10. Drag Me to Hell – Sam Raimi
Drag Me to Hell is everything that a Sam Raimi fan could want, save an appearance by Bruce Campbell of course. But that small oversight is more than made up for with several silly gags such as a haunted hankie, a talking possessed goat, and an abundance of projectile bodily fluids. All this is woven around a truly creepy story – a gypsy woman curses a bank employee (Allison Lohmann) after she is turned down for a loan, a curse that will leave the accursed haunted by a goat demon until the third day when the doors of hell open and the accursed is literally dragged to hell. The haunting scenes are genuinely scary and guaranteed to make you jump, while plenty of humor is thrown in for good measure. Drag Me To Hell is Sam Raimi’s perfect return to the genre that made him famous.
9. Nine – Rob Marshall
Those who know me know that it is no surprise that a musical would land in my Top 10 of the year, especially one starring my personal favorite actress Marion Cotillard. I had been looking forward to Nine since early 2009, and I was very surprised by the overwhelmingly negative reviews when it was released. Still, I kept my hopes high and wasn’t disappointed. The story is about director Guido Cantini (Daniel Day-Lewis, and yes he sings too) who is struggling to find inspiration to begin filming his next movie. He’s already a successful director and the press is clamoring for details on this film that has only been given a title, a leading lady, and costumes. He turns to every woman in his life that has influenced him for help: his wife Marion Cotillard, his mistress Penelope Cruz, his leading lady Nicole Kidman, the first woman who taught him about lust and sex Fergie, an American reporter Kate Hudson, his close friend and costume mistress Judi Dench, and his dead mother Sophia Loren. This film is less about the self-absorbed man drowning in himself than it is about the power of the women behind the man. It’s a story that revels in the beauty of women of all shapes and sizes and how much influential power they really hold. The songs are wonderful, especially Judi Dench’s song “Folies Bergere,” the final heartwrenching song by Marion Cotillard “Take It All,” and a surprisingly fabulous song by Fergie (yes, that Fergie) “Be Italian.” If only Fergie in real life could be as effortlessly sexy and sing such songs as this instead of faux rapping and jumping around on stage like a 15 year old. The scenery is beautiful, the actresses are breathtakingly gorgeous. Nine is a delight.
8. The Brothers Bloom – Rian Johnson
I had first heard about Rian Johnson’s (the writer/director of Brick) new film The Brothers Bloom when it was announced at the AFI Film Festival in my area. I just recently had a chance to watch it, and immediately wanted to watch it again. Something I haven’t had the desire to do that in quite awhile. The film stars Adrian Brody and Mark Ruffalo as brothers Bloom and Stephen who as children, drifted from one foster home to another. Bloom never fit in, so Stephen thought up ways to con people, stories that Bloom could immerse himself in. This continues on throughout their lives until Bloom wants out. Stephen talks him into going through with one final con, in which their mark is an epileptic millionaire shut in woman named Penelope (Rachel Weisz). Their con goes awry in a wonderful film reminiscent of old-time con artist movies. Between this and Brick, Rian Johnson has made my list of favorite directors. I love his old-fashioned sense of movie making and can’t wait to see what he does next.
7. Where the Wild Things Are – Spike Jonze
Since before its release, Where the Wild Things Are has generated much controversy. When author Maurice Sendak approved of Jonze’s work and all the added content, I approved. In fact, I believe his exact words to parents who thought the content was too mature for children were, “Go to hell.” It’s true that very little actually happens in the narrative, aside from Max going to the place where the wild things are, but it’s the emotional journey that he goes on that is so compelling. Max (played by almost newcomer Max Records, who also plays a younger Stephen in The Brothers Bloom) is a young boy who doesn’t quite know how to express his emotions. His mother (the always fabulous Catherine Keener) has a new boyfriend, and his sister is too old and too cool to play with him anymore. He acts out in ways that grown-ups don’t understand anymore, but kids can completely relate to. What made this movie so enchanting for me is the reactions of my own children to the film. I asked them if they could relate to Max and how he behaved and they responded so positively, I was amazed. Through the conversations I had with my kids, I was able to see the film through their eyes. Where the Wild Things Are is a magical film.
6. (500) Days of Summer – Marc Webb
(500) Days of Summer has received so much praise already from the indie film community that I’ve always been skeptical to include it in my top 10. The fawning over Zooey Deschanel is beyond me, but then again I like New Moon, so I can’t fault anyone for swooning over someone they probably shouldn’t. All that aside, (500) Days of Summer is a fantastic little film. The best parts of the film do not include Ms. Deschanel, but it is Joseph-Gordon Levitt who truly shines here, especially in his little song and dance number through the streets. Having a song and dance number almost automatically guarantees I will love the movie (exceptions: Southland Tales), but this movie has so many other elements that I love – the out of sequence storyline, the non-happy ending, the great soundtrack. In a summer of over-hyped brainless action flicks, (500) Days of Summer was a breath of fresh air.
5. Up in the Air – Jason Reitman
Jason Reitman’s last film Juno, was extremely overrated in my opinion. His direction was overshadowed by Diablo Cody’s horrendous script drowning in hipster speak. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t stand that film. Up in the Air is fortunate enough to have a screenplay written by Reitman himself, based on a bestselling novel by author Walter Kirn (Thumbsucker), and a seasoned cast headlined by George Clooney and Vera Farmiga. The tale is a fable for our modern recession and Clooney is our modern day Clark Gable. Everything about this film is perfect from the breathtaking opening credits sequence to the ending that you didn’t see coming.
4. Star Trek – JJ Abrams
I have never really been a big Star Trek fan. As a kid, my parents made us watch Star Trek: The Next Generation every Saturday night and every once in awhile they would try to get us to watch the original Star Trek movies. The only one I ever really liked was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I didn’t have much connection to the characters and had extremely low expectations for the JJ Abrams reboot. I definitely didn’t expect for it to land in my top 10 for the year, let alone in the top 5. I loved everything about this movie. I loved the time travel and how it was incorporated into the storyline. Above all else, I loved the cast’s chemistry. Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock especially. I can’t wait for a sequel.
3. Up – Pete Docter
I wanted so badly to include all three of the 2009 Disney releases in my Top 10, but decided to stick with Up to make room for other movies. Up is a fantastic blend of a story. The first fifteen minutes tell one of the most wonderful love stories in recent years, then the story moves into a old man/young kid buddy comedy with talking dogs and slapstick humor, then the bad guy is introduced and he’s sinister beyond all belief. But all the while, the main character Carl Fredrickson is shaped by the events that took place during the love story in the beginning, and the story comes full circle in the end. But don’t let that distract from the first hand-drawn animated release by Disney in several years, the fully enchanting The Princess and the Frog. Or the latest Hayao Miyazaki film, an adaptation of Hans Christien Andersen’s story The Little Mermaid, Ponyo. Those two could have easily had places in my Top 10 as well. They are both worthy of checking out.
2. District 9 – Neil Blomkamp
I was completely blown away by District 9 this summer. I felt like the documentary style meshed well with the rest of the film as we went from following Wickus van der Merwe as an employee of the MNU through to his transformation and adventures with the alien prawn given the name “Christopher Johnson”. This is a fully unique story, something that was lacking this summer when District 9 was released. The fact that the film was almost entirely improvised by the actors only adds to the awesomeness of Neil Blomkamp’s directorial debut.
1. Inglourious Basterds – Quentin Tarantino
What is left to be said about Quentin Tarantino’s ultimate love letter to the movie industry, Inglourious Basterds? Disguised in the trailers as a violent Nazi killing World War II movie, this film is also a film about film. Every Tarantino film is a love letter to movies, but Inglourious Basterds is his opus. The tension filled opening made an immediate international star of Christoph Waltz, who has already received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as vile Colonel Hans Landa. Showcasing Brad Pitt in the trailers opened this movie up to an audience that probably wouldn’t have otherwise bothered with the film, as Pitt isn’t featured in the film quite as much as he is in the trailers. The real star of this film is Melanie Laurent who plays Shosanna Dreyfus, a woman seeking revenge not unlike The Bride from Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2. Tarantino always provides a strong female character in his films and Laurent steps up to the plate here, earning a spot next to Uma Thurman and Pam Grier in the Tarantino badass lineup. Thanks to the soundtrack, the excellent performances, the perfect Tarantino script, and a climax scene to be reckoned with, there is no question that Inglourious Basterds is my favorite film of 2009.
Tags: 500 Days of Summer, Christoph Waltz, District 9, Drag Me To Hell, Inglourious Basterds, Jason Reitman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marc Webb, Marion Cotillard, nine, Quentin Tarantino, Rian Johnson, Rob Marshall, Sam Raimi, Spike Jonze, Star Trek, Up, up in the air, Where the Wild Things Are, zooey deschanel