There’s been several reasons why this list is late. First of all, thanks to limited theatrical releases, it becomes necessary to wait until home video for a lot of potential “movie of the year” candidates to make themselves available. And then there’s the increasingly common practice for big studios to make deals with services like Netflix, which I use almost exclusively for home video, to give them greater streaming options at the cost of instituting a mandatory 28 day waiting period after home video release for availability in their system.
And then there’s the obvious: 2009 was just a so-so year for movies. It’s sort of ridiculous that the year that saw the highest-grossing movie of all time also had one of the weakest outputs in recent memory. Yeah, good movies got released, but almost none that really galvanized me emotionally. It took some doing to make this list. Originally I wasn’t even sure I could come up with 10 movies I liked enough to put on my list. Even then, there hasn’t really been a clear winner, in my mind, so ordering them became impossible. Any ranking I could give them would just be arbitrary and pointless at this point, so I’m presenting them in no particular order.
Also, this year I had no job, so next-to-no money with which to buy those expensive $60 coasters we call video games. I mostly took a look back into older games, such as the Phantasy Star series, which you can read my thoughts on in earlier Grump Factory posts. When it came to new games, I enjoyed the SMT: Persona remake on the PSP, and the reimagined Silent Hill on the Wii. Left 4 Dead 2 is great fun if you can find 3 other people to reliably play with. Aside from that, my time was spent playing games from 2008 or earlier, so hopefully Magus can give some better insight on gaming in 2009. Just don’t listen to anything he says about Monster Hunter. Ever.
Now, on to the movies!
This one’s a movie that probably slipped through everyone’s cracks last year. The sophomore effort by up-and-coming talent Rian Johnson (Brick), this film explores a seriously twisted relationship between two con artist brothers, one of which is hankering to leave the business for good. The film has a playful imagination and features quirky (but not really in a bad way!) performances from everyone, especially Rinko Kinkuchi, a silent explosives expert who acts like she stepped out of a Charlie Chaplin movie. It’s extraordinarily charming and very engaging, since the con artist angle keeps you from fully trusting the outcome of events all the way up to the end.
Crank: High Voltage
A Serious Man
The latest tragicomedy from the Coen brothers. It centers around a Jewish family in some unnamed Midwestern town and how the patriarch’s life keeps imploding, one catastrophe after another. A cheating wife, a math-genius brother with unspeakable sexual proclivities, a student trying to bribe him for a better grade, etc. His life spinning out of control, he seeks the wisdom of spiritual leaders in his faith only to find out that either there is no rhyme to the reason, or God has a sick sense of humor. Alternately hilarious and bleak by turns, it’s a fine work up there with their other darkly humorous films, such as Barton Fink, Fargo or Burn After Reading. You should know by now if you like their droll, dry sensibilities, though.
A Single Man
Not to be confused with the other similarly-titled movie last year, this one is about a day in the life of Colin Firth as a literature professor in the late 50s/early 60s, who is still grieving after the loss of his partner in a tragic car crash and planning his suicide, to commence that evening. It’s an immaculately-acted piece, with Firth giving a performance that deserved more recognition on this side of the pond. It also has incredible cinematography and a creative use of color. The saturation ebbs and flows with Firth’s desire to live. It doesn’t throw many curveballs to the audience, but sometimes a gorgeous, well-acted movie is reason enough to watch.
Coming out of nowhere to blow American audiences out of the water, this movie was like a big raspberry to the Hollywood status quo of spending hundreds of millions on sci-fi action thrillers. On a fraction of the budget of Transformers 2, it frankly embarrassed that movie at how well it could build a world and incorporate effects to tell a unique, stirring story. Yeah there’s gravity guns and mechs and crawdad aliens, but there’s deeper themes of racism and inequality being addressed that give the movie an unexpected weight. Moon and Virtuality might’ve been the more staid, classical takes on the genre, but District 9 is a bold direction for science fiction in movies.
A Quentin Tarantino WWII movie sounded so ludicrous, and the stories of how long he’d been laboring over it for so many years, that I doubted the outcome could be anything more significant than a curious footnote in an otherwise great director’s career. Instead, Tarantino pulled yet another rabbit out of his hat, creating one of the best films of his career. For anyone turned off by the “hip-ness” of his previous films, there’s almost none of that to be found in this one, outside of a very cool use of David Bowie’s “Cat People.” Instead, you find the REAL reasons people are going to remember Tarantino 50 years from now: whip-smart dialogue, palpable tension, a clear love and respect for the power of cinema, and a dash of dark humor. It’s not the rock-em sock-em action-comedy that the marketing would’ve had you believe; it’s better.
Hearing that Guy Ritchie would be making a Hollywood adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic sleuth was like nails on chalkboard for me at first. I really don’t have a high opinion for anything Ritche’s done… ever. I was expecting a Holmes that was more about violence and sex than about solving mysteries. And while the sexuality is definitely played up to titillate audiences, and Sherlock Holmes is now apparently the world’s first MMA fighter, Ritchie served up what feels like a classic Holmes case at its heart. And as a movie, it necessarily delves deeper into the relationship between Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Dr. Watson, depicted more like a bickering old gay couple than ever before. And it makes the movie sparkle more than a gaggle of vampires. Too bad everyone was too busy visiting Pandora to go see it! It’s worth a look on home video, without a doubt.
What can I even say about this movie. The whole reason it’s not on the official list is because I can’t decide if it’s one of the greatest movies I’ve seen, or one of the most unwatchable. Both statements are equally true. A product of cinema’s l’enfant terrible, Lars von Trier, the movie takes a look at a married couple coping with the loss of their infant son, who died because of their unintentional neglect. The wife driven to madness by her grief, the husband decides to become her therapist and has them take a trip to their cabin out in the forest in order to work through her issues. What follows is a harrowing examination of misogyny, violence, psychology, religion, nature, sexuality and just about anything else you care to project onto the vague, menacing proceedings. Equal parts art film, torture porn, and shock tactic, it’s tough to pin Antichrist down to any one interpretation. It’s beautifully shot, with amazingly dedicated performances from Willem Dafoe and especially Charlotte Gainsbourg. This movie is probably the closest we’ll ever get to another Possession.