10. Trick ‘r Treat
Michael Dougherty’s love letter to Halloween experienced so many problems since its introduction that it took literally years for horror fans to finally be able to watch it. When they did the reception was mostly positive. “Trick R Treat” is a classic anthology film that perfectly captures the feel of Halloween and celebrates the holiday’s greatest elements. From urban legends to classic monster mashes, Dougherty pulls out all the stops to tell various stories, all of which are filled with twists that you simply won’t see coming. So brilliant is it that you’ll need to see it three times to fully capture the essence of its in jokes and tricks and treats. Dougherty’s ode to All Hallow’s Eve is a title that won’t easily be forgotten.
9. The Girlfriend Experience
I’m normally not a fan of Steven Soderbergh’s films, but “The Girlfriend Experience” was a highlight in a year that spawned some truly great indie productions. Casting porn star Sasha Grey, Soderbergh takes a big chance and it comes through with flying colors as Grey gives a strong performance as a professional escort who doesn’t just offer up sex, but an experience. She poses as the perfect woman, a girlfriend many men envision in their lives. Along with love making she offers up companionship, loyalty, and conversation with clients who aren’t all interested in sleeping with her. Giving us a glimpse in to the male and female array of desires and mind set, Soderbergh gives great insight in to the human psyche and what constitutes as affection to some of us. In a world where we become more and more isolated, escorts have become a primary resource.
8. Up in the Air
Jason Reitman enlists his own brand of unique storytelling not by so much of a solid narrative but an observational perspective that set its eyes on a traveling man, one whose home is in the various airports and hotels he inhabits to travel around the country sent to fire people companies are too chicken shit to fire themselves. In a world where the economy is in the trash, Reitman’s movie is especially relevant as the movie takes time to delve in to the doldrums of the average worker who is sent home packing by a merciless drone sent to give us the axe. Reitman then focuses on the drone on the go as George Clooney leads what is a considerably strong and masterful character piece that gives us a look in to the businessman and the man who barely knows his family but is well accustomed with the random smiling face in airports and hotel bars. Always keeping me entertained, this is one of Reitman’s real achievements.
There’s a lot to be said for Pixar. They’re obviously the best thing that ever happened to Walt Disney studios. Not only have they changed the way we look at computer animation as the future of cinema, but they’ve turned much of Disney around including offering up some original content for once. While the legacy of Disney is rich, they’ve made most of their money out of adapting famous fairy tales and novels. For once they’re giving us something new and “Up” is definitely something new. Pixar doesn’t talk down to their audience and the proof is in the first fifteen minutes of “Up” which rely on images and emotion to tell a story instead of snappy dialogue and pop culture references. What follows is a marvelous and low key adventure in to a world many of us only dream about. “Up” is definitely one of Pixar’s entries that snuck in under the radar and managed to impress me yet again.
6. Star Trek
I’m far from a Star Trek fan. When approached with trivia about the franchise I know as little as anyone would, but JJ Abrams made his film too good to resist. From casting truly talented young actors, Abrams breathed new life in to the ailing franchise and introduced us to the series’ beloved characters yet again through the skills of a diverse cast. From newcomers (Chris Pine) to seasoned vets (Eric Bana) right down to the unusual but brilliant (Simon Pegg as Scotty!), Abrams restart is a wonderful approach that will surely garner new fans and please old ones. Some say the series is not the same, but I’m open to change and can’t wait to see what Abrams has in store for this new version of a classic series.
5. District 9
For once we got an alien film that showed what destruction and violence humanity was capable of in the face of change and this change happened to be alien beings who weren’t here to observe us or invade us but ended up in our atmosphere clearly by accident. Stuck on our world, this new alien breed happened to cross the human animal, a violent and sadistic species who made our guests live in squalor, forced to endure interrogation, abuse and senseless murder of their own people. District 9 wasn’t so much a science fiction movie but a dissection of the human being and what brutality we’re capable of to what can only be defined as illegal aliens. District 9 relied on a slow boil documentary style filming that provided remarkable special effects and a message that would resonate long after its release.
4. Inglourious Basterds
What, no hipper than thou pop culture references? No soundtrack starring obscure music artists? No homages to Bruce Lee or a grindhouse actor? None of the usual suspects like Samuel L. Jackson or Uma Thurman? Tarantino has grown up! Love him or hate him, Tarantino knows how to make a damn good film and with Inglorious Basterds he presented probably the most sophisticated film of his career which featured a tense story, excellent performances, a slow and steady pace, and a finisher that will count as one of the best movie moments in 2009. Not to mention the man finally convinced me that Brad Pitt is a great actor, after all. Lt. Aldo Rain will go down in pop culture history! Kudos to you, Quentin.
3. Paranormal Activity
Love it or hate it, Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” was the success story of the year. Starting off as a humble indie production that flexed the limits of the found footage genre, this film was (by demand) requested by more and more viewers who were given a full glimpse in to what horror films can do. Audiences didn’t need flashy effects, big stars, and CGI, no, shadows on a wall and suspense was all that was required to send a jolt in to the horror buff’s spine. While the new ending may be a cheap scare effect, it’s still a wonderful horror film, one that’s destined to be a classic. Oren Peli showed us that ghost films can still be damn scary.
2. (500) Days of Summer
This charming anti-romance comedy is almost what Woody Allen would have created in the days when his films were relevant and superb. Making sure to notify us that this isn’t the romance film you think it is, “(500) Days of Summer” is filled with a brilliant dynamic between a man and a woman and explores a rocky romance between two people obviously searching for different things in their lives. With some genuinely novel approaches to storytelling, (500) Days of Summer defies all convention and involves us in new approaches to the genre from a musical number to a split screen that takes us in to the mind of our male protagonist. Truly it’s one of the best couple films this year.
1. The Hurt Locker
It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it and visualist director Kathryn Bigelow takes us in to the seat of military bomb defusers, men who go in to the battlefield to take down any explosives that threaten to level the ground and kill innocent citizens. Bigelow’s masterpiece has inspired many a debate as to whether this movie is pro-war or anti-war. Either way, “The Hurt Locker” is definitely the most relevant war film ever made that focuses on the humanity of the Iraqi citizens and the insanity that comes with upholding your duties and coming to grips with the sheer lunacy involved in battle that consumes the innocents and wears down our armed forces. This is a powerful film with a star turn by Jeremy Renner that was a long time coming. It’s truly the best of 2009.
FAVORITE GUILTY PLEASURE:
GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra