Two years ago, the first time I wrote up a best movies of the year list, I posted it on my MySpace. Last year, I posted on MySpace and Facebook (Facebook was the premiere site to view it). This year, it is on Facebook again, but the premiere place to check it out is my blog (sorry, MySpace). In fact, it is the first ever post on Jmunney’s blog.
There are some other differences this year. I finally managed to round out my list to a full ten (last year’s numero diez was only an honorable mention). I am not all that thrilled by the bottom of the list. The contenders for the last three spots are all movies that I either have some issue with or lack strong feelings for. But I gave them all high ratings initially, so I am going to trust my past self. Also, I am in the midst of Netflixing several movies I missed, so more than any other year, I am backlogged with a lot of potential contenders. But I’ve got to be at least somewhat timely.
As I look over my list, it appears that the biggest star of the year was … Jesse Eisenberg? Two movies about some “land,” with amusement parks as important settings in both.
1. District 9
From the second the documentary talking heads started talking and immediately upon Wikus van der Merwe’s entrance into the refugee camps, District 9 was the definition of tension. Suspension of disbelief is essentially forced onto the audience, thus ensuring a successful science-fiction plot. The documentary format is ingenious; you care deeply for a bunch of aliens, both South African and extraterrestrial, and you believe that this world is not too different from our own.
Memorable Line: “I thought you said not to kill them?”
“He shot at me!”
The performances in Adventureland epitomized “being yourself,” or being someone else, as it were, as the actors were “acting”. But it is a small distinction, as the acting in this case was simply being. Never before has Kristen Stewart seemed like a conscious human being, nor Ryan Reynolds just some guy who is not always on the verge of exploding. And Jesse Eisenberg is the ultimate lead as the young man who just is who he is.
Memorable Line: “Brennan, you been toking up?” “What?” “You been drinking drugs?” “No.” “Your eyes are red. Have you been crying?”
3. The Hurt Locker
The greatest modern warfare movie is not really about war. It is a strikingly unique and subtly realized version of the effects on a man of being a soldier. Staff Sgt. William James is one of the best assets the U.S. military has, and that status makes him profoundly alone. So all he can do is just keep on truckin’.
Memorable Line: “Eight hundred! And seventy-three. Eight hundred! And seventy-three. That’s just hot shit.”
4. Inglourious Basterds
It took me a few months to understand Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist WWII history, and once I did, I felt like a chump. It’s about the movies! It’s from Quentin, after all, the guy who references every movie ever made! It’s about the staging, the illusion, the tableaux, the ensemble. What do you think, is it his masterpiece?
Memorable Line: “Attaboy, Lieutenant. Make it yourself like a good chap, will you? The bar’s in the globe.”
If you are going to make a documentary in which your subject sits on the couch and just talks about himself for the entire running time, you better have a damn fine interesting subject. Mike Tyson fits that bill, amazingly proving himself more interesting than the world already knew him to be. James Toback is somehow able to create the most fascinating confessional ever caught on film. Tyson’s apology makes no excuses for his sins; instead, it plumbs the depths of his soul.
Memorable Line: “…Don King, who is just a wretched, slimy reptilian motherfucker … He would kill his mother for a dollar.”
6. Star Trek
Anyone who wants to create an updated version of a beloved franchise should henceforth follow the example of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. The spirit of the original – discovery where no man has gone before, the conflict between logic and emotion – is intact, but this is a completely new creation not bound by continuity. In fact, the Star Trek universe was already predisposed to this formula, as the time travel plot point illustrates.
Memorable Line: “I have been and always shall be your friend.”
Zombies are all the rage these days, but only Zombieland dares to show that a world all but destroyed by the undead is a fun place to live. How often do we get a comedy where the characters are having this much fun nowadays? We got it all the time in the 80’s – Caddyshack, Meatballs, Ghostbusters – Zombieland might be this generation’s Ghostbusters. Characterization in a movie like Zombieland is essential, but it is not hard. Just give everyone a silly backstory. A dead puppy? Why not?!
Memorable Line: “You’re about to learn who you gonna call … Ghostbusters.”
8. State of Play
Nobody wants to give Cal McAffrey a break, and he really does want to do the right thing, but everything in his life and everything in the world of journalism is so tangled up that he can’t do much of anything. But State of Play does find some room for hope. And props to Jason Bateman for playing an absolutely iconic sleazeball.
Memorable Line: “Coffee’s free for friends of the press.”
It looked pretty, and the archetypal story worked as well as it needed to.
Memorable Line: “Oh, shit.”
10. I Love You, Man
When I saw I Love You, Man, I loved it. I loved that Paul Rudd has become a leading man, I loved that Andy Samberg was funny yet restrained, I loved the female power trio friendship, and I loved the supporting appearances from Joe Lo Truglio, Thomas Lennon, and Lou Ferrigno. But then I started to rethink it. Was the bromance too indulgent? Did I like Jason Segel as this character? I prefer him as an oddly suave jerk. Ultimately, I Love You, Man is not too self-indulgent, though it teeters precariously close to being so and other bromance movies would be wise to tread cautiously, if at all, and I guess I will just have to live with this character type of Jason Segel’s. And how can I argue with Rush?
Memorable Line: “It’s just that Zooey hasn’t seen them all yet. She’s really curious as to what was going on inside that hatch.”
Probably Good Ones I Missed And/Or Will Be Seeing Soon: Precious, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Drag Me to Hell, Moon, World’s Greatest Dad, Ponyo, Gentlemen Broncos, The Princess and the Frog, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Big Fan, An Education, Religulous