Five Favorite Movies of 2009 … and My Top 25 picks of the Decade

I realize I might be rather late in posting this kind of list, but I figure since it’s technically still the first month of the year, I think I can get away with it. No? Oh well, I don’t live by your rules! 🙂

I can’t judge whether 2009 is a good or bad year for movies, as I haven’t really been paying so close attention to previous years prior to this blog. However, I think it’s safe to say that though it’s not exactly the ‘most stellar’ year in movie history, quite a few movies released last year made 2009 a pretty memorable one.

Anyhoo, I titled this post ‘favorite’ because this kind of list is personal in nature, so I didn’t want to say ‘best of’ because these might not necessarily be the most excellent quality or ‘perfect’ cinematic pieces, but for one reason or another, they either made a big impression on me or were hugely entertaining despite their flaws.

So with that in mind, I give you my Top Five Favorites of 2009:

  1. Avatar
    The movie that dethroned Cameron’s previously unbeatable Titanic is still going strong in its seventh straight week. I’m in the camp that totally dig this movie, though when I first saw it at Avatar day, I wasn’t sure how successful it was going to be given the somewhat poor reactions to its first trailer. But Avatar lives up to the hype in a big way. Its visuals is so mind-blowing spectacular it gave me such an immersive cinematic ride like no other, and it’s one of those rare movies that’s still rewarding in its second viewing, which is really no small feat. As for the story? Well, it’s not as ‘original’ as one expect, but it’s quite an engaging one. As to those criticism that call the storyline ‘loathsome,’ MadHatter says it best: hogwash! I guess it’s easy to criticize other people’s work, but seriously, those naysayers should ask themselves, given the opportunity, would they actually be able to top this one?
  2. District 9
    Looking back, I’m still quite surprised how much I enjoyed this movie and the impression it left me days after. Truthfully, I wasn’t anticipating to see this movie, I only saw one trailer and didn’t know much about it, but the highly-favorable reviews intrigued me and so I went. Suffice to say, I was impressed by the innovative way this story was told, and especially by newcomer Sharlto Copley’s bravura performance. Despite being quite squeamish, I wasn’t too disturbed by the gritty and stomach-churning scenes as they served the story and the payoff was worthwhile. This was by far one of the most memorable movies I’ve seen in a while and the ending left me wanting more. As I said in my review, it’s such a distinctly moving, poignant and provocative film that makes you ponder long after the end credits roll.
  3. (500) Days of Summer
    This movie was embraced by critics and average moviegoers alike and it’s easy to see why. I’ve long believed that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a fantastic young actor, but his performance here again reached a pinnacle in his already impressive body of work. The credit doesn’t belong entirely to Gordon-Levitt though, as first-time director Marc Webb is also to be praised for making an anti rom-com with such an innovative and refreshing story-telling style. The clever and witty script, combined with memorably quirky and vividly surreal scenes, makes the love story of a regular guy so deeply affecting and real. Though I said in my review that I wasn’t as excited about Zooey Deschanel, I still have to commend her for portraying Summer with a certain depth and novelty that’s as far away from a caricature desirable ‘it’ girl that’s ubiquitous in Hollywood.
  4. Watchmen
    I’m a sucker for superhero movies and am a fan of Zack Snyder’s style ever since 300, but Watchmen is not your typical superhero ‘good guys’ with savior-complex. Sure they wear costumes, but these ‘heroes’ are as flawed as they are vulnerable (well except for Dr. Manhattan with his god-like powers), and definitely not the kind of characters kids should aspire to. Despite being too violent and raunchy for my taste — not to mention bizarre (or even retarded as one of my friends call it) — this movie is memorable for its spectacular visuals, as well as terrific performances from the cast, most notably Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s The Comedian, Patrick Wilson as Night Owl Jr. and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Snyder jam-packed it with breathtaking and edgy scenes, creative camera angles, and one of the coolest opening sequences ever. Beneath the wildly exhilarating madness though, the story is thought-provoking and surprisingly deep. As this article says, “Who watches the watchmen?  In this sense, this is less a theoretical pondering and more a deeply profound political philosophical question… [it] is not about the super heroes at all.  It is about us.  Can our self governance actually work?  Has it worked?  Does it work?” It perhaps raises more questions than it answers, especially for someone like me who isn’t familiar with Alan Moore’s graphic novel it’s based on, but it’s still a bold and inspired piece of work that makes for an extraordinary and riveting movie-going experience.
  5. Up in the Air
    A gem of a movie, director Jason Reitman takes a subject so pertinent in today’s society and creates a story that’s deeply engaging and wonderful to watch. The movie’s ‘CGI’ comes in the form of kudos-worthy performances of his three main actors: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. I feel even more compelled to say that the two female characters are as instrumental in the movie’s success as Clooney’s was. The incredibly smart script spits out witty dialog that offers a perfect blend between tragic and humor, whilst the quieter moments still speak volumes. The opening scenes where we see Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham’s travel routine (packing, going through security, etc.) are fascinating and takes the audience in who this man is and what matters to him. I overheard someone explaining the plot of this movie recently where he said ‘it’s a movie about someone who goes on firing people‘ and I winced at such oversimplification. This movie is definitely much more than that, and much deeper than even its marketing campaign makes it out to be (as a romantic comedy of sorts). I like movies that make me ponder about them long after it’s over. Up in the Air unquestionably delivers in that regard, and then some.

Honorable mentions:

  • The Young Victoria
  • Law Abiding Citizen
  • The Blindside

And looking back, here are Twenty-Five Favorites of the Decade (2000 – 20009, in order of release):

  1. Chicken Run (2000)
  2. Moulin Rouge (2001)
  3. Finding Nemo (2003)
  4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
  5. Phantom of the Opera (2004)
  6. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  7. Unbreakable (2004)
  8. Batman Begins (2005)
  9. Casino Royale (2006)
  10. Dear Frankie (2005)
  11. Gladiator (2005)
  12. Children of Men (2006)
  13. The Painted Veil (2006)
  14. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
  15. Stranger than Fiction (2006)
  16. 300 (2007)
  17. Atonement (2007)
  18. Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
  19. The Visitor (2007)
  20. 3:10 to Yuma (2007)
  21. Bella (2008)
  22. The Dark Knight (2008)
  23. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  24. District 9 (2009)
  25. Avatar (2009)

Beset by blogger’s block

Happy Friday, all!

No post today as yours truly is beset with a blogger’s block again, happens once in a while y’see, especially when I haven’t seen any new flick in a week! (I have The Kite Runner DVD that’s been on my counter top for six days yet, waiting to be popped into the player). Between an 8-5 workweek, gym classes, errands, chores, etc., etc., whether I like it or not, this thing called life inevitably gets in the way of my bloggin’ time …

I’m sooo looking forward to weekend after the first long work week following the holiday break. I long to unplug and recharge my bloggin’ juice, perhaps take my laptop to a local cafe or bookstore, now that my newish Macbook actually has a functional battery. The number of drafts on my WordPress dashboard continue to climb, some of them are probably stale by now, but there are still reviews to finish, top-ten lists to muse about, even a new FlixChatter ‘series’ in the works, inspired by a fellow blogger that’ll be revealed in due time.

But, but… my writer’s block wasn’t in vain, as I ended up discovering this nifty site called The Auteurs.

-n.  [thē ō-tûrs’, thē ō-tœrs’]
1. an online movie theater where you watch, discover, and discuss auteur cinema.
2. a new social experience.

I plan to peruse the site more thoroughly real soon, sounds like a perfect resource for someone like me. Funny enough, Rockerdad just mentioned about the Criterion collection, which happens to be one of their partners. I really enjoyed scanning their picks of movie posters of the week (there’s a link to view their picks of Best of the Decade which totally floored me). If I had my way, I’d cover our entertainment room downstairs with a bunch of these. I might snatch the Art & Copy one for my cube, and the Bright Star one with its lush and vivid colors is one I can stare at for hours.

So, enjoy your weekend, folks, we might finally check out Up in the Air. How about you? Any movie(s) you’re gonna catch this weekend?

FlixChatter’s picks of buzz-worthy TIFF movies

The Toronto Film Festival wrapped this past weekend. The last 10 days, 250+ feature films from 60 countries had been screened there, making it a bustling marketplace for films and bidding war for studios has officially begun.

Various sites and blogs have been covering the festival from day one, blog about the most buzzed-about movies at TIFF. Cinemablend’s posted Toronto’s 5 Most Talked About Movies; Canadian’s news site has put their annual Chasing the Buzz poll selected by a panelist of cinephiles (which tally the votes of 56 most-anticipated flicks from the festival); indiewire listed their picks of ‘winners, losers and the Oscar worthy;’ and my personal favorite festival source The Playlist blog have all kinds of news and reviews of noteworthy TIFF movies. According to CBC news, the winner of TIFF’s People Choice Award this year is Precious, which my friend Jeannette tipped me off a couple of weeks ago (thanks J!). It’s an urban coming-of-age tale of a teen girl who tries to overcome abuse, illiteracy and teen pregnancy. Starring comedian Mo’Nique, one of the executive producers is Oprah, who got on board upon hearing its buzz at Sundance the beginning of the year. All of this reminds me I have to rent last year’s winner at TIFF, Slumdog Millionaire (yes, I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t seen that one).

In any case, out of all the buzzed-about flicks, there are probably only a handful of them I wouldn’t mind seeing. A bunch of them that got rave reviews are either too bizarre or controversial for my taste.

So here goes:

Clooney in Up in the Air
Clooney in Up in the Air

  • Up in the Air
    George Clooney stars as a downsizing expert in a dramedy by Juno director Jason Reitman. I’m no Clooney fan by a long shot, but I’m intrigued by the plot that seems very timely with all the jobs lost in the airline industry. The supporting cast are made up of real comic talents: Danny McBride, J.K. Simmons, and Jason Bateman (wow, he’s one busy dude!), and an up ‘n coming actress who drew rave reviews, Anna Kendrick.
  • Bright Star
    The life story of poet John Keats fascinates me, and I’m a sucker for unrequited love stories. The trailer looks great – Ben Wishaw & Abbie Cornish seem to have great chemistry. The Playlist calls it “… an exquisite piece of cinema, gorgeously sewn and lovingly realized...” From the director of The Piano, Jane Campion, I’m just glad there won’t be a naked Harvey Keitel in this one [shudders].
  • Leaves of Grass
    I’ve been anticipating this one since July, where Ed Norton plays identical twins: one’s an ivy league professor, the other a crooked pot dealer (is there any other kind?). The Playlist was surprised that this is more than a hilarious pot comedy: “…pot comedy, family identity drama, anti-semitism commentary, violent drug thriller and intolerance parable with deep philosophical themes...” Whoaa… I didn’t expect that, either. Leave it to Norton to flabbergast and leave us dumbfounded, wouldn’t expect anything less since I first saw him in Primal Fear.
  • The Joneses
    I’ve been a longtime fan of David Duchovny, and it’s been a while since I saw Demi Moore in a feature film. Another timely premise about all-American consumerism run amok, it looks funny yet thought provoking. Duchovny is excellent in a satire with his witty and deadpan humor. This role of husband/father in a seemingly perfect and too-good-to-be-true suburban family seems to fit him perfectly. The Hollywood Reporter had mostly great things to say about the movie, which is a debut of first-time writer/director Derrick Borte.

Collin Farrell in Ondine
Collin Farrell & Alicja Bachleda in Ondine

  • Ondine
    Now, this one took me by surprise as I haven’t heard about it until I read the buzz surrounding TIFF, but it’s one that definitely piqued my interest. The Playlist calls it a “… romantic and wondrous fairytale … about an Irish fisherman (Colin Farrell) whose life is transformed when a gorgeous female sea nymph is caught in his fishing net (Alicja Bachleda)”  Shot in Ireland during the Hollywood’s writers’ strike, the Neil Jordan’s film looks lush and ethereal and well, dreamy. I recently read that Farrell fell in love with polish actress Bachelda during filming, so we can probably expect a genuine chemistry between the two.
  • The man who stare at goats
    Another Clooney movie, whaddayaknow? Hmmm, I must be warming up to him which is so unlike me… but I can’t help it after I saw the trailer. Ewan McGregor — another Scot who fails miserably attempting an American accent — plays the reporter who encounters an enigmatic Special Forces operator (Clooney). The scene of them in the desert pretty much sold me on this one, not to mention the goat-staring one. Everybody looks hilarious in this black comedy that’s interestingly enough is based on a true story! A hilarious exploration of the government’s attempts to harness paranormal abilities to combat its enemies, that’s the premise of the Jon Ronson’s best seller that inspired it. Jeff Bridges, reprising The Big Lebowski‘s dude again as psychic program founder, as well as Kevin Spacey round up the excellent cast.
  • Young Victoria
    Another costume drama based on a true story, this time with my fave actress Emily Blunt as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. The Playlist pretty much credited her and Rupert Friend — who plays Prince Albert — for carrying the movie on their shoulders, “They’re dynamite together, displaying a rare chemistry – they carry the movie on their shoulders, and you can’t fail to be moved by the strength of the relationship that the actors develop.” The trailer looks awesome — with beautiful costumes & stunning scenery — but I’ve heard that music before. Why is it that they keep using similar scores for different movies? Kind of like when Gladiator came out, almost every action films that followed use that same type of ethereal-sounding score! Sorry I digress. I’m definitely going to see this one. Instead of forbidden or tragic love story, it’s nice to see the start of an enduring and happy marriage portrayed on screen.

There are probably a few others that I’m forgetting about tonight. I’ll post ’em later as I remember them. Boy, too many flicks, too little time!