As you all know, I am a pretty avid moviegoer, heading to the theatre as often as I can afford to. I saw lots of movies this year, and I couldn't help but notice a theme: there seemed to be a lack of quality films this year. I would often find there would be a month or even more before a film came out that I actually wanted to see. The thing was, the few good films that came out, were very good. As in, shape the decade, change the course of film history good.
So, I bring to you my second annual best and worst films list. I've compiled the top 10 best films and the top 5 worst films, because I tend to stay away from films that I think will be bad. As an added bonus, I have added an honorable mention to each category, because it's hard to narrow it down to so few! I must explain that this is not a true top 10 list because I did not see the majority of films that were released, I simply saw the movies I wanted to see. This is the best and worst films of the ones I saw in theatres. This also disqualifies any films I would have seen later on DVD- if it wasn't good enough to see originally in theatres, it isn't good enough to make this list.
Please note that some of these movies technically were released in December 2008, but were wide-released in January 2009- when I saw them- thus making them eligible for this list.
As usual, I would love to see comments on this post. Do you agree or disagree? Any glaring omissions? I want to know what my readers think.
10. Inglourious Basterds
An unusual film even for Quentin Tarantino, this crazy WWII flick is extremely long and talky, but manages to suck you in anyway and there is never a dull moment. At some parts, the suspense is almost unbearable. Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, and Melanie Laurent are all extremely good, and the film builds to an unbelievable climax where all hell breaks loose. Actually more accessible than Tarantino's earlier films, although still doesn't appeal to every taste. A rare dark comedy from the master of current grindhouse cinema. My favorite scene? The opening with Colonel Landa questioning a farmer. Watch with a glass of milk.
Just as funny as its predecessor Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen proves he's one of a kind with the most hilarious movie of the year. Sure to infuriate and disgust anyone who doesn't know what they're getting into, this movie tried to be relevant but instead was just incredibly side-splitting with its frantic five-jokes-a-second pace. The world needs more entertainers like Baron Cohen, who are willing to give themselves entirely to a role, even for comedy. My personal favorite gag- when Bruno rushes into the focus group who have just condemned his show and dances for them.
8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
This could have easily just been part 6 of a long-running franchise, but instead was a chilling, funny, and emotionally driven film that focuses on the characters, not the special effects. Secrets come out, romances start up, and one of the most famous betrayals in modern literature make this one of the best installments in the series. Leaves the viewer thirsty for the Deathly Hallows.
Pixar's latest gem appeals more to the younger crowd than usual, but there is still plenty to love for the adults. The animation is the best in the world, but that's only where the praise starts. It has humor, heart, thrills, and is oh-so-cute. The dimwitted talking dog Dug is my favorite character. Keep up the good work, fellas.
James Cameron roars back to the screen with this amazing sci-fi epic. The story itself may be old news (Dances With Wolves, anyone?) but it's still unusually strong for a movie that has such amazing special effects- simply the biggest and best ever put on celluloid. The neon colors of the alien planet and the creatures look just as real as the humans they interact with. The movie event of the year is luckily, one of the best of the year, and made 3-D a must-see format.
5. Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood merges his old badass persona with his new sentimental side in this extraordinary film about a racist old man surrounded by Hmong people. After the teenager next door unsuccessfully tries to steal his car, he works for the old man and he eventually comes to respect these people. Like the best formula films, you forget you're watching a formula film and go with it, because it's all plausible. Also, the humor is surprisingly sharp and biting, elevating the film above simply your typical feel-good movie.
4. Paranormal Activity
A tiny movie with only a handful of actors and no crew- just the director- filmed entirely in the guy's house for just $11,000 became a national phenomenon, and one of the scariest movies ever made. What else is there to say? Only that it leaves you physically shaken. Don't see this one alone!
3. Up in the Air
A fairly new release, but this is the time when some of the best movies of the year come out. George Clooney leads an outstanding cast in a film about our sad economic times. It's depressing, relevant, and incredibly funny. Anna Kendrick shines as a young co-worker who goes on the road with Clooney. Jason Reitman's best film yet, this is a front-runner to win the Best Picture Oscar, and deservedly so.
2. The Hurt Locker
It pains me that more people haven't seen this movie. Despite being one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, this failed to get a wide release this summer, despite it being a big crowd pleaser. The story of an adrenaline junkie defusing bombs in Iraq is seriously one of the best war movies ever made, because it actually imitates war. The film is mostly waiting around for something to happen, with the battle scenes coming at you quickly and without warning. Injected with a very welcome sense of humor, the relatively unknown cast should become stars soon. This is the kind of film that benefits from positive word of mouth, so tell people about it!
An unusual choice for the best film of the year, I know, but have you seen this thing? The reboot completely redefines what Star Trek can be, with a fast-paced, non-stop thrill ride with eye-popping special effects, breathless action sequences, and real emotion in a complex storyline. The legendary characters are all redefined for a new generation of fans, and the entire cast is perfect. J.J. Abrams was the best possible choice for this reboot, and it's not just his future that looks bright after this movie. Kudos also goes to getting Leonard Nimoy to play Spock again, which united the old and young fans of the world. This got people who had never given the franchise a second thought to go back and look at the old TV episodes and movies, and look forward to the future of this epic franchise. Abrams has finally succeeded in making Trek cool.
Honorable Mention- Zombieland
The year's only zombie comedy- can you believe it?- succeeds at making you look at this genre from a new angle, and making you realize how silly it all is. The cast is hilarious, but Woody Harrelson shines as the gung-ho hick on the hunt not just for the undead, but for the world's last Twinkie. Succeeds at not only making you laugh, but also has some legitimate scares embedded within.
5. Year One
Jack Black continues to hog the screen in this inept film about stoner guys placed in caveman times. Black is so loud and proud that Michael Cera seems more like an afterthought than the other lead. Offers a few laughs here and there, but the trailer gives most of them away. The typical raunchiness doesn't help.
4. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The most expensive movie made by children this year. Michael Bay simply rearranges the first film to make this sequel, which is all over the place. Far too often resorts to silliness and bad jokes, in an attempt to ignore the way-too-damn-complicated plot. Luckily the action sequences are good, because little else is. Why is Megan Fox back? Other than her porn-star looks, she offers nothing to the film.
3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
A completely pointless prequel that's dull, even during its exciting parts. Full of colorful characters from the comic books, but the film makes it abundantly clear that the only characters that matter are Wolverine and his brother Victor, the two most boring characters in the whole thing. This film started the summer off with a whimper instead of a bang, and if you ask me, never should have been made.
2. Observe and Report
Seth Rogen as a mall security guard trying to catch a flasher. Sounds like a good enough premise for a comedy. This film disappointed in every regard, making the jokes repetitive and just unfunny. Rogen, usually such a likeable guy, is just a brute here, and insane at that. He's the film's hero that no one is rooting for. Who read the script and thought this was funny?
The only movie this year that I paid for and walked out of. This film promised a nostalgic- and slightly crude- comedy about first jobs and first loves from the director of Superbad. Instead we got a huge downer of a movie that is just unpleasant to watch. Jesse Eisenberg plays the typical insecure, geeky virgin, so naturally, all the girls are all over him. Kristen Stewart is a bore, and Ryan Reynolds has no apparent reason for being in this movie. Eventually breaks down and lets the characters' lives all fall apart, and makes them all miserable. The jokes, of which there are not many, are all unfunny. Oh, and it's set in the 80's for no other reason than to be able to say it's set in the 80's. Absolutely the worst movie of the year, without question.
(Dis)Honorable Mention- Defiance
Last winter brought an unusual amount of Holocaust movies, some good, some not so good. This one looked good, but was ultimately disappointing. What it had in it were good- a real-seeming performance from Daniel Craig, some good action sequences- but it lacked a lot of stuff, including background information on the main characters, and anything new about the time period. Mildly entertaining, but the whole movie seemed to lack a point.
Well, those are my thoughts on the films of 2009. Thanks for reading all this year. Don't forget to comment!
*Full disclosure: Because I walked out of the movie before it ended, I never wrote an actual review of it. I felt it would be unfair to review a film I had not seen in its entirety. But, I believe that since I spent money on it- money which I did not get back, it's more than eligible for this list.