I've still yet to see a couple of the more important films from the year ("A Serious Man," "The Informant!") but I don't guess I'll get a chance until next month when they hit DVD. So we'll have to move on without them. 2009 was a top heavy year for me. I gave out a lot of "A" grades this time around; more than I have in several years. After that, however, there wasn't just a whole lot to get excited about one way or another. I didn't see nearly as many bad movies this year as I would usually anticipate but there also weren't a whole lot of those movies where I came out thinking, "that was exactly what I thought it would be: not great but entertaining." Most of the movies that wind up in the middle of this list were disappointing as opposed to surprisingly good. Kind of a weird year all around.
A word about rankings. I have for years struggled with how to describe my rankings. I don't necessarily rank in order from best film of the year to worst film. Rather, I grade and then rank based on a combination of quality and enjoyment. I also take into account the supposed goal of the film. If it aspires to be an Oscar winner but falls short, that is usually taken into consideration. If it is, however, just meant to be a fun escape from the real world and attains that goal, I think there's something to be said for that. The point is, I think a lot of really entertaining films that deliver exactly what they are designed to deliver are looked down upon by mainstream critics because they aren't "award worthy." And that's a shame in my book. I would not make the case that "Sherlock Holmes" is a better film than, say, "Invictus." If I were voting for Best Picture between the two, I'd vote for the latter. But when the rankings come around, "Holmes" and "Invictus" both hit on quality and aspiration, but "Holmes" was more enjoyable for me and is therefore ranked higher. And that's the way it goes for me.
THE TOP TEN
1. "It Might Get Loud" - The best film experience I had all year. A+
2. "Up" - I have always had a great love for the Pixar films. From "Toy Story" to last year's "Wall-E" Pixar delivers great entertainment and heartfelt story lines time and time again. "Up" may be the best Pixar has to offer and the one that finally garners a Best Picture Oscar nomination instead of just Best Animated Picture. This is as emotionally compelling as any live-action film I've seen in a long time. A+.
3. "Inglourious Basterds" - From the opening scene where Christoph Waltz's Nazi Jew Hunter completely CRUSHES a French dairy farmer using only his words to the final triumph of Brad Pitt's Aldo Raine, "Basterds" is brilliant. I've never been a big fan of Quentin Tarantino but I very much respect the work he is capable of doing and this, for me, is his best work. Say what you will about "Pulp Fiction," "Basterds" is, from a film standpoint, his crowning achievement. It is a slow burn built more around excellent dialogue and performances than anything else but has enough well placed action sequences to keep "Kill Bill" fans happy. A+.
4. "Up in the Air" - This was perhaps the best depressing film I've ever seen. Centering around a man whose job it is to fly around the country and fire employees for companies that can't do it themselves, this film borders on the "masterpiece" level despite the subject matter. The script and direction (done by superstar-in-the-making Jason Reitman) are both excellent but the true strength of this film is in the performances of it's three leading stars. Vera Farmiga is at her sultry best as a fellow traveler that our main character tragically falls for. Anna Kendrick surprised the heck out of everyone going from the dregs of the "Twilight" movies to this brilliant turn as the up-and-comer in the firing business. And George Clooney gives, for me, the best leading man performance of the year. He brilliantly navigates the complexity of a man who is equal parts driven, satisfied, and begrudgingly lonely, allowing the man to become neither depressing nor overly smug. Clooney again gives you the feeling that there is no other actor who could play his role. He is Daniel Day Lewis if Daniel Day Lewis had a sense of humor. A+.
5. "Avatar" - I've gone back and forth on where exactly this movie belongs in the rankings and I'm still not sure I'm settled. There are definite holes from a filmmaking standpoint but I cannot stress enough how incredibly enjoyable and entertaining "Avatar" is, and in the end that's what this thing is all about. A+.
6. "Moon" - Without question this is the least-seen movie of any on my Top Ten List. "Moon" centers around a man (Sam Rockwell) who supervises a drilling station on the Moon, his only companion being a talking computer voiced by Kevin Spacey. Really, however, it's about paranoia and good old fashioned sci-fi twists and turns. There aren't a lot of frills, special effects, or explosions but the story is so classically science fiction that I couldn't help but love it. Another writer I read a lot said that at the end of his screening, another patron stood up and yelled, "Now THAT is what a sci-fi film is supposed to be." There's very little that I can say about "Moon" without giving away too much. Sam Rockwell has received no support from the studio for his work here which is a shame because his performance is masterful. Director Duncan Jones looks like a superstar in the making and I can't wait to see what he does in the future. A.
7. "Star Trek" - Unquestionably the most fun I had in the theater this year. This was an absolute blast from beginning to end and left me and about 250 million other people dying for the next installment. A.
8. "The Hurt Locker" - I would call this the first legitimate war movie about the current war in Iraq. "Locker" centers around a bomb disarming unit and the mental beating these soldiers take. Jeremy Renner gives a coming-out performance that should catapult him to the Hollywood A-list. His character is addicted to the rush and imminent threat of death his job entails. And yet as unaffected as he would have you believe he is, his fragility is evident in many of his actions. It seems he would welcome death were it to happen on his terms while still knowing how much he has to live for. I almost wouldn't classify this as a war movie because the battles that usually mark a straight war film are lacking here. But if it is a war movie, it's the best I've seen since "Saving Private Ryan." A.
9. "Sherlock Holmes" - If "Star Trek" was the most fun I had at the theater this year, "Holmes" was the second most fun. The chemistry between Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes and Jude Law's Watson is extraordinary, the dialogue is quick and hip, and the action sequences are perfectly placed. It is ridiculous and out of control in many places but that only adds to it's appeal, at least for me. "Holmes" is one of those rare films that doesn't take itself too seriously and still manages to come across as brilliantly structured. My only complaint is the lackluster use of both Rachel McAdams and Marc Strong. A.
10. "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" - I am a total Harry Potter nerd so it should be no surprise that I love each and every one of these movies. Now, there are some issues for me with what was left out of the book but just based on the film itself, I think this was the best of the group so far. The film's makers work seamlessly to pair outstanding visuals with acting performances that continue to get better and better with each film. I absolutely cannot wait for the final two parts of this story. A.
THE REST OF THE "A's"
11. "Away We Go" - Maybe too hipster for some, I likened this to a poor-man's "Juno." John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph were both excellent in this tale of two people abandoned by family who trek across country looking for a new home for their expected child. There is a lot of quirky humor in "Away We Go" but also a couple of HAUNTINGLY authentic scenes about life. One of two movies this year that made me cry (along with "Up"). A
12. "The Hangover" A
13. "Zombieland" A
14. "Invictus" A
15. "District 9" - When I saw this I thought it was destined to sit on my Top 10 List. It would have definitely made it in 2008 or 2007 and the fact that it slipped to 15 this year shows how strong at the top the movie calendar was in 2009. Absolute genius work here all around. A
16. "Fantastic Mr. Fox" A-
17. "The Road" A-
18. "Taken" A-
19. "Sunshine Cleaning" A-
20. "500 Days of Summer" - One of the cooler films of the year and a badly needed fresh take on the romantic comedy. "Summer" features Zooey Deschanel at her most charming and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is so good you almost forget he also starred in "G.I. Joe" this year. A bit depressing at times, it is nevertheless realistic and beautiful. A-
21. "This Is It" A-
22. "State of Play" A-
23. "Where the Wild Things Are" - Spike Jonze did an incredible job of capturing the up-and-down mood swings of a child and incorporating that into the fabric of his film. He did this so well, in fact, that the film feels so roller-coastery as to leave the viewer slightly uncomfortable throughout the whole run time.
24. "Brothers Bloom" - No one saw this little con movie starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody and that's a real shame. If you're a fan of the con, this is highly recommended.
25. "Funny People"
27. "Orphan" - I don't watch a whole lot of scary/horror films so you'll forgive me if this wasn't super original, I honestly have no idea. The twist at the end makes "Orphan" extremely memorable but the work done by Isabelle Fuhrman as child to Vera Farmiga's adoptive mother creates an excellent cat-and-mouse game throughout.
28. "Whip It"
29. "9" (not to be confused with "Nine")
30. "The Soloist"
31. "The Blind Side"
32. "Public Enemies" - It's hard for me call a movie I gave a B the most disappointing film of the year, but I think that's where I'm going with "Enemies." It's a good film, don't get me wrong, but when you tell me you've got Michael Mann directing Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in a story about one of the most famous criminals in the history of America, I'm going to expect a GREAT movie, not a good one.
33. "Big Fan"
34. "A Perfect Getaway"
35. "Fanboys" - If you're a "Star Wars" nerd like I am, "Fanboys" is more than worth the viewing. It's cheap laughter, sure, but it's still laughter. Highly enjoyable, at least for this nerd.
36. "17 Again"
37. "Inkheart" - Much better than I thought it would be.
38. "Couples Retreat"
39. "I Love You, Man"
40. "Adventureland" - I didn't love this coming-of-age film as much as a lot of critics did but I definitely appreciate it. It has a slightly more unique take on the whole "going to college, becoming a man" thing than the average film.
41. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"
42. "Monsters vs. Aliens"
43. "Transformers: Rise of the Fallen" - Not nearly as bad as everyone wants to make it out to be. Is it an Oscar caliber film? Of course not, but if you're expecting Oscar, don't go to a Michael Bay movie. This is what it is and what it is is pure entertainment, nothing more.
44. "The Taking of Pelham 123"
46. "Terminator: Salvation" - Another film that got destroyed by expectations versus reality. "Salvation" doesn't live up to the original "Terminator" or "T2" but from an action movie standpoint, it wasn't a complete disaster.
47. "Land of the Lost" - Another that wasn't nearly as bad as it was made out to be. It's all about expectations, people. If you expect an earth shattering, ground breaking, original comedy, don't go see "Land of the Lost." If you're OK with cheap laughs based on Will Ferrell's typically juvenile humor, this isn't far off from many of his other films.
48. "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans"
49. "He's Just Not That Into You"
50. "Confessions of a Shopaholic"
51. "Extract" - Highly disappointing. There just really isn't a reason this movie should have been made.
53. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" - I watched this three times over the course of five days on a cruise. It was hell.
54. "The International"
55. "The Invention of Lying" - Ricky Gervais is a certifiable comedic genius, but this proves that even genius goes bad when left unchecked. The entire movie is built on a false premise: it's not a world without lies but instead a world without filters - everyone just blurts out what's on their mind. The laughs are few and far between and somehow this even manages to make great comedians like Tina Fey seem unfunny.
56. "Bride Wars"
57. "G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra" - Just so bad on every single level. The longer I've thought about this mess, the more I've come to hate it. Somehow "Transformers," "Land of the Lost," "Wolverine," and "Terminator" took all the heat this summer but in truth I'd rather watch all of those movies every day for the next month than watch this movie once. Terrible.
58. "Year One"
59. "Post Grad" - Occasionally my wife drags me to a movie I don't want to see. It doesn't happen too often, we both usually go out of the way to see movies we know the other will hate without them. Much like "House Bunny" last year, this is one of those cases when Lindsey dragged me to a movie and she ended up hating it as much as I did. "Post Grad" is incredibly inept in every single way. I did not laugh more than three times. In fact, it made me sad and not sad like I connected with the story line and felt for the character. No, I was sad because Michael Keaton and Carol Burnett were both in this freaking trainwreck of a film and I remember both of them actually having a career at one point. It's truly a tough thing to be worse than "G.I. Joe" or "Year One" but "Post Grad" fit the bill and brought strong contention to 2002's "Cabin Fever" as Worst Movie I've Ever Seen.
I'm hoping to see "Crazy Heart" this week,