Monday, December 28, 2009

Favorite Movies of 2009

Well since it’s the time of year when everyone puts up their top 10 list of the year I thought I would put together my 10 favorite movies I saw in the theater this year. The list is hardly inclusive, as I think I went to the theater far less this year than any other year in memory. (I saw 46 movies at the theater this year, not counting revivals). Part of it is middle age ennui, part of it is I just don’t care for a lot of the movies coming out these days, and a large part of it is realizing I have oodles of TCM titles I’ve taped and I’d much rather watch those than make a trek to local Cineplex, which is becoming more of a crapshoot with each year. Also, I do tend to see titles at the second run shows for $3, so there’s none of the big holiday openings here. With that in mind, here are my top ten favorite movies of the year.

Ten Favorite Movies of 2009

10. “Just Another Love Story”. Modern day film noir from Denmark about an unhappy husband and father who causes an automobile accident and puts a woman in a coma. She wakes up with no memory. He takes the identity of her boyfriend, falls in love with her and ingratiates himself in her family. Bad things begin to occur when the real boy friend shows up. A unique twist on a Cornell Woolrich-type situation. While some explicit nudity and violence are present, the central plot and characters are strongly reminiscent of many great noir pictures from the 1940s and 1950s.

9. “Extract”. The latest from Mike Judge, writer and director of “Office Space” (1998) with a similar vibe. I love these workplace comedies showing the affection (tinged with a bit of irritation) at the foibles of some of these characters. Mila Kunis continues to fulfill the promise she showed in the otherwise dreadful “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008). Hilarious support from scene stealers David Koechner (great as a way too-friendly neighbor), .J.K. Simmons and Clifton Collins Jr. Collins gets my vote for favorite cinema find of 2009 (See “Sunshine Cleaning” entry below).
8. “The Informant!” Director Steven Soderberg’s latest, and I’m surprised it didn’t connect more with viewers. Matt Damon does it again in a spectacular performance. Is there any actor working today with a more consistent streak of good movies? I also love the Marvin Hamlisch score, and hope it’s remembered at Oscar time.

7. “Sunshine Cleaning”. One of the year’s sleepers, a slice of life picture with Amy Adams and Emily Blunt struggling to start the title business, a service that cleans up after crime scenes. Amy Adams is one of our most likeable actresses; you can’t help but like her, even when her character here is being totally irresponsible. There’s an excellent supporting performance by Clifton Collins Jr. as the owner of a cleaning supply store who helps Adams with her son that is one the year’s most overlooked, and probably my most favorite. He’s a talent to watch.

6. “Pirate Radio”. The year’s most pleasant surprise and a very agreeable slop of a movie. It reminds me a lot of those anarchic, anything goes comedies that Paramount produced in the 1930s, such as “The Big Broadcast” (1932), “Million Dollar Legs” (1932) or early Marx Brothers. Little vignettes, off the wall characters, satisfying pay offs and a great song soundtrack. Like Matt Damon, Philip Seymour Hoffman continues his hot streak of selecting strong properties. It may not have been very successful at the box office (I don’t know how it did overseas), but I have a feeling this will be a cult film. I will continue to happily support screenwriter/director Richard Curtis. His work is a glorious oasis in the current ocean of comedic mediocrity.

5. “Knowing”. I have to go along with Roger Ebert on this one by giving it four stars. Based on the trailers, I feared for the worst – a Nicolas Cage apolocalyptic thriller loaded with CGI. Instead I got a thoughtful and nail biting suspense thriller with some truly stunning imagery. I like Cage going unhinged and think he gets a bad rap for it. I appreciate that much more than some actor mumbling under his breath thinking he’s getting to the root of the character. No, he’s just mumbling under his breath and being irritating. The final images are among the year’s most haunting. Speaking of haunting, how about those strange figures following Cage’s family wherever they go? They invoke more uneasiness and dread than most horror movies. One of the year’s most unexpected surprises.

4. “The Hurt Locker”. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s apolitical look at an ace bomb disposal expert in Iraq (Jeremy Renner) who lives on an adrenaline rush of danger, this was nail biting from beginning to end. Another film that will live on long after it leaves the theaters.

3. “Inglourious Basterds”. Director Quentin Tarantino’s WWII fantasy film may be the most enjoyable movie experience I had all year. I think Brad Pitt has been severely underrated here, as I think his performance is an absolute jewel. I loved the slow buildups to the action scenes which are very cleanly shot and edited. No uber-hyper editing here, thank God. Two caveats: There should have been more of the great Rod Taylor (as Winston Churchill), and Tarantino’s use of already existing film music. I hope one day he’ll hire a composer to write an actual score for one of his movies.

2. “Adventureland”. I loved every minute of Greg Mottola’s intimate, bittersweet and lovely evocation of growing up, summer temp jobs and romance. Sold as a whacky comedy, this is much deeper and touching. Wonderful performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds and Martin Starr. I especially liked Starr’s performance as the sad sack, perpetual stoner. This has been a strong year for under the radar supporting performances.

1. “Up”. Far and away the year’s most emotionally enriching experience. Pixar does it again, and was there any greater sequence this year than the first 15 wordless minutes showing joy, happiness, love, death and sadness over the course of a man’s life. Just glorious. Special kudos to composer Michael Giacchino’s glorious score, featuring – gasp - actual melody and musical devleopment. Easily the best score of 2009, which means it doesn’t stand a chance of winning the Best Score Oscar. I would dearly love to be wrong.

Honorable Mentions:

“Coraline”. A wonderfully weird 3D stop motion-animated feature with some hilariously deadpan sequences.

“State of Play”. Strong thriller about investigative reporters, a Washington D.C. scandal, and a prescient look at the declining newspaper industry. As one who loves newspapers, this one really got to me. Strong cast headed by Russell Crowe and Rachel McAdams. Ben Affleck is good too, and he was good in “Extract” too, a small gem of a comedic performance. I never cared for Affleck as a leading man at all, but maybe he’s found his niche as a supporting actor.

“Taken”. Exciting B movie actioner with retired agent Liam Neeson going after the scum who kidnapped his daughter for a sex slave ring. Clocking in at 90 minutes, this reminds me of the Charles Bronson-type action flicks from 1970s. It sets up the premise, and you’re in and out with a minimum of fuss. I could do with less frenetic cutting in the action scenes, but this is hardly the worst offender out there.

Worst Films of the Year:

“Angels and Demons”. Another Dan Brown adaptation, this one louder and stupider than “The DaVinci Code.” Do Tom Hanks and Ron Howard really need the money this badly?

“The Proposition”. Another bad Sandra Bullock movie. Is there any actress who is so consistently likeable yet makes so many bad movies? That’s a star.

“Public Enemies”. The year’s biggest disappointment, as director Michael Mann, in discovering the “joys” of digital filmmaking, forgot about writing a good script.

“Year One” I saw this at a second run theater with about 30 people attending and there was not one laugh throughout the entire film. Not one. Painful beyond all endurance.

“Couples Retreat”. A so-called comedy about testing adult relationships at a beautiful Caribbean resort. No laughs, no drama and a cast full of characters in real life I would stay far, far away from. In other words, it’s like a Judd Apatow movie except it’s shorter.

“The Fourth Kind”. Probably the worst movie I saw this year. Supposedly based on a true story, as people re-enact their alien abduction experiences. So we get split screens of people re-enacting their events while under hypnosis while dramatic re-enactments are shown alongside of it. Awful beyond belief. Mila Jovovich does the best she can. I think she’s a pretty decent actress but there’s no redeeming this movie.

Most overrated:

“Star Trek”. Sometimes a movie comes out and everyone raves about it and you go to see and for the life of you can’t figure out what everyone is raving about. For me this year it was “Star Trek”, which I found a perfectly excrutiating experience. Director J.J. Abrams overdirects every scene, complete with irritating lens flares throughout (not once or twice, but through the whole movie), tilted camera angles for no discernable reason (even on normal conversations on the bridge, maybe the lens flares blinded ol’ J.J. on the set and he had no idea his camera was all askew) and over-edited frenetic action scenes (my big bugaboo). I found it about as exciting as watching cupcakes being sold at a bake sale and was mighty glad when it was over.

Most underrated:

“Pirate Radio”. See above.

Movie I couldn’t bring myself to see even if my life depended on it: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”


Dees Stribling said...

Now when was the last time I actually went to a movie? Saw exactly one of these -- on your worst list. Found the new Star Trek movie merely silly, not awful.

Kevin Deany said...

I thought "Star Trek" was silly and awful. I know I'm in the minority on that title, and I'm glad so many people enjoyed it. But it was an endurance test for me.

Keith Buckley said...

Here is my list, which I will qualify saying I have not yet seen "Up", "Avatar" or "Sherlock Holmes", to a name a few major movies that could make the list.

1. Inglorious Basterds
2. Star Trek
3. The Blind Side
4. Private Radio
5. Zombieland
6. Harry Potter and the Half Blod Prince
7. Where the Wild Things Are
8. Watchmen
9. The Hangover
10. Taken

Kevin Deany said...

Pretty good list. I haven't seen "The Blind Side" yet, and I've made my views on "Star Trek", already known. I fully realize I'm in the minority on it and will give it another shot soon.

"Watchmen" was better than I thought it would be, but I have no desire to re-visit it anytime soon. Good call on the glorious "Pirate Radio". Great minds think alike. "Zombieland" almost made my honorable mention list, and thinking about it more, it should have been listed.

Keith Buckley said...

Having just seen "Up" and "Invictus", I need to ammend my list as follows:

1. Inglorious Basterds
2. Star Trek
3. The Blind Side
4. Private Radio
5. Invictus
6. Zombieland
7. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
8. Where the Wild Things Are
9. Watchmen
10. Up