Thursday, 31 December 2009

My Top Five Movies of 2009

It's taken me a while to get here, but I've finally reached the pinnacle of my existence in the blogosphere. I started doing Top 5's two years ago - publishing them on facebook. Since then a surprising number of people have asked me about my Top 5 for this year (and when I say 'surprising' I mean three or four). So I figured why not feature it on a blog?

If you haven't read the prequel to this list - my review of the year you probably should. I've also made it customry to have honourable mentions, which are movies I enjoyed but missed out on the actual list:
Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Star Trek, District 9, Coraline, (500) Days of Summer, Drag Me to Hell, Away We Go, Gran Torino, and Moon.

As well as disclaimers (i.e. movies I haven't seen, but which may have made the list):
Zombieland, Hurt Locker, and Paranormal Activity.

Now cue the Orange advert, and Martin Freeman thanking us for not being Somalian Pirates, it's time for the main feature:

5. Avatar
A close run thing with Moon for the 5th spot, but went for this purely for the feeling it gave me while watching it. A breathtaking movie, it's set the bar super-high for filmmakers wanting to wow viewers with never-before-seen-visuals. Despite clunky dialogue, and a story as predictable as WWE, the way Cameron brings Pandora to his audience is so unique I couldn't leave Avatar off my list. Seeing Scully run on glowing tree trunks, navigate the Hallelujah Mountains and wrestle with dragons are all images that will stay with me for a long time. In fact, I find it difficult to think of any other movie that has brought us to a planet you'd actually want to visit for yourself. The only way to watch this movie is in the cinema, so please, please do yourself a favour and visit Pandora while you still can.

4. Inglorious Basterds
In what is clearly a commentary on Tarantino's own film, the final line of Inglorious Basterds is "I think this might just be my masterpiece." I should hate Quentin and the movie for having the guile to end in such a way. And while this might not be quite as good as Pulp Fiction, which surely does deserve that final line, it's still incredibly enthralling. His use of tension throughout the film is Hitchcockian. Unlike that director, however, we get pay-offs at the end of each 'chapter', rather than having to wait until the final reel. This works most effectively in the underground bar scene, where we as a viewer have got used to this rhythm and are waiting for it all to erupt. Aside from a pointless Mike Myers cameo, this movie is expertly constructed and paced, and like all Tarantino's movies demands a second and third viewing in order to fully appreciate everything going on in each frame.

3. Up
Empire put this top of their 5 Synopses That Make You Sound Insane In The Telling List when reviewing the decade. It's about a widower who ties balloons to his house to go to South America with a Boy Scout, where they meet a giant bird and talking dogs. A story, I think you'll all agree, we've heard a million times before. Despite this unsellable premise, it's went on to be the second highest Pixar movie ever. Why? Two Reasons: Pixar's Reputation, and Word-Of-Mouth. The strength of a story which focusses strongly on bereavement and loneliness captivated me through out. In fact, the criticisms the middle third of the movie got for being 'too kiddy' is only because the rest of the film is emotionally so adult and true. It's unfortunate that Pixar's next two movies (Toy Story 3, and Cars 2) will be sequels, since their ability to tell a unique tale is second to none: animation or otherwise.

2. The Wrestler
Unfairly missed out on a 'Best Picture' nomination at the oscars, The Wrestler is an incredibly well-made and acted movie. It's about performance and age: being too old to perform at the career that defined you and figuring out what to do next. The movie feels incredibly personal, since Rourke's career is very like "The Ram" whom he depicts, and its also shot in a way that brings the audience uncomfortably close to his world. I think one of the reasons I like this movie so much is that I think of Randy as a real person: who's still out there trying to make his way in a world he can't quite fit into. Often I will get that feeling spending 20+ hours with characters in a TV show, but it's rare to feel that way after a 109 minute film.

1. A Serious Man
No Country For Old Men didn't feature on my 2008 list. That wasn't because it was a bad movie, merely because I wasn't quite sure if I quite got what the Coen's were saying, and if I did, whether I agreed with it. I think they're one of the few truly unique storytellers in Hollywood, and their success has afforded them to occasional "movies for themselves" as well as "movies for studios" (i.e. Burn After Reading, etc.). This is certainly one of the former. No stars, a main character as wet as the set of Waterworld, and characters you feel like punching most of the time. Despite this, it's one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking movies I've seen in a while. Drawing comparisons to the book of Job it deals with the issue of suffering. Why does it happen? Have we done something to deserve it? Can we prevent it? It's an age-old question, so it's strange that this Coen brothers' approach to it feels so fresh, original and insightful.

Coming up tomorrow: It's been pointed out to me that Paul Thomas Anderson, director of my Film of the Decade, There Will Be Blood, also released Magnolia in 2000 in the UK, not 1999 as I had previously assumed. Had I known that, he definitely would have featured in my Directors of the Decade. So, rather than changing that list, I'm just going to do a special tribute to him and his movies in my next blog entry.

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