Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mike the Boss picks his 10 faves of 2009.

As always, I will say that I did not see every movie out there but of the ones I did see, these were the best.

1. Inglourious Basterds (2009) (dir: Q. Tarantino)
I worry about coming off like a fanboi by picking Tarantino for best film every time he makes something but when a director can reach into your mind and soul and pick out everything you ever wanted (or didn’t even know you wanted) to see and put it up on the screen it can be pretty hard to resist. The ad campaign making this film look like it was going to be a non-stop slaughterfest was disingenuous at best but blame that on the Weinsteins. Tarantino takes the WWII genre and flips it upside down, spins it around a bunch and presents you with a masterpiece. This film shows you a writer/director at the top of his game and it is a beautiful thing to behold.

2. Up (2009) (dir: P. Docter)
Pixar films get pooh-poohed by the intellectual elite as “kiddie films” because they are animated. However, the first 15 minutes of this movie were the best 15 minutes in cinema this year. Tight, succinct scripting and beautiful visual storytelling managed to reduce me to an emotional wreck as the back story for Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is poignantly revealed. The rest of the film is an enjoyable adventure romp with great characters and voice acting that never ceases to entertain. Pixar, like Tarantino, continues to amaze me with the depth of their films.

3. Let The Right One In (2008) (dir: T. Alfredson)
Oh, vampire love stories: we all know that they are all the rage right now. Vampires are so beautiful and sparkly and their love is eternal. It makes me want to puke. Let The Right One In is a properly inventive vampire tale involving an adolescent girl vampire and a socially awkward, slightly sociopathic adolescent boy. It is sweet, charming and properly disturbing as any vampire love tale should be. Sadly, they will remaking this one for the American audience since subtitles are apparently too challenging for most of them. Do yourself a favour and watch this one now so nothing is ruined for you later.

4. Up In The Air (2009) (dir: J. Reitman)
I couldn’t make it past the 20 minute mark of Thank You For Smoking and found Juno incredibly over-rated but the third film by Canadian director, Jason Reitman (son of Ivan of Ghostbusters fame), hits every mark there is. The acting is superb with George Clooney playing an emotionally distant termination expert (he fires people for a living) whose life is set into turmoil when he meets up with fellow traveller/love interest Vera Farmiga and with Anna Kendrick, who wants to change the way his job will be done. The film is an exploration of what relationships, contentment and happiness really are and no one gets out unscathed. This movie is a top notch, insightful film that bears re-watching.

5. District 9 (2009) (dir: N. Blomkamp)
Shot documentary style, this apartheid tale follows the attempted relocation of an alien species called “prawns” (a derogatory reference to their shrimpesque appearance) to a new internment camp 20 years after their arrival in South Africa. The movie seamlessly merges real actors and scenery with CGI effects for an impressive visual look. The main human character, Wikus Van Der Merwe, moves from unwitting villain to accidental hero after he is exposed to alien technology and must fight against humanity to retain his own. While the story is entertaining, it still takes a back seat to the truly impressive special effects which were done on a relatively low budget. I’d rather see 10 District 9s made than another Avatar (and you’d still have 200 million left over when you were done).

6. Thirst (2009) (dir: Chan-Wook Park)
Vampires are back again in this insane film from Korea. A priest undergoes an experimental blood treatment and is turned into a vampire. There is a requisite amount of gore and a bit of sex thrown in but the reality is that this movie is really, really funny. The off-beat wackiness of Korean cinema shines through all of the beautiful cinematography, splatters of blood and wire-work stunts to make you giggle with delight all the way through. This is not to say there isn’t depth to the film. Questions on the nature of humanity, spirituality, family and love and all explored. However, no matter how creepy and disturbing things got, I always had a smile on my face and a laugh in my belly. I suspect that may say more about me than anything else but judge for yourself. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

7. Rachel Getting Married (2008) (dir: J. Demme)
Just when you think Demme is washed up and only wants to make concert movies, he whips out this gem of a film dealing with a wedding and all of the contrivances involved in said event. Shot Dogme 95 style, the music is provided by the wedding band practising/playing in the background, the acting is improvisational and camera work is handheld. But all of this adds to the reality of the event. Anne Hathaway plays the recovering drug addict sister with great aplomb erasing all doubts I’ve had of her abilities from her past performance. The story is lovely and everything moves to a proper yet unpredictable conclusion. This is kind of film that makes weep when it is over because it is beautiful to see something that could have easily been screwed up, triumph in perfection.

8. A Serious Man (2009) (dir: E&J Coen)
The film takes place in 60’s suburbia and is really, really Jewish. This is a good thing because it really draws you into that world and unless you were Jewish in the 60’s, I suspect you haven’t had a lot of experience in that world. Acted by a cast of unknowns, we get a modern variation on the biblical story of Job. The lead character, Larry Gopnik, repeatedly has life stresses thrown in his path and his only hope of understanding is to turn deeper in to his religion. The final answer that he finds really isn’t a happy one but that shouldn’t be too surprising. This movie is a wonderfully understated film by the Coen Brothers which is where their best work gets done.

9. Ninja Assassin (2009) (dir: J. McTeigue)
Okay, let me get right to the point about this film. It stars Korean popstar, Rain, who plays an assassin, Raizo, who is also a ninja, who kills ninja. So not only is he a ninja assassin but he actually is a ninja assassin. There is a plot and it makes sense but let us be serious here. No one should be watching this movie for the story. It is about crazy ass martial arts, artistically shot fight scenes, copious amount of CGI blood and gore and a whole lot of ninjas. It is pure, unapologetic entertainment and it had me won over with the very first kill shot. Oh ya, and Sho Kosugi is the ninja master. Watch and fall in love.

10. Dead Snow (2009) (dir: Tommy Wirkola)
My final pick was almost The Hurt Locker but I saw that in the theatre and it was shot in shaky-cam, which always make me nauseous, so I had to have my eyes closed for most of it. Thankfully, that means this playful Norwegian, Nazi-Zombie splatterfest can make the list because it is fun, fun, fun. Anyone who knows me, know I like zombies and zombie movies. Gen X hosts the Waterloo Zombie Walk every year and I love it. So a good zombie film makes me happy. Pontypool was decent for half of a film. Zombieland is a fun film but a bit too Hollywood and sneering in the end. But Dead Snow takes the right tone of fun, shock, gore and horror and puts it all together into 90 minutes of greatness. Med students go on a remote winter getaway, find nazi gold and then get stalked by Nazi zombies. There is nudity, people getting torn apart and mutilated, zombies getting dispatched by a tanked out snowmobile and chainsaws and if that doesn’t sound like a good time to you then I really have nothing else to say.

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