I still haven’t caught up to everything I wanted to see in 2009—some glaring missing pieces are Big Fan (with Patton Oswalt as an obsessive Giants fan), Red Cliff (John Woo’s epic Chinese historical action film), and The Damned United (about the early-‘70s Leeds United football (soccer) team). Also, I want to see Crazy Heart again before I add it to the list, so let's just count that one toward 2010 since it's only now getting a wide release.
Honorable Mention – First, some interesting films from the year I think were underrated, under-seen, I had mixed feelings about but still impressed me, or just deserve yet another mention/plug:
Adventureland – On a second viewing I realized it was more the ‘80s alternative music than the movie that won me over, but it still wins me over--a sweet, sentimental ride, well acted by Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Martin Starr. My original review. Rent at redbox.
Antichrist – Not an easy sell, and not an easy film to watch, as a damaged couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) try to cope with loss. But despite some art-house pretension and brutal shock value, Lars Van Trier's deeper, darker ideas and themes about grief, gender, and chaos have stuck with me all winter.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage’s corrupt-cop boogie is a weird, wild fantasia that turns out at heart to be a terrifically made film. Expect this one to become a cult classic.
The Box – Okay, I admit, I’m just putting Richard Kelly’s brooding sci-fi mind-bender in here to be ornery. But I really did like it a lot more than most critics and audiences, and I hope it gets some sort of redemption on DVD. My original review.
Bronson – Tom Hardy is the new Mad Max and you can get a sneak peak at his crazy, brutal chops in this biopic of Britain’s most violent prisoner. A stylized, almost cartoonish film anchored by Hardy’s mesmerizing performance.
The Informant! – This one baffled me a bit at first in the theater, but has grown on me in subsequent viewings. A tale of corporate espionage, embezzlement and whistle-blowing, I wasn’t initially sure what its point was, but I’ve come to appreciate it’s about the fact that real life doesn’t always have a neat, soapbox point. Or sane heroes. This is what Matt Damon should have gotten his Oscar nom for—he’s fantastically nuanced and strange. (His Supporting Actor nod for Invictus is really just a stand-in for The Informant!, since the Best Actor category was full up.) I’m an unabashed Soderbergh fan and between this, The Girlfriend Experience, and Che, 2009 was a fascinating year for the director. My original review.
Pirate Radio – I adore this film, flaws and all. It’s full of easy clichés and shameless manipulation, but throughout it all the joy and energy of ‘60s Brit rock blasts through. My original review.
The Road – This unrelentingly grim post-apocalyptic fable is not an easy film to “love,” but thanks to compelling performances by Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee and the richly bleak visuals and direction by John Hillcoat, it succeeds in grabbing you and holding you. My original review.
Sherlock Holmes – The opposite of some films here, Holmes has slipped a bit in my estimation on repeated viewings. But its core strength remains—the spot-on buddy-banter dynamic between Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law. That’s what will bring me back for repeated viewings and has me very hopeful for the sequel. My original review.
Where the Wild Things Are – I still like Spike Jonze’s adaptation, especially its rough and wild look and feel, and the vocal performances of the monsters. But in the end, as wonderful as it all was, it just didn’t get me deep down emotionally the way it seems to have grabbed so many other critics and viewers. My original review.
Special Mention: Passing Strange – This one may not count as a theatrical film, depending on how you measure such things. Spike Lee’s video preservation of musician Stew’s autobiographical Broadway musical never had a real theatrical release and so it was completely off my radar until recently. With a clue as to it's topic or backstory, I popped it in one Saturday night, wondered what it was all about for the first few scenes, and then was completely drawn in and won over. Filled with up-out-of-your seat music and songs, Passing Strange is part nostalgia over what self-absorbed, pretentious idiots young artists are, and part exuberant, joyful celebration of just how exciting it is to be that self-absorbed, pretentious and idiotic.
Follow over the jump for the 10 runners-up and my top five favorite films of 2009.