Richard Roeper's Top-Filme 2009!
A brilliant, beautiful, harsh, gut-punching, 21st century war story with Biblical overtones. Some critics said Jim Sheridan’s adaptation of the great Danish film to be too glossy and heavy-handed, but I found it to be just as profound as the original. Either you buy Tobey Maguire’s tightly wound performance or you don’t. I thought his performance was pure truth. A perfectly realized screenplay, intense performances from all the leads, amazing work by the supporting cast, including the two little girls. Reminiscent of classics such as “Coming Home.”
2. “Up in the Air”
It was just about a coin flip between my first two picks. Jason Reitman’s third film is a nearly flawless blend of comedy and melancholy, with George Clooney in an Oscar-worthy performance. A smart, insightful, of-the-moment film that also touches on universal themes. Reitman smoothly shifts gears from wickedly cynical to flat-out funny to unabashedly sentimental, never striking a wrong note.
3. “The Hurt Locker”
Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal (who was embedded with a U.S. bomb-disposal squad in 2004) give us a searing, sometimes unbearably tense depiction of war as a drug. Jeremy Renner has done some fine work before, but he delivers perhaps THE breakout performance of the year as a legendary bomb-squad specialist who is completely comfortable dodging enemy fire while defusing explosives in the most hellish environment imaginable — but utterly lost when he returns home and has to go grocery shopping with his wife. Heartbreaking, thrilling, gritty, sad.
4. “(500) Days of Summer”
A worthy descendant of “Annie Hall,” from the unconventional storytelling techniques (two characters have very different perspectives on the same scene) to the romance that bends and breaks in unexpected ways. Director Marc Webb has fun playing with familiar romantic comedy elements without being condescending. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are immensely appealing, the soundtrack is filled with hipster treasures, and the ending is just perfect. What a sweet and smart film.
5. “Inglourious Basterds”
Brad Pitt is hilariously over-the-top as the (non-Jewish) leader of a band of bloodthirsty Jewish soldiers who engage in the systematic slaughter of Nazis. A spectacular cinematic mash-up that blends elements of spaghetti Westerns, 1940s film noir and movies such as “The Dirty Dozen.” I don’t see how Christoph Waltz doesn’t win Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the Nazi who takes pride in being called “The Jew Hunter.” He owns every scene he’s in.
Leave it to Pixar (specifically Pete Docter and Bob Peterson) to give us a love story that continues to bloom after one partner has died, not to mention a buddy movie with one buddy about 70 years older than the other. The first 20 minutes of this film, including a montage that seems inspired by “Citizen Kane,” are as heartbreaking as any extended sequence I’ve seen in any film in the last 10 years. Amazing that an animated film with funny-looking squared-off little characters could be so moving. From that point on, “Up” goes from greatness to mere “very goodness,” with Pixar continuing its remarkable winning streak of clever, funny, innovative, visually gorgeous instant classics.
Yes, I rolled my eyes at the New Age/Mother Earth philosophy, the solemn references to the “Tree of Souls” and all the heavy-handed messages about the Evil Earthlings who could learn a thing or two from the Noble Natives, but is the futuristic-Western plot of “Avatar” that much different from the story line for “Star Wars”? I don’t think so. The basic story is a 22nd century version of “Dances With Wolves,” but we’re not here for plot, we’re here for the cool-ass CGI/motion capture/movie magic/3D stuff. This is one of the most visually arresting films I’ve ever seen, with James Cameron and an army of technicians filling every inch of the screen with amazing sights and sounds. For two and a half hours, it never disappoints.
I loved this film. The TV ads and the previews for “Adventureland” emphasized the slapstick stuff, but writer/director Greg Mottola (“Superbad”) actually delivered a fresh take on a coming of age story that’s a lot more than the sum of its trailer parts. “Adventureland” is set in the pre-texting, pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook era of 1987, when you’d actually have to call a girl’s house and ask her mother if she was home. Kristen Stewart is a lot more appealing here than she is in the “Twilight” movies, and Jesse Eisenberg gives his best performance to date as the boy who falls for her. We meet what appears to be a stock supply of summer-movie characters, but every story plays out in an unexpected fashion. Rent this movie, please.
9. “An Education”
Carey Mulligan has a brief shining moment as a young war widow in “Brothers,” but it’s her remarkable work as a 16-year-old schoolgirl in this British period piece that announces the presence of a major young talent. Set in 1961 London, “An Education” benefits from Nick Hornby’s pitch-perfect adaptation of Lynn Barber’s memoir. Peter Sarsgaard is suitably slick and borderline creepy as the 35ish smooth talker who seduces Mulligan’s Jenny, a whip-smart teenager bursting with enthusiasm for conversation, cigarettes, literature, French films, jazz — and yes, a connection to a man who understands her, unlike those croak-voiced boys who wobble about on their bicycles while trying to get her attention. There’s more than a touch of Audrey Hepburn to Mulligan’s onscreen presence.
10. “The Informant!”
One of the most entertaining movies of the year — especially if you get a bigger kick out of a well-delivered line of dialogue than another CGI explosion. I’m not sure why filmgoers didn’t respond to Steven Soderbergh’s offbeat satirical satire, based on true events. Matt Damon packed on the pounds, sported a cheesy mustache and created one of the most original characters of the year: Mark Whitacre, a corporate whistleblower/compulsive liar who is scary-smart and amazingly dim, sometimes in the same moment.