You know how I just said “without further adieu?” Yeah, well I lied. Really quickly, let me just take a moment to mention my five most difficult cuts from the list. The movies that are still great, just not great enough to crack the final 10 entries.
15. I Love You, Man
14. Fantastic Mr. Fox
How on earth did this bomb so badly at the box office?!?!?
Interesting both as a new take on love and as a coming-of-age story.
12. Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Like a documentary version of Spinal Tap, except for instead of laughing, you’ll most likely be feeling for the musicians’ depressing struggles.
11. (500) Days of Summer
The best romantic comedy of the year, expressing both the ups and downs (especially the downs) of a relationship that appears genuine on the outside but ultimately is not.
And now, the top ten…
10. The Hangover
Love it or hate it, you cannot really change my opinion on this movie. For being a typical R-Rated, raunch-fest of a comedy, there is actually a decent amount of depth involved in the characters. As self-centered or annoying as all of them are, you can’t help but root for them in the end. The writing, while crude and crass, is clever yet ridiculous and far exceeds that of films like “Wedding Crashers” and “Old School” in terms of sophistication. I don’t really need to sell this one much more, considering it is one of the highest grossing comedies of all time, let alone of 2009.
9. Drag Me To Hell
I can understand people saying that “Drag Me To Hell” is overrated, but how can you seriously not like this movie? Arguably the most entertaining theater experience I had all year, this horror-comedy was simplistic, straightforward, and surprisingly pretty scary. Certain moments would have me on the edge of my seat, laughing out loud, disturbed, sickened and scared, sometimes all at once. “Drag Me To Hell” is a horror-comedy that I hold on par with some of the best, and would even go as far as to say is better than Sam Raimi’s cult classic, “Evil Dead II.” It’s that good. Forget “Paranormal Activity,” this was the real haunted house movie I was hoping for.
Receiving mixed reactions from critics and fanboys alike, “Watchmen” for me personally was a great attempt at adapting the greatest graphic novel of all time. For me, the film captured the dark and sinister atmosphere that was ever-present throughout the comic, the constant threat of nuclear armageddon in the alternate reality version of the mid-80’s and even the moral ambiguity of the conclusion that many people said was lacking in the film adaptation. Acting wise, yes, some performances were lackluster (Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode), there were others that really captured the very human characteristics presented in the graphic novel (Patrick Wilson, and ESPECIALLY Billy Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley). While it may be harder to follow for those who aren’t familiar with the source material, I thought the film was plain spectacular.
7. Up In The Air
Jason Reitman’s third directorial effort, while not his best, is a rock solid, dialogue-driven piece of American cinema. George Clooney gives one of the best performances (if not, the best) of his career as someone so disconnected with the real world after spending a large portion of his life traveling by plane. Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga also put up enduring presentations as the women who make a lasting effect on his life, putting it in a perspective he himself was unaware of. “Up In The Air” is a charming look at American life in this current day and age.
6. The Hurt Locker
A movie critic’s best friend this year, “The Hurt Locker” displayed a disturbing glimpse into the lives of soldiers in Iraq (specifically EOD, or Explosive Ordinance Disposal, units). While little actual story is presented, the big selling point is the relentlessly tense mission sequences, the great direction by Kathryn Bigelow and the contrasts in character between Sergeant James, whose attitude is that of a daredevil, and the rest of the soldiers in the unit. Sergeant James embodies the essence of the movie’s opening statement: “War is a drug.”
I can see the questions now: 1) “Why the hell is this not number one?” or 2) “Why the hell is this even on your list?” Oddly enough, my response is the same to both questions: “Whatever, I liked the freaking movie.” Brilliantly crafted, “Avatar” is a blockbuster in every sense of the word. It’s standout accomplishments obviously include the captivating visuals, but on another topic, James Cameron’s directing prowess is great, some entertaining performances from young actors including Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, and considering the subject matter, a massively entertaining take on a familiar idea. Also, it has the whole “highest grossing movie of all time” thing going for it, too.
4. District 9
A gritty, brutal, bloody, hardcore sci-fi masterpiece, “District 9” deserves every bit of praise and recognition it receives. While this just as easily pleased the typical action movie buff for it’s spectacular action sequences, the film was also smart. The misplacement of the aliens (“prawns”) in South Africa alludes to the ideas behind apartheid and just extremely brutal racism and xenophobia in every incarnation. Sometimes shocking in terms of violence and ferocity, by the end you literally root for these creatures and pretty much hate every single human in the film. Neill Blomkamp is a brilliant talent in the making and Sharlto Copley’s debut as Wikus van de Merwe is fantastic.
3. Star Trek
A visual achievement, a science fiction spectacle, and possibly the greatest reboot of all time, J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” rocked my socks off. There is not a single performance that is wasted in the movie. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, every single one of them simultaneously portray the classic characters we all know, add their own unique twist on them and still maintain the character qualities which made hardcore Trekkies love them in the first place. The writing could not have been any better, combining science fiction, humor, throwbacks to the original series and charm. Special effects are absolutely stunning. If only this movie were recognized more for it’s brilliance than the Academy Awards gives it credit for.
2. Inglourious Basterds
While there are people that think that the pace of this movie is way too slow, I found no problem with it personally. Yes, while I’ll agree with everyone that the Basterds are definitely the best part of the movie, I have to say that I was incredibly (and I mean INCREDIBLY) intrigued with the other intertwining storylines that took place. Brad Pitt pulls off a vastly hysterical role as Lieutenant Aldo Raine and Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of the sinister Colonel Landa (a.k.a. The Jew Hunter) is to die for. Quentin Tarantino’s writing (though most of it is in foreign language) may very well be the best writing of the year. I had a constant debate with myself between “Inglourious Basterds” and my current number 1 choice, but ultimately I had to decide on…
“Up” was a movie that showed that Pixar was not only capable of making premium quality animated movies, but also just as capable of creating great overall movies. In my opinion the film is the most accessible of any film released during the entire year, “Up” can have you crying one minute (possibly even in the first ten minutes), laughing out loud the next, and feeling for the film’s characters as if they are real people, not computer rendered images. The writing is close to perfect, the story is tight, the animation is beautiful, and the score is the most poignant I’ve heard the whole year. Everything about the film is absolute perfection in my opinion, so I award it the honor of my favorite movie of the year 2009. Terrific job, Pixar, and I cannot wait to see the greatness that is yet to come.