PRINT December 2009

Film: Best of 2009

James Quandt


1 Wilhelm Noack oHG (Simon Starling) Metacinema machine to end all others: a projector whose celluloid elaborately loops into a helical, neo-Tatlin sculpture while its film presents a record of the mechanism’s fabrication in a Berlin metalworks associated with both the Bauhaus and the Third Reich. Ideal companions: Rodney Graham’s Rheinmetall/Victoria 8, 2003; Moholy-Nagy’s Lichtspiel Schwarz-Weiss-Grau (Lightplay Black, White, Gray, 1930).

2 Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu) A Romanian police procedural, edited so precisely it seems determinist, becomes a dialectical study in ethics and etymology. Not since the misspelled word in Tarkovsky’s Mirror have semantic matters seemed so consequential.

3 To Die like a Man (João Pedro Rodrigues) The carmine-colored pastorale—moon magic and Baby Dee!—at the heart of Rodrigues’s tranny tragedy best conjures its transcendent excess, situated somewhere between Werner Schroeter’s Death of Maria Malibran (1972) and Fassbinder’s In a Year of 13 Moons (1978).

4 The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke) Black-and-white becomes obsidian-and-ash in Haneke’s savage anti-Heimat film about sexual and class malice in a German village just before the First World War.

5 Giardini (Steve McQueen) Traduced as obvious and “phoned-in,” but much the opposite: an isola of aesthetic intentness in a wan and soukish Venice Biennale.

6 Like You Know It All (Hong Sang-soo) The Korean auteur’s return to home ground—after the excursion to Paris and away from his trademark twice-told tales in Night and Day—may appear retrograde, but it hardly matters. Hong’s self-excoriation has rarely seemed so witty, so lightly worn.

7 In Comparison (Harun Farocki) Bodies and bricks provide the building blocks for Farocki’s far-ranging essay—part industrial process film, part examination of the rhythms of production, the social relations entailed in work, and the inevitable analogies between making bricks and making images, between mortar and montage.

8 Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira) At first glance, Eccentricities is all delicacy and evanescence, with its slight running time and weightless digital imagery, the fetishized feathers on the eponymous girl’s fan, her discreet light-fingeredness. But the film reveals itself to be as grave and lapidary as any of the century-old Portuguese master’s epics of doomed love.

9 Track of the Cat (William Wellman) The highlight of this year’s Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Wellman’s legendary 1954 family psychodrama relies on formal paradox—shot in wide-screen and color, it is claustral and mostly black and white—to make stranger its O’Neill-like tale of a mountain clan ruled by a dipso daddy and Bible-thumping mom.

10 Huacho (Alejandro Fernández Almendras) This overly organized but acutely observed portrait of a peasant family in rural Chile provided the year’s finest example of the international resurgence of neorealism.

James Quandt, senior programmer at TIFF Cinematheque in Toronto, is the editor of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Wallflower Press, 2009) and other monographic studies of filmmakers, including Robert Bresson, Kon Ichikawa, and Shohei Imamura.