With so many year-end best-of lists demanding our attention, I thought FatScribe should also jump into the white noise of film criticism to provide one more (vapid?) voice evaluating the Top 20 films of 2009. (note: if you want to see how a pro does it, here's Roger Ebert's list.) So, here goes, my list of the best of the best for you, Dear Reader:
1. An Education -- This soon-to-be-classic film set in London stars Carey Mulligan as a school girl who falls for an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) and his charms and great taste in restaurants, music, and art. Education also stars Alfred Molina who should earn a best-supporting nom for his role as the coquettish girl's father. You'll love the soundtrack and the Edith Head-inspired wardrobes.
2. Star Trek -- "The Franchise" (as they call it over at Paramount) got a reboot from J.J. Abrams with a terrific script by writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. The story was taut and each of the new Spock's, Kirk's, and McCoy's performances were great. Almost $400million cume can't be wrong. Plus, Simon Pegg was in it, c'mon!
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox -- I'm always a sucker for Wes Anderson's latest offerings, and he's back with this adapted work from Roald Dahl's classic children's story. The stop-action film works for adults and kids alike, and it will be in our home collection for repeated viewings. George Clooney is great; I hope Wes's next project is live-action though.
4. In the Loop -- Amazing bit of film-making. Seriously. It is both hysterically funny and offensive (offensively hysterical?). For those of us that love public policy and the nasty, icky stuff called politics ("making sausage" never looked so pleasant thank you Mr. Bismarck), In the Loop is a must-see. Peter Capaldi and Tom Hollander (a FatScribe favorite) are terrific as British wonks who come to America to work the rooms in DC and the UN at the bidding of their Prime Minister's statecraft needs. One caveat: pound for pound, word for word, this script has more swearing per page than any I have ever read of seen.
5. A Serious Man -- The Coen Brothers are at it again. This film is a study of one Jewish man's world and examines if sleet or snow or crap storm of life will stop this serious man from his routine. Serious Man asks what a post-modern Job would do if faced with a cheating bitch of a wife and a borderline schizo brother (with a boil on his neck that never drains) routinely planted on his couch. Contretemps abound for this man, and the ending shot is just a gem.
6. Avatar -- This movie will go down as the most anticipated film of all time. It is a cinematic masterpiece that unfortunately is also coeval in its triteness and liberalness. James Cameron weaves a story of corporate (US military) bad guys who stumble headlong into a meta narrative replete with aboriginal innocents and a Gaea-Oedipus complex so profound it tries one's credulity. But ... the stunning visuals. The seamless motion-capture technology. The wonderful acting. My 12 yr-old leaned over to me during the show and said, "Dad, this is the most amazing film I've ever seen." I will see this again, but this time in 3-D IMAX. $800million box office and counting. Update: Avatar is the fastest film to hit $1billion (17 days). Only Cameron's Titanic can hold it back currently sitting at around $1.84billion box office.
7. Broken Embraces -- Pedro Almodovar is a stud. A gay stud to be sure, but a stud, auteur filmmaker nonetheless who just happens to love breasts. He has a thing for Penelope Cruz (and her breasts), and she shines in this movie like never before. Broken Embraces is three movies rolled into one giant carne asada burrito of a film. It's a film about a film being made, while also being documented by a jealous husband's son. It is certainly complicated (muy complicado), and in Spanish with subtitles to-boot, but if you love film as I do, this is one for the cineaste in all of us.
8. Bright Star -- Technically I have four foreign films represented here in my Top-10 if you include Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. I just can't help myself, I am a film snob after all (as many of my friends will attest). This Jane Campion film is about John Keats and his (very) slow death by consumption and his one great muse. Abbie Cornish plays Keats's muse, and is another fine example of an Aussie actor that chews up the scenery with her most excellent chops.
"Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest ..."
Almost sounds like an Almodovar dialog for Penelope Cruz, but alas, no, that bit of verse was Keats himself from his poem, "Bright Star, Would I Were Steadfast."
9. Where the Wild Things Are -- This one is for my kids. I felt this movie was a bit too dark, but then again, the book wasn't the most sanguine either. At Johnny Rocket's eating a cheeseburger after viewing Wild Things, I asked the boys if they were moved by the movie. They both admitted that they cried several times during the intense moments. I love my boys for their honesty and honest emotions.
10. The Hangover -- Funny. Crass. Well-shot. The Director of Photography, Lawrence Sher (Dan in Real Life), did a terrific job here. He took what is typically handled with barely-a-care forethought for this genre, and lit each shot commensurate with a film of a much deeper storyline. The actors are great, and there is one scene where the dentist of the friends (The Daily Show and The Office regular, Ed Helms) wakes up and walks four feet before sitting down again. It was so painful to watch because it is just spot-on and reminded me of one all-nighter I had in South Beach that lasted 5 days. I laugh every time I see it. OMG! Forgot to mention: the raunchy B-roll shown in the ending credits does not receive the "Family Seal of Approval" nor my endorsement!! You have been warned. Todd Phillips (who also directed Road Trip, one film that had me laughing from beginning to end) just nailed this one, the highest-grossing R-rated film of all-time at almost $500million.
Me and Orson Welles -- Almost in the Top 10, but just shy. Never thought I'd ever write these words, but Zac Efron can act. Christian McKay channels Orson Welles scary good. I loved Citizen Kane (probably my no. 1 all-time greatest movie; right up there with It's a Wonderful Life), and this movie is set about 4-5 years before Citizen Kane was made. Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise) handles this period piece with a deft touch and a sack full of love. Me and Orson highlights the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of Mercury Theater's newest play Caesar. It reminded me of My Favorite Year quite a bit.
District 9 -- If you haven't seen this movie, do yourself a favor and rent it. It rocked when I saw it the first time, and the second and third times I saw it dragging friends to see it with me. It is very violent, but so original (which is sorely lacking in Hollywood these days, the originality, not the violence) that it receives my imprimatur regardless.
9 (not Nine) -- This post-apocalyptic animated film was perfect for my two sons (12 and 9). They both were frightened and thrilled with the action sequences. It works on many levels, and the animation is fantastic. Worth it.
Extract -- Mike Judge wrote and directed this wonderfully dark comedy about the business world in the form of a business owner (Jason Bateman) who sets in motion the machinations that possibly end his marriage and his burgeoning business in one fell swoop. This is one film with Ben Affleck (since Good Will Hunting) that I didn't want to walk out on.
It's Complicated -- Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep. Need I say more? But, I will. It's not great filmmaking, but it works for me. Shot in Santa Barbara, where everyone is rich with a cool job that they love, driving their hip cars, and all their kids are smart and off to very good colleges. This Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give) film has her requisite production design quality on display, evincing homes that we all want to live in, framed with perfectly-aged actors acting their wonderful ages for all of us to finally realize it's okay to be paunchy, middle-aged, and beautiful. Like I said, a fun bit of celluloid escapism for the afternoon.
Inglourious Basterds -- Not my favorite director, but Quentin Tarantino can make a movie. It's historicism at its finest (a la Oliver Stone), where Tarantino imagines the "real" facts behind WWII and a band of Nazi-killing G.I. brothers.
A Single Man -- Will probably win an Oscar for something. Director Tom Ford has a terrific eye, and we can expect him to develop into a fine filmmaker if he wants it.
Hurt Locker -- Will probably win an Oscar for best-picture, but it's not my choice. Tension-filled film that has powerful performances as brought out by director Kathryn Bigelow. She's made a good one here.
Think I left one or more off of the list? I purposely left off two spots for your choices, Dear Reader ... leave us your pithy comments for 2009 films that should have been listed supra!