A new decade begins on a high note as we look back at an exceptional year in film. 3D and the IMAX format have finally taken hold. What was once gimmickry and the sole realm of documentaries are now exciting cinematic experiences for audiences of all ages. Leading the charge was James Cameron's visionary Avatar. The long awaited science fiction epic surpassed considerable expectations with its breathtaking special effects and scope. But while the colossus reins supreme, smaller films like Lee Daniels Precious and Jason Reitman's Up in the Air resonated with their captivating performances. I am optimistic for 2010, but wonder where the hell are the flying cars and hover boards?
Top Ten Films of 2009
There are not enough superlatives to describe this film. Writer/Director James Cameron has once again taken us to a new frontier. Jake Sully's (Sam Worthington) odyssey on Pandora is akin to Dances with Wolves in space. This 3D, motion capture masterpiece will have you glued to the screen for its entire two hour and forty-five minute runtime. The experience is dazzling, like staring through a window pane into an exotic world, but the story - despite the naysayers - is equally great. Cameron's archetypal battle between greed, exploitation, respect, and love is classic lore. Avatar is hands down the best film of the year and a benchmark achievement in film.
Hits you like an emotional sucker punch. Raw and brutal, Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) overcomes rape, incest, poverty, illiteracy and the subjugations of a wicked mother (Mo'Nique). Her journey is difficult to watch, but so profound, the film lingers in your thoughts for days. Long established as a raucous comedienne, Mo'Nique delivers the greatest acting performance of the year and will sweep all supporting actress awards.
George Clooney has his career best performance as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing consultant who relishes life on the road. His goal to rack up ten million frequent flyer miles is thrown for a curve by an upstart assistant (Anna Kendricks) and an unexpected kindred spirit (Vera Farmiga). Up in the Air is another fantastic film from Writer/Director Jason Reitman. Say what you will about Hollywood nepotism, but Ivan Reitman's progeny is approaching greatness. Juno and Thank You for Smoking were very good, but Up in the Air is a brilliant comedy; especially pertinent in these dark economic times.
Every year the geniuses at Pixar are in my top ten and they continue their streak. Up is the most serious animated film from Disney to date. I blinked in disbelief as crotchety Carl (Ed Asner) bloodies a man with his cane, and reminisces about the miscarriage his beloved wife endured as they longed to have children. But the sadness is washed away as Carl and Russel's (Jordan Nagai) balloon adventure changes their lives for the better. Bring a hankie and leave with a smile.
#5 Star Trek
J.J. Abrams Star Trek redux was a hit with Trekkies and neophytes alike. Superbly acted, action packed, and loaded with surprises, Abrams put a shot of adrenaline into a great franchise that was on the verge of becoming obsolete. Credit the excellent character work of Chris Pine (James T. Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), and Eric Bana (Nero). I can't wait for the sequel, but it'll have to be damned good to surpass this one.
Hey America, guess what? We're still fighting two massive wars in the Middle East, and our soldiers are still getting blown to bits by IEDs (improvised explosive devices aka roadside bombs). Director Kathryn Bigelow hammers in the dangers of combat in this unflinching look at a unit tasked with bomb disposal in Iraq.
Morgan Freeman's inspired performance as Nelson Mandela will probably win him the Best Actor Oscar. Clint Eastwood's tale of how Mandela used rugby to unite South Africa is the most uplifting film of the year. Matt Damon is also good as Francois Pienaar, the quiet rugby captain motivated by Mandela's personal appeal.
Writer/Director Duncan Jones has the most creative debut film of 2009. Set in the near future, a lone worker (Sam Rockwell) at a lunar energy complex discovers a clone and begins to question his very existence. Rockwell is terrific in both the lead and supporting roles. Moon has more bang for its budget than any indie film this year. Duncan Jones has a bright future ahead.
#9 The Road
Cormac McCarthy's novel of a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son's (Kodi Smit-McPhee) struggle to survive the apocalypse is expertly adapted by Director John Hillcoat. The bleakest film in recent memory, The Road is a fierce testament to the depths one will go to protect their child.
#10 Red Cliff
Hong Kong action guru John Woo returns to Asian cinema with this riveting war epic. Set in the final days of the Han Dynasty, General Zhou (Tony Leung) leads a fledgling last stand against a monstrous army to decide the fate of China. Beautifully shot, choreographed, and acted, Red Cliff is the first collaboration between Woo and Leung since their action masterpiece, Hard Boiled.
The Worst Film of 2009
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Director Michael Bay has raped and sodomized my childhood. All spectacle and zero substance, Bay has turned the coolest cartoon of the eighties into a racist, sexist, and brainless piece of cinematic swill. The first film was borderline, but this sequel takes dreadful to new levels. I am stupefied that Spielberg and Paramount allowed this crass garbage to be released. It's the worst film of 2009, a shining beacon of how product marketing and talentless hacks can bastardize even the best source material.
James Cameron - Avatar
George Clooney - Up in the Air
Gabourey Sidibe - Precious
Sam Rockwell - Moon
Mo'Nique - Precious
Bob Peterson - Up
Daniel Mindel - Star Trek
James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivkin - Avatar
Michael Giacchino - Star Trek
WETA Digital & ILM - Avatar
Sacha Gervasi - Anvil! The Story of Anvil
Pete Docter and Bob Peterson - Up