Dec 22, 2009

2009 in Review Pt. 3

The 24 FPS Awards 2009

So far this year I have seen 173 titles I have counted as 2009 films (that is films that have received a regular theatrical release, a direct to either DVD or TV release or that have been viewed at a UK festival during 2009). The bulk have been seen at the cinema (with a few viewed on DVD or online).

Over the next few months, in the run up to the Oscars, Hollywood will indulge in an orgy of awards season backslapping as they ask themselves ‘what were the finest cinematic achievements of 2009’. Here are the correct answers.

See Top 20 post [coming soon]

Pete Docter: Up
Michael Haneke: The White Ribbon
Yorgos Lanthimos: Dogtooth
Pascal Laugier: Martyrs
Lars Von Trier: Antichrist

WINNER: Pascal Laugier

This was a two-way race, between Laugier and Lars Von Trier. Antichrist is clearly the best looking film of the year, but Laugier’s work is also visually astonishing, the two films are also well matched in terms of performances, each filmmaker drawing emotionally nuanced work from their two main cast members. Martyrs wins because it has stronger storytelling and because, while Antichrist’s impact is most deeply felt in its third act, Martyrs creates an atmosphere from the get go, and sustains it at fever pitch for it entire running time. It is a film that - literally - staggered me.

Ed Asner: Up
Alfredo Castro: Tony Manero
Michael Fassbender: Fish Tank
Burghart Klaussner: The White Ribbon
Phillip Seymour Hoffman: Doubt

WINNER: Philip Seymour Hoffman

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is, without a doubt, the DeNiro of his generation (and by that I don’t mean the shambling husk now calling himself Robert DeNiro, I mean the vital actor of the 70’s and 80’s, who utterly transformed himself every time he made a film). Doubt was short on the titular ingredient, and what intrigue there is in the film comes almost entirely from Hoffman’s quietly brilliant performance. Unlike Meryl Streep’s gigantic turn; full of bombast and bluster with a large side order of ham, Hoffman largely dials back his performance, his most revealing moments being when he’s not speaking at all. He could easily be either a good, misunderstood, man or a monster, often in the same moment.

Morjana Alaoui: Martyrs
Sasha Grey: The Girlfriend Experience
Nina Hoss: The Heart is a Dark Forest
Katie Jarvis: Fish Tank
Hilda Peter: Katalin Varga

WINNER: [Tie] - Morjana Alaoui / Hilda Peter
This always seems to be the hardest category for me to choose a winner in and, true to form; it could easily have been a five-way tie this year (don’t think I wasn’t tempted). What’s remarkable about the category this year is that there are four newcomers in it, Nina Hoss the only nominee with an extensive (mainstream) filmography.

Morjana Alaoui had perhaps the single most difficult job in this category, she spent most of the shoot for Martyrs being brutalised, and the difficulty, the pain, often shows in her performance as Anna. What’s really impressive is that, even in the film’s most extreme passages, character comes through. As Anna is tortured repeatedly in an excruciating 20 minute sequence we can see in Alaoui’s performance Anna’s ever growing strength and resolve, a toughness that makes her a great final girl. But there’s also tenderness; a quickly but strongly forged romantic bond with Mylene Jampanoi’s Lucie, which ends up in a pretty heart rending place in the middle of the film. It’s amazingly nuanced work in an environment that doesn’t always encourage it.

Hilda Peter’s brilliant performance as the title character in Katalin Varga is largely about withholding, about a woman who has learnt to draw her emotions inside herself and keep them there. She does this brilliantly, while allowing us just enough access to recognise that this is how Katalin has learnt to cope. You also get a real sense of intelligence, of calculation, from Peter. However, it is one extraordinary scene which means she’s tied here. The five minute monologue in which Katalin finally reveals the story behind the crime she’s spent the whole film attempting to avenge is spine tingling stuff. Peter delivers it with a cold, harsh tone, which makes every word, every inflection, hit like a sledgehammer to the chest, even when she stops speaking for a few moments, she draws you right in, making you almost afraid to blink lest you miss something.

James Franco: Milk
Bill Irwin: Rachel Getting Married
Glen Kenney: The Girlfriend Experience
Anthony Mackie: The Hurt Locker
Michael Shannon: Revolutionary Road

WINNER: Michael Shannon
Revolutionary Road is a film about repressed society and the seething underbelly of an outwardly idyllic marriage. Michael Shannon’s intermittent appearances are like an atom bomb going off in the cinema. It’s a big performance, but never an overplayed one and his cruel final line is one of the year’s most indelible cinematic moments.

Amy Adams: Doubt
Rosemarie DeWitt: Rachel Getting Married
Susanne Lothar: The White Ribbon
Amparo Noguera: Tony Manero
Rosamund Pike: An Education

WINNER: Rosemarie De Witt

The unsung star of Rachel Getting Married was Rachel herself. Rosemarie De Witt’s performance is extraordinarily sensitive, and rich in detail. Particularly notable is the dynamic with her screen husband Tunde Adebimpe, the tactile relationship between them always feeling utterly real and unforced, but the moment that puts her here is the heartfelt simplicity with which she delivers Rachel’s wedding vows, which she wrote herself, and that of her stunned silent reaction as Adebimpe delivers his.

An Education
Dear Lemon Lima
Life During Wartime
Rachel Getting Married

WINNER: Dear Lemon Lima

In Dear Lemon Lima debuting director Suzi Yoonessi managed to marshal a large cast, composed mainly of children, and draw intelligent and affecting performances form every one of them. Among the adults a delightfully kooky Beth Grant stands out, while Savaannah Wiltfong delivers a star turn in her debut, but it is Yoonessi’s firm guiding hand that allows the whole ensemble to gel beautifully while being individually outstanding.

Andrea Arnold: Fish Tank
Nick Hornby: An Education
Jenny Lumet: Rachel Getting Married
Scott Neustadter / Michael H. Weber: (500) Days of Summer
Suzi Yoonessi: Dear Lemon Lima

WINNER: Jenny Lumet
There was much improvisation involved in the making of Rachel Getting Married, but that came largely in the manner in which it was shot. Most of the words, despite the naturalistic acting style that suggests improvisation, were in fact tightly scripted by Jenny Lumet. It’s a screenplay that pulses with emotion and with wit, that gives each of its characters a very individual voice, it’s beautifully structured, but most of all, it just feels true. That’s why it wins.

Sasha Grey: The Girlfriend Experience
Tom Hardy: Bronson
Katie Jarvis: Fish Tank
Carey Mulligan: An Education
Michael Shannon: Revolutionary Road

WINNER: Katie Jarvis

It’s a hell of a story; Katie Jarvis was discovered, and asked to audition for the lead role in Fish Tank, when the film’s casting director spotted her at the station, having a blazing public row with her then boyfriend. How close Katie Jarvis is to her Fish Tank character Mia, I don’t know, but in the film it feels as though the two are indivisible. There is a fire to Jarvis’ performance that is rare, an utter conviction to every moment that speaks of an impressive, if very raw, talent. I am expecting big things of her in the next few years.

For the most promising first or second time director
Andrea Arnold: Fish Tank
J. Blakeson: The Disappearance of Alice Creed
Nicolette Krebitz: The Heart is a Dark Forest
Peter Strickland: Katalin Varga
Suzi Yoonessi: Dear Lemon Lima

WINNER: Peter Strickland
Note: Having won Best Director Pascal Laugier was not eligible for this category.
Peter Strickland spent his life savings; a very meagre in film terms £25,000, making Katalin Varga in the Romanian countryside. It could quite easily have ended up looking like it was shot by some bloke with a camcorder, but Strickland’s astonishingly beautiful shot choices, his clever use of natural lighting, his inventive use of both camera and editing, and his richly textured soundtrack make this film look like it was made for a hundred times its budget. He also drew exceptional performances from his Romanian cast and wrote one of the more thought provoking screenplays of the year. This is a deeply unusual debut, and one that marks Strickland as a talent to keep a very close eye on.

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American Teen
The Hurt Locker

WNNER: Dogtooth
Some might find it off putting, because it’s so utterly unlike any other movie poster, but I love this simple, strange image (which is, actually, totally appropriate to the film). It’s so obscure that I found it, from the second I saw it, absolutely fascinating, and I still do.

The children’s performances: Dogtooth
Mia and Connor in the living room: Fish Tank
Katalin’s monologue: Katalin Varga
Wedding vows: Rachel Getting Married
Carl and Ellie montage: Up


The ten minute sequence at the beginning of Up which silently depicts Carl (Ed Asner) and Ellie’s fifty year plus marriage is perhaps the single most moving sequence I’ve seen in a cinema. Both times I saw Up I was in floods of tears during this sequence, and even writing about it now is a bit emotional. Pixar’s wonderful animation tells us in gesture everything we might ever need to know about these two people and how deeply in love they are. In ten minutes we share the joy and the pain of their life together. If you don’t love this sequence then, truly, you have no heart and no soul.

See Bottom 10 post

Antonio Campos: Afterschool
Michael Bay: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Maeve Murphy: Beyond the Fire
Neveldine / Taylor: Crank - High Voltage
Rob Zombie: Halloween II

‘WINNER’: Maeve Murphy
Beyond the Fire demonstrates that Maeve Murphy has the directorial skill of Ed Wood’s talentless cousin. It is perhaps the ugliest, most technically inept, film I’ve had the misfortune to see in a cinema and also happens to feature several performances that couldn’t have been worse had they been given by people pulled off the street at gunpoint. Embarrassing.

Olly Alexander: Tormented / Enter the Void
James Corden / Mat Horne: Lesbian Vampire Killers
Robert Pattinson: New Moon
Hugh Sachs: Beyond the Fire
Jason Statham: Crank - High Voltage

‘WINNER’: Olly Alexander
Olly Alexander can’t say ‘hello’ convincingly on screen. That’s how bad he is at his job. The two films that he has appeared in this year are each titanic achievements in the field of shitty acting, and yet in each he places himself so far below even the abysmally low bar that I wonder if English is in fact his first language (it is, he’s English).

Megan Fox: Jennifer’s Body / Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Katherine Heigl: The Ugly Truth
Stana Katic: The Spirit
Bai Ling: Crank - High Voltage
Kristen Stewart: Adventureland / New Moon

‘WINNER’: Kristen Stewart
Here are a few of the things I’ve said, this year, about Kristen Stewart’s acting. I stand by all of them.
“The two expressions she does have (‘Huh?’ and ‘Can’t act, blinking’) tell us nothing, and the fact that she seems to be afraid of the camera is a real problem.”
“has there ever been a face on screen that seemed less encumbered by thought or emotion?”
“Stewart’s face and voice remain resolutely inexpressive, even when she should be projecting deep, raw, emotion.”
“Next time I see her in a film I’m going to try and count her facial expressions. I wasn’t keeping score this time, but I doubt I’ll run out of fingers when I do.”
“Her main facial expression is a quizzical confusion that caused me to constantly expect her just to shout ‘line’.”
So, yeah, not a fan.


  1. I thought Martyrs was a 2008 film not a 2009 one ...

  2. The UK Cinema release was in March and April this year.

  3. this is a pile of shit list.

  4. Care to elaborate on why this list is 'a pile of shit', Anonymous?

  5. olly alexander is an amazing actor have you seen "enter the void" you idiot?

  6. Yes, I have seen Eneter the Void. The review is here:

  7. Comment pouvez vous aussi mal écrire un article??
    On se demande si vous avez des qualifications cinématographiques!
    Vos interprétations n'apportent rien au monde du cinéma. C'est pourquoi il vaudrait mieux pour vous arrêter d'écrire de tels conneries. On peut se demander si vous avez vu les films que vous critiquez.