Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Best Films of 2009

A number of other critics have called 2009 a weak year for movies. Not when it came to these titles. (Standard disclaimer - I must restrict my list to movies that appeared in the Dayton market in 2009, which merits the inclusion of titles released elsewhere the previous year).

The top 10 titles link to my original reviews.

10. District 9 - One of the most inventive and ingeniously made sci-fi tales of recent years. I've heard people say after seeing it that it wasn't at all what they expected - and they meant that in a good way. - On DVD.

9. The Informant! - Matt Damon gives a career-best performance as an inept corporate whistle-blower in this engrossing look at mental illness that dares - successfully - to be funny. On DVD Feb. 23

8. The Princess and the Frog - The film that proved Disney can make 'em like they used to - and the movie that made me smile the most. In theaters now.

7. The Wrestler - Yes, Sean Penn was excellent in Milk, but Mickey Rourke was even better in this wrenching tale of redemption that moved even people like me who have absolutely no interest in wrestling. On DVD.

6. Coraline - It was a banner year for animation, and Henry Selick made a film that is even better than his justly famous The Nightmare Before Christmas. Sometimes this tale of a girl that finds a wild parallel world is frightening, sometimes it's strange, and all the while it's wondrous. On DVD.

5. Avatar - Is it the greatest story ever told? No. But as Roger Ebert so wisely says, "It's not WHAT a movie is about, it's HOW it's about it." As sheer sensory experience, it's breathtaking.  In theaters. If you wait for DVD on this one, you will have missed out - badly. It is a must-see in 3D on the largest screen possible.

4. 500 Days of Summer - "The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Especially you,  Jenny Beckman." I won't completely spoil the best opening of any film last year, but suffice it to say this ode to the wonders and frustrations offers more than its share of imagination and surprises. On DVD.

3. A Serious Man - I can put it no better than Lisa Schwarzbaum did in Entertainment Weekly. "...(it) begins with a Yiddish old country fable and ends with an American apocalypse. Seriously. On DVD Feb. 9

2. Up - When a film can move me to tears before it's 10 minutes old, it's doing something very, very right. One of Pixar's three greatest films, along with WALL-E and Toy Story 2. On DVD.

1. Up in the Air - Yes, it is beautifully written, performed to perfection, and sharply observed, just as most people say it is. However, the reason above all others that this film tops my list is that no other movie hit me harder personally. Just as George Clooney's character does, I once thought I was content to be alone - then realized that was only an illusion. Up in the Air's most valuable asset is how it bursts the bubble we sometimes live in - and reminds us just how valuable the connections in our lives are. In theaters.

Runners up - in alphabetical order:

Adventureland: The best John Hughes movie John Hughes never made.

An Education: Like so many, I am smitten with Carey Mulligan.   

The Fantastic Mr Fox: Like I said, banner year for animation.

Every Little Step: Terrifically entertaining documentary about the origins and revival of the landmark musical A Chorus Line.

Frost/Nixon: Yes, the leads were outstanding, but the film owes just as much of its success too the terminally undervalued Ron Howard and his sure-footed direction.
The Hurt Locker: The homefront ending jarred me a bit too much for me to rate it as highly as my critical brethren have, but its you-are-there verisimilitude is stunning nonetheless.

Ponyo: It was such a good year for animation, a film by master animator Hayao Miyazaki can only make my second ten.

Precious: Again, I wasn't quite as high on this as many film buffs were, but the power of the performances is undeniable.

Revolutionary Road: Might be the most unfairly maligned film of the year. Kate Winslet should have won the Oscar for this film, and not the insufferable The Reader.

Star Trek: An absolute blast of pure fun. JUST missed making the 10. Yes, it's that good.

 What were YOUR favorite films of the year?


Mike said...

Nice work as always, Eric!
I'm glad to see you'd recommend The Informant - it looked good to me, but I kept hearing negative comments about it and never checked it out - I think now I will. I have 500 Days of Summer here from Netflix and am dying to watch it almost as much as I'm dying to see Up in the Air. :) Beyond those, I'm pretty much in agreement with you, although I didn't love Coraline as much as I thought I would for some reason.

Mike said...

Your comment on District 9 made me laugh - I, too, found it to be not what I expected - however, I mean that in a BAD way. I really did like the movie, but not as much as I wanted to. I expected it to be far more about race relations and a commentary on how we treat people who are different from us, and far less of an action flick with chase scenes and races back to the mothership. That disappointed me some. Granted, it had it's share of the race element - just not as much as I had hoped for. Still a great movie - I just thought it was cheapened by all the typical and overdone action movie elements. Very enjoyable - just could've been so much better.

Scott Copeland said...

I still have two of these films to see in the next week to completely respond to this, but overall I think I have Precious and Adventureland a little higher than you, and The Wrestler and Star Trek a little lower. But by and large, we agree on what films are the best.