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Yikes, it seems that I do this later and later each year. But you can’t rush quality.

So therefore I’m going to rush this a bit. It’s time to reset the site for 2010 but we cannot move forward til I weigh in with my top ten. It’s in the bylaws.

I thought 2009 was a great year for movies and a huge improvement over 2008. The trend seemed to have been fewer great movies each year but more good ones. I’d say that reversed in 2009; plenty of great movies but a smaller collection of merely pretty good ones.

1. Avatar

Say what you will about Dancing With Smurfs, but Avatar creates a world, gives it rules, and sticks to them. It’s a stunning visual achievement with a plot full of heart. Truly epic. I loved this movie.

2. In the Loop

Intensely hilarious, spectacularly vulgar, and cleverly satirical. Government was never so funny. I loved this movie.

3. The Informant!

Winner of Matt Damon of the Year! A simply delightful film that had me giggling and smiling throughout. I loved this movie.

4. Zombieland

Pure, balls out fun. Very clever, very funny, and very entertaining. I loved this movie.

5. An Education

It’s hard to say what I liked best about this film because everything is so right. A simple story with a powerful impact and an astonishing performance from Carey Mulligan. I loved this movie.

6. Up

Hilarious, heart-warming, touching. I loved this movie.

7. Summer Hours

It’s a film with themes and not much else. It’s kind of hard to make it sound appealing: a French matriarch dies and her three dispersed children try to figure out what to do with her estate. I dug its exploration of modern family dynamics. It also takes an interesting look at how we ascribe value to objects and how those values change over time, particularly as we move through our lives and beyond. I’m not talented enough to make it sound interesting but believe me it’s totally fascinating. I loved this movie.

8. Up in the Air

A slice of modern times and an effective look at the disconnected way we live our lives. Effective in characterization and atmosphere more than plot with terrific performances from George Clooney and Vera Farmiga.

9. I Love You, Man

Not as vulgar or spleen-splittingly funny than some of its Apatow produced brethren, but I think it’s a little more loony and genuinely heartfelt. I also know a guy just like the Paul Rudd character so it makes me laugh and laugh.

10. Julie & Julia

The 2009 surprise for me. Just utterly charming. I think it works so well for me because I was able to relate to the Julie character, easing the disparity between the two women’s stories that most people felt.

Some honorable mentions of films that I thought did something special:

Two films that I thought for sure were going to be on this list before I actually wrote it out and found out how many movies I really liked. Moon shows how a fantastic story and a terrific performance can succeed even on a small scale. A sci-fi thriller that will hang around in your head for quite some time. That Sam Rockwell Oscar campaign really should have received some traction… The Invention of Lying takes an interesting premise that could have followed the same path of a half dozen Jim Carrey movies (a man in a world where lies have not been invented!) and takes it in an entirely unexpected direction. Who thought it would turn into a treatise on religion? I found it thought-provoking and funny even if the premise gets stretched a bit by the end.

The Cove, the Oscar winning documentary, looks at a dolphin slaughter that occurs in Japan. For me, the success hinges not on the exposure of the slaughter itself, but the story of that exposure. The lengths these filmmakers go to in order to get their footage rivals any heist film… I know I’ve noted the aspects I dislike about World’s Greatest Dad, but the parts that work are just astonishing. The places this film goes are haunting and memorable… And finally, The Hangover, which made me cry with laughter.

Onwards to Oscar season 2010!

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The end of the month means top 5 time around these parts. But top fives jive nicely with our “If I Had a Ballot” posts, so I’m mixing them together today! Lucky you!

First, the top 5. I have been on record really enjoying the cinema of 2009, but I had yet to see a film that really knocked my socks off, that had that intangible “wow” factor. Well this month I’ve seen two and they catapult to the top of the list. But every time I see something else I love it gets harder and harder to make these lists!

1. Avatar

2. In the Loop

3. An Education

4. Zombieland

5. Up

Now on to the ballot. I’ve been pretending I’m part of various branches of the Academy and submitting my hypothetical ballots. All branches get to vote for Best Picture. So today I will be a member of, oh let’s say… the Public Relations branch. What a lame branch! Precisely the type of branch I’d belong to.

People say that ranked ballots allow voters to vote honestly and not have to vote strategically. Not true! If you have an interest in several films making the nomination list there is still reason to vote strategically and I will do so below!

It’s also been argued that you should fill out all ten slots on the Best Picture ballot, which apparently some voters have had trouble with. Not true! You should never vote for something you think is undeserving, even if that means only voting for a couple of films. Furthermore, if you have a film very likely to secure a nomination near the top of your ballot, the rest of the slots on your ballot are likely unnecessary. Don’t hurt your little Hollywood brain trying to name ten good films.

My ballot:

1. In the Loop. First place ballots are golden – securing about 3% is probably all that’s necessary for a nomination – and this film needs all the help it can get.

2. Zombieland. For fun.

3. The Informant! Would potentially still be in the running.

4. An Education. Probably the vote that would be cast from this ballot.

5. Up. If #4 has already qualified, this bubble film will probably get the vote from my ballot

6. Avatar. Doesn’t need my help. By the time my vote falls to slot four, it will have long been nominated. If I put it in slot #1 my vote is wasted on a near sure thing. The surplus rule allows votes for a film with overwhelming support to move forward on a proportional basis (e.g. ballots for a film with twice as many votes as needed move on and are worth half a vote), but I want my entire vote to count! But I put it here just in case.

7. Moon

8. Julie & Julia

9. Up in the Air

10. I Love You, Man

Finally, I’ll finish off as is customary with a film that would have made my top five had I seen it earlier in the year: World’s Greatest Dad. What if you were a single father, an awkward high school teacher and struggling author, whose son was a total dick that everyone, including you, disliked? Then what happens if suddenly everyone’s opinion of him changed and only you remember how much of a dick he was? Bobcat Goldthwait(!) directs Robin Williams as this character in an incredibly black comedy.

The first half is wonderful and Williams is terrific. I think it gets a little too zany by the end – it needed to either go even darker or hew a little more back to the realism of the first half – but it’s still quite an original ride.

I am not a member of the Academy. I am instead but a lowly professional economist. Which means not only do studios not send me dozens of screeners but every time I go to the movies I’m always wondering if it’s worth my money.

But today I am pretending I’m a member of the acting branch and casting my ballot for Best Actor.

Acting nominations are made by ranking up to five actors in each category. If the ballot’s number one choice does not have the support needed to receive a nomination, the ballot is counted instead as a vote for the #2 choice, and so on. There is no guidance as to how to separate between Lead and Supporting categories; that determination is left up to individual voters.

1. Matt Damon, The Informant!

Damon puts on the pounds and a mustache for this film, but it’s his complex performance and not the gut that make it so memorable. His squirrelly character is outrageous but not flashy and even though he’s exasperating we’re always able to empathize.

2. Peter Sarsgaard, An Education

I’m not sure whether this is really Lead or Supporting. If I had a ballot I’d put him in both categories just to make sure. He must walk a thin line as a character that’s both charming enough to win over a teenage girl – and the audience, to some extent – but also creepy enough to be trying to win over a teenage girl. At least Damon got a little recognition and a Golden Globe nod; the utter lack of respect this awards season for Sarsgaard is confounding.

3. Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man

This film is essentially two hours of the world shitting on the main character so the man portraying him better be someone the audience wants to watch. The role calls for Stuhlbarg’s exasperation to forever increase while never overcoming his nebbishness and I think Stuhlbarg does a great job of keeping us all frustrated but empathetic.

4. George Clooney, Up in the Air

I’m always impressed by Clooney’s quiet performances. He’s one of those uber-famous, attractive Hollywood types that it’s easy to forget is damn good at what the does. He’s interesting in zany roles like in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Men Who Stare at Goats, but there’s so much talent in his subtle acting that requires a role like this one or in Michael Clayton to really display.

5. Paul Rudd, I Love You, Man

Not a conventional choice,but the man needs some recognition for his wonderfully awkward performance. I don’t think it’s easy to pull of bumbling faux machismo. Most comedies in this vein feel a little rough around the edges in the performances, like the punchlines don’t come across quite polished enough. No offense to the Jonah Hills of the world, but Rudd has the comedic chops and smooth delivery that are often lacking even in the comedies I love. Rudd was so great in this and Role Models and I hope he gets more and more leading roles.

Next on my list were Sam Rockwell for Moon and Michael Sheen for The Damned United.

We were a little behind in getting out our top fives, so we put them all into one post.  Like the good old days.  Tragically, we all agree way too much.  And it appears we wish the Academy would find a little more room for comedies.  Especially comedies concerning the undead.  I do wonder, though, at the counting abilities of a few of my fellow Grouches.  I’m not naming any names, but I swear I see more than five movies listed for a couple of them.

Adam

Inglourious Basterds
Zombieland
The Hangover
(500) Days of Summer
Up In The Air

Honorable Mentions:
Sunshine Cleaning
Taken
Star Trek

Brian

Up
District 9
Zombieland
The Informant!
The Hangover

Honorable Mentions:
I Love You, Man
Sin Nombre

Jared

Zombieland
Up
District 9
(500) Days of Summer
I Love You, Man

John

Up
Zombieland
The Informant!
Julie and Julia
Up in the Air

It’s not quite the end of the month but I’m headed out on safari for a few weeks and I know no one will sleep until they hear my latest top 5.

1. Up. Still no change.

2. Zombieland. What a delightful surprise. This is a clever, funny, deliciously gory film. It sticks to its premise and takes it in a fun direction. Absolutely terrific characters with some excellent surprises. This is the multiplex movie to see at the moment.

3. The Informant!. Zany, hilarious, twisty.

4. I Love You, Man. Funny! If it’s on the plane I think I’ll watch it again.

5. Moon. Will the fledgling movement to get Sam Rockwell a nomination pay off? Probably not. But that would be sweet.

As time goes on we see more films it’s tougher to move the top five, so occasionally I’d like to highlight a film that probably would have made the top five had I seen it earlier.

9. By no means a perfect movie but I enjoyed its unique visual style and surprisingly dark themes. The second half is significantly better than the first – probably because by then you accept the relatively thin plot and characters – and the climax is quite effective.

Didn’t seem like that great of a summer, huh?

1. Up. No change.

2. I Love You, Man. Check it out on DVD, jobin.

3. Moon. An entertaining, thoughful, compelling sci-fi flick starring Sam Rockwell and only Sam Rockwell. Should be out on DVD in a few months and it’s definitely worth watching.

4. The Hangover. Do you know if this blog is pager friendly?

5. (500) Days of Summer. Clever and amusing romantic comedy that makes some fun twists in the genre. Even though I wish it was a little funnier I enjoyed its stylistic flourishes.

Now let’s get to the late-year good stuff. Whiteout sure looks great, huh?

Right now might be my favorite part of the year, in terms of movie-watching.  We’ve seen the summer blockbusters, the interesting films I didn’t see in theaters (e.g. Sin Nombre, Sugar, Sunshine Cleaning) are rolling out on DVD, and we’re pretty much at the exact point right before Oscar contenders become legit Oscar contenders.  Nobody knows anything, because most of the big films haven’t really been seen at all, but everyone wants to know something.  To wit, the first edition of the Gurus O’ Gold is out, and if you haven’t seen it, check them out.  And you all laughed when I said Star Trek was in the conversation.  The important festivals, Telluride, TIFF, and Venice are just getting underway.  Even as short as a week from now, we’ll have a better idea about the Oscars.  But now, now is when absolutely anything is possible and we can still be full of hope that this will be a great Oscar year.

1. Up

If Up were to get a Best Picture nom, I’d be thrilled as all heck.  And while it should have been WALL-E, it would unfairly diminish this film to call it a make up nom.  Of course, I guess I should allow for the possibility I’ll seen ten films I like more than this.  Man, that would be something.

2. District 9

One of the two new additions to the list since my last post.  Maybe this is nostalgia talking, but I think that recent scifi/action films have tended to forget what makes their genre so great.  In my mind, it isn’t the special effects, necessarily.  It is the stories that couldn’t be told any way other than explosions, mindless violence, and a few broken laws of physics.  Anyway, District 9 bursts out of the scifi/action genre to become a truly great film.

3. (500) Days of Summer

The other new add.  It may have been the movie I was most looking forward to this summer, so there’s something to be said for it being able to stand up to my hype.  It wasn’t everything I hoped it would be, but it was certainly close.  There are some neat tricks in there, which manage not distract from the film, and the story is a generally compelling subversion of a romcom.

4. I Love You, Man

Sure, Rush jokes will pretty much always be funny in a movie.  But someday, someone will build a film around TOTO jokes.  And then I’ll have to stop watching movies.

5. Star Trek

John is still wrong.

And a special honorable mention to The Hurt Locker, which was in my Top Five for at least a little bit.  Actually, I think there was a week when Away We Go made it as well.

In an ideal world there would be people out there whose moviegoing decisions were influenced by our well-honed opinions. In the real world our “readers” mostly stumble upon us when searching for nude Leelee Sobieski pics.

Well we don’t have those but if you all can just put aside the search for masturbatory fuel for just a moment I would like to remind you that I Love You, Man is out on DVD this week. This is important because I Love You, Man is freakin sweet. Uproariously funny with the touches of sweetness and insight we come to expect from the Apatow Players. I love seeing Paul Rudd getting lead roles because he kills it.

And if you like Rush there is lots of Rush in this film.

So instead of seeing The Hangover for the third time go buy or rent I Love You, Man. It’s great, jobin.

Now back to your regularly scheduled Leelee

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