The Best Independent / International Films of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

7 January 2010


15 - 11


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Of Time and the City

Director: Terence Davies
Cast: Various
Review [30.Jan.2009]


Of Time and the City
Terence Davies

Documentaries don’t come more personal than Of Time and the City, Terence Davies’ evocative memory piece about his childhood in Liverpool. Constructed primarily from newsreel footage, archival photos and well-chosen musical and poetic excerpts, the film is held together by Davies’ voiceover narration which both condemns and celebrates the world of his childhood. Yes there were endless hours wasted in prayer, absurd veneration of the monarchy (he refers to Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as “The Betty Windsor Show”) but these were counterbalanced by hours spent in the cinema “gorging myself with a frequency which would shame a sinner.” Sarah Boslaugh



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Broken Embraces

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, Rossy de Palma, Rubén Ochandiano, Carlos Leal, Lola Dueñas, Ángela Molina, José Luis Gómez, Tamar Novas
Review [28.Mar.2010]


Broken Embraces
Pedro Almodóvar

Gorgeous, hypnotic, and unsettling. A movie about a erotic obsession along the lines of Vertigo. Together Almodóvar and Penelope Cruz have made some of greatest, most intoxicating films to come out of Spain: Live Flesh, All About My Mother, Volver, and now this magnum opus. The elegant Luis Holmar (he played Natalie Portman’s father in Goya’s Ghosts) is the blind former film director Harry Caine. Trying to come to grips with his blindness, he remembers his last great film and his affair with his producer’s mistress (Cruz). The affair, like in all potboiling melodramas, lead to devastating consequences, but how Almodóvar reveals the story, through both the seductive, saturated colors of old Hollywood films and the grainy, bleak gaze of a hand-held camera, plays into our voyeuristic fantasies of love and the movies. Farisa Khalid



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Red Cliff

Director: John Woo
Cast: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhang Fengyi, Chang Chen, Zhao Wei, Hu Jun, Nakamura Shidō II, Lin Chi-ling, You Yong
Review [21.Mar.2010]


Red Cliff
John Woo

After more than a decade of largely mediocre Hollywood movies, director John Woo returned to his native China to create the historical action epic Red Cliff. It turns out you can go home again, because Red Cliff is a film that recalls the verve and excitement of classic Woo movies like The Killer and Hard-Boiled. And yet, with no guns at his disposal, the story forces Woo to find new ways to present the action. Red Cliff is concerned with the strategies of the opposing armies as much as the battles themselves, which makes the audience aware of the tactics as they happen. This allows us to know what’s going on even as massive action sequences fill the screen. Woo strikes a tone that is grittier and less fantastic than other recent Chinese “wuxia” films like House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and this makes Red Cliff stand apart. With crackerjack performances from reliable Asian stars Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung, the film works as both a dramatic story and an action spectacle. Originally split into two movies of over two hours apiece, the truncated two-and-a-half hour North American cut is still worth watching on the big screen if you get the chance. Chris Conaton



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Bright Star

Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Ben Whishaw, Paul Schneider, Kerry Fox
Review [27.Jan.2010]
Review [25.Sep.2009]


Bright Star
Jane Campion

Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish are affecting as the young John Keats and Fanny Brawne, so enamored of each other, but held at a distance because of Victorian convention and mores. Their courtship is reminiscent of some of Keats’ finest verse—the agonizing anticipation of lovers on the brink of consummation, but somehow kept apart. Jane Campion’s has a canny ability to capture the suppressed passion of lovers in the late 19th century (as she did in The Piano). Farisa Khalid



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Director: Duncan Jones
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kaya Scodelario, Dominique McElligott, Kevin Spacey
Review [18.Jan.2010]
Review [9.Jul.2009]


Duncan Jones

Moon was arguably 2009’s most overlooked film, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and delivering a small but intensely atmospheric sci-fi picture with resourceful use of its $5 million budget. Sam Rockwell gives a tour de force performance as the solitary and neurotic Sam Bell, while director Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) jumps outside his father’s shadow with a breakthrough feature film that suggests a very bright future ahead of him. With themes of alienation, corporate accountability, and individual rights, Moon is exactly the type of film sci-fi aficionados can appreciate, as it outclasses, outpaces, and outshines the usual space epics that put emphasis on special effects rather than an engrossing narrative. It’s just a shame that both the film and Rockwell’s prodigious performance have been underappreciated by critics and audiences, but don’t be surprised if this claustrophobic mind-blower becomes a cult classic in the upcoming years. Cyrus Fard


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