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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

top 10 movies of 2009: the whys and wherefores

If you regularly check my on-the-fly ranking of new theatrical releases as I see them, then my top 10 movies of 2009 are no surprise: I shuffled a few titles around a bit last month, but the films ranked in the top 10 for 2009 haven’t changed much in months. (The 2009 ranking is here; I may add a few more titles to the ranking over the next few weeks as I catch up with a few final films, and hopefully none of them will blow my mind so much that I’ll wish I could redo the top 10. I’m not expecting that to happen, but you never know. The 2010 ranking is already underway here.)

After the jump, some words of explanation, beyond my reviews, on why each film is one of the best of the year.
10. The Brothers Bloom
All con movies are about conning the audience, too, but Rian Johnson’s delightful example of the genre makes us realize that all storytelling — including movies — are cons we willingly give ourselves over to in the full expectation that we will be tricked… and that we’ll love it. Plus: It features two of the most uniquely intriguing women on film this year in Rachel Weisz’s naif and Rinko Kikuchi’s silent explosives expert.

9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson took a charming children’s book and spun it into a wildly inventive rumination on committment — to loved ones, to community, and to oneself — couched in the most enchantingly stylish animation of the year. Plus: This could be George Clooney’s best performance of the year.

8. Inglourious Basterds
From his insanely brilliant extrapolation of ultimate revenge to his reminders of what it is that makes movies so addictive, Quentin Tarantino pulls off an unlikely combination: an ultraviolent movie that ends up indicting our bloodlust… unless we limit it to the fantasyland of the multiplex. Plus: Christoph Waltz’s Colonel Landa is the Evilest Nazi Ever.

7. Up
Pete Docter and Bob Peterson took Pixar to a lofty new realm with this bouyant tale of dreams deferred finally chased, and realized. The bittersweetness of its regrets is forgotten in its optimism and cheerfulness, which made it the perfect distraction for hard times. Plus: Oh, that talking dog!

6. Bright Star
As poetic as cinema gets, this beautiful film romances love itself, by sharing with us the passion it inspires. Jane Campion is wise indeed, prompting us to remember that sex and love are not necessarily the same thing — this is as chaste, and as hot, as filmic romance gets — and that the past was inhabited by people as alive as we are. Plus: Abbie Cornish *sigh*…

5. A Serious Man
The Coen Brothers reinvent cinema for the next decade with this unclassifiable dramedy that wraps up modern angst with ancient religion to come to the conclusion that we’re on our own, life sucks, and ain’t it wonderful? Plus: Tornado?

4. The Soloist
Why is the world so screwed up, and what can we do to fix it? Distressingly, suggests Joe Wright, there may be nothing at all we can do… except to reconsider our notions of “broken” and “fixed,” even of “natural” and “unnatural.” And all in a film that defies clichéd notions of race and class, too! Plus: Here’s the other great performance this year by Robert Downey Jr.

3. The Road
John Hillcoat shakes up the postapocalyptic genre by dispensing with everything that makes it “enjoyable,” leaving us with gray despair and little else. How do you make a purposeful film about pointlessness and hopelessness? Like this. Plus: If Viggo Mortensen winnows himself down to an intensity any denser, he’s gonna collapse into a black hole.

2. District 9
South African Neill Blomkamp combined his love of Hollywood fare with his outsider perspective to remind us that freshness can be found in familiar stories. And he struck a blow against Hollywood’s obsession with The Movie Star by casting his pal, filmmaker and FX expert Sharlto Copley, in the lead; gave Copley his head; and let the nonactor demonstrate how badly creativity and imagination and craft have slid away from lazy celebs letting their faces and their fame do their jobs. Plus: How nice to see a first-contact story that was neither about invasion nor set in New York or Los Angeles.

1. The Hurt Locker
While her male collegeaues with similar track records get A-list treatment and megabudgets from the studios, Kathryn Bigelow was forced to produce this knowing ode to male testosterone outside Hollywood, on the cheap with money raised the hard way. And she blew them away — or up! — with a story both intimate in its scope and broad in its thesis (ie, war will never end as long as there are men who get off on it). Plus: Jeremy Renner’s performance is a starmaker.



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year in review
  • doa766

    nice list but I disagree on some of the choices

    I think District 9 is overrated, it has all the elements that would make it a great sci fi and cult favorite so we’re inclined to love it automatically but it clearly looses steam about 2 thirds of the way, the narrative stops and the last portion is all action, and it’s not particularly exciting action, still very good movie but not great

    the soloist was OK, nothing special, we’ve seen that story many times before and better (Shine for example)

    I just didn´t like the brothers bloom, the cons were lame and unimaginative, and the ending was all wrong

    also the list seems a little mainstream and american, you could’ve replace those three with stuff like Bronson, Mother, Thirst, Moon or The Good, The Bad and The Weird

    and of course Star Trek, Watchmen and Avatar

  • Jackie

    Rachel Weisz was gave a great performance in “The Brothers Bloom” its ca crime that she was not considered for award consiteration.

  • MaryAnn

    you could’ve replace those three with stuff like Bronson, Mother, Thirst, Moon or The Good, The Bad and The Weird

    Most of those I didn’t even see. So how could I have placed them on my list at all? :->

  • doa766

    I was pretty sure that you didn’t see them, what I was criticizing is that I find it a little presumptuous to list the best movies of 2009 without considering that there might be other non famous masterpieces released that year

    but nevermind, it’s just something that really pisses me off but it happens all the time, just like when Rolling Stone makes lists of the best guitar players and they only include famous ones, as if the level of popularity had anything to do with quality

    it’s fine if you don’t know about the brilliant guitar player of some little known norwegian rock band but don’t assume you can make a list of the best one if you don’t

    the same way there’s nothing wrong with not seeing the latest movies from the directors of Oldboy and The Host but don’t assume you can say what it’s best of the year if you don’t

    maybe you should really make a note of saying the “best of what I saw” on the title, you might think it’s implied but most people mistakenly take for granted that critics see everything that it’s worth seeing every year

  • Dart

    Oldboy sucked.

  • Spencer

    the soloist was OK, nothing special, we’ve seen that story many times before and better (Shine for example)

    Cannot disagree more, doa766. As someone who’s spent over 5 years in the mental health field, Hollywood never EVER gets mental illness right (A Beautiful Mind set the collective consciousness back at least a decade). This is the first movie that steps into the ballpark of doing that. The plot is a trope, I grant you: “handicapped” (in a broad sense) person challenges our notions of the word. But what good is it to challenge our notions with an equally mistaken notion? The performances and the artistic portrayal have never been more real in a mainstream movie. And THAT is what makes The Soloist transcend the plot and be put in the “unmissable” category.

  • MaryAnn

    maybe you should really make a note of saying the “best of what I saw” on the title, you might think it’s implied but most people mistakenly take for granted that critics see everything that it’s worth seeing every year

    Wait. So, you’re suggesting that the only way I — or any critic — can honestly say what movies are worth seeing in a single year is to see *all* of them, every single one, before publicly offering a best-of list?

    Do you know how many movies were released in 2009? Almost 1,200 [http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/index2009.php]. I don’t know any professional critic who could see all those movies. I saw 216 of the films released theatrically for the first time in NYC in 2009. That’s, I think, on a par with what most professional critics see.

    I wish I could see more movies. I really do. I’m open to any suggestions as to how I can make that happen.

    Till then, I think it’s implied that my list is “the best of what I saw, and I saw quite a bit, certainly more than most people, but still not every movie released this year, which would be impossible.”

  • MaryAnn

    Also, the list of those films I did see is publicly available, so it’s easy for anyone to make a determination, based on that, that I’m being unfair or talking out of my ass or whatever.

    How much more transparent can I be? Honestly. Please tell me.

  • CB

    I wish I could see more movies. I really do. I’m open to any suggestions as to how I can make that happen.

    Does it really have to be spelled out? Well fine. Captain Obvious to the rescue:

    1) Be extremely wealthy in a way that requires no work, e.g. an heiress.
    2) Stop wasting time reviewing the movies or writing a blog.
    3) Spend all your time watching movies since you don’t need to do anything else.

    There you go, in three simple steps. Two, really, since step three is Mission Accomplished!

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