Best of 2009: Movies

Real bloggers make year-end lists because they get paid per post. I’m doing it because I like to talk.

I’ve tried to keep up with all the new releases this year, but there are still several I keep hearing about but haven’t seen yet. It sounds like The Hangover was a surprise hit, and Up in the Air is getting all kinds of good press, but I’ve seen neither. Even worse, the Coen Brothers and Hayao Miyazaki both released movies that I haven’t seen yet. But of the ones I have seen this year, here are my favorites:

1. Up
I’ve still only seen this once, because the first time had me crying like Glenn Beck within 10 minutes. I already gave the long-winded explanation for why this movie was so excellent, but the short version: it’s the first Pixar movie that’s about a real character, instead of just a familiar story role or a symbol for something else. It’s actually kind of harrowing: if Pixar can take their usual excellence and attention to detail and storytelling, and break completely free of the “family movie” formula, they’ll be unstoppable.

2. Drag Me to Hell
Watching Evil Dead 2 the other night just made me appreciate Drag Me to Hell even more. It’s pure Sam Raimi concentrate, every bit as wacky and over-the-top as the Evil Dead movies, but with some real money and professional polish behind it.

3. In the Loop
Easily the best screenplay of any movie of 2009, and not a weak performance in the entire ensemble cast. (Steve Coogan’s character is the only one that stands out as something of a false note, and that’s just because he’s movie-funny instead of seeming like a real person). I hope this one pulls in a ton of awards so it gets more attention in the US.

4. Inglourious Basterds
This is the movie that should finally shut up Quentin Tarantino’s critics: he knows what he’s doing. His tics and affectations are all here, but they actually work in service of the movie instead of seeming like self-conscious posturing.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Two great things in one: a novel, imaginative, non-pandering animated movie with a distinctive style; and a good Wes Anderson movie.

6. Star Trek
The new Star Trek was a hell of a lot of fun, even if it did seem fun in spite of itself instead of actually earning it. It revitalized the franchise and made Star Trek “cool” again, all without making a lick of sense.

7. District 9
I still haven’t decided whether District 9 is genuinely intelligent or if it’s just putting up a front. But that doesn’t really matter when you’ve got a guy in a mech suit catching a rocket with one hand.

8. Moon
Moon may be style over substance, but that burst of style was really needed. Plus Sam Rockwell’s performance was about perfect.

9. Watchmen
I was sold from the opening credits, but the movie did kind of go straight downhill from there. Still, it was reverent enough to be a solid interpretation of the comic book, but smart enough to realize that the comic book’s ending was bullshit.

10. Sherlock Holmes
I didn’t even like this one all that much, but it still made the top 10 because it was a little bit more interesting than Coraline (which would be number 11).