Thursday, January 7, 2010

Colin's Top Ten Films of 2009

Paranormal Activity

It’s increasingly rare for a movie to genuinely scare me but when it happens it really stays with me. Paranormal Activity was easily the most terrifying experience I’ve had in a theatre in many years. While its extremely minimalist approach won’t work for everyone and the inevitable hype backlash ruined it for some, I heard all the hype and still found the film incredibly effective. Getting to sleep in your bedroom afterwards definitely won’t be easy.

Inglourious Basterds

Sure to be topping many Best of 2009 lists, there’s probably little I can say about Tarantino’s latest that hasn’t already been said. It’s amazing just how well the director’s trademarks of incredibly long, elaborate conversations and references to other films, work so well when applied to France under the Third Reich. Hans Landa makes for an impressively complex villain, seeming charming one moment and terrifying the next. Special mention should also go to Eli Roth in a role that’s not only tolerable but actually pretty cool.


Sam Rockwell seriously deserves a lot more work after performing off of himself and an emoticon-faced A.I. friend for an hour and a half in what essentially amounts to a one-man show. Moon’s title setting naturally provides a ton of cold stark imagery, reinforcing the intense feeling of isolation Sam’s character experiences, and while the mystery of what is happening to him should be predictable to anyone who’s read or seen a sci-fi story in the past forty years, it’s Sam’s emotional journey as he comes to terms with his situation and struggles to decide what to do about it that makes Moon an incredibly moving and memorable film.

Drag Me to Hell

Horror fans should relish this one because after its box office performance we’re not likely to see another film of its kind from Sam Raimi. As a skillful throwback to 80’s splatter-stick horror and EC comics morality tales, Drag Me to Hell proves Raimi can still juggle tense, suspenseful horror set pieces and outrageous gross-out comedy bits with ease. Credit must go to Alison Lohman for enduring at least as much abuse under Raimi’s direction as Bruce Campbell ever went through.

Let the Right One In

A beautiful fusion of innocent childhood romance with chilling horror that managed to pick up quite a few North American admirers in 2009, a testament to how effectively it blends all its disparate elements. The bleak snowy Swedish film subtly succeeds at being, by turns, heart-warming, sad and disturbing. The climactic pool scene is especially unforgettable.


I’m not including Coraline because it’s a beautifully animated adaptation of a great Neil Gaiman story, full of charming characters, amazing visuals, and cool, creepy dark fantasy elements. I’m including it because it has Keith David providing the voice of a talking cat. Enough said.

Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze was a very unconventional choice to direct Where the Wild Things Are but it paid off brilliantly. Jonze accomplished the task of expanding the very short, beloved children’s book into a feature length movie while retaining the book’s emotional core. The result doesn’t feel padded at all but instead keeps the focus directly on Max’s psychological arc as he sadly learns to let go of childhood. The Wild Things themselves are remarkably believable characters, with James Gandolfini and Catherine O’Hara in particular delivering touching performances.

District 9

Rightly hailed as a return to intelligent sci-fi with a message and substance beyond just pure spectacle, District 9 nevertheless still features some seriously awesome action in its later scenes. That Wickus remains such an unabashedly, hilariously, weaselly, dorky, unlikeable protagonist throughout most of the film, makes his late heroic turn (at the absolute last possible second) all the more endearing and satisfying. Praise must go to the visual f/x work as well, since the Prawns look simply amazing and are effortless to accept as characters.


Playing out something like John Carpenter’s The Thing at a gas station, this festival favourite features one of the most interesting monsters and outstanding practical effects I’ve seen in recent memory. The main characters, a couple being held hostage by an escaped convict, are compelling enough but the real star is the parasitic Splinter creature, a quill-sprouting fungus that infects and kills other organisms and then animates their bodies to attack and infect new hosts. The result is a thrilling siege scenario, with the protagonists forced to make ever more desperate attempts to outwit the creature.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

It’s good to have the crazy, out of control Nicholas Cage back. It’s hard to imagine another actor taking on the title role of the Bad Lieutenant and making him as likeable and funny as Cage is, even while his character descends further and further into crack-driven madness. The film is such a bizarre mash-up of cop thriller tropes filtered through a dark comedy mentality that it’s hard to tell when it’s acting as a parody and when it’s just being its own uniquely hilarious entity. Either way, it’s one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen all year.

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