Almost there!  I’m doing an abbreviated post for two reasons.  First, so I can have a nice neat top ten post for you.  And second, these movies all sorta fit together as movies I liked a whole heck of a lot, came darn close to making the top ten, and maybe aren’t your conventional best of the year movies.

14. St. Trinian’s

Released in the UK at the end of 2007, took almost two years to make it stateside.  Maybe because it is a quite special kind of demented.  The basic premise…well,the story sprawls all over the place, and is mostly irrelevant anyway.  Essentially, the film is about a sleep away school for young women who maybe don’t fit in the mainstream.  Like the ten-year old twins who are demolition experts.  I’m not going to be able to capture the wacky British humor, but you should probably have a good idea if it’ll appeal to you.  The cast is top notch, with Rupert Everett in roles as brother and sister (he cross-dresses for the main one), the year’s Oscar nominee Colin Firth as the stuck-up minister of education who has a history with the female Rupert Everett, Russell Brand in an (as usual) completely over the top role as the fence for the girls, plus Toby Jones, Caterina Murino (Bond Girl!), Lena Headey, and Stephen Fry.  But let’s take a second to go over the two other stars: Talulah Riley and Gemma Arterton.  Riley’s first screen appearance was in a Poirot, so I must have seen her a few years back, and you may remember her as Mary Bennet in the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice.  Here, she’s the lead.  A seemingly normal teen thrust into St. Trinian’s by her father (the male Rupert Everett).  I was initially skeptical, but definitely by the makeover scene referenced in the trailer, I was hooked.  And then there’s Gemma Arterton.  She was Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace, but broke out recently in the big budget films Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia.  Or, was supposed to, anyway.  I realize my Supporting Actress category this year is different than most, but she would have made my shortlist here.  She’s fantastic as the elder girl at St. Trinian’s, playing sexpot to Brand, den mother to the children, rival to Riley.

13. Bandslam

Tied with Adventureland for most mis-marketed film of the year.  Because this movie is not High School Musical.  Yes, Vanessa Hudgens and Aly from Aly and AJ are in it.  And yes, high schoolers play songs.  But it isn’t a musical, and the songs aren’t quite as integral as you think.  It scored an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes (and 90% among its Top Critics), for whatever that is worth.  Despite appearances, the movie isn’t your typical high school dramedy.  The film has a ton of heart, the main characters are interesting and actually develop, and relationships are complex.  Let me be careful not to oversell it, though.  It has way too much pop sheen to be mistaken for something like Snow Angels.  I’ve increasingly come to believe Lisa Kudrow is kind of fantastic and that Friends was just a blip for her.  Scott Porter shows up as the frontman for the rival group, sort of the baddie, but in my head it was a high school version of his character from Music and Lyrics.  Alyson Michalka was surprisingly strong as the former head cheerleader turned songstress.  I was very much impressed with her decidedly uncliche relationships to Vanessa Hudgens’ and Gaelen Connell’s characters.  Hudgens does get to rock out, but plays the shy loner with class.  And Connell was very very good, I thought, as the kid who loves music (he writes to David Bowie everyday), but no ability to actually play.  It was another great script choice to have him become a producer, essentially, and is just another way the film is sublimely about music without being just music.

12. Blind Date

Based off a Theo van Gogh film, it looks like this one was released in one theater in September.  It is right in my wheelhouse, but I kinda understand why it doesn’t have a broader appeal.  It is hard to describe the film without giving out too many plot points, but I’ll stick with the trailer.  Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play a couple who lost their daughter in a car accident.  In an effort to rekindle their relationship (and lives, really), they pretend to go on a series of blind dates with each other, each time playing a different personality.  It is a dark, dark film, with sparing moments of fleeting happiness.  The set design in minimal; the bulk of the action takes place in a large room.  Haunting, beautiful, and terribly sad, the film certainly isn’t a popcorn flick, but it stayed with me.  Tucci and Clarkson were simply fantastic, I ranked them both highly in my personal Actor and Actress ballots.

11. Taken

I think I’ve pretty well-vocalized my love for Luc Besson by now.  He does action-thriller better than anybody on the planet.  Just about every single thing he’s written, directed, and/or produced has been at the top of the genre.  And this one is no exception.  Besson wrote it, along with frequent collaborator Robert Mark Kamen, and it was directed by another frequent Besson-collaborator, Pierre Morel.  The premise of this one is simple: Liam Neeson is a badass.  Sure, there’s a story and characters and whatever, and they are fine.  But what makes this film shine is its unswerving focus on showcasing Liam Neeson.  Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen show up, which is nice.  If you need character development or complex relationships, this film isn’t for you.  If you want fun, sophisticated action, you couldn’t do any better in 2009.

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