The Best Independent / International Films of 2009

by PopMatters Staff

7 January 2010


10 - 6


cover art

Afghan Star

Director: Havana Marking
Cast: Daoud Sediqi, Rafi Naabzada, Lema Sahar, Hameed Sakhizada, Setara Hussainzada
Review [12.Apr.2010]
Review [25.Jun.2009]


Afghan Star
Havana Marking

In a particularly rich year for nonfiction film, Havana Marking’s powerful Afghan Star stood out for a number of reasons. The documentary refused (unlike so many of its well-meaning brethren) to patronize in any way its subjects, the contestants in an American Idol-type music competition reality show broadcast from Kabul. Also, in a media environment where Afghanistan is only allowed to make the news when something explodes, the film stands out by showcasing people who aren’t interested in sectarian conflict or vendettas; they just want to rally support for their favorite singer. Given that one of the show’s finalists is ultimately subjected to death threats for having the temerity to dance unveiled while singing, a texted vote for a reality-show performer becomes something much more potent and brave. Chris Barsanti



cover art

Flame & Citron

Director: Ole Christian Madsen
Cast: Thure Lindhardt, Mads Mikkelsen, Stine Stengade, Peter Mygind, Mille Lehfeldt, Christian Berkel


Flame & Citron
Ole Christian Madsen

War is a dirty business and seldom has that fact been more clearly portrayed on screen than in Ole Christian Madsen’s Flame and Citron based on the true story of two Danish resistance fighters during World War II. Flame (Thure Lindhardt) and Citron (Mads Mikkelsen) risk their lives daily while executing Danish Nazi collaborators so they could be presented as uncomplicated heroes serving the most righteous of causes. But that wouldn’t be half so interesting as Madsen’s noirish approach which displays their imperfections as well as their courage while also letting us experience some of the ambiguities they faced in an occupied country where it was not always clear who to trust and who to kill. Sarah Boslaugh



cover art

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Noah Cyrus, Matt Damon, Frankie Jonas, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson


Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea
Hayao Miyazaki

Ponyo is gorgeous, the lost art of hand drawn animation accelerated through a whirlwind vision of ecology trumped by man’s careless need for comfort. It’s a sly bit of preaching, letting images evoke the kind of emotional reactions that scientific hypotheses and philosophical rants typically produce. By using Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid as an obvious jumping off point, and instilling the narrative with a grandeur for all things ancient and mythic, director Miyazaki reconfigures folklore for those who might not see the otherwise hidden agenda. By focusing on Ponyo’s desire to be human, by showing how that “selfish” act affects the entire ocean population, the movie mirrors the currently contemporary mindset. No matter how precious we think our environment is, we seem willing to undermine it for our own personal aims. Bill Gibron



cover art

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis Hall, Shawn Hatosy, Xzibit, Brad Dourif
Review [23.Nov.2009]


Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Werner Herzog

In a year filled with audacity (Antichrist, Inglourious Basterds), nothing is cheekier and as out and out ballsy as The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans. This is creativity as confrontation, expectations challenged and then shattered by one of the last true artists left in the field of filmmaking. Sure, it all seems funny and insincere, a joke on the audience where everyone in the cast and crew is bastardizing their own insular take on the material for the sake of a grander illusion. But dismissing the movie in that way underestimates Herzog’s power as a provocateur. He is not out to serve some commercial conceit, or waste his time playing around with some actors and a camera. This is serious business to him, and at its core, Bad Lieutenant is a serious film. And a great one.  Bill Gibron



cover art

The Hurt Locker

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Cast: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Guy Pearce, Brian Geraghty
Review [10.Jul.2009]


The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow

The Hurt Locker is a compulsively watchable, spellbinding war film by Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter, Mark Boal, who penned the brilliant In the Valley of Elah and worked with a bomb squad in Iraq. The tension and the suspense of the film revolve around the psychological battle that goes on between insurgent bomb makers and the young staff sargeant who defuses those bombs. In the role of Staff Sgt. William James, Jeremy Renner, has an amazing degree of raw authenticity—as if James was a kid from the country who developed his focus on video games, who enlisted because of an instinctive need to make his parents proud and to be useful, and who somehow derives an unparalleled thrill, or rush of excitement, from putting himself in harm’s way, and surviving. Fittingly, the opening titles of the film, begin with the statement, “War is a drug.” Farisa Khalid


We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media


TIFF 2017: 'The Shape of Water'

// Notes from the Road

"The Shape of Water comes off as uninformed political correctness, which is more detrimental to its cause than it is progressive.

READ the article