We’re halfway through 2010! You know what that means!
10. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Everything you expect from Nic shows up: bizarre facial expessions, irrational outbursts, terrorizing elderly women, copious drug abuse… It’s the Mega Man 9 of Nic Cage movies. Everything he’s done in the past led up to this moment of fantastic Nic Cage-ness. And director Werner Herzog wraps up the messy plot in the silliest, trolliest way possible. It should probably be way up higher on the list, but uh, it’s kind of late to the party and it’s going to have to be satisfied eating the soggy calimari and watered-down punch no one else wants. It should’ve arrived earlier like the invitation said!
There’s no squid, it’s long as hell and I had my doubts, yet I ended up enjoying this really well even though 95% of it was no surprise. Zak Snyder certainly made a movie version of Alan Moore’s weighty comic. It looks great, the cast’s great and the spirit of the graphic novel’s there, homo eroticism included (Nite Owl and Rorschach forever~). To paraphrase screenwriter David Hayter’s desperate plea, I, too, wish more movies like this would get made.
8. Drag Me to Hell
Sam Raimi spins a timely yarn about financial sorrow. Or a story about a former fat girl going crazy as she food binges. Or of a banker suffering a ridiculous gypsy curse. Whatever it is (all of those?!) Drag Me to Hell‘s a brisk, pleasurable horror parable starring Alison Lohman, who suffers the wackiness at her own expense so well it’s as if she’s really a daughter-clone sent through space-time by a Bruce Campbell stuck in the Tesseract. Or something. The best horror flick about foreclosure since Poltergeist. I grinned ear to ear the whole time.
7. Star Trek
It got some flack from many (including us) for being a dumber Trek than we’re used to, but c’mon. Put down the nostalgia visor! Star Trek‘s been dumb for a long time now, maybe since the beginning (lizard people!). Or did you forget about Generations? And First Contact? Or any of TNG movies? Cripes, Voyager? The new, modern split timeline covers its silly “red matter” contrivances with a fantastic ensemble, a slick script (from the morans behind Transformers 2 no less), and an actual visual effects budget — something Trek has never enjoyed before. It’s the best Trek flick since Khan, and I look forward to how they continue the saga. Hopefully they develop the Kirk/Bones/Spock love triangle. ;3~~
Ah, here we go. The smart sci-fi we’re always begging for that no one actually watches! Whoops! No one nominated it for anything either, despite sporting one of the best performances of 2009. Sam Rockwell pulls double duty as the only human character in the whole damn movie — and he got nothin’ but a computer module voiced by Kevin Spacey and a few tinker toys to act off of. As Mora says in his review it never goes beyond “good”, but it’s executed so damn well and it’s scary to think that this could become science fact some day. Hey, it could!
5. The Hurt Locker
I didn’t think it was as fantastic as most critics or the Academy would have you believe, but it grew on me as I thought more about it. An interesting take on the action picture, it features few guns, zero one-liners and, in a sinister twist, you actually don’t want things to explode or that would mean the deaths of hard-working soldiers just trying to make things safe in a very unsafe zone. There’s no smug political angle, just dudes doing their jobs. Jeremy Renner, who I last saw in fucking S.W.A.T., never appeared as a blip on my radar until now. Whether he’s smoking a cigarette or dismantling an entire car to find a fuse he exudes cool, detached confidence and determination. And there’s a super-tense sniper battle in the desert. Those are always good.
Great, dumb fun in such an unabashedly right wing paranoia thriller. Eurotrash tries to sell my beautiful white virgin daughter to sleazy oil men in the Middle East? Well, I’ll FUCKING KILL ALL OF THEM. And what a man to send but Liam Neeson, Schindler himself, to annihilate, torture and destroy eeeeeverything in his warpath. It’s morally reprehensible, irresponsible and all the greater for it. It’s the TV show 24 distilled to its finest, guiltiest bits. Unless Die Hard 5 comes out soon Unless The A-Team (starring Neeson!) and The Expendables tank, this will perhaps stand as the last great 80s action of the decade and thank GOD for it!
Never before has a movie crushed my heart in the first reel. I didn’t think much of it at first — probably because I saw it in 3D(istracting) — but it grew on me slowly as I learned to ignore the twee dog humor and instead dwell on its themes of letting go and moving on. This is absolutely the culmination of Pixar’s milieu. They make animated movies about grown-ups and their issues. I still prefer Ratatouille, and to a lesser extent Wall-E, but to deny Up‘s greatness is to be a Great Big Jerk.
2. District 9
Wikus walks in The Other’s shoes and has a helluva hard time doing so, making this the more honest and blood-curdling sci-fi actioner of 2009 than that other thing. Made with a fraction of the budget and a far more deft screenplay District 9 came out of nowhere with pigs a-flying and prawns a-cussin’. Following in the steps of Blade Runner, Aliens and other “lived-in” spaces of the genre, District 9 makes its nightmarish squalor look so good on film. I love a good dystopia which District 9 delivers (infects?) with humor, charm and video gamey action I probably should’ve expected from the guy who was gonna do the Halo movie. I’m glad that project fell through, otherwise we would’ve lost this.
1. Inglourious Basterds
Forget Nazis, forget Brad Pitt, forget Tarantino. His movie has one important thing to say: Cinema can change the world. Even when you figure out the film’s pattern — one long bout of dialogue punctuated by shocking violence followed by another — the overwhelming dread in each scene suffocates. And despite the terrible violence and goings-on, a lot of love oozes out of the picture. Love for language (four of them!), an overwhelming respect for cinematic history, for acting … It’s a film in love with film. Should you expect less from the director, a man who most likely watches 23 movies a day? The ending slyly suggests Basterds to be his masterpiece and for now it may be, though I’m eager to see what the future has in store. Quentin’s a relatively young director. If he can do something like this now imagine what kind of mischief he’ll cook up later in his career.
10. Noby Noby Boy
Not quite a game, not quite a toy… some kind of digital playground thing made by the Katamari guy. I haven’t touched it or thought about it in a while yet those initial moments … Man. Pulling taffy people around and eating entire worlds with friends watching and playing along. Quite a fun time.
Despite a few snags, this was a well-polished game I spent all last summer playing. It’s got everything a good sandbox game ought to have: Fluid controls, atmospheric music, magnificent comic book-style cutscenes that are short and to the point! And actual mission variety! Can you believe that, actual variety in a sandbox game for once? Enemies are friggin’ evil shots, too. They don’t miss! They pose a challenge! The story proved kinda interesting with a few twists, setting up for what’s sure to be a worthwhile sequel. All in all, it’s everything a video game should be: Fun, fun, fun.
8. Raiden Fighters Aces
The best damn series of shooters I’ve played since Ikaruga. Better-than-arcade-perfect ports of Japan-only shmups, the crisp 2D graphics impress to this day. These games are all about keeping track of enemy patterns, bullets and power-ups and Raiden Fighters‘ bright, expressive color palette keeps things distinct. Upgrading your slave drones, laser and missile capabilities yields extremely satisfying results. There are several different kinds of aircraft in each game, and they each have their own unique “charge attack.” Hold down the fire button and let go to unleash a powerful blast that could turn the tide of battle. There’s something about a tiny WWII fighter blasting Kamehameha waves at giant enemy aircraft carriers that makes a guy feel good. Add a friend to the foray to take down that last boss and steal each other’s upgrades, and maaaaaaan, you got a pretty good gaaaaaaame.
7. Dissidia: Final Fantasy
I had my doubts about this one … And, actually … It’s not too bad. It presents a nice challenge. Not quite a fighting game, not quite an RPG, it plays something like Power Stone or Smash Bros. There are Smash Ball-like EX Cores you need to get to execute special attacks, and there are Brave Points you have to bash out of your opponent in a tug-of-war-like fashion first before you can deal real Hit Point damage. Knowing when to dodge and dash helps, too, so like, timing is involved! Some actual skill! Nevermind whatever a “Dissidia” is, this game makes me like Final Fantasy again. Plus, Kefka and Terra from Final Fantasy 6 as playable characters? Booyaka!
6. Silent Hill Shattered Memories
A game made by guys who understand what the Silent Hill series, at its best, is all about: guilt and psychological terror — not Pyramid Head mugging for the camera. A “reimagining” or a remix of the original game, Shattered Memories impresses as the best in the series since the first sequel because of a plot you can deconstruct like a novel. Dense symbolism, fantastic little treats for longtime fans, and in a first for the series, tight writing and natural voice acting (!!!) make this a briskly-paced gem that doesn’t forget it requires player participation. The psychological quiz portions probably reveal more about yourself than you’d like to know as well, and multiple endings and story branches are worth going for at least once or twice after the initial heartbreaking playthrough. Harry Mason: father of the year.
5. New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Well, gee, it’s a new Super Mario 2D platformer, that’s multiplayer, that has tons of Mario 3 and Mario World and even Yoshi’s Island nostalgia, aaaand, yeah, it’s multiplayer. I guess that makes it pretty damn great. The spiritual successor to Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (Still waiting for the real follow-up, Nintendo!), you can help friends, throw them into pits and be an all-around dick at the risk of shoulder punches and pillow zippers in your eye. Like Resident Evil 5 (Which would have made this list had all these other games not been better!), if you’re playing alone, you’re doing it wrong, dummy. If there’s one thing wrong the music kind of sucks. Compared to Mario 3, World and hey, 64, the tunes are … kinda lousy! Good thing everything else is so gooood~ Oh wait, except for TWO playable fucking Toads? Good thing you’ll be too busy having fun wall-jumping into each other for that giant coin to notice that misstep.
4. Street Fighter 4
It made fighting games relevant again. Sure, I guess BlazBlue, Tekken 6, Soul Calibur IV and the million other fighters that came out last year helped, but they can’t compete against fucking Street Fighter. I went pretty far into the game’s malicious mechanisms in my review, and the “super” update out now makes things even zanier with new characters, ultras and rebalanced, ah, everything. It’s pretty fantastic. And is it me, or is that Japanese calligraphy motif everywhere these days?
3. Left 4 Dead 2
I’ll be honest. I was on the FUCK VALVE bandwagon for a while. I thought it’d be more of the same. Then I played the demo with some bros and … man. Okay, it is more of the same, but when you have a phenomenal game to begin with and you somehow find a way to refine the fantastic and make it fantasticker, holy mackerel. There’s nothing left to do but eat crow, or a hat, or something to show you’ve been a jackass, and just accept how lovely it is. L4D2 did more to expand everything. The plot with with those lovely little wall scribblings Valve’s grown so fond of and the game chokes you with atmosphere.
2. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
In the first second of playtime I had to tap the touch screen to kick my way out of a car underwater. There was no prompt, no text — just the picture of the rear window and the sound of bubbles rising. Then panic set in and I realized what I had to do! Tap tap tap tap! Then I had to break into another car’s ignition with a screwdriver by twisting my finger around the screen, and connecting two wires to spark it up. Turns out this happens, with variations, every time you steal a stationary car in the game! It only takes a few seconds and it’s a thrill.
For the first time since The World Ends With You all the touch screen mechanics really work to immerse you further in the game’s world of crime and vice. This is, by all rights, a full-blown GTA game, miniaturized and enhanced (embiggened?) by the DS’ world-building capabilities.
1. Monster Hunter Freedom Unite
Never expected to get sucked into this beast of a game. It’s everything Capcom does well — cutesy humor, gorgeous graphics, catchy music, rage-inducing reflex-based gameplay … Oh, the rage. Monsters will kill you. And kill you, and kill you, and kill you. It’s an old-school sensibility (memorizing enemy patterns, timing attacks carefully) married with new-school technology. There are 11 weapons to master (think of them like the characters in Street Fighter), dozens of things to do (fish! cook! mine! combine items!) and hundreds of quests to embark upon. A constantly rewarding game, especially with fellow hunters, it’s an incredible package. Besides Pokemon (and Chinatown Wars) Monster Hunter is one of the most robust portable experiences out there. I finally understand why Japan’s so obsessed with it.