Published at: Dec. 31, 2009, 9:48 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
It was a great year to be a genre fan. As much as 2008 was the year of the fanboy, this was the year that rewarded honest to god science fiction buffs. 20 Animated films, no less than a dozen sci-fi, fantasy or end of the world films - most of them good, if not great - and a real attention paid to SERIOUS genre filmmaking. In other words, it was a great year to be an AICN style movie lover. Here are the ten that most touched me and that I hold most dear.
10) UP IN THE AIR. Jason Reitman is quickly proving to be one of the strongest voices of his generation, turning in film after film that gets to the heart of the human condition and makes us laugh at the same time. In each film he takes what would under normal conditions be a thoroughly unlikable character – a bullshit artist spin doctor for Big Tobacco, a hipper-than-thou teenager too dumb not to get knocked up and now a professional axe man who gives lectures on the necessity to cut out human baggage from your life - and he finds the humanity and makes you feel for them. Here he managed to catch Clooney at just the right moment in his life that he identified with the material and turned in a wonderfully endearing performance that manages to be pretty heartbreaking. Some folks have taken issue with the films unresolved ending, but personally that is part of what I love most about it. That’s the theme of the film right there in the title: UP IN THE AIR. While I don’t think it is Reitman’s best film (I’m still a huge fan of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING) I think it is easily his most accessible.
9) TAKING WOODSTOCK. I still can’t believe what I heard coming out of this screening from other critics. People were complaining, both openly there and later in print, that there wasn’t any WOODSTOCK footage or recreations of the stage events, and that the classic performances and music were entirely absent. That was the point. This isn’t a film about Woodstock. It is a film about the tempest surrounding it, about the people who played a part in making it all happen, and just how in-over-their-head they were. The film is a fantastic, heartwarming, feel good movie chock full of great moments, wonderful characters and one of the greatest LSD sequences ever set to film. Truly a remarkable film, this is one that fell off of too many people’s radars and should find its way back on as soon as possible.
8) UP. It’s UP. If there’s a TOP 10 list that doesn’t have this on it, or one of you that has not yet seen it, I haven’t heard about it. You can find my full initial review here. A Wonderful film.
7) THE ROAD. Dark, depressing and probably the best post-apocalyptic film ever made. This takes a very serious look at (what appears to be) a post-comet struck world. Life is dying out, people are starving, cannibalism rules the day. One of the very best things about this year is how seriously filmmakers took science fiction, and this is a great example of that. It’s not an adventure film; it is a film about a man trying to remain moral in the face of vicious immorality while trying to pass those lessons and ideals onto his young son – all while staying alive. Not an easy task. Harsh, cold and riveting, this delivers on everything it promises: an Oscar caliber film that transcends genre and truly captures the essence of Cormac McCarthy’s literature. Mortensen and Hillcoat prove to be an effective team that each delivers on their potential.
6) FANTASTIC MR. FOX. When I first wrote my review several months ago, I said that I held UP to be the superior film. Two months and several viewings later, I’ve changed my mind. I love UP and everything they did with it. But at the end of the day it was everything we expect out of Pixar. This was unexpected. This was different. This changed the way I looked at how a film like this could be made. I want to see other visionary directors tackle stop motion or animated projects, adding their unique voices and vision to the process. I want to see Anderson do another of these films. FOX was a reset button on Anderson’s career, bringing out everything that was great about him initially but had gotten so stale. Even if his next project isn’t animated or a family, I want to see this energy and enthusiasm brought back again.
I will cherish this film for a very long time.
5) MOON. Now we’re into my top 5, all of which are Science fiction this year. I don’t think it is much of a secret that I am a sci-fi/fantasy dork, but this year was benchmark year for genre lovers and this part of the list won’t seem that odd to many of you. It’s not like I’m plucking them out of obscurity. These are all some of the very best films of the year, and let’s face it, because of their genre, the audiences they appeal to and the way they handle their material, they will have a shelf life that outlasts many of their more reality grounded contemporaries. And that especially goes for MOON. A brilliant, quiet, thoughtful piece of gritty sci-fi, Duncan Jones exploded on the scene with one of the most thought provoking, truly classic in tone science fiction effort. While he wore his influences on his sleeve, they weren’t exactly mainstream influences, and for the first time in recent memory we were treated to something akin to a great Bradbury story. Here are my original thoughts on this.
4) STAR TREK. There are precisely four people in the world not in love with the new STAR TREK movie and they spend all of their time in the talkback section reminding us how much they hate it. Okay, while that might not be entirely true, it sure as hell seems true. I personally can’t get enough of this movie. It is the very definition of a popcorn movie that aspires to be more without ever forgetting its roots. It entertains like no other film entertained this year, mixing nostalgia with a fresh take and an original look that came together to form an infinitely rewatchable tale that both adheres to canon while being able to redefine it. A startlingly refreshing breath of fresh air, this might prove to ultimately be my FAVORITE film of the year, if not quite what I think to be the best. Scads more gushing can be found here.
3) AVATAR. Yes. My eyeballs were properly fucked after a nice dinner and romantic bottle of wine. However, it was this confirmation by my favorite astrophysicist in the world (as well as his follow-ups) that the science was good. That while the story was fantasy dressed up in sci-fi, the sci- in the fi was solid. Avatar is not a long time ago in some galaxy far, far away. It is a story on a world that could very much exist out there. Together we dream of a world that could, in some manner, exist. Cameron devoted so much passion to the universe he set it in that it enriches every frame of a very visual film in a way most other films cannot. Brilliant. And yet, as has been discussed, the story wasn’t exactly chock full of surprises – which is what makes it number three in a very tightly packed, very much loved top 5.
2) FISH STORY. I hate being this guy, but this year I have to. FISH STORY isn’t available over here. A Region 2 DVD reportedly exists, but I haven’t seen one yet. But what I have seen is this movie…six times now. And with Tim League hinting that he might be trying to bring it back, I’ll be seeing it again on the big screen. The story of a world imperiled by a comet, only one obscure punk rock song from the 70’s can save it. I LOVE the ever loving shit out of this movie like you cannot believe. Smart as all hell, touching, funny – I’ve reviewed it twice already. Here and here. If you are the type of person who tracks down rare gems from other locales, this is a movie to put on your watch list. I hope to god SOMEONE picks up the DVD rights to this in the states or that NETFLIX gets a hold of it. I want people to see this so badly that it hurts.
1) DISTRICT 9. AVATAR is not the most important film of the year. This is. Avatar pushed the limits of technology and showed the world that giving a bonafide genius 12 years and every toy in the toychest to play with that you can make more money than God. DISTRICT 9 showed that if you give a young genius $30 million dollars and leave him the fuck alone under the tutelage of a master like Peter Jackson, that you will make money hand over fist while garnering endless praise forging a classic that will be rewatched and discussed for generations. If you weren’t old enough for ALIEN or ROBOCOP or THE THING to melt your brain and become part of your DNA like it is with so many of us – this is what it felt like. This is what it feels like. This is a film that will be ripped off and paid homage to from here on out. It is a part of history.
AVATAR will be forever heralded as one of the big budget greats. A JURASSIC PARK or a STAR WARS or a STAR TREK. This is something different. It is a rare and delicate thing that comes along only a few times a generation. I want very desperately for this to be a sign of things to come for Neil Blomkamp. I want him to be our John Carpenter or Ridley Scott. Fingers crossed.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.