With 2015 upon us, we figured it was a good time to look back on the movies the millennium has brought us. We’ve dug into the archives and are re-running our Best of the 2000s pieces, from way back in 2009 when the Playlist was a little Blogspot site held together with tape and string. Each list runs down the top 10 films of each year (it’s possible that, half-a-decade on, we’d put them in a different order and even change some of the movies, but we wanted to preserve the original pieces untouched as far as possible). Check out 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 if you missed them, and today we continue with 2009. FYI, unlike the other pieces, which were compiled by group, 2009 were the picks of Editor-In-Chief Rodrigo Perez only, and also went to twenty picks. If he were to do them again, they’d probably look very different, too…
Getting a definitive top 10 out of the Playlist team is hard.
There’s a lot of differing opinions and due to the locations of our writers (we’ve got people in the UK, Australia, Canada and U.S. places other than NY/LA), some don’t get to see most of the year’s films until January 2010. While we’re deep in January now, some are still making their way through everything.
While 2009 in many ways was a weak year for movies, at least in the mainstream, if you looked into international cinema, there were lots of films to be admired. Here’s my personal top 20 films of 2009 —they’re the ones that were the most emotionally affecting and psychologically haunting. The tried and true formula: the experience + the resonance= great movie. It has to be great in that moment and months later, unlike say, “Avatar” which was fun but forgotten about an hour later.
Unlike our 2008 picks, we stuck explicitly to 2009 films, not including pictures that are set for a 2010 release that we saw earlier this year at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival (Nicolas Winding Refn‘s spiritual horror viking film, “Valhalla Rising” and Bong Joon-Ho‘s oedipal murder mystery drama, “Mother” being the two that would easily penetrate this list if they were technically not 2010 films).
20. “Tokyo Sonata”
A family drama like none other done by former J-horror master Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to grandmaster Akira), the only reason this film is so low on our list is that I saw it over a year ago. ‘Sonata’ is a sprawling saga about a father too ashamed to admit he’s been fired and the aftermath that effects his family. And if Kurosawa was once the maestro of Japanese horror, this is internal terror of another kind: a disquietude that haunts even as it defies categorization, veering into absurdist comedy and social commentary before finally settling on a graceful, quivering and jaw-dropping solemnity.
19. “The Cove”
How do you treat a potentially bleeding-heart, environmentally-friendly save-the-dolphins type hot-button issue documentary? If you’re director Louie Psihoyos, you check all the angles and realize the only true way to expose the dirt behind what’s actually going on in an illegal fishing cove in Taijii, Japan, is to go stealth and infiltrate from the inside with all the logistics and planning of a special ops team a la Jason Bourne. Using state of the art technology (plus help from Industrial Light & Magic) and Ric O’Barry, one of the world’s preeminent dolphin advocates, “The Cove” becomes a riveting spy-like thriller and one of the most truly captivating documentaries of the year. It’s also a powerful examination of redemption. O’Barry became famous (and rich) by capturing and training the dolphins that starred in the T.V series “Flipper.” Eventually he realized the show was a catalyst for the abuse and captivity of dolphins worldwide, and this film depicts a passionate man dedicated to righting former mistakes.
18. “Two Lovers”
If Joaquin Phoenix sticks to his guns and does end up retiring from acting (he didn’t – Ed.) then his incredibly manic yet vulnerable final performance in James Gray‘s “Two Lovers” is certainly not a bad way to go out. A loose remake of Luchino Visconti‘s 1957 film “Le Notti Bianche” (starring Marcello Mastroianni), Phoenix plays an emasculated man-child torn between two women: one that represents chaos and lust (Gwyneth Paltrow) and one that symbolizes stability and open-heartedness (Vinessa Shaw). The right choice isn’t quite so easy, and watching Phoenix grapple with his decision is remarkable.
17. “Goodbye Solo”
An old man wants to die and a relentlessly optimistic Senegalese cab driver tries to convince him otherwise in a hands-off, round-about way. Ramin Bahrani‘s acute, occasionally funny and well-observed examination of loneliness and friendship is incredibly thoughtful and textured. Tags of neo-neo realism aside, it’s easily his best work thus far, showcasing an incredible touch with finding untapped talent and quietly guiding them to greatness.
16. “The Limits Of Control”
Perhaps the most misunderstood film of 2009. A swirling, mantra-like dream and a deceptively funny piece of minimalist art, Jim Jarmusch‘s “The Limits of Control” stars a stoic Isaach de Bankolé in a performance sorely undervalued this year by impatient, short-sighted critics. Mark my words, like mind-benders such as David Lynch‘s “Mulholland Drive,” Alain Renais’ “Last Year At Marienbad,” or even Jarmusch’s own “Dead Man” (which also received poor reviews and now is a cult classic), this psychedelic masterpiece will one day get its proper due. In some circles, it already has.