As we plunge into awards season overload and with the passing of the New Year, everyone and their burro is making "10 Best/Worst" lists, etc. What I'm doing here isn't listing what I thought was the BESTEST OF THE BESTISH, but the movies I enjoyed the most and think you should give a peek at. Some were in theaters; others I caught on DVD or download; some may've come out in 2008. They're in no particular order and there may be ten or more or less. Let's see how it works out.
TAKEN - Liam Neeson is Jack Bauer as Jedi Knight tearing up Paris to rescue his stupid daughter from Muslim kidnappers. The scene with the spikes is a hoot cuz the guy actually spits on him when it's clear that's not going to help his fortunes.
PERSEPOLIS - One woman's tale of growing up in the dark shadow of Iran's Islamic Revolution only hints at the thuggery, but it's clear that tossing the Shah wasn't an upgrade. Done in striking B&W to match its graphic novel origins, you'll have a new mental image when you hear "Eye of the Tiger."
PUSH - It's a little like a discount X-Men movie, but the gritty Hong Kong setting and stylish action work in its favor. It's also the film where we can sense that Dakota Fanning may grow up into a hottie. (Yeah, I'm talking about you, Emma Watson, you disappointment.)
CORALINE - Let's get this clear: Henry Selick directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, NOT Tim Burton! Here he brings his signature stop-motion style to the story of a lonely girl who finds the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side of the tunnel hidden in the wall.
17 AGAIN - If you told me a Zac Efron(!) movie would be a smartly-written story of getting to know your loved ones, I would've busted a restraining order out on you. Hate him cuz he's beautiful all you want; he doesn't coast where he could've. It's too soon to tell whether he could have a Johnny Depp career, but it's a cute, fun flick.
ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL - The coverage of this was so annoying in that I thought it was a Spinal Tap-ish spoof that the media collectively decided to pretend was a real doc about a real band. Until I saw it, I really wanted to punch someone. A sobering look at what happens to a Canuckian metal band that had all the tools for success, yet failed, its ultimate irony is that the band didn't find fame for its music, but because someone made a movie about their failure.
TRICK 'R TREAT - It's not that no one made a genuine horror film about Halloween proper, but that the morons at Warner Bros. let this gem languish on their shelf for two frigging years while they pumped up Saw sequels at Halloween before dumping it to DVD. Idiots! Check it out and spread the word the way the Bunny didn't.
MOON - Sam Rockwell isn't going to get a deserved Oscar nomination for his dual performance as a lonely lunar miner who finds things - and he - aren't what he thought they were because outside of hardcore sci-fi geeks, no one's even heard of this flick beyond being vaguely aware that David Bowie's kid directed it.
STAR TREK - Yes, the script took some serious liberties with common sense and WTF was the huge factory doing in the Enterprise? The fact is that the first Trek film that LOOKED like a huge movie with a budget and not a gussied-up TV episode simply rocked with energy and lens flare. J.J. Abrams cast everyone to a T, but mega-props for Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy which nails the vibe of DeForest Kelley without stooping to mimicry.
THE HANGOVER - We're doomed to see a lot of copycats of this hilarious and raunchy flick, but you've got to hand it to the original which showed that the secret for comedy gold isn't dumping $20 million on some marque star - I'm looking at you, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Jack Black, and Adam Sandler - but to have a sharp script played by ace actors, not spotlight hogs. The structure was brilliant because we share in their horror as they discover what happened the night before.
DISTRICT 9 - While Avatar showed what the now King of the Universe, James Cameron, can do with $300 million in bleeding-edge FX pr0n techmonology, Neill Blomkamp's $30 million South African alien apartheid allegory showed that a compelling story and impressive special effects can be done for what Will Smith alone costs. Smart AND fun, it's not quite the Awesomest. Movie. Ever. as a large amount of the Nerd Movie Blogeratti hailed it, but it's damn good and will hopefully encourage Hollyweird to let bright young talents make unique films on relatively risk-free budgets.
Coincidentally, my pick for my favorite film of 2009 was a lucky fluke of timing as it was starting just as District 9 let out, allowing me to make an impromptu double-feature of D9 and....
(500) DAYS OF SUMMER - The ads made this look like another fizzy rom-com and since rom-coms are utterly predictable and formulaic, most people blew it off as more of the same when it is actually the funniest romantic-DRAMA of the year. Told in a time-jumping structure that could've been too cute by half, the tale of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel's tempestuous romance - he believes in true love and she doesn't - slowly builds up a layered story of how we can miss the reality in the rose-tinted reminiscences of romantic rendezvous. Where it really nailed the "something special" prize is in how the sudden reversal of one character is dealt with in a final scene that really had me scared it would punk out for a Hollywood ending but rather chose a bittersweet and logically honest denouement. (Eat it, Kate Hudson!)
What was interesting about seeing District 9 and (500) Days of Summer back to back is how both were little indie movies made outside of the panicked "must return on investment with safe formulas" mindset of most Hollywood product. (Can't even call them movies, much less films.) Both had clear unique storytelling visions backing strong scripts with excellent performances and FX work. The human element - even with the aliens - is what made Moon and District 9 more satisfying than retarded fare like G.I. Joe: Dear God Please Stop Stephen Sommers From Making Movies or lowbrow noisefests like Baysplosions 2009. (To be fair, if you were looking for giant fighting robots tearing up sh*t and Megan Fox running in slow motion; Transformers 2 was ticket.)
There's a dozen goodies for your basket. Go watch 'em!!!