Top Ten 2009

1. The White Ribbon
2. A Prophet
3. White Material
4. Mother
5. Spring Fever
6. Fish Tank
7. Bright Star
8. Wild Grass
9. The Time That Remains
10. In The Loop


A lifetime of performances, some of them truly great, was definitely the foundation upon which Jeff Bridges rode his role of Crazy Heart to trophy success, but even if he hadn’t, the performance would have stood on its own. Essentially a retelling of Tender Mercies (with Duvall thrown in for good measure), it observes a broken-down has-been country singer desperate to put his life back together again. Despite a doggedly familiar plot, Bridges manages to make the experience feel fresh and his charisma, not to mention the film’s wonderful soundtrack, really make it zing.

Honour Roll: George Clooney, Up In The Air; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Viggo Mortensen, The Road; Tahar Rahim, A Prophet


My favourite performance of this year was the juicy work done by a wonderfully hysterical Helen Mirren as Tolstoy’s wife in The Last Station. It’s a beautifully romantic tale about the last days of the great Russian novelist, with him the peaceful intellectual trying to make everyone happy while she, always at her wit’s end, is constantly trying to prevent him from being taken advantage of by his minions. Mirren proves that she is just as great in chewing scenery as she is at dampening it down when playing royalty.

Honour Roll: Isabelle Huppert, White Material; Hya-ja Kim, Mother; Carey Mulligan,An Education; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia


Austrian actor Christoph Waltz deservedly became an overnight sensation after his eccentric performance as a gleefully sadistic Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s uneven Inglourious Basterds earned him a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The actor went on to further accolades and an undisputed Academy Award for the role and it is very easy to see why; the rest of the film goes back and forth in tone and style, some sequences brilliant and others ridiculously forgettable, but Waltz provides the film’s strongest signs of life and class. He smoothly speaks four languages and walks around the entire enterprise as if he is personally in charge of all of Europe.

Honour Roll: Niels Arestrup, A Prophet; Peter Capaldi, In The Loop; Woody Harrelson, The Messenger; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station


Another wildly overrated film is the sometimes impressive but otherwise dull Precious: Based On The Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire.  Its main story, about a put-upon young woman trying to get beyond the confines of her spectacularly bad home life, is often painted with broad strokes thanks to a colourless performance in the lead by Gabourey Siddibe, but the film gets a new life whenever comedienne Mo’Nique, as her monstrously selfish mother, is on screen. It’s a mediocre film that wisely ends with its best sequence; when Mo’Nique squares off with a surprisingly effective Mariah Carey and lays out her reasons for behaving the way she does, it is astounding how terrorizing and sympathetic she is at the same time.

Honour Roll: Marion Cotillard, Nine; Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds; Julianne Moore, A Single Man; Kristin Scott Thomas,Nowhere Boy


Gone are the days of terrifying images, shocking situations and evil intentions; Michael Haneke has gone deep within the soul and, while Cache is still my favourite of his films, The White Ribbon is quite possibly his most solid and assured work. It tells of a range of characters living in a German village just before World War I whose secrets, lies and obsessions have them feeding off each other’s fears and insecurities, almost as if they are desperately trying to resist the world to come. Christian Berger’s haunting black and white photography only lends more soul to an unforgettable experience.

Honour Roll:  Jacques Audiard, A Prophet; Claire Denis, White Material; Elia Suleiman, The Time That Remains; Ye Lou, Spring Fever