(Note: I am neither a paid critic, invited to advance screenings, nor do I receive advance DVD screeners to review therefore I don’t have the breadth of viewing ‘those’ guys have. Hence my apologies to the makers of Precious, A Serious Man, Up In the Air, An Education and any other potentially terrific movie from 2009 that I didn’t get a chance to see yet.)
60 years ago last year (now) was the greatest year in movie history. We had released (in the same year!), Gone With the Wind, Wizard Of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, The Women, Ninotchka, Gunga Din…and the list goes on. Was 2009 even close? No. It wasn’t a bad year but when you have to pad your top ten with movies that were merely very good, it’s not a great year. So here’s my list, such as it is, starting with a tie for first (I’m sorry! I just couldn’t decide!):
1) Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino’s long-awaited Naziploitation epic is everything we have come to expect from this self-proclaimed film junkie, long, tense scenes of dialogue, over-the-top violence, bigger-than-life characters and something to offend almost everyone. This might top Pulp Fiction as my favourite Tarantino movie and if Christoph Waltz as a Nazi colonel doesn’t get an Oscar nomination, I’ll stop watching movies, period.
1) Up – Pixar’s output is uniformly excellent, in fact the last 4 movies, (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up), have just gotten better and after seeing each for the first time, I have declared that they can’t possibly top it…and they do. In fact, the first ten minutes of Up is, without a doubt, the BEST ten minutes I’ve seen in a movie in years, so much so that the rest of this hilarious, touching and gorgeous contemplation on aging and life tends to let me down a bit, even though it is still astonishing.
The Hurt Locker – Director Kathryn Bigelow is a bit of an outsider in Hollywood. She started out as a James Cameron protege and (thankfully) moved away to make some under-rated minor classics (Near Dark, Strange Days) but in The Hurt Locker, she has made her masterpiece. Shot in a virtual cinéma vérité style, this look inside an American bomb-defusion squad in Iraq has the most tense scenes of the year.
District 9 – Working with a budget that was probably the same as the caterer’s on Transformers 2, South African helmer Neill Blomkamp has crafted a movie that is at once a thoughtful treatise on the horrors of apartheid and a crackerjack sci-fi action extravaganza, not an easy thing to do, to be sure.
(500) Days of Summer – Zooey Deschanel absolutely shines in the best romantic comedy of the year as the titular Summer, the girl who Joseph Gordon-Levitt woos and wins…or does he? I love a movie that approaches romance with all the foibles and difficulties that REAL romance actually has. This is a masterpiece of misperception.
Star Trek – When word came that Lost and Alias creator J.J. Abrams was rejiggering Star Trek and (gasp!) making a prequel about when the original crew meets, Trekkers were all in a tizzy (since I’m not one, I wasn’t). I am happy to report that he has made the best Star Trek movie yet, a movie that is Trek enough for the fans yet very accessible for the non-fan (I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me that they loved it even though they knew nothing about Star Trek).
Sugar – It’s a good year when a baseball movie gets released but it’s a great year when a good baseball movie shows its face. Sugar is that movie. From the writing and directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who plumbed the depths of drug addiction in Half Nelson, comes this behind-the-scenes look at life for Dominican Republic ball players trying to make it to ‘The Show”, the Majors. It’s alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming and demonstrates the many hardships that these ‘strangers in a strange land’ have to endure. If you like baseball, you’ll love this one.
Away We Go – Sam Mendes once again proves his directorial abilities in disparate genres with this charming indie comedy starring John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as a thirty-something couple, newly pregnant, who wander the country, touching base with friends and family, to find the perfect place to raise a family. Along the way they find out much about each other and themselves, in very funny ways. It’s the supporting cast that shines here, especially Jim Gaffigan as a tired-of-life husband and Maggie Gyllanhaal as a new age mother. Mendes’ next challenge: he’s been tapped to direct the next Bond opus…wow!
Nine – Okay, so the critics panned this. I don’t care! How could I not love a big bold musical about two of my favourite subjects, Italy and filmmaking, based on a Fellini film to boot? Sure, it doesn’t hold a candle to 8 1/2 and sure, the songs are somewhat forgettable and sure, some of the roles are somewhat miscast but this worked for me. I had fun and left the theatre in a great mood. Besides, Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard’s performances are worth the price of admission alone. This one is my guilty pleasure.
The Informant! – Steven Soderbergh is either a community of several different artists or the most talented single man on earth. He makes the afore-mentioned Sam Mendes seem genre-bound. This year alone saw the release of the small Girlfriend Experience, the epic (4 1/2 hour!) Che and The Informant!, a comedy so wacky, it could only be based on a true story. That story is about a corn production executive (Matt Damon) who squeals on his company’s price-fixing but begins to lose control of the situation, creating all sorts of difficult but hilarious situations for the FBI. Damon handles this one perfectly and the story is so incredible, I checked the internet when I got home to verify it. Yep, it’s true!