Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Since the Oscars get 10 best, I do too (actually, I get 11)

Thinking about what to write about this morning, I realized that - with no computer for a month - I never got around to revealing my 10 best movies of 2009. And while it may be far too late for anyone but me to care, here goes anyway, in order only of when they were released (and if you're a fan of the Drive-By Truckers - as everyone should be - stick around 'til the end for a special treat.)

And lest anyone be left scratching their head at the omission of Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," it just missed the cut, earning honorable mention along with the following flicks: "The Road," "A Single Man," "Crazy Heart," "Avatar," "Broken Embraces" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Now, on to the 11 winners, and please feel free to chime in with your favorites or let me know if you think I'm just all wet about any of these:

"Up" is going to get most of the attention as far as animated movies go with this morning's Oscar nominations - since I fully expect it to get a Best Picture nomination - but this little flick from Henry Selick and Neil Gaiman was actually the best animated movie of the year for me (and the only one besides "Avatar" that really made me think it was worth wearing 3-D glasses for the entire movie.) Though, like any story told through the eyes of a child, it really goes out of control by the end, "Coraline" is still a genuinely magical story about the powers - and dangers - of the imagination, my favorite movie subject of all.

This flick from directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck spent the first half of 2009 as my favorite movie of the year, and it's held strong in the top five. This portrait of life in modern America through the eyes of an outsider starts out as a low-key sports flick about a Dominican player in the minor league baseball system and pivots deftly about halfway in to become a story about immigration in America without ever losing the natural flow that makes it so entertaining to watch. Rent this immediately if you haven't seen it.

Drag Me to Hell
Has anyone had a worse movie year-or-so than Sam Raimi? First, no one in the world but me (and maybe a few others) went to see this incredibly fun return to his horror roots, and then his "Spider-Man 4" flick implodes to the point that they just scrapped the whole project and started over without him (and, frankly, most likely without me too.) He certainly deserves better. Especially when, if you're a fan of "Evil Dead" and "Army of Darkness," you should love this flick about what happens when poor Alison Lohman denies a mortgage extension to the wrong person (a gypsy woman with the power to curse her - and ingest her poor kitty - of course.) If you can stomach it, watch this on DVD.

I'd say there's probably no chance at all that Sam Rockwell will get an Oscar nomination for his work in Duncan Jones' sci-fi flick, and in my book that will count as the single biggest snub of the year. He's in virtually every frame of this, a welcome return to the kind of smart sci-fi allegory we haven't seen on the big screen in a long time (though "Battlestar Galactica" did a fine job with that too on the little one.) I saw this one at the Atlanta Film Festival 365, and am thrilled that Charles Judson has invited me back for this year's event too.

The Hurt Locker
Just how much do military members love this Iraq War movie of sorts from Kathyrn Bigelow? Well, as a tiny and random sample, a video store bought an ad in the publication I lay out that serves Warner Robins, GA (proud home of Robins Air Force Base) just to promise that "The Hurt Locker" will "always be in stock." I don't know why, but that just struck me as funny. I do know, however, that Bigelow has crafted the first Iraq War movie I genuinely enjoyed, not just because it has at least three of the best action set-pieces of the year, but also two of the best performances from Anthony Mackie and Jeremy Renner as it presents the rarest kind of flick - an apolitical war movie that simply looks at combat through the eyes of those who have to wage it.

In the Loop
A small Web cult of sorts has blossomed that's devoted to the singular swearing prowess of Peter Capaldi as political operative Malcolm Tucker in director Armardo Iannucci's wicked sendup of the buildup to the Iraq war, and it's well-deserved. It's hard to keep up with all the jokes that Iannucci packs into this razor-sharp satire - the kind we haven't seen since the days of Peter Sellers, and they've been sorely missed by at least me - but believe me, the effort is well worth it. Watch this now.

Inglourious Basterds
This is my favorite movie of 2009, and just to show I've put it to the test, I've watched it all the way through at least five times now, and it just keeps getting better. Taken individually, the opening gambit with Christoph Waltz and a French farmer, that sensational scene at the French bar that turns into a bloodbath and - of course - the unforgettable finale, are the three best-written sequences of 2009. Add them together and throw in Brad Pitt and his basterds for comedic value, and you get my favorite kind of movie, just wildly imaginative story telling and a thoroughly fun ride.

Passing Strange
Can what amounts to simply the filming of a Broadway musical being performed on stage really be turned into one of the best movies of 2009? In the hands of Spike Lee, yes. He uses the same technique he did with "Kings of Comedy" to make it an intimate experience, and it certainly doesn't hurt that this musical about a black teenager's voyage to Europe to find his artistic self has a genuine energy that radiates from the screen as I'm sure it did even stronger on stage.

The Damned United
I was a little hesitant to see this at first because it's based on the best book I've read in at least the last five years or so, and I was sure there was no way that director Tom Hooper could re-create the manic pace or odd structure of David Peace's piece of historical fiction about Brian Clough's disastrous 44 days or so as the manager of Leeds United. I'm very happy to report, though, that I was once again wrong, because it comes damned close, and more importantly turns this tale of ultimate futility into a winningly witty period piece that will entertain soccer fans as much as those of you who have somehow not become a fan of the beautiful game, and Michael Sheen is perfectly vainglorious as Clough.

Where the Wild Things Are
Probably my favorite joke from "Freaks and Geeks" remains the one about Sam Weir trying to do a book report on "the novelization of 'Star Wars'," but I can report that the novelization of "Where the Wild Things Are" by Dave Eggers (called "Wild Things" and of course at least loosely based on the children's classic by Maurice Sendak) is a tremendously good read. Like Spike Jonze's movie (but without having to create those rather amazing wild things), it deftly dives into the mind and imagination of a troubled child and somehow bundles all these emotions into a moving and simply entertaining tale. And young Max Records, perfectly wild as Max in the movie, delivers my single favorite still of the year, the look of horror on his face when his teacher casually announces that the sun will, indeed, some day die. Priceless.

It really seems a crime to put Lee Daniels' flick last on this list, but those were the rules I set out. In actual order of appreciation, it would certainly be in the top five, because although I didn't find it as uplifting as many people I know who like this as much as I do, it's still a genuine American story of the kind we very rarely get to see on the big screen. Mo'Nique is a sure winner in the Best Supporting Actress category at the Oscars, but I'm hoping Gabourey Sidibe gets a Best Actress nod too, because she portrays our heroine's wounded but still fierce pride perfectly, as much with her expressions as she does Precious' emerging voice.

So there you have it. And I promised a treat for any Drive-By Truckers fans who stuck around through all of that, so here it is. Yesterday, they debuted a new single, "Birthday Boy," and I'm pleased to report it's a Mike Cooley track that kicks the kind of ass they used to, and hopefully will again when a new album comes out in the next six weeks or so. Just put your e-mail address in the widget (it won't go to me, so don't worry), and the link will be sent to you. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out.


The Mad Hatter said...

A fine list indeed! I'd much rather see MOON up for BP than THE BLIND SIDE, whose nomination proves that even with ten slots to choose from, Oscar voters can still screw things up.

My ten for the year would go like so...


Here's my post about 'em...


Reel Fanatic said...

Those are all good choices in my book except for one, but I can't really quibble with it because I didn't bother to see it ... I take my horror straight without any kind of gimmicks, so I just couldn't bring myself to see "Paranormal Activity" .. I'll have to take your word for it!

Aiden R. said...

Still itching to see Sugar and In The Loop. Great list though, had a couple of the same ones on mine, too. Awesome site, btw. Keep it up.

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks, Aiden ... I can guarantee you'll love both of those ... I know Sugar at least has been out on DVD for a while now