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The endless war: Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker.

The Year In Review 2009

Best of 2009

Critic: Laura Leon

1. The Hurt Locker

Everybody I know is probably up to here from hearing me implore them to see this movie. Kathryn Bigelow’s tightly suspenseful yarn about a crack, and slightly cracked, bomb defuser serving in Iraq harks to John Ford’s latter westerns, in which the Big Man on the, er, Frontier sees his way of life becoming obsolete. In this case, the lead character (Jeremy Renner) is at home only while in the very near vicinity of danger, something that bears small comfort to the other members of his team. A stunning movie that will have you clutching your seat from beginning to end.

2. Up

Pixar and Disney prove yet again that they can deliver a visual confection that socks a powerful narrative punch. On the face of it, it’s an adventure story in which a crabby old man and a lonely scout explore new territory, but it’s just as much about the adventure of living life, a rumination on age, possibility and the potential to wonder. The first 10 minutes alone are a stellar example of the power of filmmaking.

3. Up in the Air

George Clooney delivers a stunning performance as the guy corporations hire to fire their own people. Far more at home in airport lounges and hotels than in anything most people would consider home and family, Clooney’s character experiences subtle yet profound changes as he contemplates his own obsolescence. Throw in the mix his relationships with two very strong female execs, one a coworker learning the ropes and the other a seeming soulmate, and we have an instant classic from director Jason Reitman.

4. Coraline

Finally, 3-D used to enchant and make the normal seem sublime. Or, in some cases, horrific, as the title character embarks on a scary quest to save her real parents from what at first seemed like a much better Mom and Dad. Coraline has all the qualities of the best and darkest fairy tales.

5. Fantastic Mr. Fox

As with Coraline, the old-fashioned stop-frame style of animation proves just as powerful and enchanting. Director Wes Anderson, working with an incredible stable of vocal talent, expands Roald Dahl’s beloved story in such a way as to make audiences wonder if he somehow stumbled upon the late author’s stash of notes.

6. The Informant!

Matt Damon is virtually unrecognizable as the paunchy, Midwestern would-be informant on a corporate price-fixing case to the FBI. As the conspiracy deepens, so does our faith in his veracity, let alone, sanity. A sheer, loopy delight.

7. Duplicity

Remember this one? Probably not, because it disappeared so quickly from theaters, proof yet again that film companies, and audiences, don’t know what to do with stylish writing, intricate plotting and sexy, mature flirtations between talented actors, in this case a remarkable Julia Roberts and the always-winning Clive Owen.

8. Zombieland

OK, there I’ve said it. This wacky horror comedy plays with the whole Night of the Living Dead trove, in wickedly wry ways.

9. Sherlock Holmes

Guy Ritchie turns Sherlock Holmes and his intrepid sidekick Dr. Watson into the English Victorian version of Butch and Sundance. It works, while remaining largely faithful to the Conan Doyle original.

10. The Hangover

Crude, perhaps, but the combination of excellent plotting, charismatic performances and pure hilarity was this year’s comedic trifecta.

Worst of 2009

1. Bride Wars

Recipe for cinematic disaster: Take a potentially catchy topic, like two former best friends vying to out-Bridezilla the other, and turn it into the equivalent of naughty time at the preschool playground. Mix in two helpings of Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, but be sure to remove any of their natural charm and zest.

2. My Sister’s Keeper

Maudlin and weepy, despite strong performances by Sofia Vassilieva as a dying girl, and Jason Patric as her father.

3. All About Steve

Sandra Bullock followed up a very strong turn in The Proposal with this terribly unfunny film about a woman stalking the man of her dreams.

4. Precious

Let the hate mail begin, but I found this movie to be melodrama at its worst, with a bit of After School Special injected to make the bleeding-heart liberals in the audience feel sanctified. Director Lee Daniels never misses a chance to oversell the obvious, as when Precious’ rape by her father is intercut with scenes of fatback sizzling in hot grease.

Best of 2009

Critic: John Brodeur

1. The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow’s film isn’t so about man vs. bomb as it is man vs. himself. That conflict hangs over every scene of The Hurt Locker, an exceptional picture that pulls off the rare feat of being both a great war film and a grade-A psychological thriller.

2. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Nothing else on the big screen looked this cool in 2009 (though the 3-D aerial scenes in Avatar came close). Wes Anderson’s stop-motion feature is a beautifully handcrafted caper that matches strong characters and voice acting with the director’s distinct visual style.

This masquerade: Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds.

3. Inglourious Basterds

Q.T. swoops in and saves the Weinsteins with the craziest movie ever to break $100 million at the box office.

4. Away We Go

Maybe it’s because I’m in my early 30s and feel like a fuck-up, but this film struck a nerve for me—and, I suspect, for much of my generation. Nuanced performances from Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski anchor this understated gem.

5. Up

Pixar’s deal with the devil has yet to expire. The heart-rending opening montage is classic, and the movie takes off from there.

6. Goodbye Solo

An “unlikely friendship” story unlike any other. As the third film from Ramin Bahrani quietly moves toward its conclusion, you realize that a lot of its questions will not be answered. Such is life.

7. Up in the Air

Another fine piece of work from director Jason Reitman, with terrific performances all around.

8. Anvil—The Story of Anvil

Metal on metal! You might not want to run out and start a band after watching this documentary, but you’ll want to run out and do something.

9. Star Trek

A gigantic summertime blockbuster actually worth its film stock.

10. Adventureland

Greg Mottola’s little-seen follow-up to Superbad tapped awkward, post-collegiate uncertainty for deep laughs—and occasionally something deeper.

Worst of 2009

1. Observe And Report

A deeply mean and unfunny film with no redeeming qualities.

2. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Boom boom pow. By several measurements, this is one of the worst movies ever made.

3. Funny People

In playing basically a self-aware, careerist version of himself, Adam Sandler gives one of his best performances. So this film’s failure belongs to two people: Seth Rogen, whose ascension to Movie Star is of the most annoying things to happen in cinema this decade (I like the idea of Rogen carrying a movie, but he just can’t); and Judd Apatow, who as a director continues to earn more credit for his taste than his skill.

4. The Pink Panther 2

What a waste of time and talent.

5. Notorious

A few decent performances can’t redeem what is essentially a neutered episode of Behind the Music. And the narration, from beyond the earthly plane? Bad idea!

Best of 2009

Critic: Shawn Stone

1. Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s showy, bloody period piece rewrote the end of World War II with a cast of actors that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. And Q.T. plumbed new depths of film geekdom. (Special thanks for the shout-out to Lilian Harvey.)

2. Summer Hours

Olivier Assayas’ touching yet unsentimental story of a French family’s distingegration in a world where Asia is the future and Europe is a museum.

3. Avatar

James Cameron set out to create a world from pure imagination, using the latest technology. And he did it, spectacularly.

4. The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq men-in-combat film is harrowing—and resolutely apolitical. Whom do you save, in a world of unimaginable brutality? Whom do you kill when any guy with a cell phone may be trying to kill you?

5. In the Loop

Absolutely brutal British comedy about the political buildup to a war not unlike the recent entanglement in Iraq. Makes a nice companion piece to The Hurt Locker.

6. Goodbye Solo

One of those stories about an unlikely friendship that’s moving because the details are precise, and right.

7. The Princess and the Frog

Disney’s triumphant return to 2D animation was funny, had attractively drawn (and written) characters and a decent musical score.

8. The Informant!

Steven Soderbergh’s comedy of corporate crime cut deep in this year of economic misery. Also: Is there anything Matt Damon can’t do? Even with a fake nose?

9. Invictus

Filmmaker Clint Eastwood and company cheated on some of the historical details, but this drama about the intersection of politics and sports in post-apartheid South Africa made its points deftly.

10. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

How much can an Ivy League football game mean? A lot more than you’d think. The best sports documentary since When We Were Kings.

Worst of 2009

1. Watchmen

There’s a great idea for a movie in there, somewhere. Too bad director Zach Snyder couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel.

2. Up in the Air

Whatever it is director Jason Reitman’s selling, I’m not buying.

3. The Great Buck Howard

Watching John Malkovich play a deluded, washed-up mentalist was mesmerizing. Watching Tom Hanks’ kid eat up most of the screen time as the mentalist’s personal assistant sucked. Hard.

4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

How do you bungle the death of a lead character? Watch and learn, kids.

5. The Blind Side

In which Sandra Bullock learned where football players come from. (The projects, duh.)

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