Top Ten Movies of 2009

10) “I Love You, Man”


One of the year’s best on-screen romances took place between two straight men. Yep. You read that right.
Apatow regular Paul Rudd plays “Peter Klaven,” a likable real estate salesman who just got engaged to his girlfriend Zooey Rice (played by Rashida Jones of Parks & Recreations fame). Everything is going good for Peter except for one small detail: he doesn’t have anyone to be his Best Man.
For most of his life Peter has been more of a “girlfriend guy,” who spends all of his time going from one relationship to the next, so much so that he never really bothered to make any male friends. The only male friends he has are the guys in his fencing class, and even they don’t really consider him to be “one of the guys.”
This is where the movie endears itself to me. The director and writer could have simply played Peter as a loser who tries to make guy friends, throwing in stupid dick jokes and crass sexual references. But instead of making Peter a caricature, they make him real, and Paul Rudd has never seemed so genuine to me before, and I find it refreshing. He cares about his character and makes him real, with Peter’s uncertainties about the nuances of male-bonding (with all of the bravado and silliness and brotherly affection that it entails).
It’s painful to watch Peter try so hard to make guy friends, and that makes it all the more fun to watch. You laugh as you realize just how ridiculous making friends can be at times. All this changes when he finally meets the right guy, “Sydney Fife,” played by the always-lovable Jason Segel. Sydney is a relaxed, self-confident guy who drives a Vespa scooter. Pretty much the exact opposite of Peter’s uptight character, who is forever trying his best to make sure that everyone around him is happy, no matter what.
Peter and Sydney meet at one of Peter’s open houses, where Sydney shows up to meet rich widows, naturally. The two of them hit it off and they exchange phone numbers. The next day Peter calls Sydney and leaves one of the most awkward phone messages I have ever seen on film, which had me laughing so hard I actually became light-headed for a second or two. Despite Peter’s obvious awkwardness around males Sydney calls him back and the two of them go out to dinner (a “man date”), where they bond over their love of the band Rush.
As the movie progresses something magical happens that rarely happens in “comedies”: you watch a character grow and develop. It’s fun and satisfying to watch Peter become his own man, independent from the “boyfriend” role that he spent most of his life perfecting. He loosens up and lets his guard down around Sydney in a way that he has never done before. The more he lets Sydney into his life, the more confidence Peter has, knowing that he finally has a guy friend who is there for him.
Sure, there are some dicks jokes, including a vastly inappropriate toast that Sydney gives at dinner in front of Peter and Zooey’s entire family, but at it’s heart, “I Love You, Man” is the tale of friendship, and that is something that we can all relate to.

9) “Public Enemies”

Guns fire. Glass breaks. People scream in panic. That’s right, this is a good old-fashioned bank robbery, and it’s pulled off with such style and grace that it took my breath away.
Michael Mann directs this finely honed historical biopic about the famed bank robber John Dillinger, played by Johnny Depp, who relishes the opportunity to play a genuine badass, something that he rarely gets to do. There were scenes where Depp’s mere grimace before a battle gave me chills, hinting at the violence that this man was capable of.
The film is set during the Great Depression and chronicles the efforts of FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (played with steel-eyed intensity by Christian Bale, who I haven’t seen crack a smile in quite some time, now that I think about it) on his hunt to track down the criminals Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, and “Pretty Boy” Floyd on their bank robbing spree across the nation.
Dillinger is portrayed as a sort of modern day Robin Hood, in so much as he only steals from banks, not average Americans. There is a scene during one of the bank robberies where a terrified bank employee takes out his wallet and offers it to Dillinger, but Dillinger refuses to take it.
It’s obvious that both Mann and Depp love the character and the legend of Dillinger, and it is with care and affection that the character of Dillinger is played. Plus, it seems that both Mann and Depp had such a great time painting the portrait of a criminal legend that it’s hard not to smile at their enjoyment of the medium. The bank robbing scenes, while breathtakingly beautiful, are also full of such kinetic energy that was so infectious that the first thing I wanted to do when I left the theater was put on a suit, grab a tommy gun, and rob a bank! Luckily for me, that notion soon faded.
Also, it is worth noting that “Public Enemies” had one of this year’s best unintentionally hilarious scenes (for me at least, being somewhat of a nerd). There is a scene where Bale’s character chases a criminal played by Chris Pine (“Kirk” in Star Trek) through the forest, finally killing him with his rifle, after Pine’s character refuses to stop. “Oh my God,” I thought, “Batman just killed Captain Kirk!” Hahaha!… Like I said, it was really only funny to me and a select few.

8 ) “A Serious Man”

This movie starts with a Yiddish folk tale, and ends with a tornado. I’m serious.
One of 2009’s strangest films came to us from the minds of two of the most unique minds in film today: Joel and Ethan Coen.
The Coen brothers finally delve into their Jewish heritage in this dark comedy, staring theater veteran Michael Stuhlbarg as “Larry Gopnik”, a middle-class Jewish professor trying to find meaning and balance in his life. He wife is threatening to leave him for another man, and his kid (who reminds me of the young Seth Green, back in his “Radio Days” years) views him with disregard. The only person who seems to have any respect for him at all is his mentally unstable brother (played by Richard Kind, of “Spin City” fame, who is perfectly cast for the role, given his penchant for playing neurotic and perpetually insecure characters).
Most of the humor comes from the fact that Larry’s life is completely falling apart and he seems to be almost laughably unable to do anything about it. He is perpetually visiting various rabbis around town for their insight on his fucked up situation, but they seem as baffled as he is by his predicament. He’s been a good, upright Jew for all of his adult life, why are bad things happening to him? Nobody seems to know.
The moral of the movie seems to be this: Shit happens, deal with it. It’s how you react to obstacles in life that defines you, not the obstacles themselves.

7) “Avatar”

What hasn’t been said about this movie? Hmmmmmm……
It is the second highest grossing movie of all time. Holy shit. It was full of eye-popping special effects. Check. 3-D is back in style now. Nice!
Oh yeah, and it made me feel like a little kid watching “Star Wars” for the first time. It brought me to a strange world, full of wonder and excitement and I walked out of the theater as if in a trance. Sheer movie-making magic.

6) “Where The Wild Things Are”

One of the most hotly debated movies of the year didn’t involve politics, murder, or sex; it involved our childhood imaginations.
Maurice Sendak’s classic picture book was originally printed in 1963, and has been a favorite of children across the world for generations. I vividly remember my mother reading it to me as a child, and being completely entranced by the world that Sendak created.
The danger of adapting such a classic children’s book is that you run the risk of tarnishing people’s memories of the tale. Everyone remembers the book differently. Our imaginations are subjective beasts, it is true. The hurdle the film had to jump through was a re-telling of a classic story vs. people’s memories of a classic story. There are bound to be differences in the tale, things lost or added in transition from book to film, and it was how people reacted to these differences that made the film so controversial.
Spike Jonze created a film that was at once both instantly recognizable to fans of the source material, and a unique creation of his own, which seemed to anger a lot of people. How dare he change the story at all, people seemed to think. Who does he think he is?
I am a firm supporter of the film. I found it to be both heartbreaking and touching and imaginative and unique and familiar, all at the same time! It was a tale of childhood innocence and imagination, with all of the intense emotions that threaten to consume us at that tender age. One minute you are happy and playing, and then something upsets your world and you are in tears, full of rage at the fact that you don’t have much control over your life. When you are young, Parents rule your universe, and there is not much you can do about it. People seem to forget how powerless we were back then. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing, it’s just that it’s something that seems to fade for our memory as we grow older and more independent.
Children’s most powerful tool for escaping the harshness of reality was simple: We used our imagination. We would simply close our eyes and viola!, we’re captain of a pirate ships, or kings of England. The sky was the limit to what we could imagine and do. That was the essence of “Where The Wild Things Are:” Imagination is a beautiful thing!
I feel that the film captured the essence of the book quite well. The movie brought us into the imaginary world of “Max,” the hero of the story, and didn’t let go. For 101 minutes we were a part of Max’s world, with all of the emotional ups and downs of childhood. It was moving. I will never forget this film. Ever.
I was filled with emotion as the movie brought me back to my childhood state of constant wonder and awe and raw emotion. By the end of the film I was in tears as Max finally left his imaginary world for the “real” world. I yearned to go, every part of me aching for the freedom that imagination brings. Then the lights of the theater came on and just like that you’re faced with reality again, with all of its responsibilities. I think we forget how good we had it when we were young. This movie reminded me and I will be eternally grateful to Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers for reminding me of how chaotic and wonderful childhood can be.

5) “Inglorious Basterds”

“Revenge is a dish best served cold,” the old saying goes. And self-described film junkie Quentin Tarantino does this in spades with WWII revenge-fantasy “Inglorious Basterds,” which tells the tale of a bunch of Jewish guerilla warriors whose very name strikes terror into the hearts of those no-good, dirty rotten Nazi bastards! Fuck those guys! Bam! Bang! Take that, you Nazi pigs!!! Hehe. This movie was so much fun to watch that even thinking about the movie makes me smile.
“Basterds” showcases Tarantino doing what he does best: writing amazing dialogue and directing wild, over the top, ridiculously violent scenes of bloodshed and mayhem. It’s obvious that he really enjoyed himself making this movie, and it’s an enjoyment that is completely contagious. The film takes us into a world where fortune favors the bold. It helps if that bold person in question is heavily armed to the teeth and looking for a fight, of course. Or Brad Pitt.
Speaking of that handsome bastard, Brad Pitt is fantastic in this film! Man oh man! He plays Lt. Aldo Raine (aka “Aldo the Apache,” but the film never really goes into how he got this nickname, leaving the viewer to make up their own backstory for this all-American badass), leader of the Basterds, the elite team of Nazi killing Jews who spend most of the film kicking ass and taking names. And when I say “taking names,” I mean scalping Nazis. Yep. Scalping Nazis. Because, according to Raine, “Nazi ain’t got no humanity!”
Whatever you say, Quentin. The genius of this film is that it’s so obviously over the top/revisionist history that there is no way that you can really accuse the guy of being anti-German. He is simply lovingly parodying American WWII films, with their unapologetic “all Germans are evil and must be destroyed” sentiments. It’s pure popcorn cinema, the kind of stuff that Tarantino has been perfecting since “Reservoir Dogs,” and recently brought to life with the “Kill Bill” movies, another revenge fantasy brought to life, with all of the glorious violence that Tarantino is known and loved for.
The stand out performance in the film (which is saying something, because this flick is full of stand out performances) goes to theater veteran Christoph Waltz as SS Colonel Hans Landa, the film’s main baddie, who first appears in the movies first scene, in which he forces a farmer to give up another farming family whose only crime is that fact that they were born Jewish. It’s the most intense and squirm worthy scene all year. You yearn for the family to make it out alive, but you know that there is no way that this Nazi bastard is going to let that happen. Waltz fills Landa with such menace seething under the surface of the cool, calculating eyes that the mere sight of his creepy, maniacal grin later on throughout the film is enough to give me chills. I know what this guy is capable of and I fear for whomever it is that is unfortunate enough to be his next victim. This guy haunts me. It’s one of the most memorable villains this side of Darth Vader and for that I vote we give the guy an Oscar, which is pretty much the only major acting award that he hasn’t received for the role yet. It’s good stuff. Watch this movie, you won’t regret it.

4) “Up”

Pixar can do no wrong, it seems. Every time those guys make a movie, it winds up being one of the best films of the year, audiences and critics agree. This year was no exception. “Up” was brilliant.
The beginning alone makes this film worthy of praise. I was in tears within ten minutes of the film. It was the most touching montage I have ever seen. It was perfect. Mere words cannot express how much I enjoyed every minute of this film. Well done, Pixar.

3) “Star Trek”

Star Trek is sexy. Those are words I never thought I would hear anyone say. EVER. Until J. J. Abrams came along, saw the storytelling potential, and single-handedly made Spock the most popular he’s been since the late 1960s. No easy feat.
This re-boot (I prefer the term re-imagining) of a much beloved series made my inner nerd squeal with glee. I never thought much of Abrams’ directing skills until this film. I thought “Mission Impossible III” was a complete piece of shit film, so I’ve always thought of Abrams as more of an “ideas man” rather than as a director. He has great storytelling ideas, but he really needs to have somebody else direct them. Or so I thought until I watched his take on the Star Trek mythos. Holy smokes, Batman!
Abrams took what I loved about Star Trek: the gadgets, the ships, the space opera storylines and gave it a complete makeover. He was able to re-tell the story of how it all began while cleverly keeping the original stories intact with a little alternate universe story arc.
I’ve been a Star Trek fan for years. I fondly remember watching “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with my dad when he would get home from work. When I was young he used to work the night shift, and so it seemed like the only times I would seem him was around 10 p.m. and the two of us would watch Star Trek and geek out together. It’s a very precious memory to me, and I can’t hear the Star Trek theme song in my head without picturing those moments. So yeah, I was pretty excited when I first learned a few years ago that they were re-tooling my beloved franchise. I waited in anticipation for years and I had high expectations when the movie came out, and I was not disappointed at all! I went into the film expecting greatness, and greatness I received, at warp speed no less!
The highlight of the film for me was how Abrams featured relatively unknown actors portraying such classic characters as Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto, who pretty much stole the movie, in my opinion). Pine played Kirk as an action junkie who only looked out for number one. I loved it. Then, on the other hand, you have Quinto, who knocked it out of the park with his performance as a brooding (and emotional, gasp!) Spock. Oh man, I was in Trekker heaven!
Throw in Simon Pegg for comic relief and you have the perfect Trek film for any generation!

2) “District 9”

This movie came out of nowhere and blew my socks off! It even knocked “Star Trek” off my list as Best Sci-Fi Movie Of The Year, which is a pretty impressive feat, considering how much I love Star Trek.
Directed by an unknown director with one of the strangest last name’s I have come across, Neill Blomkamp, and staring an actor whom I (and most of America) had never heard of, Sharlto Copley. All I really knew going into it was that Peter Jackson apparently knew the guy and was backing him on this venture, which was good enough for me.
Not really knowing what to expect turned out to be a blessing, for I was treated to one of the most innovative sci-fi flicks of the past decade!
The story is this: aliens have landed on Earth and are living among us! Aaaagh! Run for the hills! Right? Wrong-o!
Yeah, aliens are living among us, but rather than being our Overlords, they are living in ghettos in South Africa, which is run like a police state. The aliens seem powerless to fight us, despite their impressive size and freakish appearance (they look like giant prawns, so that’s what humanity decides to call them, “Prawns”). They are being constantly brutalized by police forces and forced to live in unsanitary and overpopulated conditions (remind you of anyone?).
Enter Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley, in break out performance), a government field agent assigned with serving eviction notices to the “Prawns” forcing them to evacuate their current ghetto for a “new” ghetto, which is truth is a lot smaller than their current one. Good ol’ humans, always looking out for number one.
The movie is shot in a mock-documentary style that seems to be all the rage right now. This doesn’t mean that it makes the film “The Office…. With Aliens!” Quite the opposite, really. The documentary style makes the story much more intense, and fact that Copley plays “Wikus” with such love and humanity that you can’t help but root for him to succeed, despite his government’s eventually betrayal of him, causing him to go on the run, and bond with the aliens that take him in and shelter him from his own kind.
This is a movie about tolerance and equality, which just so happens to showcase some of the best special effects this side of “Star Trek” while keeping its unique vision of the future intact. It’s a rare sci-fi film that will both entertain you and break your heart at the same time.

1) “Fantastic Mr. Fox”

I love Wes Anderson movies. There. I said it. If that comes as a surprise to you then the two of us clearly have not spent enough time together.
“Rushmore” remains my favorite movie of all time. I first watched that movie in my junior year of high school and have been an unrepentant Anderson enthusiast since. His writing style is completely unique. He redefined the words “quirky comedy” and I love him for it. His characters are often immature and needy, finding solace in each other’s quirkiness and childish behavior. His visual style is wholly his own and easy to spot: bright colors, lush backgrounds, and lots of dialogue.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” marks the first time he has ever adapted someone else’s work. In this case, the British author Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, a tale of a fox who outwits farmer’s and steals their chickens, all with a smile on his face and a clever quip or two.
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” also marks the first time that Anderson ventures into the world of stop-motion, which is usually reserved for the likes of Henry Selick, but I’m glad he did. Turns out Mr. Anderson is a natural at stop-motion storytelling, since his stories always have a child-like innocence to them, the marriage of his and his co-author Noah Baumbach’s writings style with the visual style of stop-motion is a match made in heaven. Clouds are made of beautiful cotton balls, and the farms are handcrafted. There is love in every frame of this film.
The dialogue is also hilarious. The joke throughout this movie is that animals are as petty and unsure of themselves as people, with the characters expressing jealousy, embarrassment, and even narcissism in the case of the main character, Mr. Fox.
Mr. Fox’s (voiced by George Clooney) problem is that he knows he is clever. He even writes a newspaper column, though he admits to his wife that he is unsure if the other woodland creatures read it and appreciate his genius.  He is a working fox, struggling to get by on his meager salary. He longs for greater things than his current wages allow, so he decides, with the help of his friend, Possum, that he must turn to a life of crime in order to get what he wants! What he wants is a better life for himself and his family, while all the while trying to connect with his son, who everyone writes off as “strange.”
“Am I different?” the young fox (voiced by “Rushmore” star Jason Schwartzman) asks his mother (voiced by Meryl Streep, who seems to be on a hot streak these last few years, you go, girl!). “Of course, dear, but there’s something a little fantastic about that, isn’t there?” Indeed!
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is one of those rare films that parents can take their kids to and enjoy it just as much as them, but for different reasons. For the kids, it’s frickin’ stop-motion, starring a fox, what’s not to love? And for the adults, they get the joy of seeing a kids movie in which characters cry and have existential doubts, and relationships grow and develop. It’s the most mature and satisfying “kids” movie that I ever seen (and it wasn’t even by Pixar, hahaha!), and one that I plan on showing my own kids some day.
It is with great pride that I crown “Fantastic Mr. Fox” with the title of Best Movie Of The Year! Take a bow, Mr. Fox, you’ve earned it!

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2 comments on “Top Ten Movies of 2009

  1. Evan Pug-h says:

    Definitely surprised to see “I Love you, Man” on there. Other than that, it’s hard to argue.

    But what about Funny People? Or Moon? The latter I thought you’d fucking love.

  2. I did love those movies, but they’re not in my top 10. Funny people would be 11, Big Fan would be 12, The Hurt Locker would be 13, and Moon would be 14.

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