Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Best Films of 2009

I have been stressing over this list WAY too much. The reason for that being I love all these films. And the choices are so varied in genre this year that comparing and ranking them became quite problematic. So while I do have these loosely tossed into some kind of order, know that I love them all. Try not to focus on the ranks so much. In short, these are my ten must-see films of 2009.

FYI, I have not yet seen: Precious; A Single Man; Fantastic Mr. Fox; An Education; Invictus; The White Ribbon

10. The Road

Based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, The Road follows a father and son as they struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. It is dark, beautiful, and suspenseful. I have heard people complain the film is too slow or too depressing, but I couldn't disagree more. I was riveted from beginning to end, and often on the edge of my seat. Don't believe the haters - the drama and action are perfectly paced. Director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) continues to impress me with each new movie he makes. Furthermore, Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee deliver fantastic performances and completely believable father-son chemistry.

9. The Hurt Locker

The movie follows an elite Army bomb squad based in Iraq. Jeremy Renner plays a hotshot bomb diffuser who steps in to replace the squad's recently deceased sergeant. He lives for the thrill of the job, while his fellow soldiers just want to survive their last few weeks of duty. Kathyrn Bigelow's bomb-squad drama puts you so deep in the action that you probably won't even notice when you're holding your breath. But it also excels at showing what goes on in a soldier's mind, whether he be a by-the-books leader, an impulsive hotshot, or a terrified rookie.

8. Up In The Air

Jason Reitman scores again! Here is a very funny, very realistic film about life, love, and relationships. George Clooney plays Ryan, a happily nomadic bachelor whose career involves flying around the country and firing people. He doesn't want or need anyone permanent in his life. But when his livelihood is threatened by a young newcomer (Anna Kendrick), he takes the girl on a plane-trip across the U.S. to show her why his work is so important. Along the way, they each learn a thing or two about human relationships. While that same story sounds horribly cliche in the hands of anyone else, Reitman and his great cast deliver one fine, funny movie.

7. Moon

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is coming to the end of his three-year contract with Lunar Industries. He was hired to single-handedly man a space station that harnesses energy from the Earth's moon. His only companion is a computer called GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). After three years alone in space, Sam is literally counting the days until he can return to his wife and daughter on Earth. But when his rover accidently collides with a harvesting machine, Sam awakens in the infirmary with limited memory. Strange things begin to occur, but what Sam finds when he leaves the space station makes him question his job, GERTY, and his own identity. Rockwell, playing against only himself, is fantastic here. Director Duncan Jones delivers a great science fiction with a powerful message about the value of human life, and what differentiates us from machines. Also, Clint Mansell's score is beautiful!

6. Drag Me to Hell

Sam Raimi's epic return to horror was everything I dreamed it might be. Well, except for a fourth Evil Dead film. But short of that, Drag Me to Hell is perfection! After a young loan officer denies a gypsy lady an extension, she is punished with a curse. Consequently, she is haunted by a demon for three days, with a promise that she'll surely be pulled down into Hell. She does whatever she must to escape the demon and her fate, no matter how deprived. The film is scary, funny, over-the-top, gory (well, gross), and just so...Raimi-esque! It is chock full of Sam's sense of humor, and backed up by Greg Nicotero's FX. Lorna Raver makes for a scary villain and I loved Alison Lohman in the lead. She's the modern day Bruce Campbell. The girl took bruises and a mouthful of mealworms for Sam - she is a trooper and I applaud her for that. The only thing I can fault this movie with is reigniting my desperate urging for an Evil Dead 4. *sigh*

PS - sorry the following is just a TV spot, I couldn't find an embeddable trailer.

5. Thirst

Park Chan-wook is incapable of disappointing me. His work just keeps getting better and bolder. And just when I started losing faith in vampire films, he delivers Thirst. The ever-fantastic Kang-ho Song portrays a priest who volunteers himself for a medical experiment, only to be accidentally turned into a vampire via blood transfusion. He falls in love with a young woman, which only complicates both of their lives. Ok-bin Kim plays the girl, and she is my new favorite Park actress. I love her in this. Like Park's other films, Thirst is full of stunning cinematography, bold writing, and a perfect blend of violence and drama. Simply one of the best vampire films ever.

4. Star Trek

I have never liked Star Trek. Ever. I love me some Wars, but no Trek, yuck. Then J.J. Abrams threw his hat into the ring and changed everything. He not only managed to make Trek interesting, but he made it AWESOME. This prequel focuses on a young Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise gang as they complete the Starfleet Academy and end up facing a vengeful Romulan. Time travel is involved - I won't go into it, but it's good shit. This movie is exciting, funny, tense, moving, and all-around kick-ass. The visuals are great, the performances are spot-on, and even Abrams' quirky almost-hand-held camera style won me over. Solar flares and all. The script is well-written, consistent, and loyal to the source material. I could watch it over and over.

3. Watchmen

A loyal but unique adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' legendary graphic novel about aging superheroes adapting to a violent, ever-changing society. The film is visually engaging, action-packed, and boasts some great performances, including Jackie Earl Haley and Billy Crupud. I also love the music choices, though most people hate them. I also think Zack Snyder made the right decision by changing the ending from the novel. It wouldn't have worked in the film and Snyder's substitute ending was very logical - get over it, ubergeeks!

2. District 9

District 9 is destined to be a sci-fi classic. Newcomer Neill Blomkamp has crafted a unique film unlike any other. He combines elements of science fiction with social commentary in a bold, exciting way. District 9 is a South African camp set up for aliens that arrived on Earth thirty years prior to the film's events. When Jo-burg residents grow tired of the aliens, the latter are forced to relocate, but there is resistance. One man originally hired to evict the aliens becomes their unlikely ally, but I'll stop there to spare the spoilers. District 9 is well-written and has a fantastic performance from newcomer Sharlto Copley. Furthermore, it is kick-ass! There is great action and great gore (even if it's CGI). Few people still make action, sci-fi films this original (eat your heart out, James Cameron). I look forward to whatever Blomkamp does next.

1. Inglourious Basterds

Just when I started to worry that Tarantino was slipping (*cough*Death Proof*cough*), he gives us this bad boy. Basterds is a Sergio Leone-esque WW2 drama about a team of Jewish soldiers who specialize in Nazi killing. Their story crosses paths with that of a Jewish-French cinema owner, who has been asked to play Goebbels' latest propaganda film. Both sides intend to blow up Hitler and other Third Reich officials. Standing in their way is a quirky Nazi colonel, who has his own agenda. Every single performance in this movie is fantastic. My absolute favorite is Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, but everyone is so great. The film is fun, darkly comic, and beautifully violent as we've come to expect from QT. There are minor plot holes, but generally it's hard to find fault with the film. It only gets better with each subsequent viewing.


I won't even bother with a worst-of list this year because I was wise enough to avoid most of them. I will say that G.I. Joe is up there - god awful movie.

For those interested, my favorite 2009 comedies are as follows:

5) Zombieland - Who doesn't love zombies? Woody is great, the epic cameo is even better. "Garfield, maybe?" FTW!

4) Black Dynamite - Hilarious blaxploitation spoof. Who knew Michael Jai White was so funny?

3) Observe and Report - Darkly funny, occasionally brutal. A little like a funny, modern day Taxi Driver.

2) Up In The Air - See #8 above.

1) In The Loop - Why is #1 on here but not on the list above? Because it's not as good a film as Up in the Air, but it's funnier. God, is it funny. Watch this movie!