Friday, January 1, 2010

Top 10: The Best Films of 2009

Happy New Year! It's a New Year, a New Decade, but before anything else, it is time to officially finish of 2009.

This is it, the moment I've been waiting for since the end of 2008, my list of the Ten Best Films of 2009. All of the precursors I've been posting are just all in anticipation for this, and as it is, this comes only once a year, so I've tried to make the best of it by spreading it out as long as possible, but it's now time to hang up 2009 and look forward into 2010, but before I can do that, I've gotta deliver my list. I will say this, the top 6 spots were really tough to place, all 6 of them had a good claim as to why they should take the top spot in my books, but at the end of the day I had to do the heavy lifting and decide which films I truly thought were better. So to not prolong this introduction with any more stupid pleasantries about the year in film that I've already stated in previous posts, I'm just gonna jump straight into the list. Let's go!

10. An Education (Dir. Lone Scherfig)- A charming coming-of-age story that manages to defy all of the typical expectations for these kinds of stories. It is the story of 16-year-old Jenny who begins an affair with a thirty-something man, who is oddly mysterious, but extremely charming. Jenny goes along with all of this, not out of naivete, but knowingly; she wants to experience the world outside her sheltered existence, and for this reason, for Jenny's knowledge of the horrible events that she is letting happen, the film never is stilted or awkward, but turns out in the end to be moving and emotionally satisfying. Featuring a marvelous performance from 24-year-old actress Carey Mulligan, this film has born a new star.

9. Avatar (Dir. James Cameron) - James Cameron's first feature in over ten years. It was hyped up to be the "gamechanger" of 3-D cinema that would make 3-D a staple in the marketplace. At the moment, it is too early to call, but it is safe to say that Avatar is a highly thrilling and uniquely original science fiction/fantasy. The story of a paraplegic ex-marine finding another life by linking his mind into an organic body called an avatar (which mixes his DNA with that of the indigenous alien race). He befriends the alien race on the planet of Pandora and joins their side in the impending war against humans. It is kind of a big screen anime in that the CGI, while not as impressive as other films this year, still tells the story and serves it well. While the CGI was a touch lacking, the motion capture work was stunning, perfectly relaying the actor's performances, 1:1. Though it was Cameron's ability to blur the lines between sci-fi and fantasy that allowed me to be swept away to Pandora and just enjoy the thrills that ensued.

8. Sherlock Holmes (Dir. Guy Ritchie) - I never thought I'd put a Guy Ritchie film on a list like this, but he deserves it here. This re-imagining of the famed detective really attracted me from the very first frame. It was knowingly different than any other Sherlock Holmes film done before, but it had enough similar to keep one familiar. Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were surprisingly good as Holmes and Watson, respectively, and their chemistry makes one clamor for sequels. Not to mention the film was a fun action/adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones. Toss in a creepy villain obsessed with the supernatural, and you have one of the more fun blockbusters of the year.

7. Up (Dir. Pete Docter) - Pixar is known for delivering top notch animated entertainment that is both appealing to children and adults, so to me it was no surprise to see them uphold their almost perfect track record with Up. The story of a widowed 78-year-old man who attaches balloons to his house and flies away to South America to his and his wife's childhood dream, Paradise Falls, and what ensues is a grand adventure where a geriatric is the hero and a 9-year-old Asian boy scout is his sidekick as they battle an obsessed old adventurer who trains dogs to do his dirty work. The film is possibly Pixar's funniest film to date, but it also deals with some pretty heavy subject matter, so don't be fooled by its G-rating, but of course the film isn't a downer, but rather it takes all of the drama and delivers hope.

6. Ponyo (Dir. Hayao Miyazaki) - This is master animator Hayao Miyazaki's latest film, and it is definitely another poetic masterpiece to add to the collection of already fantastic works from the famed Japanese filmmaker. Ponyo tells the story of a young goldfish named Ponyo who wishes to become a human and befriends a 5-year-old boy named Sasuke in hopes of achieving that dream, but she must beware because her transformation could disrupt the balance of nature as we know it, and -- gasp! -- a typhoon is coming! The film is told with so much heart, that while it is so much more simple than just about any other Miyazaki-classic, it is all the more charming due to that simplicity. It is cute, lovable, and deeply moving for a film told from a child's point of view, and don't worry Miyazaki fans, he still managed to work in his ecological messages within this film.

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Dir. David Yates) - As a Harry Potter fan, this one was a kind of return to form. The fourth and fifth outings were a touch lacking, but they returned with this sixth outing with a renewed vigor, and as cheesy as it sounds, brought the magic back to Harry Potter. The story was all about teenage romance and the impending war in the wizarding world as Harry learns of a way to defeat his arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort. The movie dealt with the romance, delicately and beautifully; it had countless high octane action sequences, that were thrilling and wonderfully realized; and the mystery as to who Voldemort is, was extremely well laid out and told. Featuring marvelous performances from the entire cast, who just seems to get better with every film, this was an outstanding adaptation that was as emotional as it was satisfying.

4. Up in the Air (Dir. Jason Reitman) - A film that really speaks to the times. It is the story of a downsizing expert played by George Clooney who fires people for a living. The film rings a bell that is very relevant to our current economic crisis, but aside from all of that, the film is all about people and the concept of connection. George Clooney gives probably the finest performance of his career that really reflects the inner being of his soul, and Anna Kendrick shines as Clooney's young protege. Director Jason Reitman should really be applauded for making a film about such serious subject matter, and actually kind of funny due to some well-done satire, but in the end it is an emotionally rewarding experience.

3. (500) Days of Summer (Dir. Marc Webb) - A fresh and unique romantic comedy (bet ya never thought to hear those words connected to a rom. com.). The film tells the story of Tom, a greeting card writer, and Summer, the object of his affection. We follow their tumultuous relationship over the course of 500 days, and watch as Tom's own thoughts on love are challenged in the process. The film has been hailed as, "The Annie Hall of its time," and in a way I see the similarities. Much like Allen's masterpiece, the film is a romantic comedy told for the guys in the audience rather than the girls, and for that reason alone I was so enthralled by the story, but not only that, the film is probably one of the funniest I think I have seen in the longest of time.

2. Departures (Dir. Yojiro Takita) - Whenever a film is bold enough to explore the concept of death, it is always very touchy as an audience member, but somehow with the Japanese film Departures, the filmmakers found a way to make it beautiful and emotional. The film tells the story of an encofiner in Japan who readies dead bodies for cremation in front of the deceased's family. The film was so marvelous to watch, partly because the rights and rituals of another country that in appearance are very similar to us, are in all actuality extremely different. Of course, the film is universal in its approach of dealing with the concept of death, but they never deal with it in a unfashionable sort of way, but in the way of beauty, pathos, and often, humor. This was a film that lingered with me long after the credits rolled, and I think it will stay with me for a long time.

1. Star Trek (Dir. J.J. Abrams) - For me, this was the finest old school adventure film I had seen since probably when I first saw Star Wars or Indiana Jones. I was never a Star Trek fan before seeing this reboot of the franchise, but this film has made me a believer. This retelling of how the Enterprise crew came together and how Kirk assumes the Captain's chair, was smart, slick, and very stylish. Not only that, it was highly thrilling, with an emotional resonance that many big blockbusters such as this tend to lack. With a marvelous cast that had great chemistry, this was a good old-fashioned adventure film that any fan of film should be proud of.

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