While there was no shortage of films in 2009, there was a definite shortage in quality. Some films, however, were indeed quite good, hence my winners of the year.
4) The Hangover. I was traveling internationally when The Hangover opened. The story takes place in Vegas and having been to Vegas a number of times I felt director Todd Phillips captured the city most accurately. I reviewed The Hangover when it first opened and you may read that review here. This is not the kind of film that provokes great thoughts and inspires much reflection. This is the kind of film that manages to entertain in a most believable way, however. And those who have experienced Las Vegas, get this film and its humor rather effortlessly. This is also a kind of film that tips the hat to true friendships and selfless sociality. In a nutshell, I liked this very well.
3) Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. Why? Because I'm an unapologetic fan of Guy Ritchie and because, and I truly can't say this more clearly, Robert Downey Jr. is simply very cool. And so is this film. Downey is the kind of actor who embodies the craft in a way that seems quite incomparable. In Sherlock, he relies on Jude Law and Rachel McAdams but he clearly needs neither. Who allows Downey's talent to shine better on the screen though is Lord Blackwood (played beautifully by the talented Mark Strong) who plays one of Holmes's enemies in the film. While in the actual story, Holmes truly needs Watson, in the Ritchie version of the film, Watson (Jude Law) is more of an additional crutch Holmes might need occasionally.
I cannot think of another director who understands male/male friendships and relationships better than Guy Ritchie. If you have doubts, might I suggest that you look at his Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch? Who better to capture the intimate relationship between Holmes and Watson or Holmes and Lord Blackwood than Ritchie? The man is a natural when it comes to 'man speak.' Incidentally, what gives this film the extra oomph are exactly those moments of familiarity and intimacy that Holmes and Watson share when in the middle of a crisis. Watson chastises Holmes for being a slob around the house and for never cleaning up. I high recommend this. It will not disappoint. And if it does, chalk it up to your lack of exposure to Ritchie humor, I suppose.
2) Jason Reitman's Up n the Air. I didn't quite know what to expect here. George Cloony stars in this picture along with the much underrated but very much talented Vera Varmiga. (Incidentally, if you have not seen Farmiga along with Adrien Brody in Dummy, do so. She has breathtaking range.)
The premise of Up in the Air is the following: A man named Ryan (played well by Cloony) spends more time traveling than staying put on the ground. He has one major mission in life: to collect 10 million miles of flying. His occupation: Firing people. His life seems to be detached from the daily constraints of normal human life as he is not attached to people or real estate. "The slower we move, the faster we die" he says. And the way Cloony renders this line is shear perfection, I thought.
Ryan seems to be quite happy with his existence. Till he meets a female version of himself, that is. Vera Farmiga plays the character of Alex most convincingly. From the beginning Alex seems to be too good to be true and Farmiga manages to make the audience like her and be on her side. Till we meet her in her Chicago residence at which point the actual devirginization of the Cloony character happens. In a way, Ryan acquired his humanity after his own attitudes about life, his career, and living and debunked.
This is a very good film. This is also a difficult film to watch as it is, after all, mostly about people losing their jobs and facing an unknown future. And there's nothing funny or warm about that. However, the film, and Cloony especially, manage to bring a measure of dignity to one of the worst experiences a working human can have, that of losing a job.
1) And the best film of 2009 would definitely have to be (500) Days of Summer. I liked this so well that I wrote an academic article on it. I am also presenting my work at an academic conference in March the proceedings of which I will also post here. My draft of that article may be found here. In nuce, this is a nigh perfect summary of the Zeitgeist.