This year's film class (as opposed to last year) was so viably good I needed to include a 2+ category and thought an extra two films deserved acclaim. Last year I could have done a top five and ended it at that. Not this year. The films were plentiful, full of wonder in some cases. I think film, in the end represents the times in which we live and at their best hold a mirror up to us. These 12 films I think did that best. Other films of interest that I liked are An Education, 500 Days of Summer, the Hangover (hilarious) and Adventureland. But, these are the best.
Precious is a wonderful film. When I heard Oprah and Tyler Perry were producing I sought to avoid it at all costs. But, then I read the reviews and they were good. I saw it and was quite frankly blown away. Gabourney Sidibe gives a remarkable performance and is highly deserving of an Oscar nomination. Mariah Carey also stars in her role as the social worker. The teacher, I think gives the weakest performance. Mo'Nique gives one of the most emotionally charged performances on film I have ever seen. Amazing film.
#11 Crazy Heart
Jeff Bridges gives the performance of a lifetime, in what has been a remarkable career. I don't believe he has any competition for Best Actor this year. It is a great film, though Maggie Gyllenhall aggravated me. I am not sure why. She is usually wonderful on screen. It is a movie of hope, in a pretty hopeless and depressing situation with a completely unsentimental ending.
(Sorry for the terrible trailer for some reason Disney unembedded them). Up is a great film, though so visually beautiful it is hard to focus. Unlike any animated film you have seen. It follows Carl Fredrickson to his dream vacation, one that he has wanted to take for 75 years.
#9 The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Fantastic Mr. Fox was Wes Anderson's latest brain child and he delivers. George Clooney stars as the lead who likes to steal and Jason Schwarzman as Ash, his young overlooked son. The Village Voice summed this film up delightfully, "in the end this film is entirely human." When animation does that you have something special. The Fantastic Mr. Fox steals from some nasty farmers and we root like crazy for them.
This film, Sugar is like bizarro Bull Durham. And it is an entirely American film. We follow Miguel "Sugar" Santos through the travails of the Dominican camps to play in the major leagues. He comes to the states with a rocket for an arm and what he finds here is wholly surprising and the story becomes a story of survival, of immigration, hard work and of what dreams are really made of. Amazing film.
#7 Up in the Air
I loved "Up in the Air." I didn't expect to like so many movies more than this one. But, it is a great film. We watch Clooney and his new employee, Anna Kendrick completely derail everything they know about themselves and their world. Phenomenal performances from everyone involved. But, we watch a highly believable Clooney who has organized his life so as not to get hurt, so as not to have any surprises. But, it falls apart in the hands of Kendrick and then Vera Farmiga. Many surprises along the way wield crises for all involved. It is entirely about our society, what we hold dear, strong, together, organized, when none of us are that way at all. We are a hopeless lot, but we try anyway.
#6 The Messenger
The Messenger is the most provocative film of the year. It was startling to watch. Th emotional trauma of war has never been captured like it has here. Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton give beautiful performances, all worthy of an Oscar. The fact that the Messenger isn't nominated and trash, like the Blind Side tells you everything you need to know about the Oscars.
#5 The Cove
"The Cove" is the rare film that is both brilliant and a social commentary. It acts as a caper, like the Brinks Job, but it is so much more. Because there is also something the viewer can do to stop the inhumane treatment of animals, that also corrodes the food supply and is helping to destroy the planet. The film follows the lead, who was a trainer on the show "Flipper" who is now the premier activist to shut down a Japanese cove known for massacring dolphins. Best documentary of the year.
#4 Sin Nombre
I didn't think I would see a better film this year when I saw this in early 2009. It is both terrifying and heartbreaking. A young Honduran girl travels a trail of horror to attempt emigration to the United States through the Mexican/Texas border. What she has to do to get there is chilling. It is a story of beauty and the triumph of the human spirit.
#3 The Hurt Locker
This is the best American film of the year (only trailer I could find). Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackey give startling performances. Technically difficult, a great script and Katherine Bigelow's direction is astonishing. Like the great "Stop Loss" and "the Messenger" it is provocative and it feels as if we are there with them. An uncanny piece of filmmaking.
#2 White Ribbon
This masterwork may be the most memorable of all films of 2009. It won the palm d'or at Cannes last year. It is about a German village just before the onset of World War I. It has been misconstrued as a film about German fascism. What it actually is about is terrorism and our treatment of people who have no recourse, but to resort to their own savagery to survive. Haneke has made many a provocative film, Cache comes to mind, but none like this one. He pushes the envelope and never lets on exactly what is happening leaving the viewer to imagine their own secrets. This film is scarier than any horror film I have ever seen. Wonderfully acted and directed. Wow.
#1 Fish Tank
This film actually came in 2nd at Cannes to "White Ribbon." I think it is better, however. It is like "Precious" in that it exposes horrendous childhood trauma and like "An Education" with an older man in the mix, but it goes far deeper than both films, exposing a raw emotional charge rarely seen on film. Newcomer Katie Jarvis gives a performance 30 year veterans wish they gave. Nothing about this film is predictable and it left me searing afterwards unable to leave the conjured images of children as unwanted victims in a world gone mad.
Best Actor - Jeff Bridges
Best Actress - Carey Mulligan
Supporting Actor - Woody Harrelson (I haven't seen inglorious basterds)
Supporting Actress - Mo'nique
Director - Katherine Bigelow
Screenplay - The Hurt Locker
Adapted screenplay - Up in the Air
Song - The weary Kind
Film - The Hurt Locker
Prediction: Sandra Bullock wins. They will give her an Oscar for giving an ok performance in what has been a disastrous career. That is how they roll.