My look back at the best of 2009 (and my semi-sad fantasia of If I Had an Oscar Ballot) continues with a look at my favorite movies of the year.
Previously: 25 Best Moments; Worst Movies/Performances; Best Trailers; Best Supporting Actors; Screenplays, Etc., Lead Actors; Techs
First, I want to mention my runners-up. This was a strong movie year, for me, and any of these five next-bests were delightful in their own way: Moon, Coraline, The Informant!, Whip It!, and The White Ribbon.
#11 -- Inglorious Basterds: This movie bounced all around my Top rankings throughout the year, but I knew it would never not be on this list. It seems more fragmented than Tarantino's movies tend to, despite the fact that its characters are more connected on a narrative level than, say, Pulp Fiction. But I'm still in love with the audacity, with the controlled tension, and with QT's enduring golden touch with crappy actors (no, he couldn't salvage Eli Roth, but how about that Diane Kruger??).
#10 -- Sin Nombre: A film about looking ahead, looking back; about the marks on you that'll never go away; and about invisible tethers and how you can't always tell if they're still there (because: invisible, duh). Cary Fukunaga -- with a big assist from Edgar Flores and his sad, sad eyes -- delivers a movie that doesn't confuse gritty realism for ugly and unrelenting.
#9 -- The Brothers Bloom: Like he did with 2006's eye-opening Brick, Johnson goes for high stylization, this time with the spinning-yarn, pan-Euro, daydreamy tale of two con artists/brothers and a mark that wants in on the game. Some of the most purely funny filmmaking all year, with excellent performances and a weirdness I found delightful.
#8 -- A Single Man: It was stylish to a fault, for some, and I get where they're coming from, but I don't think it was empty. The sad heart at the center of this movie really got to me, and the prettier the packaging around it got, the sadder the center felt. There are images imbued with deep feeling -- the look of a lover on the other end of a couch; the gaudy eagerness of youth; the desperate, cracked beauty of Julianne Moore's mascara -- that go beyond the "fashion" label that's been tossed around like an epithet.
#7 -- In the Loop: A movie so good I want to see it ten more times so I can quote it daily. Perfectly cast with barely an A-lister in sight (and honestly, even Gandolfini's presence doesn't make it a Gandolfini Movie). Making the march to war into an absurd farce isn't a new idea, but I like the modern spin they put on the Dr. Strangelove thing for 2009. More ferocity, more beaurocracy, a possessing an absolute cheerfulness for misinformation.
#6 -- Adventureland: For me, this was a pitch-perfect snapshot of post-collegiate lingering adolescence, combined with the class warfare that arises in even the most transient of ecosystems (in this case, a low-grade amusement park), combined with the cluelessness of young love.
#5 -- Fantastic Mr. Fox: I had my say about the smug Wes Anderson backhanded compliments already; maybe now's the time talk about why I loved the movie. It's classic Anderson, from the diorama-like design to the low-key, trailing-off dialogue, to the existential angst. And I love how he plays with the animated genre, from the choice to use stop-motion (with King Kong-style animal hair) to gags like Kristofferson's perfect dive and Kylie's spiral-eyed bewilderment.
#4 -- Precious: Here's another one where I somewhat understand the objections to it (the well-thought-out objections to it, not the ones that start and end with "why should I be expected to watch something so unpleasant?"). But I was captivated by Precious Jones, her character, her dreams, her friends and mentors. The filmmaking took necessary chances to bring the viewer into a character who can barely articulate a grocery order, much less her own life. There's no easy redemption to be found here, just the triumph of incremental gains.
#3 -- Bright Star: I didn't see this movie until just after I made this list, so I've had to retcon it in here now. But this post says everything I need to say about Jane Campion's utterly breathtaking return to form.
#2 -- The Hurt Locker: Looking at these awards posts, I see I am the farthest from the Oscar consensus than I have ever been. I'm usually a solid 3/5 match with the Academy's choices. This year, with its Avatars and Up in the Airs, I find myself more than a little removed. And yet, if The Hurt Locker can pull off an improbable Best Picture win, we'll at least agree on something. I'm fascinated by how this movie is never spoken of as the taut action picture it is, probably because the strong acting and the narrative nuance are so strong that it feels like a character study. Not to mention how, with the character Jeremy Renner plays, it makes for a rather brilliant metaphor for a country that seems unable to exist without the constant rumblings of war all around them that we can't withdraw troops from one place without committing them to a surge in the other.
#1 -- Where the Wild Things Are: I never read this book as a child (or as an adult for that matter), so I had absolutely zero expectations going in. What I got was a touching, awe-inspiring statement about childhood isolation, an apology for youthful misbehavior, and probably my favorite depiction of the vast big-kid/little-kid divide ever. I feel for you if you walked into the theater looking for an adventure story, I do. But I'm happier for the people who got to experience Max and his melancholy monster friends and his harrowing snowball fights on their own terms.