1) The movies, by and large, were just okay. I don't mean that in a bad way. Sometimes you simply want to enjoy yourself in a movie theater, instead of taking away some deep meaning. My expectations were lower this year, and I was able to simply enjoy myself without psychoanalyzing the movie or my reaction to it. So my Top 20 list has a few flicks on it that I know won't be on anyone's Top 20 lists, and that's okay, because I enjoyed the hell out of them.
2) I avoided a lot of crap. Really. Had zero desire to see Transformers 2, G.I. Joe, All About Steve, tons of horror movie remakes like Friday The 13th and Halloween II, the whole Twilight franchise (though I did see the first one on a cruise ship's tiny TV and thought it was kind of boring). So instead of giving some movies (currently making the Worst Movies of the Year lists) a chance, I just didn't go!
Having said that, the Worst Movie I saw this year was Terminator Salvation, whose only redeeming quality was...well, I was going to say Sam Worthington, until I remembered how his Australian accent popped up in the middle of a scene and completely pulled me out of it. Some people say Terminator 3 ruined the franchise, but I think Salvation put the nail in the coffin. Talk to me when Cameron comes back to the franchise.
Anyway, I realized I didn't get my 2008 list in on time last year (though I did do it...it's in the archives), and I think I've seen everything I'm going to see from 2009 before the year ends, so I decided to be more on top of it this year. I'm going to keep this pretty simple and go in order, after the
First, before I go into the Top 20, I want to mention four that almost made the cut. I flip-flopped on their space at #20 but finally decided. So here's to you, Adventureland, The Hangover, Away We Go, and Whip It! You were all very entertaining and I enjoyed you very much (for very different reasons).
20) Observe and Report - Seth Rogen goes to a dark, dark place in this comedy-drama that was anything but Paul Blart: Mall Cop. There was something very gritty and unexpected about this that I really dug. Not for everyone.
19) Humpday - Again, not for everyone, but I loved the characters and the concept of two men playing, essentially, sexual chicken.
18) Drag Me To Hell - This hilarious, creepy return to form for Sam Raimi was so misunderstood by an audience who's gotten so used to torture porn scenarios that they missed out on what fun a good horror movie can be. Kudos to Alison Lohman for being covered in some of the nastiest fluids of the year, and Lorna Raver for being scarier than Jason or Freddy have been in years.
17) Monsters vs.Aliens - Great voice casting, superb 3-D animation, and a peppy, fun homage to 50's B-movies. Just pure fun.
16) Zombieland - Any zombie comedy made nowadays has a high bar set by Shaun of the Dead. While Zombieland lacks Shaun's heart, it makes up for it with great turns by Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and an unexpected cameo that, to spoil, would ruin one of the finest surprises of the film. Excellent slo-mo sequences as well.
15) I Love You, Man - While audiences fell all over themselves talking about how funny The Hangover was (which I enjoyed), I preferred this very funny, sweet, and smart "bro-mance" comedy instead. I laughed harder at this movie than almost everything else I saw this year.
14) Funny People - Like I said, almost. With Funny being part of your title, you'd better deliver on the Funny. And with Judd Apatow behind the film, it absolutely does. But Where Funny People truly shines is giving Adam Sandler probably his finest role as a charismatic comedian who also happens to be a bit of an asshole. The fine line Sandler plays in this is a tough one, and he's more than up to the challenge. A third act that goes on a bit too long is the only thing that kept this from being higher on my list. Up until the end, it's nearly a perfect film.
13) Watchmen - Not without some flaws of its' own, there's still so much to love about this adaptation of the famous graphic novel. Personally, I think it improved upon the "giant squid" ending of the book (Blasphemy! Some will say. For me, that was always my least favorite part of the graphic novel.) Dark, loaded with stunning visuals and mostly perfect casting (sorry, Malin Ackerman...it's not your fault). The Director's Cut is well worth seeking out.
12) Where The Wild Things Are - A beautiful, haunting take on a short story, Spike Jonze's passion for the material shows in every frame. This one divides a lot of people, but I loved it.
11) Broken Embraces - Pedro Almodovar's latest melodrama maybe isn't one of his finest, but still manages to speak more about heartbreak and art than most films released in any given year in the United States. Anyone who has ever seen and loved "Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" must see this, for reasons I won't give away.
10) Avatar - The reason I can't put this higher on the list is because the truth is, the story and dialogue are really not all that incredible. Passable and entertaining, absolutely. But the visuals on-screen are simply...breathtaking. Much like when the The Matrix came out before it, this will be a film we look back upon years from now and see its' influences in computer-generated entertainment. And personally, I'll take Cameron's vision of environmental consciousness (with cool explosions) over the empty-headed explosions of Michael Bay's movies any second of any day.
9) Coraline - Right next to the amazing visuals of Avatar was the equally incredible work done by director Henry Selick and his team, but with a funny, scary story from Neil Gaiman about being careful what you wish for. A must-see in 3-D.
8) District 9 - The biggest surprise of the summer. First-time director Neil Blomkampf, who took everything he would have thrown into making an amazing Halo film and finding the heart in a more personal action film about what might happen if aliens were to come to Earth. A slow build to one hell of a climax.
7) (500) Days of Summer - An utterly charming and fresh take on the boy meets girl story, there's so much to love and admire here, not the least being the leads' chemistry and a wonderful soundtrack. For romantics and those who've given up on romance.
6) Up I can't remember the last time a movie made me cry within the first ten minutes. The phrase "Pixar has done it again" never seems to get old, especially, when the studio keeps putting such thought and heart into every one of their films. Special mention to Dug the Dog, another addition to the already huge stable of wonderful characters Pixar continue to come up with.
5) A Single Man - An elegant, gorgeously directed feature film debut by Tom Ford, filled with sensual and sad images (not to mention architectural porn...LOL), and completely anchored by a never-better Colin Firth. I've always liked Firth generally, but the dimensions he gets to play in this made me feel like I was watching him for the first time.
4) Star Trek - Okay, I'm so not a Trekkie, or Trekker, whatever. I've seen almost all of the movies though, and grew up watching the original show in reruns, so I admit I was interested in seeing J.J. Abrams tackle the franchise, if only to see if he was going to piss off a community of fans (like my partner) by re-casting (and re-inventing) the beloved characters. Turns out there was nothing to be concerned about. Everything about the film works, from the time-travel plot element that makes sense of the reinvention to the pitch-perfect cast. The second I walked out of the theater I couldn't wait to see it again, and couldn't wait to see the sequel. Summer always brings at least one great movie, and this was it.
3) The Hurt Locker - Completely deserving of all of the praise being heaped upon it, director Kathryn Bigelow's greatest accomplishment is the balance she achieves between showing the subtle effects of war on soldiers (some just want to go home, some are addicted to the thrill of the battlefield) and delivering a nail-biting thriller that works on every level, including the casting of Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, who are both excellent.
2) Inglorious Basterds - I freely admit I am a Tarantino fan, but that doesn't change the fact that Tarantino makes unique experiences with every story he tells. Part thriller, part revisionist history, and totally cool, with a great cast, led by Mélanie Laurent and Brad Pitt, and the incredible, horrible Christoph Waltz (who will win Best Supporting Actor this year if there's any justice), this was the most unexpected fun I had at the movies all year.
1) Up In The Air - The truth is, aside from The Hurt Locker, there really isn't a movie as timely as this one for 2009, for obvious reasons (the main character fires people for a living) and less obvious ones (it's a film about making connections, in a time where technology is providing us with more access to each other's lives than ever before while simultaneously many are experiencing more isolation). Jason Reitman's film is very funny, human, and real (with a perhaps too real twist for some expecting a completely Hollywood happy ending...did they expect a happy ending in a movie where so many people are getting fired?), and I haven't been able to get it out of my head after seeing it a few weeks ago. George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendricks are all fantastic and well deserving of the kudos coming their way, as is Reitman and the film, my favorite of the year.