Best of 2009: #2-10

Welcome to Part 2! Here’s a link to #11-20, in case you missed it. My #1 film of the year will be posted on Friday. I can feel the anticipation building…

Quick warning: There is some spoiler-ish material here. Not a lot, but read at your own discretion.

#10: The Hurt Locker
I wish I’d seen this film in a movie theater. I wish the suspense – those long, painful, beautiful moments – had washed over me in a huge, dark space. I wish that I’d gasped in unison with other people, absorbed some of their tension. But I didn’t; I watched the film on my laptop, in a comfy chair, by myself. I checked my email occasionally. And when the movie was over, I thought, Yep, that was really good, snapped my laptop shut and went to Starbucks. I keep thinking about the film now, about its emotional punch, its stark desert scenery, its dynamic characters, and I wish I’d paid more attention. The Hurt Locker is back in theaters, thanks to its Best Picture Oscar, and if you can, see it there. This is a film that reminds me why I so value the communal experience of a movie theater, or at the very least a darkened, distraction-free living room. I liked it very much; but it could have been unforgettable.

#9: An Education
If I was a one-woman Oscar committee – and seriously, what do I have to do to make this happen? Wouldn’t that be glorious? – anyway, if I was, Carey Mulligan would have been my choice for Best Actress. She absolutely transforms An Education from a very nice little film into one that you can’t stop thinking about. She makes you believe that a grown man could fall hopelessly in love with a teenage girl, not for a pedophiliac’s reasons (that’s would be a whole other movie), but because he finds her charming, witty, naive and yet innately sophisticated. He sees the woman in her, and so does she; and just when I’d convinced myself that sure, this could make sense, I guess, the film brought me crashing back down, just as it should: Oh, right. She’s just a girl. What a fascinating film.

#8: Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ By Sapphire
Wow, was this movie hard to watch. Precious doesn’t break your heart slowly; it cracks it up front, and then smashes it over and over again. The performances are marvelous, as advertised; Gabourey Sidibe shows you everything Precious feels even as the character seems determined to show nothing at all. And Mo’Nique will absolutely slay you. She’s a monster; you spend the entire film watching her in abject horror, waiting for the worst to happen. But in the end, she makes you feel, well…not sympathy. Maybe pity. As much as you hate her, you finally see that she hates herself more, and it’s devastating to watch. Precious isn’t necessarily a film I want to own, or experience repeatedly; once or twice is enough, thanks. But it will haunt you for a very long time.

#7: Up
I love Pixar films. I love them unabashedly, unequivocally, without reservation. I love them as much as some people love pets. Each film is touching, visually spectacular, and incredibly original. As I’ve already mentioned, oh, about six hundred times in the short life of this blog, WALL-E is one of my all-time favorite films. While I didn’t love Up quite as much – and apparently, I’m one of the few – I still thought it was one of the best films of last year, live action or otherwise. It cracked me up (“Squirrel!”); it made me cry (I mean, that opening sequence? God Almighty…); and it made me gape (holy wow, how about those rainforests in 3D!?). So the love affair continues. Same time next year, Pixar.

#6: Star Trek
First things first: No, I’m not a Trekkie. Not even a little bit. But there’s the genius of this Star Trek reboot – it’s such a remarkably fun film that it manages to please almost everyone. There are (apparently) enough inside references to appease hardcore fans (at my theater, a few people squealed at lines that left me feeling clueless); there’s a nice blend of phrases that are culturally embedded to the point that I actually understood them (“Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor!”); and there’s so much well-plotted action that that even a sci-fi hater couldn’t help but love it. Not a moment is wasted; it’s a clever, beautifully acted cinematic roller coaster. And when it starts playing on an endless loop on cable, as it inevitably will, I will stop and watch it every single time. Just like a Trekkie.

#5: Every Little Step
Another documentary makes the list! This one is riveting for a number of reasons: it shows the real-life casting of the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line, a musical about a Broadway director auditioning dancers for a show. The mirror-image of the musical to the real-life auditionees is quite poignant; the show’s opening number, “I Hope I Get It,” in which the dancers pray to get a job, is juxtaposed over real dancers waiting to audition. The film’s directors weave together many threads – the auditions, profiles of the actors and production team, and the fascinating backstory of A Chorus Line. You marvel at the talent of the actors/dancers, cheer for them, laugh with them, and some of them break your heart, like the woman who almost – but doesn’t – get the lead and observes, sadly, “I’m still waiting for my break.” It’s a wonderful, elegant film.

#4: (500) Days of Summer
Sometimes I leave the theater, or shut off the TV, and say, “Hmm. That movie was…good. I think.” And then I start to think, Hey, that part was really cool. Oh, and I LOVED the way they did this. And that guy was GREAT in that scene… And pretty soon, if someone asks me for my opinion of it, I say, “That was a great movie.” I haven’t watched it again; I’ve just internalized it, and the more I think about it, the more I love it. (500) Days of Summer was that film for me this year. I watched the DVD and thought it was cute. And then I thought about how much I liked the film’s structure and style, which were so completely innovative. I thought that the performances were sweet, funny and touching. The musical number was a hoot. The ending made me smile. And suddenly, I adored it. It’s not for everyone; it’s a little quirky, in the style of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which is also excellent), and it’s not your standard rom-com. In fact, the film says at the beginning: “This is not a love story.” Well, I love it anyway. At least, I do now.

#3: In The Loop
I saw In The Loop – a fabulous satire about US-British diplomacy in the run-up to a, um, “fictional” war in the Middle East – in a packed movie theater in DC. The crowd absolutely roared with laughter; I think the theater shook. Granted, we were a good crowd for this one – in one scene, a British aide sprinted across a spot on Pennsylvania Avenue that’s about two blocks away from the theater site – but even outside the Beltway, this film is damn funny. The comedy is razor-sharp – it is British, after all – and the obscenities fly at a remarkable pace. It takes at least a couple of viewings to catch every joke, but it only gets funnier. The only thing that’s not funny about In the Loop is when it ends, and you start to wonder how close the bumbling antics of the diplomats, politicians and intel agents is to reality. Yeah, that’s not too funny at all. But everything else? Hysterical.

#2: Inglourious Basterds
I’ve never been a Tarantino fan, frankly. I don’t particularly enjoy excessive violence on screen, and I never understood the sheer glee with which some people – usually guys – talk about Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. Inglourious Basterds intrigued me more than his others, but I wasn’t prepared for how much it would blow me away. It’s thoughtful, funny, suspenseful and a blast from start to finish. Oh, it’s violent – I can now cross “yelp aloud at onscreen scalpings” off my to-do list, so thanks a bunch, Quentin – and it takes some rather egregious (and delightful) historical liberties. But most of all, it boasts one of my favorite performances, well, ever – Christoph Waltz’s Colonel Hans Landa. He is absolutely mesmerizing. Landa is endlessly brilliant, always in control, terrifying, charming, hilarious, hateful, and he’s all of those things in four languages. The first time I saw the film, I was shocked by how good he was; the second, I laughed in advance of his scenes, anticipating how good they’d be, and he still surprised me. It’s a wonderful performance in a remarkable film. So kudos, Mr. Tarantino; I finally get it. But I’m not watching Kill Bill, so don’t even ask.

Coming up on Friday: my #1 film of 2009! Guesses, thoughts, comments?


  1. Nice list here. Saw a handful of them and don’t disagree with your order (haven’t seen Hurt Locker yet). So #1 is next. I’ll “wait for the creme.”

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