Maybe I’m a little late to the game for this and maybe no one cares, but I’m feeling a little self-indulgent today and sometimes this is just a lot of fun, so here it is, folks: a genuine, certified ShepRamsey annual top ten.
Top tens, fun as they are, seem more and more ridiculous every year. Certainly we must acknowledge that I’m not naming the definitive absolute best of things in the exact order of their worth, because frankly, that’s all subjective anyway and my own opinions about these movies will probably change over the course of time. There might be some that become less impressive with repeat viewings, while some become more. There might even be some that I wildly regret leaving off. For instance, WALL-E wasn’t even on my top ten of last year, but then, after more and more exposure to it, showed up on my top ten of the decade.
So I guess this is the first step to the inevitable question of “what will I regret this year?” For now, though, these movies are my personal favorites. I have them ranked, but I could never say that one is a better movie than another—this is just how I like ‘em. If you have an issue with that, you are more than welcome to make your own list and spend days on end cursing my name and spitting in my face…after all if that’s not what the comments section at the bottom of the page is for, then I have no idea what the hell it is for. Let’s start a dialogue, America!
Anyway, let’s move on to the list, shall we? In my humble opinion, 2009 was an incredible year for movies and I love that my list covers so many different territories, genres, styles, and ideas. It was a tough one to perfect (and if my Eeyore-esque apologetic intro suggests anything, no such task was accomplished), so for those curious, here it is.
10. Star Trek
The number ten spot was probably the most difficult for me to come up with. I cycled a few different titles through this spot, like Where the Wild Things Are, Coraline, District 9, Drag Me to Hell, and even Funny People, which I really took to quite strongly after a second viewing. But I can’t possibly ignore what might have just been the most insanely entertaining movie of the year. JJ Abram’s reboot of the Star Trek franchise was something I was very unsure of at first. I had never been a Star Trek geek myself, but I felt like this film had a potential to ruin something so sacred for so many, and all for the sake of a few bucks and a mildly fun but forgettable night at the movies. But I clearly had no idea how good this movie could truly be. Complete with a great—bordering on perfect—cast, and boasting a script that—logic flaws and glaring coincidences be damned—is one of the most clever, fun, and joyously frenetic feats of blockbuster storytelling in a long, long time, this movie was easily the best “summer movie” of the summer, and it deserves to be remembered and rewatched time and again. Oh, and it also has an amazing score. Who’da thunk?
9. In the Loop
I guess it stands to reason that this British political satire is easily the funniest movie of the year (and not The Hangover, for God’s sake). With an average joke rate of about 10 per minute, it’s only logical that there would be plenty of hits—and brother, are there! In the Loop is a sharp satire certainly, but more than that it’s the kind of movie that you’ll want to pause to catch your breath and rewind just to lose it all over again. It’s endlessly quotable and has some of the very best comedic performances in years, particularly from the two leads, Peter Capaldi, as an irritable foul-mouthed political advisor, and Tom Hollander as a riotously incompetent but well-meaning Parliament member. Character actor David Rasche (someone you’ll surely point at and say “Hey, it’s that guy!”) is also noteworthy, providing plenty of good hard laughs. Try to watch this movie without laughing—it will be difficult, difficult, lemon, difficult.
8. Up in the Air
I was so skeptical of Up in the Air. I had yet to be really wowed by a Jason Reitman movie, which made me sad, because he seemed like such a nice guy. I liked Thank You for Smoking but it gets less and less impressive each time I see it, and Juno I never liked. The trailer for Up in the Air left me far less than impressed, but everyone kept talking about how great it was. Thank god they were right! Up in the Air is a wonderful film about the importance of human relationships and how they’re losing the respect that they deserve and need in these rapidly changing modern times. Performances from all leads are excellent, especially George Clooney and Anna Kendrick, and Reitman’s script and direction are sentimental and engrossing without ever being sappy.
7. The White Ribbon
If you liked Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (either version, German or US, they were pretty much the same movie), then good for you—so did I. If you didn’t, however, you’re in the majority, but maybe The White Ribbon might sit a little bit better with you. Whereas Funny Games was about 100% experimental and even went so far as to implicate its own audience in the horrors it portrayed, The White Ribbon is a classically orchestrated feat of cinema, telling quite the stirring story—several, actually, all equal portions melodrama and mystery, and ponders more than it points fingers. It concerns a small German village, just before the start of World War I, and the perplexities surrounding tragic incidents that begin taking place, told through the eyes of a young, kindhearted schoolteacher trying to overcome the madness he sees. I was predisposed to like this film because I really love the way Haneke makes his movies—the way he shoots, directs, tells his stories, and the performances he elicits from his actors. In the case of The White Ribbon, all of these details are at the top of their form. Haneke has described this film as being about the birth of all forms of terrorism. Not their birth in world history, I assume, but their birth in the mind of the aggressor, starting with the proclivity to blame, shame, punish, judge, and reap vengeance. It’s a long film, deliberately paced, yet entirely absorbing, and shot in truly gorgeous black and white.
Moon is a great science fiction film, the very best in a year that was mostly very good for science fiction (I’m not lookin’ at you, Avatar). Between this film, Knowing (say what you will, but I liked it a lot), Star Trek, and District 9, we had four exceedingly memorable sci-fi films this year, each so different from the others. But it’s the specific science fiction qualities of Moon that make it such an impressive achievement. Moon’s despairing themes of loneliness work hand-in-hand with such a truly great and fascinating science fiction story, and it’s so refreshing to see the genre being executed in such a way. Sam Rockwell gives a terrific performance as he pretty much has to carry the entire movie on his shoulders. First-time writer/director Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie, proves himself a natural, and the script by Nathan Parker is sensational. Additional kudos go out to the fantastic score by Clint Mansell. This is a great picture, and I can’t wait to see Jones’s next movie.
5. The Hurt Locker
“War is hell” is a given by now, and I think we’ve seen plenty of movies come to that conclusion already. So, thankfully, that’s not what Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is about. The film starts with a quote: “War is a drug.” And that is exactly what it is about and, as if a drug itself, this film is thrilling, frightening, and when it’s all over, quite sobering. To call The Hurt Locker the best film yet made about the current Iraq war would be to wildly undersell it. For one thing, there really haven’t been any other good ones made about it yet, and for another thing, had they been good, they still wouldn’t have held a candle to the fierce power of Kathryn Bigelow’s reverent and thrilling film, which intensely documents the highest peaks of human bravery and the types of people it takes to reach them. It’s not a pro-war film or an anti-war film, but a contemplative examination of the mind of the soldier. Bigelow’s ex-hubby James Cameron had a movie of his own out this year, some piece of shit called Avatar. Look forward to the both of them going head to head for the Best Director Oscar. Look forward to her winning.
Thank God that Chan-wook Park made this movie, because in the hands of a less wise filmmaker, Thirst would have certainly been a snarky, bitter, and arrogant endeavor. Maybe it’s me, but something about the concept of “a priest becomes a vampire” might have surely gone the way of theological condescension. But, Thirst is by no means an anti-religion film; in fact, there’s an emotional core to it that’s romantic, passionate, and oddly spiritual. I could state, without hesitation, that—stylistically—Park is my very favorite working filmmaker. He and his regular DP, Chung-hoon Chung, conjure up some wonderfully crafty camerawork, his use of music is always rich, and his sense of humor fearlessly strange. With Thirst, he’s implemented all of these wonderful touches to a captivating morality tale, with definite shades of Macbeth, about a good man who realizes he’s slowly becoming a monster. It’s great stuff; powerful, funny, frightening, and wild.
3. A Serious Man
The Coen brothers’ previous film, Burn After Reading, was a lot of fun, but it didn’t make my top 10 last year. There was no way that their A Serious Man wasn’t going to this year. What’s been inaccurately described as “a Jewish American Beauty” is actually something much larger; a more fatalistic and philosophical piece of filmmaking. Knowing that we’ve seen enough movies about suburban family men who find themselves sick of their lives, the Coens introduce us to something far scarier, as a 1960s-era Jewish man finds that it’s his life that’s becoming sick of him. Broadway actor (and Hollywood unknown) Michael Stuhlbarg is so good and so likable, and keeps us rooting for him as he struggles to figure out what it all means, what Ha’shem is trying to tell him, and to maintain his faith, morals, and ethics in the face of constant domestic tragedy. And amid all of that, it also manages to be one of the funniest movies of the year. Well done, Coens. If not for the unmatchable brilliance of Fargo, I would certainly have to call A Serious Man the Coen brothers’ best work.
Up is one of the very best films so far made by those folks at Pixar Animation, the most prolific outputters of movie excellence working today. (Except Cars. I can’t stand Cars.) It is such a wonderful, uplifting, funny, and inventive family film on top of being—no contest—the most emotionally affecting movie I saw all year. Seriously. I’ve seen this film several times now and I can’t stop crying. It’s the best adventure story of the year, so rich and creative, about an elderly widower named Carl who lifts up his house with balloons, and sets a course for his and his late wife’s longtime dream destination. There’s more than a lot to admire here, but the film’s silent recounting of Carl’s married life, seen very early in the film, is perhaps the greatest four minutes of any movie in years. In a year that was, all in all, pretty damn spectacular for kids/family movies (see: Coraline and Where the Wild Things Are and Fantastic Mr. Fox), Up easily reigned supreme.
1. Inglourious Basterds
Since this was the only movie of 2009 that was on my top ten of the decade, I guess it’s only logical that it be my number one of the year. Yes, after several viewings and lots of deliberation, I have no choice but to name Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds to be my favorite movie of 2009, and pretty obviously the best film of his career. To me, Inglourious Basterds is a movie lover’s movie, and as such, I have an endless love and affection for it. I don’t know that there’s anything about this movie that I don’t love. I love the dialogue (and yes, there’s a lot of it). Tarantino has always had a gift for unique and engaging dialogue, but it’s never been as fresh, sharp, and mature as it is in this film. I love the characters. Each one is fun and fascinating to watch, even—sometimes especially—the ones who don’t last very long. I love the music, mostly comprised of old Ennio Morricone pieces to give a true spaghetti western feel (oh yeah, and there’s some David Bowie too). I love that the entire movie—at a pretty lengthy two-and-a-half hours—isn’t a lot of quick scenes, but instead a small handful of long, intoxicating scenes, each like its own short film. I love that Tarantino—both literally and figuratively—killed Hitler with film. If there’s a grander testament to the power and the majesty of the cinema, I’d sure love to hear it. Tarantino had been talking about this film for years (like he does), and this year we finally got it—and it was well worth the wait. Was it the very best film of this year? Maybe not. But it was my favorite.
I’m not going to do any honorable mentions. Assuming you read the article, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of what they are, and I won’t bore you by placing them all in list form for a little more gushing. Like I said earlier, 2009 was a fantastic year for movies, and if I could have put 20 movies on my top ten, I would have. But I guess that wouldn’t have been a top ten then.
So there. It’s over and done. If you disagree, don’t be alarmed…it just means that you aren’t me and everything is functioning as it should.