Well, it's a New Year, so we feel obligated to trot out the best films of 2009. This won't be easy, since I didn't see that many films and some good ones I haven't written a review for yet. Therefore, I ask you to indulge me, but at least I figure they will serve as teasers for the future when I DO write on them. Here they are in descending order:
10.) The Princess & The Frog
A return to traditional 2-D animation that was once the hallmark of the Disney Company, The Princess & The Frog not only does a wonderful thing by creating the first African-American Disney Princess in Tiana, but also by making Tiana a more career-oriented character. The film also brings the varied musical styles of Louisiana: jazz, zydeco, Cajun, and gospel, into a wonderful gumbo that makes this film a delightful entry to the Disney Canon.
9.) Star Trek
I have as of today not seen a single episode from the original Star Trek series or its various adaptations. I recently received a Best Of Classic Star Trek as a Christmas gift, so I will watch, though I plan to make Spock's Brain the first one I watch. Isn't it the Citizen Kane of Star Trek episodes? In any case, the series had been floundering under its own mythology and it took this "reboot" to make the saga fun again. This film is perfect for the long-time Trekker/Trekkie as well as a great introduction to someone who has little to no knowledge of the saga.
Biopics can be a tricky thing, but Notorious, the life story of Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls, is a fascinating portrait of a man rising above his circumstances while at the same time never quite escaping them. With strong performances by the cast, we get a sympathetic portrait of an artist gone too soon.
7.) An Education
An Education might not be strictly a biopic, but this portrait of a young woman becoming herself through experiences both physical and mental has a brilliant performance by Carey Mulligan. It is a study of the growth of an individual, a portrait of a girl who becomes a woman in every sense of the phrase.
6.) The Hangover
You take a somewhat clichéd situation (four guys go on a bender in Las Vegas) and you take it to the most extreme, outrageous level (a baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom, the groom missing). You then follow these average guys as they try to sort out the previous night and throw in crime lords and Mike Tyson into the mix, and you give it an actual logic (albeit a completely insane logic) and you get a first-rate comedy. What is especially good is that you relate to the characters...though hopefully NOT the situations. When a film can have you laughing during the closing credits, you've got a great film on your hands.
5.) The Young Victoria
Perhaps I have a weakness for biopics, and ones involving royalty. Don't let what might be thought of as a dry history lesson with elegant costumes (though they did win the film the Academy Award for Best Costume Design...royal-based films tend to). The Young Victoria is an elegant film about the machinations and struggles the oldest living, legitimate heiress to the British crown endured to reach a level of happiness with her beloved Prince Albert. With excellent performances all around, The Young Victoria becomes a tour de force of passions within the confines of monarchy.
4.) Michael Jackson's This Is It
The weirdness that surrounded Michael Jackson was like a fog that hid his enormous talent. The trials, the surgeries, the spending sprees, the baby dangling, the accusations, all overshadowed just what a first-rate singer/songwriter and dancer he was. One always wonders if things had gone differently, if he were able to have been pulled into reality instead of his "Never-Land", things would have been so much better for everyone concerned. As it stands, This Is It is his artistic final will and testament, showing that he still had it. A terrible loss, especially for his children. I don't believe that genius and madness have to be related, but Jackson seems to have lived that...and died with that.
3.) (500) Days of Summer
Love is a many-splendored thing. Love hurts. Love is strange. I'm sick of love. People will say we're in love. I'll never love this way again. I will always love you. Love was when I loved you. This can't be love. Is this love, that I'm feeling? (500) Days of Summer is a love story that is honest and true. Anyone who's been in love or been in love WITH love or has fallen in and out of love can relate to the story of a guy and a girl who go through the ups and downs of an affair to remember, for good or ill.
2.) Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
Precious is one of the most heartbreaking films that is simultaneously uplifting as we watch the title character struggle with horrific abuse and neglect, condemned to die due to the AIDS virus, yet still finding herself freed from the misery of her world through her own will. With brilliant performances by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe and Monique, Precious is haunting, hauntingly beautiful, and emotionally impacting.
Few films have been this moving, this funny, this BRILLIANT as the latest Disney/PIXAR film. It may be old hat, but it's true: I laughed, I cried. UP hit you on a deeply emotional level, but it also was wildly funny and endearing and touching and well-written, even well-acted. Animation is not for kids, and neither is UP. It was a tough battle between two emotionally impacting films, but by the thinnest of margins, UP is still my Best Picture of 2009.
Well, there it is. These are some of the films that I saw this year. Perhaps there were better films that I missed at the time of the writing (I think The Hurt Locker, for example), but I can't judge by reputation, only by what I see. I hope that 2010 is a great year for everyone concerned. I hope that films get better, people stop remaking films, come up with original ideas, not treat the audience like zombies, and that movies stop being entertaining only and start being entertaining AND good.