9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The latest in the Harry Potter movies ported over from the books is the best film adaptation so far. It doesn’t have the same magical effect as when the first was released, but I feel like this movie is where we get to see the once child-stars starting pulling some weight on screen. And you know what? They are actually good! The Half-Blood Prince is my favorite book in the series so naturally I was excited to see this film and it really delivered some great moments from the Harry Potter universe. Solid acting from the kids we’ve grown up with and a story that remains (fairly) close to the source material are what land this movie in my list.
8. 500 Days of Summer
I mentioned this movie in one of my previous lists as being a great surprise. It is (as stated by the movie) NOT a love story. 500 Days of Summer is about a guy named Dan and a girl named Summer (get it?) who meet and date and though they have a remarkably fun and passionate relationship they break up and part ways. I feel like this movie (unlike romantic comedies) portrays relationships in such a sobering manner. It’s not always happily ever after when it comes to dating and it was nice to see an honest approach. The movie is funny, clever, and (as a single adult) relative to what dating and relationships can be like.
7. Gran Torino
I’d heard this was a good movie, but I didn’t know what it was about when I pushed play on my DVD player. I had heard it was about an old, racist man. And though that’s true, nothing could’ve prepared me to just how racist this guy is. It’s so obnoxious that for the first few minutes, I kind of just sat in horror thinking that there might be people who think and act that way. About 1/2 way through the movie I found myself laughing (and subsequently feeling bad) at the over-the-top racism and it was then I realized it was supposed to be funny and I shouldn’t really feel bad. The movie is about an extremely racist old man who after losing his wife is thrust into the lives of some foreigners and slowly starts learning huge lessons about family and acceptance.
6. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
If you like Wes Anderson movies (Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic) then you will really enjoy The Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s a fun animated film that’s really for adults more than for kids. It’s got a great sense of humor and wit and the animation style is refreshing after seeing so much CGI in movies these days. I love the way they blur lines between the characters being more human in how they think and act but still animal because they are, after all, animals. An example would be that Mr. Fox gets up and puts on his suit, reads the morning paper, sips on his coffee and promptly devours his breakfast like a rabid dog. The movie is about a fox who gets on some farmers’ bad side and must protect his family when the farmers attempt to run him out of their land. It’s a little bit quirky, a little bit silly, and a lot of fun.
This movie was so good. I’m not sure how Pixar manages to make these movies where just about any generation can come away feeling good about what they just saw. I feel like this time around they’ve gone after more adult themes like loneliness and death and loss yet they handle them in such fun and absurd ways that small children will have a blast (and probably not even notice the tears in their parents’ eyes). I almost started crying 10 min into the movie when a short ‘growing up’ montage shows us Carl Fredrickson go from a small boy with boyhood dreams to meeting his wife and to eventually becoming an old man, alone in a fast paced world built up around him and it’s all he can do to hold onto his past. If you like movies, this is one you should see. I’d be surprised if you didn’t like it.
Doubt is amazing. I just want to get that out there. The acting is supurb, the story is compelling, and as you watch you just don’t know what to make of what is going on. The thing that troubles me the most about this movie is that although there is very little action I was waiting on baited breath to see what might happen next. I mean, next to nothing happens and yet I was on the edge of my seat. Merril Streep plays a nun who is suspicious of a new priest in the parish thinking he might be a sexual predator. In the end, she goes after him with the absolute certainty that he is a danger to the children at the Catholic school. In the final moments of the movie she reveals that she, even through her hardened resolve, has serious doubt. There are some subtle but powerful scenes that swing your opinion of the characters in such a way that in the end your mind is clamoring to know answers. But all you have is doubt. It’s brilliant.
3. District 9
This is a sci-fi movie that will leave you feeling like you were punched in the gut. It is so gritty and raw that you might find yourself wincing in a few scenes. But boy is it good. District 9 is about aliens who have come to earth for no known reason and have stayed for 20 years and don’t appear capable of going back home as their mothership floats lifeless over Johannesburg, South Africa. During the course of 2 decades the government set up an area for them to reside in called District 9 and it turns into a slum. Eventually the government decides to move the Prawn (aliens) out of the city to their own location out in the middle of nowhere and the movie takes off. I think it is the most original film to come out in 2009 and my hat is off to the makers of this movie. You wouldn’t recognize a single name or face in the cast and I think that’s cool. You will find yourself identifying with the aliens (which is nearly impossible when you consider they look like humanoid shell-fish) as much as the humans. If you can stomach it, you should see this movie. It’s likely the best sci-fi movie to come out in the last 10 years.
2. Star Trek XI
This movie changed the face of Star Trek. J.J. Abrams really did a knock out job on this film. I mentioned it in my biggest movie surprises of 2009 post, but that was more about hype than about what makes the film awesome. I think my brother, Jon, summed it up the best when he said to me, “when I was watching the guys free falling down the giant drill and all the action scenes I kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is Star Trek.'” It’s so true! This new cast has some real youth and vitality that I think the franchise needed. I was so pumped about Star Trek after seeing this movie that I went and rented all previous Star Trek movies just because I was excited. If you’ve seen the old movies (or tv shows) you’ll really appreciate what they’ve done here to pay tribute to the classics but I think you’ll also be grateful for the new, fast-paced world that the crew of the Enterprise finds themselves in. Time travel was handled well (I hope Abrams can repeat this rare feat in the final season of LOST), there was a very fun appearance from an old Star Trek character, and when the credits roll you’ll be glad you never gave up on ol’ James T. Kirk.
Avatar was the only movie this year that I watched twice in the theater. I just had to go back and see it again (on the IMAX). Before this movie came out, I couldn’t really get too excited about it. The trailers didn’t really give you a good impression of how great it was going to be. But in the back of my head I thought to myself, “it’s a James Cameron film. There’s no way it can’t be amazing.” I was not let down in the slightest. It does have a plot that’s been recycled but the story is told so well that I don’t even care. The visuals are not just amazing, but they are something that the film industry has never seen before. Literally, James Cameron was ‘writing the book’ on emotion capture CGI and I’d bet real money that books will be written about this movie’s contribution to the world of film. The bar has been set high. Very high. But aside from the visuals I absolutely adored this movie. The casting and characters were spot on, the dialogue felt real enough and the world of Pandora (even though it was completely CG) was so incredibly immersive that I could swear its a real place…and I was there. Sometimes I wish that I had been around when the first Star Wars came out and that I could have enjoyed the buzz and excitement and witnessed first hand the release of such an amazing movie that has been apart of so many generations’ story telling/watching experience. But I imagine that I am lucky to have been able to see Avatar in this way, and I imagine that some day 33 years from now someone will write down that they wish they could’ve seen Avatar back in 2009 when it first released, realizing the future of movies and movie technology was being witnessed first hand.