Monday, January 11, 2010

My Favorite Movies of 2009

Funny thing is, I used to consider myself a real movie person. And I guess I used to go to tons of movies each year. But then life and work and travel and training for a half-marathon and everything else got in the way, and apart from our traditional award-contender movie marathon over the holidays, seeing a ton of movies just doesn't seem to happen anymore.

That being said, however, I did see about 25 movies in 2009, in theatres and on DVD. And while I haven't seen a quarter of the movies released in 2009, I still feel pretty confident about making up my best-of list.

Here they are...

1. Avatar: Say what you want about political overtones, racism, environmental messages, etc. The sheer spectacle of this movie truly blew me away. The production is amazing, the visual effects (especially when seen in 3D) were dazzling and I found the story compelling even while predictable. Compared to Titanic, this movie truly is James Cameron's crown jewel. Maybe he should be king of the world??

2. A Single Man: Dazzlingly beautiful and sensual, life-affirming and heartbreaking, I am still thinking about this movie nearly two weeks after seeing it. Colin Firth gives the performance of a lifetime (and he looks incredible to boot), Julianne Moore shines and Tom Ford proves he can design films as well as fashion.

3. The Hurt Locker: Is it possible my heart is still racing about six months after seeing this film? This is a movie about war that doesn't take sides or preach about right or wrong. Kathryn Bigelow's movie about the men who defuse bombs in Iraq packs as much of an emotional charge in the quiet moments as it does when the squad is at work. Jeremy Renner takes command of the film, while Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty give emotional weight to their characters' struggles. Should win Best Picture but probably won't.

4. Up in the Air: Jason Reitman delivers on the promise he showed with Juno, Clooney at his most vulnerable is better than ever, Vera Farmiga dazzles, Anna Kendrick is a little tornado and the movie crackles with wit and emotion. Makes you think even as it's making you laugh.

5. (500) Days of Summer: I'm not sure what I loved most about this movie—the narrative structure, Zooey Deschanel's every move, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's humorous and wrenching performance, the great soundtrack...Oh, wait. I just loved this movie.

6. An Education: One of the best movies of 2009 you probably never heard of. This film tells the story of 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a young English girl dreaming of going to Oxford and studying literature, when she meets worldly David (Peter Sarsgaard) and everything changes. Mulligan is a beautiful discovery, Sarsgaard is his usual sexy, thoughtful self and Alfred Molina, as Jenny's father, is fantastic. If you can find it, see it.

7. District 9: Part sci-fi thriller, part faux documentary, District 9 is a profound commentary on how those in power treat those they fear. Johannesburg, South Africa has been home to a large community of aliens for over 20 years, and their presence in a city-ordained shanty-town has led to riots and crime. A major corporation has been put in charge of relocating the aliens. And chaos ensues. Sharlto Copley gives a chilling, unforgettable performance.

8. Up: I am a big kid at heart, but even so, I loved this movie. From the nearly-wordless beginning that left me in tears (don't judge) to the take-no-prisoners attitude of Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) and his scout stowaway Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) and the hysterical dogs, Pixar has another classic on its hands.

9. The Hangover: Often when a movie has been hyped to death or labeled "one of the funniest movies ever," it rarely delivers on its promise and I find myself sitting in the theatre staring at the laughing crowd around me. Not so with The Hangover. The most improbable of scenarios seems just a bit more real thanks to Bradley Cooper's smarm, Ed Helms' prissy outrage and Zach Galifianakis' pathetic yet hysterical cluelessness. Oh, and Mike Tyson, too.

10. Inglourious Basterds: The great Quentin Tarantino strikes again, this time taking on the Nazis and the Third Reich. A troop of Jewish-American Nazi hunters, led by Brad Pitt, is part of a plot to bring down the Nazis at a French cinema. But they hardly expect the wiliness of Col. Hans Landa, aka "the Jew Hunter," (Christoph Walz, sensationally frightening) or the revenge-minded cinema owner, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent). A little slow at the start but when it gets going, look out.

Choosing 8 of these movies was fairly easy, but the battle for slots 9 and 10 was tough. Precious boasts career-making performances by Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique; Where The Wild Things Are captured childhood wonder perfectly; Away We Go brought me face to face with my desire not to be a f--kup, and Star Trek amazed this non-Trekkie with how much I enjoyed it.

Coming soon: my top movies of the decade.

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