Each year, movie critics from across America present their annual top ten lists. This is the only one that matters.*
10. District 9
Fittingly, this breath of fresh air for a sci-fi genre dominated by uninspired retreads (with the exception of Star Trek, an inspired retread) comes not from Hollywood but South Africa, where director Neill Blomkamp drew inspiration from his childhood exposure to apartheid. The year’s best satire.
8. (500) Days of Summer
Marc Webb’s charmingly offbeat directorial debut is the rarest of things: A sentimental romantic comedy that rises well above the usual rom-com rank of guilty pleasure. It also shares honors with New Moon (yes, that New Moon) for the best soundtrack of 2009.
6. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Werner Herzog’s delightfully nutty fusion of film noir and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas delivered on everything its batsh*t crazy trailer promised: namely, a manic, strung-out Nicolas Cage screaming, snorting and f**king his way about the Big Easy.
A cranky widower and a chubby eight-year-old take a balloon ride to South America. It’s a simple story, to be sure, but one told with unmatched beauty, warmth and wit — aka, just another Pixar flick.
4. Up in the Air
Liberated from the gilded shackles of Diablo Cody’s gimmicky dialogue, Juno director Jason Reitman delivered his best work yet, a wry, insightful, acerbic and, ultimately, hopeful tale of a resolutely nomadic businessman’s coming of age.
So impressive was James Cameron’s achievement that it overcame a predictable plot, one-dimensional characters, cliched dialogue, ham-fisted symbolism and an overlong climax to make it on this list. Avatar is a big, blue-skinned reminder that movies are first and foremost a visceral experience.
2. The Hurt Locker
Speaking of visceral, it doesn’t get much more so than this tightly wound nail-biter. But Kathryn Bigelow’s riveting war drama, about an adrenaline-addicted bomb diffuser on the front lines in Iraq, triumphs on a cerebral level as well.
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox
As wonderful as the work of the Pixar collective has been, it’s refreshing to find an animated film that reflects a single filmmaker’s unique style and personality. Wes Anderson’s first stop-motion flick, Fantastic Mr. Fox, fits comfortably among the other titles in his distinguished oeuvre, and it just might be the best of the lot. A cussing classic.
What are your top ten flicks of 2009? Let us know in the comments area.
* I’m kidding, of course. None of these lists matter.