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.
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