2009 is here. Do you know what that means? It means we are deep into the "Best Of" list season, hopefully at the tail end by this point. Be it music, movies, books, or something entirely different, everyone is putting out lists of what they think was the best of last year. I love checking out these lists, it's always interesting to get a glimpse into others' thoughts of the year's releases, and see how my favorites match up. However, as entertaining as these lists can be, there is something very important to remember.
As much as some of these writers would like to boast that they have chosen the best of the year, it is pretty unlikely that they truly have done so. There is so much opinion strewn into these lists, they are really little more than conversation starters. This is a good thing; movie discussion is always a worthy endeavor. However, you will find lists that genuinely try to name the best of the year, others that put in oddball titles to try and get a rise, and then there are the truly honest ones who realize that they cannot legitimately name the best and try to represent themselves and what they enjoyed the best that year.
But you already know this. You are here to read about my experiences and choices for the year. You are in luck, as I have some thoughts on the year in movies that you will hopefully enjoy reading. This list was rather difficult to put together and could likely change at a moment's notice. So many elements come into play that can change your thought process. The top few were easy while the rest could be swapped out at will. To that end, the top ten list will be amended with five alternate films that almost made the cut.
The one film that I have not seen that could make an impact if/when I get to see it: The Wrestler.
Near Misses: Blindness, Traitor, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Revolutionary Road
10. Burn After Reading. This movie is fantastic. It is also the bubble movie, the one that would most likely get swapped out depending on mood. Still, this entry from the Coen brothers is one not to be missed. The film is a twist on the spy movie; everything is intricately plotted but with a humorous bent and story that has no point. Superbly written and very well acted, this is a very good film.
9. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This is a laugh out loud comedy about dealing with separation, rediscovering one's self, and finding the strength to move on. When it arrives at its inevitable conclusion, it ends the way it is supposed to, in a fashion that you likely saw coming. What makes the film special, and places it head and shoulders above many comedies of this type, is the road it travels. It does not take your typical journey from point A to B to C; it bends, curves, and winds in other directions, directions that allow our characters to become more fully developed than one would expect. So, while the concept may seem one-note, it is much closer to an orchestral score, or at least a heart-felt pop song. It features strong writing and performances to carry it to its success.
8. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This is an interesting tale of contradictions, both internal and external. I was simultaneously drawn into the emotional tale and held at arm's length from becoming too invested. The central character is a contradiction by definition, the child born old who ages in reverse. Benjamin is someone in the world but not of the world. It is a film that is near poetic with meaning, while also maddeningly obtuse. In the end, it is a movie that bears enough evidence to sway viewers to the side of love just as it contains enough to push them in the opposite direction. I found the film more poetic than not, engrossing in its slowly paced flow, and a film that will require multiple viewings. Fortunately, there is enough to it to warrant a desire to revisit. Anchored by a Brad Pitt's performance, this epic will draw you in.
7. Gran Torino. The story is a simple one, but it is told in a way that is simultaneously hilarious and achingly sad. It is a balance that cannot be easy to maintain, yet it holds throughout as the story builds to a climax that is wholly unexpected and leaves deep emotional marks. It is a credit to screenwriters Nick Schenk and David Johannson that the story holds true through the climax, never feeling watered down for easy consumption. On top of that, leave it to Clint Eastwood to bring it to the screen in such fashion.
6. Doubt. It is much more intense than any description I could provide. The story builds to a fever pitch and is written in such a way that both sides are easily believable. Sitting there and thinking about it now, it is so much more than what I was expecting. Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius are fully fleshed out characters. They are strong in their convictions, firm in their beliefs, and neither side is willing to step back. The screenplay is fantastic, performances first rate, and the ending is one that will stick with you.
5. Funny Games. Here is a daring film that is an exercise in excruciating terror. It is a graphic, disturbing journey into a situation that feels almost too real. One could almost imagine a situation like this actually happening. For all I know, something like this may have already happened, and if not, I am sure someone could be contemplating such a dark deed. Scary isn't it? Michael Haneke takes us into the darkness with no chance for escape, no comic relief, no hope for salvation. It is a black hole of despair, the likes of which the big screen has not seen in some time. This challenges the limits of what you are willing to put yourself through for the sake of entertainment. As one of our antagonists says, "You mustn't forget the value of entertainment." But are you entertained? It is a personal question that only you can answer for yourself. No number of reviews or commentaries on the film can tell you how you are going to react. Personally, I loved the film, but I do not deny that it is dark and twisted and definitely doesn't tickle the traditional pleasure centers.
4. In Bruges. What makes In Bruges work so well is the way the pace is kept surging forward, not through standard cliches, but through careful character development. The further in we go, the more and more we learn about these men, what makes them tick, and possibly most importantly, just why they are in Bruges. This is a film to be savored, a film to get wrapped up in, a film to have fun with. Yes, that is right. It is filled with human characters having genuine reactions. It is not what you expect, yet it delivers more than you think. I could go through and give you plot points and moments that help elevate the film, but to what end? Why should I do that? This is a movie to discover. There is so much to see here, and it deserves to be experienced that way.
3. Slumdog Millionaire. It is a beautiful story told in a visually exciting manner and brought to life by a cast of wonderful young actors. The story is exciting, involving, and I felt myself drawn in. I was completely invested in the outcome. I longed to see the two lovers reunited and was heartbroken as life ripped them apart. Simply put, this is a wonderful movie that injects a little bit of magic back into the cinema. This is not about reality (although there is a lot of it here), it is about fate and destiny and the way everything can align in just the right way. It is a visual and emotional journey that is built on a script by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Vikas Swarup (called Q & A). It is an experience not to be missed. Not to mention, it ends with a Bollywood-style dance sequence!
2. WALL·E. From frame one I was captivated. I was ensnared in the profound combination of childlike curiosity and wonder with an underlying sadness. The title character is more than just a cleaning robot, but a being that longs for companionship, has a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity that knows no limits. WALL·E is a character unspoiled by anything; he has hopes and dreams and it is impossible not to get caught up in them. This movie is near perfection.
1. The Dark Knight. I cannot recommend this movie enough. It is unrelentingly dark, but it is also emotionally involving as it takes you on a cerebral and visceral roller coaster ride through the darkened streets of Gotham. This was the finest film to reach the screens last year, and one that actually deserves all of the praise it has received. From top to bottom, this is an amazing experience and one of the few summer blockbusters to work on this high an artistic level. This film coud be the moment where comic book films' cinematic legacy is redefined. This movie is so much more than Heath Ledger's iconic performance (although it should not be overlooked).