As 2009 comes to a close, we asked Bernardo Rondeau to give us a rundown of his ten (plus) favorite films of the year.
1. Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto (Miguel Gomes)
Plastered wall-to-wall with tunes of transcendental schmaltz, cast with cranky crew members and awkward locals, and filmed with improbable grace, this is meta-cinema of casual monumentality.
2. Police, Adjective (Cornelio Porumbei)
As stripped down as Gomes's film is overabundant, Porumbei's mordant procedural is equally plentiful. In our era of semiotic subterfuge, this film has stick-figure clarity.
3. City of Life and Death (Chuan Lu)
Forget Haneke and Hillcoat, this year's most harrowing motion picture was Chan Lu's devastating Nanking panorama.
4. Ne Change Rien (Pedro Costa)
The year's best materialist, Nick-Ray-via-Straub-Huillet musical.
5. Petition (Zhao Liang)
Shot secretly over a decade, in shades of grime and smudged grays, another startling report from China on the expansive other side of modernity.
6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
Anderson's diorama universe has never been more precisely appointed, but the quicksilver formalism and Hawksian rapport keep away any mold.
7. What Happened on 23rd Street in 1901 and Jonas Mekas in Kodachrome Days (Ken Jacobs)
Two time-machine wunderkammers that cost one millisecond of Avatar's screen time (and require no eyewear to realize their special effects). In the first, a glimpse of the swarming, impossibly kinetic and brand-new twentieth century is recomposed into a lucid and often hilarious study of the optical unconsciousness; in the other, we're at the halfway mark as underground film's fountainhead strobes and shimmers in eternal youth.
8. The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch)
Isaach De Bankolé is Jarmusch's Delon. Probably the year's most misunderstood film, Jarmusch's saga may be the truly Tarkovskyian feature in anno-Antichrist. Its Meville-stately cool aside, it offers a fully inhabitable world of free-associative enigmas.
9. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) and Still Walking (Hirokazu Koreeda)
Secrets, lies, and other domestic ghosts, all through quietly majestic mise-en-scène.
10. Night and Day and Like You Know It All (Hong Sang-soo)
The long and short of it, as Hong stretches out and contracts, on a newly cosmic scale.
And special mentions to The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow) and Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino): A pair of steadfastly schematic films with towering performances—Jeremy Renner is as dialed down and distressingly withdrawn as Christoph Waltz is pathologically showy and diabolically charismatic—and self-destructive macho spectacles both. Plus, Encarnação do Demônio (José Mojica Marins): Brazilian cinema's Gran Torino, in which Mojica Marins sends off the country's gonzo boogie man—and his onscreen alter ego—with a fitting blast of baroque vulgarity.