First off, this is a little bit late for my best of '09 (since it can't be called a Top 10 list), but as it's still within the first week of January, I'll let myself off the hook. In response to the title of this post, I simply could not whittle down my favorites of this year to a mere 10, I could have gotten to 11...maybe, but this frees me up a little bit more and allows me to say that I'm bucking the trend of nice even numbers and going with a prime number!
I thought that 2009 was a fitting way to go out of the aughts. While surprisingly sparse on the one massive "must-see" film (of course excepting Avatar, but I'll get to that) 2009 had a surprising amount of quality films to see over the entire course of the year. Like previous years it had it's fair share of inane drivel, but for that you'll have to go to other sites for the "Worst's Lists". So without further ado...On to #13!
I know that I will probably receive flak from this, and truthfully, there are better films than this released this year that aren't on this list, but for thrilling action and a balls-to-the-wall badass action hero who is in his mid 50's there isn't a better title. If you haven't yet had a chance to watch last January's surprise thrill ride, you owe it to yourself to watch Liam Neeson unleash hell on all who stand in his way...you won't regret it.
Do you remember when kids films used to have actual peril in them and would be scary? Prime examples of this would be Sleeping Beauty, The Brave Little Toaster, and The Great Mouse Detective. I remember seeing these films as a kid and getting downright frightened, but that didn't prevent me from loving these films any less. Coraline is a fantastic return to having a family film that has peril for it's heroine which makes her all the more heroic. It doesn't hurt to also have a fantastic story, utterly superb stop-motion animation, and a sublime soundtrack. Coraline will haunt your dreams in the best possible way.
10. Moon (tie)
This year saw the return of sci-fi films with a vengeance. Some of these were good, several were bad, and more than a few were superb. It also saw the release of a bunch of fantastic films that were criminally under marketed and under released. Moon fits into the latter category on both counts. It is a phenomenal debut by director Duncan Jones with the best acting I've seen come from Sam Rockwell, yet did not find the market for anything close to resembling a wide release. The story covers a the end of a three year contract, one-man mining operation on the dark side of the moon and the questions of morality, loneliness and sanity that being alone for that amount of time can raise. I won't ruin the story, but every part of this film is of the highest quality, from the cinematography to the music, which is Clint Mansell at his hauntingly best.
10. Public Enemies (tie)
When I first saw this trailer, I sincerely hoped that it would be return to form for Michael Mann a la Heat, but I was bracing myself for an epic fail like Miami Vice. Thankfully, I needn't have worried as Public Enemies is easily Mann's best film since the superb crime caper Heat. You can veritably feel the grit and grime of these robberies in the early days of the FBI. Come to see fantastic set and action pieces, stay because you can't tear your eyes away from watching the inevitable destructive end of the most charming (real life) anti-hero of the year.
9. Star Trek
I am a self-professed UNtrekkie. Pretty much none of the films did anything for me, and for the most part I did my best to avoid any Trek TV show. Needless to say, I was very upset that J.J. Abrams was going to "waste" his talent by working on Star Trek after M:I:III. Fortunately for myself and everyone who saw this film, my fears were baseless. This film was one of the most fun summer joyrides I have had in a while. The pacing is breakneck, the visual effects are fantastic, and the story and characters are just a blast to watch. Live long and prosper, indeed.
8. Up in the Air
No current filmmaker is a master of satire like Jason Reitman. Both of his previous films, Thank You for Smoking and Juno, are intensely funny, while maintaining a genuine heart about the characters. Up in the Air proves to be his most intimate film yet. It is a poignant look at corporate firing culture, relationships, and the cost of willingly being on the road for 90% of the year. George Clooney is at his subtle best as a man whose job is to fire people when their bosses don't have the guts to do it themselves. In our "plug in, tune out" culture, this film is a real wake up call to the costs and joys of real relationships.
7. The Brothers Bloom
For all two of you who somehow accidentally stumbled onto this blog, you already know of my love of Rian Johnson and his newest film, The Brothers Bloom from my previous post. This was one of the most delightful times that I've had at the movies. The movie is a con movie that doesn't focus on the con. Why see it then? I'll tell you why, because in this case the characters are so interesting to watch and see the emotional payoff for them, that the actual con is only there to serve the characters. If all of this sounds somewhat subversive to the con man genre, it is. But, it is also an incredibly fun and intelligent film that begs to be seen.
6. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson makes a return to the heartfelt and dysfunctional family pictures! This film shocked me. After watching the trailers, I knew that I would end up seeing the film, but was fairly certain that I would end up not liking it. I thought this primarily because of the jerky animation style and I was worried that Anderson's self-aware film style wouldn't work well in an animated children's film. Luckily for myself and everyone who had the opportunity to see this film, I was wrong on both counts. The story is surprisingly heartfelt and very mature in how it approaches the family unit and the inherent dysfunctions thereof. The animation reminded me of Aardman Animation's Wallace & Gromit films. These films are not an example of pristine animation, but they are an example of animation that has charm absolutely oozing from every loving frame. Fantastic Mr. Fox dares you to not fall in love with its charm...it's impossible not to.
5. Inglourious Basterds
I, like most people, went into this movie expecting a violent love letter from Quentin Tarantino to the "Dirty Dozen" WWII movies of old. What I did not expect was that it was a violent love letter to those films, but was also be an incredibly taut, personal, verbose thriller. Only Tarantino could have his opening scene be a half-hour of the an SS officer talking to a farmer be the most nail-biting intense scene I'd seen that year...only to have the tension increased during a drinking game at a local bar between undercover agents and drunk Nazis. Intrigued yet? You should be. You should also check out this film.
4. The Hurt Locker
Once again, if you've read my previous post, you know that I'm a little upset at Summit Entertainment for screwing over the distribution and marketing for both The Brothers Bloom, and also The Hurt Locker. DO NOT let their stupidity keep you from seeing this movie. It is hands down one of the most thoughtful looks on military life over in Iraq. Shockingly for a Hollywood film, it also doesn't preach at you or take sides on the war. The film just shows you what a day in the life of the bomb squad is like...and damn, it's intense.
3. (500) Days of Summer
Normally, I hate Hollywood love stories. I also feel this hate is somewhat justified. The typical film is telegraphed so far ahead, that I know how the movie will play even before the opening title rolls. I also hate how the "Hollywood" version of love is so incredibly far removed from how life works, that it just makes wishing for anything like the movies completely ridiculous. Fortunately for everyone involved (500) Days of Summer is the antidote. It portrays love in a completely believable manner, with the ups and downs that naturally happen in a relationship. This film makes the punch-drunk, love-sick, die hard romantic in me just stand up and cheer. Favorite scene, Expectations vs. Reality.
2. District 9
You will not see another film like District 9 over this past decade. One reviewer called it the most important sci-fi film in the last 10 years. I'm inclined to agree. It combines an excellent story with near perfect CG character work to create an incredibly tense and immersive movie. Made for $30 million (less than the budget for Julie & Julia), the experience is as immersive as Avatar, but with important and razor sharp storytelling. District 9 will blow your mind and influence science fiction for the next 20 years.
Really... Why are you reading this? If you haven't seen this film, shame on you. Each year I wonder if Pixar will be able to pull it off, and every single amazing year I'm ashamed by my doubt in Pixar. Up is the most soul touching film you will see all year. This film has me in tears every damn time, and I love it. You'll be laughing, crying, and cheering along this hour and a half of brilliance. Pay attention to Michael Giacchino's score, which is my prediction for the Oscar for Best Original Score. Marvel at the 6 minutes of silence that perfectly sums up the life of Carl & Ellie. But most of all, let yourself be taken away by the majesty that is Up.
And because I feel obliged to explain:
Honorable Mention: Avatar
That is correct, Avatar isn't in my top 10. It didn't even make the Baker's Dozen list! "But how can this be?!?!" you ask. Well, I'll give my answer to the best of my ability. Whether it's valid to you is not my concern. Avatar contains some sumptuous eye candy...ok a ton of sumptuous eye candy. Avatar is by absolutely no means a bad film, it's actually pretty darn good. However, it is not Best Picture quality, simply due to the story. The story is a rehash of every "man goes to fight natives, lives among them, comes to love them, ends fighting with them against own people" story ever told. This in and of itself is not a detractor, if Cameron would have made the story in a new and fresh way...he didn't. The villains (and actually, most of the cast) are two dimensional, the story is incredibly preachy, and the movie just didn't immerse me. I always felt like I was watching a pretty film with 3-D glasses on, not like I was being drawn in through a window into another world. Which is a shame, it's such a beautiful world.