Friday, January 22, 2010

15 Best Films of 2009

This started off as a list of the 10 best films of 2009. That was, of course, at the dawn of 2010. Then, you know, I started trying to narrow things down. Instead of narrowing, however, I kept coming up with more and more worthwhile movies. It turns out that 2009 was actually a pretty good year for cinema. There was a whole lot going on in genres disparate enough not to compete with one another too heavily. So, you know, I started looking around and wondering why I felt this pressure to make a 'top 10' list. Turns out, a whole lot of folks eschewed the 10 this year. There's a whole lot of 20's, 30's, and 50 best of lists to be found out there. Since there's no consistency, I've decided that it's definitely alright to throw down a random number and call it a day. So, 15! 15 best of 2009! Plus a few runners up. I should mention, too, that while The White Ribbon may or may not belong on this list, I have yet to see it and have decided that its mid-January theatrical release may qualify it for the 2010 list.

15. The Hurt Locker : Let's get one thing straight: Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker is a really solid film. It's got an unconventional structure and plays on your nerves and expectations big time. The acting, at times, feels almost like watching a documentary and it's stressful and realistic enough to make you never want to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare again. In a year filled with works of lesser imagination, it would be higher on the list. But, again, there was something in the water this past year, and for me putting the straightforward military expose at the top just wouldn't feel right.
14. Avatar : It's all those things you've heard (positive and negative) and more. Yes, Avatar makes you the sort of deranged excitement that a 5-year old feels after seeing Star Wars. Yes, it's beautiful and emotional and revolutionary. Yes, it's also Princess Mononoke/Fern Gully/Pocahontas in brilliant 3D. Still, you know, it's good.
13. Up : More traumatizing than the wildebeest stampede in the Lion King, Pixar's latest starts with an opening sequence that will test your emotional limits. If you step out unscathed...congratulations! You're a replicant! No, really, all joking aside, Up is a beautiful film that's loaded with as many small joys as brightly colored tragedies.
12. Moon : Duncan Jones takes your sci-fi expectations and adjusts them ever so slightly. The result is a Sam Rockwell one-man-space odyssey of isolation. If you step back you may be able to see what's coming, but it isn't about plot twists. It's about being human. In all its definitions.
11. Where the Wild Things Are : At the beginning of 2009, Where the Wild Things Are was something of a lock when it came to making it onto the best of year lists. Then, it came out. The film was buried beneath the yelps of parents complaining the film was psychologically too deep for their kids to watch, and casual viewers pissing and moaning about their own boredom. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to respectfully dismiss all the negative feedback. Spike Jonze's adaptation got Maurice Sendak's approval for a reason, and I'm on the same page as them. It may not be the twee, sweet rumpus you want it to be, but this film is one of the best representations of the loneliness of childhood that I have ever seen (as well as a truly beautiful film). Being a kid is hard, and I think it's too easy to forget that. 10. Star Trek : JJ Abrams revitalized a dying franchise in a way that opened it up to all audiences while still maintaining the camp heart of the original. Let's face it, Star Trek is slick. Thoroughly entertaining, edge of your seat involving, clever, and damn cool. If for no other reason, it deserves a spot on this list if only because it made Star Trek something cool to teenagers and my mother. That, my friends, is quite a feat.

9. Adventureland : A sweet little nostalgia comedy with John Hughes and Noah Baumbach's fingerprints all over it. This simple coming-of-age tale traced one post-collegiate summer spent working at an amusement park. It's a sharp, comfortable addition to the teen genre and one that has 'instant classic' stamped all over it. I may have been a toddler in the 80's, but I could relate. Hard core. 8. Julia : If you didn't get the memo before, allow me to again suggest that you find a way to watch Julia. Go rent it, add it to your queue, check it out from the library, just find it. Somehow, this film was marginalized and blocked out of wide-release, which is unfortunate, as it could have easily climbed the ranks of awesome, crowd drawing thrillers. Tilda Swinton is magnificent. Again, yes, I'm here for like the third time this week to remind you of that.

7. Thirst: Are you getting tired of me harping on the same movies over and over again? Cause, I mean, I'm getting tired of telling you to go watch them. Chan-Wook Park saved the vampire from its pop cultural suicide and gave us this entrancing, darkly humorous, violently erotic bloodsucker tale. It's time someone did.
6. A Serious Man: The Coen Brothers tackle suburban life and give us a magnum opus of Americana of biblical proportions. Filled with sly humor and rich characters, this is (as I said before) a seriously good movie. Seriously.

5. Watchmen: Before I had Antichrist to defend, I was busying myself speaking the gospel of Zack Snyder. I'm really too exhausted to play this game again. I mean, really, it's been almost a year. I'll put it out there, though, and say that I honestly don't understand how this could end up on a worst of the year list. I mean, really? It might not have a beating heart or an uplifting message, but jesus, otherwise it's a remarkable feat.
4. Antichrist: I feel like all I've done since October is re-state and argue about exactly how good Lars Von Trier's controversial, scissor-wielding psychological drama really is. I mean, do I really need to repeat myself now? No. Basic rundown? This movie is insane. It's horrifying, gorgeous, remarkably acted and once it start it will either grab you or send you running for the nearest exit. I thought long and hard about putting this at the top of the list. It almost made it. As an influential piece of art, it does. But, I'll admit, there are some flaws and taste issues that make this questionable in certain areas.

3. A Single Man: As evidenced by my last review, I loved this film. The photography, the art direction, the acting, the costumes, all came together perfectly to become something saturated in its own tragic beauty and just a little bit heart breaking.

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox: All of my doubts were washed away within minutes of sitting down in the theater to view Wes Anderson's first animated feature. Its wistful nostalgia sent me spiraling into giddiness and I sat like an enthralled child eagerly anticipating each turn of the storybook page for the entire 90-some odd minutes. Here's a movie that's easy to love...it's just too absurdly joyous to do otherwise. And yes, in the animation wars, I will champion Anderson's effort over this year's (also excellent)Disney/Pixar offerings.

1. Inglourious Basterds: The New Yorker may have panned it, but they were never known for their great taste in cinema (they also earmarked Duplicity as an honorable mention, say what now?). Inglourious Basterds, for me, is the WWII film to end all WWII films. It halts the soggy re-tellings of tragic affairs, twists the story around, and finally grants the underdogs the adrenaline-soaked day that only a fictional revision could supply. Spotted with film references and playfully arranging decades worth of genre conceits, Quentin Tarantino makes a movie that's as satisfying as it is artful.


Honorable mentions (so close, yet so far): The Hangover, Away we Go, Up in the Air, Zombieland, Hunger




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