I was really struggling to come up with a full 10 list.  Believe it or not, that last one is pretty tough to finagle.  Then it occurred to me that there’s some poetry to it just being a list of 9 in this, our 2009th year.

So, after many quiet months here at Starving Artist, I return from the shadows to post my favorite 9 films of 2009.  Now, note I say my ‘favorite’, this doesn’t necessarily mean the most technically meritorious films of the year, and it certainly won’t include any films I’ve yet to see (of which there are a few I’d still like to get around to).  What it does is simply what it says, lists for you my favorite 9 films of 2009.

Without further adieu!

9. Zombieland!

Perhaps a surprising entry in a favorites of the year list, but this splatterfest was as much fun as almost anything to hit the theaters this year.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect, which is sometimes the best position to find oneself in.  What I ended up getting was a clever, smart, laugh-out-loud horror comedy that hit all the right notes.  My only complaint was that the “famous person gets shot” sequence takes SO long to set up … but that’s really nitpicking in what is an otherwise extremely well presented entry in the genre.

8.  Star Trek!

I am no Trekkie.  I’m a nominal fan of the franchise with most of my exposure being to the exploits of the Next Generation crew.  In other words, I had no horse in the race when it came time for J.J. Abrams’ entry into the Trek mythos to come along.  But it was handled so deftly, so smartly, that one couldn’t help but be swept up in just how much fun it was!  It was smart summer blockbuster fare which is, sadly, hard to come by these days.  Not only that, they took a 40 year franchise and not only did they honor and acknowledge what had come before but they also charted a brand new course ‘where no man has gone before’ … all in one movie!  An excellent introduction to what will hopefully be a strong franchise in the coming years.

7. The Road!

Last year I read fifty books.  The Road was one of them.  I had never read Cormac McCarthy but had seen the film version of No Country For Old Men and was intrigued enough by the buzz around The Road to make it part of my fifty.  It was an enjoyable though, at times, frustrating read.  Where were the quotation marks!?  That in mind, I think I ended up actually enjoying the film version of the book more than the book itself … granted, to ‘enjoy’ The Road is to be a bit of a masochist.  More than ‘enjoyed’, I was riveted by The Road.  It sunk it’s teeth in early and I was glued until the final, teary scene between The Man and The Boy.  Viggo Mortensen is a hell of an actor who pushes and challenges himself with each role and this one is no different.  The Road is bleak as can be, but speaks in themes of hope, loyalty, faithfulness and love in the midst of desolation.

6. District 9!

District 9 provided the kind of movie-going experience I’d happily pay a few extra bucks for for each film I saw.  I knew nothing going into it except having seen the initial teaser trailer so I was ready for whatever it wanted to give me.  What it gave was a thrilling, gritty, fun, unpredictable, grisly new entry into the horror/sci-fi genre that left me on the edge of my seat in a number of scenes and cheering when the credits finally rolled.  From a slam-dunk performance by newcomer Sharlto Copley to effects that rarely showed their strings to an all-around innovative use of the genre-as-mirror convention that sci-fi can be so good at but so rarely is.  In the South Africans’ abuse of the ‘Prawns’ we were jarred into facing our own hypocrisy and racism.  All of this wrapped up in the trappings of xenomorphic, high-technology, alien goo-riddled humans vs. aliens free-for-all that only a great sci-fi flick can deliver.

5.  Up!

Pixar can do no wrong.  I didn’t quite catch Cars-fever and I’m still wrapping my head a bit around Ratatouille, but it still stands that Pixar’s utter, unchallenged domination of not just the animated film genre but film in general continued it’s juggernaut streak this year with Up.  When a film can tell a story using animated characters as emotionally charged and challenging as Up’s first 15 minutes, there’s something very special in the offing.  While it’s talking dogs and giant South American birds temper some of the more grounded elements of the story, it nonetheless enters the pantheon of great Pixar movies that has rolled on unabated for the last decade.  When a Pixar movie comes out, pay attention because you know-SQUIRREL!

4.  (500) Days of Summer!

Again, the rare, yet coveted, didn’t-know-anything-before-going-in moviegoing experience that I so cherish.  This time all I knew were the two leads.  But I knew nothing of just how creative, innovative, heartwarming, heartbreaking, catchy, charming and in some measure, realistic this little un-rom-com was going to be.  Told nonlinearly to maximum effect, this unconventional love story has some of the best scenes of any film this year: the IKEA scene, the “penis” in the park scene, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face during the park bench scene, the dance sequence, the reality/expectations scene.  By now the buzz may have killed some people’s interest in this little gem, but as rarely is the case, this time the buzz is legitimate.  Oh, and I can’t forget perhaps my favorite scene of any film this year, two words: Han Solo.

3.  Inglorious Basterds!

I’m not a Tarantino devotee.  I’m a Tarantino respecter.  I’ve seen almost all of his films, at least all of the ‘important’ ones.  And almost every time, just when I’m ready to swear fealty to the great QT, there’s a scene that totally subverts any attempt I can make to be a cheerleader.  In Reservoir Dogs it’s it’s most famous scene: the interrogation sequence.  In Kill Bill it’s the orderlies conversation over Uma’s comatose body. Basterds did all it could this year to make me a fan.  And save for that whole “Am I supporting the wholesale slaughter of human beings, even Nazi human beings?” question that lingers over the final scene of the film, I still can’t help but feel that Tarantino has made his best film yet.  Not only is it a technical masterpiece but it’s rife with beautiful acting performances.  Christoph Waltz’s villain is one of the most chilling, effective performances in any movie ever.  Yeah, I said it.  The first twenty minutes of this film alone deserve an Oscar.  Again, while I didn’t love everything about this film (Eli Roth’s nepotistic turn as the less-than-imposing Bear Jew, namely), there are still so many moments of utter brilliance that any flaws can be easily forgiven in the face of them.  Inglourious Basterds is not for everyone, but as a movie buff and admirer of Tarantino, this film left me slack-jawed beginning to end.  It is Tarantino’s most fully-realized creation to date.

2. Where the Wild Things Are!

Spike Jonze’s goal of creating a film about childhood versus a children’s film is an important note going into a viewing of Wild Things.  Critics were split about just what they thought of the movie.  All I know is it’s rare to feel like a film can crawl inside your soul and start excavating, but Jonze’s fantastical film world of Sendak’s literary Wild Things does just that as the wild rumpus starts on the screen and burrows it’s way into your heart.  Through the beautifully realized film rendering of the titular Wild Things, we are confronted, like Max, by our own deep selfishness, isolation, apathy, neediness and self-destructive tendencies.  We are an utterly broken people and perhaps the split response by critics may be more indicative of the sense of exposure and vulnerability the film leaves you with than it’s success or failure cinematically.  Because let me tell you, an honest viewing of Where the Wild Things Are will leave you a bit shaken for days after the movie-viewing has passed.  Now if I could just score me a Double ReCracker, all would be right.

1.  Food, Inc.

I hate movies like Food, Inc.  You will, too.  So I’m warning you now, you may not want to watch it.  Within minutes of the film starting I already knew I was in trouble.  I like my ignorance.  It’s, as they say, bliss.  But sometimes I need to force myself to open my eyes, to wake up and see that all is not, in fact, right with the world.  Food, Inc., takes all the nutritional and dietary information you don’t really want to know, but that could very well save your life and those around you, and forces you to wrestle hard with them.  As a Christian, or, moreover, as merely a conscientious human being needing to soberly, rightly and responsibly live well in this increasingly fractured, self-serving world around me, Food, Inc is the kind of wake-up call that will leave you unsure of how to proceed.  But proceed we must.  Knowledge is power and Food, Inc’s goal and subjects of it’s observations take the power that has been subtly and quietly wrested from you and seeks to empower you again to make up your own mind about how and what you eat.  A good documentary educates and entertains, a great documentary arrests and challenges you.  Food, Inc is a great documentary and my number 1 movie for the year.  Eat that.

Honorable mentions:

Coraline
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Avoid at all costs:
Bruno
Wolverine
Terminator: Salvation

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