2009 Best and Worst Films of the Year List

Originally posted on December 31, 2009

It’s New Year’s Eve and time for me to roll out my annual list of my favorite and most hated films of the year. I saw 11 more films in the theater than last year making this year’s tally total out at 105 movies I saw in the theater and 29 on DVD.

2009 was a year that delivered three sci-fi slices of heaven, STAR TREK, TERMINATOR SALVATION and AVATAR. All films, I might add, that I listed in my 2008 list as the ones I was most looking forward to seeing in 2009. It’s incredibly satisfying to know that Hollywood can still turn out a great story. The only films I am truly looking forward to seeing next year are Lukas Moodysson’s MAMMOTH and Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I wonder if history will repeat itself and these films will land on my top 2010 list as well. Only time will tell. Okay, here we go folks, my lists for the best and worst films of the 2009.

Top 10 Films of 2009

1. Avatar

Cameron changes the art of moviemaking and reinvents special effects every time he creates a film. He did it with THE ABYSS, T2, TITANIC and now AVATAR. Cameron is a true visionary and AVATAR is magic, pure magic. I am not sure what more I can add about this groundbreaking film that I haven’t already said when I named it the #2 best film of the decade, except that it’s such a sensory overload that it causes me to cry whenever the end credits roll. I think the synapses in my brain are so overwhelmed by this amazing achievement that crying is the only way for me to express my awe. And seriously, when has a film ever done that before?

2. The Hurt Locker

I’ve never been a fan of films that explore the theme of war, but this movie is so much more than that. It’s a visceral, edge-of-your-seat story about what it means to be so passionate and talented at something, that it makes you feel alive. Jeremy Renner delivers a riveting performance as an adrenaline junkie who can’t truly be happy unless he’s doing what he does best, diffusing bombs. This is a heart-pounding, tension-filled movie that has you constantly reminding yourself to exhale and breathe.

3. Terminator Salvation

Only three times in my life have I sent out a breathless, mass e-mail to all my cinema loving friends urging them to rush out to see a film. The first time was my senior year in college after I saw ELECTION, then a couple of years ago after being mesmerized by THE LOOKOUT and this year, the week of the release of TERMINATOR SALVATION. I have figuratively kept my undying love for T2 on my sleeve since I was 14 and have since waited for a worthy follow-up to my favorite film of all time. This MAD MAX style sequel was better than I ever imagined it would be. It takes us into the future where we finally get to experience the war between man and machine, catch a glimpse of those rubber-skinned T-600s that Kyle Reese told Sarah Connor about, watch as John Connor becomes the man he is destined to be and Reese emerge as the hero we always knew he was. The 14-year-old inside of me that saw this film 7 times in the theater will forever be grateful to McG for taking care of this franchise and understanding the motivations of these beloved characters.

The Director’s cut of this film on Blu-ray allows us to see some precious scenes that were cut from the original movie like one of my favorite lines from the resistance fighter pilot, Blair Williams when she says, “You can focus on what is lost or fight for what is left.” Sadly, the DVD doesn’t contain so many of the scenes that I was heartbroken to see cut from the film like Reese discovering the picture of Sarah Connor in his jacket pocket at the end. I can only hope these scenes will be restored on a subsequent “ultimate” DVD package at a later date for the most hard core fans of the franchise. Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part but a girl can dream, can’t she?

4. (500) Days of Summer

This is such a perfect little film. It’s a genuine and unique take on what it really means to connect romantically to someone and the heartache that comes with the realization that it’s not meant to be. (500) DAYS OF SUMMER employs impressive storytelling devices such as switching up the linear timeline of the film, emotions acted out through obscure film references (extra points for the Bergman nods) and a split screen revealing a character’s actual reality vs. his hopeful version. This film is also a love letter to Los Angeles and music in which the director beautifully photographs the city and creates a soundtrack that is a playful mix of British pop, 80s rock and contemporary tunes.

5. Star Trek

When I was a little girl, my father introduced me to “Star Trek.” We would watch old episodes of the 1960s show over and over again. As I got older, I became a devoted viewer of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” so much so, that several of my friends got together to watch the series finale entitled, “All Good Things…” at the end of my junior year in high school. It was the first true TV event I had ever experienced. So, to say that I was looking forward to seeing Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock meet for the first time at the Starfleet Academy in J.J. Abram’s new film, STAR TREK would be a grand understatement. In fact, seeing the film catapulted me into geek heaven and I was ecstatic to see this prequel of an adored franchise not only be one of the most entertaining films of the year but also one of the best reviewed.

It’s a popcorn space adventure that takes you on a thrilling ride with some of the richest and most diverse characters of all time. The casting was perfection and spot on with Kirk’s swagger, Spock’s logical poise, Bones refreshing candor, Uhura’s confidence, Scottie’s wit and know-how, Sulu’s swashbuckling abilities and Chechov’s naiveté. Orci and Kurtzman’s writing is crisp and fun and their dialogue just pops off the screen. It’s one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had at the movies and it was reminiscent of the storytelling and feel of BACK TO THE FUTURE- one of those movies you could watch again and again. It was also poetic that this time around, by getting my Dad into an advanced screening of the film, I was the one who was able to reintroduce these characters to him.

6. The Box

Hands down the most misunderstood film of the year and one of the most engaging. I think this film challenged audiences in an unexpected way and as a result, divided critics and confused the average moviegoer who expected a run-of-the-mill thriller. Well, Richard Kelly is a rare and gifted filmmaker and nothing he envisions or creates is ordinary. Each frame of this film is like a work of art. I loved the style of it, the way the actors and settings are framed and how this film starts quietly and ends with a bang. It’s evident how much time and energy Kelly spends on every detail in this story. There are moments during the film where you don’t quite understand why characters are behaving a certain way but it all comes together at the end and you are rewarded for your patience. You realize that nothing is done just for show- every tiny, little nuanced detail has a reason for being. THE BOX felt like a cross between a Twilight Zone and a David Lynch film, but it’s also evocative of Hitchcock with its VERTIGO-esque soundtrack and psychological storyline. James Marsden, Cameron Diaz, Sam Oz Stone (the remarkable actor that plays their son), Frank Langella and Kelly’s usual troupe of character actors are all fantastic. This movie packs a punch and maybe it’s not for everyone but I can only hope that it finds renewed life on DVD. It’s a brilliant picture and one that Kelly should be proud to book end with DONNIE DARKO.

7. A Serious Man

The underlying theme of this film might be summed up in the Jefferson Airplane lyrics that resurface throughout the film, “When the truth is found to be lies and all the hope within you dies.” The Coen Brothers fashion an original story set in the 60s centering around a college professor who can’t catch a break. His wife is leaving him, his children won’t listen to him, his mentally unstable brother refuses to leave his house and his tenure is in jeopardy when anonymous letters start turning up in the dean’s office proclaiming his incompetence. You suffer through his frustrations and anxieties but also the unexpected humor that comes with the constant irony his life has become. The Coens infuse the film with Jewish cultural references that can sometimes confound but more often than not, intrigue. This is a delightful, black comedy that is fresh, irreverent and distinctive.

8. Big Fan

Pledging your undying support for a sports team can bring a person unbridled joy, blind deep-seated hatred for an opposing team and the heartbreak that comes with defeat. BIG FAN captures the obsession of fandom as we follow its protagonist, a Staten Island native named Paul who lives and dies by the New York Giants. Patton Oswalt inhabits this lug with such sincerity that whether you understand him or not, you root for him and appreciate his anguish. This is a fascinating character study and also a cautionary tale about investing so much of ourselves into an entity that might, at times, consume our identities.

9. A Single Man

Tom Ford constructs a gorgeous, literary film which allows us to observe a day in the life of a man who has decided to kill himself. He carries on what would be a normal day by  going to work, visiting his best friend and running errands while at the same time putting his affairs in order for his self demise. What he doesn’t prepare for is the constant signs throughout the day which give him a reason for living. Ford conveys these signs by saturating the film with color that awakens your senses. This slice of life story is beautifully written and Colin Firth is just astonishing as a man who can’t imagine living another day with the crushing heartache that overwhelms him.

10. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Oh Wes Anderson, how you never disappoint me. This stop motion animated tale is inventive, sweet, charming and thoroughly pleasurable from the beginning to the end. I literally couldn’t stop smiling for the first half of this movie, while watching a family of foxes and their animal neighbors outsmart three tyrannical farmers. Each character in this community of animals is carefully developed to have their own special, vibrant personality with a touch of Anderson’s trademark wit and cleverness. I love this movie—it’s not just a fable for children, but a delight for adults as well.


Top 5 Worst Films of 2009

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Unbearable, unintelligible and never-ending. I found the first TRANSFORMERS film cinematic cotton candy- light, airy and fun. This sequel is like what you get once you overindulge in junk food, an excruciating and painful root canal without novocaine. I literally did not know what was going on for most of this movie, nor did I care. The clashing of robots was so beyond excess that it became mind numbing. When did Transformers master the ability to time travel or successfully morph into humans? Why am I asking these questions? This film was one big WTF in a summer full of movies that for once actually contained franchise pictures that were smart and engaging. Sadly, the only revenge we were served was in Michael Bay’s gleeful attempt to strangle the life out of us. Well sir, you may have succeeded in doing so for the few hours we were subjected to this abomination.

2. Disney’s A Christmas Carol

In a year when AVATAR’s performance capture techniques blow your mind, it’s hard not to wince when you see the video game style characters that populate this film. It’s also somewhat sad when you imagine that this version of Charles Dicken’s classic may be the first one a child grows to know. It’s incomprehensible, too dark at times to make out the animation, possesses action sequences that are a bit of a visual assault on the senses and most importantly, it lacks the magic and heart of the original story. The fact that Disney could accomplish a 25 minute version of this story called Mickey’s Christmas Carol in the 80s that still makes me cry to this day and this full length film doesn’t conjure a single stir of emotion in me, is absolutely ridiculous. The filmmakers should have spent more time on bringing this wonderful story to life and less making us marvel at Jim Carrey’s Scrooge shooting off in the sky over Victorian London.

3. It’s Complicated

There is nothing complicated about this pretentious movie where these characters live in a world so drenched in wealth that their conversations revolve around remodeling their houses, baking chocolate croissants and using yoga as an excuse to sneak away for trysts at luxurious hotels. I’m not sure why this film disturbed me as much as it did; maybe because no one in the film ever acknowledges any real, tangible problems that can’t be solved with money. Meryl Streep’s blithely hands her vapid kids a credit card when they make puppy dog eyes at her, shrugs when one teenage daughter can’t help but text incessantly on her cell phone before she drives off in her Prius, while the other casually mentions she’s off to meet with her “wedding specialist.” The scenes in this film where Streep and Martin try to smoke pot for the first time in 20 years or when Streep meets with her pneumatic girlfriends over wine, made me want to off myself. Maybe if Streep stopped throwing her head back and laughing every three seconds, she could have saved this movie from being an inaccessible mess and a fantasy chronicling the woes of rich people.

4. Funny People

A self indulgent movie about how comedians are all really sad clowns inside. Sandler plays a character, much like himself, who regrets the choices he has made in his life once he realizes he may be dying. What ensues is a lot of bad jokes and awkward pacing about the tortures of being a true artist and the sacrifices that must be made in the pursuit of greatness. Some critics hailed this Judd Apatow film as being his most personal film but that doesn’t mean it’s something worth sitting through. It’s a meandering movie that is an hour too long because I think Apatow was so in love with his personal vision that he couldn’t bare to remove even a single scene from his masterpiece. Too bad we had to pay the price for his generosity in the editing room.

5. Friday the 13th

The first 10 minutes of this movie was terrifying and surprising as we witness an entire camping party get picked off one by one and that is all before the credits. But then the real cast emerges to suck the life out of the rest of the movie and a lesson in sheer boredom is dispensed slowly and painfully. I found myself wishing that the ski mask killer would show up more frequently just so he could hurry up and kill off these nattering teenagers and put them and us out of our misery.

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