At the beginning of 2009 I was going to write a piece about how cinema might change now that Barack Obama was president. Hollywood had to endure eight years of, lets face it, a president they hated. Now that we had a president that the liberals in Hollywood actually endorsed would cinema change?
During the Bush administration Hollywood started to take jabs at the president, especially after the Iraq war. First it started off as documentaries. The biggest one being Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004), perhaps my favorite of his. But then Hollywood started to notice, hey, wait a minute, this political stuff is catching on, lets get in on the bandwagon. And soon feature films started to tackle political issues; Brian De Palma's "Redacted" (2007), "Rendition" (2007), George Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck" (2005) and "Syriana" (2005). But now that Bush was no longer president, would Hollywood change with the times and stop the political films?
The answer it turned out is no. Cinema hasn't changed much. Hollywood is still pretty political but, I couldn't help but feel was fighting old battles. A lot of films this year seemed to be aimed at the Bush administration and its policies. Hollywood, of course, hates to kill off a good villain (Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger, President Bush) and so they keep going to the well over and over again. If Bush were still president, people would say "The Hurt Locker" (2009) is a criticism of his Iraq war. If Bush were still president, "Avatar" (2009) would be seen as an indictment of his environmental policy. And in many ways it is.
And that sort of describes the films of 2009. They were largely in the past. Fighting old battles. Many of the films on my list fit that description. Steve McQueen's "Hunger" (2009) deals with the conflict between the IRA and the British government in the 80s, the Israeli animated film, "Waltz With Bashir" (2009) deals with the conflict between Israel and Lebanon in the 80s. The charming "The Last Station" (2009) takes us even further back, to Tolstoy's final year and a government movement. Not to mention the German film "A Woman in Berlin" (2009) which deals with WW2.
There is also a sense of identity lurking in these films. Characters trying to break out. Take a stand. Move forward. Again in "Hunger" the characters are taking an active political stand. They demand certain rights. In "Up in the Air" (2009) a man learns the error of his ways and what makes life important. The word "home" takes on a new meaning for him. In "Me & Orson Welles" (2009) a young man thinks he knows what he wants out of life, to be a star. But after meeting Orson Welles, he changes his mind.
And that sort of describes this country, doesn't it? Fighting old battles. Exactly how many years have we been discussing health care? Since Nixon? Obama is the new kid on the block with a bit of an identity crisis. Who is he? Where does he stand? Is he too liberal? Movies generally reflect their environment. They are a depiction of the world we live in. According to 2009, things aren't looking too good.
Here are my choices for the best films of 2009!
1. HUNGER (2009 Dir. Steve McQueen, UK/Ireland)
2. ME & ORSON WELLES (2009 Dir. Richard Linklater, U.S.)
3. UP IN THE AIR (2009 Dir. Jason Reitman, U.S.)
4. A WOMAN IN BERLIN (2009 Dir. Max Farberbock, Germany)
5. THE LAST STATION (2009 Dir. Michael Hoffman U.S.)
6. (TIE) THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2009 Dir. Andre Techine, France) / ADORATION (2009 Dir. Atom Egoyan, Canada)
7. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009 Dir. Robert Zemeckis, U.S.)
8. THE CLASS (2009 Dir. Laurent Cantet, France)
9. JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY (2009 Dir. Ole Bornedal, Denmark)
10. WALTZ WITH BASHIR (2009 Dir. Ari Folman, Israel)