Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Favourite Films of 2009

Living here in Korea, I don't get to see all the movies I would otherwise have access to back home. While street vendors throughout the city have thousands of illegally pirated DVDs for sale the the passers-by, and this (aside from bit-torrents) is often the only way to see these films, I have a hard time justifying their purchase, which isn't to say that I haven't given-in from time to time. Sometimes a guy needs some P.T. Anderson magic.

Back home, in an average year, I would get out to the movie theatres on an average of once every two weeks - more if I could make it happen. Here, not as much. Though the movie-going experience here in Korea is one I wish we could duplicate back home, in the theatres it's often tough to find anything beyond the blockbusters from overseas. That is improving, but unless something gets Academy Awards recognition, it's unlikely it will make it into cinemas over here on the peninsula.

Anyway, despite the challenges, there are still enough reasons to go the the cinema at least once a month here in Korea. Here, you can not only buy your tickets in advance, but you can choose your seats at the point of purchase as well - a week in advance if need be. It was such a pain in the ass to have to run into the line-up for Avatar hours in advance back home in Calgary just to get a decent seat, when back in Seoul, you can wander into your glorious middle-center seats minutes before the trailers begin on a sold-out show.

Being here, I also get the chance to see some really good Korean cinema. More theatres are offering to play Korean first-run films with English subtitles and the experiment seems to be working. I for one am grateful for the effort. There's a lot to be learned about a country and its film-going public from its cinema. While not Korean film has impressed me much (Take-off!, and The Sword with no Name to name a couple), there have been others that impress with their earnestness and inventiveness (Private Eye and My Love Beside Me for example. Two Korean films have made it onto my top ten list. Should you get a chance, I would highly recommend seeing them both.

I didn't get around to writing full reviews for all of these, so here, with a short note, are my top 10 films of 2009.

1) Up in the Air
- My favourite movie of the year. It spoke to me at the right time in the right way. I like a movie that can be as charming as hell, and then take my feet out from under me.

2) Inglourious Basterds - This felt endlessly inventive to me. Incredible performances. The ending went off the rails a bit, but the ride is worth it. Best writing of the year.

3) Mother - a gem of a murder Mystery from South Korea - also featuring the most harrowing female performance I have seen since Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream. Pointed and painful stuff.

4) Up - What a weird idea this was. And it all worked. Pixar rarely misfires, but their best always breaks my heart. This one sure did, and Kevin the bird is a hoot.

5) District 9 - This movie kicks all kinds of ass. It's as inventive as people first said it was and as everyone is now saying it's not. Brutal sci-fi with something to say.

6) Avatar - Don't let the back-lash get to you. Yes the dialogue can be dodgy, but this was clearly the most thrilling movie experience of the year. I fell for a giant blue girl.

7) Thirst
- Park Chan-Wook's strangest movie yet, and a marked departure from his popular revenge trilogy. Vampires and sex from the mind that brought Oldboy to the screen.

8) The Road
- Not as brave or as stark as the book on which it's based, but how could it be? Viggo Mortensen deserved at least a nomination for his work here. An important movie.

9) Star Trek - They did it! Star Trek is cool again. All it took was J.J. Abrams and The Beastie Boys. Too bad about that shameful new Spock / Old Spock scene though.

10) Moon - I thought this would be one of my favourites of the year, and it's at number 10. Sam Rockwell is always someone to watch, and now there's Duncan Jones. I didn't have this one figured out until the last 15 minutes. I'm still not so sure.

Key films I didn't see that I expect I would have liked:
Precious, The Hurt Locker, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, A Single Man, Invictus, Food Inc., The Princess & the Frog, The Messenger, A Single Man, The Hangover

Films I expected to love but I was more luke-warm about:
Where the Wild Things Are, Crazy Heart, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, An Education

Films that I respected, but I couldn't make-up my mind about:
The White Ribbon, A Serious Man

Oh, and by the way - the trailer for Iron Man 2 looks grand. There's a franchise that can't go wrong.

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