Monday, January 25, 2010

The Best & Worst Films of 2009

I promised myself that as soon as I saw 100 films for the year 2009, I would make my top 10 list. What’s funny about top 10 lists is that they are hardly set in stone – they are merely snapshots of how a critic feels at a given time. I know some of my previous top 10 lists have changed over the years, but for now, here are the top 10 films of the year.

But before I get to the actual list, here are 10 more movies that were oh so close to cracking the top 10 –

“Adventureland” (dir. Greg Mottola)

The Cove” (dir. Louis Psihoyos)

“The Garden” (dir. Scott Hamilton Kennedy)

“The Hangover” (dir. Todd Phillips)

Invictus” (dir. Clint Eastwood)

Me and Orson Welles” (dir. Richard Linklater)

"Moon" (dir. Duncan Jones)

“Ponyo” (dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

“State of Play” (dir. Kevin Macdonald)

“Sugar” (dir. Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck)

And now, the best of the best:

10. “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (dir. Lee Daniels)

Before this year, the phrase “the Oscar-winning Mo’Nique” seemed like some kind of bad dream – it could never happen, could it? In a few weeks that phrase is about to become a reality after her devastating turn as Mary, mother to the obese Harlem girl she calls Precious, played by the debuting Gabourey Sidibe. The story may seem like movie-of-the-week stuff, but the fully drawn characters elevate it to something greater.

9. “Capitalism: A Love Story” (dir. Michael Moore)

Professional muckraker (and in the interest of full disclosure, my former employer for all of about eight days) Michael Moore has made his name off stirring the pot, but also for seeing deep into his subjects to paint hauntingly memorable images of the country we live in. “Roger & Me,” “The Big One,” “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and “Sicko” are all great films in their own right, but something about “Capitalism” makes it more accessible than the aforementioned films. Regardless of how you feel about Moore or his politics, everyone wants to know what the hell is going on in the American financial system today, and Moore is willing to delve deep into our history and show a side of our country that many would like swept under the rug. He manages to find the humanity in the stories he tells, and he does it as well as any director working today – fiction or nonfiction. The true gem of this movie is recently found, never-before-seen video footage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt laying out his goals for a second Bill of Rights, guaranteeing Americans rights to things like a good job, a decent wage, and good health care. Almost 70 years after his death, many of these dreams are not yet realized. Even if you think you don’t like Michael Moore, give this one a chance and you may just be surprised.

8. “The Messenger” (dir. Oren Moverman)

Losing a loved one in battle must be the hardest things a family would ever have to go through. But how do the men delivering the news feel about their job? Oren Moverman’s fascinating and moving film asks just that question, and Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson answer it with two of the year’s most powerful performances. Samantha Morton is also terrific as the woman who causes both men to examine themselves.

7. “A Serious Man” (dir. By Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

After years of practically worshipping the Coen Brothers, I feel that they have made a movie specifically for fans like me. Despite its title, “A Serious Man” is the funniest movie of the year, one that makes me laugh out loud just by thinking about it. Michael Stuhlbarg is tremendous in the title role, and it’s a shame that he didn’t get more awards attention this year. Important to note is that no Jews were harmed in the making of this film.

6. “Avatar” (dir. James Cameron)

Much has already been said about the biggest moneymaker of the year, and the soon to be biggest moneymaker of all time. The truth of the matter is that James Cameron’s philosophy of “go big or go home” has never been more gloriously realized than it is with “Avatar.” The story made not be all that original, but Cameron still manages to take the audiences places they’ve never been before and show us something spectacularly beyond our wildest imagination.

5. “Inglourious Basterds” (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

No one but Tarantino would have the chutzpah to film a movie this inglouriously funny, inglouriously factually challenged, and inglouriously cool. He’s been talking about it for years, and it was truly worth the wait. Christoph Waltz is magnetic as Col. Hans Landa, and the rest of the cast including Brad Pitt (never funnier), Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger, and Mike Myers (yes, really) among others deliver the classic Tarantino dialogue we’ve come to know and love.

4. “An Education” (dir. Lone Scherfig)

Carey Mulligan shines through, but the entire cast of Lone Scherfig’s “An Education” does incredible work. Peter Sarsgaard and Alfred Molina are terrific as the men in the life of young Jenny (Mulligan), living in early 1960s, pre-Beatles London. Jenny’s journey of self discovery is an education not just for her, but for everyone around her.

3. “The Hurt Locker” (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Kathryn Bigelow here has crafted a movie brimming over with white-knuckle intensity, about men diffusing bombs in Iraq. Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie deserve Oscar nominations for their work, but the richest reward will be for Bigelow, who will certainly become only the fourth woman ever nominated for Best Director. She stands the best chance at becoming the first woman ever to win the award, and if she does it will be going to the person who deserves it most. What a great movie.

2. “Up in the Air” (dir. Jason Reitman)

Jason Reitman has hit the nail on the head of the current state of fear many Americans reside in – the fear of losing your job. George Clooney is Ryan Bingham, the man bosses call in when they’re too afraid to fire their own employees. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are terrific as the women in his life, who both in their own ways try to get close to the distant Bingham. The witty banter here sounds like real people might say it, unlike Reitman’s previous film. This is a film both timely and timeless.

1. “Up” (dir. Pete Docter)

No film filled me with more absolute joy than the latest from the greatest movie studio ever, Pixar. Ed Asner stars as the grumpy old Carl, who wants to escape the world by tying thousands of balloons to his house and simply floating away. The friendships he makes with Russell, Dug, and Kevin make for some of the most heartwarming moments of the year.

Conversely, I also found 10 films that were detestable in just about every way. Stay far away from these:

10. “The Girlfriend Experience” (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

I can sum up this movie in a few lines – “Hey, did you know that the economy crashing is hard on rich people too? I mean, I still have enough money for my high priced hooker, but man this economy sure is rough.” Thanks for nothing Steven.

9. “My Bloody Valentine” (dir. Patrick Lussier)

3-D certainly didn’t make this dreadful horror film any more fun. Its’ twists and turns make little sense and can be seen from miles away, with or without 3-D glasses.

8. “Obsessed” (dir. Steve Shill)

When you have to include two montages in the first five minutes, it should be a sign that perhaps your film is a little weak. Plus Beyonce’s character, who is supposed to be the heroine, is so unlikable that I found myself rooting for the stalker.

7. “Fired Up” (dir. Will Gluck)

Sadly, the trio of director Will Gluck, and stars Eric Christian Olsen and Philip Baker Hall, who all helped create one of the greatest overlooked TV shows ever, “The Loop,” made one stinker of a movie. Let me guess – the guys who say they only care about shagging broads turn out to be good guys and good cheerleaders. Yawn.

6. “Fanboys” (dir. Kyle Newman)

A friend of mine tried to defend this movie as “but don’t know people like that in real life?” The answer is yes, and I don’t like them in real life and I don’t like them in this movie.

5. “Bruno” (dir. Larry Charles)

The poster says “Borat was so 2006.” Hey Sacha Baron Cohen, so are you. Can you please go away now?

4. “The Ugly Truth” (dir. Robert Luketic)

Dear Gerard Butler, please stop appearing in every other movie. Everything you have been in since "300" sucks, and you are not half as cool or hip as you pretend to be. Sincerely, Jake Ziegler.

3. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (dir. Michael Bay)

It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s stupid. Don’t try to defend it as “just a popcorn movie” to me – popcorn movies can still be bad, and this movie is bad on every level, no matter what concessions I choose to enjoy during it.

2. “Year One” (dir. Harold Ramis)

What a sad waste of talent. Harold Ramis especially, I’m very disappointed in you.

1. “Miss March” (dir. Zach Cregger, Trevor Moore)

The story here follows two friends that … ah who cares. Friends shouldn’t let friends make movies like “Miss March.” Or is it February?

There you have it, the best and worst of the cinematic year 2009. I will have more Oscars coverage soon, so stay tuned to JZ Says!


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  2. Avatar is in MY bottom ten!

    ...Of course, I only saw 13 movies this year, so it's also in my top ten.

  3. I've seen four of your top ten. I'd never heard of The Messenger before - that's how little I followed movies in 2009. Nor did I know that Richard Linklater made a film this year.

    Fortunately, I haven't seen any of your bottom ten. Though obsessed looks hilarious!