Review of the Year 2009

Let the Right One In

The Electric Sheep team look back at the heroes and villains of 2009.


Love Exposure
A four-hour long hymn to the redemptive power of love, Love Exposure creates a magnificently alien universe that careers from cartoony farce to serious drama. For all its oddness, the film has an epic, biblical quality, and there is a truth in the characters and their relationships that keeps us gripped despite the marathon length. ELEANOR MCKEOWN

Let the Right One In
This sweet and bloody subtle horror tale charts the relationship between lonely 12-year-old Oskar and vampire girl Eli. There is an ever-present sense of danger whenever Eli and Oskar are together and it is this threat underlying their love that makes the film so touching and melancholy, so real and unsentimental. Let the Right One In perfectly captures the nature of love as a delicate and dangerous balancing act, lovers poised for a fleeting, magical moment between need and defiance, trust and menace, sweetness and violence. TINA PARK

The White Ribbon
Violence is yet again the main subject of Haneke’s excellent The White Ribbon, which deservedly won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. The White Ribbon is very much a German film, and it is impossible to ignore that the overly quiet and polite children depicted here are the ‘Nazi generation’. But, more than that, it is, in Haneke’s words, ‘a film about the roots of evil’. It is a didactic play of sorts, but one in which the names of the culprits are as irrelevant as any direct answers or lessons. The finely crafted screenplay, the stunning black and white photography, the aural landscape, the use of omission and silence make this nightmarish fable one of Haneke’s most accomplished films to date. PAMELA JAHN

White Lightnin’
Merging real-life events and unbridled fiction, writers (and co-producers) Shane Smith and Eddy Moretti have crafted a bold, nightmarish tale of Southern darkness and director Dominic Murphy takes the subject matter to cinematic extremes, using a hand-held camera, bizarre angles and repeated blackouts to convey Appalachian mountain dancer Jesco White’s disturbed state of mind. Intensely imagined and vividly directed, White Lightnin’ is a raw, rabid, howling hillbilly hell trip that doesn’t let up. PAMELA JAHN

If, as is usually the case, high school/college movies are intended as portraits of America in microcosm, then this is the most bilious, vicious picture of that nation I’ve encountered in years. The dark nature of the story is emphasised by visually inventive, oddly framed photography throughout, imitating both the lopsided compositions of amateur cameramen and the disaffected gaze of a sociopath, building a woozy, unhealthy atmosphere, a world viewed through the wrong head. Creepy and smart. MARK STAFFORD

Johnny Mad Dog
Set in an unnamed African country, Johnny Mad Dog opens with a shockingly brutal, surreally violent scene in which a pack of frenzied, coked up, brainwashed children attack a village. The film plunges us into their perception of the senseless chaos and madness of war, avoiding any simplifying, worthy platitudes about the situation. They are both terrible victims of the war and terrifying murderers, childish and vulnerable on the one hand and capable of the most chilling acts of violence on the other. A cross between Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now, this is an extraordinarily powerful film. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY

Duncan Jones’s independent debut feature is a fascinating and visually stunning sci-fi film that explores the alienation and bitter loneliness of space, as well as the very essence of the human condition. Filmed in little more than a month, and refreshingly making use of models rather than relying solely on CGI, the picture beautifully captures Jones’s unique vision, both aesthetically and philosophically. Moon is an instant classic of the genre, as well as one of the most impressive and original films to emerge from the UK in years. SARAH CRONIN

Big River Man
This unconventional documentary charts eccentric Slovenian swimmer Martin Strel’s extraordinary attempt to swim the Amazon. An unlikely champion, the rotund, hard-drinking, 53-year-old Martin combines a day job as a flamenco guitar teacher with a line in swimming the world’s most polluted rivers. The megalomaniac nature of the project, the strangeness of his relationship to his entourage and the spectacular Amazonian scenery make for one of the most enjoyable films of the year, a soulful journey into dark places, lunacy and the extremes of human behaviour that is at turns desperately farcical and profoundly affecting. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY


Watching Antichrist, one gets no sense of the artist grappling with his materials, trying to strike a balance between order and chaos. Instead, von Trier seems a confused and desperate director, whose latest film has completely evaded his control. Having made good work in the past, he may well make good work again in the future, and should he do so, Antichrist may come to be seen as an intriguing low in the director’s oeuvre. Considered on its own, however, Antichrist is utter nonsense, an irredeemable mess, and one of the worst films I have ever had the displeasure to see. DAVID WARWICK


Synecdoche New York
We are asked to sympathise with an outrageously self-absorbed, self-pitying blob of a man who cannot get over the momentous tragedy of his own mortality. Caden’s fixation with death stops him from living life, making him the most bloodless, gutless, humourless, lifeless cinematic character I’ve come across in a long time, and there is no sense of distance or self-deprecation to help us through this bloated, indigestible whine-fest. Structural convolutions fail to fill the film’s empty heart or disguise its stunningly narrow perspective on the world – Kaufman is absolutely incapable to see beyond the confines of a peculiarly North American, white, male, middle-class, middle-aged perspective. Depressing beyond words. VIRGINIE SÉLAVY