Unlike 2008 where epic dramas Atonement, Slumdog Millionaire, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button made up my Top 3 (see complete list of Top 20 Films of 2008 here), 2009 can be considered as the year of suspense and thrillers. I saw myself literally jumping from my seat in District 9, laughing in amusement because of Bad Lieutenant’s singing iguana and breakdancing soul, and rooting for the antiheroes of Julia and Mother.
But will a year in movies ever be complete without sweeping love stories? Tragic romances abound in the form of Sang-hyeon and Tae-Jun of Thirst, Tom and Summer of 500 Days of Summer, and Ryan and Alex of Up in the Air. But what’s a love story without a happy ending? Luckily, I found this Australian aboriginal couple’s tale of addiction, hope, and true love.
Without further adieu, here is my Top 18 Foreign Films of 2009.
18. Mammoth (Mamut)
Director: Lukas Moodyson (Lilya 4-Ever, Show Me Love)
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Michelle Williams, and Marife Necesito
A humanist study about the dynamics of working parents who provides for the needs of their children but are largely absent in their lives.
Director: Na Hong-jin
Starring: Yun-seok Kim and Jung-woo Ha
A tension-filled crime saga where the table keeps on turning until the hunter becomes hunted down.
16. Fish Tank
Director: Andrea Arnold
Starring: Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender
Director: Sergei Dvortsevoy
Starring: Askhat Kuchinchirekov
Director: Alex Holdridge
Starring: Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender
12. The Hurt Locker
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie
11. Timecrimes (Los Cronocrimenes)
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Karra Elejalde
10. Before the Fall (3 Dias)
Director: F. Javier Gutierrez
Starring: Victor Clavijo
9. Where the Wild Things Are
Director: Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malcovich)
Starring: Max Records
Director: Marc Webb (will direct Spider-Man reboot)
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey DeschanelNot an anti-love story, but a reality check.
7. Up in the Air
Director: Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking)
Starring: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick
Highly impenetrable people are usually the most fragile. A revelatory seriocomic that is both timely and crowd-pleasing.
6. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call,
Director: Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn, Encounters at the End of the World)
Starring: Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes
5. Mother (Madeo)
Director: Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Memories of Murder)
Starring: Kim Hye-ja and Won Bin
4. District 9
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley
3. Thirst (Bakjwi)
Director: Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK)
Starring: Kang-ho Song and Ok-bin Kim
Director: Erick Zonca
Starring: Tilda Swinton
Too suspenseful you’ll forget to breathe. A dark character study that largely benefits from Swinton’s miracle work and Zonca’s frenetic direction.
Starring: Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson