The Ten Best Movies of 2009
The Ten Best Movies of the Year 2009…or any year…are always difficult to pick, even if you have been doing your homework and attending film festivals (Chicago, Toronto) in order to be able to see those that are most-lauded. The best of the best always seem to hit the Quad Cities late or not at all. [I remember having to drive to Iowa City to see Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” in 1994, which limped into town months late.]
The films I’m going to point out have not necessarily played the Quad Cities yet. In some cases, that is because they haven’t been officially released yet. I hope they will arrive in town soon. Film festivals give you a chance to get an “advance peek” at a few and to hear about them from the actors, directors and producers themselves.
Please note: These are in no particular order.
“The Hurt Locker” – Director Kathryn Bigelow took newcomer Jeremy Renner, an unknown (surrounded by a cast of unknowns) who plays a hell-bent-for-leather bomb defuser in 2004 Baghdad, and delivers a film that is one of the year’s best. Intense. Riveting.
‘Up in the Air” – Jason Reitman directs George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in a film about a man who travels the world firing people and collecting frequent flyer miles. As the “New York Times” put it, Clooney and Farmiga are voted “the couple most likely to have an argument and get off on it.” I have a vested interest in seeing the film do well. The music for the film was selected by Rick Clark, my daughter’s mentor in Nashville for three years of her college classes in Music Business at Belmont University and she often assisted him with his selection(s) and with his Sirius radio show. (Clark also advised on the music for “Juno”). A sure-fire Oscar contender.
“The Informant” – Matt Damon played two strong roles this year, and this one, as a midwestern mid-level employee of ADM who turns informant for the F.B.I. was terrific. His turn in “Invictus” (a Clint Eastwood-directed film with Morgan Freeman undoubtedly bound for Oscar nominations) as a soccer player helping Nelson Mandela bring South Africa kicking and screaming into the post-apartheid period will undoubtedly score big in March as well. [Since the latter hasn’t played here yet, just remember, on March 7th: “I told you so.”]
“Up” – Films with the word “up” in the title did well in 2009. (Next year “down”?) This is the Pixar animated film about the widower who attaches balloons to his house and goes…well…up…with a young stowaway aboard. I saw it in 3D in a theater on Sunset Boulevard with a live Disney show preceding it; the film’s a touching bit of animated magic.
“500 Days of Summer” – I was on my way to a showing of “The Cove” (a likely nominee for Best Documentary Oscar dealing with the trapping and killing of dolphins) and stumbled into the wrong theater. I stayed to see this romantic comedy. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Zooey Deschanel are young lovers, but the film’s ultimate message seems to be that there IS more than one perfect “love” for us if we just keep an open mind and a positive outlook. The “breaking-into-dance” scene, alone, makes it one of the more imaginative film treatments at the movies this year.
“Precious” – Undeniably gut-wrenching. Haven’t seen a film more depressing since “The Hours” or “Angela’s Ashes,” but it is powerful stuff. Oprah is promoting it Big Time, and it’s bound to garner nominations, probably for its unknown star, Gabriel Gabby Sidibe and others. Strong performances from Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz contribute and the film has generated major Oscar buzz. [Tickets in Chicago, where it premiered, went for $50, minimum].
Red Cliff – This is a film by the great John Woo. I wandered in not expecting much and found a film that makes “Braveheart,” “Spartacus” and “The Gladiator,” all rolled into one, look like a square dance. Back in top form after years of trying to fit into the Hollywood studio cookie-cooker mold with films like “Mission Impossible II “ and “Face/Off”, Woo returns to his native land and does this ancient Chinese story proud. (see www.weeklywilson.com and/or www.associatedcontent.com for complete review). It’s very long, and, yes, it has sub-titles, but it’s really a breath-taking film achievement.
“An Education” – Peter Svaarsgard’s film about a May-December romance is garnering much buzz for the female lead, Carey Mulligan as Jenny. (For those who care, Ms. Mulligan is supposedly Shia LeBouef’s off-screen girlfriend of the moment).
2012: Sure, it’s CG generated, but it’s terrific audience fun. The actors are less important than the special effects, but John Cusack, Amanda Peet and Woody Harrelson don’t disappoint in this film about the end of the world in 2012. Woody Harrelson, this year alone, played Charlie Frost in 2012, Tallahassee in the fun flick “Zombieland” (they’re already making “Zombieland 2”, and Captain Tony Stone in “The Messenger.”
Toss-Up: “Brothers” and/or “The Messenger”: These films have similarities. Saw “The Messenger” in Chicago, with Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster. Foster was there, in person, answering questions after the screening. “The Messenger,” like John Irving’s novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany” deals with the soldiers who must give the bad news of the death of a loved one to military families. Co-starring as the woman getting the bad news is the Oscar-nominated Samantha Morton, who was so good in “Minority Report” and as Sarah in the 2002 film “In America.” “Brothers,” starring Jake Gylenhall, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman, explores the damage to the psyche that war creates. Jake and Tobey are brothers, one a screw-up, one a war hero. Fine performances, also, from Sam Shepherd as Hank Cahill, the father who always favored Tobey, and Mare Winningham as Elsie Cahill. The little girls are great. Taylor Geare as Maggie Cahill melts your heart in her scenes, and her little sister Cassie, played by Carrie Mulligan, is good as well. When Tobey returns from having been a POW (briefly) in Afghanistan, he cannot get it out of his head that his brother (Jake Gylenhall) and his wife (Natalie Portman) have been sleeping together. He is also consumed with guilt over his actions while held prisoner and something’s got to give. He comes home a totally different individual than when he left. Problems ensue Tobey McGuire turns in a riveting Ocar-caliber performance, the best of his career. The movie was filmed in New Mexico.
Honorable Mention: I loved “Jennifer’s Body,” despite the gore, the new film scripted by Diablo Cody (of “Juno”) starring Megan Fox. Haven’t seen “Coraline” but hear it’s a likely nominee come March in some categories. Likewise, haven’t had a child to take with me to “Where the Wild Things Are.” Looking forward to “The Road” (Not yet released) – which looks like it will make a better film vehicle for Viggo Mortenson than the Cormac McCarthy book was a read, as it takes us into post-Apcalyptic America. “Avator’ (James Cameron returns on 12/18). I liked “Public Enemies” with Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard and Christian Bale in a Michael Mann-directed crime romance, because Johnny finally looked more like “People” magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” than he has in many of his screen outings. Also good: “Star Trek” with Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine and Eric Bana, “I Love You, Man” with surprisingly fresh performances from Paul Rudd and Jason Segel as buddies who bond, and the year’s most-watched comedy, “The Hangover,” good stupid fun in the “Animal House” tradition. I’m still waiting to see “Shutter Island,” the Martin Scorsese-directed film with Leonardo DeCaprio. (Where did it go?) Likewise, want to see “The Invention of Lying” (Ricky Gervais) and Sam Mendes’ “Away We Go.” (So many movies; so little time.)