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The Top 10 Movies of 2009 — Part Two!

Yesterday I began my list of my Top 10 Movies of 2009!  Let’s continue, shall we?

5.  Inglourious Basterds — Quentin Tarantino demonstrates, once again, that no one can wring more nail-biting tension out of simple conversation than he can.  What I thought would be  a simple men-on-a-mission story wound up being a much more complex, intriguing tale.  Filled with astounding, unforgettable performances (Brad Pitt as the tough-talking Aldo Raine, Melanie Laurent as the fiercely intelligent Shosanna Dreyfus, and of course Christopher Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, one of the most unforgettable film villains of the past decade) and some great Tarantino touches (yep, that is a Samuel L. Jackson voice-over at one point), the film is ridiculously compelling.  And that ending.  Ho boy.  Read my full review here.

4.  District 9 — With a budget reportedly in the ballpark of 30 million dollars (which, if my information is correct, is about a third of what was spent on the Alec Baldwin/Meryl Streep comedy It’s Complicated), first-time director Neill Blomkamp fashioned one of the most gripping sci-fi tales I have ever seen.  The film is set in Johannesburg, almost thirty years after an enormous alien spacecraft appeared over the city.  The aliens, nicknamed “prawns,” have been settled in slum-like conditions in a refugee camp called District 9.  When the corporation MNU bows to public pressure to remove the aliens from the vicinity of Johannesburg, the hapless Wikus Van De Merwe (who participates in the forced evictions) finds his life turned upside-down.  As a sci-fi fan I am always looking for smart, original new works of sci-fi, and this film has both qualities in spades.  With jaw-dropping special effects (I am amazed at how well the alien “prawns” are brought to life), a career making performance by Sharlto Copley (who plays Wikus), some terrific action, and edge-of-your seat intensity from start to finish, District 9 is a magnificent and haunting creation.  Read my full review here.

3.  Fantastic Mr. Fox — A deliriously fantastic combination of Roald Dahl’s story (about a family of foxes menaced by three vicious farmers) and director Wes Anderson’s unique sensibilities, Fantastic Mr. Fox feels to me like the film Mr. Anderson has always wanted to make.  He has filled the movie with his specific style — detail-filled sets and precise, stage-like staging — and the foxes are a classic addition to Mr. Anderson’s repertoire of wonderfully idiosyncratic, somewhat disfunctional families.  The script is complex and sophisticated (with characters who all possess strengths as well as character flaws, and no easy answers to their dilemmas in sight), and the voice-actors (including George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, and many others) are wonderful.  The stop-motion animation has a hand-crafted, low-tech feel that fits the story perfectly.  (But that is not to take away from the great achievement in animation that this film represents.  Between the animation and the voice-acting, these foxes — and other animals — are unquestionably ALIVE.)  Somber and joyful, playful and serious, I can’t think of another movie that is anything like it.  Fantastic.  Read my full review here.

2.  Up — At this point I am really starting to believe that the mad geniuses working at Pixar can really do no wrong.  After each new Pixar magnum opus I continue to declare that there’s no way they’ll ever be able to top THIS one, and then the next film comes along.  Well, here I am again.  My jaw was pretty much on the floor from beginning to end.  The heartbreaking opening sequence (in which we follow Carl Fredrickson and the love of his life, Ellie, from childhood to old age over the course of a matter of minutes) is absolutely devastating, a gut-punch that could be one of the most powerful few minutes of film that I have ever seen.  It’s a hell of a way to start a film, and luckily the rest of the movie earns the emotional investment garnered by that opening sequence.  I absolutely adore the way the film slowly builds upon that somber opening until it becomes an explosion of, well, all sorts of wonderful weirdness that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling for you if you haven’t seen the film.  I will only add that Dug is, without question, one of the greatest characters created on film in recent memory.  The computer animation is absolutely stunning, and the 3-D effects give the film an extraordinary depth without ever becoming gimmicky or annoying.  It’s a masterpiece, and there’s absolutely NO WAY that those folks at Pixar will ever be able to top THIS ONE…  Read my full review here.

1.  Where The Wild Things Are — If there’s a theme to my choices this year, I think it’s pretty obvious that I am drawn to films that feel like unique, singular creations.  I love walking out of a movie thinking, boy, I’ve never seen anything quite like THAT before.  Well, no film made me feel that way — that I had been lucky enough to go on a cinematic journey unlike any I had taken before — more than Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved book, Where The Wild Things Are.  This film hit me like a ton of bricks, and I almost don’t know where to begin in describing my love of it.  To begin with, I was blown away by the emotional intensity and honesty of Max’s journey in the film.  A young boy with an enormous amount of energy and creativity, Max is also filled with great loneliness and anger, feelings that he is not yet old enough to be able to process or really understand.  This causes him to lash out at his sister and his mother (Catherine Keener).  After one such explosion, Max runs out of the house, at which point he finds a boat and sails away to the domain of the Wild Things.  The creatures are fierce and violent, but also gentle and childlike in their emotions.  Where the Wild Things Are is gripping but also almost dreamlike in its storytelling.  The film is not in any rush to draw obvious morals for either Max or for the audience, and it studiously avoids a standard narrative structure.  This gives the film a naturalism (which is a funny thing to say about a movie with giant Wild Things) and a sophistication and complexity that I adore.  The visual effects are astounding, as the Jim Henson Company’s giant puppets were seamlessly combined with computer-generated facial animation (not to mention terrific voice acting by the likes of James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, and others) to bring the Wild Things to extraordinarily convincing life.  Young Max Records is phenomenal as Max — one of the best child performances I’ve seen in while, believable and gripping.  Spike Jonze (who directed the film, and co-wrote the screenplay with Dave Eggers) has created a true masterpiece, one I relish having the opportunity to revisit many more times to come.  Max may have gone home to his family, but I can’t wait to return to Where the Wild Things Are.  Read my full review here.

So that’s my list!  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Let me know.  In the mean-time, I’ll see you back here on Friday for my final Best Of 2009 list, my listing of the 10 Best Comic Books of 2009!  See you there!

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