Holy crap 2009. It’s over and for the most part it was a pretty chaotic and insane year (not in a good way). Between the economy continuing plummeting down, Auto-tune plummeting up and Fox News hypocritically and ironically going jihad on Obama after 8 years of whining how bashing a president is anti-American, it was hard to escape from the real world. Good thing movies are still one of the best forms of escapism that doesn’t involve dying of overdose. 2009 was an amazing year for movies both of quality and from a commercial standpoint. The yearly gross is at the highest its ever been (so far at 10.5 BILLION) and with Avatar invading the box office it will only get even higher. The ticket sales were high too at about 1460 million tickets sold this year, the highest its been since 2004. It’s clear that the recession isn’t hurting the film industry at all, in fact it’s helping it. Also as far as quality movies were fantastic with a variety of different genres for something for everyone, not to mention a vast array of original films which is rare in a world of remakes and adaptations. It was a hard list to make; there were so many great films this year, the top 5 itself are easily some of my favorite films this decade.
Greg Molotta’s first film since Superbad may not be the Apatow-esque sex-romp everyone expected. In fact, it’s better. Adventureland deals with the post-college troubles that come when one has to deal with the real world in a truly powerful coming-of-age story. A perfect portrayal of all the ups and downs of growing up; not to mention proves to America that Kristen Stewart can acutally act.
9. The Princess and the Frog
The Disney films that we all grew up with are considered classics. Why? Because they kept them simple: renowned folklore reinvented as animated musicals for Western audiences. But after Mulan and experimenting with science fiction (resulting in a few decent but commercially disappointing efforts), Disney plummeted into mediocrity. For the entire decade, Disney had to hold on to Pixar and live-action hits to dear life to stay afloat. But in 2009, Disney decided to go back to their roots with The Princess and the Frog. At the core, it has the same premise of your average Disney Princess movie but beneath that is a great world and story they weave around the simple premise. It’s propelled even further with entertaining characters and jaw-dropping yet nostalgic 2D animation. The music is no Alan Menken but it’s still catchy and fun. It also reminds us how accessible Disney movies are; the film has plenty of humor, visual flare, charm and nods to 1920s New Orleans culture that even a group of full grown adults can enjoy it just as much kids. The Disney magic is back.
A 90 minute commercial for Twinkies? Probably but this is one of the most entertaining movies of the year and one of 2009’s best comedies and easily 2009’s best horror film. This year was great to horror with fantastic original horror films left and right, (Drag Me to Hell, Orphan, Paranormal Activity) it was really good that companies aren’t just using horror to cash in on mediocre remakes. Zombieland takes the traditional zombie apocalypse and turns its trademarks on its head with a hilariously engrossing story, dialog and characters. The last 10 or so minutes where the gang fight their way through an amusement park is one of the best fight scenes in a horror movie in a very long time. Sony should stick with this idea; it has strong potential of being a horror classic and can help revive the zombie movie in America.
7. Fantastic Mr. Fox
One of my favorite stories as a kid comes to life with witty Wes Anderson flair. Gorgeous visuals, sharp writing and great voice acting from an impressive ensemble cast make this shine above the rest of the animated films this year in what is ultimately, Ocean’s 11 meets The Royal Tenenbaums with animals. It’s a phenomenal work but a damn shame that this didn’t do as well as many hoped while G-Force and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel were enormously popular. Guess America prefers rodents making fart jokes and singing pop songs. That being said if you’re a fan of animation (particularly anything unconventional outside of the typical CGI affair) or just a huge fan of Wes Anderson’s work, you absolutely need to see this.
6. A Single Man
Visually and aesthetically, this is easily the year’s most phenomenal. Unconventional editing mashed with experimentations with color schemes and brilliant fashion design makes this an artistic gold mine. But underneath all the visual flair is a tragic tale of a man recovering from a lost love and dealing with depression. It is simply a cinematic marvel. That and I’m a sucker for Julianne Moore and Ginnifer Goodwin.
5. The Road
After the masterpiece that was Children of Men, I wasn’t sure if the post-apocalyptic thriller could get any better. Then when I scoffed through films like Babylon A.D., I was convinced that the genre was dead. When I first of The Road, I didn’t know what to think expect that it was just another fall thriller. Then after watching the first 10 or so minutes I knew this was going to be anything but run-of-the-mill. Viggo Mortensen has always been a cinematic badass but this film solidified him as a brilliant actor. The supporting cast, including Robert Duvall and Charlize Theron are pretty fantastic as well. The cinematography is visually staggering and the overall feel of the film is as intense as an post-apocalyptic world can be. Unlike other films this year like 2012 or Zombieland, there’s no over-the-top explosions, hard boiled action, humor or hope. This is the real deal. It’s gritty, bleak and simply tragic. However, the film still makes you feel for these characters despite the fact that hope is slim. It’s an aggressively marvelous tale about the struggle and tenacity of the human spirit and proves that movies about the end of the world can still send shivers down your spine.
4. Up in the Air
George Clooney is cool as f–k. You probably don’t want to admit it but even if you hate him (for whatever reason) you can’t help but realize that you desperately want to be him. Up in the Air proves that as Clooney plays as suave but severely flawed man who gets paid by firing people, lives in airports, believes marriage is a joke and emotionally distances himself from everyone. You don’t want to like him but alas you can’t help but root for the smug bastard. Add this with a fantastic script, brilliant supporting roles from Vera Farminga and Anna Kendrick (aka the “other girl” in the Twilight movies) and a twist that will make M. Night green with envy and you have something that’s very very special. Easily one of the year’s best offerings.
Pixar, much like a famed balloon house in their summer hit Up, is flying high as one of the most prolific film companies right now. After the magnificent visual feast that was Wall-E, some (including me) believed Pixar couldn’t get any better. Boy were we wrong. The first 10 minutes of Up were more oscar-worthy than any of the scenes currently nominated for the Golden Globe for best picture and the rest of the movie has dozen of scenes that will either make burst into laughter, bring tears to your eye or give you chills. It’s a storytelling marvel, plain and simple. Arguably one of the best animated films this past decade.
2. District 9
We live in a world where a blockbuster must be based on a comic book/toy line/TV show/book. Then District 9 came along and proved that as long as the world and story is convincing enough and if you’ve got a great marketing campaign, a film can succeed despite of all of the things going against it (unknown cast, heavy R rating, film technique that’s hit/miss with audience, TriStar not releasing a hit since the late 90s). But the fact that it’s an original work or the genius marketing or how it was able to live up to all the hype is why this is so high on the list. Very few sci-films (at least in this day and age) were able to juxtapose sci-fi based mythology with real world social problems so flawlessly without preaching to the audience. The way to narrative unraveled underneath a magnificent yet terrifying setting was masterful. Combine this with visual effects that rival films with a $100+ budget, fantastic acting, an engrossing documentary style and brutally intense action and you have one of the best popcorn flicks in a long time. Not bad for a first-time director. Let’s just hope that with this movie, (as well as Avatar) film companies learned that you don’t need to remake/adapt a previous work to guarantee a hit.
1. (500) Days of Summer
The romantic comedy genre got its share of beatings over the past decade. Sure it got a few bones thrown to it in the shape of Love Actually, Eternal Sunshine and Garden State, but for the most part, romantic comedies were mediocre cliched romps. Especially this year where the romantic comedy went from mediocre (The Proposal) to bad (The Ugly Truth) to horrible (Bride Wars) to All About Steve. It seemed like the genre had its final nail in the coffin. Until this movie came along. However, while it’s a romantic boy meets girl story the film said it right in the beginning: “This is not a love story”. It’s a tale about fate and destiny; how it can shatter and rise again when you least expect it. It’s a story about how what one wants and what one gets can collide like a brutal car crash. It’s about how love, like everything else, is a cycle that grows, blossoms, withers, dies and becomes born again. All of these themes and the way the film presents them is what truly makes it a stand-out film. That and how often do you see a rom-com from a guys point of view? And how often are said guys not the stereotypical womanizer archetype? (500) Days truly is a relatable, realistic love story that feels real which ironically is rare in the genre. Which begs the question: between this, Slumdog, Wrestler, Juno, Little Miss Sunshine and Garden State, does Fox Searchlight EVER release something that isn’t brilliant?
Where the Wild Things Are