Saturday, January 23, 2010

Catherine's Best of 2009

A Little Romance
In looking at my three favorite films of 2009, I discovered that, for me, this is the year of the revisionist love story. Away We Go isn't a romantic comedy about a couple falling in and/or out of love, it's about a couple that stays in love, from the beginning to the end of the film. (I'm not really spoiling anything there.) 500 Days of Summer is a story of boy-meets-girl, but it's really about two people learning about love and questioning if it's a reality. Bright Star is probably the most straightforward romance, but it's all in moderation. The romance between Fanny Brawne and the poet John Keats is intense and passionate, only not very much so in the physical sense but in the most emotional and intellectual senses. The letters written back and forth between the two, along with interspersed verses of Keats' poetry is truly something of beauty, a joy forever.

Lovely Leading Lads
Yes, John Krasinski, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ben Whishaw all give wonderful performances in those last three movies, but this year, Jeff Bridges, Colin Firth and George Clooney have each given one of the best performances of their careers. In writer-director Scott Cooper's Crazy Heart, Bridges plays Bad Blake, a country singer whose life has become an endless blur of booze, small gigs, one-night stands and more booze. Bridges takes that character through a range of strong emotions, managing to avoid overblown stereotypes - it truly is one of the best of his career, and possibly the best leading actor performance of 2009. In co-writer/director Tom Ford's A Single Man, Firth plays George Falconer, an English professor in the 1960s who recently lost his partner of 16 years (played by Matthew Goode). It follows him throughout one day in his life, from the memories of Jim, the aforementioned partner, through his work day at a small university to dinner with a close friend (Julianne Moore) and beyond. Firth fully embodies the character, conveying the accurate amounts of emotion expected from scene to scene, and bringing just the slightest bit of arrogance we've seen him display by playing Mr. Darcy three times. In co-writer/director Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, Clooney flawlessly fills a role that was written expressly for him. He plays Ryan Bingham, a man who flies across the country to fire people and considers the sky, along with the endless stream of airports and hotels, to be his home. When he meets an intriguing fellow female traveler (Vera Farmiga) and his company decides to try out some new techniques at the urging of a young employee (Anna Kendrick), he starts to question how he has been living his life.

"War, Friend Only to the Undertaker"
Jeremy Renner could be added to the strong leading male performances for his role in The Hurt Locker, which is an impressive look at a three-man bomb unit in the Iraq war. Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson and Samantha Morton all give great performances in co-writer/director Oren Moverman's The Messenger, about two soldiers given the responsibility of notifying family members when a loved one has died in action. In a decidedly less realistic look at war, writer-director Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds fictionalizes significant parts of World War II as a movie that is one part a men-on-a-mission movie, one part a bloody tale of revenge. The entire cast is great; Christoph Waltz's performance as Hans Landa is incredibly deserving of all the Best Supporting Actor attention he's been receiving.

Amazing Animation
Wes Anderson, who is one of my favorite directors, made his first adaptation and first animated film this year, Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the novel by Roald Dahl. Even though it was stop-motion animated, it still had the stamp of an Anderson film - immense attention to detail and it continued what is perhaps the best use of inner-titles since the silent era. Pixar also kept its streak of wonderful films for both kids and adults going with Up. Like a lot of people, I fell in love with the segment at the beginning of the film and think that alone was worth the price of admission. In addition to those two, writer-director Henry Selick's Coraline was also an example of a good animated film, and the revolutionary animation techniques used in Robert Zemeckis' A Christmas Carol and James Cameron's Avatar truly are spectacles to see.

Growing Up is Hard to Do
Co-writer/director Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are could also crossover into the good year for animation due to the partial animation used for some of the creatures, but I put it in this category because it is perhaps one of the best films about being a kid and how growing up can suck. For a more traditional coming-of-age tale, you have Lone Scherfig's An Education. Carey Mulligan is perfect as Jenny, a teenage girl in 1960s England learning about life and deciding what she wants from it.

In The Beaches of Agnes, French New Wave director Agnes Varda turns the camera on herself to provide one of the most insightful documentaries - or films in general - of a life lived. From her childhood through her filmmaking career to her present time spent with her family and still making films, Varda gives an amazingly honest portrayal of the life she lived and lives. Co-writer/director Robert Kenner's Food, Inc. is also amazingly honest in its portrayal of the American food industry. The mixture of interviews with people at various levels of the production and consumption chains tells a story of which people need to be aware.

My top 10 of 2009 (in alphabetical order): 500 Days of Summer, Away We Go, The Beaches of Agnes, Bright Star, An Education, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Inglourious Basterds, A Single Man, Up and Up in the Air. Runners-up: The Brothers Bloom, Coco Before Chanel, Crazy Heart, Food, Inc., The Hurt Locker, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, The Messenger, Moon, Where the Wild Things Are and The Young Victoria. These short paragraphs can only begin to explain my appreciation for those movies, so all I have to add is that you should check them out for yourself.


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