The decade isn’t really over yet: there was no “year zero,” which means that the year 2000 was the two-thousandth year of its calendar, and that this year is the 2010th, the last of the third millennium’s first decade, not the first of its second. But I’ve seen so many “ten best films of the decade” lists already (thanks partly to the last issue of Film Comment, which has over a hundred of them), that I feel helplessly encouraged to throw together my own.
But first, as we wind our way to the Oscars, for what it’s worth, here are my five favorite films of 2009. (There are only so many great movies made in a year, o Academy Award givers.)
1. The White Ribbon (dir. by Michael Haneke, Germany/Austria)
2. A Single Man (Tom Ford, USA)
3. A Serious Man (Ethan and Joel Coen, USA)
4. Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani, USA)
5. Coraline (Henry Selick, USA)
The White Ribbon is a brilliantly cast, acted, photographed, and paced dissection of the social fabric of a pre-WW1 Protestant German village. But it’s also about the ecology of authority and social control that, in different permutations, underlies any social order — and about the impossibility of coming to know that ecology without a gap or question mark at the heart of the inquiry, that gap here represented by the teacher who is the not-fully-reliable narrator recounting the events years later. And while it largely conforms to Haneke’s grim, cerebral and joylessly clinical vision of humanity, there are moments of compassion and tenderness that transcend that – which is something I don’t remember from his previous films, though it’s possible I’ll forget what they were here as well. (As an antidote to that vision, I recommend seeing The Last Station, if only because that film’s Slavic anarchist earthiness does provide a feel for a possible alternative to repressed, authoritarian pre-war Germany.)