December 30, 2009 the finish line (pt. 9)


The Wrestler

Flight of the Red Balloon

A Christmas Tale

Encounters at the End of the World

Let the Right One In

In the City of Sylvia



Dark Knight

Synecdoche, NY

10. Cloverfield (4)

9. In the City of Sylvia (5)

8. Silent Light (n/a)

7. The Wrestler (10)

6. The Good, The Bad, The Weird (n/a)

5. Let the Right One In (6)

4. Hunger (3)

3. Martyrs (n/a)

2. The Dark Knight (2)

1. Synecdoche, NY (1)

Farewell to the lovely Flight of the Red Balloon, A Christmas Tale, and Encounters at the End of the World to be replaced on the 2008 list by the stunning Martyrs, the gorgeous Silent Light, and Kim Ji-Woon’s awesome Leone redux The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. Two of these never had an official American release, of course, meaning basically that according to the terms of these lists, they don’t exist. For me, though, starting in earnest in 2008, the way that we see films becomes firmly fixed, as they say, in sand. Netflix becomes a major player in how films that no one thinks to distribute are seen – eBay, too, as films released international receive high-quality subtitles and official releases from comparable distribution houses overseas. Kim’s also-awesome A Bittersweet Life for instance, is only available through alternative sources – meaning essentially that if you want to see some of the best movies in the world, you need to be creative. All of that’s not to say that you need to be really creative. With digital streaming the near-future of all media, we’re up against a situation in 2009 where something like five of the top twenty movies I saw, I saw outside of the theater. That number’s only going to go up as critic screenings decline, public screenings blip out altogether, and studios get wise to the notion that just as critics have centralized, so too can publicity.

Anyway – Martyrs is astonishing stuff, a torture porn flick from the country that reconstitutes American entertainments through the prism of deconstruction and critical theory. Then Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light that works for me better than the also-great Battle in Heaven; and then the balls-out Kim flick with three of the biggest stars in South Korea taking over for Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach while adding a dash of distinctively Asian flair. Hunger, which many critics have placed on their 2009 lists, falls a slot to accommodate Martyrs while In the City of Sylvia and Cloverfield slide several spaces, in part so that The Wrestler can slide up. Let the Right One In grows while The Dark Knight and Synecdoche continue to give 2008 an impressive 1-2. Now to the mothersite in the next couple of days for the best of 2009 and then back here for the fanfare-conclusion of the best of the aughties.

Phew. Breaking a sweat, here.


Patrick said...


From 2008, I still haven't seen Rachel Getting Married (and probably won't ever see), The Wrestler (ditto) and Gomorrah (which I'd like to see some time). From the films I've seen, my top movies are Wall*E, Let the Right one in, and of course Synechdoche, New York.

I must say I wasn't too impressed with the Dark Knight, but subsequent viewings have mellowed me on what I don't like, and what I like is getting better, so maybe in ten years I'd put it up there. My best friend loves Milk, but I think it's a typical biographical film with all the good and the bad that entails. More like a history session.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is probably not the same as Sukiyaki Western Django, right? Then I've never seen it.

DJR said...

I'm actually considering Martyrs a 2009 release, if only because it received its US dvd premiere this year. As such:

1. Synecdoche, New York
2. Wendy and Lucy
3. Flight of the Red Balloon
4. Stuck
5. Redbelt
6. Still Life
7. Let the Right One In
8. The Wrestler
9. My Blueberry Nights
10. Funny Games

I don't know what to expect from the 2009 top tens. Here's mine so far:

1. Inglourious Basterds
2. Martyrs
3. Sita Sings the Blues
4. Adventureland
5. District 9
6. Julia
7. Up
8. Coraline
9. Cargo 200
10. Crank: High Voltage

Worst of the year is a tie between Jennifer Lynch's ridiculous Surveillance and The Blair Witch Project co-director Eduardo Sánchez's nigh-unwatchable Seventh Moon.

DJR said...

Oh yeah, and as for The Good, The Bad, The Weird, please tell me it's better than Sukiyaki Western Django and Tears of the Black Tiger, which were both pretty lousy despite their bold stylization.

Patrick said...

Damn, Redbelt! Forgot that one. My 2009 list, btw, is as follows:

10.The Hurt Locker
9. Thirst
8. An Education
7. Coraline
6. In the Loop
5. Where the Wild things are
4. Drag me to Hell
3. Moon
2. Observe and Report
1. Inglourious Basterds

Star Trek reveals its formula on subsequent viewings, and the forced action scenes really hurt (the alien planet chase, Scotty in the tubes).

Up starts great and loses at lot of steam.

Adventureland seems to be a film tailor-made for critics over 40, as I found it only boring.

District 9 is a little too confused with its racial politics to make my list.

And Crank 2 is a film I actually had to turn off after the strip club scene.

Walter_Chaw said...

It's better than both Sukiyaki and Black Tiger. Combined. It's frickin' great.

Tom said...

my top 10 so far looks something like:

10. where the wild things are
9. observe and report
8. treeless mountain
7. bad lieutenant
6. two lovers
5. mary and max
4. inglourious basterds
3. vinyan
2. julia
1. antichrist

'two lovers' might be higher but i've kind of reacted against my initial love for it just 'cause it doesn't seem so special in the memory. i wouldn't be surprised if a second viewing bumped it up all the way to second, or if it stayed where it was.

wish i could find a place for 'in the loop', but in all honesty, 'the thick of it' is a lot better. not that that's an insult, but it makes it at least a touch redundant.

WTWTA suffers, for me, in the way it doesn't trust its audience enough and so has to keep giving undue attention to its own analogies and drilling home its intended emotional angle. it's also lovely for the reasons walter described, though. that farewell scene is devastating in a way that's totally unexpected and original for a scene of that sort, i think. talk about bittersweet...

observe & report (apologies for basically copying the shit i wrote on criticker) is a razor pressed down just enough to tickle and hurt at the same time, and indescribably fascinating for that. 'treeless mountain' reminds me of 'grave of the fireflies' and really inhabits the perspective of children in pain. 'mary and max' is a better animated movie than 'up', 'coraline', 'fantastic mr fox' (the most overrated movie of the year bar none), 'ponyo' - hope it'll get a proper US release at some point. p s hoffman voices the most central character btb. uh, 'vinyan' is very 'antichrist' and disturbingly beautiful (or beautifully distubing) in parts - incredibly potent evocation of place/externalisation of protagonists' minds. 'julia' just feels like a '70s classic to me even though i'm not very familiar with cassavettes, it has that same sprawling storm of existential confusion at its core, it's tragic in a (almost) completely unsentimental way and it's exhilarating to boot. 'antichrist' i can't really talk about, but damn, i seem to love von trier's movies an awful lot.

oh, but there's a lot of stuff i haven't seen yet... a serious man, tokyo sonata, bronson, the hurt locker, lorna's silence, a prophet, white ribbon, tetro, sugar, all things soderbergh... to name but a few.

Tom said...

as for 2008, i don't like 'martyrs' or 'the dark knight' as much as walter but i'm sure they'd still be flirting with the outer regions of my top 10. the former is one of the more intense cinematic experiences i've had but feels forced/heavy handed when it turns into an essay on itself (however insightful that essay may be), the latter whilst desperately doomed and tragic just doesn't have enough subtlety in the script, i recall dave gibson (think that was the name) criticising it in ways i totally agree with back when it first came out.

SNY is number 1. period.

at the time i wrote about silent light that it 'ends up connecting with its god more than with its audience', but i'm willing to believe that's one i'll mature into. i too liked redbelt rather a lot, though it does have the feel of a minor film.

i really like 'gran torino', 'flight of the red balloon', 'still life'. yet to see sylvia or GBW.

Alex Jackson said...

I have about 18 more films to see before I will dare to make my top ten, but here are a few observations.

1. Until I saw AntiChrist I was feeling uncomfortable about The Hurt Locker having the number one spot as it was just a really boring choice. Surprised then that it's not getting more love from the people commenting here.

2. Let me put it this way, if I had created a three-prong test in evaluating movies-- 1. Is the film stimulating to the senses? Is it an emotional experience? 2. Does it challenge me as a text, in deciphering what it means, do I feel engaged? and 3. Does it challenge me in the realm of ethics? In real world philosophy that I can apply in my real life.

If applied such a test to both AntiChrist and Inglourious Basterds, AntiChrist would be the better movie. And yet, I think that Inglourious Basterds has and will continue to warrant repeated viewings whereas seeing AntiChrist once is going to keep me full for a while.

I have all kinds of issues about Inglourious Basterds. I wish it was an easier film to love. Or an easier one to hate. I want to call it smart-ass, but that's too perjorative and even more to the point inadequate word to explain what it is that it does.

3. I guess I love Where the Wild Things are also, but like Inglourious Basterds it's not the home run I was expecting. There's a certain ambivalence on my part to it. Maybe it's too depressing.

4. I guess that I kind of understand the appeal of Adventureland, but it's not something you can explain to somebody who doesn't share it. It's as minimalist an example of its genre as you can get and still have something that will project onto the screen when you shine light through it.

5. Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 is fucking fantastic and I actually feel validated and part of a special elite in recognizing it as such.

6. Not a great year for movies, but a very good one. There was lots lots lots of stuff that I found interesting in the least and relatively little that I thought was awful.

Ryan said...

5. Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 is fucking fantastic and I actually feel validated and part of a special elite in recognizing it as such.

I actually agree, though I'd really like to know your reasons and if they align with mine.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha, I'm kind of on the same boat with Alex regarding The Hurt Locker. I love the movie a lot and it inspired me to go back and rewatch most of Bigelow's work but it just seems like such a predictable choice. Maybe I'm just a boring guy, I don't know. Regardless, I feel safe in putting it in my top 5 of 2009, even if I'm not sure about the number 1 spot.

JF said...

A Christmas Tale is sort of underrated around here. I really admire anything that's as, to put it delicately, fucked right the fuck up (and smart about it) as Martyrs is, but as far as 2008 Gallic offerings go, I'll take the one that makes me actually like living over the one that takes a shit in my soul.

Kyle Puetz said...

I really like A Christmas Tale but I honestly think it pales in comparison to Kings and Queen. If it weren't for its predecessor's shadow, I'd probably rank it a lot higher.

Big proponent of 35 Shots of Rum, The Hurt Locker (which strikes me as, more than anything, a character piece), Inglourious Basterds, Lorna's Silence, Revanche, Summer Hours, and Tulpan. But this year basically comes down to the primal, anarchic, eloquent and finally devastating Where the Wild Things Are and A Serious Man, which satisfyingly completes the thematic concerns of the Coens as of late.

Best movie that nobody's seen is Big River Man, the greatest Herzog documentary that Herzog never made.

Bill C said...

Boy, are you guys going to hate my Top 10 of '09.

Kyle Puetz said...

Not me... Honestly, I think I've been spoiled by the last few years, as 2009 -- while decent -- just can't compare to its immediate predecessors.

Even as I flirt with A Serious Man and Where the Wild Things Are for the top spot, I can think of numerous ones that would beat out either from years past:

2008: Synecdoche, Let the Right One In, Hunger
2007: There Will Be Blood, No Country, Syndromes
2006: Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth
2005: Oldboy, 3-Iron, Grizzly Man

I'm just not as enthused about 2009 as I have been the last few years' offerings. Hopefully, there'll be something that strikes a stronger chord with me later on, but relatively speaking, the decade for me is going out with a whimper.

Jeff said...

Paranormal Activity might wind up on my list, lots of resonant subtext being ignored with that one, and within its established parameters, it's nigh-flawlessly executed.

Patrick said...

"The thick of it" is the TV series to "In the Loop", right? Never saw that one. Also, Antichrist is perhaps an obvious choice I haven't seen.

Looking forward to the top10 reveal...

O'JohnLandis said...

A list that requires no fuzzy math:

Top Five Charlie Kaufmans

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
3. Synecdoche, New York
4. Adaptation.
5. Being John Malkovich

Synecdoche is so close--I mean, sure, it could have used a real director, but Clooney's the only real director Kaufman's ever had and somehow the movies still survive--but what it's missing is a second point of view that feels real. It needs, in other words, the Kirsten Dunst material from Eternal Sunshine--something that provides perspective and distance and enriches the world. Maybe you sacrifice some of that breathless claustrophobia of being stuck with Caden, but when the allegory is this diffuse--when you're always only a step away from being either the existential film of the generation or an interesting Lynch-lite failure--you have to make hard choices. And if you're going to have a character living in a burning house, it had better be funny, shot in an evocative way, or say something a grownup would find perceptive. Because if you're telling me that we all enter this world as a person living in a burning house, aside from being a lame first-level metaphor, then every character needs to be living in a burning house. And if you're telling me that she is a person living in a burning house, there had better be a damn good reason to justify such a silly, goodwill-obliterating metaphor.

Rick said...

My vote of the Lazarescu #1 joyless, canonized film (not piece of shit, I respect it at least) of the year would be Gomorra. I do respect the ultra-realism of the film, but would anyone actually want to sit through this one again? Oh man, I need a repeat viewing of a kid plucking his eyebrows for five minutes. If realism is so important, then I suppose a documentary with me as the subject will obtain respect for a ten minute shot of myself making fantasy baseball transactions.

And Alex, probably the only one here with a call for Jackass 3D, Johnny Knoxville was quoted as saying "We're going to take the same 3D technology James Cameron used in AVATAR and stick it up Steve O's butt."

eddie said...

Really glad to see Walter heaping praise of The Good, the Bad, the Weird. I caught it at a film festival on a lark and couldn't have been more surprised and delighted by it. It's just great. I thought that it had the best and most satisfying action sequences of any '08 movie.

Rick said...

I have been reading a few previous discussions on filmmaker of the decade, and it shouldn't even be a debate. Charlie Kaufman. Exaggerated or not, to expose one's cowardice and personal insecurity like in Adaptation., extreme self-doubt in Synedoche, and the pure, raw emotional vulnerability in Eternal, is a a far more brave and honest method in tackling existential issues, and is why I am blown away by everything this man does, and why I will never have an earth-shattering experience watching Lynch and others. Do I feel guilty about not connecting to (people will argue with me that I do not "get it" though, and will dismiss everything I say, because I do not think on the high level of consciousness they think they are capable of) Mullholland Drive, and not having it in my top 10 of the decade? Yes. But that's how it is, no matter how hard I try to white-knuckle hang with cold, distant intellectuals, while being honest.

Rick said...

Actually, nevermind me, I am just bitter from grinding it out as a math major only to be middle of the pack, feeling like a failure on a daily basis while facing extremely hard challenges( because ya know, I could be proven wrong), only go go back to my dorm to see people who did zero work all year, watching Lynch and smoking pot, feeling like they are all genuises. (who came up with a one-line dismissal of why they do not take math or science courses, as exhibited in A Serious Man) I respond to the hatred of art in Synedoche and stuff like The Pleasure of Your Company because of these limited, personal experiences. I apologize. Though a monkey whispering something you can't hear, and taping a peice of fried bacon to a wall (ironic or not) is undeniably genius!

Patrick said...

O'John: I freely admit that I accepted the burning house in Synechdoche simply as a burning house after I couldn't make sense of it. It's maybe the one thing where I had to force myself to go with it and not think about it too much. But well put.

Oh, and happy New Year! It's 5am for me, and bedtime :)

Walter_Chaw said...

Hey Rick - appreciate the candor. It's what all of this is all about, I think, the willingness to be bare. Film is just a catalyst.

Happy New Year, everyone. Here's hoping for a smoother 2010.

Patrick said...

It's not linked on the mothersite, only on the top10 subpage, but here it is:

Nice! Some films I frankly never heard of, some I forgot to see. And one, namely Whip It!, that I will have to wait for German release, it seems, as it's nowhere on the net I can find it. And I want to see it so badly!

jer fairall said...

For the interested/obsessive:

I've put all of Walter's 00 lists on Lists of Bests (thereby condemning myself to having to watch Martyrs at some point; I'll save it for a night when I'm feeling especially brave). Anyone who feels like playing along can find 'em all on my page there:

In other news, Ebert chose Synecdoche New York as his best film of the decade:

Dennis said...

Happy to see Drag Me to Hell existing off the actual top 10 lists (and outside even of Walter's honorable mentions). One of the year's most overrated films, by old-school Raimi fans too enamored by his return to zany horror to recognize it being a pale shadow of his early work, complete with excessive reliance on CGI wizardry. The hospital-room Doc Ock scene from Spidey 2 was more exhilarating than any given sequence from this movie. And I hate to say, but that other zeitgeist-baiting Demon-haunting horror movie from 2009 was more satisfying.

Also, while I appreciate the high placements for Julia, I've grown more inclined to agree with Walter's placement, largely because its second half is far more conventional and predictable than the first. Saul Rubinek's big scene with Swinton in the first half is one of the year's best.

Two Lovers love is unexpected but welcome, given the ambivalence expressed towards Gray on this site in the past. It's certainly one of the thorniest melodramas in recent memory.

Rick said...

It's what all of this is all about, I think, the willingness to be bare. Film is just a catalyst.

What I love about Kaufman is that he is a genius and probably doesn't even recognize that he is one, as opposed to other filmmakers who make similar films who KNOW they are genuises.

Hope everyone had a good New Years and can't wait for Walter and Alex's top ten of the decade and 2009.

Justin B-H said...


Glad you found room in your Top 10 for Not Quite Hollywood. I went to a Q&A screening in Sydney with Mark Hartley and he said they’d spent a lot of the film's budget restoring the clips from the original films to make them look as good as they did on first release, as they wanted people to check them out after seeing the doco.

We were actually a bit spoiled here in Sydney because the Chauvel Cinema had a mini-festival in September 08 coinciding with Not Quite Hollywood's release. They screened Turkey Shoot, Razorback, Stone, The Long Weekend, Dead-end Drive-in, Road Games and Patrick. With the exception of Stone all of them were new prints and looked great. Along with the Wake in Fright re-release early in 2009 it was a pretty timely antidote to Baz Luhrmann’s attempt in November 08 to drive Australian cinema back to the 1940s...

Bill C said...

@Justin: Thanks for that.

DaveA said...

Just wanted to mention that THE BOOK is now listed on (Germany) for 22EUR and no shipping cost.

For people who'd like to shop at Lulu, you can currently save 10% by using READMORE2010 as coupon code.