Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Top 10 Films of 2009
To me, 2009 was filled with many very good movies but few great ones.
As I write this on the winter solstice, "Up in the Air" looks to be unstoppable in the Oscar race. It's on my list, and high up, but as I look over the films I don't see many seminal movies people are sure to still be talking about in 20 or 30 years.
Top 10 Lists are by definition arbitrary, and by definition a lot of fun to compose and argue about. If you ask me to make this list next week, it might look a little different. But today, here's my take on the year in film:
10. "Precious." A tough, hard movie to watch, but rewarding for those who do. Gabourey Sidibe stars in a break-out role as an impoverished girl, abused and ignored, who finds reason for hope.
9. "The Damned United." Consider this movie compared to "Invictus." I'm equally indifferent to soccer and rugby, but found this behind-the scenes portrait of Brian Clough's disastrous stint as manager of one of 1970s England's top football teams utterly riveting. With Timothy Spall in a great supporting role that deserves more attention.
8. "Avatar." Give it up for James Cameron; the auteur -- one of the few directors today who deserves that title -- shoots for the moon. This mostly computer-generated epic is blowing away even the most cynical audiences.
7. "The Young Victoria." If all period costume dramas were this full of verve, they'd become box-office darlings. Emily Blunt gives a career-changing performance as Queen Victoria during her ascension and early reign.
6. "The Road." I'm still trying to figure out why this movie based on Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-winning novel was shelved for a year. It's about a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with cannibals. Yes, it's depressing as hell -- and as uplifting as any film I saw this year.
5. "Moon." This sly, little-seen science fiction drama plays with your expectations, so just when you think you've got it figured out, it surprises you again and again. Sam Rockwell plays a solitary worker manning a lunar station where strange events transpire.
4. "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Based on a children's book, but Wes Anderson's funny/quirky take on a fox who tries to ignore his essential nature is not just one of the best animated films, not just one of the best children's films, but one of the best films of the year. Period.
3. "Up in the Air." The movie that provides the most honest snapshot of our country and our time. George Clooney plays a seemingly soulless executive who flies around firing people for a living, but then faces his own obsolescence. Wry, pitch-perfect, spot-on dialogue, wonderfully acted.
2. "The Hurt Locker." Somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan right now, an American soldier is attempting to defuse a terrorist bomb. Jeremy Renner gives the performance of the year as a man who is constantly surrounded by insanity, until normal life becomes intolerable. Director Kathryn Bigelow's masterpiece.
1. "Julie & Julia." I think I can safely say I'm the only critic putting this movie at the top of his list. Yeah, I've heard the backlash: Meryl Streep's Julia Child sections are terrific, the modern stuff with Amy Adams a bore. Like cooking, certain flavors just appeal more to some people than others. I think Nora Ephron's combination is a recipe for cinematic bliss.
Best of the rest: Making a list of just 10 movies means there are many others you appreciated and adored, but just couldn't find a spot for them. Here's 13 more films 2009 was blessed to have (alphabetically):
"(500) Days of Summer," "9," "Adventureland," "District 9," "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," "The Princess and the Frog," "Shrink," "Sin Nombre," "A Single Man," "The Soloist," "Up," "Watchmen" and "Where the Wild Things Are."