Well, we're here, at the end of a year (and a decade, no less). And when a year reaches its end, we traditionally look back upon it. For what would we be as human beings without looking behind on our triumphs, our mistakes, our opportunities, both taken and missed?
*cough* Sorry, better cut to the chase now before I waste anyone's time with incoherent rambling. Anyway, this year was a great one for movies, both critically and financially (Hollywood's biggest ever, in fact). And like any year, we look back towards he best of the best.
Now, to be fair, I have not seen every little second of celluloid released this year, and odds are neither have you. So before I begin, I'd like to make a list of the films in contention that I still need to see, among others:
Up in the Air- Seen it- it's definitely getting a spot. But which one? Stay tuned...
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
A Serious Man
A Single Man
(500) Days of Summer Seen it- position TBD
The Hurt Locker Seen it- you know it has to get one...
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
When i do see the above films and decide if any of them are good enough to make this list, then I shall make do with some editing.
So, without further ado, I give you my list for the Top 10 films of 2009.
#10: The Princess and the Frog (Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker)
It's good to have you back, Disney. Despite an ultimately predictable, typical princess story, Disney's return to traditional 2D animation shines like an oasis in a kidpic cultural wasteland filled with the likes of Planet 51 and Alvin and the Chipmunks. With a 5 year gap in between their last attempt at 2D, Disney shows their rivals how it's done with gorgeous, vibrant animation that breathes so much life into the already-good musical numbers that the energy simply pours out of the screen and gives you the feeling of being a kid again. That, teamed up with some of the best slapstick comedy I've seen in some time and first-rate voice work, makes one wish for the "dying" art form to keep on pumping.
#9: Observe and Report (Directed by Jody Hill)
Writer-Director Jody Hill's first big studio feature is very much a love-it/hate-it film, and some will simply not find its appeal whatsoever. But boy oh boy did I love it! Playing like a modern-day version of Taxi Driver, only as gaspingly dark comedy, Observe and Report is more than successful when it comes to shocking the hell out of its audience, followed either by a gaping jaw or a plethora of laughter. Seth Rogen proves once and for all that he has more range in his acting repertoire than playing a stoned slacker with his innocent-yet-deranged portrayal of Ronnie Barnhardt, a bipolar, obsessive and all-around dangerous human being whose aspirations are thwarted by reality continuously until it ultimately decides to relent. The film seems to push you into rooting for Ronnie, even though you know you shouldn't and probably won't. If anything, Hill has balls to unleash such a beast on the public, and as long as his future works are as great as this, he should continue to get such opportunities.
#8: Star Trek (Directed by J.J. Abrams)
It's rare that big-budget summer tentpoles are just so much pure fun, and this revitalization of a once-dying franchise earns a spot for being just that. The cast, combining some old faces with a whole ton of new ones, plays off the witty script with aplomb, and everyone gets at least one moment to call their own. So what if the plot, revolving around time travel and alternate realities (hmm, what other Abrams works have these appeared in before?) is riddled with holes? Just sit back, don't think too hard and just accept the film for what it is- pure entertainment.
#7: Moon (Directed by Duncan Jones)
This little-seen indie deserved far more attention than it got, and should have proved to everyone once and for all just how talented Sam Rockwell really is. In his first lead role after being eternally pushed to the sidelines, Rockwell literally must carry an entire film on his shoulders, having no other actors (aside from a wife in flashbacks and a Kevin Spacey-voiced robot named GERTY) to soundboard against. I dare not say too much, lest I spoil the brilliant twists that the story of isolated astronaut Sam Bell takes, but let it be known that it is a brilliant, thought-provoking piece of science fiction that not only delivers homage to other sci-fi greats such as 2001 and Alien, but also uses such elements to craft an unpredictable, intelligent tale all its own. Sam Rockwell absolutely deserves an Oscar nomination for such a superb turn.
#6: District 9 (Directed by Neill Blomkamp)
While Peter Jackson's latest may falter, his newfound protege Neill Blomkamp shines. Whereas Star Trek was all action and fun, Moon was thoughtful and treated us to true science fiction, contemplating what our future could become if we don't change today. District 9, however, manages to do both at once- giving us the bloody, satisfying adrenaline rush, intelligent social and political commentary, and powerful human drama in equal measures. Newcomer Sharlto Copley gives an applause-worthy performance as Wikus, an unconventional hero for a not-so-conventional movie that expertly weaves through both straight film and faux-documentary footage. Weta's visual effects are astonishing, particularly for a film with a modest $30 million budget, and yet the film avoids becoming too absorbed in how great they are, never losing its focus on story. I am eager to see what both Jackson and his protege have in store for us next.
#5: Inglorious Basterds (Directed by Quentin Tarantino)
After the box office failure of Grindhouse, Tarantino is back in top form with this smash hit alternate-history take on World War II. While we get plenty of blood, guns and scalped Nazis, it's Tarantino's dialogue that truly provides the action, ratcheting tension and suspense through idle conversation. This is no more clear than in the film's opening chapter, which introduces us to Christoph Waltz's Hans Landa (who should soon rank as one of the greatest screen villains of all time) as he interrogates a dairy farmer hiding Jewish survivors under his floorboards. Waltz aside, every actor does wonders with Tarantino's written word, regardless of what language it may be in, particularly Melanie Laurent as runaway Jew Shosanna, who later plots her revenge against the Nazis. Believe it- Tarantino's latest truly is glorious.
#4: Fantastic Mr. Fox (Directed by Wes Anderson)
A quirky, offbeat, altogether wonderful piece of animated storytelling that encapsulates all of the tried-and-true themes of Wes Anderson's resume with old-school stop-motion animation that could have been done decades ago, yet in the process creates something that feels new and fresh. Every voice actor shines, giving us entirely human characters that just so happen to be wild animals (Clooney and Streep are perfect as Mr. and Mrs. Fox, though my favorites are Jason Schwartzman's Ash and Wally Wolodarsky as Kylie). The fact that it's an animated film about talking woodland critters (perhaps the most overdone kids' movie concept in existence) has no effect on the fact that it's the rare film that has believable human drama mixed with humor that seems more adult-oriented, yet can still appeal to the whole family (at least I think).
#3: Avatar (Directed by James Cameron)
Ah, considering all the other sci-fi films populating this list, you knew this had to be somewhere! Indeed, James Cameron lived up to massive expectations, delivering a sprawling epic of staggering, awe-inspiring scale that injects new life into the world of cinema as we know it. The Na'vi are beautifully realized, with eyes that seem to have a soul inside rather than a hollow CG shell. We buy into Pandora, the natives, and the romance between Jake Sully and Neytiri. Does Cameron have a gift for screenwriting? Not quite, but good lord does he have a way with directing. The final climactic battle sequence that consumes the last 30 minutes is glorious, a sight to behold that ranks as the single greatest action setpiece of the year, bar none, and ranking among the best in history. Hopefully the advancements that Cameron has managed will be put to good use by other directors.
#2: Where the Wild Things Are (Directed by Spike Jonze)
Spike Jonze gives us a film like no other- a big-budget art film that dares to go to places most films fear to. Instead of turning the beloved kids book into a happy, safe, disposable pile of fluff, Jonze made a challenging, thoughtful, emotionally resonant film that perfectly encapsulates the elements of childhood. The dialogue, rather than trying to strive for cleverness and wit, speaks to us in the way ordinary people would, real people with real situations and problems. Max and the wild things don't know exactly how to express their thoughts- thus they mumble or become tongue-tied like a child would. Max Records delivers a truly incredible performance, giving us a confused, lonely child that fears not literal monsters but the onset of growing up- adjusting to all of the changes in his life being pushed upon him. The wild things, despite their imaginary qualities, are believable to the audience- they never break the illusion and become mere CG-aided visual effects and instead remain identifiable figures for audiences to relate to.Where the Wild Things Are is the kind of film that stands out in a sea of more of the same, the kind of one-in-a-million production that you can't believe a studio would actually fund, and shines as a masterpiece waiting to be discovered. There is truly nothing else out there like it.
#1: Up (Directed by Pete Doctor)
I've had Up designated to this spot since I saw it opening day and never looked back, and even after an onslaught of gems, it has managed to retain its position as king of the hill. The sequence depicting Carl and Ellie's lives together, using only image and music, displays why film is so special, showing qualities the medium offers over other formats of storytelling. It is a sequence that brought this viewer to tears (a rarity, believe me), and ranks as the single greatest sequence, period, of the year. That everything else holds up so well in comparison proves, perhaps unnecessarily by this point, the master storytelling of Pixar Animation Studios. Up has hilarious comedy, touching drama, exhilarating action, unsettling tension, all on display in the studio's beautiful canvas of South American locales. Of all of Pixar's brilliant filmography, this, their tenth film, may very well rank as their best.
Honorable Mention: Watchmen (Directed by Zack Snyder)
Few films released this decade with such a high-profile status have divided both critics and audiences as much as Watchmen has, and that alone is worth admiration. Is it a perfect film? Absolutely not. In fact it's flaws are fairly obvious, be they faults of the difficulty in adapting the source material to the screen (the tweaked ending, while functional, is missing the raw emotional punch of the graphic novel's) or personal decisions of the director (yes, i know the Owlship sex scene is supposed to be a joke, but it's just excruciating). Despite this, the film's many positives tend to make up for them- the brilliant opening minutes and main titles sequence, Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach, Doctor Manhattan's mediation on Mars, and many more make the film a worthwhile experience. Zack Snyder tried damn hard to do the supposedly impossible in adapting the dark, gritty, masterful deconstruction of comic books that is Watchmen, and his film is a visually stunning, engaging work. While it is debatable whether or not it stands on its own as a film, it nevertheless works as a solid companion piece to the masterwork that inspired it.
Besides, being such a big fan of the graphic novel myself, how could I not mention it?
And a Handful of Almosts: Drag Me to Hell, Trick r' Treat, Zombieland,Bruno, Funny People, Coraline, Ponyo
Have a happy new year, everyone!