Bearing in mind that I have not yet seen The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The White Ribbon, The Informant, Precious, The Road, A Serious Man, A Single Man, Big Fan, An Education, Food Inc., Invictus, Where The Wild Things Are or Zombieland (all of which would probably merit consideration for this list) and bearing in mind that I saw this year’s critical darling The Hurt Locker at last year’s TIFF (and was underwhelmed at the time, probably because I’d just watched the unmatched Iraq war story Generation Kill), here are my ten favourite films of 2009:
#10: Adventureland. I typically don’t enjoy movies about the 80s, but then they mock the 80s I’m fully on board. I could also watch Jesse Eisenberg all day and not get tired of it…he’s like a less-emo, more-nerd Michael Cera. Kristen Stewart is quite charming when she’s not fawning over a douche-y vampire. Ultimately, though, what made this movie was the script and the details which the writer must have pulled from his own past…what other reason would one have for writing the part of the former best friend who constantly bag-tags the main character?
#9: District 9. The first of a surprising amount of sci-fi on my list. Though I couldn’t really get myself to like the main character (even though I think I was supposed to), I loved the backstory, the sharp take on racism and the amazing special effects.
#8: Valhalla Rising. I didn’t like this film so much as I just couldn’t shake it from my mind after seeing it at TIFF. I’m not sure it will ever show in a North American theatre, a mainstream one at least. It was a combination of mindbendingly art-house and savagely violent. Seriously, there were psycho-religious themes running rampant through the whole thing, interrupted by things like, oh, say…the protagonist disemboweling a man with his bare hands. For example.
#7: Star Trek. I normally don’t like J.J. Abrams’ stuff, but I will give him this: brother, you have major-league stones. This had the potential to backfire on Abrams HUGE…rebooting one of the most passionately (and bizarrely?) beloved franchises of all time, but he pulled it off with a movie that was both entertaining and slyly immune to criticism of changing the original storyline. It’s a good sign if an action movie feels shorter than its running time, and this one felt much shorter.
#6: Leslie, My Name Is Evil. Uh…not sure how to describe this one. Another TIFF entry, and one of the weirder ones at that. Very campy, very dark and very much about a point in American history…Charlie Manson, Vietnam…the 60s in general, really. Completely over the top sometimes, while almost not bold enough at others, it was certainly memorable. A scene set perfectly to “Black Grease” by the Black Angels was simultaneously disgusting and beautiful. Maybe that’s a good description of the era director Reg Harkema was trying to capture.
#5: Up In The Air. Sharp writing, well-timed subject matter, three exceptionally strong lead performances and my omnipresent desire to be George Clooney made this one pretty damn entertaining.
#4: 500 Days Of Summer. Speaking of sharp writing, I think this one pretty much took the witty award for 2009. Probably took the soundtrack award too. It starred two of my favourite actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, as well as one of my favourite things to look at, Zooey Deschanel. I will likely buy this, and watch it repeatedly.
#3: Avatar. I don’t want to buy into the hype. Because, really, this was not a good movie. Sure it was entertaining, but it had an over-familiar plot, substandard dialogue and was predictable from start to finish. So what’s it doing here? My god, man, did you not see it? It was fucking spectacular. Look, was it the kind of film that would typically be considered art? No, of course not. Did it change our perception of art when it comes to film? Probably. The Jazz Singer wasn’t a great movie either, but it changed film for good.
#2: The Cove. I typically favour real-life over fiction in film just as I do in print, and The Cove was the class of the docs I saw this year. It actually played out more as a thriller that you’re spying on than as a standard documentary, but as an animal lover the subject matter was heartwrenching. There were parts I had real trouble watching, but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It deserved its win at Sundance, and its win at Hot Docs. It’ll deserve the Oscar too.
#1: Inglourious Basterds. It’s frustrating, really. The way Tarantino just flaunts such blatant genius by creating half a dozen indelible characters, and as many unforgettable scenes, in every movie he makes, using only dialog. I loved the movie my first time out, but as is usually the case with Tarantino films I found I enjoyed it much more the second time, even though I knew what would happen. Maybe because I knew what would happen, and found myself excited at moving from one great scene to another. Plus all the little familiar inside touches, like Harvey Keitel playing a voice on the end of the phone for ten seconds.