Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Diamonds in the Rough: The 10 Best Movies of 2009 #6-10

Here's the full list of the 10 best from 2009, for those who missed #1-5.

1. Inglourious Basterds - History tells us that Adolf Hitler and his newlywed Eva Braun died by committing suicide before Berlin fell to the Allies in 1945. In the eyes of Quentin Tarantino, Hitler and the rest of the Nazi high command meet their match at the hands of Brad Pitt, Hostel director Eli Roth and their squad of Jewish-American soldiers, known only as "the Basterds." Tarantino's latest effort was more talkative than Pulp Fiction, more violent than Kill Bill Vol. 1, and it was the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall movie that came out this year. Tarantino's dialogue (subtitled mostly in German and French) is as ludicrous and engaging than ever, while prolonged suspense, tantalizing dialogue and outrageous acts of violence are mated together in a dance of carnal passion as only Tarantino can deliver. Pitt, playing the leader of the Basterds, takes Aldo Raine and plays him like a blast-from-the-past Apache warrior, exacting his mixture of revenge and near-psychotic enjoyment in slaughtering Nazis, with demented glee and raw intensity. Dianne Kruger plays bravery and brains as German movie star as Bridget von Hammersmark, in the biggest role of her life: acting as a double-agent for the Allies. Mélanie Laurent breathes fire and brimstone bottled up as Shosanna Dreyfus, the last French Jew who escaped execution from the hands of the charming, sadistic SS Cor. Hands Lander, who makes Ralph Finnes' Amor Goeth seem sane and friendly. And the film's real bastard, Christoph Waltz, as Lander, creates QT's most memorable character since Jules Winfield spouted Bible verses before going on a killing spree in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino provides the shot of adrenaline movies have been missing for far too long: a cast, a script and it's mad director, all unwilling to compromise to please the naysayers and create a bloody, entertaining, and chilling meditation on how America conducted its foreign policy during the Bush years.

2. Avatar - 11 years ago, James Cameron became the king of the box office with his overrated romantic drama, Titanic, and sailed that ship to Oscar glory in 1998, winning 11 Academy Awards including Best Director and Best Picture. In 2009, there's a new box-office king that has dethroned Cameron's tale of star-crossed lovers on a doomed ocean-liner, and it's...James Cameron. This time, the world of Pandora and it's indigenous people, the blue-skinned Na'vi are the big draw. Cameron brings 3D to the mainstream, shooting his breathtaking alien planet in the third dimension. But its the story, albeit predictable, that has us engaged: a crippled ex-marine (Sam Worthington) ships out to Pandora to get the natives to move out of the largest deposit of Unobtainium (a resource needed to fuel the dying planet Earth in 2154), only to end up falling for the tribal princess, Neytiri (an excellent Zoe Saldana), and joining their rebellion against the human invaders. We may have seen this tale before (Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai), and anyone can see the exploitation of the Na'vi in the movie can connect that to America's exploitation of Native Americans, but Cameron delivers it with eye-popping style and passion for his beautiful and terrifying new world.

3. Up - Pixar is to animation as Radiohead is to rock and roll: neither group can do no wrong. They can make their weakest releases - A Bug's Life and Cars for Pixar; Pablo Honey and Amnesiac for the Oxford quintet - and they would still be considered great. Their newest release, Up, continues that winning trend. This time around, they introduce us to Carl Fredrickson (voiced with weariness and touching poignancy by Ed Asner), a retired widow living in the same old house him and his now-deceased wife, Elle, lived in as the rest of the world around him becomes an isolating urban jungle. He uses the retirement saving he's collected, ties countless helium balloons to his house, and presto: it becomes a floating blimp with a roof and sets his sails to Paradise Falls. Accompanying him is a stowaway wilderness explorer, in the form of chubby eight year-old Russell (Jordan Nagai), and what soon begins as a trip to fulfil a promise to his wife, soon becomes a race to protect an exotic bird from the hands of obsessed and disgraced explorer Charles Muntz (the great Christopher Plummer) and a confrontation of Carl's and Russell's demons. With first rate visuals, a bittersweet storyline and a heart-filled score composed by Michael Giacchino, Up soars on Pixar's unlimited and endless heights of sheer imagination.

4. The Hangover - It's about four dumb, drunk boys sending off the friend, Doug, in style in Vegas, of all places, before he gets married in three days. One wild night later, the three buddies Stu (Ed Helms), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Alan (Zack Galifianakis), the brother's groom - lose the groom-to-be. That's all you need to know about Tood Philip's The Hangover the most outrageous and ballsiest comedy of the decade, where Chinese mafia bosses, strippers, and returning Mike Tyson's prized tiger are all a part of the growing process for this trio of outgrown frat-boys.

5. Star Trek - The MVP of the summer movie season is J.J. Abrams, the director who breathed new life into the presumed-dead Trek franchise, by bringing style, swagger, and depth to our favorite characters from the original U.S.S. Enterprise. Chris Pine doesn't resort to the speaking style of William Shatner, but the cocky attitude, and the charm he displays are still seen thought the movie. Simon Pegg is hilarious as Scotty, and Karl Urban is inspired casting, playing the no-nonsense medical officer Lennard "Bones" McCoy. The surprise standout is Zacary Quinto as Spock. Instead of letting the pointy Vulcan ears act for him, Quinto digs deep to expose the conflict raging between his cold logic and his human emotions.

6. The Hurt Locker - Any filmmaker could have made this into another forgettable war movie dealing with the Iraqi War, or preach to the converted about how unnecessary it is for the country, or make it into film that celebrates our men and women with mindless action and crappy dialogue. What makes The Hurt Locker the first memorable war picture about the quagmire a tour-de-force of gritty realism and breathtaking ferocity, is that Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal don't preach and refuse to pick a side. They show the soldiers as brave men under fire, but also as conflicted guys hoping they come back home alive. Jeremy Renner gives the standout performance of the year as IED specialist Sgt. William James, a man with an addiction to his profession, but struggles to adapt to his regular life back home.

7. The Informnat! - Matt Damon has great comedic chops (see his roles as butt-boy Linus in the Ocean's 11 movies, the infamous "I'm Fucking Matt Damon!" ballad with funnygirl Sarah Silverman and his scene-stealing supporting role as himself in the season six finale of HBO's Entourage) to complement his amazing body of work thought the years. Never has Damon been this good: his performance as real-life wistleblower and white-collar criminal Mark Whitacre is all parts pitch-perfect comedic timing and quietly devastating. Director Steven Soderbergh, along with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns take this tale of one man's brilliant con job of playing the big business wistleblower and lining his own pocket, and how he constantly lies to himself to the point where he believes the tangled web he wove.

8. District 9 - Not since Alfonso Cuaron's Children Of Men has there been a sci-fi movie that turns the genre on its head and manages to look stunning and thrills while doing it. First-time director Neill Blomkamp blends alien contact, apartheid, and third-world living into one exciting and visually stunning film that rarely lets up or slows down. The aliens in District 9 aren't the ones Speilberg wowed us with in War of the Worlds and E.T.; they're part lobster, part mutated roach, all 100% frightening. Sharlto Copley is brilliant as Wikus van der Merwe, the fall-out employee who starts out relocating the prauns to District 10, and through infection of an alien chemical, ends up sympathizing the race his company has gruesomely exploited. Far from a brave new vision of science fiction, District 9 shows us the human condition and how fear of the unknown brings out humanity's ugly, cynical, and uncaring face.

9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Simply put: its the darkest, most haunting Potter movie of the six. There's a confidence David Yates excuses after handling Order of the Phoenix: he's more confident and comfortable in trying to cram a 600+ book into 2 1/2 hours. The actors, which have always been top notch by this large British cast, raise their game to a whole new level, particularly Jim Broadbant as Hogwart's newest Potions mater, Horace Slughorn; Rupert Grint's ever-perfect comedic timing as Ron Weasly; the beautiful Helena Bonham Carter playing Bellatrix Lestrange, one of Lord Voldemort's trusted allies, simmering with seductive menace; and Daniel Radcliffe's ever-growing maturity as the title character, to name a few. The standout is Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, played with soulful vulnerability and moral doubt as he prepares to become a hired assassin for the Dark Lord. What gives Half Blood Prince its haunting power is cinematogrpher Bruno Delbonnel, capturing vividly and beautifully the dark forces that are closing in around Harry's magical world like an albatross around its neck.

10. Up In the Air - Its a bittersweet comedy of the moment: self-recluse Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) travels across America to fire you from your job because the bossman (a snarky Jason Bateman) is too much of a pussy to fire you himself. After many years of flying from state to state firing people and selling them the bullshit that they're gonna be fine (not to mention all those frequent flyer miles he's got saved), Bingham's need for human connection stares him in the face. In comes Alex (Vera Farminga) a corporate big shot who shares a similar love for American Airlines, traveling light, and trade and compare credit cards. Props to director Jason Reitman (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) for blending touching romance, top-notch humor, and a no-bull honestly look on the state of business leaving its workers hung out to dry without any hope or a safety net.

The Best of the Rest: An Education, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Capitalism: A Love Story, Crazy Heart, Invictus, Watchmen, Precious: Based On the Novel "Push," by Sapphire, Julie & Julia, and Where the Wild Things Are.

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