The top 10 of 2009
AĆ¢??look at the best films from a strong cinematic year

by Willie Krischke

In 2009, we witnessed a departure from the moviegoing conventions of the last few years. Filmmakers got away from the dark, intense pseudo-Westerns (“No Country for Old Men,” “Jesse James,” “There Will Be Blood”) that have dominated movie talk the past two or three years. Instead, it was a great year for children’s movies; Pixar was reliably great, and Henry Selick and Hiyao Miyazaki both turned in admirable entries, among others. The big comic book movie of the year (“Watchmen”) was a big bust and Harry Potter let us down, but science fiction made a comeback, with “Moon,” “District 9” and “Star Trek” all garnering praise. And somebody finally made an Iraq War movie worth watching.

Here are my 10 favorite movies from 2009:

1. “The Hurt Locker:” Eschewing the politics of the conflict and the conflict of politics, the film instead focuses on the work of a bomb unit, whose job it is to find and defuse all the improvised and incredibly dangerous bombs that make this war different from any other. Jeremy Renner plays the team leader, a confident bomb defuser who can’t imagine anywhere he’d rather be than inside a blast suit. His interactions with his team – the careful, by-the-book Sanborn, and the scared, eager-to-please Eldridge – are never trite or predictable, making this a character study as much as an action flick and war movie.

2. “Up” Pixar does it again. I’m not sure what it is like watching “Up” as a child, but as a grownup, it is all the right kinds of heartbreak. The story of a crotchety old man who embarks on a crazy adventure mostly because he is nearly driven mad with grief over the death of his wife (wait – this is a kid’s movie?) “Up” mixes the zany and adventurous (talking dogs, exotic birds, South America) with the heartfelt, warm and endearing in nearly perfect proportions. You’ll beg your kids to watch it with you.

3. “An Education” A fairly simple story – about a wide-eyed young girl who finds herself seduced by a worldly, wise, older man – is made rich and profound by nuanced performances from Alfred Molina (as the girl’s father) and Peter Sarsgaard (as her suitor.) In the end, I think it’s more about where family intersects with society than it is about seduction or betrayal. “A young girl gets wowed by an older man, that happens all the time, but you, where were you? You should know better!” she yells at her parents. All they can do is look at their shoes.

4. “Coraline” Henry Selick’s stop-motion animation feature was the first movie that really begged to be seen in 3-D. The creator of “Nightmare Before Christmas” brought us a creepy, absolutely gorgeous picture about a prickly girl who finds a portal to another world, where her parents are everything she ever

5. “Julia” Erick Zonca’s crime thriller keeps things interesting by giving us a heroine/villain who really needs a plan but doesn’t have one. Good thing Tilda Swinton’s in the title role or this would be a hapless train wreck. Instead, it’s riveting. Swinton plays a recovering alcoholic who dives headfirst into a kidnapping plot, making it up as she goes. There are few movies anymore in which I don’t have some idea what’s going to happen next; “Julia” kept surprising me.

6. “Inglourious Basterds” Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus is an essay about film, history and wish fulfillment. This alternate take on World War II is uneven in pace, messy in plot and all over the place in tone, but it’s so brimming with ideas and statements, as well as intimate and terrifying moments, that it is worth watching twice just to see what you missed the first time around.

7. “Goodbye Solo” Ramin Bahrani makes nearly perfect little films about people on the edges of society, and “Goodbye Solo” is his best yet. Red West is a dour old man looking to end his life, and Souleymane Sy Savane is the ebullient taxi driver he hires to take him for his final ride. “Goodbye Solo” is a vivid portrait of two men, at two different stages in life, and the peculiar relationship that evolves between them. It is a joy to watch a film this closely observed and perfectly handled.

8. “The Informant!” I don’t think Steven Soderbergh or Matt Damon realized just how much this film would speak to the times we’re living in. The story of a mid-level corporate executive who turns informant on his multinational corporation, “The Informant!” just grows darker and funnier as it goes. Damon’s character starts as a do-gooder and conscience-stricken whistle blower, but turns out to be engaged in so many unethical practices that he hardly knows up from down. In this age of golden parachutes and bank bailouts, Soderbergh shows us who our “heroes” are: men with such a confused sense of ethics that they hardly even know anymore when they’re doing wrong. Hooboy.

9. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” As wonderful as they can be, there’s always been something slightly off about Wes Anderson’s films, and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” shows us what that something is: the characters have been played by real people, when they should have been portrayed by puppets. Finally, Anderson’s terse and verbose dialogue, and conflicted and comical characters feel natural and believable. “Fox” is Anderson’s best movie to date, an antic rumination on family, community, marriage and chicken thieving.

10. “Duplicity” Believe it or not, the funniest scene of the year wasn’t written by Judd Apatow, wasn’t played by Seth Rogen, and didn’t involve battery-operated underwear. It was the opening credits sequence of “Duplicity.” The rest of the movie — about corporate spies Clive Owen and Julia Roberts playing and getting played by each other — wasn’t nearly as funny as that first few minutes, but it was nonetheless clever, fast-paced, ironic and utterly entertaining. •



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