Friday, January 01, 2010

The Movies of 2009

Here I am again, after last year's list and the list from the year before as well.

This year I saw 60 movies, as opposed to 51 in 2008 and the possible 39 in 2007 (possible because I wasn't being as anal about keeping track). Of the 60 I saw, 25 were in the theatre, the rest at home. The final number could have been higher, but there were a few periods of time when the numbers fell right off (like leading up to Christmas, when life gets too busy).

As I noted last year, we now have a Blu Ray machine and a big screen along with home theatre sound, all of which helps make the home viewing experience that much better. My collection of Blu Rays now stands at 29, but as prices come down and more interesting features that deserve (and get) an exacting HD treatment are released, I'll likely pick many of them up. This is what we have right now:

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen; The Adventures of Robin Hood; Baraka; Children of Men; Cloverfield; Coraline; The Dark Knight; The Day the Earth Stood Still (the original, thank you); Donnie Darko; Galapagos; Ghandi; The Golden Compass; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; Iron Man; The Last Emperor; Master and Commander - The Far Side of the World; Monty Python's The Life of Brian; Nightmare Before Christmas; North By Northwest; Pan's Labyrinth; The Perfect Storm; Planet of the Apes (again, the original); The Princess Bride; The Shawshank Redemption; Star Trek (the JJ Abrams reboot); Terminator; Up; Wall-E, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At the end of the year we signed up for Zip, Canada's largest version of Netflix. It's too early to tell how that's working out, but sometime this weekend I'll be watching Helvetica, so the year will start off a little less obviously than a trip to the mulitplex or to Blockbuster would normally offer, so that's a start.

As far as movies seen this year, the usual proviso stands that not every film listed was a film released in 2009, that as a father of two who's busy in the lives of my children and my wife as well as my own, sometimes I find myself playing catchup. But if this was the first time I saw a film, and it wasn't ridiculously old, I listed it. The year itself stood out for me as being especially strong for animation. We didn't manage to see Disney's return to hand-drawn animation, The Princess and the Frog, but otherwise covered almost all of the bases (although I still have Waltz With Bashir and Persepolis in my Zip list), and I have to say that this was possibly the best year for animation I can remember, including the Toy Story re-releases. Hell, even Monsters vs Aliens was at least fun to look at.

And now, on to the movies. Remember, an asterisk means we saw that film in the movie theatre, as opposed to at home:

The Band’s Visit - Lonely, sad, but funny, especially the scene where Haled teaches Papi how to seduce a woman at the roller rink. A slow and quiet Israeli movie that rewards patience.

Vantage Point - I like a good thriller, even those that are preposterous, but this took silly serendipity many steps too far with an ending that was absolutely absurd. Plus, the presence of so many stars meant pretty much all of them were wasted.

Ghost Town - Ricky Gervais is great, even though there are really no surprises in the character he plays. A nice romcom and some good laughs.

*Coraline - An early front runner for best of the year. The 3D was nice and mostly subtle, but the story and the characters and the animation were all what made this what it was. Exciting and thrilling and a little scary and mostly delightful.

Pineapple Express - A funny, funny stoner comedy/buddy film/crime film, with a performance by James Franco that could have passed muster for a best supporting actor nomination in the Oscars.

Eagle Eye - Absurd and ridiculous, but because I came into this with low expectations I rode with it OK. Although I figured out the major plot point pretty early on.

Frozen River - Melissa Leo certainly deserved an Oscar for her role in this, but even the nomination was good to see, considering how quiet and obscure the picture was. One of the best I saw this year.

*Bedtime Stories - Forgettable, frankly, and even a bit blah for Brennan, who was a part of its target audience.

Changeling - Disturbing and frustrating and, yes, Angelina Jolie was tremendous in it, but in the end the film was a little too distant to engage me to any great length.

Man on Wire - A thrilling documentary about the man who walked the tight rope (illicitly) between the two World Trade Center towers shortly after they were built.

*Slumdog Millionaire - I’m not one to jump off the bandwagon here. Still brings back good memories.

Encounters at the Edge of the World - Another excellent documentary from Werner Herzog (who also did the affecting Grizzly Man), this one about life in the Antarctic.

Milk - For which Sean Penn absolutely deserved his Oscar. Very moving, and nice to see my friend Frank Robinson on screen, playing himself.

*Race to Witch Mountain - Meh. Yeah, some good fun, but also plenty of irritation. By now you can tell I still have kids young enough for this sort of fare.

*Monsters vs. Aliens - The voice work was pretty good, the story pretty mediocre, and the 3D way over the top. Middle of the road.

Quantum of Solace - Not nearly as good as the previous Bond film. In fact, kind of boring in many places.

Happy-Go-Lucky - This was fun and delightful, a great character sketch of a woman (played by Sally Hawkins) who refuses to let life get her down.

*Owl and the Sparrow - A Vietnamese movie that, up until the somewhat unlikely ending, carries the viewer along on an emotional journey with a young orphan and her attempts to create a new family.

Passchendaele - A somewhat disjointed WW1 epic with rather obvious allegorical tricks near the end, it nonetheless mostly held my attention and can be said to be worth a rental.

Doubt - I liked it, but director John Patrick Shanley every once in awhile would tilt his camera as if he was filming the villains in the old Batman TV series, which would have been bad enough if it weren’t for Meryl Streep’s nun character looking so much like the Penguin at those times.

*Earth - I knew it was a rehash of the TV series Planet Earth, but I was disappointed that they didn’t make the effort to fix the more glaring image problems, including blacks with zero detail and some scenes that were hideously grainy, washed out, or out of focus. And, James Earl Jones as narrator was thrust forward too much, as has been the wont of Disney nature movies over the years.

The Wrestler - Both Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei (whom I love, by the way) were tremendous. Very good, and nice to see an ambiguous ending.

*Star Trek - What a great ride! The actors were great, the story was great, and even the nonsense science was great, since it was so obviously Star Trek. Did you see the tribble on Scotty’s desk when he’s first introduced?

Taken - Liam Neeson brought some interesting gravitas to the role of a former spook having to bash heads to save his daughter. Fun and light.

The Reader - I was most taken with this during the scenes of the two of them in their later years. The love affair, not so much, as a matter of fact quite boring.

*Up - Tremendous, and a movie of the year candidate. The opening 10 minutes were the most moving I’ve seen in a film in ages. And the first time Alpha spoke I thought I would bust a gut, I was laughing so hard.

Valkyrie - A tense enough thriller with some decent acting, but in the end a film that doesn’t really stick with you.

The International - This gets bonus points from me because Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) directed it, doing a decent job of making it feel like one of those low-rent Michael Caine suspense thrillers from the ‘70s.

*The Hangover - Yes, I laughed. And laughed and laughed and laughed, along with everyone else in the theatre, all of us probably worried out mothers were going to march in and catch us.

Knowing - If you didn’t figure it out well before the ending came you weren’t trying. A shrug of the shoulders is about all I could give this one, possibly put off by the aliens doing their level best to look like angels.

*Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - This was very dark, it seems to me physically as well as psychically, and I shall soon re-watch it to make sure I don’t misremember.

In Bruges - Dark and disturbing and funny, with fine acting and such a great travelogue I want to visit the city, even though I’m not an assassin.

*The Hurt Locker - Until the last minute this was my pick for movie of the year. Still an incredible and deeply moving experience. Bigelow’s finest film of her career, and the most on-edge I’ve felt watching a movie in a long time.

Tell No One - A decent thriller from France, one of two I saw this year that had British actress Kristin Scott Thomas. There was a bit of a reach to buy into the central plot device, but then there is always that in movies like this.

Watchmen - I really wanted to like this, I really did, but in the end I found that director Zack Snyder tried too hard to stick with the graphic novel (lack of giant telepathic squid notwithstanding), and the end result was a stylistic jumble with little heart. But it looked good.

Vicky Christina Barcelona - As usual, I would watch Penelope Cruz in anything. But I almost folded on that vow with this film. An unholy mess from Woody Allen, with mostly uninterested acting (Scarlett Johansson, whatever happened to you?) and very - Very - annoying voice-overs there to cheat Woody’s way out of, you know, showing us the story.

*The Taking of Pelham 123 - I recall enjoying this, but that said, I recall hardly anything else. In one ear and out the other, as they say.

*District 9 - There were plenty of battles about this online, with many of my friends upset about the implicit and explicit racism, and many more, including some who were upset, gushing on about what a great ride it was. It was smart, well-paced, and disturbing as all hell.

Redbelt - A film by David Mamet, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor? Deal me in. A movie about MMA fighting that’s smart and cautiously paced and with a climactic fight scene that takes place off the main stage (though not off-camera) is a movie that deserves more attention than it got.

*Moon - Best SF film of the year. Low budget, using models instead of CGI (hooray!), and aside from a couple of minor characters only seen via video or heard via radio, the only two actors are Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey, and Spacey plays a computer. This film deserved way more attention than it got.

Sunshine - Danny Boyle’s attempt at the type of SF that uses spaceships, but he couldn’t help himself and had to go with a preposterous horror turn to accompany the preposterous science. And yet, as with all Boyle films, stylish and good to look at.

*Inglorious Basterds - Quentin Tarantino’s best film. Thrilling and tense and a mad dream about what could have been, with Christoph Walz more frightening than any other character on the screen this year.

*Ponyo - Speaking of mad dreams, Hayao Miyazaki seemed to go absolutely nuts with this film, or else he simply tapped into his inner four-year-old for the plot, although of course sometimes the two aren’t necessarily exclusive. This was a wonderful film that had my whole family grinning like idiots throughout, but don’t try to explain the plot to anyone; it simply has to be experienced.

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation - A Brazilian film that takes place at the time of the 1970 World Cup (won by Brazil, nearing the end of Pele’s time as the best the game had to offer), this is at times sad and at times uplifting, about a boy whose parents are on the run from the government and so they leave him at his grandfather’s door, not knowing that his grandfather has just died.

*Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian - Seems it was just a year or two I was thinking Amy Adams deserved an Oscar nom for her role in Enchanted, and then I’m forced to sit through her take on Amelia Earhart. Almost made me want to watch Hilary Swank do the same thing. Overall, a silly movie, one that Brennan seemed to enjoy enough in the theatre, but even he was iffy about it afterward.

Duplicity - Clive Owen and Julia Roberts? Not this time, thanks. Not a good movie.

Adventureland - An excellent little movie about a very specific time in one’s life, set against the background of work at a mediocre carnival.

Let the Right One In - A vampire film. In Swedish. And the vampire and the central protagonist are both children. Of course it had to be the best vampire movie of the year, possibly the best I’ve seen.

*Toy Story 3D - I didn’t care so much about seeing it in 3D. I did care about seeing it one more time on the big screen.

*Toy Story 2 3D - The same here, of course. Even more so, since I think the second film was better than the first.

I’ve Loved You So Long - The other French film with Kristin Scott Thomas, this time a sad and focused family drama about a woman (Thomas) who’s come to live with her sister and her family after being released from jail. The secrets are slow in coming, the pain there from the start, the joy fighting to be heard.

*Bright Star - Jane Campion’s marvelous, slowly-paced (some might say glacial, but that’s fair, since glaciers leave great changes when they depart) movie about Fanny Brawne and John Keats. I got lost in this film, swallowed up in its world and its inhabitants.

*Where the Wild Things Are - I know people who hated this movie, but to me it was a sorrowful experience about leaving behind our childhood. The promises we make as children when our imaginations burn feverishly, and the shock and sadness we feel when we learn they can’t be held; the monsters continually falling out with each other, as children are wont to do; with an ending when, for a moment, Max forgets it all, even as his mother is able to rest, knowing her son is safe, all of these reached deep inside me.

Wolverine - Yes, there were aspects of this I liked, but in the end it just becomes a huge mishmash that uses action as a characterization device.

The Brothers Bloom - A bit too twee to be genuinely good, this was still enjoyable, and I especially enjoyed the fact that everything the brothers did, no matter that it was in the here and now, seemed to take them back to an earlier and more elegant time.

*Fantastic Mr. Fox - Wes Anderson’s best since Rushmore, the only word to truly describe this film is Delightful. Best animated movie of the year.

Away We Go - Quiet and enjoyable, although a little too episodic to qualify as anything other than a series of short films with the same characters.

Angels & Demons - Hey! Something had to be the worst movie I saw this year, and here it is.

*Avatar - Spectacular to watch, a bit of a cringe-fest to think about the plot. But I still loved it, and especially appreciated James Cameron’s nod to Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans, when Sully is first brought into the Na’vi village, with all the natives whooping and yelling, touching him and pushing him, and then Wes Studi speaks.

*Up in the Air - The best movie of the year. Clooney and Farmiga were great, the rest of the cast were great, and the story touched me very deeply. And the best part is this is a movie that can be lots of things to lots of different people, while not once losing its path or its soul.

This year, I'll even attempt a little more quantification. The kids are always after me to list things, to tell them the best of this and the best of that. Going over the list one last time today, I think I can cough up an actual top ten list, keeping in mind again that my list is woefully incomplete and out of date compared to that of people who actually have the time and the money to get out to see all the movies as they're released. Also, this is the part of the list where (aside from the two foreign entries) where I'll try to keep the titles to those released in 2009.

1. Up in the Air
2. The Hurt Locker
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
4. Let the Right One In
5. I've Loved You So Long
6. Up
7. Bright Star
8. Inglorious Basterds
9. Where the Wild Things Are
10. Ponyo

And that's it. I hope to see Paranormal Activity soon, Sherlock Holmes, and am curious about Kick-Ass, which I definitely won't be taking the boys to see.


Thanks for this post - gives me lots of choices when searching for a good watch. I don't see a fraction of how many movies you do, but I was pleased our opinions jived on a number of them (Let the Right One In, Vantage Point, Eagle Eye, Knowing, HP & the Half-Blood Prince, Star Trek, & Watchmen).

I loathed, loathed, loathed Doubt. The acting, the directing, the entire premise, the writing - did I mention that I loathed it?

Really wish you hadn't given away part of the ending of one film I haven't seen, but them's the breaks when you're a too-fast reader.

Watched Run, Fatboy Run last night with Colin - he felt it was too slow, but I was weeping with laughter throughout - and bawling like a baby at the end (I think he was too, but with less snuffling).

Recently saw Revolutionary Road. See my views on Doubt. Pretty much the same. C and I spent the whole movie proposing ways it could be made more interesting. Blah.

Tried to watch Bangkok Dangerous last night (hey, it was on sale) but the brand-new DVD, shrink-wrapped and all, was so scratched and mangled, it was unwatchable. Is Superstore buying up used movies, re-shrinkwrapping them, and putting them in the cheapie bins?

Have a great new year!
Oops. Was that for Where the Wild Things Are? If so, the end I note is my interpretation. Run, Fatboy, Run, is very funny. I love Simon Pegg.
.: Couldn't disagree more with Jena on Doubt - brilliant performances by four amazing actors, and Streep was robbed of her third Oscar by Winslet, whose better performance that year was in Revolutionary Road.

We feel the same way about Marisa Tomei.

Laughed my ass off at Hangover.

Christopher Waltz should be a shoe-in for the Supporting Actor Oscar, and I agree his character was terrifying.

I would agree with you on Moon, if not for the decision to use Kevin Spacey's irritating voice combined with those 20th century smilies. But still, what a great sf film. I'd put District 9 ahead of it, however.

I enjoyed Redbelt, which I saw in Madison WI in 2008. I think you are the only other person I know besides my friend Jude and me, who saw it.

I liked Vicky Christina Barcelona more than you did, as I am in love with Rebecca Hall, and thought she stole the movie from Cruz.

Agree with you on Sunshine. Required quite a suspension of disbelief to accept that we had created a composite material strong enough to withstand those high temperatures, btw.

I liked Where the Wild Things Are, but it didn't resonate with me afterwards.

Other films I saw this year of note: An Education (Carey Mulligan - brilliant), Pirate Radio (hilarious), In The Loop (easily the funniest film of the year, and would make my Top Ten) - look for it, and put your kids into drug-induced comas before you watch it, and Anvil: The Story of Anvil, the RL version of Spinal Tap, totally brilliant documentary worth the time to watch.

I need to see a few more of the '09 films before deciding what my favorite 2009 films of the year will be, but The Hurt Locker will definitely be on the list as well.
I've put In the Loop and Anvil on my Zip list, Randy. Thanks for reminding me about them.
MOON was my favorite movie of 2009 too!

We saw half a dozen movies in the theater and I didn't think to count rentals, but our taste seems pretty similar.
It will be great to watch The Shawshank Redemption, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.
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