Posted January 25, 2010

Updated February 3, 2010 / Updated February 17,  2010 / Updated February 24,  2010

 

Once again, I find myself apologizing to many of my readers with my very late unveiling of my TOP TEN FILMS of 2009. 

The reason for the extensive delay is simple: My home town of Saskatoon has far too many mainstream blockbusters and far too little independent films that open here, especially during the holiday season (that, and the runaway box office success of AVATAR has left too many indie films without a cinema to be shown in here).  As a result, many of the Oscar-darling films that have been praised and released already in many parts of North American have not seem the light of day here yet.  As of posting this article online, PRECIOUS, CRAZY HEART, AN EDUCATION, and A SERIOUS MAN have not premiered here.  However, after I see them and feel that they warrant inclusion on this list, I will do just that.(NOTE: as of late February, I have finally seen all of these remaining films, and have augmented my list below accordingly).

2009 was a very decent year for excellent films, and more than any other year since I became on online critic I found myself having a very difficult time deciding what the best film of the year actually was.  In all fairness, there were three specific choices that could have easily been number one, which exacerbated the process of finalizing my list that much further.  Also, for as many “bad” reviews I gave to the truly wretched films this year, I discovered a truly exemplary crop of fantastic films.  By midyear I had virtually no issue at all coming up with nearly ten four star films to make a very early top ten list.  By the end of 2009 I had at least 16 films that could have all made a top ten list any year released.  This, of course, precluded me – as it has so for the last five years – to make a Top 25 list of films.  This serves the purpose of broadening the compilation to include “honourable” mentions (films that I thought were terrific, but that I could not honestly find a way to include in the top ten) and also to appease readers that may perhaps feel that I have criminally overlooked some works that do not appear on the top ten. 

Lastly, I must once again emphasize that my lists are deeply subjective: These are 25 films that I personally responded the most favorably to and ones that lingered within me since seeing them.  Also, my goal with every best of compilation is variety: My TOP TEN includes a wide cross-section of genres: I have a modern war film, an inner city high school drama,  post-apocalyptic drama, a revisionist WWII war film, a prison drama, a science fiction parable, a comic book adaptation, a family film, a sports drama, and a reality based gangster drama.  One thing is for sure: I can’t be criticized for lacking diversity here.  

So, let’s finish of the decade in fine style.  Here are my….
 

 
 

1.   THE HURT LOCKER

 
 

Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER is one of the most realistic and hauntingly tense evocations of modern day warfare that I’ve seen, and it deserves notable mention among the pantheon of the great, masterful war films.  This is a stimulating and compelling triple threat film: It’s a muscle-bound, rip-roaring, and nerve wrackingly empowered action film, a astoundingly realized look at the nature of the current warfront in Iraq, and finally it’s a deeply introspective and penetrating presentation of how soldiers treat war as some sort of deplorably addictive drug that they use to continually maintain their fetishistic lust for combat and mayhem.  

Costing near pennies compared to the single worst film of 2009, the inhumanly disagreeable TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, Bigelow quarterbacks individual moments of fever-pitched, nail biting tension and suspense with the visual acuity and confidence of an Alfred Hitchcock: Using largely handheld cameras, tightly held compositions, and grungy film stock, Bigelow suggests the type of washed out, grimy, and foreboding verisimilitude that countless other war films lack.  Her less-than-polished aesthetic style is crucial, because it mirrors the improvisational attitude of the film’s main character (a bomb diffuser with a appetite for probable death).  And if anyone can name for me a more commanding breakout performance of the year other than that of Jeremy Renner’s fearless, juggernaut-like military grunt with an impossibly dangerous job...let me know. 

 

  2.  PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL "PUSH" BY SAPPHIRE <

The greatest, most lasting filmgoing experiences provide portals into people and places that we would most likely never cross paths with.  If you are willing to forgive its unnecessarily longwinded title, PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL “PUSH” BY SAPPHIRE is just one of those masterfully immersing film dramas.  The film tells the queasy, frequently shocking, but ultimately moving and inspiring story of a 16-year old morbidly obese, inner city African American girl that is as down-on-her-luck as very, very few screen heroines have ever been: she has been beaten and raped not once, but twice, by her drunken father, resulting in her given birth to two of his incest-derived children; she is illiterate and has just been suspended from school; and she lives in the most dilapidated tenement project with her mother, a social monster in every sense and meaning of the word (played in a scandalously empowered and brutally raw performance by Mo’Nique, a stand-up comedian that should quite her day job) that verbally and sexually abuses her.   

It would be easy to merely label the film as “depressing” (that it is…in spades!), but if you are willing to endure the litany of merciless indignities that it’s title character suffers through, then you will eventually find a strong and resounding message of hope in PRECIOUS.  It should be emphasized that Lee Daniels (the director) never once shamefully condescends audiences with lame, inspiration movie-of-the-week clichés and formulas: he frames PRECIOUS’ late-1980’s storyline in a gripping and grungy realism with its African American characters that has seldom been seen.  THE BLIND SIDE (a similar film about a black street youth that tries to overcome odds to better himself) felt like pure, syrupy make-believe compared to the brutal truths that PRECIOUS explodes upon the screen.  Daniels’ largest coup de grace is that he hones in focus on the impoverished mindsets of his fringe characters and does not, as THE BLIND SIDE offensively did, make its white characters the soul catalyst and “heroes” of personal change.  < added February 3, 2010

  3.  THE ROAD

Shortsighted filmgoers would simplistically label John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller.  Yes, it certainly holds up its end with many of the requisite staples of that often made genre, but the overpowering genius of Hillcoat’s execution here is that it transcends the genre with how disquietingly powerful and unflinchingly harsh he makes the material.  It avoids the trap of spelling out in wasteful and perfunctory expository detail how the world crumbled in the aftermath of global catastrophe (it’s discreetly hinted at) and instead Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall focuses acutely on the more compelling psychological underpinnings of what surviving a decaying and dying earth would be like.  

By honing in the fragile mindsets of its two main characters - a father and son played in two of the year’s most touching and moving performances by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee - THE ROAD manages not only to be a virtuoso visual experience (it is one of the most stunningly realized portraits of a wasted earth I’ve seen), but it also is an intoxicating portrait of a man nearing his last days trying to impart ideals of humanity and ethics in his son while surrounded by a world that all but lacks them.  Difficult to assimilate, difficult to sit through (the film is oftentimes tortuously sad), and difficult to categorize, THE ROAD materialized late in 2009 (after several botched release dates) as one of the year’s most bitterly raw, discomforting, but undeniably moving human dramas.

4.   INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS

 

"Once upon a time…in Nazi-occupied France...”  

So begins Quinton Tarantino’s daringly audacious, swaggeringly inventive, and maniacally entertaining war film that boldly and assertively manages to re-write every WWII historical textbook in the process.  Part DIRTY DOZEN-esque war thriller, part European art house picture, part DEATH WISH-infused Jewish revenge flick, part 1940’s film noir, part 1970’s exploitation grindhouse caper, and a whole smattering of Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western overtones, Tarantino’s BASTERDS swings fanatically for the fences without a care in the world as to whether it has any semblance of reality or accuracy.  

Instead, Tarantino completely transcends the whole simplistic veneer of the “war” genre altogether and comes out with something altogether more innovative.  This is not a history film (pllleeeaasse), nor is it attempting to ground its underlining story in any sort of pragmatic reality.  Tarantino does indeed use Nazi horrors and WWII imagery to craft a testosterone-laced pseudo-Western that emerges, by the infamous climatic sequences, as one great wish fulfillment fantasies.  What’s amazing here is how he once again seeks so many cinematic sources of inspiration and then triumphantly amalgamates them all into a cheekily self-aware, euphorically indulgent, and, yes, brazenly inspired war flick.  It’s the ultimate finger wag of shame to stale and regurgitated Hollywood formulas and its represents Tarantino’s finest effort since 1994’s PULP FICTION.  And Christoph Waltz's towering portrayal of the nefarious Jew Hunter (done in no less than four languages) is the year’s most hypnotic portrayals of eerie villainy.

 
 

5.  HUNGER

 
 

Steve McQueen’s (no, not that one) HUNGER is one of the most grotesquely atmospheric and unflinchingly vicious prison films I have ever seen.  It tells the real life tale of Irish Republican Army Activist Bobby Sands who, in 1981, engaged in an arduous and nightmarish ordeal of going on a hunger strike to serve as a political martyr for his comrades.  Yet, it would be incorrect to simply label HUNGER as a prison film, or a political film, or a historical film.  McQueen’s primary motivation here is to create a remorseless and tactile sensation of dread and horror that permeates the daily lives of the prisoners in the film.  What the film wants to accomplish is to thoroughly submerge and sicken viewers within its cruel immediacy.  HUNGER is a masterpiece of authoritative imagery.  

Michael Fassbender, in 2009’s most criminally overlooked performances, pulls a full-on Christian Bale in the way he shed nearly 60 pounds to take his chiseled frame to that of a skeletal and physically wasted man that is willing to the unthinkable to uphold ideals he holds with more regard than life itself.  HUNGER is unforgivable hard to watch at times, but it’s also unforgettable: It focuses on man’s inhumanity towards man and it uses bravura visual and editorial inventiveness alongside evocative and brilliant performances to make McQueen’s effort one of the most startling directorial debuts in a long time.

 
 

6.  DISTRICT 9

 

DISTRICT 9 emerged as one of the most limitlessly inventive alien invasion films in a long time, which is saying a lot considering that the sci-fi genre itself has been literally done to death over the years.  The film – co-written and directed by South African born, Canadian residing Neil Blomkamp – is a feverously robust and pulse pounding visual effects action spectacle (at a scant $30 million, this bargain bin budgeted film rivals the intensity and thrills of James Cameron’s AVATAR, which cost ten times more), but when its not thrilling us it also manages to engage in thoughtful, frequently irreverent, and sharp-witted political satire.  The underlining premise – shot partially like a faux-documentary alongside a traditional cinematic approach – is that insectoid-aliens have landed on earth and, over the course of thirty years, have been ghettoized into concentration camps in Johannesburg (finally, we have aliens visiting other, less obligatory American cities as presented in past genre efforts).  

DISTRICT 9 may be the first aliens visiting earth film where you actually find yourself rooting for the extraterrestrials instead of the humans, but that’s just a small part of the film’s wickedly audacious imagination and innovation; it shows that a filmmaker with raw talent and a fiendish mind's eye can infuse sci-fi films with both style, bombastic, audience pleasing visceral thrills, and clever and topical social commentary.  That, and virginal actor Sharlto Copley’s phenomenally assured and aggressively empowered performance – where his meek-minded and bureaucratic weasel morphs into a fire and brimstone, kick ass action hero – is one of DISTRICT 9’s most masterful coups

7.  WATCHMEN: THE ULTIMATE CUT

 

When Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons unleashed the 12 issue mini-series WATCHMEN during 1986 through 1987, it unequivocally altered the landscape of comics books forever.  Ever since its release the graphic novel series has commanded respect from readers and critics alike as the single most subversive, ingeniously constructed, and ambitious comic book tale ever made.  

This, of course, has led to many feeling that it would be unfilmable.  Yet, Zach Snyder’s triumphant adaptation of the intricately layered and thematically dense source material emerged as the best comic-book film since 2008’s THE DARK KNIGHT, and one that found the nihilistic core of Moore’s prose, the dark and richly atmospheric look of Gibbon’s illustrations, and the quintessential themes of the underlining story.  What’s astounding is how assured Snyder is at homogenizing all of the widely divergent ingredients here to create alternate-earth fantasy that deals with allegories centered on a simple, but intriguing, premise: what if super heroes actually existed?  Die Hard fans of the graphic novel can cry foul all they want, but WATCHMEN is a qualified triumph of filming the unfilmable and one of its most thankless traits is that it successfully and thoroughly captures Moore’s and Gibbon’s story arcs and characters.  The film - even in its finest version, the late 2009 Ultimate Blu-Ray Cut – may feel truncated (what adaptation of this material wouldn't feel just that?), but perhaps no mainstream director could have captured the quintessence of the source material better than Snyder has here. 

 
 

8.   WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE 

 
 

Very few family films – or films in general – are as powerfully and intensely observant about the fragility of the childhood mind as well as Spike Jonze’s WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, which in turn is based on the 350-word children’s fantasy book of the same name by celebrated author Maurice Sendak.  The making of the film is almost as spellbinding as the film itself (Jonze reported labored on the production as far back as 2005, during which he began filming and then subsequently struggled to see his vision released).  

What has emerged is a film that engagingly works on so many divergent angles: It’s an audacious and fanciful fantasy, a story about the bond between mother and child, and finally – and most attentively – an intriguing and very accurate glimpse into what makes a child…a child.  In my review I described the film as borderline Freudian for how astonishingly well it covers the wide and oftentimes perplexing range of emotional states that kids go through: the joy, fear, anxieties, and unavoidable self-awareness that many nine-year olds struggle through and experience.  Many parental viewers recoiled in shock when they experienced the rawness of the drama involving the adults, kids, and, yes, magical, larger-than-life creatures in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, but those petty criticisms should be a cause for celebration: Jonze's film is dark, but never to the point of inspiring nightmares in children, and it never cheaply panders to both its old and younger viewers.  For that, it a transcendent family entertainment, one that is elusive, truth be told, but nonetheless profoundly beautiful, poetic, and truthful.

 
 

9.   SUGAR

 
 

The finest accolade that I can bestow upon filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck is that they completely bat their eyes at rudimentary and prosaic Hollywood formulas.  Need convincing?  Just look at 2006’s HALF NELSON (which I thought was one of the Ten Best Films of that year) where they took the inner city high school melodrama – a genre that we have seen time and time again, often to stale effect – and turned the clichés upside down on their heads.  Now, with SUGAR, the indelible pair has done much the same with the underdog, inspirational sports drama.  

Like teachers in HALF NELSON, Boden and Fleck use their off-kilter prerogative and deeply humanizing focus to look at immigrant baseball players and how their lives inevitably change – for the better and worse – once they are sent out to the US for a chance at Major League dreams.  The fascinating hook of SUGAR is that Boden and Fleck don’t give a hoot about the individual games themselves, what the scores are, who wins and loses, and whether the “hero” will be triumphant in the climatic, obligatory “big game.”  Instead of tapping into the standard, run-of-the-mill accoutrements of this genre, the filmmakers look at the more compelling human interest story: a young and impressionable man that is forced to make choices in his life so that he can better accustom himself to a strange and foreign land.  It is because of Boden and Fleck’s complete aversion towards sports film trivialities that makes SUGAR so truthful, so heartfelt, and so emotionally resonating.

 
 

10.   PUBLIC ENEMIES

 
 

What I revered most about Michael Mann’s vigorously secure and daring biopic about legendary outlaw John Dillinger is how it utterly avoids all of the standard, conventional trappings of these types of real life gangster films.  Much like the real Dillinger, PUBLIC ENEMIES explodes on the screen with guns blazing: There’s no wasteful exposition about Dillinger’s upbringings, no examination as to the psychological underpinnings or methodology of the infamous outlaw, and no probing commentary as the nature of the criminal underworld he was a part of.  Instead, Mann’s Dillinger-centric universe is loose, expressive, and spontaneous that thrusts viewers right from the opening sequence head on into Dillinger’s crime career with a startling and evocative immediacy.  

Explaining to great lengths Dillinger's mythological stature would have been foolhardy: Mann’s MO is to give the proceedings a fly-on-the-wall intimacy, which he does with his unfastened and free wheeling HD digital photography that always gives the film an impressionistic allure and veracity at the same time.  At one point in the film Dillinger (played with a cold, calculating machismo and charm by Johnny Depp) tells a women that he is trying to court, “I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars…and you.  What else do you need to know?”  That line is indicative of Mann’s whole masterful approach here: By avoiding the trap of routine, dime-a-dozen biopics, he paints an absorbing portrait of this Depression-era criminal with a never-look-back, in-the-moment immediacy.  This is a film that does not explain why Dillinger was who he was, but rather that he just was. 

Dillinger’s style through and through.

 
  ...and now to round off my BEST FILMS OF 2009 with my selections from 11-25:  
 

11.  (500) DAYS OF SUMMERFar and away the most innovative and refreshing romcom in many a moon, especially considering that it is told largely from the shattered male perspective and it does not slavishly adhere to the lame conventions and clichés of the genre.

 

12.  TYSON: Remarkably immersive documentary about one of the most lethal punchers in pugilistic history, but the genius of the film is with how honestly it portrays this multi-faceted and flawed man sports figure; it gives you a new perspective on a troubled man that you think  you have easily figured out already.

 

13.  UP: Yet another grand slam home home for the maestros of animation at Pixar; it's opening sequence - which uses simple image juxtaposition and the melancholic strings of Michael Giacchino's musical score - is a masterpiece of filmmaking economy.

 

14.  BROTHERS: Jim Sheridan's raw and empowered drama about the lingering after affects of war and combat on the home front; stand-out performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Natalie Portman, but Tobey MaGuire reaches whole new levels of dark pathos here.

 

15.  TWO LOVERS: Joaquin Phoenix's tragically undervalued performance (which was lost in the unpleasant limelight of his...er...odd public behavior) is one of the most convincing, heartbreaking, and evocative portrayals of a man’s ever-growing emotional and mental instability I've seen.

16.  KNOWINGOne of the finest sci-fi films of recent memory, stagnated by an early Spring release; contains individual moments of calculating terror alongside themes that echo with an eerie veracity, and that plane crash sequence is a tour de force of visual effects trickery and ingenuity. 

17.  THE INVENTION OF LYINGFrom one of the most inspired and sly comic minds today comes this completely misunderstood romantic comedy; Ricky Gervais acted, co-wrote and directed this wickedly acerbic and biting satire about modern organized religion.  

18.  MY SISTER'S KEEPER:  From the director of THE NOTEBOOK comes yet another unapologetic - but genuinely heartfelt and moving - family tearjerker regarding impossibly complicated medical and moral ethics; thoughtful, contemplative, and never audience patronizing.  

19.  AN EDUCATION Carey Mulligan exudes a natural poise, beauty, and grace of an Audrey Hepburn here in this tender and surprising coming-of-age melodrama; a film that never falls victim to the predictable pratfalls of other similar genre efforts. > added February 17, 2010 

20.  A SERIOUS MANAfter stumbling with their post-NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN effort, BURN AFTER READING, the Coen Brothers returned to inspired and confident form with their most personal black comedy to date . > added February 24, 2010

21.  UP IN THE AIRJason Reitman has emerged as one of the most accomplished and assured of new directors, and he homogenizes great performances, a sobering and topical script, and a healthy dichotomy between pathos and laughs to near flawlessness here.

22.  THE DAMNED UNITED  Michael Sheen rounds off his indelible performance trifecta of playing David Frost and Prime Minister Tony Blair with his searing, charismatic, and authoritative work playing British football manger icon Bill Clough in THE DAMNED UNITED.

23THE INFORMANT!Matt Damon seems to be getting recent buzz for his role in INVICTUS, but his outlandishly hilarious turn playing a real life informant is his best work of 2009; director Steven Soderbergh manages the capricious comic energy and nifty period decor with a taskmasters eye.

24.  FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN  Liam Neeson (one of our most delicately nuanced and understated actors) and James Nesbitt (a cauldron of feverous and agitated gusto) give two of the year's finest performances in this half fact, half fictional account of a political murder and a subsequent standoff between the perpetrator and one of the victims.

25.  MOON  Sam Rockwell gives one (make that two) of the most thankless performances of 2009 in Duncan Jones' low key, minimalist, and unnerving sci-fi thriller;  clever, intrepid, and remarkable resourceful considering its cookie-cutter budget.

 
  Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:  
 

2012:  Roland Emmerich destruction porn, done with just the right campy, tongue in cheek preposterousness.  

9: Shane Acker's hauntingly visceral and impressively stylish adaptation of his own Oscar-nominated animated short film.  

ADVENTURELAND: Greg Mottola's follow up to his McLovin-harnessed teen sex comedy, SUPERBAD, straddles two very difficult dramatic stratospheres – humor and heartfelt honesty – to forge one of the more endearing and touching coming of age comedies I’ve seen in a long while.   

AWAY WE GOOne of the most dependable directors around, Sam Medes successfully takes another look at the dysfunctional family unit; small and unassuming, with a large, heartfelt sentimentality and blustery spirit.

AVATARThe overall storyline hammers home and over telegraphs some of its themes, not to mention that the character arcs carry an lumbering predictability, but James Cameron's ten-years-in-the-making sci-fi opus is an unadulterated feast for the eyes and imagination.

THE BOX After the disastrously bad SOUTHLAND TALES, writer/director Richard Kelly makes a decent bid for a comeback with this eerie, tense, and involving adaptation of the Richard Matheson sci-fi thriller short story.

THE BROTHERS BLOOMRian Johnson's stylish and involving crime caper follow-up to his wonderful BRICK further highlights him as a filmmaker with a fruitful imagination, a wry and refined eye, and a whimsical panache.

BRUNO  Far, far too many people completely missed the boat with Sacha Baron Cohen's uproariously acerbic, taboo breaking, and go-for-broke satire, which manage to be much more revelatory and honest about its targets that some viewers would have liked. 

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORYAlthough not reaching the heights of FAHRENHEIT 9/11, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, and ROGER AND ME, Michael Moore's incendiary and explosively funny portrait of the recent collapse of the North American economy still manages to effectively balance laughs with sobering pathos.

CORALINE: Henry Sellick's terrifically original and appropriately dark and macabre stop motion animated film from earlier this year is a flawless conglomeration of old school film artifice with cutting edge Digital 3-D technology. 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL:  Robert Zemeckis once again returns to motion capture animation, and the results are predictably lavish and pristine, but I think the grandeur and beauty of the film's art direction overshadowed what a remarkably faithful appropriation of Dickens' immortal classic it was. 

CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE:   Dear Lord in Heaven this is a seriously screwed up film, but this sequel's merciless insanity and breathless and blatant disregard to earth bound logic and reality was an adrenaline-induced riot.

CRAZY HEART:   > A never-been-better Jeff Bridges utterly channels and commands this otherwise formulaic film about a drunken boozer that tries to make his life better through his new spiritual muse.  > added February 17, 2010 

DUPLICITY: Writer/director Tony Gilroy's follow-up to his critically lauded MICHAEL CLAYTON features Clive Owen and Julia Roberts exuding movie star charisma and chemistry in this stylish, intriguing, and entertaining romcom/heist thriller.

EARTH: Although James Earl Jones voiceover narration frequently reverberates with far too much child-placating cuteness and frivolity, Walt Disney's stupendously lavish and miraculously epic look at the majesty of our planet was worthy of big screen viewing..

EXTRACT: Mike Judge's films just can't seem to get a break or find an audience, which is a large shame, because his EXTRACT emerged as one of the most criminally undervalued and overlooked comedy satires of the year; Jason Batemen continues his meteoric rise as one of the most dependably assured and nicely understated comic actors around. 

FANTASTIC MR. FOXI am not entirely sure that little filmgoing tykes will get most of the absurdist humor and gags in Wes Anderson's stop motion animated fable, but there is no denying that his film has a wonderfully tactile feel and a fresh and capricious energy.

THE GOODS: LIVE HARD. SELL HARD.: If you are worried that commission salesmen get a bad wrap in the movies, than this comedy is not for you; for the rest of us, I found its boundless energy and unrefined lewdness a welcome diversion.

THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD :  John Malkovich gives one of the more thanklessly decent performances of the year in this loosely based on fact account of The Amazing Kreskin.

 

THE HANGOVERThe year's biggest money making comedy became an overnight, runaway success story, and its unapologetic hard-R rated high jinks and bawdy hilarity was an uninhibited delight.

 

I LOVE YOU, MAN: When Paul Rudd's dweeby and socially stunted keener and Jason Segal's loveable slacker are paired on screen, it's a match made in bromance heaven.

 

THE INTERNATIONALA tour de force suspense thriller that is absolutely striking to look at and has elaborate and layered action sequences that hurtles past viewers with such a genuine and polished proficiency

 

INVICTUS:  Clint Eastwood's look at the lead into the South African-hosted Rugby World Cup may grab a hold of too many sports conventions for its own good (not to mention disappointing people expecting a multi-layered Nelson Mandela biopic), but he nonetheless infuses in the film strong lead performances and a unique hybrid of athletics and politics. 

 

IT'S COMPLICATED:  OMG!  A romcom about horny middle-aged people that talk a lot about the no-pants-dance and then do just that several times!  The horror!!  Nancy Meyers once again gets a lot on comedic mileage out of displaying her aging co-stars - warts and all - without an semblance of ego on vanity on their part.

 

JENNIFER'S BODYHmmm...and what a nice body it is; Diablo Cody's (JUNO) script relishes in a shrewd and colorful self-awareness, and Megan Fox - yes, that one - gives a plausible performance as a cheerleader with a killer measurements and an even deadlier taste for a boy's internal organs. 

 

LAND OF THE LOST If you have a taste for Will Ferrell-centric ribaldry, then strap on your "Florsheim zipper boots" and make a "serpentine patterned" dive head on into this sci-fi comedy's unrelenting daftness and frequent hilarity.

 

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATSNot only does this film have some deliciously juicy one liners and some great physical comedy, Grant Heslov's reality based comedy also managers some cheeky commentary on how the modern military will go to any lengths - including the preposterous - to see end results.

 

NIGHT OF THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN  I did not like the first in this series, but this sequel inevitably won me over with its unbridled loopiness, high laugh quotient and the sight of seeing the unbearably adorable Amy Adams playing Amelia Earhart in tight aviator pants.

 

NINJA ASSASSINHoly Hanna-Barbara, this Wachowski-produced action film is cartoonishly barbaric, but if you wish to thoroughly check your brain at the theatre door and embrace this film's unmitigated gory and over-the-top extremes, then there is much to revere here.

 

ONE WEEK: Remarkably level headed and genuinely movie terminal-disease melodrama; balances humor, drama, and dark sarcastic edge better than most similar genre efforts.

PAUL BLART: MALL COP: Light-hearted, amusing, and an affectionate comedic homage to the first DIE HARD film; Kevin James keeps the films laughs afloat with his agreeably affable presence here.

PIRATE RADIO Richard Curtis is one of the finest director's of ensemble casts, and his loosely based on fact portrayal of how pirate radio was the only way Brits could hear their favorite tunes during the late 60's hits its stride with its impeccable comic performances and groovy, free-wheeling, and effervescent vibe throughout.

RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN: I remember seeing the Disney original from the 1970's and this new reboot staring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson had just enough PG intrigue and action spectacle for a moderate recommendation.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: Guy Ritchie amazingly does not engage in downright, sacrilegious character assassination here with his balls-to-the wall action-packed, but intrinsically faithful, appropriation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most iconic literary creation

STATE OF PLAY:   An all star cast, (headed up by a gnarly Russell Crowe and and nicely understated Ben Affleck) highlights this political potboiler that is simmers with an evocation of the finest paranoia-laced thrillers of the 1970's.

TAKENThe best pure exploitation action thriller of 2009, featuring Liam Neeson doing what he does with a textbook precision: infusing his Charles Bronson-ish father/avenger with an impassioned and quietly powerful vigor.

THE TAKING OF PEHLAM 123: Another solid remake of a 1970's effort, this time featuring the always assured Denzel Washington as the unassuming hero and a wonderfully madcap and crazed John Travolta as the villain.

TERMINATOR SALVATION: Yup...this McG helmed 4th entry into the TERMINATOR film franchise was rousing, spectacularly envisioned, and consummately action-packed; was there something else you were expecting from this series?

WHATEVER WORKSOkay...so this is Woody Allen riffing off of himself from thirty years ago (been there, done that), but there is no denying that his dialogue is still crisp and the laughs are aplenty; that, and Peter David makes for a wonderful Allen-surrogate.

 

WHIP ITDrew Barrymore, making a stellar directorial debut, takes inventory of sports genre clichés like they were going out of style and rises above them by infusing an endearing sincerity to the proceedings; another performance triumph for Ellen Page, once again highlighting JUNO as no mere fluke.

 

ZOMBIELAND Zombies are more hilarious than scary (trust me) and the infectiously zany and funny-as-hell ZOMBIELAND understands that sentiment through and through: contains the single funniest cameo of 2009 featuring an actor that certainly knows how to poke fun at himself.

 
 

 

   

 

 
     
 

  H O M E