In summary, this is what I will remember of the year in movies (2009): Animation transcended the ranks of mainstream, commercial and critical success to become an event. There was experimentation with 3D, that can only hold the promise of better things to come. Some of the best films, opted to focus on our core humanity, but boldly presented this theme in non-traditional genres - and this has continued to redefine the notion of storytelling. There are breakout performances by actors and actresses who have either had it long in coming or are fantastic new finds.
The following is my list of the top films of 2009:-
1) The Hurt Locker: directed by Kathryn Bigelow; starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie.
Jarring, intense, terse, suspenseful, unnerving and emotionally draining. Beyond anything remotely apolitical, allegorical and time-bound, the relevance of this movie will be forever... undeniable. Offering a unique perspective on war as an addiction, and sacrificial exercise in daily heroism. It is shown through a director's unflinching, uncompromising perspective to throw out the notion of predictability. Properly buoyed by the superb Renner and Mackie! You breathe the way they do, you taste the dirt, question your own moral disposition and sanity. There is no better film or director this year!
2) Up: directed by Pete Doctor; voiced by Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer and Jordan Nagai.
This inspiring ode to love, life and its many promises (fulfilled and otherwise), is zany, funny, sharp and a classic. Child-like in its approach, it is deeply moving. For kids, you learn respect, never to give up, the importance of responsibility, caring and sharing...oh wait, we adults can take heed also! Incidentally, the four-minute montage near to the beginning of this film, which sets the backdrop for this story, wrecks me every time I see it.
3) District 9: directed by Neill Blomkamp; starring Sharlto Copely.
Masterfully intelligent at reminding us of the scourge that was apartheid and further, cautioning us as to how easy it is to forget that in our differences we are unique yet similar. It also is a solid commentary on fatherhood. Powerful and creative use of the sci-fi genre to tell the tale. There is a moment in this movie which threatens to veer it dangerously into an action-flick. However, the brilliant screenplay, its breakout star performance and director, never lets you forget that respect for life is a necessity to live.
4) Up In The Air: directed by Jason Reitman; starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.
A modern parable meditating on the perils of finding the balance between your work life and personal life. As a Human Resources professional who has had to terminate employees, this film strikes a special cord as to the requirement to be emotionally dissonant to the process, whilst being human. The film works marvelously as an old school romantic throwback, expertly executed by George Clooney (exuding Cary Grant/Jimmy Stewart charm), Vera Farmiga (in a role made for Audrey Hepburn/Joan Crawford), and Anna Kendrick (as the idealist we all are at some point in our lifetime). Reitman, after "Juno" and "Thank You For Not Smoking" has affirmed his position as one of the best young directors out there.
5) The White Ribbon: directed by Michael Haeneke.
One of the most unsettling movie-going experiences this year, that needs to be discussed in a group forum. The movie seeks to debate the question, whether children are moulded into the adults we want them to be, in a deliberate manner by us as adults. You are transported to a village in Germany, pre-World War 1, where seemingly unrelated events unfold casting a shadow of fear, distrust, suspense, fear and dread over the township. I really cannot divulge too much, without giving things away, however it is sufficient to say that the cinematography, screenplay and direction the shocking realism of this story.
6) 500 Days of Summer: directed by Marc Webb; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zoey Deeschanel.
The best non-romantic comedy in quite some time. Absolutely ingenious for the angle it takes on a conventional, socialized, fairy-tale version of love. It also demonstrates our failing as human beings to take chances and risks, when things really do matter. It is funny and quirky, in terms of its charm. As an added plus, the film boasts the best Soundtrack compilation of the year. This film is worth the price of admission just to look at Zoey's doe-like eyes.
7) The Princess and the Frog: directed by Ron Clements and John Musker; with the voice talents of Anika Noni Rose, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, Bruno Campos and John Goodman.
The best musical of the year. Set in New Orleans, this is Disney's finest animated film since "The Lion King". It is totally conventional and knows the moral it is trying to convey. The helmsmen (Clements and Musker) bring back the magic which they captured in "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin and do it with tremendous heart and sincerity. The non CGI animation was refreshing and struck a real euphoric chord with me. In fact, in the weeks after seeing this, I broke out "Lady and The Tramp", "Lion King", " Sleeping Beauty", "Beauty and the Beast", and was in newfound awe. Majestic on all counts, especially original musical score. It features also the Best Original Song of the year, "Almost There".
8) Coraline: directed by Henry Selick; with the voice talents of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher and Ian McShane.
Based on the book by the incomparable Neil Gaiman, this translation is eerie, scary and delightful. It is about a little girl who wishes for a better life (which includes the parents). The 3D world created is breathtaking, whimsical and so imaginative. A lot of people are carrying on about Avatar (which did not make this list), however, this film trumps that, by the relatable story-line and creepiness factor.
9) Drag Me To Hell: directed by Sam Raimi; starring Alison Lohman and Justin Long.
Welcome back Sam Raimi, you suave, horror-meister! There is not a single movie in the past 5 years of recent memory, that makes you jump the way this film does. All those masquerading thrillers and pseudo-horrors, have nothing with the melee of this movie. Very simple in plot, old woman curses girl to hell (no, not like on the streets of Port-of-Spain), but with an ancient gypsy spell. Girl now has to fight for survival or risk being dragged to hell. Darkly funny, downright gross (at times) and for the record, scary! For the ardent Raimi fans out there, this film would have been higher ranked if a certain someone made his usual cameo!
10) The Hangover: directed by Todd Phillips; starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and Heather Graham.
With the probable exception of "Drag Me To Hell", no other movie made my gut ache from laughing in 2009. A buddy road trip goes horribly, horribly wrong. If I had to score this movie, I would use Jazmine Sullivan's hit a year aback, "Lions, Tigers and Bears". See the movie, get the joke! The comic-timing and sensibility is consistent throughout this movie providing guffaws, incredibly stupid moments and at the end of the day, attesting to the incredible bond of friendship.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (that narrowly escaped the top 10, in order of preference):
Star Trek - I have long been a fan of JJ Abrams (Alias, Lost, Fringe). The retooling of this franchise, bears his signature throughout: emphasis on character exploration, action, time-bending plot and masterful direction.
Precious - Without doubt, Monique's performance is the best supporting female actress. Sidibe's Precious is heartbreakingly sad, strong and resilient. Under Lee Daniels' direction this film has a realism similar to that of, "The Hurt Locker". The supporting performances of Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and Paula Patton are also uniformly stunning.
An Education - Carey Mulligan is a catch! As she makes her choice and bears witness to the consequences of her actions, as a viewer, you are affected. Alfred Molina's performance as her father, is bound to take you back to the times you locked heads with your parents on any issue which seemingly mattered most to you and which you thought would be the best for you.
A Single Man - The boozy performance of Julianne Moore (why can't they give this woman an Oscar>) and hurt portrayed by Colin Firth in his loss, brought me to tears! An excellent directorial debut by fashion designer, Tom Ford.
Fantastic Mr. Fox - Clooney and Streep worked overtime this year! The stop-motion animation process and the gutzo of Wes Anderson brought me back to those clay-mation Christmas movies I used to watch in my younger days. This is a wonderful family drama and story about forgiveness, trust and love.
The Last Station - Helen Mirren is bewitching and the relationship between her Christopher Plummer's Tolstoy is the stuff of great romances.
Inglourious Basterds - Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurant and the interrogation scene at the start of this movie are classic Tarantino archtypes. The major let down: the laziest QT score I have ever heard of all his movies.
I Love You Man - A buddy comedy that resonates on so many different levels, it is a public disservice if I volunteer anything more! I just have to say, I wish Paul Rudd were my best friend!
Adventureland - 80s nostalgia and teenage awakenings, bring it on! Forgive Kirsten Stewart for Twilight folks, this girl has serious acting chops.
Zombieland - Hooray for Woody Harrelson's return!!! Terrific horror-comedy, which stands out due to the zany casting!
Men Who Stare At Goats - Ridiculous premise; over the top acting...but I'm still quoting the movie months after having seen it.
The Knowing - Alex Proyas spiritual ode to outer space, provided the base for a Nicholas Cage resurgence.
Bright Star - The delight that is Abbie Cornish, is mesmerizing.
A Serious Man - It is a Coen movie; somewhat autobiographical, with yet another well written characterization that is so vivid, you question whether you are watching a film!
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call- New Orleans - Nicholas Cage gives a performance reminiscient of that in "Leaving Las Vegas", but is even more captivating as a lieutenant who becomes increasingly unhinged from society. It actually rivals Harvey Keitel's electric performance in the original.
G.I. Joe - not even Sienna Miller in leather, could save the mess that this was.
Transformers 2 - Dear Michael Bay, apparently 2 = excessiveness on all counts! Next time be more selective in your casting...eliminate humans!
All About Steve - Dear Sandra, I loved you in "The Blind Side", but what were you and Bradley Cooper thinking?
It's Complicated - Pretending to be an adult comedy, but resulting in top-notch actors, making dubious choices and supposedly letting loose. Meryl is sexy (yes), but seriously, you are an intelligent woman.
He's Just Not That Into You - I can deal with man-bashing movies, but one where a cast of A-list actresses just yap with no redeeming value in themselves or the men (save for one of the relationships), is downright ridiculous. A true yawn-fest.