January 31, 2010

Movies: Best of 2009: the top ten movies

Counting up from #10 to #1:
  • O'Horten -- a movie that dares to be quiet and understated, and in its gentle surrealism, captures the disorientation of one man's adjustment to forced retirement and makes a strong statement about the way we treat the elderly as disposable.
  • Sita Sings the Blues -- using a variety of low-budget animation techniques, director Nina Paley brings the Indian legend The Ramayana to life; bright, cheerful colors and a Betty Boop-styled heroine play counterpoint to bluesy jazz records from 20s singer Annette Hanshaw.
  • An Education -- stellar performances, all the way down to the tiniest supporting roles, and vivid 60s details enliven this tale of first love, first disillusionment, and first recovery
  • You, the Living -- a series of offbeat dreams, anecdotes, and sketches that tie together (but don't you dare ask me how) to offer a message of hope in the face of apparently unending bleakness
  • Moon -- Sam Rockwell's spectacular performance(s) are the heart of the movie, which also offers a smart screenplay of ideas, serious ethical quandaries, and Kevin Spacey oozing silken menace as a "son of Hal" computer voice
  • 500 Days of Summer -- so many things that we've seen fail miserably in lesser romantic comedies -- the precocious little sister, the reality-vs.-perception moment, the his view/her view contrast -- brought to new life by the charisma of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the inscrutability of Zooey Deschanel, and a fractured chronology. Bonus points for the year's best production number.
  • Where the Wild Things Are -- not so much a movie about a child as a movie about childhood; the first half hour in particular captures perfectly the quicksilver nature of a kid's emotions. Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers did a brilliant job with the minimal story of Maurice Sendak's book, producing not so much an "adapted from" as an "inspired by"
  • Inglorious Basterds -- Tarantino's best work, a giddy bit of historical revisionism about the power of storytelling and the thrill of watching an interrogation. The ending still outrages many, but I think it's to be taken as Tarantino's ultimate statement about the movies: If we can't have a happy ending there, then what's the point?
  • Coraline -- brilliant stop-motion animation, and a magnificently creepy story that is most definitely not for children. Every detail matters here, and I especially admire the way that the Other World gradually changes from homey and inviting to a nightmarish distortion.
  • Up -- what's not to love? "I laughed, I cried," as they say. The silent-film marriage sequence is a brilliant little movie in its own right; the running jokes pay off impeccably (the third "Squirrel!" is a stroke of genius); and Dug is the best talking-animal sidekick in animation history.

Rankings like this are always somewhat arbitrary, and this year, the top four were particularly difficult to separate; any one of them could have been at the top of the list on a different day.

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