Published at: Dec. 25, 2009, 1:49 a.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here with my top ten of 2009. Many of you may remember that I never did come up with a 2008 Top Ten. That’s because… I hate doing these things. Especially put them in any order. It just sucks. I also hate that I get yelled at for having films that are not in general release, but that I may have seen via my various duties as a programmer of Film Festivals – along with just the fact that I get shown things very early.
This was a tremendous year for film in my opinion, though perhaps not for the traditional “awards” genres. However, in the Animated, Science Fiction and Crime genres… Well, it was exceptional. That STAR TREK, KNOWING, LOVELY BONES, CORALINE, THIRST, OBSERVE AND REPORT, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL: NEW ORLEANS, THE HURT LOCKER, A SERIOUS MAN, TRUCKER, THE INFORMANT!, MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS, UP IN THE AIR, ANTI CHRIST, PRECIOUS, IN THE LOOP, BROKEN EMBRACES, IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, BROTHERS, AN EDUCATION, THE HANGOVER, ADVENTURELAND, BIG FAN, ME AND ORSON WELLES, THE ROAD, INVICTUS, SHERLOCK HOLMES, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, DRAG ME TO HELL, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, ETIENNE or WATCHMEN… not to mention the great documentaries of the year… though I have to admit, I didn’t see a single Doc this year that came close to being nearly as brilliant as MAN ON WIRE last year… Well, that none of those wound up on my top ten.
Honestly – it’s been a while since I had a top ten, filled with movies that I’ve seen or desired to see repeatedly and sometimes fanatically. But this year… in addition to the 10 below, I have to single out ADVENTURELAND, DRAG ME TO HELL, STAR TREK, OBSERVE AND REPORT, WATCHMEN and CORALINE as being truly fantastic films that have become high rotation watches.
The following ten films though… These are my picks for not merely the best of 2009, but the most compelling, memorable and outstanding features of 2009.
10. FANTASTIC MR FOX
We start with Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s THE FANTASTIC MR FOX. There is something instantly timeless about this film. The aesthetic of the Stop-Motion is completely counter to every theatrical stop-motion feature I’ve seen so far. The fluidity of animation isn’t quite there, but there’s a joy to the motion… and a subtlety to the colors, which just makes it all pop off the screen. I love how it feels so completely and utterly British, while still sounding American and looking a bit like the wonder of something starring Jean Paul Belmondo. It is an exquisite combination that makes this a film, that at least in my household, we’ll watch in and around Thanksgiving. It feels like a Thanksgiving story, doesn’t it?
Remember TRAINSPOTTING? The fury and giggles it unleashed? Not since that film, have I seen a mean nasty British film that so thoroughly thrilled me in a theater. Tom Hardy’s performance is amongst the most thrilling I’ve seen. Watching him in this film felt like watching a live performance in a theater, it communicated that vivacious energy that comes from a live performance, but via the emulsion of film. Truly a tremendous film. Director Nicolas Winding Refn, known from the PUSHER series – is somebody we should all keep an eye on. This is the first film of his to crack one of my top tens, but I have the distinct impression it won’t be his last. And if Tom Hardy doesn’t get nominated for Best Actor – there’s a crime taking place!
Duncan Jones came out swinging with MOON, one of the top three Science Fiction films of 2009. Contrary to DISTRICT 9 and AVATAR, both of which are in this Top Ten, MOON works wonders through Model work and excellent compositing… Not the pixelly magic of digital animation. MOON features one of the best male performances of the year with Sam Rockwell’s lonely Sam Bell, who is stationed alone upon the surface of the Moon mining something like Unobtanium, that is a miracle mineral helps to solve the world’s energy woes. His only companion is a sentient computer named GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey. The twists and turns this film takes should absolutely never be spoiled.
AVATAR falls further back on this list, mainly due to the fact I haven’t had enough chances to see it, yet. The other films on this list, I’ve watched many times now. AVATAR in two viewings, once upon a half blurry screen at a Critic’s Screening here in Austin, then the other as the end-capper for BNAT1138. I look forward to next seeing it in IMAX 3D. That viewing could catapult this higher upon my list. My favorite female performance of 2009 is in a small film called TRUCKER, starring Michelle Monaghan. That said, I absolutely love Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri. I know the performance is mainly that of Zoe, and when you look at the physicality, the grace of her actions… then just the subtle work she does that someone translates perfectly into the guise of Neytiri… it is breathtaking. This film is going to be a landmark achievement in effects and story-telling. Not only is this the best work since Andy Serkis/Gollum/Weta’s… but magnified on a scale that we haven’t seen before. There is a curious side of me that wonders what wound up on the cutting room floor. I really do long for a longer cut, but I wonder if we’ll ever see more than what is in theaters, due to the expense of rendering those scenes, which were most likely cut early in the process. But what is here, will lay the groundwork on a larger world of Universe Building. The first film that we’ll see the effects of this film will be Andrew Stanton’s JOHN CARTER OF MARS – and with AVATAR’s grosses – I’m betting Stanton is thanking Cameron for laying some of that groundwork. Tremendous artistry and one hell of a yarn!
6. GEU-RIM-JA SAL-IN (aka PRIVATE EYE)
Now – I love Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, but this year in South Korea – a first time Director/Screenwriter did his own adaptation of SHERLOCK HOLMES, but instead of taking place in Victorian London, it is that same period, but in Korea – and it isn’t centered around Doyle’s wonderful characters, instead they’re “the Korean version.” At this point, Korea was a single country, not yet divided. And the Holmes-like character is a former police detective, who left the ‘force’ in disgrace and became a Private Eye that mainly specialized in catching wives or husbands cheating on their spouses. The Watson-like character is at University, trying to learn Western Medicine techniques, but can’t gain access to cadavers, so when he happens across a body in the woods, he practices on it, only to find out later, it’s a famous body. And all the Korean papers are talking about what happened to him. He employs our PRIVATE EYE to find who really did the murder. This turns into an excellent Holmes-ian mystery, but is less like the cases that Holmes usually was involved in, and feels closer to CHINA TOWN, but decidedly Korean. Saw this at FANTASTIC FEST where it blew me away!
5. THE SQUARE
From this pick forward – you’re dealing with films that I love at a primal level. These top 5 films are movies that make me swoon, that each are incredibly powerful works of cinema and couldn’t be more different. This was the first film I saw at SXSW FILM FESTIVAL this past March. I saw it again at CINEVEGAS (which sadly won’t be happening in 2010 ☹) Nash Edgerton’s thrilling Film Noir is a classic of the genre. It is a film that is absolutely brutal, like a great Noir should be. Everyone that does ill, has that ill revisited upon them a 1000 fold. It’s all about a man in a loveless marriage, who has found a woman he loves. And she’s in a loveless marriage and loves him. They have a plot for how they can, in one fell swoop, get the nest egg to strike out on their own. It all goes, very badly. David Roberts & Claire Van Der Boom play the two lovers – and they’re fantastic. Nash Edgerton is a phenomenal new talent behind the lens, prior to this – he was Ewan McGregor’s stunt double in the Star Wars prequels and did stunt work in the MATRIX series, SUPERMAN RETURNS and a host of Australian shot flicks! And his brother wrote this!
4. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS
INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS could very well indeed be Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece. Every time that I watch this, the film grows. I love watching every character in this film. It isn’t just the brilliance of Christoph Waltz’s Best Supporting Actor winning performance as Hans Landa. There’s a giddiness I get watching Sylvester Groth’s Goebbels or Til Schweiger’s quiet menace as Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz or the crazy Bostonian Eli Roth’s performance as Sgt. Donny Donowitz or Diane Kruger’s Bridget Von Hammersmark. Or Daniel Bruhl’s Zoller trying to catch the eye of Melanie Laurent’s Shosanna – or her and Jacky Ido’s Marcel’s death pact to take out the Nazi High Command… or Michael Fassbender’s amazing Lt Archie Hicox. OH – then there’s every word coming out of Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine. This is a masterful film.
There really is nothing to say about UP, beyond the fact that it is a perfect film. This is a film that so deftly tells what on the surface seems to be a tale of whimsy, but before you know it, you’ve been hit by an emotional sledgehammer, as if swung by John Henry, himself. From Ed Asner’s brilliant voice work as Carl Fredricksen – to the precocious voice of Jordan Nagai as the rotund Wilderness Explorer, Russell… it is perfect. The creep factor that Christopher Plummer puts into the creepy Kirk Douglas-y Charles Muntz is brilliant and unhinged. This “cartoon” is more adult than most every film we got to see this year. Brilliant film and the very best yet from Pixar… which has a habit of making critics say that. Keep it up guys!
2. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Emotionally, this film owns me. So much so that it talked itself out of being my pick for number one sheerly based upon the fact that it leaves me so emotionally wrecked after every viewing, that I can’t stand to watch it too often. It is an over-whelming film. It conjures emotions that no other film I know of has elicited in me. This and DISTRICT 9 have been arm wrestling with each other for my affection ever since I saw both of them. Spike Jonze has officially earned a lifesized Bronze Statue of him, to be erected outside of his Elementary School with this film. And he should be wearing Max’s Crown in the statue.
1. DISTRICT 9
So… What made Neill Blomkamp’s film leap frog WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in the final estimation? Originality, incomparable effects superiority, a wondrous cultural shift in film location and the performance of first time actor, Sharlto Copley. On the commentary on the Blu Ray – Blomkamp tells us that Sharlto joked about this being a Mel Gibson film, in terms of how tortured his character was, and I agree… it is a stunningly masochistic character, but one that deserves everything that came to him. In a way, this is a remake of the Vic Morrow story from TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE – but told in a manner so vastly exceeding anything like that film, that it stunned me and continues to stun me. Sharlto’s Wikus is a xenophobic racist rat bastard – who also happens to be a sweet family man. His Wikus reminds me of Ricky Gervais’ David Brent. He’s so loathsome, while still, somehow retaining enough charisma to get you to root for him. The filmmaking style is again unique – fusing the mockumentary with straight hardcore science fiction narrative filmmaking – to create a hybrid story unlike any that I’ve seen before. This, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and STAR TREK are my most readily rewatchable movies I’ve seen in the last several years. Each showcases an incredible amount of talent, but with Neill… he does it in such a beautifully non-US-centric way, that it made me want filmmakers from all over the world to sit down and adapt American production styles and genres to their own culture. With PRIVATE EYE and DISTRICT 9 and THE SQUARE – we have the mystery, sci fi and film noir genres done better than we’ve seen them done domestically in ages.
You may notice that I haven’t littered this year’s BEST list with 2010 titles. I will say that Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND and Matthew Vaughn’s KICKASS would easily crack my top ten. But I decided to let them compete with next year’s. As it is, Rian Johnson’s BROTHERS BLOOM, which I mentally place in 2008, should be at #6 this year, had I not considered it part of last year’s.