In many areas, 2009 sucked profoundly—bad economy, bickering health-scare debate, the Yankees winning the World Series again. But at the movies, things were much better. In some years, the last couple of films on my top 10 list would just fill out space; in 2009, terrific films didn’t quite make the cut.
Maybe the year’s troubles made its great comedies even more satisfying. The end of the world became raucous entertainment—with the year’s best celebrity cameo—in Zombieland, and the march to war was brought to life with satirical bite and poetic profanity by In the Loop. There were simple, effervescent pleasures like Me and Orson Welles, and more psychologically complex but still hilarious tales like the beyond-platonic bro-mance Humpday. Even the sweet, insightful rock-documentary Anvil! supplied great comedic moments. We needed laughs this year, and we got them.
We also found an embarrassment of riches in innovative animation and creative adaptations of kid-friendly classics. Nina Paley’s wildly original Sita Sings the Blues combined animation, forgotten jazz recordings and Hindu mythology into a wondrous hybrid, while Wes Anderson went old-school with stop-motion figurines in the Roald Dahl adaptation Fantastic Mr. Fox. Anderson used his source material for something distinctively his own, just as Spike Jonze did with his raw, emotionally charged interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are. Even if you’re ready to leave much of 2009 in the dust, you can still embrace the great movies that it left us.
Maryann Johanson’s Top 10
1. The Hurt Locker
2. District 9
3. The Road
4. The Soloist
5. A Serious Man
6. Bright Star
8. Inglourious Basterds
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
10. The Brothers Bloom
It wasn’t a great year for film, but the highlights hint to where movies may go in the near future ... or at least I hope they do.
The best movie of the year (The Hurt Locker) was produced outside Hollywood, on the cheap, with money raised the hard way by a female director who has had to claw her way toward respect, despite having the same kind of track record that has put male directors on the A-list. The road to this moment was a major pain in the ass for Kathryn Bigelow, I’m sure, but it’s a smackdown at Hollywood that’s been a long time coming.
The second-best film of the year (District 9) was based on a short that went viral online, directed by an outsider—South African Neill Blomkamp—who grew up on Hollywood fare but brought his own outsider perspective. And it didn’t hurt that he also struck a blow against Hollywood’s obsession with The Movie Star. He cast his pal—filmmaker and F/X expert Sharlto Copley—in the lead, and let the non-actor demonstrate how profoundly creativity, imagination and craft have slid away from lazy celebs letting their faces and their fame do their jobs for them. The best films of this year remind us that freshness is more … well, refreshing than Hollywood’s obsession with sequels and remakes and might-as-well-be’s.
Eric D. Snider’s Top 10
There was much to love about the movies in 2009 …
1. (500) Days of Summer This “story about love”—decidedly not a “love story”—was funnier, truer and more resonant than anything else I saw all year.
2. In the Loop OK,
maybe this was funnier. I love the endless, creative sarcasm that drips
from every character’s mouth in this scathing political satire.
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums as enacted by woodland creatures. I love the cuss out of it.
4. Il Divo I know nothing about Italian politics—and I love that Il Divo is outrageously stylish and entertaining anyway.
5. A Serious Man I love that the Coen brothers do their own thing, without regard for whether anyone will get it. When you do get it, it’s like gaining admission to a special club.
6. Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire A movie that can give you so much hope after wading through so much torment deserves love.
7. Up I love Dug the dog.
8. Star Trek I love the confidence with which J.J. Abrams rebooted this franchise.
9. Drag Me to Hell The scariest movie in years, but heck, I just love the title.
10. Humpday What’s at the center of male friendships? Why, love, of course.