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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2009

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.

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Posted by on 28 September, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Rewatch Review – Up in the Air


Sometimes, awards season can be overwhelming. All of a sudden, there’s tons of movies you need to check out. A vast majority of them will be really good, too. It can be very intense, and it’s easy to get too caught up in it and only view films in comparison to their competitiors rather than for what they actually are themselves. The 2009 season was very much such a case for me, especially since I got too hyped up about everything that it was inevitable for me not to be let down. In a slew of greatly anticipated films, Up in the Air was the one I had particularly high hopes for. A critically loved dramedy, made by Jason Reitman, the same guy responsible for Thank You For Smokng (which I really dig) and Juno (which I love), and starring Mr. Hollywood George Clooney. This would be my favorite for the season, surely. Well, it wasn’t. I very much liked the film, but I didn’t feel it really brought anything fresh to the table. What was so great about it? Why was this at one point considered a Best Picture frontrunner? And, perhaps the most unfair question of all: Why wasn’t it Juno?

It wasn’t Juno because it didn’t need to be. It was considered a Best Picture frontrunner because people thought the Academy would love it (it ended up not winning any Oscars at all). And what’s great about it is everything, as I have now discovered on a rewatch.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who fires people for a living. When a company boss doesn’t want to tell his employees himself that they’re being let go, he hires a guy like Ryan to handle the unpleasant task. The firm he works for has clients all over the US, so he spends a lot of time flying from one city to another. He barely has a home and maintains little contact with his relatives. And he likes it that way. As he says himself during one of his side gigs as a public speaker: “The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake: moving is living”. He feels no need to settle down. He’ll take pleasures where he can find them.

But then two women enter his life and upset it, one on a professional level and another on a personal one. The former is young hotshot Natalie (Anna Kendrick, here sporting a speech pattern that oddly reminds me of Jesse Eisenberg) who’s come up with the idea for Ryan’s company to start firing people over video phone calls, thus threatening to cause a permanent halt to his days of constant travelling. The other is Alex (Vera Farmiga), a woman who much like Ryan himself spends a lot of time travelling for work. They meet each other at an airport, find mutual attraction and end up having sex that same night (they’re both gorgeous and charming, so who can blame them?). But what starts as a casual friends-with-benefits scenario soon grows for Ryan, who realizes that he might be falling in love with her.

One problem I recall having with the film after my first time seeing it was the feeling that the two sides of Ryan’s life don’t intersect in any significant way. They play as two separate stories, ocassionaly encountering but rarely affecting each other. This is something I don’t really see as a problem now, for two reasons. 1: Many of us are the same way, keeping our professional and social spheres apart. 2: They do intersect. The intersection is Ryan. The threat of a new direction in his working life doesn’t does affect his relationship with Alex, not directly but through the change it has on him. There are two different stories at play in Up in the Air, but it’s one and the same main character in both of them.

I maintain that Clooney’s role as an assassin in the brilliant and underrated character study The American is his finest work to date, but his turn as Ryan Bingham isn’t far behind and is certainly the more pleasant of the two. Ryan is very charismatic, always ready and willing to turn his charm on but smart enough to know not to when he’s firing people in his job. This is one of those roles where Clooney is constantly acting, even when he’s not the focus of a scene (keep an eye on him during the part where Alex is consoling Natalie; he’s always smiling or frowning or doing something). It’s a character it’s easy for us to buy an actor like Clooney playing, but that doesn’t mean he’s just coasting by. He’s working the character for all its worth. And his two co-stars are equally great. Vera Farmiga is alluring as Alex, the kind of woman you’d just as easily fall in love with as Ryan does, and there are plenty of nuances to the performance that really shine through when you know how the story will play out. Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick plays Natalie as an ambitious rookie, full of confidence that you know just won’t be able to hold up. She fires off her lines with stable precision when the character is working, but it’s in a party scene where she lets her hair down that Natalie becomes a fully fledged character. This is where her professional and social spheres converge.

It came as a surprise to me, but I found myself loving Up in the Air this time around. Removed from all the Oscar hoopla, I find little to complain about. It knows when to push the comedy and when to give breathing room to allow the viewer to ponder the emotional sides of the story. It’s very funny, and the funny comes both in the lines the character deliver and in the all too recognizable situations they find themselves in. It’s not profound or revelatory in the plot elements it touches on (which might be what disappointed me the first time around), but it doesn’t have to be. And it’s not something we’ve seen a million times before. Ryan isn’t a detached grouch who learns to become a better man; he’s pleasant and happy from the start and finds new pleasures and ways to be happy as the film progresses. I hesitate to call it a character study, but perhaps that’s what it is. It has an engaging plot, tons of humor, an easy-going intelligence to its proceedings and some stellar acting. What’s not to like? I wish I’d have seen all this the first time I saw the film, but better late than never.

Score: 5/5

 
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Posted by on 9 September, 2011 in Reviews, Rewatch Reviews

 

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