By: Scott Yager
By now you should be familiar with films 20-11 on my Top Movies of 2009 list. If not then please check out Part I of the countdown and then proceed to the top 10 below. The best 10 of ’09 should certainly give you something to discuss as we enter the weekend with just 9 days until the Oscars.
10) Precious – Precious is one of those movies that you never ever want to see again…but for good reason. Without all the awards hype and praise it garnered at Sundance this would not typically be a movie that college-aged people would enjoy or that would ever be recommended to such a broad demographic. However, because of the phenomenal performances that inhabit this film it was hard to ignore despite its very morbid and depressing subject matter. A movie I simply had to watch by myself on my computer because I wanted the ability to turn away at any moment, Precious seemed to live along that line of unbelievably cruel and overtly graphic and disturbing. The story of an obese girl who is also illiterate and encouraged to be dumb by the parents who both raised and raped her is not necessarily one to endure right before Thanksgiving dinner. That being said, there really isn’t a right moment to watch Precious, the movie that insists on being referred to as Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. What does make it appointment viewing however are the many breathtaking performances that make you forget that you are watching a movie and not a documentary. Mo’Nique, who for the first third-to-half of the movie seemed to be okay but not anything to write home about, completely takes the second half of the film on her back and delivers such a ruthless performance that by the end of it you somehow begin to pity such a dark and twisted character. Mariah Carey actually donates her best performance ever as an actress to this film as a very grounded guidance counselor who manages to bounce off Mo’Nique, in a final scene that is probably the most well acted performance I have seen in years. Because Mo’Nique, and Mariah are so identifiable to us and we know them so well, their work stood out and really amazed all viewers. The girl who plays the title role however, Gabourey Sidibe, although up for Best Actress, hasn’t had the luxury of having a past identity to shatter into pieces with her performance. It’s sad to say but I think a lot of people aren’t giving her the credit she deserves because they assume she is closer to her character than Mo’Nique, or Mariah is. They both had to alter their appearances drastically but Sidibe is, when all is said and done, a pretty fat chick to begin with. Until you see this girl on a talk show and you realize what a ray of sunshine she is and how much energy she has a person you really can’t fathom how amazing she was as this depressed, self-loathing illiterate girl living with the mentally disabled child she had with her father. She isn’t receiving the hands down praise that Mo’Nique, is and as awesome as Mo’Nique, was, Gabourey Sidibe was just as good. She just doesn’t have the benefit of already having a perceived wheelhouse as an actress that she could have broke through completely. This is definitely not a feel good movie, but a movie everyone should see because there are several moments where you sit there with your jaw wide open thinking over and over in your head about how this could possibly be happening in real life. Not something I can see myself checking out on cable but definitely a movie I am glad I saw and definitely a movie I will always remember.
9) The Fantastic Mr. Fox – If you read my long tirade after placing Up at 13 about how I feel animated movies have begun to be overrated by movie critics than you are probably shocked to see one in my top ten. Actually it is the opposite, you should take this as proof that I truly did enjoy this bold and brave output from Wes Anderson and company because, unlike most critics, I do not unfairly distribute my praise towards animated movies just to seem hip and young. This was definitely the year of George Clooney. He had a great movie (Up in the Air), he had a bad movie (Men who fuck goats or whatever) and he had an animated movie, the perfect year. Clooney was the perfect person to cast as Mr. Fox because until you saw (or heard him) in such a capacity you really didn’t realize what a commanding voice the actor has. Everyone knows the guy is charming and attractive and all that, sure, but not since those Budweiser commercials had I realized that his voice is really what makes him such a presence on screen. A voice can lend itself to animated movies as well, making Mr. Fox just as likeable as say…Danny Ocean. The thing with these animated movies is that if you don’t like the main character, you will probably not like the movie (another problem I had with Wall-E). Anderson filled this movie with great actors like Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray and he just let them run with it. The animation was fun and not overdone, providing a very rare opportunity to take in an animated movie without having to marvel at the sheer technological brilliance you were witnessing. Sure this stop-go animation was cool but it definitely didn’t take you out of every scene by mesmerizing you the same way a movie like Up does. It really put into perspective the type of tone a Wes Anderson movie tends to have when the same tone was applied to an environment that was definitely something new for the young auteur. Fox is my pick for Best Animated Movie of the year but by no means do I think it should be up for Best Picture or anything. Simply an enjoyable movie that highlights a bunch of great actors’ talents and does so in a way you are not typically used to. What might be the most enjoyable and by far the most light-hearted Wes Anderson movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox is definitely worth spending an afternoon checking out on DVD.
8 ) Watchmen – This is as tough one because unlike 300, which had this sort of universal appeal due to its very broad and generic subject matter, Watchmen is one of those movies that might be hard to take in if you have never absorbed the source material. I know I sound like a pretentious know-it-all, but I assure you I am not typically the guy who has read the book or the graphic novel before seeing the movie, and whether he liked it or not, any criticism he makes seems to draw from their experience as a reader first and foremost. I am not that guy. However in this case I purposely chose to read Watchmen the graphic novel in its entirety the week before I saw the movie and boy am I glad I did. There are several moments where I can understand a moviegoer being alienated by the continuous presence of Dr. Manhattan’s penis or taken back a bit when he jumps back and forth from Mars and has the ability to stop time. The graphic novel does a fantastic job of placing these larger than life characters into the real world and really creating an atmosphere that is unlike most of the superhero movies we are used to. That is of course, until The Dark Knight. If Watchmen comes out a few years ago I think it carries slightly more weight because the idea of having this down to earth, “what would it be like if there REALLY were masked avengers” concept was something created by Watchmen when the graphic novel was released in the ‘80s. They have been trying to make this movie for decades and in the meantime, just a year ago in fact, The Dark Knight seemed to carry a lot of the thematic elements created in Watchmen and move them onto the big screen within the larger narrative of the well-known Batman franchise. We all know how well that movie did. Some of the characters in Watchmen, like The Comedian, do not get their fair share of screen time so to anyone who did not get acquainted with him in the graphic novel probably took him as being this awkwardly dressed hooligan whose intentions came off as morally ambiguous. Before I go any further and fully commit myself to Nerdom (state in which you are officially a nerd) I will stop because unlike most movies on this list, I will admit that Watchmen is a movie that can seem like a bit much to someone coming into the theater completely oblivious to the setup or anything. If you have not read the graphic novel I can understand why you hated it, however if you did read it there is almost no chance you weren’t amazed by how they managed to take such a an impossible novel to adapt to the screen and do so in such a smooth and seamless fashion. If you did read it and still disliked the movie I simply cannot help you, you are mentally disabled. Seriously spend a week and read the damn thing THEN go see the movie, you will be happy you did.
Since a lot of you probably have not read Watchmen and think that the movie shouldn’t even be on this list I will humor you and give you my last four out. Like the NCAA tournament, these are the last four movies that barely missed the list. You can take Watchmen out, move everybody up one and throw one of these in at 20 if it makes you feel better. What you should do though is either suck it up and read Watchmen or realize that at the very least it was a stunning visual masterpiece by director Zach Snyder and one of the 20 best movies of the year, no doubt.
Last Four Out
Moon – Great performance by Sam Rockwell
Law Abiding Citizen – Doesn’t make sense at times but entertaining when it needs to be.
The Informant! – Finally got around to this one and although it was not what I expected it was still Damon’s better performance of the year.
Star Trek – Hey, a lot of people loved it. I thought it was okay. It goes here.
7) The Hangover – Is there anything to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? I am not going to waste everyone’s time about why this movie did so well, was so funny, blah blah, blah, because it seems like one of those things we can actually all agree on. One of the most heavily marketed comedies in years, Hangover actually lived up to the hype. Zach Galifinakas carries the entire movie and Andy Bernard from The Office (Ed Helms) was in classic form. The Mike Tyson part shouldn’t have been in the trailer cause once you know it’s coming, it’s really not that funny. It actually was even funnier in the trailer cause they make it look like he goes from air-drumming “In The Air Tonight” RIGHT into punching Zach or whoever but in the movie he drums…and then like a minute later he just hits the dude for no reason. Whatever. Not a big deal. Wasn’t twenty minutes too long like every fucking comedy has to be nowadays (the reason I Love You, Man didn’t make this list) and had a great laugh per minute ratio, due almost entirely to Zach’s brilliant comedic timing and the odd tone he used when delivering lines like “re-TARD.” It’s almost stupid to overanalyze a movie like this cause it’s either funny or it’s not and The Hangover was by far the funniest movie of the year. Paaaaaaaging Dr. Faggot! Brilliant.
6) Avatar – Oh My God! Avatar is number 6!?? Then what could possibly be the top five!? Holy God! I thought Avatar was the best movie ever!? How the hell could…come on people…let’s stop all this. It won the Golden Globe but that doesn’t mean shit in the real world. Avatar was one of the coolest IN THEATER experiences I have ever had. The effects, the depth of field, the 3D, all of that was dope as hell, I must say. That still doesn’t change the fact that the plot is sophomoric at best, the characters aren’t anything special (besides how especially hot that blue chick was) and Avatar will be remembered more as some sort of technology exhibition that you endured while at a theme park than as your classic motion picture. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE AVATAR. I saw it twice. I just think that it shouldn’t be compared with the best movies of this year because a) that is unfair to them, this cost $300 million dollars and b) that is unfair to Avatar because Avatar is meant to be ABOUT the visual experience and not the story, so why make it seem weak when comparing it to great screenplays like Up In The Air or Hurt Locker. The next movie on this list is the most comparable movie to Avatar and I will use that description to explain why that got number 5 and Avatar got number 6. Some people are going to put Avatar at number 1 because of how cool it was. Some people are going to leave Avatar off completely to make the point that the story lacked originality. FernGully on acid, Dances with Blue People, I’ve heard it all. Regardless, Avatar was a great movie that I had no problem enjoying, however as a narrative it is not as memorable as some of the other films this year and for that reason and that reason alone, it lives here at number six.
5) District 9 – Avatar cost $300 million dollars. District 9 cost $30 million. Was Avatar 10x better than District 9? Visually maybe…but D9 is no slouch in that department either. In fact, in a lot of ways I think District 9 is the stronger film and when you factor in the massive difference in budgets for the two movies, it would have been a crime to have it lower than Avatar on this list. The way I describe D9 to people is by telling them that the first half is like an episode of the British version of The Office and the second half is like the coolest video game you have ever seen. That alone would get me to see it. I loved every bit of this high concept alien movie that put aliens on our planet for close to twenty years and showed how our world would have been altered by their gruesome presence. In a lot of ways it is similar to what Watchmen does with superheroes. Putting them into the context of “the real world” rather than basing a new one around them. In D9 the “prawns” land their ship in South Africa and are forced to live there in ghettos much like impoverished Africans really still do today. The movie itself seems to be a huge metaphor for apartheid and, in creating this larger than life world in which bug-like aliens co-exist with slumlords and government programs, they managed to do this quite well. Without beating you over the head with it they took the issue of segregation and applied it to man vs. aliens rather than man vs. man. This allowed you to separate yourself from it a bit and really take everything in. Now, although the effects were amazing and the violence is so cool in this movie ($30 million!? That’s nothing!), the enjoyable nature of the film really hinges on the performance of lead actor Sharlto Copley, who is in practically every scene and goes through a movie-long transformation that is hard to pull off in a believable way, to say the least. The leader of a cast full of unknowns, Copley carries this movie on his back with his charm, his humor, and the way he is able to go back and forth between being a quirky government employee and a desperate vigilante willing to do anything. His outbursts always seem believable, really coming through as fear-based anxiety. Why he was never even in the talks as a Best Actor nominee is astounding to me. The screenplay has been acknowledged though and that is fantastic because for the most original alien movie to be penned in years I think that is the least they can do. Would District 9 have been up for Best Pic had they not expanded to 10 nominees? Probably not, but at least there is one positive thing that came out of the stupid decision to expand this year, District 9 will forever be mentioned among the best. PS: After seeing this movie there is no question that director Neil Blomkamp should be the one to make the Halo movie there have been rumors about for years.
4) Adventureland – SO here is the surprise in the top five! This movie came out almost a year ago so I wouldn’t be surprised if you forgot about it by now, but this was one of the more memorable movies of the year for me. A more realistic Superbad, made by the same director, Greg Mottola, and carrying the same sort of “coming of age story” weight, Adventureland lands itself somewhere in the middle of comedy and drama, a dramedy as some people like to call it. A cast filled with funny people like Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Ryan Reynolds and Jesse Eisenberg, Adventureland is filled with laughs without bombarding you with attempt after attempt. It grounds itself from time to time to remind you that for the characters going through this summer of 1987 these seemingly small events that take place will go on to shape them for the rest of their lives. A great soundtrack really puts you back in the time period and a great setting, a cheesy amusement park, makes Adventureland a very pleasant movie to watch. It seems like a very pleasant time to be growing up in and, like The Wackness did so well last year, it managed to take a time period that was not THAT long ago (The Wackness was ‘94, this is ‘87) and really work hard to make that time period as big a part of the movie as it is in say Gladiator or Revolutionary Road. Great filmmakers have a way of being able to take very subtle things like music, set decoration and language and really mind you of how different the world was only twenty years ago. Jessie Eisenberg gives a great performance as a more “realistic” or believable Michael Cera. Where some people begin to get a little annoyed with Cera once they realize what his shtick is, Eisenberg always pulls back and does a good job of allowing you to believe that he is living in the moment and not just fulfilling the need for nerdy comic relief. And then there’s Kristen Stewart…ahh…where do I begin. She isn’t your average drop-dead gorgeous 10 out of 10 movie star. She has a vulnerability about her. If you have ever seen her on a talk show you know that she is just as awkward in real life as she is on-screen. I personally love it and can’t get enough of it. I almost saw New Moon just for her. In Adventureland she plays Em, who hides her insecurities and troubles at home behind her overt sexuality, which she lends to a few different characters within the movie. She is one of those people you really can’t take your eyes off of when she is on screen and it is for entirely the right reasons. A great ensemble cast, Adventureland is an adorable little movie that should be watched by everyone. Much like The Wackness did last year (my FAVORITE movie of 08), Adventureland reminds you what it’s like to grow up and go through life as an adolescent, no matter how long ago that may have been for you. It also allows you to grow up once again, in a different year than when you came of age, go through the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, and still come out on top when the lights come back on. If you haven’t seen this yet…RENT IT IMMEDIATELY.
3) Up in the Air – A movie that looked like it was going to be one of the favorites to win Best Picture and definitely be one of people’s favorites of the year ended up being one of the more polarizing movies of 2009. I have talked to just as many, if not more people that hated Up in the Air than those who loved it. I, however, am in the minority because I thought it was great. Knowing that Jason Reitman wrote the role FOR Clooney only adds to the wonderful marriage between actor and character because Clooney really IS Ryan Bingham. Maybe people didn’t like it because they found it depressing but I didn’t find it depressing at all. Sure he never finds love and is ultimately embarrassed when attempting to put himself out there for the first time but the fact that men can live like this and be so content for so long is what I took from this movie. A lot of people think the moral of the story is that men who attempt to live life as stags and don’t surround themselves with relationships will ultimately become depressed. I think it is the opposite. Bingham is extremely content UNTIL he starts to convince himself that he wants more out of his love affair with Vera Farmiga (who is a great actress, but I think looks more and more like Tom Petty every day). The acting in this movie is off the charts. I sometimes wish that the Oscars would announce the runner up because in instances where there is such a shoe in (Waltz, Mo’Nique) it would be somewhat valuable to know who was the best of the rest. In this case I think it would be Anna Kendrick, who was both adorable and commanding in her role as Natalie. A very worthy adversary to Clooney’s Bingham in this movie she really takes over almost every scene she is in and acts her ass off for being under 25 (and looking under 15). A wonderful cast directed brilliantly by a man who just doesn’t’ make bad movies (Thank You For Smoking and Juno are his other credits as director), Up in the Air lived up to the hype for me and was one of the movies I will definitely remember when thinking back on 2009. It seemed to mesh so well with the time of its release and the subplot of firing people hit very close to home in an age where no one knows if their job is safe. I really don’t get why people disliked this movie. I think it was more of a post-theater decision to say they disliked it because all I hear is “well…the acting was good and…the script was good…and the directing was good…BUT…” sounds like you liked the fucking movie to me. Up in the Air is one of the few movies (probably only three) that is truly deserving of a Best Picture statue. Not going to get it, but I’d be okay with it.
2) The Hurt Locker – I know this is a cop-out, but I really cannot choose between number 2 and number 1 here. I am okay with either one of them in either slot and I think I switched them ten times while putting this thing together. When it was all said and done I decided to put Hurt Locker second, even though I think it might be the most deserving of the Best Picture award (it’s at +120 on Sportsbook.com right now. I would hit that up immediately if I were you) and will probably win it. What it came down to for me was replay value and the movie I have at number one is a movie I know I will watch several times a year for a long time. I have only seen The Hurt Locker once (will probably see it once more at least) and I really have no desire to see it over and over again. This is not a bad thing. When a movie is hard to gather yourself up to see again it does not mean it’s a bad movie. Sometimes it means that the filmmaker (In this case, Katherine Bigelow, another Oscar shoe-in) did SUCH a good job of creating a world within her film that it is just too intense to want to throw yourself back into. In the case of The Hurt Locker, where we follow a bomb-squad in Iraq as they attempt to disarm the dozens of explosives that turn up in combat zones and other areas, the movie is simply too emotionally draining to endure over and over again. Phenomenal acting, flawless directing and a pacing which was somewhat episodic and unique to your average war movie makes The Hurt Locker the best movie ever made about the current Iraq war and probably the best war movie in general since Saving Private Ryan. You are going to hear a lot about this movie in the coming weeks and based on the small amount of money in took in the box office (under 20 million) it seems like a good amount of you have yet to see it. Please go do so and do so immediately because this movie is special. Probably THE BEST movie of the year however it sits here at number two because another movie was MY FAVORITE movie of 2009.
1) Inglorious Basterds – I wrote a very lengthy review of Basterds when it came out over the summer and you should certainly read it when you get a chance. I was so excited, so filled with energy, and so affected by Tarantino’s latest work of art that I just sat down and raved for pages about how connected I felt with the audience, how the film was unlike anything I had ever seen, how it was a cathartic experience, and on and on and on. It’s funny how the two best movies of the year were both war movies and neither one of them was your quintessential trek-through-the-jungle/beach of Normandy type war movie they try to make every so often. By taking WWII and making it the backdrop for this film, but not the main character, Tarantino was able to surround it with these very unique and well-written characters brought to life by one-of-a-kind actors like Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent. For Jews it is as simple as Inglorious Basterds is a movie where Hitler actually gets what he deserves and has his face blown to shreds by a machine gun operated by the guy who directed Hostel. For moviegoers in general it was an energizing reminder of what filmmaking is all about, making fantasies come true. Movies do not always need to be BASED ON A TRUE STORY, although in cases like The Blind Side and Precious it makes the movie all the better knowing that few creative liberties were taken. Basterds, however, stretches that line, misspelling a word in the title first and foremost, as if to warn you that historical accuracy was not the focal point. Movies do not need to be held down by their real life inspirations, as a brilliant director can be inspired without getting held down. Tarantino is a master at creating these worlds where we accept the absurd without being desensitized towards violence and emotion. Making the choice to have every language used when appropriate was one way he managed to create a believable atmosphere. Sure this gets annoying after a while and as stupid Americans we love to have everything dumbed down into English, but Basterds is a prime example of a movie that would have been SIGNIFICANTLY worse had English been used most of the time. Waltz’ performance would not carry the weight it did and perhaps the genius would have never even been cast had the role not called for such a worldly talent. A feel good movie about WWII, somehow, Inglorious Basterds is my pick for THE BEST MOVIE OF 2009!
Once again I’d love to hear feedback and/or see lists of your own as what is great about movies is that there is always something for everybody and everybody has an opinion. There is no right or wrong answer to any of this so please, let us hear it! Post your comments here on The Campus Socialite! Enjoy the Oscars next week! My preview for the show should be out by next Friday!