Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Favorite Films of the 00's Countdown: 2009

It all comes down to this.

At the end of 2009, filmwise, I am going to probably think of few things: 1) Is this the year of the Children's movie? There were at least four great kids' movies this year that appealed to adults, but far beyond what other kids' movies aim for. They also had filmmakers working on them that seemed an unusual fit-and for the most part, delivered unusual movies. Some of them we can argue over what makes or does not make a children's movie, but I think the landscape has definitely been changed as far as the way people look at or what they even consider a children's movie. Then again besides those four or so standouts (three of which appear below-I know, it surprised me too) they still crank out a lot of the same horseshit, so who knows what that "progress" is going to look like. 2) In the beginning of this year directors I usually enjoy and/or love like Michael Mann, David FIncher, and Judd Apatow made movies that I found disappointing. Eh, it happens. Then towards the end of the year, either directors I hadn't thought of for a while, like Kathryn Bigelow and Guy Ritchie surprised me with entertaining efforts. And, hopefully, through the help of a fox, Wes Anderson can return to form. And, James Cameron made a movie that, was, well, okay at best.

So, since I have people coming in tomorrow, and its not like I am going to see anything else new-Here is my top ten (in order) as it stands for 2009. It could change in the future but this is it for the time being:

10) An Education

Its a good sign when Peter Sarsgaard is the weak link in your movie. I mean, he's not terrible, I just still think they should have gotten an English actor for his part-but he hardly sinks it (obviously.) Carey Mulligan is spot on, as are Alfred Molina, Olivia WIlliams, and Emma Thompson. It looks amazing-set right before London became really "swinging", in the early 60s. I like the whole idea of a young girl's world being opened up in ways she likes, and then opened more when she learns too early what most of us have to learn as adults. In a succinct way, although this doesn't convey the ultimate impact: things are hardly ever what they seem. Its never quite that easy to be cool or cultured, there's a little give and take. All in all, great stuff.

9) The Brothers Bloom

I was lucky to catch this one at the Boston Independent Film Festival and even see a Q&A with the director, the man behind Brick, Rian Johnson. I feel like people really slept on this one. Of course it might be a personal thing, but I think it was saddled with 1) way too many unfair comparisons to Wes Anderson and 2) What people called a "twee overload". Which, I guess, depending on your point of view may or may not be true. What I took away is this: this is a beautifully shot and written, odd-ball take on the story of two con men brothers. Yeah, its whimsical, but it is always really well written, and acted by Mark Ruffalo, Adrian Brody, and Rachel Weisz. Its quirky and somewhat odd, but I feel like there is a breeziness about it. And I love a good movie about con men, even when its just in the small tricks and card tricks they have picked up over the years. These brothers go for the long con, its their expertise, and it eventually catches up to them, as it is wont to happen. The ending might make some angry, it took me a while to suss it out, but it doesn't kill it for me. In the end, I think it is both really good and highly enjoyable.

8) Up

You ever have to cry while wearing 3-D glasses? Watching Up gave me that experience. And it wasn't right in that first fifteen minutes, but even in the end, it never lost that poignancy. It makes it even more amazing because of all the insanity that happens when they are down in South America. People talk about heart, but Pixar being Pixar, supplies real heart to go along with the incredible visuals and crazy action-adventure details. I feel like the melding of these elements in a way that actually works, and works well is a real achievement. It must be hard for Pixar to keep coming up with amazing ideas-but there you go.

7) Coraline

Henry Selick is probably the best bet to adapt a Neil Gaiman story. This is interesting because, I don't think it gets the same acclaim as The Fantastic Mr. Fox
for its throwback style-in that the animation was all done by hand but it looks so good that it fools people into thinking it was CGI. Selick has the best sensibility and aesthetic for this creepy Gaiman story, and it ends up working out beautifully. If there were justice this would become the new Halloween classic.

6) A Serious Man

This was probably way too much spending time inside of the Coen Brothers' mind for some people. For me, I couldn't get this movie out of my head, and I think in look and feel it will someday rise above the minor Coens tag that some people have labeled it to really one of their best work. Although True Grit could come out and obliterate that thought. Ultimately about faith and its meaning or meaningless, with a protagonist (a great Michael Stuhlberg) who seems to stick with religion because the math seems to check out for him. Even though it ultimately only gives him inscrutable parables and confusing signs. But I think the film, in general, ultimately sides with Stuhlberg, oddly enough. To me its confounding, absurd, yet weirdly ingratiating.

5) Adventureland

Greg Mottola seems to be on quite a roll of late. This seems to be a semi-autobiographical look at the coming of age of a young man (here Jesse Eisenberg) at a lame amusement park. Eisenberg, Bill Hader, Martin Starr, even Kristin Stewart are all very good. I think this one didn't get the attention it deserved just because, again, the advertising was so off. They advertised it as a broad comedy, and while it has some elements of that, its a lot more down-to-earth than that, and I think ultimately it works really well.

4) District 9

I feel like this movie is getting forgotten in the end of the year hustle. But this has got to be (maybe besides The Dark Knight) one of the best examples of "having your cake and eating it too". I mean here is a populist scientific entertainment with real serious themes and issues at its core, but also has kick as action elements to it. When I first saw it it blew me away-it was deep and the action themes were amazingly exciting. Sure certain things didn't make sense and they probably shouldn't have included the little, "cute", baby alien-but that is all a truly minor quibble. Neill Blomkamp is one to watch and Peter Jackson has a good eye for talent. Besides everything he was able to do pull off for $30 million (I thought about this a lot after I saw it this Summer, THIS cost $30 million and Funny People cost $75 million. Ugh.) Oh and I would be remiss to not mention Sharlto Copley's performance as the low level bureaucrat who got thrust into the middle of the action. Seriously, it was like David Brent suddenly becoming an action hero. Some low-level employee becomes the catalyst to the entire movie. Just remarkable.

3) The Hurt Locker

Maybe this and Paul Greengrass' Green Zone might get people interested (or more interested) in Iraq movies. Although I think what people needed were not to have a GOOD movie about Iraq come out. Kathryn Bigelow directs a movie that is a war movie, set in Iraq obviously, that works well as that and works exceptionally well as a thriller. The thriller aspects to this are amazing. As is Jeremy Renner's performance as the head of the bomb diffusing squad, Sgt. William James. His performance deserves to be seen much more than it has been. His character is awesome, amazingly written, and infuriating all in one big, bold package. A ridiculously good comeback from Kathryn Bigelow (although she might hate to have it called that).

2) The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Yup. The very definition of a latecomer. But its so good. Who knows where this will slide on this list as the years go on, but, for now, it is right here. From what I said, yesterday:" It balances Anderson' trademark melancholy with an almost insane optimism, in the end its pretty life-affirming. I thought it was a pretty amazing achievement."

1) Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino just might be my favorite living director. Even with the four films this decade he just keeps topping himself. This is a movie about the power of movies to shape the perceptions and directions of world events, and it ends with a twist that gives cinema the ultimate victory over history. The brilliance of Inglourious Basterds is that while setting up this layered look at World War II archetypes, Tarantino also delivers a revenge thriller, with great characters, huge setpieces, and just amazing dialogue, much of it in foreign languages. It’s a daring, clever stunt. Tarantino reestablishes himself as the rare (only?) filmmaker who can turn a trip inside his own head into a cultural event. I wish people were still talking and arguing about this like they were when it first came out, instead of just talking about Avatar which truly has nothing on this.

Just missed: Star Trek, The Road, Where The Wild Things Are

Not seen: The Informant! , A Single Man, Up In The Air

Two Awesome Opening Scenes From Movies Not In The Top Ten


(sorry I couldn't find one where the embedding wasn;t disabled)

Anticipated Entertainments for 2010

The Killer Inside Me
Lost Season 6
Shutter Island
The Green Zone
Frightened Rabbit, The Season Of Mixed Drinks
Iron Man 2
Toy Story 3
DOOM/Mos Def Tour
Tron Legacy
Pavement reunion tour
The Green Hornet
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Nailed/The Fighter (new David O. Russell-maybe?)
There's probably more, but thats enough for now.


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