Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Best Films of 2009, Part I

It's mid-February in New Orleans, which means I've finally been able to catch up with all the movies I'm interested in. This is, ranked, all of the 2009 films I saw (sorry Blind Side). I didn't see everything I wanted to catch--I don't feel as if I ever will--but I feel comfortable with these seventy-one, and I've divided them into categories that provide a bit of insight on how I regard them.
I've provided my judgments, and I've included pictures from the sublime site Movies in Frames when available. Let's just say I worked a lot harder on this than the Best Albums of the Year list.

GARBAGE

71. Bride Wars- Gary Winnick











These characters are so hateful and catty that it's impossible to feel anything but contempt for them. The attitude of Bride Wars could set women back forty years. Thankfully, it's way too insignificant and contrived to do that kind of damage.



70. Gigantic- Matt Aselton-
Quirk doesn't replace character and story, and even Zooey can't save a film that, frankly, doesn't make sense at times.
69. Year One- Harold Ramis-
Crass and poorly-written, with no continuity or respect for the audience.
68. My Bloody Valentine 3-D- Patrick Lussier-
Props to the explicit 3-D nude scene, but otherwise this is a predictable, tedious, bloody affair.
67. Of Time and the City- Terence Davies-
I don't mind pretension, but I do mind boring pretension. I appreciate the staggering amount of archival footage, but Davies' filmic essay could not end soon enough for me.
66. Fast & Furious- Justin Lin-
Lin strips away all of the cheekiness that made the first and third installments fun and replaces it with bloated, anchorless posturing.
65. The Cove- Louie Psyhoyis-
The documentary fave of Sundance 2008 is irrational in its one-sided fervor. It's one of those non-fiction films in which you go, "So...the director realizes his subject is insane, right? No? He's still admiring him? Hmph."
64. Bruno- Larry Charles-
It's unclear whom the satire of Bruno is directed toward. The fashion industry? The media? Homosexuals? Homophobes? The lack of focus and the complete disregard for a narrative make me afraid to watch Borat again.
63. Paper Heart- Nick Jasonevic-
Again, a movie that has no idea what it wants to be. The film attempts to be both a non-fictional analysis of love and a fictional account of Yi's love affair with Michael Cera, who has very little to do here. It fails to inspect either with any of the depth or inventiveness it thinks it does.
62. Medicine for Melancholy- Barry Jenkins-
This movie has a ten minute detour about gentrification that involves neither of the main characters and exists solely to develop a theme that was delivered too lazily in the first place. Movies don't work that way.
61. I Love You, Beth Cooper- Chris Columbus-
Everything that was charming and knowing about Larry Doyle's novel is ruined by stereotypes, ignorance, and slapstick.
60. Notorious- George Tillman, Jr.-
I guess I'm getting old when I can look at historical biopics and go, "Wait, that's not accurate. That's not how it happened or felt at the time." Then again, take this with a grain of salt. I saw this because I was so drunk I walked into the wrong theater.
59. Management- Stephen Belber











It's only 94 minutes, but Management's interminable episodes feel much longer than that, and it's protagonist is an unlikeable nut.




ADMIRABLE FAILURES


58. The Lovely Bones- Peter Jackson-
There are two skillfully directed scenes here--if you've seen it, you immediately know the two I'm talking about--but there are about five different tones at work here, and none of them congeal into something that moves me. Jackson gets so much credit for visual prowess, but the In-Between World here is about as impressive as a Windows background, and--this is all you need to know--there's a scene in which the Crazy Grandma (TM) puts too much detergent in the washer and BUBBLES GO EVERYWHERE, Y'ALL!
57. Antichrist- Lars von Trier







The slow motion prologue is gorgeous, and the first half of Antichrist overall is a harrowing portrait of grief. Then it descends into shock tactics that purposefully alienate the audience. If you want to see Willem Dafoe ejacluate blood, this is the film for you. Oh, spoilers. Sorry.






56.Whatever Works- Woody Allen

I wouldn't say there's anything terrible about this, but it's slight and not particularly funny. Another entry in the Minor Allen canon.
55. Sin Nombre- Cary Fukunaga













Visually, Sin Nombre is pretty stunning, but the motivations and decisions of the characters are incoherent.



54. Precious- Lee Daniels

This is a film that, impressive performances aside, earns none of the empathy that it shoots for and attains none of the profundity it assumes it already possesses. It's a film made by Black people for White Liberal Intellectuals.
53. The Informant!- Steven Soderbergh
There's no denying that this is an interesting film, especially in the quickly unraveling third act, but it seeks a dryly humorous tone that it never really can grasp a hold of. And it runs a bit long.
52. Coraline- Henry Selick
 







The problem with this film is that it has no idea who its audience is. It's a simple story about imagination and wish-fulfillment that any kid could latch onto, but it's also kind of scary and specific in a way that only adults could appreciate. I was caught somewhere in the middle and felt kind of detached the whole time. 





51. Invictus- Clint Eastwood

This isn't a bad movie in any way (except for the CGI crowds and plane, which are of sub-standard early '90s quality), but it also dumbed things down embarrassingly. For instance, there's a scene in which a charity attempts to give a South African rugby jersey to an indigent kid, and he refuses to take it. Based on the context, we understand why. But then the Black lady tells the White lady, "he feels embarrassed by the team and doesn't feel as if they represent him" or something like that. Thanks, Clint. Bang-up job overall.

FLAWED BUT STILL LIKABLE

50. He's Just Not That Into You- Ken Kwapis
I'm a sucker for ensemble films, and the cast is eager to please here. It's too long and ambitious though.
49. Sugar- Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden
I loved the tiny notes of characterization here, but I felt as if the film kind of lost its way with some of the subplots. So much of it depends upon the lead performance, and I didn't find Algenis Perez Soto convincing in it.
48. The Proposal- Anne Fletcher








There's some crazy shit going on in this movie--Betty White paganism?--but it mostly succeeds at what it's trying to do and features winning performances from Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. 






47. Avatar- James Cameron

I saw this in IMAX 3D with a buddy of mine. When we walked out of the theater, he saw someone he knew who informed us of where you need to sit in the theater to best enjoy this sumptuous visual feast. "Where do you have to sit for the characters and dialogue to be any good?" I asked. Fuck this movie.
46. The Taking of Pelham 123- Tony Scott
 


 



If you like the hammy John Travolta as much as I do, this is the movie for you. The Taking of Pelham 123 is way better than it needs to be, developing all of its characters believably--even James Gandolfini's cowardly mayor--and throwing in some extraneous action. This was worth seeing, if only for Travolta's line reading of "Lick my bunghole, motherfucker!"





45. Observe and Report- Jody Hill

Even if it falls a bit short of what it's trying to achieve, this movie really went out on a limb tonally. There are few characters as complex as Seth Rogen's Ronnie Barnhardt in any comedy, and the film forces us to follow him in an admirably uncompromising way.
44. Away We Go- Sam Mendes
I really liked this until it crashed and burned in the last twenty minutes. There's actually a speech in the last scene that boils down all of the subtext and themes that had been elegantly unspoken up to that point.
43. World's Greatest Dad- Bobcat Goldthwait
The poor production values were a bit distracting, but I loved the pacing and performances here. Here's what separates this from any other dark comedy though: there's a teenaged character in this who is despicable, and Goldthwait doesn't pull any punches. Instead of being misunderstood, the kid is just a terrible human being, and that's kind of refreshing.
42. Watchmen- Zack Snyder










There are moments here that are electric and inspired, but some of the directorial decisions--music cues, the casting of Malin Akerman--overshadow any of those moments. Jackie Earle Haley was awesome though.









41. Valentino: The Last Emperor- Matt Trynauer

There are five or so films going on here--a portrait of a loving relationship between two men, a character study of a perfectionist, an assessment of the changing fashion scene--but Trynauer can't balance any of those well. On the plus side, there's a lot of nudity in this, even though it's rated PG-13. Always a nice surprise.
40. In the Loop- Armando Iannucci
In the Loop is hilarious, but it's little more than strung-together jokes. It's supposed to be this biting satire, but I didn't find it particularly poignant or creative in its send-up of the war.
39. Where the Wild Things Are- Spike Jonze
The real-world book-ends were tragic and moving, and I love the look of the movie. The middle part on the island sort of bored me though. I understand what Jonze and his co-writer Dave Eggers were trying to do, but I wasn't on the same page.
38. I Love You, Man- John Hamburg
The leads are charming, and I like how pleasant and good-natured the whole thing feels. But considering the talent involved, shouldn't this have been a whole lot funnier?
37. Drag Me to Hell- Sam Raimi
A completely average thriller that is saved by a ballsy ending. 
36. Moon- Duncan Jones










Sam Rockwell gives one (or two or three) of the performances of the year in this claustrophobic old school sci-fi slow burn. Unfortunately, I don't really like claustrophobic old school sci-fi slow burns.




35. Lymelife- Derick Martini

 Martini does a good job of capturing a specific time and place, even if he kind of shoves it down your throat sometimes. Emma Roberts was impressive, and Alec Baldwin played himself admirably.
34. The Road- John Hillcoat
In a common theme for this section of the list, the performances were pitch-perfect here. The film is intense and, for most of it, as bleak as anything you've seen (that is, if you haven't seen Antichrist). Honestly, it's difficult to watch.

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