2009 – The Best Movies of the Year
By Casey Chapman
Funny Games – A scene for scene remake of the German horror film, this was truly exhausting to watch, in the best of all ways. Fine performances from Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, and a terrifyingly good Michael Pitt make it more than torture porn.
W – After a slew of substandard films, Oliver Stone returns to what he does best. Following in the steps of his magnificent JFK and Nixon, Stone gives a shockingly sympathetic portrayal of flawed presidential buffoon George W. Bush.
Wanted – In a year of fantastic action films, Wanted stands out in my mind as the most mind-blowing original of them all. With loopholes in the plot you could crawl through, the film still manages to be an amazing good time.
Top 20 Films of the Year
20. Repo The Genetic Opera!
Who would have thought a rock opera starring Sarah Brightman, Giles from Buffy (Anthony Stewart Head), and Paris Hilton could be this enjoyable and this good! Directed by the man behind the SAW franchise, this film managed to be gory, disgusting, and breathe new life into the stale movie musical genre.
19. Savage Grace
What a disturbing little film this was. Based on a true story about the Bakeland family, heirs to the enormous fortune from their Grandfather who invented plastic, Savage Grace very well may have been the toughest movie of the year to watch. With outstanding performances by Stephen Dillane, and especially Julianne Moore (who does no wrong), this story about family, love, incest, homosexuality, despair, murder, and depression left its imprint on me.
18. Slumdog Millionaire
Many are jumping to the punch and calling this the best film of the year. I won’t go that far, but it is hard to deny the charms of Slumdog Millionaire. The modern day fairy tale hasn’t had this kind of romantic treatment in years. The story of the making of the film, in the underdeveloped Mumbai, along with some strong performances, and exciting flashbacks: Slumdog is high caliber filmmaking.
17. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s darkly inspired re-vamps on the Batman franchise are stellar, and he topped his last effort with the unbelievably dark Dark Knight. The standout of course is Heath Ledger, in his last performance, taking a role that has already been nailed once (Nicholson) and turning it on its head. The film is scary, beautiful, action packed, and actually has heart behind it all. Much more than just a “comic book film”.
16. Man On Wire
This documentary has won nearly every prize handed to documentary films this year, and rightfully so. Although the plot is spelled out from the start, a Frenchman walks a high wire between the world trade center towers in New York, however as the film recounts the plot of the daring team behind the feat, I was still nervous and on the edge of my seat the entire time. Inspiring and beautiful, the film shows that art comes in many beautiful forms.
15. The Visitor
Character actor Richard Jenkins, turns in a stunning performance as a man who is stuck in a life which he sees no escape. The mindless job, the day-to-day routine, is something most can connect too in one way or another. The outlet for which he finds an escape comes through a pair of ‘visitors’ who teach and inspire him, musically and otherwise.
Some days I miss the animation of my childhood, and find all of the computer animation extremely impersonal and not as pretty. But then comes along a film like Wall-E which restores my confidence in animation all-together. In what is almost half silent-film, half statement on modern humanity, the story of the wayward Robot is one of the most romantic films of the year.
13. The Strangers
By far, The Strangers was the most terrifying horror film of the year. Relying mainly on terrifying the audience instead of grossing them out, the film worked on so many levels. With believable performances headed by Liv Tyler, and killers who kill for the sake of killing, The Strangers surely made me look through all the closets when I got home. Its about time someone got it right again.
One of the two Broadway screen revivals of the year, director Ron Howard made the series of interviews which continued to tear down Richard Nixon, nail-biting and infuriating all at once. With 2 immensely strong central performances from Frank Langella and Michael Sheen (along with an equally strong supporting cast), Frost/Nixon plays like a edge of your seat documentary.
11. Revolutionary Road
Sam Mendes directs his wife, and her Titanic co-star, in the years most depressing tale of breakdown (and we had a lot of those this year). The acting is super solid (with DiCaprio, Winslet, Kathy Bates, and Chicago’s own Michael Shannon). The story of despair in the suburbs has been done before, but I doubt its been done this drearily good.
10. Let The Right One In
There hasn’t been a good vampire movie in my mind since Interview With The Vampire and Bram Stokers Dracula, and this year we were delivered 2 revamps of the genre. Twilight (which was disappointing at best), and this vampire tale from Norway. Mixing so many genre’s together (romance, coming-of-age, vampire, horror, drama, etc) could have been a disaster, instead it made for a scarily good romantic date night.
9. Burn After Reading
The Cohen Brother’s follow-up to their Oscar sweeping No Country For Old Men, was a madcap comedy of errors. Spies, espionage, money, sex, betrayal, mis-trust, and foolish hijinx abound. The cast all turn in their funniest performances captured onscreen (and it’s a great cast, McDormand, Swinton, Clooney, Malkovitch, Jenkins, and Brad Pitt who shines the brightest).
8. Vicky Christina Barcelona
Woody Allen, who I refuse to think ever has a bad period, turns in one of his strongest films in years. The story of 2 best friends who fall into a romantic love triangle takes many twists and turns. Although it is a comedy, the characters within the film are leading anything but happy and fun lives. The performances from Javier Bardem, Scarlet Johansson, Rebecca Hall, and especially Penelope Cruz are devastatingly hilarious.
7. Frozen River
Melissa Leo’s performance powers this film to the top of my list. As a mother who will do anything within her means to provide for her family, she is a revelation. In the economic hardships we are all going through, its easy to connect on a certain level with the blind passion of Leo’s Ray. Frozen River is a small film with a big heart.
6. Rachel Getting Married
What should be the happiest day of a bride’s life, is thrown into tumult when Kym comes home for Rachel’s wedding. A family drama, with a brilliant cast, Rachel Getting Married is so realistic that it seems as if it is a running documentary of a family’s wedding celebrations. Anne Hathaway is fantastic, but it is RoseMarie Dewitt and Debra Winger (as Rachel and her mother) who set the screen on fire.
Clint Eastwood’s finest film in years, Changeling is an unbelievable true story. A film that can combine: a mother’s loss, a murder trial, corruption charges, an insane asylum, a psychotic, police cover-ups, etc; and make the film seem effortless – is a fantastic film. Everything is centered on Angelina Jolie’s remarkable performance. Along with an amazing supporting cast, Eastwood has made a powerful and unforgettable film (again).
I love a monster movie! And, okay I will say it, I think Cloverfield, may be the best monster movie ever. The handheld filming qualities made some sick, but it made me feel the documentary feel of terror – and hey for an hour and a half they made me believe a monster could attack a major city. The effects were stellar, never cheesy, and it was all at once terrifying and exhilarating. Part of me wanted a monster to attack downtown Chicago, just so I could experience it.
Straight from the Broadway stage, Doubt, is an acting masterclass. The film contains 4 of the strongest performances from the year, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Phillip Seymore Hoffman, and Viola Davis. Each are Oscar worthy, and the filming has the feel of a stage play – all a testament to writer/director John Patrick Shanley.
Milk is by far the most inspiring and heartfelt movie of the year. The timing couldn’t have been better what with proposition 8 passing in California weeks before its release. The story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to hold his seat, is played to perfection by Sean Penn. And the supporting cast of Emile Hirsche, Josh Brolin, James Franco, and others are equally impressive. I shed so many tears, all-the-while feeling inspired, recruited.
1. The Wrestler
Visionary director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) delivers the most powerful film of this year, and many before it. The story of Randy “The Ram” is one I won’t soon forget. Aronofsky found a director’s dream in lead actor Mickey Rourke, who gives the performance of the year. The lines are somewhat blurred between Randy and Mickey, which allows Rourke to deliver the most powerful and raw performance I’ve seen since Charlize Therone’s in monster. He is truly a antihero I will remember for years to come. With support from the brilliant Marisa Tomei, and the underestimated Evan Rachel Wood, The Wrestler is s tour-de-force in every possible way.