Thursday, March 11, 2010

The 10 Best Films of 2009 - Part 1

It occurs to me that I didn't post my top ten films of the year in January like I planned to. I'm sure that my opinion doesn't mean all that much to you, but if a blog isn't an exercise in vanity, I'm not sure what is, so you'll all have to suffer my pontificating.


10 - Star Trek
You can go back and read my posts to see how much antipathy I had for the Trek franchise before this film. But as we saw more and more of the film in the lead up to release, the more excited I got. Finally, when I saw it, I wasn't at all disappointed. In fact, I was blown away at how skillfully the film makers managed to create a brand new direction for Star Trek while still honoring what came before and retaining its familiar qualities. The film was well-cast and exceptionally shot (even if the lens flares became a little distracting). It had style and panache, a quality which many recent adventure films have been sorely lacking. It was certainly the most enjoyable, nakedly fun thrill ride of the year.

9 - Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino may be the boldest and brashest of American film makers working today. Still often unfairly criticized by some as nothing more than a mash-up artist, those detractors miss the pure cinematic joy that fills every frame of his films. Put simply, the guy has celluloid in his blood. Like Scorsese before him, he lives film, but unlike Scorsese, he seems to have more of a soft spot for the grimier aspects of film history. So what he does is create films that seem to be pop entertainments; mere pastiche. But what they actually are are exercises in applying the depth of a master film maker to styles that never had that kind of attention focused on them before. With this film, he takes the "men on a mission" film as a starting point, and then lets whatever mood that hits him dictate where the story goes. It is equal parts foreign film, war film, spectacle, comedy, thriller, and brutally indulgent wish fulfillment. In short, it's brilliant.

8 - A Serious Man

After winning critical and popular acclaim with No Country for Old Men, the Coen Brothers dug deep and came up with this strange little film, a modern and challenging interpretation of the biblical story of Job. In this version, the Job character must suffer through a litany of humiliations and hardships while he struggles to maintain his principles. And, although this is a strangely heightened world, it does reflect one of the great struggles of the modern human being; how do we retain any sort of higher moral behaviour in world that seems to continually lower its standards? Michael Stuhlbarg is fantastic throughout, evoking sympathy while simultaneously playing a man who watches every aspect of his life fail him.

7 - Avatar

There's no denying that, like Titanic before it, Avatar has changed films forever. The completeness in how it depicts a totally alien world and society is achieved in a way that dazzles the eye and boggles the mind. Much criticism has been made of the unoriginality of the story, and it's fair for the most part, but it's a story that has powerful archetypes rooted deep in the viewer and that's why it works so well. Sometimes, critics often forget that audiences don't always want the bold and innovative; sometimes they want the equivalent of comfort food. Avatar is an almost perfect example of that. It's a film that is clearly a labour of love for director James Cameron, and its use of technology is certainly bold and beautiful, but its story is a classic tale, and that's what gives it its resonance with so many.

6 - (500) Days of Summer

A lot of reviewers talked about the similarities this film has to Annie Hall. There's the love story elements, the stylistic innovations in storytelling, the neuroses of the main characters. But while Annie Hall told the story of a love that wound up being unsuccessful, (500) Days of Summer is much more about how certain relationships can be uneven from the start, and how they wind up being important not necessarily because of the love involved, but because of what that relationship teaches us about ourselves. It's about that milestone relationship that is in everyone's past; the one that teaches us how to be in a relationship, and how to leave behind the silly expectations that society has filled us with and create a realistic idea of what love is.

Back soon with the final five!

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