“2009: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times”
by Scott Mantz
It’s amazing how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in 1939, things were looking pretty bleak. The United States was deep in the throes of the Great Depression, and it was only a matter of time before America had to join the fight in World War II.
Flash forward seventy years. Things aren’t quite so bad, but they’re certainly bad enough. Once again, the country is in the midst of a devastating economic crisis, and we’re fighting wars on a number of fronts: Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s on top of the war on terrorism.
But the silver lining for both 1939 and 2009 is that they were both great years for movies. Granted, ‘39 was the best year ever in motion picture history, thanks to classics like “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” But ‘09 wasn’t too shabby either, and for the first time in a while, I actually had a hard time picking just 10 movies for my annual year-end best-of list. Ah, if I only had this problem every year…
|1) “Up in the Air”
Not only is Jason Reitman’s third film as a director his best movie yet, but it’s also number one on the runway for Best Picture at the Oscars. George Clooney gives the performance of his career as a corporate downsizer in this smart, funny, poignant, profound and heartbreaking masterpiece that also happens to be extremely relevant in light of the recession.
|2) “The Hurt Locker”
The most gripping movie yet about the Iraq War is also one of the most visceral movies ever made about wartime combat. Jeremy Renner is captivating as a bomb detonator with a short fuse, but the real revelation here is director Kathryn Bigelow, who effectively and impressively raised the bar for how intense and engrossing a war movie can be.
|3) “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire”
What could have been relentlessly depressing was instead rendered powerful and inspiring, thanks to the assured direction of Lee Daniels. Mo’Nique’s Oscar-worthy performance as an abusive mother has been earning raves ever since its Sundance debut, but newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is also unforgettable as a pregnant inner-city teen who refuses to let poverty, illiteracy, obesity, HIV and incest get the best of her.
|4) “(500) Days of Summer”
What happens when the girl you love doesn’t love you back? That’s the focus of director Marc Webb’s delightful gem, also from Sundance, which features a sharp, funny and extremely clever non-linear screenplay written by Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter. Co-stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel have romantic chemistry to burn, and downtown Los Angeles never looked more beautiful on film.
|5) “Inglourious Basterds”
If there’s a lock in any Oscar category, it’s Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor. His incredible performance as an evil, sadistic, charming and manipulative Nazi Colonel is one for the books, but so is writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s ambitious, absorbing and exciting 5-part tour de force that brilliantly deconstructs the World War II genre.
|6) “Star Trek”
The first voyage of the Starship Enterprise wasn’t just a great “Star Trek” movie; it was a great movie, period. Director JJ Abrams gave the tired 43-year-old series a brand-spanking new overhaul that was fresh, fun, smart, sexy, vibrant and cool. It was also perfectly cast, as Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto made the classic characters of Kirk and Spock their own, effectively paving the way for this awesome reboot to boldly go where no “Trek” had gone before.
|7) “District 9”
Made for less than $30 million, writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s violent, disturbing, intense, action-packed and very entertaining summer surprise looks like it cost 10 times that. This metaphor for apartheid isn’t just the best sci-fi allegory since the original 1968 version of “Planet of the Apes”; it’s also an instant sci-fi classic in its own right.
Disney/Pixar does it again, matching last year’s brilliant “WALL*E” with one of their best films yet. After an incredibly moving and nearly dialogue-free 10-minute set-up, “Up” soars with a rousing, imaginative and heartwarming adventure about following your dreams and living your life – all of it – to the fullest.
|9) “The Hangover”
One of the funniest comedies of the decade is also one of the year’s top-grossing smash hits (over $275 million domestically). Head-pounding hilarity ensues when three friends black out during a bachelor party in Las Vegas and the groom-to-be goes missing, but the side-splitting ending credits are alone worth the price of admission.
|10) “Capitalism: A Love Story”
Controversial documentarian Michael Moore comes full circle, 20 years after “Roger and Me” exposed the truths behind his economically-ravaged hometown. Now, Moore moves on to the rest of the country with biting commentary about how we got into this mess. “Capitalism” will make you laugh, it will make you cry and it will make you angry. In other words, it’s par for the course for a Michael Moore movie.