The Top Ten Movies of 2009

10. Zombieland

Perhaps the most watchable movie on the list, the only word to describe Ruben Fleischer’s directorial debut is fun.  Every second of the film is layered with style and there are even a few surprisingly well-done emotional beats as well.  Featuring the best cameo in a movie ever, this movie makes me really want a zombie apocalypse.

9.  Moon

The second of four amazing films on this list from first-time directors, but Sam Rockwell is the reason Moon succeeds.  He is practically the only actor ever on screen and never ceases to amaze in one shot.  A classic, original Sci-Fi movie in a world of watered-down fluff.

8. Watchmen: The Directors Cut

Whether or not the seminal graphic novel should have brought to the big screen is not the issue here.  What deserves recognition is how successful Zack Snyder’s ambitious film is.  Not just a well-done superhero flick with enough action and one-liners to suffice but also a deep and thoughtful film about the human condition.  The directors cut released on Blu-Ray really allows the film to breathe (even if three hours seems like a lot – it isn’t) and fixes up some pacing issues with the theatrical release.

7.  Fantastic Mr. Fox

The best animated film of the year, the best comedy of the year and perhaps Wes Anderson’s finest film yet.  The level of detail in the animation is staggering and the care that went into making Fox is truly remarkable.  What makes it great, however, is how damn funny it is.  Upon a second viewing I was shocked at how many times I nearly doubled over with laughter.  A cuss of a good time.

6. Up in the Air

Jason Reitman has to fail eventually right? His first two films, Thank You For Smoking and Juno, were big successes with one even earning him an Oscar nod for both Picture and Director.  His third film couldn’t match that right?  Wrong.  Air is better even.  An incredibly deep commentary on relationships and life, its greatest triumph is how relevant the film is to our time.  George Clooney also gives the performance of the year and his career.  Wonderfully subtle and overlooked, he is the heart and soul of the film.

5. District 9

There’s a lot to say here.  First: holy shit.  That was the reaction I had to many of the moments in Neil Blomkamp’s startling debut.  This is the best Sci-Fi film of the past decade (sorry Avatar), maybe longer.  Rarely in a film do I genuinely not know where a film is going to go but that is how I felt the first time I saw District 9. When a film is this original and fresh you must take notice.  Incredible special effects, wonderfully directed action and a competent social commentary on top of all that.  

4. The Brothers Bloom

Why this film did not reach the larger audience it deserves is beyond me.  So here’s your chance: See this movie.  Rian Johnson’s follow up to his masterpiece, Brick, Bloom is layered with charm and style in every frame.  Rachel Weisz is amazing, as usual, but the strength here lies in the incredible writing and cinematography.  Add to that a great score and an amazing opportunity for repeat viewings and there is no question how great this film is.  Tell your friends.

3. (500) Days of Summer

I watched the trailer for this movie many, many times before the film even came out.  The amount of times I watched the trailer is almost matched by the minutes I have spent Google-imaging Zooey Deschanel.  I’ll be honest and admit that her presence in the film is a large reason I love it so much.  There are some films that simply speak to your soul and there is no way getting around it.  I haven’t seen a movie get ideas about love so incredibly right since Eternal Sunshine.  Once again, the fact that this is Marc Webb’s directorial debut is remarkable.  He may be moving on to greener pastures and tackling Spider Man but he has left us with a sweet, honest and funny romance that is totally not romantic.  And I loved it.

2. Inglourious Basterds

The fact that this film has the possibility of surpassing Pulp Fiction as Tarantino’s greatest cinematic achievement speaks to its greatness.  This is the best film of the year.  The only reason it doesn’t top my list is for purely irrational, emotional reasons that are tied to the film next on this list.  Christoph Waltz gives a villainous performance for the ages and there are about a million moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout the entire film.  Hitchcock himself only matches the way Tarantino is able to create tension with his dialogue in many of the scenes.  He is able to perfectly balance his direction here between stylish and appropriate, something he has failed at in past films.  As the last line of the film proclaims, this may be his masterpiece.

1. Where the Wild Things Are

It is going to be hard to put into words why this film tops my list.  In short, I’m not sure if I ever have had more of an emotional response to a film than I had when I first saw Spike Jonze’s Wild Things.  From the first moment of the film it was if Jonze had known me my entire life and knew exactly which strings to pull.  While this is not a children’s movie, it is a movie about childhood.  The moments of truth that he captures here are heartbreaking and astonishing.  This movie made me reflect on friendships, relationships, family and nearly every aspect of my life for long after I left the theater.  Technically it is just as impressive as he brings the classic story to the screen, as you would never have imagined.  Where the Wild Things Are is one of the films that remind you of why we go to the cinema.

This was truly a great year for films.  Even more, I am hard-pressed to find a year where so many films became personal favorites and truly got me excited.  Narrowing the list down to ten was nearly impossible, here are films that are just as worthy.

Honorable Mentions: The Hurt Locker, The Road, Away We Go, Brothers, An Education, I Love You Man, The Girlfriend Experience, Adventureland, Crazy Heart, Up, Paper Heart

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My Thoughts on James Camerons’ Avatar – Is it truly great?

Let me get this out of the way, I liked Avatar.  It is an event film that genuinely lives up to the heaps of hype that has surrounded it and in many different ways has changed the way we go to movies.  It made me feel like a kid again and that is perhaps the greatest compliment I can bestow.  The use of 3D has been used almost to an obnoxious amount in the past couple of years and has seemed more of a gimmick.  Avatar legitimizes it, however, and makes it not only a welcome addition, but a necessity.  I am hard pressed to find a film in recent memory that is so unbelievably creative and immersive.  James Cameron has given us an experience that can only be felt in a movie theater and nowhere else – that is perhaps the films greatest gift.  It may also, however, be its biggest downfall.

Ask anyone who has seen Avatar (shouldn’t be too hard – grossing over $200 million in just two weeks isn’t easy) and they will tell you that, in many ways, it is more of a ride than a film.  The world of Pandora that Cameron creates is unmistakably unique and unlike anything anyone has ever seen.  Even more impressive is how believable the alien planet is.  After leaving the theater I didn’t want to see the movie again, I wanted to visit Pandora again.  Every leaf, creature and insect is absolutely painstakingly detailed to the nth degree.  In the current state of cinema flooded with sequels, remakes and My Bloody Valentine 3D it is so refreshing to see an entirely original work like Avatar.  It has created a world that will be built upon in countless ways in the future with sequels and mythos that I am looking forward to.

As amazing as the ride of Avatar is, it has completely befuddled me.  The fact that it is a ride is the foundation of the problem.  While I left the theater elated and impressed at what I had witnessed, I also thought that I had no desire to own this film on DVD or Blu-Ray.  I planned to see it again, to experience it again, but after time passes I was unsure of how often I would want to return to the story.  And isn’t that why we go to the movies? For a STORY?  While my opinion on films is not based in a large way on how rewatchable they are, this fact opened my eyes to the glaring problems with the film in question.

Quite frankly nothing about the story of Avatar is original.  All of the comparisons to Dancing with Wolves and even this summer’s District 9 are completely warranted.  A great article dissecting the film’s racial themes at io9 goes into this more deeply.  These comparisons aren’t the issue however.  The lazy dialogue, lack of character development and a sheer goal to just “display stuff” are the problems.  While many large, epic films have laughable dialogue Avatar is different.  It is not so much laughable but just downright bad.  It has been reported that Cameron had this script written over fifteen years ago.  Why the hell wouldn’t you take some time in those FIFTEEN years and do a little editing?!

Maybe even more alarming is how bland the characters are.  Arguably a story is only as good as its characters – they are whom we empathize with and their journeys are meant to change us and make us feel something substantial.  The Navi character of Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) is arguably the only one that accomplishes this basic goal.  Her character arc is fully fleshed out and layered with substantial depth.  Saldana’s performance is also remarkable and may be another reason why this may change movies – who do we honor with an award, her or the animators?  Apart from Neytiri, it is difficult to find another well-rounded character.  Our protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is cookie cutter and his predictable emotional transformation is barely given its due.  While I won’t give anything away, one fairly major character’s death in the film left me feeling absolutely nothing.  A feeling that has been echoed by many, including the guys at the SlashFilmcast.  Again, a film that has taken this long to develop and create deserves better basic things – like characters.

Most of the articles, news and hype about Avatar has centered around the technology and deservedly so.  It is impossible to deny what Cameron has created and things he has done here will be duplicated for many years to come.  In many ways, however, the film felt simply as a way to show these things off.  It was a nearly three hour technology presentation.  Was I awe-struck at times?  Yes.  Did I immediately want to come back and experience it again?  Yes.  Is it a great film?  Sadly, I can’t say that it is.

I more than likely would not have been inspired to write this article if it wasn’t for the huge critical praise the film is getting, including some pretty hefty Oscar buzz.  These feelings also became much clearer after a second viewing of the film, a necessity for any film trying to be considered “great”.  I am constructing my best films of the year list currently and have been speechless at the great amount of films that have been released in the past year.  Films that have touched me so deeply and have truly changed the way I think and feel that it will be hard for me to include Avatar on that list.  I am still conflicted but can say definitively that while watching Cameron’s epic I saw something great, but I didn’t feel something great.

Where The Wild Things Are – Trailer #2

absolutely can not wait for this…

Weezer Premieres New Songs at Korea Concert

Next album said to release later this year.

“The Girl Got Hot”

Covers of “I Kissed a Girl” and “Pokerface”… yea, I know

Audio of “She Got Hot”: Download

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland Trailer

Coming to theaters March 2010

Tron Legacy Trailer from Comic Con 09

Coming to theaters 2010

Lupe Fiasco – Live at Melbourne (Download)

HQ Audio Rip of Lupe’s concert in Melbourne, January 27th, 2009.

Lupe’s next album Lasers drops in December, First Single Shining Down (the song I currently have on repeat) available now on iTunes.

lupelive

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Download: Lupe Fiasco – Live at Melbourne