04 March 2010
  2009 top 10

i can't remember ever struggling to come up with a year-end top 10 films list as much as i have this year. so many disappointments. it is really unfortunate that the academy decided this was the year to expand the best picture nominees to ten. one can imagine someone ten years down the line imdb-ing this year's oscars and being totally dumbfounded that district 9 got a friggin best pic nomination. in any case, here are the ten movies this year that stood out above the rest for me.

10. inglourious basterds. . . in a stronger year, this one probably would have just missed out. i find it unpleasantly campy at times, and some of the acting (particularly brad pitt and christoph waltz) gets under my skin. however, it is provocative, well-written and entertaining. and i can see this one growing on me over time.

9. the blind side. . . for some reason, i can't say that i was ecstatic seeing this film nominated for best picture (i guess because it made it in over nine and invictus) but i definitely enjoyed watching this movie more than almost any other this year. the blind side really elevated what could have been sappy, melodramatic source material. as it is, this is an intelligent film about issues of race, class and family. and sandra bullock is terrific.

8. food inc. . . this isn't the first time a documentarian has taken on the food that u.s.-americans eat, but food inc. does something entirely new with that material. i think of myself as pretty well informed about this subject matter, but i learned so much from watching this film, particularly regarding the corporate nature of farming and producing food. the scenes surrounding monsanto's control of soybean production are particularly staggering and infuriating.

7. away we go. . . sam mendes follows up the darkly brilliant revolutionary road with this much less serious dramedy tracing the travels of young couple searching for a place to make a home for their upcoming child. besides being one of the funniest films of the year, mendes does a terrific job here, as usual, of subtly developing his characters, especially the female ones. kate winslet is so lucky to be married to this man, who seems to understand women oh so well.

6. nine. . . the whipping boy of the awards season is so much better than it is given credit for being. first of all, it is hard to deny that nine has the best ensemble cast of the year. one can feasibly imagine 6 acting nominations coming out of this film. also, the music is fantastic, especially fergie's "be italian." she is really a revelation. but it is the creative way in which the real filmmaker takes us inside the psyche of a troubled fictional filmmaker that makes this movie truly stand out.

5. (500) days of summer. . . it's possible that any movie starring joseph gordon levitt would have been on this list (i love him) but (500) days of summer is one of the year's best movies based on merit alone. it's one of those films that is so good you wonder how you will ever be able to look at these actors again without thinking of the characters they played here. (i worry that i might forever hate zooey deschanel.) oh well, autumn is better for him anyway.

4. invictus. . . clint eastwood continues his late-in-life surge as this country's greatest filmmaker. unfortunately, this film is much too quiet, subtle and understated to be fully appreciated in the current moment of widespread affection for huge, sensory-overwhelming movies. where this movie did get notice was in the acting categories, which is a shame, because i think the acting is a slightly weak element in a film that is elevated by its incredible direction.

3. grey gardens. . . who makes decisions about what movies get released on tv and which ones go to the theaters? they really dropped the ball on this one. it is unthinkable that, had this been a cinema-release, one wouldn't find at least drew barrymore or jessica lange nominated in the best actress category this year. an absolutely beautiful, charming and well-acted film that i could watch over and over again.

2. capitalism: a love story. . . as i wrote yesterday, michael moore achieved something truly spectacular this year, not only directing his best film to date, but also performing the best excavation of the current moment of national malaise in a year when SO many filmmakers have tried (and failed) to do just that.

1. avatar. . . i believe this to be the only true masterpiece of film fiction produced this year. strangely, fortunately, it is also one of the greatest film masterpieces of all time, destined to live on forever, admired as a true game changer in 21st century movie-making. it isn't as good as titanic, but in a lot of ways it seems unfair and unwise to compare the two. if huge blockbuster films exhibited just a modicum of the attention to detail james cameron pays to his work, maybe i would be drawn to the theaters to watch these movies more often. never happen.
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