Jan 11 2010

James’ Top 10 Favorite Movies of the Second Half of 2009

You may remember my Top 10 Favorite Movies of the First Half of 2009 post that covered ten movies selected from the months of January to August of 2009.  Now that the year is done, I’m writing this sequel to that article, and it will cover any movies released between September and December of 2009.  For those wondering, there will be a top 10 covering the complete slate of films from this year, and Benn will most likely share his top 10 of the year as well.  But for now, enjoy this less comprehensive list, as it will go deeper into the movies released during the latter months.

A quick disclaimer, I didn’t get to see as large a percentage of the films during these months, so there are some gaps in my viewing.  Notable films I haven’t had a chance to see yet: Bright Star, Precious, The Lovely Bones, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Crazy Heart, Invictus, The White Ribbon, and It’s Complicated.  And also, this is not necessarily a direct reflection of what I feel the quality of the film is, but a combination of a lot of factors that just make me like them best.

10. The Princess and The Frog

I credit John Lasseter for making a brilliant move of mandating that the non-Pixar films coming from Disney be hand-drawn with as little computer animation as possible.  This is a great, back to basics Disney princess film with a story that works really well, characters that are actually flawed, and an otherwise really well made animated film.  The songs are very good also, but unfortunately not as catchy as anything from the golden age of Disney cartoons.

9. The Road

Our review of this film can be found here.  I found this to be a powerful and affecting drama, with great atmosphere, mood, production design, and cinematography.  While I find that the film is rather static overall, I still think it’s very well made and has a good emotional impact.

8. A Single Man

Simply put, the most beautiful film I saw all year.  Every shot is an exquisite photograph, and it does amazing things with color, tone, production design, and costume design.  Additionally, the characters all feel fully developed, even the ones with only one scene, largely due to acting that adds layers upon layers to subtle performances.  Certainly another depressing and rough watch, but I’m very jealous of Tom Ford’s first directorial outing.  Benn’s review echoes a lot of my sentiments.

7. The Informant!

I had a ball watching this movie, it’s completely rediculous, and yet it’s based on real life occurances.  Every time you think it can’t get more bizarre, it does.  Big props go to the musical score and Matt Damon’s fascinating performance.  In terms of quality, this may not be the best of the movies I saw, but it was a ton of fun and I laughed throughout.

6. Avatar

Some people will be surprised at this not be better ranked than I have it, but when I compare it to the movies below, it just doesn’t have as good a story, characters, dialogue, or even emotional punch.  Certainly the visuals are fantastic and enthralling, and I was never bored, and the IMAX 3D experience was nothing short of incredible.  It’s also a good distillation of a lot of the sci-fi films we’ve grown up loving.  As much as people make fun of the played out themes in the film, at least there’s a lot of them layered in here.  But still, I’m seeing a lot of people overrate this film (including our own writers).

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson isn’t always my cup of tea, I love Rushmore and Darjeeling but the others fall a bit flat.  But this is like the best of Wes Anderson mixed with the best of Roald Dahl, and it works way better than you’d think.  What’s incredible is that many of these characters are more fully developed (and once again, flawed) than live action characters in other films.  It’s got a great depiction of the way families interact, and ultimately, come together, and it’s genuinely funny.

4. Where the Wild Things Are

After I first watched this I wasn’t sure what I thought.  I was certainly emotionally affected.  And I was stunned by the beauty.  And certainly there was a strange realism to the dialogue between the monsters in the film.  But the more I thought about it the more powerful I thought it was, and Spike Jonze (and his production designers) really did some visionary work here.  Some of the best moments actually take place in the real world, thanks to the strong acting from Max Records and some very realistic and relatable character beats.

3. Zombieland

I walked out of the theater saying that this would probably be the most fun I had in a theater all year.  I was laughing so loud and often, and had to constantly turn to the person I was with just to marvel at how funny this turned out to be.  There’s some really great visual gags here, and a set of characters that, while not the most fully developed, certainly bounce off each other magnificently.  And the list of rules is a unique recurring joke that I appreciated being able to play along with.  I’m not going to say that this is any sort of revolutionary film, but it is a wonderful time at the theater.  We discussed it on this episode of the podcast.

2. A Serious Man

Once again, it’s easier to take more words to cover this one.  This film is so complex and funny.  There are great supporting characters, like Sy Abelman, and fully developed main characters.  The casting is dead-on across the board.  The dialogue is incredibly entertaining, and there’s even multiple great stories within-the-stories.  It’s interesting to see just how much shit can be thrown at a main character, and still have it be entertaining.  This pushes the very limits of black comedy.  If it were up to me, this would definitely grab one of the ten best picture nominations.

1. Up in the Air

I think this movie is most likely to win best picture this year.  It’s funny, it’s got great, relatable characters who are fully developed.  It has several emotional gut punches.  It speaks to a lot of the problems that our generation is facing, particularly in the last year or two.  I like it’s commentary on what technology is doing to us as people, and that it doesn’t give any clear message as to what the verdict should be on its effect.  George Clooney does a great job of using his image to his own advantage, but still giving great depth to his character of Ryan Bingham.  And of course, the two main women in the film, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, are both revelations to me.  I look forward to seeing them in more films, as they both did utterly fantastic jobs.  But most of all, it’s simply an entertaining, affecting movie that adds another point to Jason Reitman’s perfect score.

Honorable Metions:

An Education, Paranormal Activity, and Sherlock Holmes

Please feel free to come up with your own top 10 and post it in the comments of this page, I’d love to hear your opinions.

Update: If you’d like to be thorough with a list of your own, Wikipedia has a list of all of the 2009 releases, make sure to limit yourself to September through December.

The purpose of this article is simply to point out the ten best movies of the year so far. I started with January and went through the end of August and looked at every movie I’d seen so far, and let me tell you, I have seen a lot of movies this year. In fact the only movie I truly regret missing so far is The Hurt Locker, so don’t expect to see it on this list. I’m going to categorize this top ten as being defined by being my “favorites”. A lot of things can contribute to this, and I’ll do my best to briefly explain each choice, but I think you’ll find that it’s a combination of pure enjoyment, relatability, and undoubtable quality. You may remember Benn’s tirade against the current state of the summer blockbuster, and you might be able to think of this as a counter to that, because while not all of the movies that are about to be mentioned were “blockbusters,” most of them were part of this summers’ film slate, and were completely enjoyable. Some even pushed the envelope of filmmaking just a little. Anyway without further ado, I present to you in approximate and completely subjective order descending from tenth to first favorite film, my top ten favorite films of the first “half” of 2009.

10. Watchmen

I realize that to truly appreciate this movie, you have to have seen the book, but what a companion piece it is. The original is such an excellently told story, and it’s such a marvel to see it up there on the silver screen. Zack Snider took a lot of risks in maintaining the purity of the book, and it seems as if they may not have paid off for him, but for the Watchmen fan, this is just about as good as we could possibly hope for. Basically this is appreciation for seeing a favorite story be brought to screen in a respectable way.

9. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

As with all the Harry Potter films, it has to cut out a lot, including a climactic battle, to fit it all in. Still, there’s a lot to like here. The cinematography is gorgeous, and has a unique look that the other films don’t have. Also, I can’t believe how lucky they got with what were once child actors. They have really grown up into their roles and give some great performances, as do their adult counterparts. The big surprise here though is the excellent comedy and relationship moments, it’s almost like watching a really good high school movie.

8. Moon

This is one of those movies that’s best not to talk about too much. Just go see it and be surprised. But I can tell you this, it has an amazing one man show performance by Sam Rockwell, and it does incredible things with its $5 million dollar budget. The script is incredibly compelling as well, considering it’s enclosed nature.

7. Drag Me to Hell

If you’ve ever seen any of the Evil Dead (or Army of Darkness) films, you’ll understand this movie perfectly. It comes from the same writer/director, Sam Raimi, and instills the same sort of manic horror that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s almost more comedy than horror, and plays with the tropes of the genre while still finding fresh ways to really creep you out. This is just a ton of fun.

6. Up

What can I say, I’m a sucker for Pixar. I’m almost always teary by the end of a Pixar film, (and jealousy of their accomplishment usually has something to do with it) but rarely am I teary in the first five minutes. Up grabs you and pulls you in, and doesn’t let go. It has many emotionally touching moments, and some great comedy as well. Pixar is just unstoppable for me.

5. District 9

It’s so refreshing to see a completely original concept, particularly within the sci-fi genre. This film accomplishes so many different things. It’s a great video-game style action movie, really unlike any that has been accomplished before. And it’s simultaneously a great allegory for racial relations in South Africa (or anywhere). It’s great to see that a summer blockbuster can mean something. Also, considering the budgets of some of the other blockbusters out there, the fact that this movie was made for $30 million is simply unbelievable.

4. The Brothers Bloom

I love me a good con movie, I love me a good comedy, and I love me some good genre bending. This accomplishes all three, and it does it with flourish and style. Not only does Rian Johnson take a little from some of his (and my) favorite films, but he adds some brilliant flairs of his own and brings it together in a surprisingly unified palette. This is a ton of fun to watch, it’s clever, it’s a little meta-fictional (which I’m also a sucker for), and it even brings it home with some touching emotional beats. This also my favorite musical score of the year. Highly recommended on all accounts. Benn and I reviewed it in depth in our Film Duel column.

3. (500) Days of Summer

This movie is so relatable it’s not even funny. I may not have lived exactly this, but it’s so universal that it strikes home anyway. And yet it feels specific and genuine at the same time. It’s a really witty and fresh script as well. Both actors are great, and have good chemistry. And there’s Zooey Deschanel, who I’ve had an unabashed crush on ever since I saw Mumford and Eulogy, two of her earliest films. Sadly she just got married to one of my favorite musicians, Ben Gibbard, so I’ll have to begin to mentally let her go. There’s a great mix of indie music too, and some wonderful directorial stylistic flairs.

2. Inglourious Basterds

This is simply magnificent. Never have I seen such a great experiment in tension. Hitchcock used to say that surprise is having two people talking at a table about the weather, and then a bomb under the table blows up, tension is showing the audience the bomb under the table, and then having two people talk about the weather. Quentin Tarantino clearly knows this, and experiments with both concepts. He knows how to pull back the rubber band until its ready to snap and then let all hell break loose. This movie shows off Tarantino’s mastery of dialogue and style, and is certainly one of his best.

1. Star Trek

This was simply the most fun I had all summer. Films can be big summer popcorn flicks and still be great films at the same time. This script is near perfect for me, there’s conflict at every turn, while simultaneously building up character. The acting is dead on, and I would die to have a television show with these actors as these characters. The cinematography is fresh and appealing, and the directing is exciting and thoughtful at once. I can’t wait to have this on blu-ray so I can watch it for my third and fourth time.

Honorable Metions:

The Hangover, I Love You, Man, and Coraline

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