Sorry for being so damn late about this. I saw 44 movies last year, and these were the best.
10. The Informant!
What an odd, yet wonderfully fresh film. Steven Soderbergh’s entire career has been spent trying to recapture the cinema of the 60’s and 70’s, at times, even remaking films from that time to do so. Here, he directs a film inspired by true events that took place in the 90’s, yet it’s a whimsical take on the government conspiracy thrillers of the 70’s. Hell, Marvin Hamlisch even provides the playful score, often riffing on the James Bond theme. And at the film’s heart stands a terrific performance from Matt Damon, playing a man, playing a man, playing another man, to paraphrase the famous line from Tropic Thunder. The Informant! succeeds in taking seemingly boring material and making it playful and lively, while still getting the story and its moralistic implications across.
9. Crazy Heart
2009’s answer to the Wrestler, telling the story of a broken man on the outskirts of fame. There’s something particularly tragic about someone who’s fully realized their dream, only to have it ripped away from them. But Crazy Heart is sweeter than Aronofsky’s tragedy. Perhaps it’s all the delightful country music, which this movie has in spades. It also features winning performances from both Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jeff Bridges. They played their lovable characters so perfectly, and Bridges at long last deservedly took home the statue.
8. Goodbye Solo
The smallest movie on my list, but that doesn’t mean its power is any less, if you give it a chance. Goodbye Solo is the story of two men. Red West plays William, a man at the end of his rope. Souleymane Sy Savane plays Solo, a man willing to give up some of his own rope to save the life of another. West and Savane play William and Solo with acting that cannot be taught. Ramin Bahrani chose them for specific reasons, just as he carefully chose each shot, however simple they may seem. I love movies like Goodbye Solo. They touch our hearts, and we’re left with the feeling of enlightenment. Somehow, in the last two hours, we’ve grown a little.
7. Up In The Air
Taking a cue from Bridges, Up In The Air is a movie of its time and place. It’s strange to think that Reitman worked on this script for years, when it feels like a direct response to our current economic climate. What would Up In The Air be without all that real life drama and heartache? Well, it’d still have three winning performances from George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, and Vera Farmiga. It’d still be a story about the baby boomer generation, and how they obsessively slaved away, working for materialistic pleasures when they ultimately had no place to put their materials. With the marriage of these two important themes, along with Reitman’s continual wit and charm, Up In The Air succeeds in both entertaining us and provoking our thoughts.
6. The Hurt Locker
Because this is normally a comic site, I must admit that I’ve already heard The Hurt Locker’s message before, and told better, in Garth Ennis’ Punisher: Born. Really, where this movie deserved its praise was in the brilliant direction of Kathryn Bigelow. If the phrase, “on the edge of your seat,” is ever applicable, it would certainly be used here. She successfully puts us in the POV of William James, where its us against the bomb maker, only its our life that’s on the line. Bigelow also handled the cast well, getting a genuine, stripped down performance from Jeremey Renner, and also keeping the moviestars’ brief cameos natural and enjoyable.
Up is a movie that tempted me to make this list alphabetical. How can you clearly say if it’s better than The Hurt Locker or not? Well, I am sure that it belongs on this list, and I feel that its placement is right enough. With this and the previous year’s release of Wall-E, Pixar is on such a roll that it has me unexcited for Toy Story 3. How can that sequel be as fresh, relevant, and touching as the aforementioned films? As I’m sure you’re all aware, if you can get through this movie’s wordless montage without tearing up, you’re soulless. Though it was wordless, the film’s brilliant animation and Michael Giacchino’s deservedly winning score make the scene as memorable as any from the last decade.
This was probably the most polarizing movie of the year. If you liked it, you loved it. If you disliked it, you hated it. Even if you’re one of the naysayers, you have to admire Antichrist for three things: memorable imagery, ambition, and its performances. That neither Dafoe nor Gainsbourg were nominated for so much as a Golden Globe further proves the popularity theory to be true. You may end up hating the film, but it should be viewed for those three merits alone. It’s a film that’ll stick with you, and if you recognize what the movie implies, its depths are endless.
3. Bad Lieutenant
Herzog and Cage were born to work together. Who but Cage can climb to the outrageous heights that Herzog demands? Together, they rocket past the point of “over the top” into the brilliance beyond. This is a remake of Abel Ferrara’s film, but they’re both unique. Ferrara’s is Shakespearean, while Herzog’s is a delightful descent into hell, poking fun at generic cop dramas along the way. The result makes for madcap entertainment, providing some of 2009’s best lines, as well as one of Cage’s finest performances.
2. A Serious Man
Following their winning adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel, the Coens were at last permitted to make their most personal and possibly uncommercial film to date. Not since Fiddler on the Roof has a movie made you feel so Jewish. A Serious Man remarkably succeeds at three things: a retelling of the story of Job, a portrait of Judaism, and a snapshot of the 60’s suburban atmosphere. All of that, filtered through the perfectionist directorial style of the Coens, and you have an American classic in your hands.
1. Inglourious Basterds
This film was a wild success, and as such, it was interestingly misinterpreted by many people. The average moviegoer apparently expected mindless “Nazi killin,” not an homage to 30’s cinema, a twisted historical epic, and, God forbid, so many dreaded subtitles. Not since Pulp Fiction has Tarantino’s craft been applied to such depth and weight. I’ve even formulated my own wild interpretation of the film, but, of course, I’ll leave you to make your own conclusions. However, for its love of film, its delightful craft, and its engrossing dialogue, all wrapped around the flawlessly sardonic performance of Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds is a masterpiece indeed.