One Blogger's Top 10 Films for 2009

1/01/2010 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Perhaps more appropriately, here are the top 10 films I've seen from 2009. No matter how many times I make this list (or any list), there always will be some mystery film that pops up weeks, months, or years later, takes me by surprise, and puts the list into upheaval. There are dozens of films that would probably make this list if only I'd seen them by now. But I haven't. Still, for the sake of ringing in the New Year, here is a list of the 10 films that (so far) I consider to be the best of 2009. And because ranking is so difficult, I've cheated and ranked them alphabetically.

"Adventureland" (Greg Mottola)

Taking his cues from the works of Richard Linklater and David Gordon Green, director Chris Mottola provides a mature and altogether unique follow-up to the fantastic "Superbad," this time focusing on the little-recognized post-college era, in which your life is undecided, hectic and, really, full of work.  The film follows a romance grown out of the mundane. Jesse Eisenberg and (surprisingly, and pleasantly) Kristen Stewart are absolutely fantastic here, and the romance, while ultimately following the typical "rom-com" development, feels real when conveyed by these two people. An all-around entertaining and adorable comedy with bits of drama that, while only in small spurts, resonate very well emotionally.

"Antichrist" (Lars Von Trier)

One of the most divisive films of the year also happens to be one of my favorites. Accusations of exploitation, misogyny and self-indulgence rang from the crowds following the film's premiere at Cannes, but few recognized it for what it truly is--a thoroughly personal and deeply effective psychological and spiritual study that follows grief from its conception to its wild and violent conclusion. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Defoe give two absolute powerhouse performances, and the digital cinematography is among the best I've seen. Overall an incredible balance between drama and horror that will anger many and shock all.

"Avatar" (James Cameron)

James Cameron's highly anticipated "revolution in cinema" might not quite live up to expectations, and it only just makes my top 10. The plot generally rehashes "Ferngully" and "Pocahontas," and the acting ranges from sub-par to merely good. But what really pushes this film into my top 10 is the visual mastery it displays. Cameron promised a technical marvel, and that's what we were given. The planet Pandora looks as though it is real, and its alien inhabitants--the Na'vi--end up being more lifelike (and ultimately human in appearance and action) than anything ever made before with computers. The action sequences also are a sight to behold, and the overall themes, both overt (anti-war, anti-imperialism) and more subtle (identity, what defines humanity) are very refreshing for an action blockbuster.

"In the Loop" (Armando Iannucci)

Welcome to the world of British policy. "In the Loop" follows a political spin doctor and his insubortinates as they slowly construct faith in a war nobody honestly wants a part of. Serving as a sort of inside look at the machinations of the Iraq War, we see nearly every element of the war machine--the politicians, the secretaries, the corrupt officers--and every one of them desperately attempting to get the upper hand in a war-hungry political climate. It's immensely well-acted by an unbelievable ensemble cast and more funny than you could ever expect a film about war policy could be. Harsh and biting, and one of the best post-9/11 themed films out there.

"Inglourious Basterds" (Quentin Tarantino)

A hilarious and engaging film all the way through, and a heartfelt ode to cinema both high-brow and low, new and old. Christoph Waltz gives a stellar supporting performance, but the whole cast deserves mounds of credit--Brad Pitt is as charismatic now as he was two decades ago. The sacrifice of an action-based "man on a mission" structure has disappointed many, but not me; Tarantino's dialogue is better than ever here, and every bit of blood spilled feels earned. Where Tarantino's peers such as Robert Rodriguez and Eli Roth continue to revel in neo-exploitation, Tarantino does not allow the absurdity of his premise to overtake his very convincing plot and characters. In a decade where QT has been at his most polarizing, "Basterds" proves he's a filmmaker still at the top of his game.

"Observe & Report" (Jody Hill)

I love Jody Hill. "The Foot Fist Way" and "Eastbound &,Down" are both hilarious and down-to-earth (not to mention insanely underrated), but this is his true triumph thus far. Rogen gives a career-topping performance as a psychopathic mall security guard who fancies himself a hero, and his violent and downright cruel behavior is a breathtaking and hysterical sight to behold. Elements of Coen-esque treatment of character and absurdism are prevalent throughout, but this is a wholly original comedy and it's a real scream all the way through.

"A Serious Man" (Joel and Ethan Coen)

The film that appears to be what the Coen brothers have been working toward for their whole careers. Truly, it has pretty much everything that has come to be expected from the duo--blacker-than-black comedy, spiritual and existential pondering, and a deft mix of realism and absurdism both in action and dialogue. Michael Stuhlbarg gives one of the best debut performances of the decade as Larry Gopnik, who the Coens use to convey the hopelessness of living in a universe that has no concern for its inhabitants. It's hard to watch at times, but ultimately it's one of the most distinctly human films the brothers have made. And they leave the final decision to their audience--is this a godless universe? Is everything just random, cruel, apathetic? Or is there something greater at work?

"Up in the Air" (Jason Reitman)

Who would've thought one of the most deeply effective character study in our time of deep recession would be about a professional downsizer? It's a testament to Jason Reitman's previously untapped talents as a dramatic storyteller that he is able to make George Clooney's Ryan Bingham a virtual everyman without the character ever actually being one. He is alone, generally unconcerned about other people, and he fires people for a living, sometimes 40 or 50 a day, all around the country. We watch as he tears people's lives apart, but we fall in love with him. The film is generally an exploration of his life philosophy, basically that removing yourself from emotional attachments like your family or your home is the only way to have complete happiness and freedom in the world. Anna Kendrick's Natalie Keener brings his whole world into upheaval when she introduces downsizing through the Internet, and as he introduces her to the reality of his job they both learn a little bit from each other's personal philosophies. Clooney and Kendrick's performances are among the best of the year, and the film as a whole is Reitman's very first legitimate masterpiece.

"Where the Wild Things Are" (Spike Jonze)

Spike Jonze, long a pervayor of oddity and abstraction in his work, toned it down just a bit with his adaptation of Maurice Sendak's beloved children's book, and it paid off. "Where the Wild Things Are" is the perfect study of childhood and one kid's desperate attempt to come to terms with the world around him. Parents who cried foul at the film's dark tone don't quite understand or remember what it's like to be a kid. Things are scary, moreso for children than anyone. But things are also more beautiful for children than they are for anyone else. Jonze has an incredible grasp of what it's like to be young, and his film is made both for kids and for those of us who can also remember what it was like to build snow forts, to be jealous of your older sibling's friends, to want all of your parent's attention. And Max Records gives one of the greatest child performances as Max, who through his imagination can find happiness and understanding in his life.

"The White Ribbon" (Michael Haneke)

Far more straightforward than Haneke's previous two films ("Cache" and "Funny Games U.S.") but no less full of dread and terror. As always, Haneke is a horror filmmaker in the most literal meaning of the word. He does not show us gruesome deaths, killers chasing victims, or characters revealing outright the evil within themselves. He merely shows us a town in pre-WWI era Germany. He shows us the aftermath of some terrible and mysterious things that happen to its citizens. He shows us go through their daily duties, and how the elders of the town enforce virtue and punish sin. Soon their actions will result in death, destruction, chaos, and confusion. Haneke himself claims the film is about "the origin of all forms of terrorism." This is accurate. Be it religious, social, or political, Haneke shows us what can bring out the very worst in mankind. Disturbing moreso in its implications than its imagery, Haneke has crafted yet another masterwork that transcends the horror and thriller genres.

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2 comments:

  1. Jim said...

    This is a good list, though I totally disagree with that stupid "Observe & Report" movie. Horrible! I would add:

    Up in the Air
    Precious
    Star Trek
    The Hurt Locker
    An Education
    500 Days of Summer
    The Messenger
    The Road
    Prince of Tears
    Letters from Father Jacob
    and a few others I can't think of right now...

    Jim

  2. Leshy said...

    "Taking his cues from the works of Richard Linklater and David Gordon Green, director Chris Mottola provides a mature and altogether unique follow-up to the fantastic "Superbad,"
    Should be Greg Mottola shouldn't it?

    I haven't been keeping up with this year of movies, but I'm glad I have this list to start with. Although I don't think Observe and report was good at all.