HS's top ten movies of 2009
I've seen enough movies lately to compile my top ten list for the year. I have NOT seen Crazy Heart (new Jeff Bridges) nor Broken Embraces (Almodovar's latest), but from what I've heard, they are acting pieces but not top ten material otherwise. So, that being said, here you go:
#1) Up: Pixar's latest triumph and their best film since The Incredibles. Exciting, funny, and surprisingly touching, life-affirming adventure with the most unlikely hero since, well, that cocksucker WALL-E. Squirrel!
#2) Inglorious Basterds: Tarantino's revisionist WWII near-classic is, basically, The Dirty Dozen on crack. The long first scene is certainly the best, as it introduces us to SS Col. Hans Landa, cinema's villain of the year, played to near-certain Oscar-winning perfection by Austrian newcomer Christoph Waltz.
#3) Food, Inc.: Little-seen documentary about the the oft-chemically-altered origins of what we eat, where it comes from, and the slow death of the American farmer. Like 2007's An Inconvenient Truth, Food, Inc. is both eye-opening and tremendously entertaining. See it - it deserves a bigger audience than it has so far received.
#4) An Education: The year's best screenplay is this incisive indie about the early coming of age of a smart, cello-playing,Oxford-bound 1960's suburban London teen (Carey Mulligan), wooed by a much older man (Peter Sarsgaard) and even winning the approval of her stern parents (including Alfred Molina) in this process. This funny drama hits all the right notes.
#5) Avatar: James Cameron does it again, and is seemingly on track to break his own box office record. Let's be honest: Avatar isn't perfect. It has a few narrative problems and isn't the be-all, end-all of sci-fi movies, but it is an enchanting film nonetheless. Stunning visuals and a fully-realized universe (the film's planet Pandora, that is) make for a great time at the movies.
#6) Star Trek: Chock one for JJ Abrams, whose "reinvention" of the Captain Kirk-led Trek universe is a well-cast home run. Nice work by Eric Bana as the supremely-vengeful villain, but my favorite character here is "Spock Prime," played by Leonard Nimoy in his best outing yet as the oft-endearing, oft-infuriating Vulcan.
#7) The Princess and the Frog: Thank you, Disney, for taking another stab at traditional, hand-drawn animation - and for giving the genre a good story this time out. This wonderful re-telling of The Frog Prince story - with a fun twist - is one of the best times I had at the movies this year. Marvelous colors and a strong African-American heroine - Disney's first.
#8) Up in the Air: I found more flaws in Jason Reitman's film that most viewers apparently did (most of them third act screenwriting cliches), but it's still a good film, with George Clooney channeling Cary Grant to great effect as a confident (yet secretly vulnerable) corporate man-about-the-skies.
#9) Precious: I'm not normally suicidal, but I damn near slit my wrists while watching this incredibly downbeat tale of an illiterate, overweight, abused NY teen (newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, excellent) trying to find light at the end of an endless tunnel of violence and depression (supposedly the film is a feel-good movie, but I don't agree with that assessment). Oh, and Mo'nique WILL (and SHOULD) win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her jaw-dropping work here. Seriously, fuck me. Possibly the best performance of the decade.
#10 Capitalism: A Love Story: In this strong year for documentaries, Michael Moore showed up with his semi-annual (bi-annual?) entry, this one a thoroughly-depressing look at how capitalism strayed far from its originally-intended roots to become a vicious cycle of corporate greed, and of the accompanying lack of accountability that led to our current economic crisis. Moore is more than a little full of himself - and I wish he'd tell an actual "documentary" for once instead of making what's basically a propaganda puff piece - but his greater point sharply resonates, which is that maybe, just maybe, we as a people can bring about actual change if we just get of our asses and hold responsible the electors who aided these corporations in pulling the wool over our eyes.
Runners-up: A Woman in Berlin, The Hurt Locker, Adventureland.
Worst movie of the year: Christian Bale double-feature (Public Enemies and Terminator: Salvation). I normally have pretty good radar for whether a movie will suck or not, yet I somehow showed bad judgment with my desire to see Michael Mann's Public Enemies and McG's Terminator: Salvation. Snoozers both. The storytelling failure and uninspired Bale performances of both films are doubly interesting because Bale starred in 2008's BEST MOVIE, The Dark Knight. Take some time off, Bale, until the next Batman movie begins filming. I promise you, you won't be missed.