Friday, January 15, 2010

Best 10 Films of 2009

I've seen 107 titles now in theaters and on DVD with copyright 2009. I'm sure my top ten will shift around and change over the next few weeks. I still haven't seen Oscar bait movies like Crazy Heart, Precious, A Serious Man, and A Single Man, but of what I've seen, these were the best.

Movies I've seen and liked but not quite in this group: The Blind Side, Public Enemies, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, I Love You Man, Drag Me to Hell, 9, Extract.

Honorable Mentions (11-20):

ADVENTURELAND - A love letter to the 1980's teen-angst comedies. It's set in 1987 and it plays exactly like it could have opened that year and been considered another John Hughes triumph. Jesse Eisenberg is out stammering hero, and Kristen Stewart is the damaged object of his affection. Ryan Reynolds turns in a nice supporting turn and that cool-yet-creepy adult friend.

CORALINE - If you cut out that one vulgar scene, this is a great children's dark fantasy. Henry Selick really gets the possibilities of stop-motion animation, and he respects the morbid corners of a child's imagination.

THE COVE - Suspenseful heist-style movie about animal activists trying to expose the slaughter of dolphins in a little cover outside a small Japanese fishing town. The end-result footage is gruesome.

HARRY POTTER & THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE - The sixth movie in the series manages to stay fresh, despite being within the walls of Hogwarts again, but it also sets up nicely the pending five-hour, two-movie final chapter. Jim Broadbent makes a fine addition to the ensemble as Prof. Slughorn, and Alan Rickman continues to peerlessly maximize every syllable as Snape.

IN THE LOOP - Presidents don't declare war; mid-level paper-pushers do. This sharply funny satire of UK and US bureaucrats trying to strike the right diplomatic notes plays it close to the vest, like something Robert Altman would've produced. I read somewhere that it's a smart comedy about the dumb things intelligent people do. Stand-outs include James Gandolfini as a frustrated American general and Tom Hollander as a flustered English minister who gets tongue-tied every time a microphone is put in front of him.

INVICTUS - Sports movie that transcends the genre thanks to Clint Eastwood's meticulous direction, and Morgan Freeman's charsmatic protrayal of Nelson Mandela.

TAKEN - The most satisfying guy-kills-everyone-in-his-way-to-get-his-daughter-back movies in a long time, probably because it's Liam Neeson's best butt-kicking performance since Rob Roy.

UP IN THE AIR - Jason Reitman is now officially one of my must-see directors. Anyone who's ever been laid off or traveled for business will recognize parts of themselves in this movie.

WATCHMEN - Zack Snyder stays faithful to the source material while still making a good movie of its own right. Of a pretty decent cast, Jackie Earle Haley is the standout as the psychopathic antihero Rorschach.

ZOMBIELAND - It's cinematic junk-food, but dang it was fun. Fun, I say! Apparently Jesse Eisenberg just needs to keep saying yes to movies with the word "Land" in the title. Best cameo of the year, too.

And now...

... My Top Ten Movies for 2009.

10. FOOD, INC. - Eye-opening documentary that investigates all the changes going on in the US food industry, primarily how everything - EVERYthing - has corn syrup in it, and how it's a smaller amount of companies that control the greater amount of our food than you think. It'll make you want to grow your own garden and seek out grass-fed cattle. Any politician who claims to be on the side of farmers should see this movie first to get ideas how they could actually help.

9. UP - Pixar still rules. The first ten minutes are more poignant than 95% of dramas. And I still find myself talking like Dug here and there.

8. AVATAR - A landmark for visual advancements in cinema, and cinema is, after all, primarily a visual medium. I wish he would have used the $250 million he got on a more original story, but box-office receipts show he was smart about it.

7. STAR TREK - Exactly the kind of reboot I would hope for, faithful to the original but set up to boldly go where Kirk & crew have never gone before. The next challenge for the franchise is to find a villain as compelling as Khan. I would think that's impossible, but I would have thought a reboot like this impossible too.

6. THE HANGOVER - The most consistently funny comedy of 2009, and deservedly destined to be a frat classic like Animal House, Caddyshack and Stripes of old. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis are three longtime sidekicks stuck without a leading man, and the plot unfolds like a comic Memento as they try to figure out what the heck happened last night and where their groom is. As each layer is pulled back, we laugh at their horror of realizing just what stupendously obnoxious drunks they must have been.

5. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER - A breezy anti-love story that really captures what it feels like when the guy likes the girl more than she likes him. It'll bring up catharsis for any guy or many gals who've ever been there. It would've worked even if it didn't jump back and forth in the timeline, but that was a nice touch, and it has the best use of a Hall & Oates song ever.

4. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - The scariest movie I've seen in years. It's mandatory to be seen in a dark room, preferably a theater, where you can get engrossed. It builds its sense of dread slowly, the old fashioned way, until you get that final punch at the end.

3. DISTRICT 9 - I can't necessarily say it's one I want to revisit too often (I've seen others on this list more than once), but its impact was huge. It just shows what talent and ingenuity can accomplish given soem cash and a producer who believes in them.

2. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS - Quentin Tarantino remains one of the cinema's most talented geeks. He takes a little bit of Dirty Dozen, a little bit of Sergio Leone, and spits out a wild ride through revisionist history WWII. Of this 160-minute movie, I think there are only twelve scenes, each building on the other til we get to the explosive finale in the theater, and the denouement in the woods. QT is a movie-lover through and through, and he always knows where to put his camera. Brad Pitt's the dude with his name above the title, and Christoph Waltz is deservedly getting kudos everywhere as Jew-hunter Hans Landa, but credit must also go out to Melanie Laurent, Matthew Fassbender, Diane Kruger, and all the dialogue QT lets them say. Movies like this make me wish he'd work more often.

1. THE HURT LOCKER - Kathryn Bigelow deserves to be the first female to win Best Director in the history of the Academy. She knows how to pace action, but she also gets probing performances in this apolitical take on the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. Jeremy Renner gives a star-making performance as a bomb-defuser who doesn't want to die but stopped fearing death a long time ago. The story takes unexpected turns and get good work in small roles from more recognizable faces like Ralph Fiennes and Guy Pearce. It never made its money back in theaters; hopefully the DVD market can push it into black.

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