This was not a slam dunk choice; in fact, it completely surprised me when this movie ended up as my favorite. But now that it has, well…I totally get it.
So, after the jump is my #1 Film of 2009. Enjoy.
#1: The Cove
My list begins and ends with a documentary. I’m really not trying to be artsy; honest to God. But when all was said and done, there simply wasn’t any other film that moved me and entertained me as much as The Cove.
The Cove is a documentary crew’s attempt to film a fishing cove in the Japanese town of Taiji. In this cove, dolphins are rounded up to sell to aquariums and “swim with the dolphin” programs; but most of the dolphins that are caught in Taiji are slaughtered for their (toxic) meat. It’s the town’s dirty secret, and they desperately want to keep it hidden. So the documentary team – assisted by Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer turned animal rights activist – try to infiltrate the cove. The film is partially a profile of O’Barry, who is a complex, fascinating man; partially a caper film, as the documentary crew attempts to obtain footage against the will of the Japanese fisherman and police; and partially a nature film dedicated to these beautiful, doomed dolphins.
Now, I’m not exactly a “nature girl.” I don’t own pets, I eat lots of meat, and I wouldn’t go on a safari unless someone pointed a hunting rifle at me and insisted. But when I saw The Cove, I wanted to picket SeaWorld. And I wasn’t the only one.
I watched the film at SilverDocs film festival with a near-capacity crowd of documentary fanatics. The audience was more engaged than any I’ve ever seen. We laughed; we gasped; we cried. At some points, the theater was pin-drop silent; and then, towards the end of the film, as Ric O’Barry confronted a Japanese official, the entire theater cheered, and some people even stood. The movie wasn’t even over yet. When the film ended, the director walked out to a roaring ovation.
I don’t love The Cove because all those other people did. And I didn’t choose it just because it entertained the hell out of me, even though it did. Seriously – if you get nothing else out of it, you’ll appreciate the suspense of the crew trying to place their equipment in the cove at night, wearing infrared goggles and nearly being caught by the police. It’s a real-life Ocean’s Eleven, albeit with a much nobler purpose.
But I promise you that you’ll get more out of the film than that. The Cove not only showed me a piece of the world that I never knew existed – the tiny cove in Taiji – but it made me face a truth that I’ve always taken for granted: that human beings cage, tame and train other living creatures simply for our own entertainment. As the director says in the film, “That says a lot more about us than it does about them.”
How many films make you rethink something that you thought you knew? How many leave you a different person at the end? Not enough. I saw many films in 2009 – 41, to be exact – and many of them stuck with me in minor ways. But I’ll never stop thinking about what I saw in The Cove. Watch the film, and find out for yourself.
So, there it is. Do you agree? Disagree? Can’t believe I picked an obscure documentary as the best film of the year (hey, it did win an Oscar!)? Let me know!