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Article by Mark Dujsik | January 26, 2010
My list of the ten best films of 2009:
a time of huge government bailouts followed by elaborate corporate parties and
extravagant bonuses done right in our faces, this massive, worldwide
price-fixing scheme just seems sort of quaint.
The Informant! takes that apathy and goes the opposite route of
the usually deadly serious tone of nonfiction stories of corporate malfeasance
and gives us a light-hearted, insider's view of people doing their jobs and
cheating consumers out of hundreds of millions of dollars in hotel conferences
rooms, on the golf course, and over a cup of coffee in indifferent, everyday
Director Steven Soderbergh handles this playful look as the intriguing,
involving, and infuriating background of a character study of Mark Whitacre
(Matt Damon), the highest-level executive in the United States to turn
Whitacre is not a figure with whom to sympathize or whose actions are to
condone, and Damon is pitch-perfect in a performance of ego turmoil and constant
It's a true story that's stranger than fiction made more complicated by
the lies that make it up—a tricky film about a tricky individual.
9. An Education
affectionate look at all the possibilities and pitfalls of growing up, Nick
Hornby's screenplay for An Education doesn't judge its characters or try
to justify their actions.
It simply lets them be and allows us to see where they're coming from.
That is the greatest strength of the film, which lives entirely in the
moment with its characters and their successes and failures.
Director Lone Scherfig assembles a superb cast to tell the story of a
young girl (Carey Mulligan) who meets an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) and starts
to rethink the life she has had planned out.
Mulligan's performance is one that subtly speaks volumes about her
character, and Sarsgaard is so sincere as a charmingly effective compulsive liar
that he manages to con us as easily as those around him.
Also trying to influence her life are Alfred Molina as her swaying father
and Olivia Williams as the teacher who sees her potential.
The film captures how the events at this pivotal time in the girl's life
shape her with ease and wisdom.
8. A Christmas Carol
faithful to the original Dickens' novella, A Christmas Carol is director
Robert Zemeckis' most accomplished of his three ventures into the world of
computer animation and "performance capture."
True to the language, themes, and even the original illustrations, the
film is entirely concerned with two things: morality and mortality.
It's not exactly what we'd expect from an animated holiday film from
Disney, but here it is, complete with all of the criticism of the greed of
capitalism, the championing of governmental and individual altruism, and all the
visual allegory and then some of this parable.
The story is well-known, but it's the way Zemeckis and his collaborators
tell the tale that sets it apart from other versions and serves to revitalize
From the opening, swooping shot of London's rich juxtaposed with its poor
to the Gothic nightmare of Scrooge's (Jim Carrey) home to Death chasing the
miserly curmudgeon after he has shrunk to a size that mirrors his worth to the
world, this is a visually stunning but still emotional potent morality tale.
Ponyo is, as some have stated, a lesser work of Hayao Miyazaki, then we
are truly dealing with a master. This
animated fable lacks the thematic depth of some of Miyazaki's previous work, but
still, the themes of nature's power and man's interference with it are timely
and approachably simple without becoming preachy.
The reason is that the story is solidly grounded on the relationship
between a young boy and his new best friend.
The friend happens to be a fish transformed into a young girl by an
enigmatic and mystical experiment. There
is a code of responsibility to others that is a long-lost virtue missing from so
many children's films these days, and while the relationship is very much
metaphorical, it works on a real level, too.
Whether Miyazaki intended the film first to be an ecological parable and
second a story of two outsiders who find each other, or vice versa, is
unimportant. One cannot exist
without the other, and they both work splendidly.
Full of amazing imagery, the film is one that genuinely, sincerely, and
6. Up in the Air
Bingham (George Clooney) has a job in the ultimate growth industry of a withered
economy: He fires people for a living.
He lives a life on the road, usually spending a little over a month at
his small apartment.
Otherwise, he's flying or firing, and Ryan is perfectly content with this
Clooney once again shows himself an authority in playing smoothly
professional operator, but there is also a deep vulnerability to this
performance, seen in subtle glimpses of something we can't quite grasp.
Ryan ends up in the same place where he started by the finale of Up in
the Air, but so much has happened to him in the meantime, that it's a
Two women show him an option he has never considered before—that there
may be more to life than isolation from the rest of the world.
One is his protégé Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who has her life planned
out, and the other is romantic interest Alex (Vera Farmiga), who lives much as
Co-writer/director Jason Reitman doesn't sentimentalize, and the result
is a character study of a singular, ultimately heart-breaking vision.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Anderson and an animated film partially about the family dynamic are a perfect
fit the more one thinks about it.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a joyous time for its well-developed,
anthropomorphic characters, mature themes, minimalist and vibrant look, a sense
of ironic detachment, and, above all, the jubilant energy Anderson brings to all
With loving attention to detail, the puppets of this stop-motion animated
feature are expressive and get to the heart of the common but difficult terrain
of the dysfunctional family unit.
Voiced with spot-on character focus by the likes of George Clooney as the
cool Mr. Fox, Meryl Streep as the loving but fed-up Mrs. Fox, Jason Schwartzman
as their rebellious, teenage son, Eric Anderson as his Zen cousin, and Willem
Dafoe as a nefarious rat, the film is also about how a group's differences can
make them stronger.
And how one cannot defy their nature.
And how basic survival can be the most difficult challenge of all.
Expanded from the book by Roald Dahl, Anderson's film has a renegade
attitude that keeps us on our toes but is also respectful and mindful of the
purposes of children's stories—to entertain, to teach, and to imagine.
The Hurt Locker
extended example of Hitchcock's rule of suspense (the one about the bomb under
the table), Kathryn Bigelow's story of an Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit
in Iraq follows Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), a hotshot
Mark Boal's episodic screenplay gives us mission after mission of
intense, life-or-death scenarios and the less hellish moments before and after,
in which the insanity of the situation these soldiers find themselves never
Boal, who served as an embedded journalist with a similar unit, never
makes political assertions with The Hurt Locker, indeed avoiding politics
This is these men's job, difficult enough and complicated by the
awareness that a local with a cell phone, a camcorder, or even a 9-volt battery
could be an enemy, ready at a moment's notice to set off an IED.
Bigelow's pacing and staging of the disposal scenes, the personal tension
within the team, and the wider implications of the psychological state it takes
to do this work (not to mention what the job does to one's mind) are equally
It seems the only way to live through an insane situation is to be a
little crazy, even if it might significantly hurt one's chances of surviving.
Up is like seeing some wonderful bedtime story you never heard brought to
Pete Docter's fanciful tale of an old man (voice of Ed Asner) on a quest
to fulfill his deceased wife's dream is an adventure with an undercurrent of
deep loss and regret.
This tone is set up in a masterful, wordless, and heartbreaking montage
at the beginning of Carl, the man, and his wife, growing up, celebrating,
suffering, and ultimately saying goodbye, and yet the film manages to find joy
for the rest of Carl's journey to bring his house to Paradise Falls via a
collection of colorful balloons.
Still, his escapades with boy scout Russell (voice of Jordan Nagai),
talkative dog Dug (voice of Bob Peterson), and a mysterious bird dubbed Kevin
are defined by his intent to do this one last thing.
Its subject matter is surprisingly mature and serves as a human offset to
the colorful exploits, full of imaginative turns and gags.
If his encounter with disgraced explorer Charles Muntz (voice of
Christopher Plummer) comes across as a little too pat a conflict, it is still in
the same vein as the rest of the thematic content, growing up to realize your
childhood hero isn't all he's cracked up to be, and it gives Carl the
opportunity to realize that life isn't over until you decide it is.
In a year of some great animated features, this one is at the top.
Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by
is ferocious as Precious' tormentor, whose final scene reveals a warped humanity
that is heartbreaking and frightening. Sidibe
is a revelation, traversing Precious' psychological range and displaying the
necessary strength just beneath the surface for us to realize that whatever may
come this young woman's way she will be able to face it.
It's a small reward, but it's more than enough for her and us.
A tableau of some of the most oppressive, horrific, and painful situations in
which a person can find themselves, Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by
Sapphire is an honest and vivid study of Murphy's Law.
Taken individually, each new complication that adds up in young Claireece
"Precious" Jones' (newcomer Gabourney "Gabby" Sidibe) life
would be enough for some to give up, but at the start of Lee Daniel's
extraordinary balancing act, Precious doesn't even know she had a chance to
start. Pushed into a cloistered
life of silence and unobtainable dreams by the verbal, psychological, and sexual
abuse of her mother (Mo'Nique) and absentee father, Precious slowly discovers a
way out through her new teacher at a alternative school (Paula Patton).
As written by Geoffrey Fletcher, hers is not some trite inspirational
story. There is progress, the
glimmer of hope, and the smallest of rewards to be won here, but as the wounds
of Precious' life begin to heal, it becomes apparent that they are also
infected. She may be able to move
past them, but they will continue to cause her heartache in the future.
Directing scenarios like a virtuoso conductor, Quentin Tarantino weaves a unique
story of World War II with a skilled, meticulous attention to pacing.
Simply, it is the ultimate period revenge fantasy about a group of Jewish
soldiers, led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), in Nazi-occupied France attempting
to kill as many of the enemy as possible, a young woman (Mélanie Laurent) with
a similar intent, and a plan inside a movie theater that brings both stories
together to change the written face of history.
almost plays like a series of short films, and each chapter of the film as a
whole is expertly crafted. The
opening, an almost 20-minute-long dialogue between a dairy farmer (Denis
Menochet) and the villainous "Jew Hunter" Col. Landa (Christoph Waltz,
in perhaps the performance of the year), sets the tone with its overt Western
imagery, a cinematic in-joke about preferred language, an excruciating moral
dilemma, and brilliant tempo. We
also get an extended monologue about the details of wartime cruelty, a
discussion of German cinema (and a film critic as a hero, to boot), a masterful
scene in a basement bar that plays with the tension of phony dialects and the
political implications of King Kong, and the break down and expansion of the film's fictional archetypes
and historical caricatures.
one hand, Inglourious
is about the varying degrees of the dredges of humanity in a time and place
where the shadows have free reign, but on the other, it is as much about movies.
By the final mission, the film has turned into an exhilaratingly
outlandish piece of propaganda, and no account of history could or should match
it. In his sixth film, Tarantino
has crafted a unique vision of people in wartime and given us the best film of
The Story of Anvil, The Cove, The
House of the Devil, In the Loop, Me
and Orson Welles, The Men
Who Stare at Goats, Paranormal
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All
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