Well, 2009 is gone and 2010 is now here. By now, you’ve probably seen an uncountable amount of “Top 10 Movies of 2009” lists. After a few long weeks of compiling our lists, here are all of GATW’s staff member picks of 2009.
Some people are going to read these lists and criticize them for having too many blockbusters or “weird films that nobody’s heard of,” but know this: we like what we like, and we hope you enjoy reading about our experiences while watching these films.
I want to first point out that these 10 films are in no particular order. While I’m supposed to sit here and count you down to my number one, I really just can’t classify any as being “the one.” Each of these have affected me in different ways. Some made me laugh, some made me cry, some made me laugh and cry at how similar and fucked up their lives are to mine, but all wiped life’s problems clean away for 90 minutes or so.
When a comedian tackles dramatic acting, I’m hooked. Adam Sander did it. Will Ferrell did it. And now Patton Oswalt brings his seriousness to the game. There’s nothing more truer than the line Patton’s Paul courageously delivers to the antagonist in the film, “You don’t have to be so mean.”
UP IN THE AIR
Like many other people, this film touched and moved me. For 120 minutes, I literally forgot I was in a movie theater. When a movie sucks me in like that, I know I’ve just seen something incredible.
FANTASTIC MR. FOX
What a delight MR. FOX was. After 10 minutes in, my heart was captured. What a sly fox you are, Mr. Anderson.
WORLD’S GREATEST DAD
While watching this film, I asked myself, “Should I be laughing at this?” Bobcat put his actors in very awkward and uncomfortable situations, which then made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. And you know what? I loved every second of it.
You may notice a theme in my top 10. That theme is loneliness, and for some reason, I’m drawn to it. SOLO’s story is about two strangers - with absolutely nothing in common - who form an unlikely friendship. It reminded me that no matter how many wrongs you’ve done in your previous life, someone will always be there for you.
I’d probably get scalped if I didn’t add this to my list. Even though it’s now standard to add Tarantino flicks to anyone’s top 10 of whatever list, this was an incredible film. Tarantino’s only one man who can change history and make it look so fly.
You just can’t have a top 10 list without including a film that’s just over-the-top fun. That film is ZOMBIELAND, and Woody Harrelson is a complete riot in this this.
Heads up Hollywood, Woody Harrelson’s about to take over. Two of his best performances came out of 2009 - this being the second.
Get naked, paint yourself gold, sit in your prison cell, wait for the guards to come in and start swinging. This happens within the first 15 minutes of BRONSON. I never knew beating up people could look so artistic and hip at the same. And then I watched this and all that changed.
There’s just something about a lone man on a mission to save a mistreated alien race that spells out A-W-E-S-O-M-E. That and having some of the best special effects seen in years had something to do with it too.
1. DRAG ME TO HELL
Sam Raimi creates plenty of twisted fun with DRAG ME TO HELL. Top-shelf horror madness that will forever make me refer to Sam Raimi as Daddy Raimi, a creepy but true fact of my heart.
2. FANTASTIC MR. FOX
A very charming film from director Wes Anderson that is a clever as some animal that is in the title of this film (hint: it is not a Mr.). A delightful film that should be cherished. Yeah, I’m aware that I’m probably legally not considered a man anymore because I used the words “delightful” and “cherish” in the same sentence. I don’t even care, and I think that it is true love.
3. UP IN THE AIR
Hilarious and shrewdly realistic film that makes a good point, and makes sure we won’t forget it or the film.
4. WORLD’S GREATEST DAD
An intelligent dark comedy that has a lot of heart, and also features a nude scene from Robin Williams. That sounds like the fourth best film of the year to me.
5. THE MESSENGER
Focuses on two men with the task of alerting the next of kin after a soldier dies. The film is always respectful of its subject matter as it earns your tears (and a lot of them).
6. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Classic Tarantino. Hugely entertaining and one of the director’s very best films so far.
7. A SERIOUS MAN
A draining experience that offers little relief through its running time, but plenty to chew on mentally. Exhausting but worth it, like actually trying with women.
I still have a soul, so I was moved by Pixar’s latest film that features one of the beautiful sequences (the montage that begins very soon into UP) to be found in any film. A wonderful film that lets you know the hate hasn’t spread all the way through your body yet.
A film about an obese teenager with an abusive mother who is pregnant with the second baby that has come as a result of her father raping her. Yeah, it gets rough, but it is a moving film about the beauty that can come from pain and refusing to quit.
10. DISTRICT 9
Thoughtful science fiction movie that offers impressive special effects and action mixed with real world insights. The visual effects are the best I have seen since Terminator 2: JUDGMENT DAY.
1. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
It’s the classic “Boy meets girls. Boy falls in love with girl” story, yet in this tale the girl doesn’t fall in love back, creating one of the most realistic, yet whimsical looks at relationships on celluloid to date. SUMMER grabbed me by the heart strings, and not only tugged, but yanked. Just as Tom falls in love with Summer the girl, everyone seemed to fall in love with SUMMER the film in 2009. From its joyful and poignant story to its unconventional methods of storytelling to the fantastic soundtrack and everything in between (that means you, Mr. Cartoon Bluebird), summer
became my favorite season of this year as it gave me SUMMER, my favorite film of the year.
2. DISTRICT 9
TRANSFORMERS 2: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN was released in June and was thought to be one of the most anticipated sci-fi action films of the year. The film cost an estimated $200,000,000 and was found out to be a clunker that transformed into a trash compactor. It would be at this very spot on my “Top 10 Worst Films of the Year” list, if I had one.
Two months later and $170,000,000 less (that’s $30,000,000 in case you don’t have a calculator that transforms equations into answers), we were given one of the most original sci-fi action films to hit since THE
MATRIX. In turn, DISTRICT 9 showed audiences what could be done with a small budget and a big message. And no Megan Fox.
Speaking of doing a lot with a little, the first effort from director Duncan Jones went old school sci-fi on us, evoking elements of 2001, SOLARIS (1972), and other vintage sci-fi greats. For this to be Jones’ first feature, for Sam Rockwell to carry a whole film virtually with no one else on screen but a emoticon-wielding robot and for this film to make use of miniatures and retro-futuristic sets the way it did, I’d say MOON was out of this world!
4. STAR TREK
Leave it to the boy wonder, J.J. Abrams, to make STAR TREK cool again, where a trekkie could hold his head high in a STAR WARS convention. Hell, Abrams may have even converted a few Wars Whores over from a galaxy far, far away to the that place where apparently no man has gone before in a bold-like fashion. That is until this year, when Abrams went there with TREK.
5. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
After incessantly talking about the film for years upon years, Tarantino finally gave the world his opus in the form of a bloody, Nazi scalpin’ WWII-era murder extravaganza. Subsequently, we were given Christoph Waltz, one of Brad Pitt’s best performances, a rewrite of history. No to mention months of double-checking every time we typed or wrote the title.
6. UP IN THE AIR
Jason Reitman ensured his place among the next generation of pertinent film makers with his third feature, doing what he does best in mixing perfectly balanced comedy and drama. UP IN THE AIR is a beautiful and somber look at what it is to choose between what you love and love itself, when life presents opportunities and challenges outside of your comfort zone. What audience’s got was a film that soared above many others of its kind, subsequently putting audiences - me included - in the clouds.
Pixar proves that they are incapable of making a bad film once again in 2009, as they pushed not only the boundaries of their animation, but the boundaries of emotion within animation. I’ll say this to validate its place on my list…not many scenes this year, animated or not, made me bawl like the first 20 minutes of UP.
Zombie films are all the rage right now, so when a film comes out that takes a bite out of the genre, it gets my attention. Add a fantastic cast and laugh out loud moment after moment, and I’m infected with love for this film. Zombie kill of the week? Zombie rules to live, and not die, by? Climbing zombies? And not to mention one of the greatest celebrity cameos in film history? If ZOMBIELAND was named after the place is came from, it’d be called Unrivaledspectacularamazing Town. Or USA for short.
9. FANTASTIC MR. FOX
What else can be said about this film that has not already been said already? It was cussing great! And yes, it was indeed…well, you know. With his stop-motion feature, and first delve into full-length animation, hip auteur Wes Anderson harkened back to his BOTTLE ROCKET days, applying his signature brand of vintage-style and dry humor to a cast of clever, lovable and well-dressed woodland creatures while turning it up a notch to account for the new genre with less boundaries. This experiment of sorts resulted in something kind of fantastic. There, I said it.
10. THE BROTHERS BLOOM
After making one of my favorite films of the decade with 2005‘s BRICK, director Rian Johnson was back this year with his stylish and clever caper about two torn brothers with a love/hate relationship for each other and their life as con men. The film was dressed to the nines in its timeless script, and packed a big bang with its dry sense of humor and action adventure sequences. As the sibling Blooms, Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody gave marvelous performances, not to mention Rachel Weisz’s hilarious portrayal of an eccentric heiress with more hobbies than she had Lamborghinis. And who could forget the show stealer, Rinko Kikuchi, who managed to do so without one single line, in a performance that would make Marcel Marceau laugh out loud. All in all, THE BROTHERS BLOOM wasn’t a con for me at all. It wasn’t even a bunko, a bamboozle or even a flim flam. Just a huge score without any of the risks.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)
CRAZY HEART, DRAG ME TO HELL, EASIER WITH PRACTICE, FISH STORY, THE HANGOVER, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, HUMPDAY, I LOVE YOU MAN, OBSERVE & REPORT, PRIVATE EYE, SHERLOCK HOLMES, SIN NOMBRE, TRICK R’ TREAT, WATCHMEN, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
1. STAR TREK
The surprise of the year? How difficult it is for me to do the Vulcan V-hand. I’m still working on it. My allegiance to Spock must have a physical outlet.
2. FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Fantastic to the point of being superlative, no other film made me feel as charmed and fuzzy as Wes Anderson’s animated gem. I fell in love with the entire film, but I really fell in love with baby Ash Fox.
3. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
It was absolutely everything I wanted it to be and so much more – violent and serious and hilarious and unhinged and emotional and rousing, with one of the most creative and pitch-perfect soundtracks of the year. Also of note, my parents’ favorite movie of the year. How cool are they? Cooler than me.
4. UP IN THE AIR
I find it hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t find a character or a plot point to relate to in Jason Reitman’s latest. It made me laugh and it made me cry, and there’s little else I can ask for.
5. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS
A gloriously off-the-rails film, best compared to snorting crack off a break-dancing iguana. Have you never snorted crack off a break-dancing iguana? Good, check out this film instead.
6. BRIGHT STAR
An overlooked and moving meditation on the meaning and machinations of love. Insanely sexy hand-holding, Campion’s best use of light, and a criminally underrated performance by Abbie Cornish. It is a film that will make you want to fall in love, even as you know it couldn’t possibly end well.
This is my ass-kicking comedy entry for the year. The year’s best twist on the classic horror villain (looking at you, NEW MOON). Bizarrely essential.
8. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
I would have to be without a heart to not include this delicious slice of romantic comedy confection.
In a year chock-a-block with sci-fi outings, MOON was the only film that captured my heart. Easily proved what I’ve been saying for years - “I’d watch Sam Rockwell alone for an hour and a half, with only a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey to keep him company.” How prescient am I?
10. EASIER WITH PRACTICE
Apparently, I spent this year hungry for love stories with substance, rooted in realism. Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s debut film delivers on this wish, with real bite. Brian Geraghty’s nuanced performance is the overlooked work of the year.
1. DISTRICT 9
When making a top 10 list, the hardest part for me is always the top spot. Once I figure that out, the rest usually falls into place. Well, this year there was no contest. From the second I left the theater after watching DISTRICT 9 I knew it was my number one. Being an avid movie fan it’s easy to become a bit of a snob and cynical about cinema and the industry, but this movie made me forget all that. Literally sitting at the edge of my seat and smiling from ear to ear during the final fight sequence, I felt like a kid again. Spielberg is on record for comparing AVATAR to his experience of watching STAR WARS for the first time, but to me that’s exactly what DISTRICT 9 did, and a hell of a lot better.
2. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
I have to admit that I didn’t know what to make of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS when I first saw it. It’s undeniably Tarantino with its dense dialogue and awesome music, but the director who first sparked my love affair with cinema continues to surprise me. Although I didn’t know what to make of it at first, the movie got stuck in my head like a radio jingle and the more I replayed it, the more I realized it’s just absolutely fantastic.
3. UP IN THE AIR
I think it’s impossible for this movie not to strike a nerve. We all know someone who is going through tough times right now because of the recession and this film spoke to all those fears. What I find most interesting is that the people interviewed towards the end of the movie weren’t so much worried about having lost their jobs, as much as they were worried about having lost their purpose in life. As a recent college graduate, I’m in that state of limbo myself and I can tell you that it’s scary, but UP IN THE AIR made me feel better because it reminded me (as corny and cliche as it sounds) that none of us are alone in this.
4. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Where DISTRICT 9 reminded me of what it’s like to be a kid again, this film didn’t just remind me, it transported me. I remember being Max, being angry, happy, scared, lonely and safe in the comfort of my imagination. If I ever have kids, I always picture a shelf in their room that I stuff with movies I want them to watch and love. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE will be filed in the w’s.
5. FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Let us rejoice for the return of Wes Anderson! Not that he was ever gone. I’ve truly enjoyed everything he’s ever made, but after ROYAL TENENBAUMS it felt like he didn’t have anything new to say. FANTASTIC MR. FOX is on the list because it’s the first time in a while that I felt like he did.
6. STAR TREK
In the battle between Trekkies and Star Wars fans, I fall squarely on the side of George Lucas (despite Jar Jar Binks), but what J.J. Abrams created with his vision of STAR TREK is a movie that satisfies both sides of the fence. For the first time ever I’m actually excited about the possibility of future STAR TREK films.
7. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG
I’m pretty sure this is my most controversial item on the list, especially since it’s a spot higher than UP, but I have two very good reasons for placing it where I did. First, is a symbolic reason. No, not the whole “first black princess” thing. I think it’s great and all, but what I’m really concerned with is the return of great Disney animation, which John Lasseter has been able to nurture back to life with great music, characters, settings and a creative spark that has been missing from their animation department since the mid-1990s. Second is the environment in which I experienced it. Though the theater was almost empty, with only a few families there, the energy of the kids filled the room. Two little girls even sat at the very front and they would get up to dance and clap during the music sequences. I got the feeling that this was not their first time watching PRINCESS AND THE FROG and it probably won’t be their last.
Leave it to Pixar to make the only movie this year that nearly brought me to tears. I’d have to be a cold, cold man to leave this one off my list.
This movie surprised the hell out of me. Although I’d heard from all my friends that it was great, nothing prepared me for the awesomeness that followed. The slow motion, the agile zombies, the Bill Murray cameo…it made for one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in theaters this year.
I was an AVATAR fanatic before I actually watched it, but I left the theater severely underwhelmed. The only reason I’ve placed it on the list is for its technical contribution to film. Watching it in IMAX 3D, I was blown away by the effects, which at times didn’t feel like effects at all. I had to remind myself during the jungle scenes that what I was watching was 100% computer animated. Unfortunately, the story didn’t live up to the hype.
1. FANTASTIC MR. FOX
A heart-warming story that had me laughing out loud more than I expected and moved me more than I could have predicted. A feat in stop-motion animation, we are drawn in to this whimsical world that may, in fact, not be too different from our own.
2. STAR TREK
A total ride that was not only visually stunning, but funny, heartfelt and adrenaline-pumping. I felt more in the first 10 minutes of this movie that I did in the majority of films released this past year.
3. IT MIGHT GET LOUD
A rock doc for the ages. The true passion and talent of these musicians vibrated off the screen and reminded me why I do what I do every day, and love every minute of it.
4. UP IN THE AIR
We live in a time of rapid change where the world can seem completely chaotic from one moment to the next. Trying to find control in a set routine or following a predetermined idea of happiness seems to mask the daily struggle of being independent in a world where we all need some sort of a connection.
5. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
Falling in love is a tricky business as it can be equal parts exhilarating as it is devastating. One day you can feel like dancing through the street and then find yourself with only enough strength to leave the house in a bathrobe. But we get back up, and try again. Because the real scary question is: what happens when we STOP trying?
6. THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE
A perfectionist at heart, I completely identified with Anna Wintour and how she sacrificed so much for her career. Sometimes the loves of our lives are not found in another person and this realization effected me in a way I did not see coming.
7. THE HANGOVER
HILARIOUS. A comedy that I could (and did) watch over and over again and found new things to laugh at each time. My Vegas trips never ended up like this, but I can’t say they didn’t come close. (Yes - one trip involved the finding and ill caring-for of a baby - this happens, LOL).
8. AN EDUCATION
Taboo subject matter, but handled with beauty and thought. It’s hard not to fall for Peter Sarsgaard in this, even when you know you shouldn’t.
9. PIRATE RADIO
For me, this was a feel-good movie, through and through. An exaggerated vision of the real movement, I could not help wanting to set sail along side the DJs of Pirate Radio and lose myself in the music and rebellion.
There are only a handful of years where summer holds the promise of opportunity and adventure. And it is in those unexpected moments we learn about ourselves and who we are growing up to be.
1. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Tarantino did it again, he made a movie that was an instant classic and will certainly not be forgotten. This movie felt more like PULP FICTION (my favorite movie of all time) than anything he has done since, and that certainly works in its advantage. Every outstanding performance, the fantastic writing, and superb direction place this movie easily as the best film of the year.
2. FUNNY PEOPLE
Although FUNNY PEOPLE wasn’t as big of a hit as it was expected to be and reviews were generally mixed, I adore this movie. Not only did Judd Apatow make an extremely funny dramatic film, he made a very real look into the life of stand-up comedians. Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler are so great in this movie, and I believe Sandler deserves an Oscar nomination.
AVATAR is one of the greatest achievements in film history. The special effects are unparalleled, and the technological advancements guarantee this film the best visual effects Oscar. The 3D is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait to watch this movie repeatedly in beautiful Blu-ray.
4. STAR TREK
Even though this movie wasn’t the best movie of 2009, in my opinion it has the most replay value of all that came out. The casting could not have been any more perfect, and Chris Pine as Kirk was probably one of my favorite performances. J. J. Abrams is a genius, and this is a great reboot of the franchise while keeping true to the original.
5. UP IN THE AIR
Jason Reitman has done it again, I’m wondering if the guy can do wrong. George Clooney once again shows off his acting chops which will probably get him nominated for an Oscar. This is going to be a Best Picture contender, and I would not be very surprised if it won.
6. DISTRICT 9
Before I saw DISTRICT 9 I knew nothing about it, just that everyone thought it was really awesome. Upon first viewing I found the first half hour boring, but on my second viewing that was one of my favorite parts. The cinematography was some of the best I had seen, and put Neill Blomkamp very prominently on my radar.
Although this is not one of Pixar’s most fun movies, I think it is one of their most creative. The first half hour is so beautiful and tragic and to me is one of the best Pixar moments. The characters were so fantastic and creative and I love the universe they invented.
8. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY made huge buzz for not only being an extremely low budget movie that was exceptionally high quality, but also because it became the most profitable movie ever made. This movie felt so real and the characters felt so authentic and true. Not to mention the fact that my mom (a horror fanatic) gave it her seal of approval.
Greg Mottola (director of SUPERBAD) made a little movie called ADVENTURELAND, which was nothing like the trailers made it out to be. What was sold as a silly SUPERBAD-like comedy, was actually a dramatic but funny story of a crappy summer job that changes your life forever. If this one went under your radar (as it did most people’s) you need to see it.
10. FIRED UP!
This movie looked like a generic and awful teen sex comedy when the trailer came out. Luckily, I was bored enough to rent the unrated cut on Blu-ray because it was beginning to end hysterical. Clever writing, fun characters, and hot cheerleaders made this movie totally great.
Constructing this list was excruciating for me. It’s hard for me to believe that I am qualified to pick the best movies of the year when, as you can see below, there are so many that I wish to have seen that I haven’t yet. I believe strongly that this list would be totally different if I’d seen the films in my “haven’t seen” list. But then I realized that this list is a personal list that I am sharing with you the reader, and not the end all be all of lists. (I’ll leave that to the “experts.”) So enjoy my top picks for 2009. Pay little attention to the rankings, I can’t say that I solidly believe in the order of this, but I changed it around so many times and this is where it ended up. That last sentence sounds like a cop out. Ugh.
1. THE HURT LOCKER
This film succeeds in being a wonderfully intense character study. Yeah, they are at war but this movie, doesn’t try to get all preachy or bogged down with the politics at hand. I really felt like it could be me or someone I know on that screen.
2. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
THE SOUND OF MUSIC or THE GREAT ESCAPE used to be my favorite films about sticking it to Nazis. Though it was a little long, it was a fun movie-going experience and I can’t wait to see it again.
3. SUMMER HOURS
If I were to tell you that this movie is about a family trying to decide the fate of an estate and the art within after the family matriarch dies, it would make you not want to see this movie. This film was a touching story that posed many questions about personal history, the gravity of physical possessions, past, present, and future, and our ties to our family.
4. A SERIOUS MAN
This was probably my most anticipated film of the year. When the trailer hit, I may have watched it 10 times on repeat. It’s a return to form for the Coen brothers, back to the days of BARTON FINK (which is arguably my favorite Coen brothers film).
5. GOODBYE SOLO
One of those movies that will leave you thinking. I watched it alone and have yet to have that conversation with someone that will help to sort out all the implications of the film in my mind. Souleymane Sy Savane’s Solo is warm and charming, and also overbearing and annoying all at the same time. The two characters are in a reverse parallel in points of their lives and it is fascinating to see the two from different backgrounds in different positions form a bond.
This movie succeeded in making me root for a person that I really disliked. Tilda Swinton gives an amazing performance as a drunk, whose life is spiraling out of control. Her efforts to take control and to help one of the only person to show her real kindness become clouded with her poorly thought out plan to double cross that very person who showed her kindness.
7. PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH’ BY SAPHHIRE
I don’t know if I’ll ever watch this movie again. For me, it was THAT difficult to watch. My sister read the book and tried to warn me, but how could I ignore a film with such a buzz around it? PRECIOUS succeeds in two ways for me. I saw this film at the Austin Film Festival, and though I typically don’t focus too heavily on race, it was amazing to watch a morbidly obese, illiterate, teen mother win the hearts of the mostly white audience. There was something that I couldn’t put my finger on immediately after seeing this film, but then I realized what it was, with the help of Elvis Mitchel on KCRW’s The Treatment. In an interview with Lee Daniels, he compared the melodrama of this movie to one of my all-time favorite films, Douglas Sirk’s IMITATION OF LIFE. I remember watching that movie with grandmother and knowing that the way it would appeal to people on different levels. PRECIOUS is one of those films that I feel I can discuss with members of my family who may not appreciate the foreign, arthouse, or independent films I tend to be drawn to. I think it is important to not that this is the only movie with Tyler Perry’s name associated with it that I am not ashamed to have seen.
8. SITA SINGS THE BLUES
There were a lot of animated films not for adults realized this year. This is my favorite because of its struggle to get released, as well as the stunning animation and use of music to tell the tale of Ramayana. It reminds me of one of my favorite animated films of all time, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, that, though made in the 20s, still holds up today. I can tell you how many people I have forced to watch that film, and now I have another one to make my friends sit through, only to have them thank me for introducing them to it later.
9. DISTRICT 9
Summer blockbusters usually don’t do it for me, but I really enjoyed this film. The crazy gadgets and sci-fi action stuff weren’t my cup of tea, but I feel this movie handled the delicate balance between summer action flick and political film very brilliantly. Definitely a gamechanger.
10. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS
I got to see this movie in a press screening and I can honestly say it was one of the funnest experiences I’ve had in a theater all year. Everyone seemed to get the joke, and it seemed like either Werner Herzog was a) fucking with us or b) really trying to make us feel that we, the audience, were on drugs. Batshit brilliance.
Films I need to see: A SINGLE MAN, THE WHITE RIBBON, THE MAID, CRAZY HEART, KNOWING, DEPARTURES, EVERLASTING MOMENTS, YOU, THE LIVING, 35 SHOTS OF RHUM, AVATAR, I’M GONNA EXPLODE, THE LIMITS OF CONTROL, BEESWAX, CARGO 200, THE COVE, IN THE LOOP, BIG FAN, KNOWING, SILENT LIGHT, TETRO, ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, BROKEN EMBRACES
Honorable mentions: MOON, MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY, VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR, MYSTERY TEAM, WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, UP, FANTASTIC MR. FOX, AN EDUCATION
In choosing my top 10 movies of 2009, I must preface my list with a couple of conditions. First, as much as I’d love to, I don’t have as much free time as I’d like, so I’ve missed several of the big list items. I haven’t yet seen WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE or UP IN THE AIR; I’m still waiting for my chance to see AVATAR and SHERLOCK HOLMES. But I the mean time, I see what I can when I can. I’d also like to say that I have a tendency to enjoy movies that most critics pan. I’m not the audience’s lowest common denominator, but I watch movies to be entertained, so my list will probably reflect a bit a different tilt because of this. Excuses aside, here’s the list:
1. DISTRICT 9
I’m not sure that I can say anything here that any of the other writers here haven’t already said, but I’ll see what I can do. The amazement of the story and effects is nearly outshined by the realization that Sharlto Copley is effectively a freshman in the acting profession and the movie was developed by a completely unheard-of newcomer. As I’ve said before, several movies on my list are here because of how simply amazed I was sitting in the darkened theater. DISTRICT 9 was no exception, from beginning to end, I was just slammed by stunning effects and a remarkable plot. I’m looking forward to watching it again with its DVD release and am anticipating the future careers of the creative powers behind this surprising success.
Again, expectations were exceeded and I was thoroughly surprised by the intensity of TAKEN. I had heard a lot about the movie before I finally had the opportunity to see it, and yet I was still reeling through my experience. Liam Neeson proved that even at 57, action movies are not inaccessible to him. He was surprisingly brutal and his intensity drove the story through to its inescapable end.
3. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
I, for one, was not expecting KILL BILL: WWII, and I was very happy not to get it. I also wasn’t expecting such a spaghetti western either, but that surprise could not have pleased me more. The combination of WWII and classic spaghetti western style was more than just successful, it was monumental. While shy of action, the tension was constantly present with Tarrantino’s incredible dialogue. And while the movie was sold by Brad Pitt’s face, the movie itself was supported almost exclusively by the power and charisma of Christoph Waltz.
This was the movie I was waiting for longer than any other on my list. Since the first hints that there was even going to be a movie based on this iconic comic book series (and further, best-selling graphic novel), I was waiting for the moment that I could sit down and experience it all. Unlike many, I approved of the artistic changes to the story, acknowledging that they not only brought it up to date, but also streamlining the plot for the condensed medium. Of all the translations from page to screen in WATCHMEN, nothing was more ripped from my own imagination than Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Rorschach.
Several of the movies here made my list because of their ability to completely exceed my expectations. I expected to be entertained by ZOMBIELAND, but not to the degree that it grappled me and dragged me in. With the magical success of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, ZOMBIELAND redefined the genre while staying true to everything that had preceded it. Zombies of all breed and speed, memorable cameos, and an unforgettable set of rules made this movie a true gem.
I unintentionally waited until Christmas weekend to watch UP and after having heard everyone else gush about it, I was no less moved by it. UP was fantastical and childlike in its adventurous roots. Of all of Pixar’s features, it was the most memorable and magical. The wonder that our main character feels in the opening scenes is crushed and rediscovered in an optimistic and hopeful escapade.
7. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
Heart-warming and heart-breaking often go hand in hand and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER is no exception. Stories of the heart are best when they offer high risk and high reward, romantically speaking. Joseph Gordon-Levitt made me feel his joy and pain as he fell in and out of love in this idyllic date movie. And of course, on top of all the plucking of heart strings, there’s the astounding and incongruous dance sequence at the height of our hero’s romance.
8. I LOVE YOU, MAN
As a representative of one half of a budding bromance, this movie just hit me right in my soft spot for the special relationship of man love. Additionally, with his sarcastic wit, I’ve become a big fan of Paul Rudd recently; and Jason Segal has always been a pleaser since his “Freaks and Geeks” days; add in a bit of the Incredible Hulk and I’m a happy camper.
9. THE HANGOVER
I’m a sucker for a good comedy, and when that’s not available, for a raucous one. THE HANGOVER, which I now describe as “Dude, Where’s My Doug?” was nothing awe-inspiring, but it had me rolling the whole time. It didn’t exactly break the mold of your typical Vegas bachelor party adventure, but it was definitely a memorable romp.
I’ve been a video gamer for as long as I can remember, and have played MMO’s for a number of years so a lot of the concepts put forth by the movie. At the same time, however, the plot was a convenient excuse for a lot of back-to-back action, which was what put me in the theater in the first place. A few smart ideas and some intense action made this a movie that entertained me on the surface, but made me think about our digital future on the drive home.
I am a sucker for zombie films, but this movie exceeded my expectations on every level. It was fun, inventive, and the cast was spot on. I could not have asked for anything more in a zombie film, except for a cameo featuring Bill Murray. Never mind, it had that too.
2. STAR TREK
I am not a Trekkie, and in fact, I had never before seen a STAR TREK film until J.J. Abram’s masterpiece came along. Not only was the movie action-packed, with a side helping of humor, but it also boasted a brilliant story line that is still spinning my head.
3. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
I had high expectations for this film, considering it was based upon my favorite children’s book. The film achieved what I thought was impossible, a gripping and emotional story that is right on par with the original source itself. This film had me wishing the Wild Rumpus would never cease.
"Who will watch the Watchmen?" I did, and I absolutely loved it. It was dark, stunning, and right on mark. The comedian might have plummeted to the dirty streets below, but the film soars.
5. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
Who knew Jews could have such a bloody good time? Tarantino did, and I am very grateful for him sharing his unique vision with us all, once again.
6. SHERLOCK HOLMES
This film was one of my favorite presents to receive this wonderful Christmas. This adaptation of the brilliant detective novels has breathed new life into the franchise. The only things that hits harder than the film’s protagonists, was the film’s biting dialogue and intelligent story line.
7. DISTRICT 9
This in-your-face sci-fi film was completely unexpected. It pleases the eye along with the brain, seamlessly mixing awesome graphics with rich political commentary. This film shows us what a sci-fi film can dachieve when it does everything right.
8. AWAY WE GO
This film might not be on many top 10 lists, but I would be lying to myself if I denied it a spot on mine. This movie is beautiful in every way, and it proved what I have believed all along: John Krasinski makes a perfect lead in film format, as well as in television.
9. FUNNY PEOPLE
I went into this film expecting it to tickle my funny bone, but I did not expect it to tug at my heart strings with such force as well. This moving film showed us all that Apatow has more to offer than awkward teens and penis gags.
10. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER
Love. That word scares many male viewers away from theaters (unless they think it’ll earn them something with their lady-friend), but in this film’s case, love is not what, or where, you might expect it to be. The film is seeping with delightful acting and a charming narrative, but what really won me over was how close to mine and my wife’s love story it is. Love can come unexpectedly, and in this case, so can one of the year’s best films.
1. OBSERVE AND REPORT
I walked into OBSERVE AND REPORT expecting, like many people did, a raunchy version of PAUL BLART: MALL COP. While others were pissed that OBSERVE AND REPORT was not a dirtier BLART, I was totally blown away by just how dark, funny, sad, and weird the film was and it’s stuck with me all year. In a cinematic world homogenized for the masses, where every character has to be likable and go through a positive change, OBSERVE AND REPORT is a throwback to seventies cinema where not everyone is likable and sometimes they just don’t change.
I’m a big fan of Lars von Trier, and I’ve always loved the way he kind of bullies us into facing fears about what we believe. I also think the guy is screwing with his audience so much that he doesn’t even believe what he’s saying or telling us more than half the time. But with ANTICHRIST, not only is he making audiences squirm the old-fashioned way, I think he’s actually reaching out to audiences and trying to connect with them. People get so wrapped up in the gory and crazy aspects of this film, but I think it’s the most beautifully shot and best acted film of the year.
3. WORLD’S GREATEST DAD
Again, I went into WORLD’S GREATEST DAD not knowing what to expect. We’re all fairly sick of Robin Williams being “zany” and I feared he would be at full ham strength in this film. I was literally slack jawed by the end of this film and was almost in tears by how honest and moving the film was and, I loved the dark and twisted package it came in.
4. THE HURT LOCKER
THE HURT LOCKER is bad ass. At first I was a little irritated by what I thought was a lack of character definition in Jeremy Renner’s Sgt. James. However, upon multiple viewings, I found there were much subtler character traits that I must have missed while clinging to the edge of my seat the first time through. For as ballsy as the action scenes are, there’s also a very nice little human story involved here and THE HURT LOCKER really is a complete package of a film.
5. CRAZY HEART
I’m a sucker for those tales of rebel country stars who like to drink, smoke and screw so I was into CRAZY HEART from the word go. And it delivers on all those things but also tells a sweet story about a man who never had to grow up and his life is finally catching up to him. Being an artist can be tough on your soul and Jeff Bridges as “Bad Blake” wears his heart on his sleeve. It’s an awesome performance in a really great film.
6. FANTASTIC MR. FOX
The biggest question I had after seeing Wes Anderson’s FANTASTIC MR. FOX remains: is this his best film? And I consider myself one of the biggest Wes Anderson fans around so even wondering if FANTASTIC MR. FOX comes close to RUSHMORE is a daunting question and I don’t really have an answer. Not only is the animation spectacular, but the acting is the best I’ve ever seen in an animated film. Plus Anderson gets to use his borderline OCD obsession with set design to it’s full effect and the result is a fun and funny film with some nice observations about human nature.
7. THE MESSENGER
THE MESSENGER is another one of this years films that reminded me of a 70’s drama and I loved it. Obviously the film is very current in it’s subject matter but the age old question of what war does to a man lingers on. While I still have some quibbles with some parts of the story, I still love the Woody Harrelson/Ben Foster one-two punch and I think about THE MESSENGER all the time.
8. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS
BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS is a batshit crazy film. Nic Cage is batshit crazy in it, too, and I think this film might be the most fun I’ve had at a movie all year. Fans of the old on-the-edge Cage will be thrilled by this “re-imagining” of Abel Ferrara’s classic bad cop drama and Werner Herzog cashes his paycheck big time by going totally over the top with this film.
MOON is just about the perfect little slice of sci-fi and I don’t really consider myself a big fan of that genre. Even so, MOON is pretty irresistible and clever and Sam Rockwell is genius in it. I’d love to watch it repeatedly on DVD but alas, it’s still not available in the U.S. Hint…hint…
Pixar does it again.