One of the many things I like about this time of year is the 'best of....' lists that start appearing about now. I haven't quite worked out what the fascination of such lists is - I can become absorbed in lists of favourite things about which I know nothing, but I particularly love lists about things where I know enough to at least have an opinion.
A unexpected benefit of keeping a blog has been recording in a side-bar the films I've seen over the last year. So, for the first time in my life I actually know what films I've seen (admittedly I did have to look up a couple of them as the titles no longer meant anything to me).
Before I list my five best films for 2009 this is a bit of background about my film viewing habits. I don't watch films at home on DVD. When I've tried to do this I find I get distracted and don't really focus on the film. I like to watch films in the cinema - in the dark, surrounded by sound, and on the big screen.
And perhaps I should give some background statistics for my rather odd list. I've seen 60 films in 2009. That's 1.2 films a week. Of these, 24 were American films, 12 from the UK, 12 from Australia, and nineteen from other countries - all non-English language films. There's a bit of double-counting here as some films were co-productions across countries. I'm astonished at how many of the films I saw were from the USA, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised as it simply reflects the dominance of the US film industry.
So, ta-da! In order of preference, my five best films of 2009.
1 Samson and Delilah. This is an Australian film about a two Indigenous teenagers in Central Australia. It's a love story, and it's a bleak survival story. Some critics have said there's hopefulness at the end of the film, but I think that's clutching at straws. It's superbly filmed, convincingly acted and edited to perfection. It's harrowing to watch, and every moment rings true.
I'm in good company with this choice as it's just been judged best Australian film for 2009 by the Australian Film Industry (AFI) awards and will be Australia's official entry in the best foreign language film for the Oscars. The film is notable for its sparse dialogue, but what little there is, is in Warlpiri. There's a good review (ie one with which I agree) here.
2 Disgrace. Another Australian film, but set in South Africa and faithfully taken from JM Coetzee's great novel of the same name. It features a chillingly true performance from John Malkovich and works both at the level of telling an emotionally shocking story about personal relationships and at the metaphorical level of a portrayal of the race dilemmas of modern South Africa.
3 Wake in Fright. Yet another Australian film - a new print of a film made in 1971. I remember seeing this film in 1971 and being shocked by a most recognisable portrayal of a violent, racist, misogynistic, achingly lonely, rural Australia. It still has the power to shock and has great value both as a depiction of a moment in our history, but also as an indicator of where many present values and practices have their derivation.
4 Revolution Road Finally, not an Australian film, but a film produced from the UK and set in the USA. A film about marriage and women's roles in increasingly affluent 1950s America. Brilliant script, movingly wonderful acting from Kate Winslett.
5 Genova. I don't think many critics would agree with me on this one. It's a film about grief and dealing with loss and about parental roles and relationships with children. Again, for me, a perfect script, with just enough said and left unsaid. I was on the edge of my seat for the whole film, willing that grief would not lead to disaster.
I'm rather surprised that my three best movies have all come out of Australia and are all, to some extent, films about race relations. Taken overall, these films are rather a grim lot, aren't they? However, if I'm going to take the trouble of going to the movies, I like to be well-rewarded for my time spent. I like film-makers who respect their audience and who believe there are tales worth telling.
I'd love to see other people's choices.