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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Thumbs 'Ups,' French Connections & 'Ties' That Bind: The Top Films of 2009

Here are my top films of 2009. I would love to see some of yours.  These are films that moved me in some way, shape or form (in no particular order). I have also added some runners-up and one special film that I almost forgot.

Up, Up in the Air, Me and Orson Welles, Still Walking, In the Loop, Julie and Julia, An Education, Secret of the Grain, The Damned United, The Hurt Locker, Crazy Heart, Summer Hours, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (most overlooked)

Up in the Air
I can't say it made me feel the best; losing a job and being out of a relationship are feelings that run deep for anyone. But Jason Reitman knows how to make good movies. Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga proved to be great foils for George Clooney; their scene in the airport talking about relationships was priceless.

Me and Orson Welles
I'm a huge Richard Linklater fan and I think that this is his best film yet. (Sorry Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.) I love the show-within-a-show formula, with everything pointing to the Welles production of Julius Caesar in the end. Christian McKay is dead-on as Welles and Zac Efron (who knew?) can really act. Also has a great supporting cast led by Zoe Kazan, Ben Chaplin and James Tupper.

The moment towards the end of the movie when the Ed Asner character looks into his book of memories and sees it from a different light is one of the best film moments of 2009. It's a wonderful movie for people of any age, giving hope to people of any age. (Speaking of which, I need to see it again!)

Still Walking
This Japanese film also dealt with moving on in the face of tragedy - and gives hope at the end. A family comes together years after the oldest son son died saving the life of a young boy in the ocean.  The scenes with the now-young man returning for his annual visit to the family are hard to watch but beautiful at the same time.  PS - There was another Japanese film this year called Nobody to Watch Over Me that I saw in Santa Barbara but has not been released. Rent it if possible!

In the Loop
This is the film I laughed hardest at this year. Wow, rapid-fire dialogue, great characters and funny situations create a non-stop The Office meets Fawlty Towers meets American Buffalo (given the seriousness of the situation and foul language).

Julie and Julia
This underrated gem made making a sweet, rhythmic and time-switching movie look easy, but it's not. I enjoyed the back-and-forthness of the story, always wanting more when they switched away. Needless to say, acting was great including Stanley Tucci as Mr. Child and the beautiful (and currently pregnant) Amy Adams.

An Education
When the four leads - Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Dominic Cooper and Rosalind Pike - were out on a "date," all was right with the film world. How about the scene at that great jazz club?  Throw in bits of Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams and Alfred Molina, and an excellent script and direction, and you have an extremely enjoyable movie to watch.

Secret of the Grain
This wonderful, overlooked - thanks in Washington to a silly Washington Post review - French film about a Tunisian community in a coastal town had perhaps the best dinner scene in films since Babette's Feast. The director likes to stay with scenes for a long time, sometimes leading to sheer joy, as in the dinner and belly-dancing scene, and sometimes to sheer agony, as in a scene of a wife complaining about her philandering husband. Either way, it's a brilliant film.

The Damned United
This film, featuring great performances from Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall, has all the makings of a terrific movie to watch: a troubled good guy and his faithful sidekick, a bad guy, an exciting story, and a couple personal epiphanies - and it accomplishes everything in a tidy time period.  It's based on a true story; I liked the way they showed real photos of that time in the credits.

The Hurt Locker
From the beginning scene with the amazing Guy Pearce, you could not take your eyes off this film. I know the armrests had extra wear after I finished with them. It has an engaging life-and-death story to go along with valuable scenes that show the humanity of the characters.

Crazy Heart
Jeff Bridges gives his best performance since The Fabulous Baker Boys as, ironically, another singer in this Virginia-born-and-bred film about surviving and going for it all in the great West. Beautiful scenery, strong performances from Maggie Gylenhaal and Colin Farrell, and a Robert Duvall sighting (sans politics) makes this an old-fashioned well-done movie.

Summer Hours
I don't remember everything from this gorgeous French film that brought back memories of My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle - those lovely French scenery films that made us all long for those childhoods. But I do recall the ruminative scenes at their summer house that transported me to some of my best times. Then, the family in-fighting, that we all can identify with, gave the film a serious reality that lifted it above those older movies.

One Special Film. I went to see author/doctor/rock-star equivalent Atul Gawunde last night at Politics & Prose and saw the dvd for a movie that I almost forgot. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. I saw it last year at the Avalon's tiny upstairs screen and thought it was incredible. The director intersperses between this grainy late '60s game film and interviews with the same players today - with no narration! And it works incredibly well as both an exciting game and a wonderful comment on those times versus now. Three women sitting in front of me knew nothing about football and loved it as well. Some famous names from the film: Tommie Lee Jones (a player on Harvard), Meryl Streep (the girlfriend of a Yale player), Brian Dowling (Yale quarterback who is the BD in Doonesbury), and Calvin Hill (the Yale halfback who went on to star in the NFL).

My next 10:
Adventureland (almost made top 12 - very nicely done) , Sugar (should have got more exposure), Bad Lieutenant (fun to watch Cage!), 35 Shots of Rum (nice to see some different characters focused on), The Messenger (awesome performances), Beaches of Agnes (my favorite documentary), Goodbye Solo (rent all his films), The Informant (I love Marvin Hamlisch's score), Star Trek (please let JJ Abrams make the next James Bond movie - with Clive Owen) and 500 Days of Summer (good fun, rent Brick).

And yes, Avatar was very exciting to watch!

Let me know some of your favorites!


  1. Thanks for sharing your list, Ronn! Here's mine:
    Up | Tulpan | Tokyo Sonata | Summer Hours | Inglorious Basterds | Police Adjective | The Hurt Locker | Seraphine | The Beaches of Agnès | Goodbye Solo (Honorable mention: Avatar & The Informant)

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  4. Yeah, thanks for the list! I added a couple to my blockbuster queue. I don't see many movies these days, but 2 that stood out are "Coraline" and "Waltz With Bashir". Not sure if they were 2009 films. Maybe 2008.