Film Honors: 2009

My own personal choices for the year. They reflect not just necessarily what I think is the best or essential cinema, but perhaps resonate with me or inspire, both at the time, and still today. Subject to alter choices if new viewings are worthy enough. Other published Film Honors posts can be found at the menu at the top of the page.

NOTE CATEGORY CHANGES IN 2009 – 4 added: Special Effects; Costume Designing; Set Designing; Sound Designing.


Actor Support

Peter Capaldi (In the Loop)
Zach Galifinakis (The Hangover)
Woody Harrelson (The Messenger)
Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones)
*** Christof Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) ***

Actress Support

Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air)
Diane Kruger (Inglourious Basterds)
*** Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) ***
Mo’Nique (Precious)
Julianne Moore (A Single Man)

The opening sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds introduces us to Colonel Hans Landa, and what followings is one of the most menacing and magnetic exchanges in recent years. Tarantino’s stylized, progressive dialogue is delivered here by Christoph Waltz with genuinely tension-building charisma and terror. We are thankfully invited to experience the “Jew Hunter” many times over in the movie as his bi-lingual charm and casually astute detective work add further elements to cement Waltz’s performance as one of the best of the decade, let alone year. This masterclass in acting speaks far greater than any of my words can muster. His co-star Mélanie Laurent, escapes the Colonel’s sly clutches in that opening and runs for her life. Her character, years later, has changed her name and started a new life. Soshanna is tough, uncompromising, and takes her once in a lifetime chance to exact the most incredible revenge. Laurent is subtle, captivating, ruthless, and always brilliant – the real heart of the picture.

Sound Designing

*** Avatar ***
District 9
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker



*** Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) ***
Neill Blomkamp (District 9)
Tom Ford (A Single Man)
Michael Haneke (Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte)
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)

It took Kathryn Bigelow a hell of a long time to receive the honor of a Best Director Oscar with AMPAS. It was even longer for the entire industry to recognize a woman director at all in such high award esteem. Bigelow has had the reputation of a visionary film-maker for decades, both as a woman, but a director in her own right regardless. Her attention to the craft of intricate and energized big screen vision in The Hurt Locker may well imprint as her very finest work thus far behind the camera in a glowing career. Her execution radiates from beyond the narrative, you feel the shudders of the explosions and the dust in your eyes. The intensity of what dangers and horrors the characters are faced with is also prominent, Bigelow handles this with a grounded realism while hitting home hard the impact of war. History being made with women film-makers, your stance on the politics of war, do not change the fact that this is a memorable accomplishment indeed, expertly delivered.

Costume Designing

Coco avant Chanel
Sherlock Holmes
Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte
*** The Young Victoria ***

Set Designing

Inglourious Basterds
*** Sherlock Holmes ***
Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte
The Young Victoria


Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker)
*** Christian Berger (Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) ***
Eduard Grau (A Single Man)
Andrew Lesnie (The Lovely Bones)
Robert Richardson (Inglourious Basterds)

As extremely good a cinematographer as Christian Berger is, when you look at his other accomplished work with director Michael Haneke it does in no way prepare you for the wonder of Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon). Not only am I flattering Berger for his quality, but also waving a huge victory flag at his apparent range shown with his imitation of natural lighting and scope of vivid landscaping. The ultimate brilliance here is how the audience get swept up by the visual, crystal clear black and white beauty Berger has perfectly framed, while witnessing the morbid brutality and ambiguous narrative on screen. Reminiscent of a pencil-drawn folk tale perhaps amidst the Nazi regime, Berger does well to feed your eyes with such gorgeous images, executing wondrous light over a very dark film.

Picture Editing

*** The Hurt Locker ***
Inglourious Basterds
Sherlock Holmes

Cast Ensemble

*** Fantastic Mr. Fox ***
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
In the Loop
Inglourious Basterds
Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte

Score Composing

Alexandre Desplat (Fantastic Mr. Fox)
Jason Swinscoe and Dominic Smith (The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos)
James Horner (Avatar)
*** Abel Korzeniowski, Shigeru Umebayashi (A Single Man) ***
Hans Zimmer (Sherlock Holmes)

Similar to its immaculate era setting and breath-taking cinematography of A Single Man, the combined film score by Abel Korzeniowski and Shigeru Umebayashi is in pure, exquisite classic territory. Harmonizing perfectly with the central struggles and desires of George, this composition is not only a companion to the narrative, but also echoes the character’s journey. Tradition violin and strings used here to unavoidably emotive results, often simple, somber, intimate, and beautiful. Each piece of music is brimming with allure and passion, and trust me it does not lose its affection on repeated listens. Not many scores achieve so much with such minimalism – and you don’t want it to be anything more. I cannot pick a favorite moment from this, it changes every time I hear it, and you’ll be hearing it long after, though Clock Tick, used in the phenomenal trailer, is particularly magnificent.

Actor Lead

Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
George Clooney (Up in the Air)
*** Colin Firth (A Single Man) ***
Joseph Gordon Levitt ((500) Days of Summer)
Tom Hardy (Bronson)


Actress Lead

Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
*** Katie Jarvis (Fish Tank) ***
Carey Mulligan (An Education)
Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

Colin Firth would win his Oscar a year later for The King’s Speech, but you can’t help wonder, if you are anything like me, whether that win has some momentum following his possibly career-best turn in A Single Man. Heat-renderingly good is Firth, portraying a grieving gay man with such sensitivity, and a depth of strength. His character is brought to life the moment he is introduced to us

The breakthrough performance from Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold offers such a gritty, realistic social landscape. So inhabited in the role of a troubled teenage girl with such tenacity, she chews up every scene. Hard-hitting, fuck-the-world teenagers generally have a sour reputation in our lives as menaces to society, and although Mia may fall into that misunderstood pocket, Jarvis turns the perception inside out. She rejects the outside world to a large extent, almost lamenting the very social group she is part of, all the while dancing privately, demonstrating an emotive sense of longing.

Screenwriting Adapted

Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach (Fantastic Mr. Fox)
*** Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche (In the Loop) ***
Tom Ford, David Scearce (A Single Man)
Rasmus Heisterberg, Nikolaj Arcel (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Nick Hornby (An Education)

Screenwriting Original

Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker)
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy (Up)
Michael Haneke (Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte)
*** Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber ((500) Days of Summer) ***
Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds)

Spinning right off the hugely successful BBC satire The Thick of It, the astute In the Loop jumps straight into the serious issues and relationship between English and American politics – but this is essentially a comedy. The powers that be, the decision-makers, are made a mockery of here as the writers expertly exploit the comedy-of-errors driven by such government actions. The dialogue in particular packs a huge punch, crammed with observations, foul-mouthed rants, and flat out hilarious insults. The film is a feast in particular for Malcolm Tucker’s ferociousness – Peter Capaldi is on fire here. And although never quite juvenile, but always somehow smart, you find yourself wondering if these kind of crass exchanges do go on behind closed doors. We are so compelled by the words on screen, as well as the thin-veil of seriousness with which we may take certain political escapades, you want to believe it is so.

And here is another humorous take on a weighty issue – love this time. This time writers Neustadter and Weber pick the bones out of love, what is feels like, what it does, and where it leaves you. Both Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) appear to have concrete notions on the grand emotion of love, the crucial dilemma and plot-changer here is of course that their viewpoints significantly vary. The screenplay is a real treat, refreshingly scoping the landscape of love and all it’s glory and fall-out, but also delivering genuinely funny moments through both dialogue and some inventive visual story-telling. (500) Days of Summer does not tell us any lies either, narratively structured like those blossoming, but broken relationships, there are ups and downs, there are laughs and fights, crying and cuddles. In it’s light-hearted dissection of love it all feels real, by the end leaving a somehow satisfying aura of sensibility.

Special Effects

*** Avatar ***
District 9
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Star Trek


Motion Picture

(500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb)
A Single Man (Tom Ford)
An Education (Lone Scherfig)
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold)
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
Inglourious Basterds (Quentn Tarantino)
Up (Pete Docter, Bob Peterson)
*** Das weiße Band – Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (Micheal Haneke) ***

Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte translates to inform us that The White Ribbon, immaculately directed by the compulsively brilliant Michael Haneke, is a German children’s story. The actual action in this Palme d’Or winner is rather effectively sedate and eerie, but as finely crafted story-telling goes, this is hardly a drag at all. Focusing on some sinister children and passive adults, trying to keep control and maintain order, while all manner of mysterious events frequent a pre-World War I German village. It is an idyllic setting, but a rather enigmatic, disrupted little society. There’s relief in the love story between the school teacher and Eva, and a graceful, crisp black and white cinematography from Christian Berger, but this in all remains a very dark, very consuming fable. I think I used the word masterpiece when I saw it for the first time, and I don’t throw that term around very often at all – let alone on first viewing.



3 responses to “Film Honors: 2009

  1. Pingback: Review: Nocturnal Animals | Write out of L.A.·

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