Year-end best list of the year-end best lists
As 2009 ticks down to its final hours, the online community is fairly thick with critics of all stripes posting their year-end best lists. Most are admirable efforts with a tendency to tread the same ground, with a few variants to the left or right of field. Ben Mankiewicz's list for The Huffington Post is a good indicator of the direction of most lists -- the expected critical favorites ("The Hurt Locker," "Up in the Air"), an indie or two ("Sin Nombre" tops his 11 Best), and a curve ball of eyebrow-raising proportions ("I Love You Man"...?). A leisurely stroll through a Google search for "2009 Best of" will yield a sizable and similar crop.
So it's always a pleasure to see a critic go out on a limb in his or her year-end tally. The septet of reviewers for Slant Magazine stand behind some genuinely offbeat choices -- their master list names Claire Denis' "35 Shots of Rum" as the top picture of 2009, while "The Hurt Locker" lingers back around No. 10, only 14 ahead of the critically reviled box-office flop "The Box." Elsewhere, the individual reviewers throw their weight behind everything from James Gray's "Two Lovers," which was largely forgotten in the wake of star Joaquin Phoenix's eccentric pantomimes for the media; Ti West's extraordinary chiller "House of the Devil" (good luck finding that on ANY top 10 lists this month) and (good Lord! choke) even Rob Zombie's "Halloween II."
The consistent adventurous nature of their list is nothing short of admirable in its willingness to stand behind some deeply contestable selections.
I also like the Top 10 from David Edelstein of New York Magazine -- his selection finds room for blockbusters ("Avatar"), indies ("In the Loop"), sleepers ("Coraline" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox") and art-house ("Everlasting Moments") alike -- even his ringer ("Brothers") is worth a look-see. And I've already mentioned John Waters' delirious Top 10 on Artforum on this blog; any list that includes "Bruno," "Antichrist" and "World's Greatest Dad" is worth a second read. Most of all, though, I like Jonathan Rosenbaum's post of the lifetime favorites from groundbreaking critic Robin Wood, who passed away on Dec. 18. Wood's list, full of classics, obsessions and oddities -- everything from "Rio Bravo" and "Tokyo Story" to the Robert Mitchum noir "Angel Face" -- is the stuff of a life spent at the movies, and a vision that exceeded the limits of Top 10 lists, year-end rundowns, and film criticism as a whole.
-- Paul Gaita
Photo: "35 Shots of Rum." Credit: Soudaine Compagnie