Friday, 25 December 2009

The Anyone For a Film 2009 Awards

Far from crying 'cinema is dead!' and 'they don't make 'em like they used to', I thought 2009 was a rich and vital period for film so in my small corner of the blogosphere, I've earmarked the finest and the foulest new releases, plus mentions of old faves...Thanks for reading, see you all in 2010! (Bear in mind this is based solely on films I've seen this year - I daresay the list would have been very different had I the time and the funds!)

Greatest Films of 2009

1) Slumdog Millionaire

The most gloriously humane and uplifting film of the year is a riot of colour, emotion and A.R. Rahman’s pounding score. Without a doubt, Danny Boyle’s most accessible effort to date, a feast for the heart as well as the senses, unspooling in careful layers to reveal a literate, brutal and beautiful fable on love, loss and chance.
2) Drag Me to Hell
Less humane certainly but Sam Raimi’s terrific, tongue-in-cheek shocker hearkens back to proper horror, relying on insidious camerawork, eerie sound design and Christopher Young’s nerve shredding score to scare the pants off the viewer. Watch out for that hankie…
3) In the Loop
Armando Ianucci’s superb potty mouthed political satire lacks the intensity of its TV predecessor The Thick Of It but there was no sharper, bleaker comedy released in 2009. And let’s face it, no one at the moment turns swearing into more of an art form than the magnificent Peter Calpaldi as spin doctor Malcolm Tucker.
4) District 9
The sleeper action hit of the year also turned out to be the summer’s best (and most unlikely) blockbuster, transcending its outsider status with an unfamiliar cast, crew and location (Johannesburg) to fuse a potent anti-apartheid message and arse-kicking action. Oh, and those aliens are damn cool.
5) Star Trek
More hyped than District 9 (and just pipped to the post here), JJ Abrams nevertheless proves it is possible to launch a lavish new franchise without compromising a sense of humour or fun. Inhabiting the world we are all passingly familiar with while opening it up fully to a new audience, for once, a sequel is needed!
6) Looking For Eric
Ken Loach goes light? Well, not really – Eric is still grounded in that familiar working class milieu but by adding a delightful sense of fantasy to the grit (hello, Cantona), Loach has made his most entertaining film to date. Steve Evets meanwhile makes a terrific lead and the unified-through-footie finale must be the most heart-warming this year
7) Let the Right One In
Poetry on celluloid, no horror in 2009 was more haunting, or more hauntingly shot, than Let the Right One In. Drag Me to Hell went for the gullet but this, in its snow-bound landscapes and tale of two lonely souls (one a vampire) drawn together, also finds humanity amid the bloodshed.
8) 500 Days of Summer
Not another smug indie comedy! No, Summer has more heart, not to mention brains, than that, neatly breaking up the comedy formula to depict the highs and lows of romance as felt by fool-for-love Joseph Gordon Levitt. And who can blame him, when the lovely Zooey Deschanel is doing the leading…
9) Up
Like it needs to be said again – Pixar are geniuses. But their latest masterpiece to top masterpieces will have those words falling from the lips of every viewer, bolting real adult themes to an ostensibly kiddie friendly caper. Who’s the film made for then? Ah, well there-in lies the real genius…
10) Avatar
Yes the storyline’s more pieced together than a McDonald’s hamburger but as an event, as a spectacle, Avatar is hard to beat. It also proves one thing absolute – Jim Cameron is no mere King of the World but a moviemaking God, creating no less than a new 3D universe for us to lose ourselves in

And the Worst?

1) Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
Bilge, bilge, bilge – Michael Bay’s hideously out-of-control colossus should be tried for crimes against decency let alone cinema. Abysmally edited and directed with shuddering sound design, the actors are simply lost in the blitzkrieg. But what does that matter when Megan Fox wears a pair of denim shorts?
2) The Box
If anyone can explain what was going on in Richard Kelly’s dreadful third effort, they deserve a million pounds. OK, it’s something to do with aliens... What on earth Cameron Diaz is doing in it though may be an even bigger mystery
3) Law Abiding Citizen
A prime example of how to cock-up a serious thoughtful premise, the consequences of revenge are here reduced to dreadful, Saw-esque titillation. And Gerard Butler should never be cast in any film other than one that requires him to shout ‘For Sparta!’

Greatest Surprises – Film

1) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Well here was an unexpected joy. In the same year that we sadly lost teenage muse John Hughes, I had the good fortune to finally watch what is arguably his finest effort, emerging unscathed from its 80s setting to present fresh wit, brilliant performances and even a show-stopping musical number down the streets of Chicago
2) The Ghost and Mrs Muir
Black and white movies? Huh, boring! Rubbish – here is one of the most moving old-school melodramas I’ve watched, a light comedy that quite impeccably transforms into a tear jerking tale about love defying the spectre of death. The influence for Edward Scissorhands? Absolutely
3) Happy Go Lucky
Mike Leigh is renowned for doing misery. This is why the sparkling Happy Go Lucky is such a wonderful experience, deriving hilarity from the perennially upbeat Sally Hawkins’ interactions with her near psychotic driving instructor Eddie Marsan. ‘En-ra-ha!’

Greatest Soundtracks

1) Drag Me to Hell
The epitome of what a soundtrack can do for a film, criminally underrated Christopher Young finally gets some spotlight with this lavishly operatic score, mixing a sinister gypsy violin motif with a massed choir and all sorts of orchestral carnage. Alison Lohman in the graveyard? Best movie music moment of 2009.
2) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Alexandre Desplat has had an outstanding year in 2009, composing eight scores. His studied, reserved, classical stylings though were best served in David Fincher’s epic romance, capturing the palpitations of symmetrical, diverging love across the decades while also evoking the New Orleans setting with subtle jazz
3) Up
Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek score was louder but merely competent – give him a Pixar film though and his heart shines through. Blending 30s jazz revue for the character of Carl with some blistering action material and moments of heartbreak, Giacchino’s wonderfully mature score could be mistaken for not coming from an animation at all.
4) The Young Victoria
Ilan Eshkeri may not do anything new with the score for the Emily Blunt-starring Queen Victoria biopic. But it does brilliantly nonetheless, an appropriately regal, powerful, sometimes moving portrayal of England, and England’s longest serving monarch, at their peak
5) Slumdog Millionaire
Did it deserve an Oscar? Debatable, as it’s closer to a pop album than an actual film score. But A.R. Rahman’s contributions are terrific nonetheless, more-so in the film itself where the driving percussion and interweaving of choice hits captures the freewheeling energy of Boyle’s vision. Away from it, the haunting ‘Latika’s Theme’ lingers best
6) Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea
A bit of a cheat this as the film doesn’t come out in the UK until next year but Spotify unearthed a real gem here. Joe Hisaishi’s lovely contributions to many Studio Ghibli films have been overlooked and this one will likely be too – a crying shame when the sense of gentle fantasy and whimsy is better generated than any in Hollywood at the moment
7) A Christmas Carol
Alan Silvestri’s been coasting in bad action films for some years but this marked a glorious celebration of the festive season, a lavish orchestral delight interweaving traditional carols with Silvestri’s typically spirited underscore. Welcome back, Al.
8) Taking Woodstock
Ang Lee’s collaboration with Danny Elfman here results in one of the composers most personal scores in years. Composed almost entirely for guitar (acoustic and electric), it hearkens back to the days when Elfman was at his most unique, not diluted in bilge like Terminator Salvation.
9) Avatar
So it didn’t turn out to be my favourite score of the year but a listen to Avatar’s score confirms James Horner’s keen sense of the dramatic, a blend of beautiful tribal melodies for the Pandoran Na’vi and crushing action for the military baddies. If any score though is crying out for an expanded release, this is it...
10) Knowing
Another underdog like Christopher Young, Marco Beltrami wastes too much time fashioning competent music for less than competent films yet occasionally blinds us with his ingenuity. Knowing is the latter, a classic thriller score, building unease to an astonishing apocalyptic finale.

Greatest Surprises – Soundtrack

1) Young Sherlock Holmes
My greatest soundtrack find of the year – heck, my greatest find of the year – is Bruce Broughton’s magnificent adventure score for Barry Levinson’s 1985 caper, furiously exciting, scary, romantic and delightful in equal measure. Give this man Harry Potter!
2) Restoration
A spotty composer, when James Newton Howard is on top form there are few better. Restoration is arguably his masterpiece, for a forgotten costume drama from 1995. The score should never be forgotten though – a terrific processional theme mixed with tender, pastoral melodies, it’s a superb piece of work
3) A River Runs Through It
Having paid little attention to composer Mark Isham previously, A River Runs Through It caught me completely off guard, offering almost an hour of unbroken, tranquil, utterly beautiful melodies. The finale ‘In Half Light of the Canyon’ may be the single loveliest film music cue to bless my speakers this year

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