Before I start my Best of 2009 list, I should preface everything by coming clean on the movies I didn't see this year. For starters, I didn't see (but wanted to!) The Princess and the Frog, Ponyo, The Cove, or A Single Man. I avoided Precious and Invictus as they didn't interest me (I know, I know, don't tell Ebert). I also didn't have a chance to catch a lot of foreign films, most notably 35 Shots of Rum, Sin Nombre and Summer Hours. With that said, here are 5 Honorable Mentions, in no order.
Up is a Pixar film, and that alone should be enough to demand your attention. Starting with a bizarre premise involving an old man and thousands of helium balloons, Up was wildly successful and has since become Pixars 2nd highest grossing film ever at 290 million dollars, behind Finding Nemo. I really liked Up, but thought that it lacked a bit of tenderness that Pixar normally offers that sets it apart from the pack of Dreamworks, et al. There were even some of scenes where it became a bit too cutesy and dare I say, annoying(!). Kevin the bird and Dug the dog were fun to a point, but they simply became distractions towards the end of the film. The montage of Carl and Ellie was masterful, and I loved the sense of adventure Russell brought to the story, but all in all, I think it settled into too many cliches, a rarity for Pixar. It's still a great film, and nearly the best animated film this year.
500 Days of Summer
A few months ago, this was probably right up there on my list, but then came Oscar season and things got all topsy-turvy. A post-Judd Apatow Garden State, down to the indie band sharing and the voiceovers, and I say those in the nicest ways. Director Marc Webb has an eye for innovative scenes, from the Expectations vs. Reality split screen, to an animated musical number, he takes some chances here, but they all work in the context of the film. My gripes with the film stemmed from how Summer and Tom approached love. Tom hopelessly clinging to and longing for love, deluding himself into thinking that it's all that is missing from his life. It's no surprise how petulant he gets when things don't turn out his way. Equally frustrating is Summer, who can't even concede that they are in a relationship, and comes across as callous and indifferent to the potential of love. I understand what both are saying, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch. I suppose it's refreshing to feel a little something extra from a romantic-comedy these days, but I couldn't help but feel a bit unsatisfied.
Up In The Air
For Ivan Reitman's follow up to 2007's indie darling Juno, he trades in a bit of the whimsy and doubles-down on the charm of George Clooney. George is a charming man, to be sure, but he needs a bit more material to really knock things out of the park. Much like Summer in 500 Days (above), Ryan bristles at commitment, enjoying a life of relative anonymity on the road. Of course everything changes when he meets an equally charming compatriot in the form of Vera Farmiga. The chemisty isn't as electric as I expected, but they certainly have eyes for each other. The movie really establishes some heart in the scenes of Ryan and his family when he returns home for a wedding, and he is forced to come face to face with what he has sacrificed and needs to sincerely offer life advice. Soon after this scene, the movie jumps the shark. The plot becomes a bit too predictable and tidy in the final scenes, and while I liked the ending, I'm not sure exactly what Reitman was going for in the last third of the film. It felt unfocused and simple to me, disappointing for a film which had previously asked some thoughtful questions.
Big Fan features a serious turn from comedian Patton Oswalt as Paul Aufiero, the world's biggest New York Giants fan. Paul works in a parking garage and obsessively calls into sports radio stations. Paul lives with his mother. Paul doesn't have a lot going for him, but he is happy so long as it is football season. By chance, Paul and his friend see and proceed to follow star Giants player Quantrell Bishop in Staten Island. Paul introduces himself to Bishop in a strip club, and after a miscommunication, gets brutally beaten by Bishop and his entourage. From here the film dives deep into sports fanaticism and what happens when two worlds collide. Paul becomes a rag doll in a high-stakes tug-of-war he wants no part of. A fantastically gripping final act and a dark, pained performance from Patton Oswalt make Big Fan destined for the 'Cult Classic' rack (or at least my DVD collection).
The Brothers Bloom
The follow-up to 2006's high-school noir-classic Brick, 2009's The Brother's Bloom found director Rian Johnson with a 20 million dollar budget and esteemed Hollywood brethren like Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz. The film is best described as a heist-caper, filled to the brim (some would say overfilled) with double crosses and elaborate schemes. It's quirky without being 'wacky' and is almost as much fun to watch as it probably was to make. I'm a huge fan of Adrien Brody, and while he's a bit mopey here, Mark Ruffalo plays a great comic foil. It's not for everyone, but if you consider yourself a fan of Wes Anderson or enjoyed the stylistic choices in Brick, you'll find there's a lot to like here.