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Top 10 Films of 2009

December 30, 2009 2 comments

2009 was a very good year for film. I’ve seen over 60 films released this year, so you can trust me when I say that this year has been very good. I did find it somewhat difficult to narrow my list down to just the top ten. This list could have easily turned into a top 20 list. My 1 through 4 picks I had no trouble deciding. My 5 through 10 picks could almost be interchangeable. Here is the list of the top 10 films of 2009 counting down from number 10 to number 1.

10. Sugar

This is a small independent film from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the paired who directed “Half Nelson.” The two have crafted a great immigrant story with this film. The story centers on a young Dominican baseball player, Miguel Santos, aka Sugar, who makes it to the Minor Leagues in America. Baseball is everything for Sugar, if he makes it big he can support his family back home. We see what the pressure to succeed does to the man. The story is simple and does not go for over the top melodramatic moments. The filmmakers do a great job of showing us the despair, loneliness that a new immigrant in this country goes through. By the end we are left with a level of sadness and hopefulness for this character’s future.

9. Avatar

One of the best cinematic experiences I had at the movies this year. After seeing the film in IMAX 3D you are left with the feeling that you have experienced a truly special cinematic moment. I like what Roger Ebert said about the film’s director James Cameron, “there is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it 300 million, wisely.” Using today’s modern technology, Cameron is able to fully engulf the audience into the beautiful, realistic alien world of Pandora. Cameron has returned amazement to the movies.

8. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire

I was surprised at how much humor, warmth and hopefulness I found in this picture about a young African-American teenage girl, who is illiterate, pregnant, and abused emotionally and sexually by her mother. The film features a great performance from the title character Precious played by Gabourey Sidibe. Mo’Nique is also terrific as the worst mother ever put on-screen. The film never ventures into the over the top melodrama. It’s able to properly balance the despair and hopefulness that Precious experiences throughout the picture. The scenes involving Precious and her fellow students in a classroom are some of the film’s standout moments. Director Lee Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher do a remarkable job of putting us into the reality of the story.

7. Up in the Air

The impressive third feature film from director Jason Reitman stars George Clooney as a termination specialist who lives off not having any deep human connections. Things change when he meets two women, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. Both deliver strong performances that are up to par with Clooney’s. Clooney and Farmiga have great chemistry together. Their dialogue scenes remind you of Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell going at it in “His Girl Friday.” Clooney is delivering some of his best work here. He shows you that firing people is a art. Reitman has a real handle on how to balance drama and comedy. It’s not easy to pigeon hole this film into a specific genre. I would recommend this film to anybody, film fan or not.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox

One of my flat-out favorite films of the year. The film is tremendous fun to watch from beginning to end. This is defiantly Wes Anderon’s best picture since “The Royal Tenenbaums.” The voice cast is one of the best ever assembled for an animated film. Based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl, George Clooney voices Mr. Fox, a chicken raider whose antics gets his entire animal community in a war with up tight British farmers. The stop-motion animation is a great fit for Anderson’s style. I found it really beautiful to look at. The stop-motion animation brings these characters to life better than CG ever could. This is a funny, charming film that can appeal to both kids and adults.

5. Goodbye Solo

A beautiful, truly moving picture from director Ramin Bahrani. The film tells the story of a friendship developed between a African cab driver named Solo and one his clients, an old white guy named William. William pays Solo 1,000 dollars to drive him to the top of mountain in 10 days. The film does not follow the plot of a typical Hollywood movie. This is a character piece where we get to learn and care about these characters. It never betrays its story by going for over the top melodramatic moments. There is a moment that these two characters share that is one of the great moments in film I saw this year. The moment consists of just Solo and William staring at each other, no words are spoken. This moment of silence is able to convey their feelings better than any dialogue could . This is a small independent film that people should rush out to see.

4. A Serious Man

The Coen Brother’s return to their home of Minnesota for this film. Set in the late 1960’s, the film follows the worst couple of weeks that Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) has ever experienced. Stuhlbarg gives one of the best performances of the year as the family man who is just trying to live an ordinary life. The key to Stuhlbarg’s performance is that he doesn’t play Larry as a loser, he plays him as a decent man who is going through the worst events in his life. This is a very, very black comedy. The film confirms that the Coen’s are master storytellers. It’s amazing what reactions they are able to convey with just one single shot. Fine supporting work from Fred Melamed as Sy Albeman, the man who is seeing Larry’s wife. He’s not what the audience or Larry expects. The Goy’s teeth sequence is one the funniest sequences I saw at the movies this year.

3. Where the Wild Things Are

A beautiful look at childhood from director Spike Jonze. Based on the children’s book by Maurice Sendak, the story centers on a young child named Max (Max Records) who after running away from home arrives on an island full of creatures called the Wild Things. Max is not a pleasant child protagonist but I found myself relating to him. There is one scene in the beginning of the film where Max, in a rage, destroys something and then immediately regrets it. I’ve done exactly the same thing as a child. When the story arrives on the island there really is no plot. What Jonze is able to do is create a mood. He shows us that childhood is fun, but also scary. Great use of practical effects and CG to create the Wild Things. The voice talent of the Wild Things, led by James Gandolfini, is terrific because each actor is able to make each creature a unique personality. The first twenty minutes and the last five minutes of the film are just plain perfect.

2. The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow has directed the best action film of the year. This is also the best film about the Iraq War because it puts us on the ground with the soldiers who are fighting the war. The film is a series of expertly crafted set pieces about a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Jeremy Renner is terrific as the lead bomb defusal expert. Watching him dismantle a bomb is like watching a great artist create a painting. There is also strong work from the two other members of Renner’s team, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. Excellent camerawork from the cinematographer Barry Ackroy. The film uses the handheld camera technique in a way that never makes the audience feel dizzy or nauseating. What Bigelow is able to do with handheld camera is put the viewer on the ground with the dangerous situations that these soldiers are going through. We always know where the soldiers are, where the potential threats are. The film has you on the edge of your seat.

1. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s World War Two epic is the best film of 2009. It’s also the most joyous time I had at the movies. I saw this film 3 times in the theatre and I grew to love the film each time I saw it. I admire the sheer audacity of Tarantino to open the film with a twenty-minute dialogue sequence. What Tarantino does with these long dialogue scenes is build suspense. The film is divided into five chapters and each chapter in the film is like a mini movie. All five of the chapters build up and combine into one spectacular final sequence. Christoph Waltz as the Nazi Colonel Hans Landa delivers one of the best performances of the year. Waltz is smart and charming, which makes him even more terrifying. Tarantino has assembled a great ensemble cast. Standouts for me include Michael Fassbender as a British Lieutenant and Melanie Laurent as a Jewish survivor out for revenge. Leave it to Tarantino to make a World War Two movie without a single battle sequence and a climax in a movie theatre. In the end cinema saves the world, as it should be.

Rounding out my list to the top 25: 11) Public Enemies 12) An Education 13) Up  14) In The Loop 15) Moon 16) The Cove 17) Humpday 18)District 9 19)Adventureland 20) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 21)Capitalism: A Love Story 22) Duplicity 23) The Hangover 24) A Single Man 25) Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Tarantino’s Top Films of 2009

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Not a top 10 list, more of a top 8.

Half the films on his list wouldn’t make my top 10 or even top 25. Star Trek was fun, but overrated in my view. Funny People and Drag Me to Hell were okay but very flawed. Observe and Report was just plain bad.

Precious and Up in the Air are solid picks. Those films look like they would appear on my list of the top 10 films of 2009.