Best of 2009 (of What I've Seen, Anyway)

Ah, the end-of-the-year best-of lists.  I'll also soon be doing one for the decade, although I think I'm gonna give it a few months to catch up on the end of '09 stuff that I still haven't seen due to the fact I live in South Carolina.  In any case, here are my ten picks for best of the year, in alphabetical order (except for the one that I want to single out as the best).  Discuss, dissect, hate.

I haven't ever experienced a music documentary quite like this.  The two permanent members of Anvil! are a testament to the power of musical expression.  This movie pulls on heart-strings while making me want to rock out all night.  Silly as it is, metal is sometimes really fun and energetic music, and this band really gets that.  Experience the opening sequence, with footage from the band thirty years ago up to now thrashing away on their semi-hit "Metal On Metal" and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Henry Selick's magical adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel is quite breathtaking in 3-D, featuring what may be the best and most subtle use of the technology I've yet seen (and yes, I've seen AVATAR).  The stop-motion animation is seamless, the voicework is top-notch, and the overall atmosphere is really creepy for a children's fable, harkening back to the classical settings of Grimm's fairy tales, with wickedness out to get the little ones at every turn.

A return to form for Sam Raimi, who has spent the past decade making Spider-Man movies of varying quality (the first two are great, but the third was overstuffed).  Harkening back to his roots in the EVIL DEAD films, he goes all-out with this tale of gypsy curses, demonic possession and mortgage payments.  The film plays more Tex Avery than Moe Howard, but that's not a bad change of pace for a man who basically created the modern horror-comedy.

Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic story is a wonder to behold.  There's a rickety quality to the animation that brings to mind Harryhausen's original mastery of the form, and the camerawork brings to mind a storybook more often than not, with lots of play within lateral planes.  George Clooney is great as always as the voice of Mr. Fox, but Jason Schwartzman's subtle and utterly dry line delivery steals the show.  There are also great visual gags, and unexpected moments of pure wild animal behavior.  A Grade-A classic any day of the week.

Brad Pitt is hilarious as Lt. Aldo Raine, but Christoph Waltz is a revelation; if he doesn't win every acting award possible it will be an outrage.  The film is quintessential Tarantino cinema-bake, with a dash of anything and everything, and even some newer stuff thrown in for good measure.  Not only does this film re-write history, but it places cinema square in the middle, where I'm sure any good cinephile would like to think of it anyway.  And the entrance of the Bear Jew is one of the best intros to a character in recent memory.

Sam Rockwell gives an amazing performance as an astronaut stranded on the moon by a company that sent him up for a simple mining operation.  When he discovers a body that looks just like his own after an accident at one of the mining sites, the film really gets weird.  There's a moment when three Sam Rockwells are running around on screen at once, and it could have gotten to be too much, but the direction by Duncan Jones (David Bowie's kid, Zowie) is top-notch, and the production design is rather brilliant, featuring tons of miniatures, which isn't done so often nowadays what with the fancy CGI and whatnot.  This was a surprise, and I can't wait to see it again.

As bleak and despairing as it is hopeful, John Hillcoat really outdid himself with this one.  After directing one of the best films of the past decade with THE PROPOSITION, he found material that suited his sensibilities perfectly and wrung the best damned adaptation possible out of it.  Viggo Mortensen is great as always, and no one really carries the screen in brief moments like early scene-stealer Garret Dillahunt (who was fantastic in DEADWOOD and the remake of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT).

Disney/Pixar continues their string of amazing films with UP, about an old man who has always dreamed of travelling with his wife, is off to see Paradise Falls, and becomes caught up in the adventure of a lifetime.  Bittersweet, comic and even a bit romantic, UP will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.  The animation is gorgeous, and really evokes a true sense of itself.  This is a very assured film.

While not flawless, this is definitely one of the most ambitious movies to come out in 2009, and it succeeded far more than it had any right to.  Infinitely interesting as an adaptation (the film adapts how the graphic novel works moreso than why it works), it will no doubt become a more rewarding and cherished experience with each viewing, much like the novel it's based on does with each read-through.  Visually arresting, and featuring not one, but two fantastic uses of Leonard Cohen songs, this is one of the unsung heroes of the year.

This is hands-down the best movie to see a theatrical release this year.  Jody Hill's brilliant, absolutely hilarious and dark character study is a thing that exists unto itself.  Starring Seth Rogen as the off-his-medication shopping mall security guard tracking down a flasher terrorizing the staff and patrons, OBSERVE AND REPORT goes into unexpected and dark places.  This is the most daring, original and balls-out film anyone is likely see for years to come.  If, like most audiences, you missed this in theatrical release, please do yourself a favor and see it.

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