Sunday, January 17, 2010

Top 10 of 2009 (subject to change*)

*not really

So, I was just telling TFP non-contributor Matt Lingo, following a belated viewing of Up in the Air, how much I hated making top 10 lists, and that I'd probably never even create a top 10 of 2009.

Lucky for you, I'm a big fat liar, because right after that I proceeded to look at the notepad file I had with most of the movies I saw in 2009 written down in it, and I found that arranging them in an order I liked was actually easier than I thought.

Still, I hasten to add that I am notoriously nitpicky (I probably have OCD), and my rankings over the course of the year often change at the drop of a hat. What's important is what I write about the movie, because even if my ranking of the movie changes, the things I like and dislike about the movie itself don't -- I just, as I mentioned, hate making lists. I mean, there are several movies I saw this year that I fleetingly considered number ones at the time I saw them that aren't even on the list anymore. I also don't care about star ratings, which are equally susceptible to my mood, so there's also the possibility that you look at the linked reviews and they don't quite mesh with the placement on the list. But the point of publishing the list in the first place is to try to combat my incessant need to rearrange the movies on it, so rest assured, this is the list that's going in the books; if any movies I missed turn out to be the missing link in the best of 2009 food chain, it'll be too little, too late.

Note: My personal system is that anything that has some sort of wide availability in America in the year in question qualifies for the year-end-list. Sometimes, that means a limited theatrical run, but often, "wide availability" means a DVD release. In any case, this is why there are films from 2008 and 2007 on the list -- it was my first real chance to see them.

10. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
[Pre-order it on Blu-Ray or DVD]
Pathos and darkness have their place, but fantasy and joy are almost a relief these days, with everything going "dark" in an attempt to be more realistic. Thus, while the year was filled with wonderful animated films like Henry Selick's masterfully creepy Coraline and the underrated and underseen seriocomic wonder Mary and Max, I have to rank them under The Fantastic Mr. Fox, director Wes Anderson's breezy, hilarious adaptation of Roald Dahl's popular book. Anderson's style and company of actors all fit right into the meticulous stop-motion world of the film, and there are well-written characters despite the lack of doom and gloom. Hotbox!

9. The Hurt Locker (2008)
[Buy it on Blu-Ray or DVD]
I've seen The Hurt Locker twice, and I don't feel like I've taken it all in. I probably owe it (and several other movies on this list) one more viewing before I publish, but it's already the middle of January, so I should also just suck it up and post it, because I doubt anyone will live and die by the movies I choose. In any case, while I wasn't quite as taken by it as my fellow OFCSers, who awarded it Best Picture and Best Editing in addition to Best Actor and Best Director in our year-end awards voting, I agree that Jeremy Renner paints a perfect picture of all-consuming, desperate dedication to living on the edge, and director Kathryn Bigelow effortlessly summons up stomach-churning, sweaty, cold-palm tension.

8. Moon (2009)
[Buy it on Blu-Ray or DVD]
I love a good slow, atmospheric film, and I love it even more when it contains weird, slightly creepy science fiction. At the front and center of Moon is a multi-faceted performance by Sam Rockwell, but the picture is really completed by Duncan Jones' gorgeous, desperately lonely lunar visuals, and the sad, slightly haunted score by Clint Mansell. These three elements combine into an experience that alternates between dreamlike head trip and hallucinatory paranoia. The presence of Kevin Spacey as the voice of an awesome computer-slash-robot that uses emoticons to communicate is just icing on the cake.

7. Away We Go (2009)
[Buy it on Blu-Ray or DVD]
When I first saw the trailer for Away We Go, I thought it essentially looked like a sequel to Garden State: a similar blend of comedy and romance, a plot that might have picked up where that film left off, and even including "The Office" star John Krasinski as a parallel to "Scrubs" star Zach Braff. I also wasn't particularly grabbed by the choice of Sam Mendes as director; I liked Jarhead plenty, but his other films have left me cold. In execution, however, Away We Go, is a vibrant adventure that feels like it's about real people in real places, deftly avoiding boring relationship roadblocks and too much "quirky" humor. The film's greatest strength, however, is the palpable chemistry between Krasinski and Maya Rudolph; it's intimate, devoted, funny and sweet, and it easily turns Away We Go into everything I've ever wanted from a modern movie romance, only better.

6. Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex (2008)
[Pre-order it on Blu-Ray or DVD]
On one hand, it's hard for me to rank a movie as cold as Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex above a movie as warm and wonderful as Away We Go, but Uli Edel's direction is so visceral it's impossible not to. The movie couldn't have been going for ten minutes before a group of protesters are sprayed down by police using fire hoses, and it feels so real you want to run for your life. Since the RAF were corrupt, evil people, the movie is hard to relate to, in a way, but the stark violence of their actions is compelling. Every bit the equal of Inglorious Basterds when it comes to depicting the atrocities of war.
(read my DVDTalk theatrical review here)

5. District 9 (2009)
[Buy it on Blu-Ray or DVD]
I saw District 9 the day it opened and didn't quite know what to make of it. I watched it again on DVD and was seriously blown away. The sad truth of the matter is, when I saw it in theaters, I don't think I knew how to process such a startlingly original movie; District 9 is made out of familiar pieces but feels unlike any movie I've ever seen. The potent combination of thrilling, psuedo-documentary action, body horror, romance, and political drama packs more pure cinematic energy than most of the other movies I saw this year put together, and Sharlto Copley's performance as Wikus van de Merwe is genuinely Oscar-worthy. This is definitely one of the films on the list that I'm in danger of ranking higher, as it's a perfect blend of big ideas and popcorn escapism.

4. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Movies like the awful (500) Days of Summer (review here) have ruined the word "quirky" for the modern moviegoer, but Where the Wild Things Are is better described with words like "wit" and "whimsy", deftly illustrating the tale of Max (played knowingly by young Max Records) and his desire to escape to a world where he can do what he wants. Director Spike Jonze effortlessly juggles the movie's many tones while roving around a stunning landscape painstakingly crafted by production designer K.K. Barrett and beautifully photographed by Lance Acord. There's also the vocal performance by James Gandolfini, which in a fair and perfect world, would have a legitimate shot at a Best Actor nod.
(read my DVDTalk theatrical review here)

3. Up (2009)
[Buy it in a Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack (same price as the DVD by itself)]
There is better direction and heart-wrenching emotion in the first ten minutes of Up than there is in the majority of movies released in a given year, and yet this intro is just a tiny piece of a soaring, colorful adventure that works just as well in carefully crafted Disney Digital 3D as it does in a more standard set of two dimensions. The movie's villain seems slight, but the wise minds at Pixar, never ones to hinge a film on its plot mechanisms, bring it back around to emotion in the end, with just the faintest touch of bittersweetness. As a comedic bonus, Up also contains some of Pixar's best side characters ever in Dug the Dog and Kevin the Bird, which are both masterful observations of real-life animals.
(read my DVDTalk theatrical review here)

2. 12 (2007)
[Buy it on DVD]
Most viewers probably missed 12 in 2009, but this 160 minute, Russian-language remake of Sidney Lumet's classic 12 Angry Men is every bit the equal of its inspiration, using the same story -- 12 jurors determine if a young man is either innocent or guilty of murder -- as the backbone for an original, entirely different story. The only other thing the two movies have in common is a whole table's worth of phenomenal performances, who make those 160 minutes feel like 20.
(read my DVDTalk DVD review here)

1. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
[Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD)
It's hard to summarize all of the things that are great about Inglourious Basterds, but Quentin Tarantino's latest is bursting with pent-up energy, expertly biding its time before rattling the screen with jaw-dropping, bloody intensity. They ought to teach the bar scene in film schools as an entire course on how to create and increase dramatic tension in films. On top of this, Tarantino has several of his best performances to fall back on, from Mélanie Laurent (a delicate, thoughtful wave of righteous fire and brimstone), Brad Pitt (brick-to-the-face comedy) and Christoph Waltz (an embodiment of the word "sinister"). It's ridiculously good, the kind of movie you can't believe someone made while reveling in every detail. In one scene, a terrified Nazi yells at Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raine: "You'll be shot for this!" I think of Tarantino, the rules he's breaking, and the executives he's working for. "Nah, I don't think so," responds Raine. "More like chewed out. I been chewed out before." Sounds about right.
(read my DVDTalk theatrical review here)

Note: Since, once again, I hate making lists, I didn't wait to add it, but I'm pretty sure, having recently seen most of In the Loop, that it would have made this list. Do with this information what you will.

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