Top 10 Movies of 2009

Number 10.  –  Star Trek

J.J. Abrams brings his A-Game to directing this re-imaginging of the beloved “Star Trek” Universe of films and tv series’. With a story that is not anything new, it is told brilliantly in this film, which makes it so much better. The visuals are out of this world insane, and the casting choices are absolutely perfect. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto share some of the best on-screen chemistry in recent years, portraying the leads of Kirk and Spock. Eric Bana is also impressive as Nero, the villain, who may be one-dimentional, but his acting ability brings his character to new heights. This is a very well-directed and well-produced reboot and one of my personal favourite “Star Trek” films ever made. I loved it from start to finish and I just wanted more when the credits started. Highly recommended for Trekkies of the old generations and regular film fans alike.  The last 10 years have been big on reboots and remakes, and this is one of, if not, the best of them all. It took something that when I was younger I considered boring, and made it enthralling, interesting, and very entertaining. I know some big trekkies that really liked it, but had a lot of hang ups on some issues. But then again all reboots will have that. If you haven’t watched this or any “Trek” movies, IMO, this is a great jumping off point. It made me want to go back and watch some of the older movies, and excited for the future films. Great movie, worth a watch or a revisit.

Number 9.  –  Avatar

James Cameron was once regarded as the thinking man’s action director. Along with Paul Verhoeven, he was the man you could turn to if you wanted to argue that action movies didn’t have to be stupid, obnoxious or driven entirely by special effects. Whether it was the time paradoxes of the Terminator series or the gender politics of Aliens, you were pretty certain to both thrilled and in some small way challenged by a James Cameron action movie. A related problem with Avatar is that it is drinking from not one, but two poisoned chalices. In other words, it is attempting to tackle two kinds of stories which American filmmaking has been historically inept at telling: stories about American settlers encountering natives, and stories about Man destroying the environment. Disney’s Pocahontas is contrived and misjudged, Dances with Wolves is stony-faced and often dull, and even Terrence Malick came a cropper when he attempted a revisionist Pocahontas tale with The New World. And that’s before we get to the long parade of bad environmental films, including Once Upon A Forest, Ferngully and A Troll in Central Park. If the film was merely so predictable, this could be tolerated. If the story and characters brought nothing new to the table, we could accept Avatar as a generic but technically accomplished genre piece and move on. But the cliché-ridden story is made worse by how long and baggy the film is, taking more than two-and-a-half hours to tell a story that would barely stretch to an hour. Cameron cut his teeth under exploitation maestro Roger Corman, but ever since Piranha II he has steadily spurned the master’s training about efficient storytelling on a low budget. An amazing spectacle, but a dull story. Exotic animals and amazing sights can keep one entertained only so long, and this movie heavily leans on that for two hours and thirty minutes.

Number 8.  –  Sherlock Holmes

Holmes is back, and he’s reincarnate for the twenty-first century. Robert Downey Jr. plays the charming and unique detective as he is thrown into a conspiracy by his “forever” love. Great storyline, compeling characters, and interesting directing, Sherlock Holmes will keep you entertained to the last scene. Sherlock Holmes is a stylistic take on a classic character, and it really works. As Lord Blackwood rises from his grave, he is on the loose, creating many obstacles for Holmes (and his partner Watson) to beat. The story is very well told, the writing is perfect, the cinematography is noticeably well-crafted, and the action is pretty good. The only downfall of this film is that the characters are already in pursuit and know what they are doing, we never really get backstories for either of the leads, which would have been a very nice touch. At times the film seems to drag on, but in the end, it is a very entertaining and action-packed, “old-time” detective picture. Sherlock Holmes is a hit! However, there is something quite bothersome about yet updated addition to Sherlock Holmes. It wasn’t exactly going at a speedy pace, and didn’t hesitate to occasionally drag on. It has been a few years, and maybe I’d enjoy it now, but most recollection of it was that it was long and tiresome.

Number 7.  –  Moon

I’m so fascinated by this movie. It is trying to be a lot like 2001, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It comes nowhere close, but it’s in the same general area. It’s one of those thought provoking and intellgient sci-fi films that are more about existential issues and not visceral mayhem. In a way, this is a welcome relief. The movie does feel a little underbaked though, but the potential for greatness is definitely there. There is a lack of scientific realism, and the movie kind of feels a little pointless and inconsequential, but there’s some interesting stuff going on here. Don’t expect it to be realistic, and try to be cool with a fair amount of filler, and you’ll probably like this movie. There’s not much plot, and not much action, but that didn’t bother me. It has a dark unnerving atmosphere to it, and mood and tension are the main proprieties here anyway. The visual scheme and set direction are really nice, and Sam Rockwell does a great job. He basically has to. He’s gotta carry the whole film essentially. Kevin Spacey lends his voice, but he’s not heard as much as you might think. This is not a film for everyone. Like I said, there’s a good amount of filler, it’s not super slow, but it’s not fast paced, either. Also, not a lot happens, and most of the focus is on one guy being bored and getting involved with an eerie mystery. If you want a different type of sci-fi movie though, then check this one out. It’s a spiritual relative to movies like 2001 and Solaris, but it’s a bit more accessible.

Number 6.  –  The Road

The Road is such a bleak and depressing movie to watch and it should be. The world that the father-son characters are put into is as bleak as any I have seen in a movie. The two characters move south and must watch out for cannibals and have to be suspicious of everyone. They search for food and are lucky when they are able to find crumbs on an old diners table. There’s very little happiness to be found in The Road. For a majority of the running time, nothing much happens. A father and son walk through a desolate America in search for coast line and from there, who knows. They have to battle the elements, their hunger and the few survivors they encounter. All they have is each other and a pistol with two bullets in it. The film does have some absolutely devastating scenes; one of which almost brought me to tears and I don’t tear up easily from movies. The Road at a huge effect on me. As I watched this movie, I realized just how nice I have it and that I wouldn’t last a day trying to live the way these characters do. Much like the Proposition, this is a feel bad film. The dread that Hillcoat is able to convey is extremely powerful. But don’t expect it to not ruin your evening.

Number 5.  –  The Princess And The Frog

This movie is without a doubt one of my favourites even if it is a relatively new one. I prefer 2D animation to 3D and have always thought that Disney did it better when they did it old school. Aside from the throw back to the old animantion style, it was genuinely refreshing to see the heroine of the story (who stereotypically did become a princess at the end, as we all expected) was a well rounded, hard working woman with the independence and drive to actually do something rather than sleep all day in a tower waiting for her happily ever after to come looking for her. I loved all the characters, as well as the music and setting. This film feels like a classic Disney film in every way, but incorporates a new southern twist to an old tale. The animation is really enjoyable and keeps to it’s traditional style and although the story line is predictable, it’s what you expect from a Disney film; a happily ever after.

Number 4.  –  Inglorious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino returns with the story of the Basterds, a group of Jewish soldiers performing guerilla warfare and terror tactics behind enemy lines to strike fear into the hearts of German soldiers during World War II. Inglourious Basterds is a very difficult film to pigeonhole. It’s part Jewish revenge fantasy, part gung ho war film, part knowing parody of patriotic flag wavers and 100% Tarantino. His trademark patchwork of styles and references is as evident as ever; the opening scenes are pure Leone, turns into The Dirty Dozen and then zig zags off on tangents all over the place. It’s impossible not to enjoy a film with this premise (unless you are a closet Fourth Reicher or member of the BNP) and Brad Pitt’s hilarious send up of a hick war hero is almost as good as Christoph Waltz’s high camp evil Sherlock Holmes (complete with pipe). But I’d have to say much of the film that does not feature these two could’ve stood for some judicious pruning and very oddly for a Tarantino film, the soundtrack sometimes just did not work. Unlike the likes of Lucas and Cameron though, Tarantino is a pure film fan’s film maker so when he gets too self indulgent, it is with the direction, dialogue and characters rather than visual bullshit and so even at their worst his films are always interesting and of merit.

Number 3.  –  Zombieland

This movie has many things I love: it’s a zombie movie, it’s a road movie, it’s a horror comedy, it’s gory, but at the same time, it has some substance, but it’s not overbearing. Mostly this movie is just really fun and hugely entertaining, which is probably the most important factor. The script is decent, and contains the right amount of wit and quirk without seeming derivative. There’s sone real cleverness with the title sequence and the presentation of Columbus’ “rules”-they are flashy, yet remain the punctuation, not the sentence. The performances are great. Each player is perfect for their respective roles. Jesse Eisenberg rivals only Michael Cera for the king of deadpan geeky quirk. Harrelson is having the time of his life, and Stone and Breslin prove that chicks can be pretty and kick ass, too. It isn’t for me as good as Romero’s stuff or Shaun of the Dead, but it takes the best from each camp, and makes it into its own little thing. The wonderful not quite a surprise cameo around the middle definitely serves as the cherry on top of a beautiful mound of ice cream, but the soundtrack kicks much ass as well- especially the usage of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands during the opening credits sequence.

Number 2.  –  District 9

When a malfunctioning alien spaceship strands over a million of its inhabitants on Earth, they find an unlikely champion in the shape of a previously self serving weapons manufacturer exec who starts to metamorphose into one of them after exposure to an unknown chemical. District 9’s plot takes a lot of cues from cult 80s sci-fi, most obviously the racism allegory of Alien Nation and the genetic mutation premise from Cronenberg’s The Fly. However, unlike something like Doomsday which simply ripped off old films with no wit or subtlety, this film actually develops upon its ideas. The production design is fantastic and the action sequences extremely well done, particularly the brilliantly handled climactic battle and the film has a great deal of momentum that meant I enjoyed it more and more as it went on. But easily the strongest aspect of the film is Sharlto Copley’s central performance who is quite brilliant as the selfish corporate bastard who unwillingly finds a cause to fight for. It would have been nice to learn more about what happened to the ship and the aliens in the first place and why these obviously technologically advanced creatures had degenerated into a bunch of filthy, scavenging animals but as a whole it is a hugely enjoyable piece of action sci-fi with an intelligent twist. This film is quite an achievement. It ranks up there with Blade Runner, The Matrix, and some of Paul Verhoeven’s works as one of the best sci-fi action films loaded with substance. Take the substance away (specifically the socio-political, racism, Apartheid type stuff), and this would still be a decent action film. Adding in all of that heavy stuff makes it more than just a fun piece of entertainment. With that stuff, it retains its entertainment value, and also avoids being too heavy handed, preachy, or pretentious. When you really look at this movie in broad terms, it is true that it borrows from some classic tropes, but it puts it’s own neat spin on things, so I think that can be forgiven. Definitely give this a watch.

Number 1.  –  Watchmen

Since the comic book/graphic novel was released, we all were skeptical of even having a Watchmen movie because of the fact that it’s impossible for movies to adapt comic’s most important treasure. We needed to wait 2 decades in order for the technology to even visualize the story told in this comic book. In a matter of fact, I actually like movie more so than the comic book it was adapting. They took a way the stupid squid (made for shock factor) and even the ridiculous Tales of the Black Freighter side-story that is unnecessary. Based on the Alan Moore graphic novel, Watchmen is set in an alternate reality where costumed “heroes” were created as state-sanctioned vigilantes to fight the mob and who helped the US win the Vietnam war and get tricky Dicky elected for 5 successive terms as president. Another superhero movie with a difference it sticks firmly to the moral grey areas, showing these “heroes” as human and fallible; who is the more heroic, a violent sociopath obsessed with punishment through vengeance or an emotionally detached self-appointed guardian willing to sacrifice millions of lives for “the greater good”…? The core of the film is provided by charismatic anti-hero Rorschach’s Noir style investigation into the murder of fascistic black ops hero The Comedian, set to the backdrop of a skewed history and political situation which all makes for very interesting viewing and tinges the usual big budget spectacle with a nicely grimy undercurrent. Snyder is hardly the most insightful of directors but his stylized visuals work perfectly here thanks to the wealth of intelligent ideas and interesting characters supplied by a source material that is very visual in essence. Definitely up with the best of the modern style hero movies, Watchmen is intelligent, dark and although I wouldn’t describe it as “exciting”, it’s perfectly paced over its 2 and a half hour length. Considered by most to be unfilmable, Snyder has managed to pull off a bit of a coup with this one and created a superhero film that ranks amongst the best. In a matter of fact, films in the 2000’s is recognized as the renaissance of comic book movies, but in my humble opinion, the genre built itself from mediocre films into the magnum opus of comic book movies with Watchmen!

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