Best of 2009: The Films
It’s a lot easier to procrastinate on a Best Films of 2009 list since a few of these didn’t come out until around Christmas anyway. Some of the ones on the list are movies I didn’t technically see until 2010, and I still haven’t seen Avatar and The Hurt Locker, but the longer I put off this list, the longer I wait to start posting actual new reviews of actual new movies. So here goes nothing!
10. A Single Man (dir. Tom Ford)
A Single Man is an unlikely film by an unlikely screenwriter/director (fashion designer Tom Ford) and co-screenwriter (government lawyer David Scearce). The film, based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same name, tells the simple tale of a man who’s convinced he is permanently heartbroken beyond repair after the death of his lover. George Falconer (Colin Firth) has friends who love him (namely Julianne Moore’s Charley) and students who respect and idolize him, but cannot shake this feeling of loneliness and isolation he feels.
Visually, A Single Man hearkens back to classic Hitchcock films of the 1940s and 1950s. Ford tips his hat to Hitchcock in one particular scene, which finds Falconer pulling up his car up to a giant billboard ad for Psycho. Firth delivers the performance of a lifetime and is a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
9. The Hangover (dir. Todd Phillips)
Look, Mom, a mainstream comedy that’s actually funny! Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper play a three guys who travel to Las Vegas to celebrate the Bachelor Weekend of their soon-to-be-married friend Doug. After a wild night of God knows what (the viewer isn’t privvy to this information and the guys can’t remember a thing), Stu (Helms) wakes up with a missing tooth, Alan (Galifianakis) with a baby and Phil (Cooper) with a stolen police car. Also, no Doug.
Over the course of the film we learn more and more about what exactly happened, culminating in a fantastic slideshow that runs through the closing credits.
8. Up In The Air (dir. Jason Reitman)
Jason Reitman has had a good run so far with Thank You For Smoking and Juno. This year he directed George Clooney in Up In The Air. The film tells the story of a man paid to fly around the country and fire people. He’s happy with his on-the-go, no-baggage-added lifestyle, until he meets someone he actually sees settling down with. Of course, Jason Reitman as a screenwriter isn’t afraid to take risks, so the story isn’t as conventional as your typical romantic comedy in the slightest. Great supporting performances by Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick to boot.
7. Julie & Julia (dir. Nora Ephron)
Julie & Julia tells the true story of Julia Child and her early years as a budding French chef and juxtaposes it against the true story of a struggling writer who decides to blog about her attempts to cook her way through Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking in her tiny Queens apartment. Meryl Streep is fantastic as Julia Child, managing to be true to the real person without pushing her over the top. For my wife and I, the story of Julie Powell (Amy Adams) was just as engaging, since we also happen to blog about food and have a reputation among our friends and family for being overly ambitious when it comes to the kitchen.
6. Up (dir. Pete Docter & Bob Peterson)
When it comes to the visuals and technical accomplishments, Pixar continues to outdo themselves and their long list of great animated features. Up arrived in stunning 3D and literally took us on a trip across the globe with its elderly widower Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a man who decides to attach thousands of balloons to his house and take it to South America. Like any Pixar movie, we meet a whole host of characters along the way (including, as always, one voiced by John Ratzenberger).
5. (500) Days Of Summer (dir. Marc Webb)
(500) Days Of Summer takes the romantic comedy and turns it on its ear. Boy meets girl, they fall in love and live happier ever after. Right? Nope. Yes, Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is immediately taken with Summer (Zooey Deschanel), and she does a good job of indulging these feelings and genuinely seems to enjoy hanging out with him. But as we see throughout she ultimately just doesn’t see him in the same way that he sees her.
Marc Webb and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber shake things up by presenting the film in non-sequential order, showing us good times and bad and just how much the two sometimes overlap. Mentally, we’re forced to try to piece things in order in our attempts to understand whether or not Summer and Tom’s relationship ever made sense in the first place.
4. A Serious Man (dir. Joel & Ethan Coen)
After the celebrity-overloaded Burn After Reading, it was nice to see the Coen Brothers return with a film whose most famous actors include Richard Kind and Adam Arkin. Although far from autobiographical, A Serious Man is set in the 1960s Minnesota of the Coens’ childhood and seems to draw from some of their life experiences.
Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg) has plenty of reasons to be happy. He’s on the road to tenureship in his post as physics professor and his son is about to be Bar Mitzvah’d. Trouble is, his wife is cozying up to family friend Sy Ableman and wants a divorce; one of his students it trying to bribe him for better grades; his daughter is stealing money from his wallet; and his son is becoming an incessant pot smoker. Even as things start to turn around for Gopnick, we see other aspects of his life dip into even further turmoil. Life, as it turns out, can never be perfect, no matter how hard we might try.
3. Where The Wild Things Are (dir. Spike Jonze)
Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book is brought to life by director/screenwriter Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers, but be warned: like the book, Where The Wild Things Are proves to be more about kids than for kids. The large and aggressive creatures (lovingly voiced by everyone from James Gandolfini and Forest Whitaker to Catherine O’Hara and Lauren Ambrose) may prove too much for the faint at heart, younger viewer. But the film is beautifully shot and well-scored (by Carter Burwell and Karen O), and Max Records does a fantastic job in his first proper film role.
2. Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson spent a long time crafting his first animated feature, and it’s clear from watching it how much attention was paid to even the smallest of details. Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book, Fantastic Mr. Fox, the story is pretty simple: Mr. Fox (George Clooney) wants to steal various goods from three factory farmers (Boggis, Bunce and Bean), and the three farmers seek to exact revenge by eradicating the nearby animals altogether. The story is easy enough to follow for children, but it’s the music, the witty dialogue and the overall feel of the movie that makes it a thoroughly Wes Anderson experience that adult fans of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are sure to enjoy.
1. Inglourious Basterds (dir. Quentin Tarantino)
I didn’t think Tarantino could top Kill Bill, but he did it this past year with Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino takes a stab at historical fiction, exploring an alternate reality where a motley crew of Jewish-American soldiers take out Hitler and other top Nazis, thereby winning the war. Every single piece of this film works, but it’s the foreign actors American audiences had never really seen before that really shine. Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) is an extremely strong-willed character who plots revenge after watching the rest of her family get massacred. The Oscar for Best Supporting Actor should definitely go to Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa. The scene in which he faces Dreyfus as an adult in her secret life with a new name sealed the deal for me. It’s never clear as to whether or not Landa knows who he is facing, but we are on the edge of our seat all the same.
Tags: best of 2009
This entry was posted on Saturday, January 23rd, 2010 at 11:07 am and is filed under Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.