endless war: Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker.
Year In Review 2009
The Hurt Locker
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.
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.
Up in the Air
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
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.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
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.
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.
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
there I’ve said it. This wacky horror comedy plays with the
whole Night of the Living Dead trove, in wickedly wry
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
perhaps, but the combination of excellent plotting, charismatic
performances and pure hilarity was this year’s comedic trifecta.
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.
My Sister’s Keeper
and weepy, despite strong performances by Sofia Vassilieva
as a dying girl, and Jason Patric as her father.
All About Steve
Bullock followed up a very strong turn in The Proposal
with this terribly unfunny film about a woman stalking the
man of her dreams.
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.
The Hurt Locker
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
Fantastic Mr. Fox
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.
masquerade: Diane Kruger in Inglourious Basterds.
swoops in and saves the Weinsteins with the craziest movie
ever to break $100 million at the box office.
Away We Go
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.
deal with the devil has yet to expire. The heart-rending opening
montage is classic, and the movie takes off from there.
“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.
Up in the Air
fine piece of work from director Jason Reitman, with terrific
performances all around.
Anvil—The Story of Anvil
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
gigantic summertime blockbuster actually worth its film stock.
Mottola’s little-seen follow-up to Superbad tapped
awkward, post-collegiate uncertainty for deep laughs—and occasionally
Observe And Report
deeply mean and unfunny film with no redeeming qualities.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
boom pow. By several measurements, this is one of the worst
movies ever made.
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.
The Pink Panther 2
a waste of time and talent.
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!
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.)
Assayas’ touching yet unsentimental story of a French family’s
distingegration in a world where Asia is the future and Europe
is a museum.
Cameron set out to create a world from pure imagination, using
the latest technology. And he did it, spectacularly.
The Hurt Locker
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?
In the Loop
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.
of those stories about an unlikely friendship that’s moving
because the details are precise, and right.
The Princess and the Frog
triumphant return to 2D animation was funny, had attractively
drawn (and written) characters and a decent musical score.
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?
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
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
much can an Ivy League football game mean? A lot more than
you’d think. The best sports documentary since When We
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.
Up in the Air
it is director Jason Reitman’s selling, I’m not buying.
The Great Buck Howard
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.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
do you bungle the death of a lead character? Watch and learn,
The Blind Side
which Sandra Bullock learned where football players come from.
(The projects, duh.)