At this point we’re really late, as 2009 has become a distant memory. I’ve been engaging Colin in a face-off over who should begin our final top tens of last year, but all signs point to me. So, as I’m sitting here, at work, where I’m supposed to help students with Final Cut, I figured I’d get this thing started.
Here’s the thing, Avatar was like a ride. A fun, memorable, incredible visit to the amusement park that is James Cameron’s mind. As a film, it’s not well-written or particularly interesting. In fact, it’s rather obvious and full of painful plot holes. To the point where it’s hard to believe he had like a decade and this was the best script the mastermind behind Terminator 2 could come up with. But as a visual feast for the eyes, it is damn near unparalleled. Nothing makes a better case for 3D technology than this movie. It’s really great to watch. What’s even more remarkable is the digital effects. I mean, Sigourney Weaver’s avatar looks like her. There are plenty of scenes that I’m sure are entirely animated, and yet they are totally compelling. That’s quite the feat. It’s no wonder this movie has done so well in theaters. It’s just a shame that it will be worthless outside of them.
What’s most striking about the latest from the team behind Half Nelson is, just like Precious, it’s scary just how plausible a movie it is. Sugar is the story of a young Dominican man’s experiences as he tries to make his way to the MLB. The use of real Dominican ballplayers adds a lot of credibility to the performances, and make the baseball scenes pretty entertaining. Since baseball became such a big part of my life in 2009, more than ever before really, and the Mariners had a really memorable season, I’d definitely be remiss if this great picture didn’t make the cut. But that certainly doesn’t mean this film’s appeal is limited to baseball fanatics. There’s enough real human drama to keep even the nerdiest audience entertained.
8. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox got a little lost in the George Clooney blitz that hit at the end of last year. Even though The Men Who Stare at Goats was the one that no one liked. I’m a sucker for Wes Anderson. That said, his last two movies haven’t grabbed me like his others did. Fantastic Mr. Fox is pretty amazing visually, and story wise it’s full of plenty of that dry wit that I expect from Anderson. It seems like I should have been a total sucker for this movie, but for whatever reason I wasn’t. I liked it. I respect it. But I don’t love it. I won’t be desperate to get the DVD as soon as it comes out. Perhaps I’m finally moving on from Wes Anderson, like so many critics did a couple films ago.
7. A Serious Man
The Coens simply make interesting movies. A Serious Man isn’t the next No Country for Old Men, but it’s not the next Burn After Reading either. It’s its own interesting entity, worthy of revisiting and analyzing. The performances here are very strong, and cinematically it’s quite pretty. I don’t really know what to say beyond that this movie is really interesting. There’s a lot going on that is not explicitly explained, and it’s fun to think about it and make connections. And that ending, my God. That has to be one of the most incredible last shots I’ve ever seen. How they could write a story like this boggles my mind. I’ve been trying to pay more attention to good writing and A Serious Man has more layers to it than I could ever count.
6. Where the Wild Things Are
We got at least three really sophisticated children’s movies in 2009. Up was full of heart, Fantastic Mr. Fox was fun and Where the Wild Things Are had so much going on it probably is best enjoyed by a more grown up audience. This is a complex look at what it’s like to be a kid, full of all the rage, sadness, and fun that entails. And it’s also got a really great visual style. And it’s got a pretty good soundtrack. And that trailer for the movie was amazing. Spike Jonze totally knocked this one out of the park. There were a number a really memorable movies in 2009. Precious comes to mind, but that is a movie I don’t have the willpower to revisit. Where the Wild Things Are not only was amazing in theaters, but I’d like to check it out again.
I’m always looking out for my boy Sam Rockwell. That’s not true. I haven’t seen most of his movies. But I have seen Galaxy Quest, and he was pretty good in that. Good enough that I like it when he’s in movies. Duncan Jones decided to let Rockwell have a whole movie pretty much entirely to himself, and he did not disappoint. But beyond Rockwell’s great performance, it’s also got Kevin Spacey’s best performance in years. Moon is a really solid psychological science fiction movie that totally was worth seeing twice in theaters.In two different countries. On two different continents. Yeah, I actually did do that. I think that’s cool. But other people are going to say I’m a fool for wasting precious time in London in a cinema. Screw those people.
4. Star Trek
I’ve always had a mild interest in Star Trek. I’ve seen the movies, some of the shows. When they recast the original crew for a new movie, I was like, why do that? Why not just tell the story of another crew? They’ve got all of the future to play with. They’re just going to piss Trekkies off. And they wrote a movie to avoid that. Up until Kirk gets marooned on Hoth, the new Star Trek is an incredible, action-packed ride. After that sad shift to exposition, it does lose some steam. But my God is that first part one hell of a ride. And it’s not like the movie got bad or anything, it just went in a less than desirable direction. Look, I’m always going to be a sucker for a good sci fi ride, and Star Trek is one of the best.
3. Up in the Air
Jason Reitman has consistently been putting out good movies his whole career. He likes to tell the stories of people flourishing under circumstances most of us would dread. Up in the Air is his best movie yet. Yes, it is very timely. But this movie is bigger than that. It’s emotionally involving. It’s funny. George Clooney is acting just about as well as he can, and he sure is suave. The leading ladies more than match Clooney’s performance too. I’ve seen each film in my top 5 twice now, and they all hold up really well. That was most surprising to me with this movie, since Juno didn’t seem that great the second time around. I guess that’s the difference between a movie that relies a little too heavily on goofy dialogue and a movie that has real heart.
2. The Hurt Locker
We’ve been waiting for a great movie about the war in Iraq. We’ve gotten close a couple times, but we hadn’t quite had that movie yet. The Hurt Locker is the movie we’ve been waiting for. On one level, this is the best action movie of the year. The disposal scenes are ridiculously thrilling. Remember the first time you saw James go on his first mission with the team? It just keeps ramping up, first they can’t find the guys that made the call. Then James just walks in there and throws up a smoke screen. Then that driver comes flying in. Then James finds the IED. Then, uh oh, it’s a freaking daisy chain. And there’s that great scene at the UN building. And that sniper battle, holy shit. On another level, it tells an interesting story about good soldiers and the problems they face in a modern war. Is there anything more astounding than that shot of James on the cereal aisle? This is a good ass movie.
1. Inglourious Basterds
If Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece is not everybody’s number one, I don’t know what I’ll do. Inglorious Basterds is amazingly well-written. What it does with language alone is mind-boggling. As Tarantino points out on the special features, WWII was the last time a whole bunch of white people got together for a war. It was the last time that clothes, language and mannerisms could mean the difference between life and death. And he shows us that with some amazing, dangerously tense sequences. That first scene in France. The scene at the bar. The whole ending of the movie. It’s just magnificent. Well done, sir. Well done.