Thursday, December 31, 2009

Top 10 of 2009

It's time for that annual ritual of putting out the best-of lists, and a pattern can be spotted each year with the films that make it to mine. This year though it's the rather unfortunate predominance of Death as a theme or a backdrop, and it's no wonder though that it had somewhat lent its invisible hand in the shortlist and eventual whittling down a list of at least 50 to the top 10. Here goes...

10. The Blue Mansion
Glen Goei's return to the cinema, The Blue Mansion is probably the most expensive local film ever made to date, only to be shot predominantly up north in Penang's UNESCO heritage site, the Cheong Fatt Sze Mansion. But that doesn't delineate the film from its Singapore roots, given its parallels that can be seen from characters, moods and the issues brought up. It's a Singapore film at its best, with veteran thespians from both sides of the Causeway showcasing their acting talents boosted by top class production values. More from Glen Goei, please.

9. Up
If the first 10 minutes doesn't move you to tears, then you have a certified heart of stone. I cannot recall a film that sucker punches you at an emotional level, like how Up managed to. A reminder that we should live life to its fullest and to continuously create our own adventures. It takes a lot of guts to have a senior citizen anchor a children's film, but Up has proven that it has appeal for all ages.

8. 3 Idiots
To learn and acquire knowledge, not just for the sake of passing exams. This Bollywood film starring one of the Khans, Aamir Khan, tells the story of a group of varsity friends who get influenced by the live-wire of the trio, with all the ingredients that make that perfect masala movie. Containing deep themes of friendship and learning balanced with crowd pleasing entertainment that only a Bollywood film can offer, Aal Izz Well for this film.

7. Talentime
Yasmin Ahmad's final feature film, it has all the hallmarks of the sentimental director in tackling race and religious issues without shoveling them down your throat. With a mixture of fresh faces and the usual suspects in its casting, Talentime will make you laugh and cry at the same time, where the multi-racial school serves as an analogy for the society that we live in, that tolerance and appreciation of our differences were always meant to be celebrated, never scorned at or looked down upon.

6. City of Life and Death (南京! 南京!)
There are a number of Nanking themed films out there, but Lu Chuan's version provides that comprehensive look at the atrocities that were reportedly committed, and provided a stark unflinching portrayal of those horrors, having in place an iconic scene involving a baby that will definitely shock you to the core. The excellent capturing of Fear through mood and countless of facial close-ups make this compelling viewing.

5. The Hurt Locker
A war film like none other, Kathryn Bigelow dispenses with the usual routine red-blue wire bomb nonsense, and crafts a film that deals with the addiction of war amongst its combatants. It's edge-of-your-seat stuff gripping from the get go, with ace performances and chemistry shared between leads Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. joined by a host of notable cameos.

4. District 9
Science fiction has a new classic, and it took a rookie feature filmmaker to breathe freshness into the genre with a tale that entertains and puts you deep in thought about the negativity in humanity's flaws, tackling larger issues such as discrimination. But that doesn't mean that it lacked some eye-popping action sequences when the narrative called for it, with some of the most inventive battles ever seen in a life-action film involving humans, aliens, and mechas too!

3. Departures (Okuribito)
The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, this film is achingly beautiful, about a man finally finding his calling in life, only to be shunned by his wife for being in a taboo profession. Wonderful characterization, and a fantastic insight into a rarely seen ritual that honours the dearly departed.

2. Sell Out!
Multi-talented Malaysian filmmaker Yeo Joon Han wore plenty of hats here in order to make his debut feature film, a musical comedy that has one of the most rip-roaring opening sequences I've experienced in a long time. Its brand of humour is broad, from slapstick "mo-lei-tau" to witty dialogue, and there's never a dull moment in this film that has so much going for it that it begs for multiple viewings to catch all the visual gags and easter eggs contained within. A definite delight

1. (500) Days of Summer
It's still quite a painful film to sit through, for me at least, not that it was badly made, but because it cut extremely close to the heart. A love story that wasn't, and one that had its chance whittle away long before it even began. One simple line was all it took about the inability to feel for someone the same way every morning, to hit the nail squarely on the head with its brutal, honest take on relationships that don't work out.

I can only select 10 to highlight, but there are definitely a lot more from the more than 250 films theatrically screened this year that deserves an honourable mention, in alphabetical order and no other particular order:

An Education
Blood Ties (還魂)
Climber's High (Kuraimâzu Hai)
The Cove
Crank: High Voltage
I Love You, Man
If You Are The One (非诚勿扰)
Kabei Our Mother (Kaabee)
Luck By Chance
Nobody to Watch Over Me (Dare Mo Mamotte Kurenai)
Overheard (竊聽風雲)
Personal Effects
Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year
Star Trek
State of Play

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