Favorite 10 of 2009

I’ve always consciously avoided the ‘list’ format when it came to my year-end movie wrap-ups. I really hate the idea of arbitrarily ranking things. How can I begin to compare an experience I had a week ago versus one eight months ago, the details of which I can barely recall? How do I weigh my expectations for a comedy versus a drama, or a romance versus an action-adventure? I didn’t want to limit myself to 10 or 20 – I wanted to talk about everything I saw, even if it was for a line or two, even just to share a stupid anecdote. Plus, to tell the truth, I liked not falling in line with the rest of the free world.

But after last year, I felt as though I had exhausted the free-form, and wanted to change things up by deferring to the conventional. It was kind of a creative challenge… or an easy way out. But definitely one of those two. The summer movie wrap-up I did a few months ago had somewhat scratched my itch for the free-form. Moreover, and most importantly, this was 2009 – the end of the unnamed decade. That begs for a list. It begs for several lists. So here is the mother of all movie wrap-ups.

Favorites of 2009

Honorable Mentions:
– Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Crazy Heart, The Hangover
I feel compelled to mention that Inglourious Basterds has about three sequences that are as good as anything put on-screen all year. Quiet, extended scenes that are insanely tense, superbly acted, and beautifully crafted. But the theater finale was way too much, and the liberties Tarantino takes with history really removed the illusion for me.

10. G.I. Joe: You’re going to stop reading after this, aren’t you? Whatever. Joe was super-fun, with great special effects. The ultimate popcorn flick, it captured the spirit of The Mummy, yet even as an origins franchise movie, was entertaining from start to finish. It’s everything you could ever want from a movie based on a stupid toy property. Let’s get it into the TNT / TBS rotation right now, because it belongs there for the next 15 years.

9. Sugar: It’s an immigrant’s tale disguised as a baseball movie, or an immigrant’s story embroiled in a baseball movie. Or something. You don’t necessarily recognize the complexity of Sugar until the last 30 minutes or so, when it takes an abrupt and unexpected turn. But the thing is, the movie – about a Dominican kid’s transition to the minors – does each of those components more than justice. It handles the day-to-day stuff beautifully, and feels so incredibly authentic.

8. Where the Wild Things Are: Speaking of authenticity, you never really see movies like Where the Wild Things Are, and especially not about the realities of childhood. There are a million things in this movie that just break your heart. But it’s not melodramatic, it’s not fake, it’s not over-the-top. It’s in the little moments, in the looks and expressions and everything else. The kid (Max Records) is fantastic. The movie is brutal.

7. The Messenger: If you enjoyed The Hurt Locker, this is a great companion piece – as a contrast in styles. But The Messenger is incredibly visceral as well in its own way. All the secondary actors who played the recipients of the bad news are incredible; their raw emotion absolutely kills you. Foster and Harrelson provide nuanced, complex performances; their characters are beautifully written. I could have done without the cookie-cutter romance angle (with Samantha Morton), but even that is handled with care.

6. Up in the Air: I feel like I’ve been moved by far more movies this year than I have in years past. Maybe I’m getting tender in my old age. Maybe it’s the number of high-quality, deeply personal projects or stories. Up in the Air fits that bill. Yes, it’s hilarious at times, and pretty fluffy – for longer than you’d expect. But there are deeper moments here and there, more frequent as the movie progresses (everything from Miami on, really). And the end is devastating.

5. The Road: Speaking solely about atmosphere, this is the best movie all year, and probably the best post-apocalyptic movie ever. It’s an experience. The Road captures every bit of its world perfectly – it’s quiet, but tense, and incredibly unsettling. Even the score, which I never notice in the theater, complements every scene, and overall, it’s beautifully crafted. The relationship between the father and son felt incredibly genuine. And the ending makes you think about everything you’ve seen.

4. Avatar: Avatar kind of belongs in a whole other category. Look, does it have simplistic characters, over-the-top dialogue, 10-foot weird cat people (and a sex scene featuring such that redefines uncomfortable)? Absolutely. But I have NEVER seen anything like Avatar. To say that the graphics are fucking amazing would be a severe understatement; it’s most definitely worth checking out in Imax 3D. It’s an experience: the world is sprawling, the action is astonishing. James Cameron delivered.

3. In the Loop
2. Rudo y Cursi
1. Sin Nombre

Well, the top three remain unchanged from the summer recap (except for the fact that I’ve now ranked them). I stick with the words I wrote in August. In the Loop is the funniest movie I’ve seen. Rudo y Cursi – capturing a spectrum of emotion – is the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen. And Sin Nombre is simply the most I’ve felt at a movie all year long.

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