So at long last, I can unveil my Top Ten Films of 2009. Very few of which were nominated for Best Picture, or any Oscars at all, now that you mention it. Here we go!
1. The Good Soldier Watching this was one of the most important experiences I have ever had. Every person must see it. Every person. It doesn't matter what kind of movies you like; the fact that this well-crafted work is a film is almost beside the point. It is so stunning that I bought the DVD (I buy DVDs extremely rarely) and offered to mail it to anyone who wants to see it, with the only requirement that you mail it on when done. That offer still stands. Five veterans talk about war and what it is and who they are. It is nothing short of amazing, and I wish its truth, that war = killing human beings, would get through the thick skulls of, oh, most people on the planet. The greatest thing about The Good Soldier is the hope it offers that one day that just might happen. It's on Netflix and there are upcoming screenings. Let me know if you need to borrow my copy.
2. In the Loop My favorite film of 2009, unsurpassed, until I saw The Good Soldier, which transcends the medium (hi Brad!) In the Loop is utter genius. I read lots about it being a dark political satire, but was wholly unprepared for the experience of it. It's casual--no sweeping vistas or big swelling crescendos--just the smartest, funniest, scariest look at government ever. A bunch of U.S. and British bureaucrats pretty much start a war because the media asks if there's going to be a war. The whining and sniveling, the backstabbing, the overly ambitious bright young things, the relentless mocking of politicians who think they're all that. The jokes come at you maniacally, but the depressing yet hilarious realization is that the real U.S. and Brits were about equally justified in starting their real life wars. Some have compared it to The Office, but I think it has more of a M*A*S*H/Breaking Bad sensibility, only faster and more furious. Just rent it for god's sake.
3. The Men Who Stare at Goats Criminally underrated and, apparently, criminally misunderstood, from what I could tell reading reviews. I wondered if my beloved EW even watched the right movie. Inspired by the true story -- I believe the film said "You'd be scared by how much of this is true" -- it follows some crazy Special Forces-hatched psy-ops plan to have soldiers use psychic powers, like reading enemy thoughts and killing goats with their minds. The humans' mind. No, none of it is sensible. But while there is the question of "No way, would the military really do this?" (answer: yes!) the whole glorious satirical point is even deeper, along the lines of yes, this is crazy, but SO IS sending twentysomethings to murder one another, you dummies! It's a fantastic film, and by the way Jeff Bridges and George Clooney are in it. Hey, they had a good year! At least they got nominated for Oscars somewhere.
4. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus See, my top films aren't all about war! This one's about...um, well, it's hard to say exactly what it's about. But it's not war! Famous for being Heath Ledger's last film, and for three other actors finishing his part after he died during filming, it deserves to also be known as a wild, fanciful, funny, sharp, magical, bizarre meditation on life, art, creativit, and who we are. And who we are to each other. I adored it.
5. Inglourious Basterds OK, more war. But come on. If you've seen Inglourious Basterds you know it's not "about war" in the way some movies are "about war." It's also about Quentin Tarantino's genius, and movies, and the course of history, and it's about a giant spectacle of blow-me-away entertainment. With lots of dark twists.
6. Summer Hours Ohhhh so good! It's a Frenchy film about three generations of a family who do vacation at the grandmother's house. But what will happen to the house and the family and their memories when she passes away? It's sunny and wonderful and will make you think of all your childhood summers, your coming of age, and your responsibilities as and adult in this world. That sounds so serious though; it's exquisite and lovely!
7. Up in the Air I'd pick it over The Hurt Locker. It has a lot of layers that sneak up on you if, for example, you partake in a long post-film discussion at John Serba's screening event in Grand Rapids. It is also entirely enjoyable throughout. I relate to the main character so much! Of COURSE it's more interesting to not settle down. I love the little things, like when he asks Little Miss I-Type-With-Purpose, "Didn't you ever wonder why they called it 'The Spirit of St. Louis'?" and she's just like, "No!" I was appalled by her too! I loved it, I loved the performances, and I loved what it had to say. Yay!
8. Where the Wild Things Are This was my most pleasant surprise of the year. (Well, this and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Shout-out to the Fox!) When we first started hearing about WtWTA, I was immediately annoyed by all the hipsters and Gen-X and -Yers carrying on about how much they LOVE this book it's so AWESOME oh my god they're making a movie! Whatever, thought I. Little did I know that it would be the most perfectly realized vision I'd seen in quite some time. Emotional, wondrous, and so totally worth the journey.
9. Julie & Julia Speaking of surprises, really?! I know! I had no idea I would love it, and I put off watching it forever, even though I knew forever Meryl was going to get nominated and I would have to watch it. But I loved it! I liked Amy Adams too, being all young professional in NYC with lame job prospects and wanting to write and really create something, and I realy relate to her. Except the fact that she "escapes" by cooking. So maybe if The Hurt Locker is the Iraq war film for people who don't like Iraq war films, Julie & Julia is the story about cooking for people who don't like hearing stories about cooking. Or reading books and blogs about cooking. Or listening to public radio shows about cooking. Or who want everyone to just shut the !@$%* up about cooking for once, geez! That would be me. But I loved this movie. And I have just as little desire to read those books from the Food Literature section as I ever did.
10. Invictus Now this book I did read, even after seeing the movie. It is a very inspirational story and we here in the U.S. know exactly nothing about it. Rugby? Rugby who? It taught me a lot about what happened but was also just a well-executed story that effortlessly does a lot more than you realize it's doing. And it's poetic. You know there's going to be a big, climactic scene for the championship match, but it totally earns it. Also have you noticed how many of my fave films start with "In.." for 2009?
Honorable Mentions I should probably mention The Invention of Lying, which also starts with "In" and which I did like. But really my honorable mentions are simple.
- Two amazing documentaries: The Cove, which has got a lot of attention and acclaim, and Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi, which has got very little. Both are emotional tales of horrific, senseless slaughter, as it turns out.
- Avatar. I mean, it wasn't my favorite, but it was a fabulous experience, in all its 3D IMAX glory, and I'll tell you what, I like me some James Cameron. Everyone says he's a jerk but I read the interviews and just see that he's sardonic and has little patience for stupid people, which is fine by me.
- Precious. I didn't really love it as I was watching it, but over the next day or two I kept bringing it up and thinking of more things to say about it. It really stays with you. I will also add that I think the best parts about it were the classroom scenes - so great! I was glad to hear Lee Daniels praising them too, at some Oscar function. The message is that literacy and education will save us from all the violence, which is clearly necessary since so much of the world is made up of that violence, as is evidenced by my list of films.