As Drafted by Jon and Rollie
1. The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war thriller/action movie could well be, as James Cameron put it, the Platoon of the Iraq war. Chillingly objective and unflinching, The Hurt Locker cuts to the core of why humans need (and in a disturbing way, want) war. One of the most powerful experiences of the last few years.
2. Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino's World War II action/comedy/drama was not only the most fun I had at the movies all year, but it also fuelled some of the best online discussion of any movie released in 2009. Tarantino here applies his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and its history, his astoundingly confident writing and directing style, and his deep love of movies to create one of the most memorable and hard-hitting films of his career, of 2009, and of this first decade of the 21st century.
3. A Serious Man
The new Coen Brothers film epitomises everything I love about these film-makers. Deeply sardonic, quietly hilarious, surprisingly profound and, as usual, divisive as all hell, A Serious Man is just about the must-see movie of the year. This simple story of a man trying to work out why his life is falling apart discovers that in the Coen Brothers' world, there is no why -- shit just happens.
4. Goodbye Solo
Ramin Bahrani, one of America's great directors of this decade, has done more than anyone else to dissect the nature of American multiculturalism. His films begin with cultural barriers and then move past them into themes that are universally human. Ethnicity offers only surface definitions. In one of the film's many great exchanges, Senegalese cab driver Solo, his reggae music turned up in the cab, asks William, a desperate old man who may be considering suicide, about his favorite music. We can be fairly certain that Solo never actually looked up the music of Hank Williams. What was important about that scene was the two mens' shared enthusiasm for music in principle. In the end, it is their shared understanding of each others' pains that elevates the film to such a powerful emotional pitch.
5. Up in the Air
Jason Reitman's exquisite "Up in the Air" is being called a "recession era fable", but I think the recession is more of a backdrop. A utilized backdrop to be sure, but what he's really up to here is a commentary on the growing psychological differences between us as Americans, the effects that accessibility and technology have had on such important institutions as love and family. Vera Farmiga deserves an Oscar nomination as the median of this theme, but then so does Geore Clooney, our generation's Cary Grant, as the tragic one man corporate firing squad who's home is between homes (if one can be said to be ahead of him) and whose family longs for his return only in passing. This is an important film, I think, and a must see. Does it deserve comparisons to Frank Capra's depression era films? Probably not. But Preston Sturgess perhaps? Absolutely.
6. The Road
I'm a tough cookie to crack at the movies, but I was nearly a blubbering mess by the end of The Road. Put it down to the performance of Viggo Mortensen as a man trying to guide his son through a hopeless post-apocalyptic world, the visual style of The Proposition director John Hillcoat, and the source material from one of the best of modern authors, Cormac McCarthy. The Road is almost completely hopeless, but for the dim light in every human that wants to help others, to be happy and optimistic. The sad suggestion of The Road is that we may be on a path that will extinguish that dim light forever.
7. Paranormal Activity
Made for around $10,000, starring two unkowns and filmed in director Oren Peli's house, Paranormal Activity is currently sitting on a pretty $110 million dollar global gross. It deserves it. This is one of the scariest, cleverest, relentless horror movies since The Exorcist set the bar over 30 years ago. For about a week after seeing this film for the first time, I woke up at 2 in the morning, convinced that I'd heard something in my kitchen or living room. One thing this movie taught me is: don't try to film it.
8. Samson & Delilah
Wildly regarded as the film that should have gotten the world-wide attention that Baz Luhrmann's overblown Australia did, Samson and Delilah is a depiction of the other Australia that most of us choose to ignore. The people of the community that Samson and Delilah belong to are increasingly without hope. Samuel Johnson famously said, "a decent provision for the poor is the true test of a society." That quote, combined with the way that Samson and Delilah articulates the nature of the Indigenous living-standards disaster in Australia, should force any number of us to take a good, hard look at ourselves.
Another year, another Pixar masterpiece. Up is perhaps the most fanciful Pixar film to date, a story of an old man tethering thousands of helium balloons to his house and taking off to find Paradise Falls, a place he promised himself and his late wife he would visit before he died. What follows is a wonderful visual feast, a beautiful story about the nature of friendship and the importance of never giving up on your dreams.
10. Broken Embraces
Alive with its vivid color palette, Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" is about seeing, about distinguishing, about understanding. With a brave performance from Penelope Cruz at its heart, "Broken Embraces" is a sumptuous visual feast and a touching melodrama to boot. What we see can be superficial. It can hide the most interesting of stories from us, disguise the most important of truths. But lodged in our memories are feelings that our eyes cannot steal from us.