Film – Best of 2009

My days of loving obscure art house film is over. I am also through with depressing and “realistic” movies about some social cause. These generally make up most film critics’ lists – not mine. No Precious or Up in the Air on my list are well-executed films. Only one “small” film made my list for 2009, and it broke out a bit, doing over 30 million at the box office. I’m not sure there are many academy award winners here (although I suspect a few nominees).

I would also add that my bias is that movies, which had their biggest total box office in history, ideally provide an opportunity to escape the world’s troubles while transporting the viewer elsewhere. These are not documentaries.

Finally, I would add that Television continues to produce drama and comedy that rivals anything on the big screen. With a Blu-Ray DVD player, High Definition big screen, and a little discretion – television series on DVD remain my favorite entertainment medium. Best of 2009 TV to follow.

Here they are in no particular order:

Taken – Over-the-top non-stop action, set in Paris against the backdrop of human trafficking, was a big surprise at the box office and the video store. In a role that was a long way from Alfred Kinsey, Liam Neeson kicked some severe ass playing a reel rival to Jason Bourne. Not stop ridiculous action. It made me want to buy an Audi.

I Love You Man – One of two great comedies this year. Paul Rudd continues to infuse any film he’s in with that everyman quality that appeals to both sexes. Any movie featuring a “man cave” and a befuddled Rashida Jones is watching her fiance “Slappin’ the bass” is alright. It also manages to be sweet.

Star Trek – JJ Abrams is still smokin’ hot since Alias has had some actual home runs – Lost, Cloverfield,  and Fringe being the best. Who expected this reboot of the wrung-out Star Trek franchise would be so entertaining? I sure didn’t. When you least expect it, a particular pointy-eared friend appears – a most welcome surprise. Great fun. A real popcorn movie and a great turn by newcomer Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.

Inglorious Basterds – Reviewed in full here. Not Tarantino’s best – but a great return to form and a not to missed supporting actor turn by Christoph Walz.

500 Days of Summer – A small movie that gets everything right about the ups and downs of a youthful romance. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a real star in the making who effortlessly shoulders his schlub role that owes much to Swingers in terms of tone. We wince with him as he missteps his way to a peaceful resolution. Director Marc Webb throws in the cinematic kitchen sink with split screens, animation, captioning, and a dance number that will make you break out your Hall and Oates CDs.

The Hangover – It may be the funniest movie of the year. So wrong and so funny. The excellent ensemble cast – too bad the academy doesn’t recognize that category. Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis are hilarious, and the movie uses the element of surprise to pile one preposterous situation upon another. Wonderfully eccentric characters like Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow, Rob Riggle’s Officer Franklin, and Mike Tyson as Mike Tyson keep the comedic heat coming.

The Blind Side – Precious with a happy ending. Sandra Bullock reminds us why she’s a star in her role as a tight-skirted, southern, card-carrying NRA member who won’t tolerate any BS as she tries to help someone who responds to the help given. Another excellent ensemble performance with wonderful turns by Quinton Aaron and Jae Head. Another surprise at the box office – which is no surprise as the film grabs you. Not a single cheap emotional note. Writer/Director John Lee Hancock, who wrote the overlooked emotionally charged Perfect World, does a great job of telling the story without crossing the line to saccharine bathos. Great story great film. A lesson for all of us.

Avatar – I liked this so much that I reviewed it two times. With a billion at the box office and counting, this is one remarkable achievement for the movie business. Not based on a novel, short story, or sequel – Avatar is wholly original – incubated and birthed from the mind of James Cameron. In the words of my seven-year-old, “the best movie I have seen in my life!” At 162 minutes, keeping a seven-year-old transfixed with 3D glasses is something. Naysayers who complain about various narrative deficiencies should get a life. This is a great film.

There you have it—all great pieces of entertainment. Please comment if you are inclined to agree or disagree.

I didn’t screen the Hurt Locker or An Education – on many top 10’s. My bad, and I will see them soon.

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