The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2009

All this last month readers have been asking me for my top 10 movies of 2009. I’ve mentioned before that some major prestige films don’t get to my area until late January or early February or later, and that’s not considering many Foreign films that aren’t released in these parts until months after the Oscars so it’s usually a month or so into the year before I post my picks. So since there’s no way I’m going to catch up anytime soon and because tomorrow the Academy Award nominations are going to be announced, now is as good a time as any for my list for what I think was a great and diverse year for film:

1. A SERIOUS MAN (Dirs. Joen & Ethan Coen)

“The greatest films are the ones that leave you not able to explain, but you know that you have experienced something special. I’ve always had this feeling that the perfect response to a film or a piece of work of mine would be if someone got up and said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but it’s right.’ That’s the feeling you want – ‘That’s right’ – and it comes from four or five layers down, it comes from the inside rather than from the outside.”
– Robert Altman

I’ve been plowing through the new book: “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography” since I got it for Christmas and I was struck by the quote above. It made me think of A SERIOUS MAN, though the latest Coen Brothers cinematic conundrum is anything but Altman-esque. With Michael Stuhlburg leading an equally unknown cast into the academic abyss of late 60’s suburban Minneapolis, it’s the Brothers’ most personal work to date. Whether it’s a post modern riff on the story of Job or a series of nonsensical jabs at everybody’s existential expense, it’s a perplexingly pleasing parable. Read my original review here.

2. UP (Dir. Pete Docter)

Last year the same #2 position on this list was held by a Pixar film (WALL-E) so I was tempted to go in another direction here. But, that would’ve been wrong because UP honestly deserves this space. The first 10 minutes alone deserve this space. This wonderful tale of Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) – a crotchety old widower who attaches thousands of balloons to his house in order to fly it to Paradise Falls in South Africa is a rambunctiously inventive and funny flight. And if you don’t cry at that sweeping opening montage, either you have a heart of stone or you’re Armond White. Read my original review here.

3. THE HURT LOCKER (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Every explosion has an emotional impact in this gripping war drama featuring Jeremy Renner as a bomb defusing expert who’d rather risk his life in Iraq than be home with his wife. Read my original review here.

4. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

This indulgent alternate history World War II film is possibly over-stuffed with story strands but as I said in my original review: “the pulse and tone of Tarantino’s best work is intact.” Read the rest of that review here.

5. BLACK DYNAMITE (Dir. Scott Sanders)

Though it was little seen, this is hands down the funniest film of 2009. Forget THE HANGOVER, this blaxploitation homage/satire/greatest hits has more laughs per minute and is sure to be one Helluva a future cult classic. Read more here.


6.
THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Dir. Wes Anderson)



Wes Anderson’s stylistic whimsy works wonders in this friendly, fuzzy, and ferociously witty film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book. So does George Clooney’s charm which I enjoyed more here than in a certain air-born live action film that is sure to get more acclaim awards wise. Read my original review of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX.

7. BRIGHT STAR (Dir. Jane Campion) An unfortunately overlooked period piece centering on poet John Keats’ (Ben Whishaw) doomed courtship of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). A beautifully moving work with first rate performances including a scene stealing Paul Schneider as Keats’ writing partner Charles Armitage Brown. With hope the Academy will take notice. Read my original review here.

8. DISTRICT 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp) Without a doubt the most frighteningly original (and strikingly satirical) work of science fiction of the year. A misadventure in alien apartheid leaves a wet behind the ears field operative (Sharlto Copley) with his arm mutated to that of a “prawn” and he…oh, just go watch it. Read my original ravings here.

9. ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL! (Dir. Sacha Gervasi)

This documentary about a Spinal Tap-ish band of aging Canadian heavy metal rockers may have you snickering at first but before you know it they win your heart over with their “never say die” determination. As I said in my original review: “Metal heads and casual movie-goers alike (which means just about everybody) ought to dig it.”

10. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS (Dir. Werner Herzog) Speaking of “never say die”, Nicholas Cage re-ignites the crazy edge of his persona in this twisted and surrealistic corrupt cop crime caper while he re-ignites his “lucky crack pipe” yelling “I’ll kill all of you…to the break of dawn! To the break of dawn baby!” Read about more craziness and how this does and doesn’t relate to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 BAD LIEUTENANT here.

Spillover:


The ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title for my original review.

STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

THE INFORMANT! (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)


ZOMBIELAND (Dir. Ruben Fleisher)


THE ROAD (Dir. John Hillcoat)

IN THE LOOP (Dir. Armando Iannucci)


A SINGLE MAN (Dir. Tom Ford)


WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Dir. Spike Jonze)


AN EDUCATION (Dir. Lone Scherfig)

AWAY WE GO (Dir. Sam Mendes)

OBSERVE AND REPORT (Dir. Jody Hill)


BIG FAN (Dir. Robert Siegel)

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER (Dir. Marc Webb)

MOON (Dir. Duncan Jones)


ABEL RAISES CAIN (Dirs. Jenny Abel & Jeff Hocket)


TWO LOVERS (Dir. James Gray)

I didn’t write reviews of these but they are also strongly recommended:


SUMMER HOURS (Dir. Olivier Assayas)


GOODBYE SOLO (Dir. Ramin Bahrani)

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (Dir. Bobcat Goldthwait) Yep, that’s right.


More later…

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9: The Film Babble Blog Review

9 (Dir. Shane Acker, 2009)

I have the feeling that future historians are going to think that we, or at least the film makers of our time, had a ginormous global death wish – what with all the post apocalyptic movie premises out there. And we haven’t even gone down THE ROAD yet either! So with another “world after war” weary setting comes the animated 9 – releasing conveniently enough tomorrow on 9/09/09 (mind you, this year also offers DISTRICT 9 and NINE). In the film though 9 isn’t a date, it’s the number given to a “stitch punk” – the ninth sentient rag doll made by a scientist (voiced by Alan Oppenheimer) as the world was on the brink of destruction.

After 9 (Elijah Wood) comes to in the home of the scientist he finds the other rag dolls (1-8) hiding in the rubble from evil creature-like machines that are hunting them through the darkness. This is not a movie that necessarily needs name actors to provide voices but they’re there – joining Wood as his fellow stitch punks is Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, and seemingly the sole source of humor and warmth in the entire project – John C. Reilly (Reilly has what may be the one single funny line). 9 rallies the rag dolls to stand up and fight the tyrannical mechanical monsters, believing that he’s discovered the means and the meaning behind it all to defeat them.

Resembling a TERMINATOR movie as imagined by Tim Burton (who executive produced), 9 is too dark and scary for kids (hence its PG-13 rating) and it’s strained structure may be too dragging for adults. It’s too thin a narrative to even fill its short running time (79 minutes); it’s as if its only ambition was to be aestetically absorbing. Still, there are a few top notch action sequences and I adored one intensely striking scene in which the stitch punks find a phonograph and put the needle down on “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” for a brief relaxed interlude while the machines slowly approach on the horizon. 9 is an admirable effort on many levels, mostly in the high caliber of the animation, but ultimately comes off as cold and dystopian as the world our rag doll rebels are struggling to rise above.

More later…

DISTRICT 9: The Film Babble Blog Review

DISTRICT 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp, 2009)

WARNING: This review contains Spoilers!

The documentary-style opening with faux cable news coverage and staged interviews with various talking heads depicts diseased extra terrestrials quarantined in a section of Johannesburg, South America that quickly becomes a Hellish slum. Because this is presented so soberly with flawlessly faked footage, this sci-fi concept is immediately easy to accept and go with. Political red tape and alien racism are all the rage as we are introduced to Sharlto Copley as a field operative for Multi-National United (MNU), a huge conglomerate that, surprise surprise, may not have the aliens best interests in mind. Copley is promoted to the position of relocating a million or so of these slimy creatures that talk with voices that sound like Jabba the Hut with a vocoder (don’t worry, subtitles are provided) and who are derisively labeled as “prawns”.


Copley’s gung ho demeanor – he’s acts like he’s never been out from behind his desk on the job before – gives the film a comic tone for a brief bit; going from door to door to get grotesque CGI creations to sign eviction notices is more like something out of “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” than it is ALIEN. It goes quickly from sci-fi social satire to an extremely unpleasant yet still gripping sequence in which Copley accidentally sprays himself with icky black fluid from some alien device he happens to pick up and confiscates. After his left arm mutates into a “prawn” claw, MNU officials sequester him for experimentation. Once they determine that his changing DNA allows him to operate alien weaponry they decide to dismantle him in true Josef Mengele fashion. This seems appropriate as Copley tells one of the “prawns” that the new district 10 they are being moved to is more like a concentration camp than a new housing situation.

There is so much invention amid the brutality and visceral impact of this film that it’s just a bit of a letdown that it descends into a 3rd act of routine action movie convention bombardment. However Copley’s interaction with an alien that goes by the name Christopher Johnson, who may be able to help reverse the effects of Copley’s virus, saves the concluding scenes from soullessness. As a protégé of Peter Jackson (who produced this film) Neill Blomkamp has for the most part made a sturdy study of alien/human conflict that actually comes off as plausible considering all past human conflicts. DISTRICT 9 isn’t a rousing crowd pleaser – the summer season may not be the best time for it – but it’s an incredibly strong sci-fi flick as well as a gritty thriller that has a lot of guts.


More later…