Top 10 of 2009: Part 1

  • Friday, January 29, 2010
  • Payton Bartee
  • 'Puzzling' is the word that most often comes to mind when I think about the 2009 movie landscape. But here we are, my Top 10 of 2009--and it's out a little earlier than last year! Progress, not perfection. If you know me, you know I’m addicted to movies…if you really know me, you know I’m addicted to movies a little too much. Well here are my favorites, and keep that word in mind; uou're free to disagree with any or all of them. Hope you enjoy!

    Honorable Mentions:
    -Up in the Air
    -Public Enemies

    Almost a forgotten genre, documentaries possess the ability to impact and inspire in unique ways due to their subject matters. Two have made my Top 10 this year, and I would strongly encourage both to be seen immediately. First off, following in the footsteps of Errol Morris's fantastic 2004 documentary The Fog of War is Chris Smith's Collapse. Described in one review as "an intellectual horror movie," we're guided through this grim tale by author, editor, and ex-cop Michael Ruppert. Told through his own words via an extended monologue, this riveting story has a certain brooding edge to it, and the subject matter definitely pierces the viewer. Ruppert presents an almost apocalyptic vision of a world spinning violently into chaos, yet his ever-present sense of certainty makes him hard to dismiss. Collapse is ultimately a guy in a room telling us what's on his mind; but by the time the credits roll, the future of our way of life will undoubtedly be on yours, too.

    Having watched it just this week, The Cove is easily the most recent film to crack my list. All you really need to know about this documentary to be intrigued is that it features dolphins. They're like dogs--who doesn't love these guys? Much like Jules Winnfield said in Pulp Fiction, "Dog's got personality...," and the actions of dolphins seem very similar to that of a dog to me. You may have heard rumors of what foreign fish companies do to hit their quota, but I've never heard of anything like what goes on in Louie Psihoyos' shocking and moving documentary. The film sets out to expose the annual killing of about 23,00 dolphins in a National Park located in Taiji, Japan. Typical of any documentary that tries to pull the cover off of something this big, the execution isn't easy. The ragtag, quasi-Ocean's 11 band of activists infiltrate this forbidden location and set up equipment around the area. For being a documentary, the movie almost feels like a good espionage film, providing an aggressive counter-punch to the emotional resonance of what's happening in Taiji. Eventually, through the use of hidden cameras and microphones, they capture these horrific acts, as well as the dirty tactics used by certain departments of the Japanese government; all in the name of keeping what is happening to these dolphins (and the surrounding community) a secret.

    It seems like zombies are everywhere nowadays--from popular video games, to modern cinema, to comics, to our literary classics with titles like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The trend is at an absolute peak, which usually means people should be getting absolutely sick of them by now. However, with movies as funny and downright fun as Zombieland, it’s kind of hard to do anything but want more. Zombieland takes one page from Shaun of the Dead in its humor, and another from the The Zombie Survival Guide in its calculated approach to handling the undead. The awkward Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson’s take on a hillbilly gunslinger make for an entertaining duo, and it features the absolute best cameo of any film this year (and instead of sacrificing one for the other, it is both hilarious and gruesome at the same time). Hands down, just a fun flick.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Road is a bleak, post-apocalypse affair with silent emotion, gruesome scenes and an uncommon form of storytelling. This is a simple story of an long, trying journey between a father and his son. But you won't find any action scenes here; even the thrilling moments are few and far between. This is simply a dark vision of a dreadful future, but not without hope. Cormac McCarthy’s novel is an extremely difficult one to adapt, but director John Hillcoat proves up to the task. This is a hard movie to stomach, mainly because it doesn't play to the audience like a typical film does. In this world McCarthy has created, you don't know what's coming next, you don't have an overriding sense that everything will be alright; and that's truly troubling to witness, much less experience. Viggo Mortensen is fantastic here, and should get recognized come Oscar time. Mortensen makes the scenes between the father and son are simply gut-wrenching. The Road is the kind of movie that will disturb viewers to their very core, but that says a lot about what it achieves.

    I definitely did not foresee including multiple science-fiction films in my list, but perhaps that speaks to how effective and enjoyable the genre can be in the right hands. Starting off the sci-fi streak is Moon, a film I enjoyed quite a bit when I first saw it, but truly love now that I've let it marinate. Writer/director Duncan Jones' (son of David Bowie) first film is somewhat of a throwback movie, drawing comparisons to 2001 rather than Armageddon. The story takes place in the near future and centers around an astronaut on the last leg of a 3-year contract as a moon rock harvester. Playing a man who is desperately trying to fight off the insanity of isolation, Sam Rockwell gives (what in a just world would be) an Oscar-winning performance, and Moon’s focus on the psychological aspects of seclusion make it very original. Moon also boasts a unique atmosphere, but above all else, it’s just refreshing. My favorite thing about Moon is how opposite it is from any current Hollywood trend. It was made on a meager budget, there's nothing flashy, it's plot-driven, authentic but minimal. For a simplistic, low-budget sci-fi flick, it also raises a lot of questions about existence, humanity, morality, the nature of man, and so forth. Moon is one of the best films I've ever seen of doing so much with so little--high praise indeed.

    Much like 2006's Casino Royale, JJ Abrams' Star Trek has breathed new life into a franchise many had left for dead. Star Trek was everything you could want in a summer blockbuster: action, suspense, special effects, and even some LOST-inspired plot-explorations. For a reboot film with such a loyal (and expectant) fan base, Abrams had to make an impact. Luckily his film is the perfect popcorn movie, especially considering it did not compromise the pillars of storytelling, dialogue, or character development. The reasons this film works are twofold--the effectiveness of a smart script that never takes itself too seriously is immeasurable, and the casting is note-perfect. Even with the actors playing such iconic characters like Kirk, Spock and Bones, Star Trek wouldn't have been the same if you didn't love these characters from the start. Abrams showed he had the chops for action in 2006's Mission Impossible 3, but he gave us an adventure in space few could have expected out of him.

    Favorite Performances:

    Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
    Christopher Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
    Carey Mulligan, An Education
    Sam Rockwell, Moon
    Anna Kendrick & Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
    Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (500) Days of Summer
    Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
    Patton Oswalt, Big Fan
    Chris Pine & Karl Urban, Star Trek
    Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen

    The second half of this list as well as my favorite moments of 2009 coming soon.

    Movies: Top 10 of the 2000s

  • Tuesday, January 5, 2010
  • Payton Bartee
  • What an amazing decade in film! Ten years ago, I was barely entering my teenage-dom, although a rabid love of The Matrix (33 viewings the summer of 2000) was whetting my appetite for the medium. As I look back, it leaves me speechless how quickly all those years evaporated. Anticipation is truly a sharp double-edged sword! You spend a year or so looking forward to a film, and in seemingly the next're purchasing it at some electronics store. My mind remembers those magical trailers for the movie adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved series sweeping the nation. My mind is lucky to have witnessed the brilliance and continued rise of PIXAR, ushering in a new era of classic Disney movies. My mind has been stretched, warped, numbed, and more--all for $10 and 90-120 minutes, give or take.

    With all the movies I saw in the 2000s, narrowing a "Best Of" list down to 10 selections is incredibly difficult. And from there, one is tempted to address the whole 'Best vs. Favorite' debate; I'll leave that one alone for now. Instead, I'll simply say that these 10 movies I've chosen for my Top 10 of the 2000s represent my favorite mixtures of elite film-making, exceptional story-telling, and personal connection. Some of these might not make your proverbial Top 10, but these are the ones I just keep coming back to, keep loving, keep dissecting. That's gotta be a compliment, right? Looking forward to what the 2010s bring!

    1. Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
    2. Gladiator (2000)
    3. Memento (2001)
    4. The Dark Knight (2008)
    5. PIXAR (Up, Incredibles, WALL-E, Finding Nemo)
    6. No Country For Old Men (2007)
    7. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
    8. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
    9. Master & Commander (2003)
    10. The Prestige

    Just missed the cut:

    Almost Famous (2000)
    25th Hour (2002)
    Casino Royale (2006)
    High Fidelity (2000)
    Avatar (2009)

    10 best performances: (in no particular order)

    -Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill Cutting, Gangs of New York / Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood
    -Heath Ledger as The Joker, The Dark Knight
    -Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, Memento
    -Andy Serkis as Gollum, The Lord of the Rings
    -Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men
    -Kate Winslet as Clementine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
    -Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, A History of Violence
    -Casey Affleck as Robert Ford, The Assassination of Jesse James
    -Ryan Gosling as Dan Dunne, Half Nelson
    -Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland, Cast Away
    Copyright 2010 occasional contemplations