Although it’s harder for myself to see as many films as I used to the 10 on this list are sure to please all viewers. 2009 was definitely the year of the animated film. Not only did 2 make this year’s list but there were so many more that were either close or I just haven’t seen yet. For the first time a war movie ranks at the top of the list. What better way to get the hearts and minds of Americans racing then to see the best film on the war in Iraq and I must say, one of the better war movies in a decade. Or maybe we need the sweetness of a 78-year-old curmudgeon. Nevertheless, here are the best films of the year
1) The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)
War is a drug the quote reads in the beginning of the film. Aptly put for anyone that has ever worn a uniform I would imagine. Kathryn Bigelow’s combustible war film tells the story of 3 men in Bravo Company in the war in Iraq whose jobs it is to disarm bombs in the heat of combat. This intensely gripping film is told through the eyes of Staff Sergeant William James (brilliantly played by Jeremy Renner) and is so real that one cannot truly imagine what these brave soldiers go through. Kathryn Bigelow’s camera work is quietly the 4th member of this troupe and you are never at ease as to anything you witness. SS William James obsesses over what his role is and yes, this is his drug. Hands down one of the more visceral experiences you will ever experience and one of the better war films since Full Metal Jacket.
2) Two Lovers (James Gray)
Joaquin Phoenix plays burned out, suicidal Leonard Kraditor in James Gray’s amazingly told and perfectly acted love triangle film. Leonard is essentially set up with Sandra the homely, sweet and Jewish (like Leondard and his family) daughter of his business partner . He then meets and instantly falls for the mercurial and shaky Michelle who herself is involved with a married man. What could easily turn into the stuff of trite filled soap operas turns into a simple story of 2 women that have won the heart of Leonard. Will Leonard make the right decision? Will his effects leave one of the girls heartbroken? A fantastic little film that owes as much to its great cast (Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow as Michelle and Vinessa Shaw as Sandra) as to its effectively shot streets of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
3) Up (Pete Docter)
The most heartwarming and uplifting (pun intended) tale of true love comes from the genius team that is Pixar films. They are on quite a role I must say. Releasing films this decade that are unparalleled by any director/producer team in years. This story begins as young Carl Fredrickson meets a spirited young girl named Ellie. Pixar then takes you on a short but ultimately sweet journey of their time together unitl Ellie passes on and leaves Carl alone to remember his time with her and her dream of travelling to South America. The first 20 minutes of this film are some of the saddest and emotionally filled scenes that I have ever witnessed and I dare you not to shed some tears. Carl isn’t done though. He befriends little 8-year-old Russell who is desperately trying to achieve his elderly badge of the boy scouts (or some version). Adventure ensues. Those familiar with Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo will find similar themes. The team at Pixar has really done an outstanding job keeping their films current, interesting and insightful. Watch it in 3-D if you get the chance.
4) Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino)
Quentin Tarantino’s hilarious and brutally made revenge film is one of his best. Little Shosanna Dreyfus witnesses the slaughter of her family by Col Hans Landa. She narrowly escapes until years later she runs into German war hero Frederick Zoller and in turn Landa again. In addition, there is a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as “the basterds” who have taken it upon themselves to spread fear through the Third Reich by brutally killing and scalping Nazis. The Basterds then cross paths with the now older Shosanna (now called Emanuelle). Quentin is one of a few directors that have an uncanny of re-inventing history and able to get away with it. Part historical text, part farce this is an incredibly made film.
5) 500 Days of Summer (Marc Webb)
An (un)romantic comedy starring the always likeable Joseph Gordon-Levitt and pleasingly pretty Zooey Deschanel as Tom and Summer who one day (after much flirting) decide to go out on a date. Marc Webb jumps back and forth from date #1 to date #67 (and so on and so on) and we witness the relationship become more than just 2 people dating to watching them deal with their own issues. He wallows in his self pity while she doesn’t believe in true love and the idea of relationships or boyfriends. Not only are the 2 stars ultimately believable and easy to watch but I found the film to be the truest (albeit modern) re-telling of the great Woody Allen film Annie Hall. I could see that the director used this as story telling technique and it just worked for me.
6) The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
The story of Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) who has disrupted his family unit for the last time with his hen heckling and turkey taking. Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) wants him to get a real job and so begins his next chapter of life until he decides that he needs just one more score (and another and another…) that ends up with his whole family and friends on an adventure that tests the perseverance of everyone involved. Told in stop motion animation that is as true to Wes Anderson’s oeuvre as he has ever done. The plot comes from the children’s classic by Roald Dahl and is another Anderson classic.
7) Still Walking (Hirokazu Koreeda)
This small Japanese film comes from the director of Nobody Knows, one of my favorite films of all time. Still Walking tells the story of the Yokoyama family who gathers together to mourn the death of the eldest son many years ago. This familial tale of angst, despair and loss is brilliantly told. The kind of film that resonates more from the Japanese point of view than an American.
8) Star Trek (J.J. Abrams)
The best blockbuster of 2009 is this re-telling of the Star Trek franchise. J.J. Abrams reinvents the story of Kirk, Spock and his merry band of co-horts with dignity and respect. Plus it is just a awesomely done kick ass movie movie.
9) Adventureland (Greg Mottola)
Although I was slightly disappointed that Greg Mottola didn’t shoot his 1987 comedy about working in an amusement park in the real Adventureland (close to my home and friends/family) but that’s ok. What he did do right was capture what it was like to be an angst ridden college graduate in 1987 (I myself was a little younger in 1987). Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have great chemistry together as James and Emily. He likes her, she thinks she likes him but really likes the much older Mike. James comes to realize what is really important in life and the cards that are dealt to us sometimes are better than the ones we wanted to get.
10) Away We Go (Sam Mendes)
Some critics have described the main characters of Sam Mendes new film as selfish and pitiable. I thought it was an honest depiction of 2 30-somethings that have no idea what they want from the world and are willing to try and anything to be happy. Verona (Maya Rudolph) is pregnant and depressed that she won’t be a good mother. Burt (John Krasinski) is the father (but noy husband, because she doesn’t want to get married) who suggest that they take a trip to various cities and Canada to see how and where they want their next chapter in life to take place. Written by the husband and wife team of novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, Away We Go is a perfectly told tale of 2 people that love each other and just need a little push to get them where they need to go. I think it’s rare to find such an unselfish and unflattering film about 2 people in love these days. Underrated.