Top Ten of 2009

10. The Hurt Locker

This taut Iraqi war thriller uses very few special effects. Perhaps it is because it more a character drama than an action flick. Bigelow elevates what could have been a very standard film about defusing bombs by focusing on the motivations of the leader of the bomb defusing crew and the two supporting men with nuances of their own. What really propels this film beyond mediocrity, though, is the last two scenes with James in the supermarket and the monologue he delivers to his son. Simply haunting.

9. Fanboys

Coming of age, friendship, road trip, kitsch, blah blah blah. But really? Kristen bell in a Princess Leia bikini!

8. Avatar

The story is older than time to the point of trite. It is a Bush-era alien Pocahontas. Yet when the first floating pink flower starts swirling mid-air and flies out into the audience, none of that seems to matter. The fact that half the lines are clunky can be ignored when you are staring at a ten-foot tall blue creature speaking in a completely invented language with perfect human emotional nuances.

7. Up in the Air

I love airports, airplanes, flying, frequent flyer miles, etc. Ryan Bingham’s life is the life I want. Thus, I found the first 2/3 of this movie extremely fun and witty. The acting really gave it the extra zing of sitting in the front row of the theater an enjoyable experience. Although, I did not find the ending at all satisfying, I also recognize that I am supposed to be left disturbed. I am supposed to realize what Bingham realizes: life cannot be lived without making human connections. It is a hard lesson to learn at any age, but even harder at Bingham’s. Oh, also, the economy sucks.

6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was my favorite book of the series. I have already come to accept that with the exception of Prisoner of Azkaban, the movies will never be as good as the books. However, HBP came very close. It was visually stunning; Yates captured the frolicking frivolity of adolescence and the ensuing “snogging”; the Dumbledore/Harry bond was well formed. But as is common in Harry Potter movies, the ending was botched. Instead of adding an unnecessary attack on the Weasley house, Yates should have kept the Battle at Hogwarts between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix. Without the battle, there was really no reason for Draco Malfoy to be working on the transporting chamber. Also, Harry should have been petrified during the last scene instead of watching dumbly as Dumbledore is attacked. Still, this was a great 2.5 hours at the movies in a series very close to my heart.

5. The Fantastic Mr. Fox

This was really the first Wes Anderson film I actually liked. And yes, you can absolutely tell that this is a Wes Anderson film. It’s got the whimsy, the snark and even the Jason Schwartzmann! The combination really works for animation.

4. I Love You, Man

People get too caught up with appreciating the serious movies. Sometimes, you need to just recognize a good bromantic comedy when you see one. Has Paul Rudd ever made a bad movie? And after Forgetting Sarah Marshall last year and continued success with How I Met Your Mother, Jason Segel is on a roll.

3. (500) Days of Summer

I loved that this movie took the romantic comedy genre and turned it upside down. It is a far more realistic representation of relationships as they happen and how they are interpreted by each sex. I have talked to both males and females about this movie and the reactions to who was responsible for the dissolution of the relationship and the following animosity differs drastically. Written by a male, this movie does skew slightly to the boy’s side, but is overall surprisingly balanced and enjoyable by both sexes. The chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel is palpable.

2. Inglourious Basterds

Just like all his other films, if this screenplay were directed by anyone other than Tarantino, this movie would not have worked. Divided into chapters as usual, Tarantino tells the story of Nazi hunters and Jew hunters in occupied France. The largely European ensemble is fantastically delicious with Cristoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent leading as cat and mouse respectively. Waltz, especially, masters four languages throughout the film and steals every scene he is in. The restaurant scene between Hans Landa (Waltz) and Shoshanna Dreyfus (Laurent) is so tense that the audience collectively catches its breath along with Laurent when it is over.

My only gripe about this movie is the ridiculous ending. Although it makes no pretense of trying to be serious, there are elements that are unnecessarily sloppy and I am not even talking about the part where QT rewrites history. For example, was it necessary for Operation Kino to be a suicide mission? And should the Italian directors be surprised at how fortuitous this situation is that all the Germans are LOCKED in the BURNING cinema, both elements they had not anticipated? In fact, after killing the principles of the war, they could have just left the cinema and saved their own lives and let the fire consume all the extras. Finally, Landa’s last-minute switching of sides needed a bit more explanation. All in all, though, the film had all the elements that make me love Tarantino: revenge, dialogue, style and an ode to cinema history.

1. Up

How can animated characters be more emotional than human portrayals? You could ask Zoe Saldana further down on this list or you could just ask Pete Docter who made the best Pixar film so far, Up. Pixar has established itself as the company that can make animated kid’s movie where there is no central romance involved. Of all the Pixar movies this decade, more were about friends and family (Finding Nemo, Monster’s Inc, The Incredibles, etc.) than about the romances that permeated classic Disney 2D animation (from Sleeping Beauty to Pocahontas). Even more, Pixar has embraced the non-traditional family. In this case, it is the story of an Asian-American boy with an absent father and an old bitter man living alone and the family these two people unexpectedly create. I saw this movie twice and I sobbed like a baby both times, even when I knew what was coming. The relationships presented here are so genuine and so touching, that it is hard not to let yourself go. This movie is my #1 for redefining love, animation and most of all, adventure.


One response to “Top Ten of 2009

  1. Hello to your blog, I really did not like Up in the Air. Sigh. So weird, that I didn’t since I love Farmiga. Oh well.

    PS. I LOVED your imagined interview with Stephen Daldry. Reader’s choice: Lone Scherfig or James Cameron please.

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