Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mid-year report card: The 10 best movies of 2009 - so far

When I sat down to do this, I started with 20 movies, so the competition was indeed pretty fierce.

And, at the outset, I certainly expected both Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" and Greg Mottola's "Adventureland," both just damn fine flicks, to make the cut, but they just missed (and the fact that "Up" didn't make this list in any slot isn't me being ornery, it's just my honest opinion.) I've included an honorable mention to give all the also-rans credit, so without any further ado and in reverse order, here goes:

10. "Coraline"
Of all the animated movies I've seen in 3-D, Henry Selick's "Coraline," based on the novella by Neil Gaiman, is the only one I can say I love almost unconditionally. It definitely starts to unravel by the end, but since it's the twisted fantasy vision of a child, it's to be expected. Rent this right away if you haven't seen it yet.

9. "Moon"
This was the second-hottest ticket at this year's Atlanta Film Festival, and with good reason. Though it pilfers extremely liberally from "2001: A Space Odyssey," Duncan Jones' flick still delivers a solid sci-fi allegory for our troubled times, and Sam Rockwell, who appears in just about every frame of this all by himself, is just sensational.

8. "Watchmen"
I recently watched the rather whopping 186-minute director's cut of Zack Snyder's movie, and though it took two sittings, I recommend it for anyone who liked the flick as much as I did. From the fantastic opening credits onward, Snyder gives the Watchmen's tale the pop sensibility it needs, and though he made plenty of compromises to get it onto the big screen, I don't think it could have been done any other way.

7. "Drag Me to Hell"
It's the biggest movie mystery of this year why Sam Raimi's return to horror didn't make much money at all, because I can guarantee you it's just all kinds of fun. I realize it takes a certain - and not terribly healthy - sensibility to find humor in Alison Lohman stalking her cat with a knife as she coos "here, kitty kitty" and then seeing said cat being vomited up by an old woman, but I laughed from start to finish of this one and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

6. "Star Trek"
My fellow cubicle slave Randy Waters, who has the "Star Trek" theme as his cell phone ring tone, declared this the "best movie ever." While I'm relatively confident he was at least slightly joking, J.J. Abrams' flick is indeed the definition of a great summer movie, with the year's best set piece in that scene with Chris Pine and John Cho trying to take out that giant Romulan drill, and it certainly should lead to at least five or six more Trek movies with the new crew.

5. "In the Loop"
This is also the last new movie I've watched, but its presence here isn't just proof that my short-term memory holds sway. Armando Iannucci's satire of the buildup to the Iraq War hits all its targets, and the cast, led by an extremely profane Peter Capaldi, is able to keep up with all the rapid-fire barbs. It's worth mentioning again that, although this is still playing in a few theaters, you can also watch it on Cox cable "On Demand" and probably on other cable providers too. It's well worth the $2.

4. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
I suppose $255 million and still going strong domestic, and a whole lot more worldwide, is nothing to be dismissed, but I've been surprised that this - the best of the Harry Potter films in my book - has struggled to fend off a bunch of talking gerbils, or whatever those "G-Force" creatures are supposed to be. David Yates' second Potter flick just perfectly captures the feeling of doom that pervades the book even as he lightens things up with the kids pitching woo, and they all show just how well they've grown into the roles.

3. "Tyson"/"Every Little Step"
OK, I'm gonna cheat and make this list go to 11, but only because I forgot about the charming documentary "Every Little Step" and had to squeeze it in somewhere, though I suppose a tie with Iron Mike is indeed an odd pairing.

I don't watch any reality TV at all, simply because it doesn't interest me, but I'm sure fans of the competition shows will get a kick out of "Every Little Step," which takes a close-up look at the auditions for the recent revival of "A Chorus Line." The competition is fierce among these very talented individuals, and the film artfully intersperses the story of how Michael Bennett dreamed up the original musical from recordings he made of dancers describing their lives. I've recommended this one to the Macon Film Guild, for an upcoming screening, so I guess I'll find out soon if I have any pull or not. Probably not.

"Tyson" was easily the hottest ticket at the Atlanta Film Festival, and the only movie I've ever actually had to stand up through to watch. I hear tell that even Tyler Perry was there, but I can't confirm that. As for the movie itself, it's pretty much Tyson analyzing himself for director James Toback, appropriately enough often seated on his couch, and though that might not sound particularly entertaining, believe me that it is. He veers wildly between genuine introspection and stubborn defiance, and when he talks about his rape of Desiree Washington, it's just chilling.

2. "Sugar"
It would be enough of an accomplishment - and, unfortunately, a rarity - if directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck had simply made a great baseball movie, but with this tale of a Dominican ballplayer trying to make it to the big time you also get a whole lot more. Along with being an engaging story about immigration in America, it's also simply a great story about the power of being able to change your mind, and it features a first-rate turn from the titular star, Algenis Perez Soto. A quick visit to Amazon.com reveals this will be released on DVD on Sept. 1, so rent or buy this one as soon as you can.

1. "The Hurt Locker"
When I heard Kathyrn Bigelow's Iraq war movie was going to play "wide," which it certainly deserves to, I didn't believe it, but the flick is indeed going to play for a third week next week at the Galleria in Centerville, Ga., so see it there if you're in the area. Bigelow's movie succeeds where so many have failed because, along with delivering sensation set pieces that raise the bar for intensity and action, she and screenwriter Mark Boal just genuinely offer a view of war through the eyes of the soldiers who fight it, specifically the members of a bomb squad in Iraq, a rather stressful endeavour. And I can guarantee that after the breakthrough performances by Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, you'll be hearing their names a whole lot in the coming years. The best movie I've seen so far this year.

Honorable mention: "The Class", "The International", "Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail", "Duplicity", "Sin Nombre", "Adventureland", "The Hangover", "Public Enemies", "(500) Days of Summer", "Funny People"

And, since anyone who made it this far deserves a reward, here's the trailer for Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones," almost certain to be the big Oscar magnet this year unless it somehow just sucks, which I really just can't see happening. Be warned: The second half of the trailer reveals who I have to assume (not having read the book) is the killer, so if you don't want to know, don't watch it. And of course, please feel free to let me know just how wrong or right I am with my picks for the year's best. Peace out.

17 comments:

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Linda said...

Moon sits firmly at the top of my favorites list, so far this year. Thanks to your hearty recommendation, I saw it at Tribeca FF, then had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jones when he brought the film to Newport FF. Star Trek, The Hurt Locker, Drag me to Hell and Coraline are up there too. Others of note for me this year are Entres Nos and The Girlfriend Experience. Thanks for the trailer, looks like we're in for more cinematic treats this year. (clapping with glee)

Reel Fanatic said...

Those are two I haven't seen yet, Linda, but with your recommendation I certainly will on DVD .. thanks!

Nell Minow said...

Excellent choices! I also loved Harry Potter, 500 Days of Summer, and Cold Souls.

Reel Fanatic said...

Cold Souls one I haven't seen, Nell so thanks for the recommendation!

The Mad Hatter said...

Great list of what I think has only been a "so-so" year so far. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, AWAY WE GO, THE HANGOVER, and UP would probably find spots on my ten.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks Mad Hatter ... I'd love to see Away We Go, but even though I've seen the trailer at my multiplex several times now, the actual movie hasn't come anywhere near me .. that really pisses me off!

Danny said...

Definitely agree with you on Watchmen. I recently watched the director's cut an enjoyed it a lot, although it didn't compare to the experience I had watching the theatrical cut on opening night in IMAX.

I would say that The Hurt Locker is probably also my best film of the year so far. A war movie that throws all the cliches out the window, it deserves a best picture nomination.

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