a cinematic bounty for those intrepid enough to venture outside their staid megaplex comfort zones. A raft of daring indies and foreign imports brought the real thunder—provided, of course, one could access them, a difficulty that plagued boundary-pushing works by both renowned filmmakers (The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, Tetro) as well as lesser-known auteurs whose gems vanished from theaters with such rapidity that it begged the question of whether any noise is heard when a niche-audience release falls in an empty art house. While Lars Von Trier futilely sought controversy with Antichrist's genital mutilation, Steven Soderbergh's latest jazzy lark, The Informant!, was met with muted disinterest, and Pedro Almodóvar engendered mostly ho-hums for his umpteenth kaleidoscopic noir melodrama Broken Embraces, Michael Bay reconfirmed that IMAX-sized juvenile action incoherence still rules the box office roost. Nonetheless, ticket-counter returns remain only a fool's benchmark of quality, and aside from Quentin Tarantino's surprisingly commercial WWII revenge opus Inglourious Basterds and the rare blockbuster offering (Up, Star Trek), most banner efforts seized attention not thanks to monetary gain, but via critical huzzahs and infectious word-of-mouth, be it Claire Denis's 35 Shots of Rum or Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman. Save for Jia Zhangke's fiction-doc hybrid 24 City, nonfiction generally underwhelmed, and awards-season contenders largely proffered drama of an either exploitative (Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire) or merely middling (Up in the Air, Invictus) sort. That left the heavy lifting to the eccentrics, and whether it was James Gray's decidedly old-school Two Lovers, Werner Herzog's bonkers Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans or Robert Downey Jr.'s superlatively idiosyncratic turn in Sherlock Holmes, 2009 again established that risks reap the greatest artistic, if not necessarily financial, rewards. Nick Schager.

25. Coraline. A 3D CG marvel conceived in writer-director Henry Selick's traditional stop-motion aesthetic style, this visually rich adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline proves a dark and magical portrait of adolescent sorrow and identity development. With sumptuous imagery that twirls and tumbles with delirious abandon, Selick's story about a young girl who discovers a doorway to a mysterious, seemingly idyllic alternate reality brings real menace back to the too-often innocuous kid's film. A wondrously creepy trip down the rabbit hole, it's a film seemingly born from its plucky heroine's psyche, overflowing with surrealist flourishes and carnival-barker showmanship. NS

24. The Box. An astute political pulse-tester in a wonky, thriller chassis, The Box ingeniously employs a bicentennial setting characterized by suburban triumphalism and scientific optimism to illustrate a robust democracy nevertheless beset by opaque, external pressures. Richard Kelly's signature stirrings of cosmological imbalance presage the arrival on a family's doorstep of a miraculous button unit-cum-ballot box, its consistently obfuscated ownership and crassly-appealing security-for-indirect-murder proposition serving as a biting critique of modern, buffered democracy. "Can't I be forgiven?" is the regretful plea of Cameron Diaz's Virginia belle after opting in, to which Frank Langella's hideous, interdimensional PR man memorably responds with an affronted, I-just-work-here shrug. Ryan Stewart

23. Police, Adjective. It takes commitment to turn the act of leafing through a dictionary into a riveting cinematic moment, but Corneliu Porumboiu's great, deadpan moral inquiry is a work of such concentration. Structured as a dreary police procedural, it slowly weaves a Kafkaesque cosmos as its protagonist, a drudging Bucharest cop reluctantly investigating a minor case of pot-smoking high schoolers, gradually grows engaged in the interpretation of the signs and meanings around him. Not just a wry portrait of the clash between changing attitudes and rigid laws, but also a call for active consciousness in life and in cinema. Fernando F. Croce

22. Antichrist. It's hard not to take Antichrist as a mythically macabre put-on. Only Lars Von Trier would pepper an incoherently spooky gore-horror flick with such perplexing embellishments—from the coruscating black-and-white opulence of the humpfest prologue to the clumsily allegorical Eden where He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lock horns in a grisly, grief-provoked battle of the sexes. But the ramshackle, surrealist humor isn't mocking the audience: It's obscuring the fidgety undercurrent of yonic apprehension that drives the plot's feverish mutilations. We laugh at the fox who intones "chaos reigns" in a gravely basso; we might laugh even harder if we recognized his accuracy. Joseph Jon Lanthier

21. Still Walking. A family drama that gets the family dynamic exactly right, Hirokazu Kore-eda's triumph brings three generations of the Yokoyama clan under a single roof for a round of tearful remembrances, unspoken resentments, and domestic rituals. Unfolding over the course of a single day, the film lays out the family's decades-old beefs but never brings them to a point of crisis, instead suggesting—through its generous fixed-camera framings, its witty-wise screenplay, and the subtle interplay of its characters—the ways that unresolved conflicts tend to harden into regrets and how, for all our sorrows, life continues heedlessly on. Andrew Schenker

20. Cargo 200. In Cargo 200, writer-director Aleksei Balabanov uses dread as a meathook on which to suspend the bloody barbarism and squalor of provincial, pre-perestroika Russia; this film's scabrous narrative makes his post-USSR gangster chronicle Brother seem like the frothiest of comedies. At the grotesque climax, a rodent-like police captain makes use of soldiers' coffins (and bodies) to cover his homicidal tracks as his sloshed mama sits in the next room, obliviously bathed in the flicker of state-spooned TV images. The dark laughs don't stick in your throat, but lodge in the mind, suspended between shock and the sting of Balabanov's fury. Bill Weber

19. The Window. The domestic metaphysics of The Window undulate as lyrically as that of the South American modernist masters. Director Carlos Sorín perceives his deathbed-ridden protagonist, the senescent writer Antonio, as the focus of a swirling collection of household textures—pianos being tuned, meals being prepared, grown children being grumpy—that seem to mock the living in their perpetual pedestrianism. Antonio's feeble, 11th hour search for immortality is an archetypal premise, but Sorín's transcendently tactile imagery and sprinklings of magical realism offer the plot the gentle eeriness of a serene ghost story. It's as though we're watching a man listlessly supervise his own burial. JJL

18. Bright Star. The Romantics' strive for communion with nature finds wonderful emulation in Jane Campion's contemplative, mature Bright Star, which charts an affair of the immortal John Keats, while also swimming in his inspiration by replicating, with devotional attention to period detail, the atmosphere that cleansed his window of perception. Dispensing with the Edenic-but-soporific template for Georgian period, Campion's England jumps with interpersonal electricity, thanks partially to the sharper emotional antenna of those undistracted by modernity's ambient buzz; Keats and his proto-feminist paramour share not just a spark, but an ecumenical appreciation for nature, neatly expressed in a settling of butterflies in a room they might've shared, were nature not also indifferent to lovers' plans. RS

17. Hunger. An austere study of self-destruction as political heroism, Hunger implicates its audience as witnesses to its dramatization of the 1981 hunger-strike death of Irish republican prisoner Bobby Sands, underplayed with iconic force by Michael Fassbender. Skeptics attacked first-time director Steve McQueen for aestheticizing the martyr as an IRA Christ, brutally scourged at the hands of British guards before expiring to save his people, but perhaps they failed to recognize a meditation on rebellion that refused to condescend or reassure. Sands's 20-minute debate with an activist priest, shot mostly in one static two-shot, was one of the year's great scenes. BW

16. Where the Wild Things Are. Spike Jonze stirringly and distinctively conveys how the thorny imaginary world of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is a projection of a nine-year-old boy's troubled psyche, a place of vast deserts and sinister forests and ginormous monsters who build homes and playgrounds seemingly designed by Richard Serra and whose behaviors parallel those of the humans in the tyke's life, and in the case of the particularly fearsome Carol, the father who is conspicuously missing from it. Notable for its rich and realistic sense of psychological detail, this is an evocation at once blissful and haunting of imagining as a process of spiritual maturation. Ed Gonzalez

15. Tokyo Sonata. Kiyoshi Kurosawa's devastating domestic drama about an out-of-work father who lies to his family about his unemployment in order to maintain an increasingly untenable front as head-of-household would seem to offer a too obvious template for viewing our economic hard times. But Kurosawa digs deep, getting at the roots of a country's patriarchal institutions and exposing the larger costs of the enforced maintenance of social roles—not via abstract thematics but through the particularities of individual lives. Then, following the final breakdown of authority, he movingly offers up a fresh set of possibilities, with a child’s piano recital in the closing scene pointing the way forward. AS

14. Up. Up is special for inspired sense of scale, thoughtful framing, and dreamlike interplays of colors and shapes, the simultaneous fear and joy roused by its nutty flights of fancy and suspense, and the fearless emotional affect its story never ceases to risk. A series of colorful vignettes on love, fidelity, and adventure, Up is emotionally and aesthetically hieratic, conflating from its very first, Citizen Kane-referencing sequence the act of watching movies with the ecstasies and banalities of living. Life, like going to the movies, is seen as a grand communal experience, a ride worth enduring even when it teeters toward and over the brink of nightmarish abysses. EG

13. The Fantastic Mr. Fox. When has artisanal Hollywood craft expanded an established auteur's world to such exhilarating effect as in The Fantastic Mr. Fox? Adapting Roald Dahl's children’s book via stop-motion animation, Wes Anderson made the tale his own with trademark wry framing, retro pop-music cues, and characters' heroic struggles with their primal identities (in the shadow of death) all intact. Whether using his new palette to map the Fox family's burrowing escapes and raids or giving George Clooney the plum role of a well-intentioned patriarch whose guile and charm destabilize his tree-trunk domicile, Anderson's brio is worthy of Fox sinking his teeth into a chicken's neck. BW

12. Summer Hours. Following up the dizzying globetrot of Boarding Gate with a sedate-on-the-surface family drama, Olivier Assayas's latest is every bit as concerned with what it means to participate in an increasingly international world as its more kinetic forebear. At stake in Summer Hours is what's lost in the transaction and Assayas's achievement is to negotiate with a clear-eyed delicacy the tensions between nostalgia and the demands of modern life. As three grown siblings arrange to donate their deceased mother's valuable collection of objets d’art to the Musée d'Orsay, the film starts to take on the grace notes of unmistakable elegy—even as it calmly embraces the inevitable. AS

11. You, the Living. Roy Andersson's collection of vignettes paints a droll portrait of individual and collective misery. His meticulous snapshots of unhappiness are frozen in unbroken single takes and laced with bleakly absurdist wit that suggests Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons crossed with Buñuel's surrealist inclinations and critical yet sympathetic consideration of his characters. With breathtaking formalism, the Swedish filmmaker's depiction of life's major and minor cruelties captures a poignant sense of despondence and longing. Yet if You, the Living's finale suggests unavoidable doom for those who dream of brighter futures, an earlier, fanciful reverie of matrimonial bliss truly encapsulates the film's lovely, humanistic gloom. NS

10. The Hurt Locker. A leap beyond American movies' earlier, fumbling attempts to acknowledge the Iraq war, The Hurt Locker is a character study in the guise of a white-knuckle thriller. The breakthrough performance of Jeremy Renner as Sergeant James, a bomb-disposal wizard with "reckless" tendencies, is a portrait of the soldier as performance artist; James knows he's hot shit, and keeping his comrades alive is a bonus for practicing his art perfectly. Mark Boal's original script amply allows director Kathryn Bigelow to apply her suspense chops afresh, along with a touch of psychological voyeurism in the "love scene" where James and his drunken brothers-in-arms knock the wind out of each other with unhinged, passionate punches. BW

9. The Sun. Having already desiccated Hitler and Lenin, Russian master Aleksandr Sokurov concludes what could be dubbed his Bunker Trilogy of murky titans with this astonishing meditation on Japanese Emperor Hirohito. As the war draws to a close and Japan burns, the deified yet helpless emperor, his mouth perpetually twitching, struggles to accept the flow of history and his own shift from "living god" to deposed dictator. A work of sulphuric splendor, madness, disconcerting humor, and historical and spiritual mayhem, shot through the sepia haze of Sokurov's sublimely refracturing camera. FC

8. Tetro. Francis Ford Coppola has been off his game for so long that even a resurgence of the unique weaknesses of his best work would be welcome; that said, Tetro is every bit as aesthetically bloated as one would hope and/or fear. In the slippery, meandering plot, a fiery Vincent Gallo and a naïve Alden Ehrenreich portray prodigious writer-brothers tangled in a frayed gnarl of Oedipal angst, but a more enchanting story is sketched through the movie's ebullient, monochromatic landscapes and dimly lit domestic gestures. Possessing the texture and rhythm of an Argentine dream, the film is a splendiferous return to the plump wine-maker's honey-glazed, fattened-calf form. JJL

7. Inglourious Basterds. A blazing cine-essay, Quentin Tarantino's history-scrambling WWII epic brazenly boils half a century of war movies into a saturated fresco of truculent heroes, silky villains, avenging angels, slugger-toting golems, and tainted victories. Both a culmination and a subversive travesty of men-on-a-mission gorefests (as well as the most ingenious display of languages wrestling for cultural domination since Godard's Contempt), this movie buff's sonata builds to a literally incendiary climax that once again reinforces the need to watch QT's films not as hipster karaoke sessions, but as volatile avalanches of old-into-new images and sounds where memory, identity, and transformation jostle. FC

6. The Headless Woman. An object for endless, fascinated study, Lucretia Martel's masterpiece is an exercise in controlled perspective, a social commentary, and the most exhilaratingly disorienting experience of the cinematic year. As the director keeps us locked into the visual compass of her lead character, an Argentinean bourgeoise who may or may not have hit a native boy with her car, without penetrating one inch into the woman's headspace, her command over perspective is absolutely stunning. The effect is of watching yourself inside a dream without understanding what you're doing—with a vague waft of guilt (the bad conscience of the ruling class?) the sole defining characteristic. AS

5. A Serious Man. A Serious Man is a sharply sable exercise in humor-of-the-pathetic, but there's no mistaking the fierce humanity in the cosmic plight of Larry Gopnik. The Coen brothers view the meekly Jewish math professor with the same detachment as the hilariously cryptic rabbis that usher him to his Biblical doom, but their late-'60s suburban milieu is brimming with sympathetic sublimity—in a gingerly juxtaposed dyad of dramatic car crashes, or an allusion to the unpronounceability of Jorma Kaukonen's surname. Capturing domestic despair with the enigmatic cadence of an arcane Koan, Serious Man is one of the most urgently, and most emotionally, agnostic films ever made. JJL

4. Revanche. A rigorously taut neo-noir set for large stretches in the tranquil countryside, Götz Spielmann's Revanche employs a conventional genre setup for an acute, suspenseful examination of motivation, fate, and the titular concern, revenge. Its plot founded on conveniences that exude an air of inescapable calamity, this slow-burning tale about an ex-con's attempts to extricate himself and his call girl lover from the clutches of an oily brothel owner proceeds with a volatile deliberateness energized by visual compositions that evoke isolation and inevitability. Led by Johannes Krisch's deftly balanced expression of need, fury, and desperation, it's a B movie elevated to Greek tragedy. NS

3. Julia. A 21st-century bookend to Erich von Stroheim's Greed, Julia gazes into the skuzzy soul of an incorrigible, prototypically American schemer, searching for something, anything to admire. Delivering an impressive career-defining turn, Tilda Swinton preternaturally inhabits the titular, booze-addled screw-up, who hitches her last-chance wagon to a desperate kiddie-snatching scam. Whether hard-selling the plan to an incredulous chum retired from la vida loca, sparring with her soulful AA sponsor, or ludicrously shit-talking real gangsters in Erick Zonca's convincingly money-mad, post-moral landscape, Julia is all decaying, feline self-preservation and exposed nerves, a forever-battling loser often as sympathetic as the child she shamefully snatches, and in Swinton's masterful peaks, more so. RS

2. Two Lovers. A Brighton Beach Marty, James Gray's Two Lovers has the feel of something bygone, an ambered tone poem of unusually striking eroticism and ambiguity that, like much of Claire Denis's work, derives its beauty from its hypnotic feeling for location and accumulation of seemingly off-the-cuff details that speak wondrous profundities about its main character's eccentricities and defense mechanisms—as in the way the haunted Leonard counts the doors of a moving subway train, rips a winter jacket from a coat rack as if performing a magic trick, or holds his hand above a lit match. Joaquin Phoenix's take on his character's rage, sadness, and playfulness counts as the most exquisitely modulated performance of the year, a heartbreaking interpretation of a man unhinged in time. EG

1. 35 Shots of Rum. With a poeticism married to unassuming, piercing emotional and physical realism, Claire Denis's final masterpiece of the decade, 35 Shots of Rum uses one clan's moment of multiple transitions as the filter for an examination of the difficulty of letting go. With Agnes Godard's tender cinematography locating beauty in the view out through a train's conductor window and the sight of a young woman shopping for a rice cooker, Denis lyrically and compassionately confronts time's inexorable forward march, parent-adult child separation, and the universal desire for companionship, all issues encapsulated by a rapturous café sequence that glides, burns, and swoons with dance-like fluidity and grace. Nick Schager

Ed Gonzalez:
1. Two Lovers
2. Up
3. Revanche
4. Julia
5. Where the Wild Things Are
6. The Hurt Locker
7. 35 Shots of Rum
8. Inglourious Basterds
9. That Evening Sun
10. The Window

Honorable Mention: Sherlock Holmes, Oblivion, Bright Star, California Dreamin', Great Speeches from a Dying World, Fados, Tetro, Taxidermia, Night and Day, and The Sun

Nick Schager:
1. 35 Shots of Rum
2. Two Lovers
3. You, the Living
4. Julia
5. Inglourious Basterds
6. Revanche
7. Up
8. Tony Manero
9. Treeless Mountain
10. The House of the Devil

Honorable Mention: The Hurt Locker, Bronson, Munyurangabo, Sherlock Holmes, The Sun, Cargo 200, Tokyo Sonata, Tetro, Moon, and Coraline

Joseph Jon Lanthier:
1. A Serious Man
2. 35 Shots of Rum
3. Antichirst
4. Fantastic Mr. Fox
5. Two Lovers
6. Araya
7. The Window
8. Coraline
9. Tetro
10. Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR

Honorable Mention: Broken Embraces, The Headless Woman, The House of the Devil, Hunger, The Limits of Control, Moon, Summer Hours, Taxidermia, You, the Living, and The White Ribbon

Andrew Schenker:
1. The Headless Woman
2. Two Lovers
3. 35 Shots of Rum
4. Summer Hours
5. You, the Living
6. Still Walking
7. Tetro
8. Revanche
9. Tokyo Sonata
10. Julia

Honorable Mention: 24 City, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Beaches of Agnes, Il Divo, Drag Me to Hell, Lorna's Silence, Night and Day, Serbis, The Sun, and Tulpan

Bill Weber:
1. Hunger
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. A Serious Man
4. 35 Shots of Rum
5. The Headless Woman
6. Cargo 200
7. Sex Positive
8. Where the Wild Things Are
9. The Hurt Locker
10. American Casino

Honorable Mention: The Beaches of Agnes, Crazy Heart, The Girlfriend Experience, In the Loop, Passing Strange, Serbis, Still Walking, Two Lovers, Yasukuni, and You, the Living

Fernando F. Croce:
1. Inglourious Basterds
2. The Sun
3. Police, Adjective
4. Liverpool
5. The Headless Woman
6. A Serious Man
7. Tokyo Sonata
8. 35 Shots of Rum
9. The Hurt Locker
10. Lorna's Silence

Honorable Mention: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Beaches of Agnes, Drag Me to Hell, A Perfect Getaway, Public Enemies, Revanche, Sugar, Summer Hours, Tetro, and Two Lovers

Ryan Stewart:
1. Two Lovers
2. Julia
3. The Box
4. Bright Star
5. Home
6. Summer Hours
7. Revanche
8. 35 Shots of Rum
9. The Sun
10. Tetro

Honorable Mention: A Serious Man, An Education, Avatar, Big Fan, Halloween II, The Hurt Locker, La Danse, The Messenger, Seraphine, and Up in the Air

Edited By Sabin on 1260778505
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