Marcus's Top 10 2009
Marcus lists his favorite movies of 2009 as well as a few other bits and bobs...
Another year over and another top ten list of movies that I’ve enjoyed this year.
While compiling this list I was quite surprising how quietly great this year's been. For the majority of the year the general feeling was that the 2009 was a letdown (especially during the summer months), but the year definitely started providing some cracking movies before the twelve months were up.
As a side note, there are a ton of enticing and very well received movies already out in the US, such as Up in the Air and The Road that the UK won't get until 2010, so they'll maybe end up on next year's list. So for now you'll have to put down some of missing movies down to annoying international release dates (a little bit of a 2009 pattern) as an excuse for their absence.
Before we begin on the top ten, let's see what missed the final selection.
After going over my list while compiling this article, I was actually quite surprised how many movies I had a blast with in 2009. Some missed my top ten by a whisker, some may even wind up moving up into it after repeat viewings but all deserve a mention, so here in no particular order is a brief nod to some of the other great movies of 2009.
Fanboys was a Star Wars fan’s delight,  Days of Summer will no doubt climb up the list after future re-watches, Let the Right One In made vampires cool again, The Hangover kicked ass, Drag Me to Hell reminded us Sam Raimi knows how to have fun, Whatever Works had Woody Allen throw amazing characters and dialogue at us, Bart Got a Room was a joy and William H Macy’s hair alone made it memorable. The Tale of Despereaux was an unexpected gem, Zombieland was a blast from start to finish, Star Trek seems to get better and better (even though Diora Baird got cut), Inglourious Basterds provided one of the performances of the decade from Christoph Waltz and the best Italian accent ever from Brad Pitt and one more for the sheer amounts of chuckles it provided was The Men Who Stare at Goats which just put a smile on my face from start to finish.
Finally, and because leaving 2009 without mentioning it would be a crime, Avatar. It may not have been the defining moment in cinema I wanted it to be and its unoriginality is really what made it suffer for me, but James Cameron still managed to enthral and entertain with his return to cinema and I look forward to seeing it again without the pressure of hype hovering in the air.
Now for my choices of the top ten movies of 2009.
It wasn’t perfect but for the most part I’d say that Zack Snyder did the impossible and managed to get the majority of what makes Watchmen so damn good up on the screen (even if the violence was a little bit too ramped up in places).
Every time I watch Watchmen I feel more satisfied with it. I love how the adaptation captures many of the small moments from the comics and how the characters have been depicted. I loved how the style of the comic's story telling isn’t ignored for the sake of movie making (Doc Manhattan on Mars stayed in with minimal issues... that’s almost a miracle in itself). I love the action and I loved some of Snyder's choices when capturing the comic visuals and generally the entire movie felt right, which is largely what most adaptations can miss.
Admittedly, I still have my issues and of course these are what hold the movie back from being higher on the list. Stuff like old Sally Spectre being a mean drunk, or Warner Bros. pussying out of incorporating the squid and changing too many elements of the finale to really give the Watchmen real respect. Oh, and on a personal note, I hated how the merchandise for this flick totally avoided the use of the blood dripped smiley face. I mean, what’s the point of the countdown clock on a t-shirt? We want the smiley... right?
The Disc:With more editions internationally than I care to mention, everything seemed to be going well with the director’s cut, Motion Comics, Black Freighter and a few nice features teasing us with what was to come with the Ultimate Edition. Sadly the big Ultimate Edition just drew in all of the existing discs and offered the minimum of new stuff, so at the last minute the whole project dropped the ball and rather than giving us long documentaries and detailed features about making the movie we’re left with a stupid pirate covered 'best of' filled with stuff that's already out there and providing a bit of a downer.
I’ve only seen Pixar’s Up once (which seems like ages ago) and try as I might, I don’t really remember the ins and outs of what happened beyond the basic set up with Carl and Russell, the talking dog and the nasty old guy with the guard dogs. Oh and of course the flying house. So why in my top ten? Well for starters it hit high on the list of movies I keep throughout the year with ease. After my first viewing it was a no brainer to have it reside in the top end but why do I not remember the fine details of a movie that hit so high?
It’s because the overwhelming memory of Up for me (and by what I’ve read plenty of others too) is the opening sequence showing Carl and his wife’s Ellie’s life together. Their hopes, their experiences, their sad moments, the depiction of their happiness together and how life got in the way of their dreams. Frankly, director Pete Docter knocked the movie out of the park in the opening sequence with the characters barely even speaking a word and from there on in I was hooked and I would have followed Carl Fredricksen anywhere as long as he kept doing it all for Ellie.
Placing Up here is probably playing it a little safe as having only seen it once it could end up being much higher after repeat viewings but at the same time my no holds barred affection for Pixar has begun to show cracks over their last few movies, when revisiting they never quite woo me like they first did. All that said Up put a lasting smile on my face and I remember it wrapping me up like a hug, so until I get to experience it again, this one gets a placing on feel good memories alone.
The Disc:Not having a region free Blu-ray player, I have to wait until February 2010 to get my mitts on this one in the UK but I'm hoping for great things.
I know, I know this came out in 2008 in the US, but we Brits didn’t see it until February, so it’s going on the list.
With anybody else cast in this lead role, I honestly don’t think Gran Torino would have been half as effective. The sheer presence of Clint Eastwood here somehow manages to add so much more weight to the proceedings and it makes it near impossible not to get on board with what unfolds.
Having Clint playing the bitter, racist widower with a family he couldn’t be more disconnected from running around him, somehow never even hints at turning the audience away. His slow involvement with the Hmong family next door is a journey for Clint’s character that’s a joy to go along with and seeing his character soften his hard edges as the movie progresses could very well be considered cliché with a different star leading the way but Gran Torino just transcends those conventional limitations and makes everything feel like you’re seeing this age old character arc for the first time.
Clint Eastwood once again proves he’s a director who knows how movies work and how to make them work well. With a great pace, some fine performances, a sweet looking car and a hell of a finale, Gran Torino provides a fine (potentially) final on screen performance from an absolute movie legend and his snubbing at this year’s Oscars was a travesty.
The Disc:Not particularly that memorable on the features front but it’s a fine looking and sounding disc that shows the movie off very well.
Besides just the good movies of the year, there were some pretty good discs released in 2009 as well. The Clone Wars Season One set was pretty great, The DC Universe’s animated titles provided another batch of good adaptations with some utterly enjoyable features. Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc. were a welcome and impressive addition to the Blu-ray catalogue and I look forward to future round table conversations on future releases. Transformers 2 disappointed as a movie but made a nice gesture with great video and audio and a nice set of extras and finally The Wizard of Oz set a new standard on catalogue Blu-ray releases pretty much across the board.
After getting my geek fix out of the way with Watchmen at the beginning of the year, my attentions should really have switched over to Transformers 2 or James Cameron’s Avatar. Instead, and thanks almost entirely to the movie's first trailer, I fell hook line and sinker for the prospect of seeing Spike Jonze’s adaptation of a childhood favourite, Where the Wild Thing’s Are. Both trailers where absolutely spellbinding with the use of Arcade Fire’s ‘Wake Up’ and visuals and good feeling that just screamed ‘watch me now!’
After getting over the December UK release (two months later than the US—*Grumble*) I was happy to discover that this one really was a stunningly grown up family movie. The story was kept simple, the characters were developed from the fairly limited source material beautifully and Max Records (coolest name ever by the way) gave us a lead performance from a child that was a breath of fresh air.
The use of limited CGI combined with the amazing costumes effectively proved that practical fantasy characters are far from obsolete and in my personal opinion totally outweighed the best illusions of reality that CGI can offer. Where the Wild Things Are is a movie I can see me re-visiting for a long time to come, just to spend time with all of the characters and follow Max as he discovers things about himself via those awesome Wild Things. It also provided one of the best delivered lines of the year. No not ‘Let the wild rumpus start!’ but ‘Woman: Feed me!’
The Disc:Once again, this disc won’t hit until 2009 but with the recent making of book already impressing the hell out of me, I hope for the same sort of goodness on the upcoming disc.
Set in the summer of 1987, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has to find a summer job to fund his college and travel aspirations. He winds up in the theme park Adventureland and meets Em (Kristen Stewart) as well as a whole host of other co-workers and his outlook on his life begins to change.
I’ve never worked in a theme park and for the most part I have never had any real intention of ever doing so but Adventureland suddenly makes it a bit more appealing and for me, I think it’s because it effortlessly captures the feeling of that first job where you meet a whole host of new people and of course fall in love for real for the first time.
Of course, director Greg Mottola doesn’t force feed these feelings to us and really on the surface here the majority of what our lead, James (James? Am I pronouncing that right?) goes through aren’t exactly experiences most consider ‘good’ but there’s something about Adventureland’s honesty in how it depicts the dramas of growing up or finding a place in the world that I totally responded to and had a blast with.
Loaded with a great soundtrack that sat on my MP3 player for a good while, some fantastic characters, another great 2009 performance by Eisenberg (the other being Zombieland), a great role by Ryan Reynolds (the law of averages dictated he had to do something good this year) an adorably broken performance by Kirsten Stewart and for me Adventureland all added up to one of the best feel good (without being chirpy) movies of 2009 and one I’m looking forward to repeat viewings of.
The Disc:I wish I could comment on how good the Blu-ray is but Fox made this one of their region A only titles and until I get around to a multi region player, I’ll have to hold out for the region B release in 2010. For now take a look at Gabe’s review for more info.
Take a classic Roald Dahl tale, get Wes Anderson to direct it, what do you get? Pure gold! Wes Anderson somehow manages to make another Wes Anderson movie despite it living in the world of stop motion animation. Literally nothing is left out, nothing is compromised and the director’s unique spin on things fills the world of children’s movies with sheer glee.
Of course all of this is helped along by the wonderfully enjoyable dialogue delivered by a cast that make other animated movies feel almost characterless. George Clooney’s Mr Fox has absolutely everything we all love about Clooney’s live action performances and more. His character is incredibly confident/deluded and seems to make lines instantly memorable. His quirky, cocky attitude to the events around him just makes him a joy to be around and Meryl Streep’s Mrs Fox's dry ability to bring him back down to earth is the perfect counter.
There are great supporting characters as well, with Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Wallace Wolodarsky, and Owen Wilson all filling the world of Mr Fox with an infinite amount of chuckles and giving Mr Fox plenty to bounce off. For me though, Jason Schwartzman steals the show. Schwartzman has had a stellar year with great performances in both Funny People and his absolutely class TV show Bored to Death and here he continues to be a stand out presence of 2009 by depicting Mr Fox’s son Ash as a frustrated, desperate for his father’s attention little fox with too many great moments to even begin to list here. ‘There's a lot of attitudes going on around here. Don't make me get one.’
The Fantastic Mr Fox is quite simply fantastic and I defy anyone not to walk away from that movie with a grin on their face and a spring in their step.
The Disc:The disc isn’t out until next year but here’s hoping Wes Anderson opts for the typical Anderson awesomeness on his discs rather than a typical family friendly approach for the kids. In fact a Criterion edition would be nice along with The Darjeeling Limited finally hitting Blu-ray please.
9 sort of took me by surprise. I expected to like it (after all, those Tim Burton-esq sack boy designs are exactly the sort of thing that draws me in), but I never expected to fall for it so damn quickly into proceedings. The introduction into this post-apocalyptic world and the slow discovery of the threats that face our hero and more so their causes were so staggeringly simple in their depiction that I went through the adventure with an overwhelming sense of sadness because all of this farfetched story seemed to have been because of human tragedy.
The individually numbered characters do a fine job at playing off of each other's personalities and each come with those usual post-apocalyptic sensibilities, but their coming together against a common foe and the discoveries they make in regard to their origins totally worked for me. The subtleties and simple emotional moments add so much weight to the effective visuals on show and in a year where big hitters like Transformers 2, G.I Joe and Wolverine pulled in the crowds as well as the return of James Cameron, I’d probably go as far as to say that 9 was still the movie that provided the finest orchestrated action sequences for me. Everything felt so kinetic and the way that the sequences flowed really added up to some exciting stuff that drove the story on as opposed to taking you away from it.
The Disc:Having only just received the disc, I've not had time to delve right in but with the original short showing that the producers didn't want to change much and a nice look at the filmaking process behind the movie, it all backs up a very pretty looking and more so sounding disc.
There was a point about mid-July where it felt like every movie would be in this section. Wolverine was one massive series of wasted opportunities and resigned itself to being another X-Men movie with a new group of faces (oh and making a real pig’s ear of Deadpool). Transformers 2 added a whole new example to the phrase ‘bloated mess’ and even though I found it a little better on a re-watch, those bloody twins and that totally pointless ‘The Fallen’ are another bunch of dents in the Transformers franchise. Oh, and Terminator Salvation was just a mishmash of good ideas that just didn’t seem to pan out.
Besides the big disappointments, there were still plenty of regular stinkers. Paul Blart was painful, The Unborn and The Spirit were total nonsense and Still Waiting... made most other comedy sequels look like masterpieces. There were a few more but why bother spending time with the stinkers when we’re not done with the good movies. Back to the list.
The more I watch Moon, the more I love it. From the stellar central performance(s) from Sam Rockwell to the latest in a long line of great Clint Mansell scores there is almost nothing that I don’t adore about this little sci-fi movie that plays with the nature of cloning and human emotion with absolute clarity.
Duncan Jones weaves together a tale that plays on the typical plot twists within these sorts of sci-fi outings and takes us down alternative routes that somehow become as uplifting as they are rewarding. Scenes with the ships A.I., Gertie (voiced by Kevin Spacey) are surprisingly touching in places with a thoroughly heartfelt belief that this machine is looking out for our man on the moon and the scenes where the Sam Bells come to terms with their predicament are dealt with in the greatest slow burning pace.
If Sam Rockwell doesn’t get Oscar Nominated for his performances here then the man has been robbed. Both Sam Bells show a great insight into the character's mentality and what three years alone can do to a person. How they play off of one another genuinely feels like two different characters interacting as opposed to the age old movie trick of splicing two performances together.
The character of Sam Bell and his journey is classic sci-fi with an overwhelming sense of human emotion. In fact the scene where Sam Bell contacts Earth and has a final realisation of events is a favourite movie moment of 2009 for me and one that triggers the beginning of the end of this great little tale.
The Disc:Besides a great looking and sounding Blu-ray, the Moon disc is a great showcase for first time film director Duncan Jones's work. Not only do we get plenty of insight via commentaries and Q&As, but we also get his short film, which was actually rather good.
As far as I’m concerned Funny People catapulted Judd Apatow from comedy master to bona fide movie maker. He’d hinted at his dramatic sensibilities in his last movie, Knocked Up (another great movie) but with Funny People he went down the Almost Famous route and provided a touching, personal insight into his background as well as hammering home a great story and some solid laughs.
Taking Adam Sandler, an actor that I go through phases of liking and disliking and putting him in a role where he has to come to terms with his own mortality didn’t sit well with movie go-ers and Funny People didn’t strike the cord in a wider audience that it truly deserved but for the bravery involved with portraying this character as a not that nice a guy, Sandler and of course Apatow deserve plenty of kudos. Nothing here is dealt with kid gloves. Sandler’s George Simmons is a bitter man, with a terrible attitude but underneath all that you can see a man desperate to overcome himself and have a better life.
Packed full of much unappreciated performances from Seth Rogan, Leslie Mann and of course Sandler, Apatow fills out the rest of the cast with the likes of Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman and surprisingly sharp and damn funny turn by Eminem. In addition to that you have another of my favourite performances of the year slotted in three quarters of the way through the movie and it’s from Eric Bana. He turns up as Leslie Mann’s Australian husband and his role as Clark is just one I adore and every time I’ve watched the film so far, I can’t wait to get to his arrival and to hear his dialogue about his admiration for Cameron Diaz (‘Fuuuucccckkkk!’) and that movie where she had ‘spoof’ in her hair (seriously, even writing that down put a smile on my face).
The Disc:I may very well go as far as to say that Funny People was my favourite Blu-ray package of the year. Its literally crammed floor to ceiling with funny, well presented, detailed features. The main ninety minute documentary is exceptionally well put together and on top of that there’s a whole James Taylor concert, loads of original Sandler/Apatow home videos and archival videos, episodes of the seminal Yo Teach!as well as a documentary about the stand up all the Funny People characters love to hate. R-R-R-Randy! ‘You know what I’m talking about, he definitely knows what I’m talking about!’
Though it had its French release in 2008, Martyrs didn’t get a proper release in the UK until 2009, so it makes my list.
Having a movie like Martyrs make this list at all is a bigger surprise to me than Vader being Luke’s dad the first time I watched The Empire Strike Back. Having it in the top spot is that same surprise times a million but French director Pascal Laugier’s movie blew me away and after watching it again recently to see if its placing on the top spot held, I have to say it was even better.
On the surface, Martyrs may be considered just another in a long line of horror movies that push shocking visuals to their limits and uses extremely violent acts to stir uncomfortable reactions in its audience. All of this is true but Martyrs, unlike most of the other movies that get slammed for the same issues has something to say. It doesn’t just present messed up scenarios to shock or just put characters in a room and do garish things to them for the sake of audience reaction. It strives for more. Twisted philosophic discussions about life, the truth some may discover in the face of death and how extreme situations can hold the secrets to life’s mysteries—none of it is treated lightly and all of it is effective.
After the first forty odd minutes, which delivers extreme violence, and essentially tying up any and all of the threads you may have thought the movie had to offer, Martyrs moves on to deeper grounds (quite literally). As I said in my original review, going into exactly what occurs in the second half of this movie would be completely unfair to its potential impact to a new viewer but I will say that the issues that are covered here had me thinking about the movie for days and weeks afterwards. This wasn’t just another movie about 'bad men equals scares' or having characters run away until they’re safe. Martyrs gets under the skin (those who’ve seen the film can take that as a pun). It goes into the darkest realms of the human condition and how extreme wanting to know life’s mysteries can take people. It never undermines itself by falling back on easy scares or any annoying convenient outs and Martyrs pushes its characters forward to their absolute limits, totally unafraid of having its events mean something.
I’m running the risk of giving something away here and as I said it would be totally unfair to undermine a movie which for me was the most powerful, brave and thought provoking piece of cinema that 2009 had to offer and so sits proudly at the top of my list.
The Disc:Martyrs provides a lot of great insight from Pascal Laugier and he isn’t afraid of discussing the intricate details of his vision and people’s response to it. All in all it’s a great companion to a truly astonishing bit of filmmaking.
2010 seems to have a lot of big titles showing themselves off in trailers but for the life of me I can’t seem to get too excited about them. Things like Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia and Alice in Wonderland just don’t seem to be sparking my interest yet, so I hope for a turnaround from them in the New Year.
Sequels wise Iron Man 2 (which is going to make sooooo much money at the box office) is looking more and more fun by the second and of course Toy Story 3 is potentially going to blow a hole in any previous animated records and it’ll be great to have the gang back. On the flipside of that, Shrek 4 looks like it’s taken that step too far like many fourth instalments do, but thankfully it’s been confirmed as the last in the franchise.
Intrigue wise the Tron Legacy footage released a while back looked incredible, with far more poignancy than the franchise probably deserves but goddamn it worked and has hit high on my 2010 radar as has the curious looking Kick-Ass. The A-Team will be kept in sights just for my love of the original series, however the same can’t be said for the Karate Kid remake. The teenager in me wants Predators to be the best film ever made though I’m pretty sure it won’t be and I’d love to see M Night Shyamalan return to form with The Last Airbender, but again I’m yet to be convinced.
Yet to really get the hype train fully out of the station, Youth in Revolt, Daybreakers, Hot Tub Time Machine, Cemetery Junction, Jonah Hex, Inception, Day and Knight and Salt have caught my eye and I hope they all turn out to be on highlights in the year ahead.
Anyway, thanks for reading and feel free to leave your own listing below in the comments section.
Happy New Year!
Editorial by Marcus Doidge
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