For film critics, the end of the year means only one thing: “best of” lists. It’s probably one of my favorite parts about the job, so when Bullz-Eye decided to do a decade-end feature in place of our annual retrospective, I didn’t let that deter me from putting one together anyway. This year’s crop of films was just as uneven as in past years, but while you might have had to dig a little deeper to find some real gems, there’s no denying that 2009 still delivered some truly great movies. Here’s a look at my ten favorite films, along with a few honorable mentions and a list of the year’s worst.
1. “Inglourious Basterds”
Quentin Tarantino’s WWII revenge fantasy is every fan’s dream movie. Not only does it feature the director’s trademark dialogue (and plenty of it), but it also boasts a stellar ensemble cast, award-worthy performances from Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender, and some of the most thrilling sequences of the year. The German bar scene may feature QT at his nostalgic best, but the opening chapter is his magnum opus. That “Inglourious Basterds” can run for an additional 120 minutes and still be just as engaging is a testament to the film’s supreme quality.
2. “The Hurt Locker”
This Iraq war thriller is one of the most suspenseful movies I’ve ever seen, piling on the tension so high that you’ll literally spend the entire film on the edge of your seat. Jeremy Renner is a marvel to watch as the bomb squad thrill junkie at the center of the story, but the real star is director Kathryn Bigelow, who takes an otherwise barebones script and transforms it into a series of memorable set pieces that continually upstage the one before it. But best of all, “The Hurt Locker” proves that female directors don’t have to make movies for women to be taken seriously in Hollywood.
3. “Up in the Air”
There’s a pretty good chance that “Up in the Air” would have moved up a spot on my list had I found the time to see it a second time, but as it stands, the Jason Reitman-directed seriocomedy is still one of the year’s best movies. Reitman may not get a lot of credit as a director, but between his funny and timely adaptation of the Walter Kirn novel and keen use of his actors, it’s pretty clear that he has a promising future in the business. George Clooney continues to charm the hell out of moviegoers in a role tailor-made for the veteran actor, while Anna Kendrick steals the show yet again in a performance that deserves to be rewarded come awards time.
4. “Fantastic Mr. Fox”
I’m surely in the minority on this one, but “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is the best animated movie of the year. I love Pixar just as much as the next person, but while “Up” proved to be yet another excellent addition to the studio’s still-flawless portfolio, director Wes Anderson’s adaptation of the popular Roald Dahl children’s story is even better. From the spot-on voice cast and witty script to the incredible sets and wonderful costume design, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” has so many layers that you have to watch it several times just to soak up all of the rich detail that went into making the movie.