This year - I suppose I can say - I became a film critic. While I'm still not widely read, fully recognisable or seeing as many films as some more professional critics (those that easily break 300 a year), I am still watching more than I ever have, and consistently reviewing them in the process. Over the last twelve months, I have seen 59 flicks at the cinema (not far off twice as many as last year), and reviewed most of them for Den of Geek or Screenjabber. I'm hoping that this can only improve and progress as I develop and consolidate my career. Next year should be interesting, but here are the twenty films that made my 2009, in two parts.
Technically a 2008 movie, but this was the first film I saw this year, at the Peckham Plex cinema with Nick 'Fox' Moran. I didn't review it at the time, but I remember scribbling pages of notes in my diary about it, raving about its energy, its humanity and its brilliant melding of emotion, fairytale and down-to-earth urbanism. It's a real classic, and probably Danny Boyle's best film; I prefer others of his - Millions, Shallow Grave and 28 Days Later especially - but his films often have one or two glaring mis-steps or slips. Slumdog Millionaire, more than any film this year, really pulsed with life and love.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (review)
I remember having my haircut before the Vicky Cristina Barcelona screening, not knowing what to expect. It was my first press screening, and I was quite surprised by the welcoming, down-beat atmosphere of the Soho Screening Rooms. I was more surprised by the film, though, probably Woody's best since the early '90s (certainly of those I've seen). It is understated, casual and without some of the grand ideas and concepts of his better recent films (Deconstructing Harry, Everyone Says I Love You, Celebrity, Melinda & Melinda), but this does not hold it back from being a keeper.
I reviewed it for Den of Geek, and said it was a 'novella film'; something character-driven, small-scale and centered on relationships and interaction. The writing is sharp and complex, but the airy Spanish setting, and the consistently strong performances from the cast (Penelope Cruz especially) gives it more definition. Woody is already working on his next film in line - with Whatever Works already done, dusted and released in the majority of the world, and another London project in the post-production stage - but this is one worth going back to.
Again, I didn't review The Wrestler, but this was an affecting film. Like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this film saw a uniquely talented left-of-centre director making their most mainstream, star-oriented film - but unlike Button, The Wrestler is a bloody, heart-wrenching triumph. Mickey Rourke's performance is unbearable to watch, for all the right reasons, and the story of Randy 'The Ram' Robinson bleeds emotional energy out of the most unlikely sources, without much of the manipulation and crassness of many 'weepies'. I could have done without the subplot involving Evan Rachel Wood's daughter character but, for the most part, The Wrestler is a fitting, if stylistically more realistic, sequel to Requiem For A Dream's gut-wrenching, cathartic drama.
Watchmen (review 1, review 2)
Watchmen is a weird, stylish, ugly, inspired, flawed monster of a movie. I wrote about it twice: once up against it, writing to a tight embargo for its theatrical release; and secondly in a more reflective mode, sizing it up as a DVD release. It was my first big review for Den of Geek, and the first press junket I covered.
Let the Right One In / Låt den rätte komma in (review)
When pushed, I placed this at the top of my list for Den of Geek's films of the year article. Låt den rätte komma in is fabulous, moving and surprising, and at the time I said it was 'inventive, moving and disturbing -- all with a subtle touch'. I can't really make much of an advance on my original Den of Geek review, so it is best to check that out here.
I am currently in Manchester, and at arm's length from my signed copy of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. When he came to Manchester years ago, I was unable to attend his reading-signing; I finally rectified that mix-up last Halloween, but imagine my surprise when I had the opportunity to interview not only Gaiman, but the superb stop-motion animation director Henry Selick (the man behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, a favourite of mine) for the film's release. That was a huge moment for me this year, and I don't know if I can think of many interview subjects that can top them. It also helped that the film was fantastic, retaining the mystery, imagination and tone of the novella, while bringing a seemingly endless supply of fantastical flourishes and production pizazz to the piece.
Che (The Argentine and Guerilla)
In a bid to go to the cinema more often as a paying customer (something that crashed completely this year), I became a member of London's Prince Charles Cinema, a great little picture house just off Leicester Square. While I still haven't really exploited my membership to its fullest capabilities, I still went along to see a few good flicks there. The first was a superb double bill of Steven Soderbergh's two-part Che Guevara biopic. Unconventional, complex and radical, it's no surprise that it didn't fully recoup its budget from exhibition.
I ended up reviewing the DVD releases of both films for Den of Geek, in which I said: 'While both Che films add up to an often baggy, uncompromising 4-and-a-half-hour epic, their quality lies in their ambition and duality. Furthermore, they break the mould by refusing to rein in history, subjugating it to the medium of cinema. Instead, characters, events and context spill out from all directions, inciting the viewer to explore the period on their own after the film ends. As a whole, they present a kind of political, biographical film that manages to inspire interest without resorting to crass polemicism or Hollywood sugar-coating'.
The middle of 2009 was full of Che, as I went from reviewing Soderbergh's film to seeing Chevolution, a fantastic documentary about the revolutionary and his pop-cultural legacy, told through the history of the famous Guerrillero Heroico portrait. It was a real feast of a film, full of information and insight, playing well to the strengths of its form in the way that Soderbergh did with his film.
I said in my review for Screenjabber, where I also interviewed co-director Trisha Ziff: 'this means that, after the film, propelled by its rock music soundtrack, has washed over you, it reveals itself, in retrospect, to be a wonderfully dense documentary - its 86 minutes tightly packed with a wealth of political, historical, artistic and sociological information. That it does this while still allowing room for complexity, conflict and ambiguity, is testament to the great talent that has gone into its creation'.
Broken Embraces / Los abrazos rotos (review)
One of the near-misses of 2009, I found it quite strange that Pedro Almodovar's Los abrazos rotos was greeted by surprisingly lukewarm reviews, and gained little recognition in many of the end-of-year features I have read so far. I thought it was wonderful: buoyant and cheeky in its colourful, melodramatic take on noir, with eye-pleasing, strong performances across the board.
Harry Brown (review)
This is still a complicated one for me, because the film's frustrating politics are either naive or reactionary - meaning that I can't recommend Harry Brown lightly. That is a real shame, because it features a great central performance from Michael Caine, and Daniel Barber cooks up an interesting tapestry of a world for his debut film. But, unlike other complicated reactions from this year (Public Enemies, Inglourious Basterds, Avatar), I think that Harry Brown deserves support, if only so that its successes can be appreciated.
Tune in again soon for the second part of my Films of 2009...