When I made my Top 10 of 2010 list a few weeks ago, there was a good reason for it. I had just watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World, which was the last of my major must-see films for the year. At that point, I felt confident in making a list I could get behind to an acceptable degree. So even though it came more than 8 months after 2010 ended, it felt warranted.
Justifying a Top Ten of 2009 list when we’re fast approaching 2012 is trickier. In fact, there’s always a certain degree of guilt involved in making any list. They’re “easy”, both to write and to digest. The blogging world is swamped by them. They’re not worthwhile content. Why rank movies at all? And so on and so forth. The reason for me doing this is that I think yearly top ten lists are a good way to get a feel for what a person’s taste in film looks like. When I come across a blog that’s been active for a few years, I often check to see if they have any lists of this sort. I enjoy seeing what people have picked, and sometimes I’ll get alerted to films I haven’t heard of before, or am pursuaded by someone’s enthusiasm to check out a movie I might have dismissed earlier. For me, reading them serves a purpose. And thus, me writing them might provide some of you similar benefits.
Since this blog isn’t very old, there hasn’t been time to provide any yearly lists like this. So I’m doing them retroactively, one year at a time, moving back through the years. I don’t intend to drown you in them, mind you. Maybe one every couple of weeks or so, when I feel like updates have been a bit slow and I can’t come up with anything more interesting to write about. Regardless, I hope you’ll enjoy them in one way or another.
So. 2009. Not my favorite year in terms of movies. Plenty of films “very good” but not “great”, a whole bunch of let-downs and a couple of real stinkers (supreme bore-fest 2012 and painfully unfunny Year One chiefs among them). The real highlights were scarce compared to other recent years. Nonetheless, the ten films listed below all endeared themselves to me in one way or another. I can look at this list and really like what I see.
This is 2009 strictly as listed on IMDB, by the way. And please do keep in mind that these are my favorite movies of the year and nothing more.
10 – THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE (Steven Soderbergh)
“If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn’t be paying you.”
This one I wrote about in my post on overlooked films of the 2000s. While it didn’t quite hold up to my first impressions when I rewatched it, it still remains a fascinating look at the life of an upscale call girl (played by porn star Sasha Grey) during the financial crisis of the late aughts. Steven Soderbergh, never one to settle for a defined personal style, here opts for a bare-bone realistic tone, with long static distant shots as if the camera is spying on the proceedings. Perhaps a bit too sterile for some, but I found The Girlfriend Experience very captivating. It’s one of my favorite Soderberghs. Bonus: Watch it with friends and giggle when one of them goes “Who is that actress? What else has she been in? I know I reognize her from somewhere!”
9 – AN EDUCATION (Lone Scherfig)
“It’s funny though, isn’t it? All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all.”
Every year, there seems to be one bright new young starlet who arrives on the scene from out of nowhere. In 2009, that actress was Carey Mulligan. She’s thoroughly convincing in the touching coming-of-age drama An Education, playing 16 year-old Jenny in 1960’s England, a girl tired of the world she’s in who finds herself whisked away to a life of romance and glamor by a charming stranger (Peter Sarsgaard). Not the most unique of stories, but one told exceedingly well. Also features a great supporting turn by Alfred Molina as Jenny’s father.
8 – FISH TANK (Andrea Arnold)
“I hate you!”
Another British drama about a teenage girl who finds herself attracted to an older man, but that’s where the similarities to An Education ends. Fish Tank‘s Mia (Katie Jarvis) is an aggressive and angry 15 year-old in a low-income home. She fights with her mother and sister all the time and seems to take pleasure in nothing but dancing. Enter mum’s new boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender) who might present a new light in Mia’s life, but nothing’s ever easy. This film is raw and gritty, showing an unpleasant view of the life of one volatile girl. Jarvis and Fassbender are teriffic, but the run-down settings and atmosphere of the film takes center stage almost as much as the characters.
7 – ADVENTURELAND (Greg Mottola)
“We pay little Malaysian kids 10 cents a day to make these toys, we can’t just give them away.”
This one gets better the more I think about. What might seem like a typical humorous tale of boy-meets-girl is elevated by the very human and believable nature of its story and characters. James (Jessie Eisenberg) isn’t the standard cripplingly awkward virgin. He’s an intelligent young man who just hasn’t found The One yet. And love interest Em (Kristen Stewart in an eye-opening performance) isn’t just there to be the object of James’ desire. She’s a fully rounded character with her own issues and traits. It’s a sweet story with players it’s easy to care about, so well-developed that when the (actually quite funny) comedy bits pop up now and then they almost feel out of place.
6 – THE ROAD (John Hillcoat)
“All I know is the child is my warrant, and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.”
One of the bleakest visions of post-apocalypse in recent memory, The Road follows a nameless man and his boy (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they traverse the remains of recently destroyed America in pursuit of the ocean where salvation might be found. It’s a remarkable bond we witness between parent and child. Yes, the father loves the boy and the boy loves the father, but the grim surroundings forces it to manifest in unusual ways. There are enough thrills to keep a sense of danger always lurking, but it’s in the gorgeously ugly vistas and the superb acting that the film’s real strengths lie. Based on an equally great Cormac McCarthy novel, which I compared with the film in a blog post a while ago.
5 – AVATAR (James Cameron)
“Maybe I was sick of doctors telling me what I couldn’t do.”
A mindblowing experience in theater. Haven’t seen it since. Don’t particularly want to until the same experience can be replicated at home. This doesn’t diminish the film’s qualities: action, design and spectacular visuals. Avatar is the kind of movie that only comes around once a decade or so. For better or worse.
4 – THE COVE (Louie Psihoyos)
“All because dolphins naturally smile all the time doesn’t mean they’re happy all the time.”
God knows I don’t always agree with the Academy members when it comes to their Oscars voting, but they do tend to hand out their Best Documentary Feature award to worthy recipients. Louise Psihoyos‘ great dolphin documentary The Cove is no exception, taking a harsh look at the lives of the creatures in captivity. We get some backstory on the dolphin seen in Flipper and are educated on how others of his species are treated in places like Sea World, but the brunt of the film concerns the going-ons at Japanese coastal town Taiji where the animals are hunted for food in shady fashion. Powerful stuff, culminating in a scene that had me grimacing with repulsion.
3 – UP IN THE AIR (Jason Reitman)
“Make no mistake: your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises.”
I recently rewatched and reviewed this one, and I’m glad I did as it really grew on me. Tremendously funny and thoughtful film with wonderful performances by Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and of course George Clooney in the lead. Check out my review for more detailed thoughts.
2 – CORALINE (Henry Selick)
“She wants something to love, I think. Something that isn’t her. Or maybe she’d just love something to eat.”
Oh what a great film this is. Playfully dark in its design, with a story likely to seem scarier for grown-ups than for kids. As the titular girl struggles with resentment towards her parents and explores a parallel world of foreboding wonders, we’re treated to gorgeous visuals of painstaking detail (definitely check out the making-of features on the DVD if you can). Stop-motion animation has never looked better. A thrilling ride from start to finish, Coraline is the best American animated film in years.
1 – IN THE LOOP (Armando Iannucci)
“The intelligence we’ve got is so deep, so fucking hard, it’ll fucking puncture your kidneys.”
Political satire at its finest, showing the twisting and ridiculous going-ons behind the scenes of British and American governments in a fictional lead-up to an Iraq-like situation. Rather than picking a side (no party is ever mentioned by name and could be of any political leanings), In the Loop embraces the futility of it all as some people pursue war, some seek to avoid it, and it all ends up in a clusterfuck of plotting and scheming. Stalking around in corridors hunting for secret committees, PR nightmares springing forth when people use the wrong kind of vague response in interviews, and unpleasant reports surfacing at inopportune moments. But more than just about politics, this is above all a superbly funny film filled to the brim with sharp dialogue, dry wit and some of the greatest cursing known to man. MVP: Peter Capaldi as foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm. Don’t miss this one.